Sao Paulo


I ended up spending three and a bit days in Sao Paulo. My hotel was right in the old downtown. It had delusions of grandeur and thought that because it had a restaurant (which was closed) that made it a hotel rather than a hostel. It was ok though; for the money I paid it was fine.

There are a lot of rough sleepers in the downtown area. Not particularly a problem by day but it gave the area a general feeling of insecurity at night. I didn’t wander around the area after dark.

By day there are a lot of fine buildings to admire:

The first thing I did was to look for the Banespa Tower. I’d read this was the highest tower to see the city view, and that’s always a good place to start in a new city. However it turned out that the Banespa is closed and you can no longer go up. I was a little disappointed until someone told me about the Martinelli Building. Not quite as tall but you could go up for free and see the view from there.

Built by Count Giuseppe Martinelli, an Italian immigrant, his family lived on the top floor in an attempt to convince the public that the building was safe.


Shopping seems to be a big hobby for many Paulistanos. In Sao Paulo they work hard and also play hard. Avenue Paulista is Chock-a-block with shops, malls, galleries, bars and such. I had a quick look although I’m not a keen shopper.

Prices are high; a lot of stuff is imported and you could get the same stuff in Europe or North America far cheaper. Only Brazilian brands (Havaianas for example) offer any real savings.

The Havaianas shop was amazing. Not only selling so many of the flip-flops that make them famous, they also sell special socks to wear with your flip-flops. I’m not quite sure who wears socks with their flip-flops, or whether it represents the same giant faux-pas as wearing socks with any other type of sandal (the look so popular with older European men). It could just be I’m so far out of touch that I don’t realise that this is now the height of fashion, however I didn’t see anybody wearing this look in the street.


Paulista Avenue; always something going on…

I also enjoyed visiting Liberdade, which is the Japanese area. Brazil has the highest number of Japanese immigrants of all South American countries. These days there are also a lot of Korean and Chinese in the area. There is a small market on Saturdays, right outside of the metro. The area itself is full of sushi/noodle restaurants; after so many years in Asia I never thought I’d ever voluntarily eat noodles again, but time is a great healer. Asian supermarkets and Japanese style makeup/cosmetics stores are also popular.



I had my first Portuguese conversation with a sales assistant in one of the make-up stores. ‘Tudo bem?’ she asked me, which I remembered from my first you tube lesson means both ‘how are you’ and ‘I’m fine’.

‘Sim tudo bem’ I told her (yes I’m fine) and then having a sudden recollection of the lesson added ‘e voce’ (and you?). She replied that she was fine too, but I felt so pleased with myself. I had managed to keep that conversational ball in the air for three whole sentences. I racked my brains for something else I had leaned that I could add, but couldn’t remember anything. But still; three whole sentences. I think it may now be time for me to move on to more complex phrases.

27 replies »

  1. Excellent post. Who knew São Paulo was so interesting. You made me want to visit the place. Can’t help but envisioning the Italian family aloft trying to convince others.

    • Yes I was never so keen to go; I only went because it was cheaper to fly there than go direct to Rio. it’s a surprisingly interesting city; lots of museums and art stuff too.

  2. As always- brilliant photos! You should make a coffe-table book with your South American photos

  3. Hello Sarah. I did not know about the high number of Japanese in Brazil compared to the rest of South America, interesting. I hope you enjoyed your noodles! The photos look amazing, however I total understand what you mean about people on the street. It is crazy really though isn’t it as you have lived in London but I guess some other places just have a different feel. Hugs and love xx

    • No I actually think that area wasn’t so safe after dark. It’s not like London and they have a lot of gun crime here and us yellow-heads who stand out as obviously foreign are easy targets.
      But it isn’t so bad; just takes a brain that doesn’t walk around flaunting your (comparative) wealth.
      Sao Paulo is interesting; lots of different cultures. And the noodles were FAB.

  4. It is always nice to speak a bit in the local language. It puts everyone at ease! I’m really curious about the special socks to go with flip flops, winter wear, I guess?

    • Well if it was too cold for me to wear flip flops I would wear shoes, rather than go hunting down a pair of socks for my flip flops. I suspect it might have been a novelty thing; I did desperately hope to see someone on the streets wearing this ‘fashion’, but didn’t find anyone

  5. Hi Sarah! I only went to Rio de Janeiro many years ago when it was still the most violent city in the world. My friend lives in Sao Paulo and she had told me about Liberdade. I was so surprised to learn about the Japanese population in Sao Paulo! Thanks for sharing your short time in this megapolis.

    • Peru also have a large Japanese population. Strange. `Sao Paulo is one of those places that is more interesting than you think. It has a lot of street art too, lots of galleries and some really top restaurants.

  6. Yay for speaking the language! Also, Portuguese is a tough one so you should be proud! I have so many questions about what these flip flop socks look like and when exactly they would be practical haha. So strange!

    • Well I don’t think 3 sentences counts as speaking the language exactly, but I celebrate little achievements. No the sock and flip flop thing is just silly. If my feet were cold I’d go get shoes, not go buy some special socks with an extra long toe (which is what these were).

  7. Growing up, my mom would travel the world working on chicken farms. She called herself a certified chicken plucker, completely downplaying her PhD in developmental physiology and her time as a university professor. She would often travel to Sao Paolo and come home with many gems from the nearby mines. My room was filled with these “treasures” but I have never seen a picture of the city. Thank you for your photography to fill in a little corner of my world.

  8. Interesting street performers there on Paulista Avenue…one sees so many of them in Spain. The name Liberdade reminds me of Lisbon. Did you find lot of similarities with these two countries?

    • Sao Paulo wasn’t so similar but there were many places in Brazil where the colonial past was more evident. Ys in many ways it does seem similar to Spain too.

  9. Hi! great post! I knew about the Japanese population because my best friend went to visit her Japanese/Brazilian boyfriend there!! your photos are amazing! I’ve always a been a bit scared to go to Brazil by myself (as I always it was pretty unsafe) but your post reassured me ! I’ve never been to South America but it’s something I want to do soon! thanks for your post 😉

    • South America is safe enough really as long as you use basic common sense and don’t go wandering through dodgy unlit streets at night waving your money in the air

  10. also! I totally identify with you on this moment where you want to be nice and communicate and you struggle a bit ! And then manage to say a few things and you are so proud of yourself! I felt the same thing when I was living in Nepal and the beneficiary of the site I was volunteer at, was trying to communicate with me and all I knew was “thank you” “delicious” and “goat” in Nepalese ^^ You always manage to communicate though, even with body language …but it’s so good when you dare to speak a language you don’t master and communicate one on one with locals. So special !

    • Yes I’m not good with languages and I don’t have a lot of confidence so just getting understood feels like a mini achievement for me

  11. When I was in South America, everyone told me to avoid Sao Paulo and go straight to Rio so this is what I did. We did drive around it though for 5 hours on the bus, so I got to see how big it is. I haven’t learnt any portuguese, I spoke to everyone is spanish, so good on you for trying 🙂

    • I preferred Rio but Sao Paulo was interesting too. I thought spanish would be understood in Brazil but really it wasn’t. I only mastered a few sentences the whole time I was there.

  12. I love your photos and your big conversation! I know how hard it is to start talking in a foreign language… Since I speak Spanish, I translated it wrong – I thought it meant if it’s everything ok.

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