Friday, April 11, 2014

A SWEET Goodbye to Brazil

Hey all,

Thanks so much for all the ideas on how to get the news.  Came at a great time, too.  I was able to read up on what happened in Washington state when the mudslides hit last month.  Thirty-three people dead.  That was so scary!!!!

Down here we are getting ready for our move to Cordoba, Argentina.  It's a big move, crossing into another country, so we have to deal with packing lists, customs and airports.  I truly hate that part of our life.  And the next few moves after Buenos Aires (which is after Cordoba) will each be country to country.  *sigh*

To make our hotel room a home, I've got a lot of ~stuff~.  Makes it wonderful to live in, but a PITA to move.  Frustrating, but a choice we've made.

Anyway, I'll try and keep the blog up, but I'm not sure how the internet will be in Argentina.  We usually have good hotels, but I never expect much until we're there.  Even the best hotel can have sucky internet.

This last weekend we said goodbye to the Rio Sul area.  Rio Sul in the state where Porto Alegre is.  We love it here.  And it's one of the places we'd come back to if we ever did another tour with Cirque to South America.

We took a long weekend to the mountain town of Gramado and Canela.  Two sister towns that are heavily influenced by their German ancestors.  Beautiful architecture and some really fun things to do.  We visited Lago Negro (Black Lake) where you can laze away a Sunday afternoon riding swan boats. 

We visited a wonderful zoo where you an walk among the animals.  The Gramado Zoo has only Brazilian critters in it, and has extensive breeding programs for endangered species.  A small zoo, but worth it.  We loved the places where you could be nose to nose with the birds.

Another interesting place was the Parque Gaúcho where they show you all the history and fun surrounding this culture.  They had dioramas of the men and women who rode horses, herded cattle and lived the land.  It was fascinating.  Unfortunately we went on a weekday, so they didn't have any of the presentations of skill we were looking forward to, but since Argentina is another place we can see the Gaúcho culture, we'll look for another place there.

We also went to one of the prettiest national parks we've seen in Brazil.  The Parque do Caracol (Snail Park) has a tall waterfall (130 meters - that about 426 feet for us Americans) and lovely walking trails.  It also had another waterfall (see fourth pic below), which I thought was even prettier.  Remember my pics of Iguazu falls?  This was similar, but much smaller.  Still, better, IMHO than the tall cascade which gives the park it's name.
 At the base of the Caracol cascade.

831 steps down to the base of the cascade.  831 steps up.  Whew!!!!

A beautiful set of falls, it's called the Corredeiras, which means rapids.  And many of them, too!!!

One of the prettiest churches I've seen in Brazil was in Canela. Stone inside and out, and the stain glass windows were gorgeous.  Absolutely visit worthy if you're ever around the area.

These stain glass windows were in the stone church in Gramado.  Absolutely beautiful!!!

And best of all???  Guess what we fell into?  On Sunday when we arrived, we happened to be in town at the beginning of CHOCOFEST!!!!!!  That's right.  A chocolate festival!  Just in time for Easter, these people go CRAZY!  Chocolate and bunnies everywhere you look.  So many rabbits, I think I've got a phobia now.  But the chocolate made up for it.  I made myself sick, I did.  Nibbles all day long and ending with Swiss style fondue and you guessed it, chocolate fondue for dessert.


So, a great way to end my Brazilian experience.  We'll be happy to adventure on to the next tour site, tucking away some truly great memories of an awesome country.  Tchau, Brazil!

And see you next week, in Argentina!!!  WooHoo!!!!!

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams

Friday, April 4, 2014

Uninformed or Misinformed?

Hey all,

 How are things on the home front?  I have to admit, one of the most difficult things about being on tour is that I so rarely know what's going on back in the United States.  I know I can go online and figure it out, but I don't have time to surf the news reports.

And while we get CNN here, it's the European version, so it only touches on the top US news stories and then only rarely.  So I miss a lot of the smaller stuff that's going on.  *sigh*

I don't know enough Portuguese to listen to the local news, though I can sometimes pick up on some of the stories that are happening, but it just isn't the same.

So, when I go online and check my email, I always check the yahoo or google news.  And read the headlines to see what's happening.  But it's frustrating.  Sometimes I don't know what's going on for days.

