Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Visiting two flower festivals in northern São Paulo

Luiz and I get itchy feet if we find ourselves in Niterói for too long. Our persistent desire is to get out for a bit of wandering every couple of months, with a nice long vacation at least once a year. Lucky for us Brazil still offers countless nooks and crannies we have yet to explore, both right in our back yard as well as across the country. While we have been to scores of places throughout Brazil, not surprisingly we still harbor an insatiable desire to see and experience even more.

Our recent getaway was to Águas de Lindoia, a small town just about 200 kilometers north of São Paulo, near the state border with Minas Gerais. The impetus for the trip was to take in two regional flower festivals: the more famous of which is in Holambra and the other in Atibaia. We also visited Monte Sião, a tiny town noted for its clothing manufacturer outlet shops (i.e. really cheap good clothes).

We signed up with a tour operator for a four day/three night package excursion which included nearly everything (transportation, hotel, most meals, event admission tickets, etc.). Note: we do not own a car and car rentals in Brazil are mind-blowing expensive, so we sometimes join a package tour for short adventures not easily done by busses on our own. Tagging along with a package tour is generally hit or miss depending on how your wishes line up with the established itinerary of the package – and whether or not you share travel values with the operator. We have a great eco-tourism operator we travel with and are still working on a great match in the rural or coastal town adventures department.

Watch this space for a future post investigating the positives and negatives of package tours and tour operators. Coming soon.

Thursday mid-morning, on the way to our home base in the town of Águas de Lindoia we passed the largest Catholic basilica in South America: the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our LadyAparecida. The site is dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida, roughly translated as OurLady of Conception Who Appeared.  As the story goes, fisherman trying unsuccessfully to catch sufficient fish to feed a pending governor’s banquet caught in their net the body portion of a statue of the Virgin Mary. They cast their net out again and retrieved the head. As you might imagine, the story continues that thereafter they caught all the fish they required, and then some, to supply the banquet. Thus the holy spot was pronounced. Pope Francis stopped here recently while visiting Rio.

Just inside the basilica entrance there was this rather odd image of fishermen realizing success under the watchful eye of what looks to be a voluptuous va-jay-jay. I was confused. 
It is a huge structure. We took an hour or so to check it out, then returned to the bus and pressed onward.

The hotel in Águas de Lindoia was great. Nice room, great breakfast and dinner, good pool area, etc., but the town itself was a little sleepy. 

We were mostly in Águas de Lindoia because it was centrally located to the other places we planned to visit. There was a nice little park in the center of town, complete with a huge pond (small lake?). Very well kept and peaceful.

Holambra was hosting the main event: Expoflora 2013

This tiny town of somewhere around 11,000 residents, originally populated by Dutch immigrants, sports one traffic light, a few phaux Holland-type buildings, expansive flower farms in all directions, and most importantly, the well developed fair grounds where they host the annual flower festival. Our tour bus joined hundreds of others disgorging visitors to the festival. We spent a good four or five hours wandering through exhibit pavilions, watching traditional Dutch dance performances, shopping for flowering plants and tasting traditional Holland-inspired foods.

Overall the flower arrangements were delightful, but dare I say a bit predictable and commercial. The featured designers who created most of the designs in the main exhibit area seemed to follow the typical Brazilian impulse (as we have come to see it over and over) of relying on sheer bulk over design or creativity. I am posting photos of some of the more creative designs.

It was fun to shop for live flowering plants, and indeed we bought quite a few, but the prices were not very discounted. Not really. If you ever plan a trip with buying plants in mind, be forewarned.

The end of the day featured a shower of petals.

The next day we were shuttled off to tiny Monte Sião, just over the state line in Minas Gerais, for some discount clothing shopping at the dozens of small shops featuring factory direct sales. Good quality stuff, overall. Residents of nearby Campinas would do well to check out this place for some great value clothes shopping, including a great selection of men's and women's sweaters.

Luiz and I had no desire to go shopping, but alas it was part of the package. Many people who take these excursions are really into the shopping bits, so most folks enjoyed themselves. But Luiz and I, plus a few of the husbands killing time while their wives shopped, wandered off the main square and found the local artisan cheese shop and stopped for some grilled fresh blood sausage and beverages at tables right in front of the butcher shop. That’s more my style. Luiz hated the blood sausage thing, but me and the other guys really got into tasting it grilled with onions while listening to the butcher’s grown son describe their family recipe and production procedure. Now that’s village life at its best in my book.

View of the pool from our room balcony.

During the second half of the day Luiz and I begged off the next shopping stop and had the driver drop us back in Águas de Lindoia near our hotel. We chose the pool and some sun over still more retail entertainment.

We left just after breakfast on Sunday to make our way back to Rio with an extended stop in Atibaia for their annual Festival of Flowers and Strawberries. Now this is a local event I can recommend. It seemed much more organic to the community (not just a tourist thing like in Holambra). The festival overall and the flower displays in particular where heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Much more artful than the other event. And the strawberry sweets and treats for sale were irresistible.

This was somebody's amazing Lady Slipper orchid. Beautiful! 

Many of the flowering plants on display were provided by residents showing off their green thumb handiwork. You could really feel the sense of community and pride. And the plants on sale were WAY cheaper than similar items in Holambra. Garden shoppers should definitely check out this event for any purchases. There was also a mid-size sale of local handicrafts. Pottery, soaps, embroidered items, candles, the usual stuff, was included. We picked up a jar of homemade, sugar-free, strawberry preserves and a super cute pair of chickens made from small gourds perfect for – somewhere – in our apartment. J

Once back home, in the days that followed, Luiz set to sprucing up his little flower and herb garden in our kitchen window. Life is good again. Now Luiz sets his sights for a six day trip next month to PortoSeguro in southern Bahia. He’ll be traveling with his mother for some needed time away.

These are about half of what we bought.
Our kitchen window garden.