I recently spent 2 weeks in Brazil attending a workshop as part of my PhD (who says grad school isn’t fun!). Although most of my time was filled with lectures in Campinas (Unicamp) and Sao Paulo (USP), I did manage to explore a bit, get some sun, and of course experience some of the local cuisine!
Unicamp & USP:
As a grad student, I’m pretty familiar with the traditional North American university campus – tall cold buildings, narrow footpaths, and maybe the odd green space to appease the environmental science majors. Unicamp and USP are the exact opposite. The campuses are probably 80% green space, and can take over 30 minutes to get from one side to the other! Most of the buildings are open to the outside, and it seems like you can always find something going on. Check out this open mic night in the central quad of Unicamp!
USP is geographically bigger than Unicamp, but has a lot of similarities. One huge point of interest is the monument at the middle of campus. You can also get a pretty good view of some of the more affluent neighbourhoods of Sao Paulo.
The city of Campinas is actually not very touristy at all – which is how I prefer to travel! I ended up getting pretty close with a group of students at the university who were more than happy to take me and my friends out to explore. If you do ever find yourself in Campinas, be sure to check out the central park (Parque Portugal) where you can often find a music festival, walk along a network of trails, and meet a friendly family of Capybaras!
The local mall, Dom Pedro, and any of the local pubs/clubs are also worth a visit if you’re interested in shopping and experiencing the nightlife.
Speaking of nightlife, in Brazil, the cocktail of choice is called a Caipirinha – it’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’ll get you drunk in no time if you aren’t careful! Traditional caipirinhas are made of cachaca (a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice), lime, and sugar – although you can substitute cachaca for vodka, and lime for a number of other fruits like kiwi, pineapple, strawberry, or passionfruit.
The local food may have been one of the highlights of my trip, however, I need to warn you that if you’re a vegetarian (sorry Britt), you’re unfortunately going to miss out on some of the tastier snacks. Coxinha (pulled chicken and cheese wrapped in a deep fried ball of dough!) was probably my favourite. However, there are also some vegetarian and dessert (deep fried nutella balls!) coxinhas, so not all is lost! Also be on the look-out for mandioca (cassava root that’s cooked similar to home fries) and tapioca, which make a cheap and delicious snack. To satisfy your sweet tooth, several street vendors offer fresh sugar cane juice, acai (think fresh fruit sorbet loaded with all kinds of fruits and chocolate!), and brigadeiro (little balls of chocolate and condensed milk).
Last, but definitely not least, on the topic of food is Brazilian barbecue, aka Churrasco. Vegetarians look away. At a churrasco, waiters will come to your table one at a time with different cuts of meat. You simply say yes to the ones you want, and the waiters will cut off a slice. Expect to eat several different cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and even chicken hearts! Also expect to be uncomfortably full.