For example, I didn't know about the plane that went down in the ocean for over a week.  Which really bugged me.  It was such a sad happening, and I would have prayed for the victims to be found.  Not knowing it happened really upset me.

Then there is the weather in the USA.  Last year there were some horrible storms--Noreasters--and I had no idea until someone mentioned it on my list.  And then this year?  Again, freezing cold weather, and if I hadn't caught a pic of Niagra Falls frozen, I wouldn't have known about it.  So I asked on my list and my readers told me just how COLD it was.  Again...frustrating.

And you don't even want to get me started about politics.  Obamacare?  I want to gnash my teeth over it.  I'm so glad my insurance is taken care of through Cirque, but it makes me absolutely crazy knowing that fatcat politicians think they can force people to do this thing.  

Yet, because I'm so out of the loop, I don't know why exactly I hate it so much.  I just do.  And my instincts are usually right on the money!

But, even though I can't follow the news like I would if I were in the states, I do try and keep somewhat informed.  I just don't feel as if I'm in the know as much as I'd like.

So here's a question for all my USA readers.  Do you have a specific newsfeed or service that you follow to get your daily bit of news?  I'd like it delivered to my inbox, so I can scan and see exactly what's going on.  Not just USA news, but important world news as well.

If you have a suggestion, please put it in the comments below.  I'd be ever so grateful!

Until next week,

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams

Friday, March 28, 2014

Welcome to Stumblers Anonymous

Hey all,

I hope you're enjoying the last bit of winter. Or is it the last bit?  I guess it depends where you live.  I've been told some of you are seeing signs of spring, while others are still trapped in the grip of winter.  

I guess winter can be a time of learning and research.  It was when I was living in the US, there in northern Idaho.  The winters in the panhandle can be long, hard and snowy, so diving into my writing was easy to do.

And research.  One of my favorite things to do.  In fact, a lot of my stories came from ideas gleaned during research instead of the other way around.  I'd head online to find out an answer to a research question and find myself distracted about something else entirely.  Those damn links.  *sigh*  I'd see one, click on it and I'd go into an idea I'd never thought of before.

So much fun.

One of my favorite places to get ideas is a link my daughter turned me on to.  She sent me the information several years ago and I loved it.  When I have time to "waste", that's where I go.  I can look at beautiful photographs, get new recipes, learn how to make a chandelier out of an old map or learn a new yoga pose for my health.  And where can I do all this in one place?

Have you ever Stumbled?

I swear, this place is totally addicting.  Once I start, I can't stop.  If you've never been on Stumble Upon, you're really missing a treat.  You can find EVERYTHING, there.  And I mean EVERYTHING.  What is it?  Well, Wikipedia describe it thusly...

StumbleUpon is a discovery engine (a form of web search engine) that finds and recommends web content to its users. Its features allow users to discover and rate Web pages, photos, and videos that are personalized to their tastes and interests using peer-sourcing and social-networking principles.

 Sometimes I wonder about how they decide what I like.  The way it works is this...  You press the "stumble" button and it takes you randomly to a website.  If it's one that you really like, you press the thumbs up icon...if you're not so impressed, the thumbs down.  And the site records your likes and dislikes and chooses websites it thinks you'll enjoy.

Most of the time it works, other times I just scratch my head and think, hmmm...

For example, I'm an author, so I often get pages on that topic.  I also love crafting, nature, travel and critters, so I get those.  But every once in a while I get page after page of really odd links.  Stuff I'd never go to on my own.

Most of those I just Stumble though--ignore and go to the next one--but every once in a while a new topic will jump out at me and boom, just like that I've got a new interest.   And quite often a very cool new idea for a book.

Just the other day I found a great site by stumbling.  Since some of my new work is more suspense oriented, this site--as gruesome as it is--gave me some great ideas on how to murder someone!  LOL  Interested?  Go check it out HERE.

I've found some awesome ideas on how to decorate my home on this search engine.  I swear I think we need to buy three houses to use them all.  This one is one of my favorites.  Take a look HERE.

Or, another fun site I would have never looked up on my own is a hoot.  Jonathon and I adore the ride Splash Mountain at Disneyworld.  But we would have never thought about doing something like THIS.

And finally, there are those amusing sites that are nothing but a hilarious waste of time.  And we all need something like that every once in a while.  Can you say, MEEYOW?  (Don't forget to hit the rain button!)

Anyway, once you check the site out, you'll see why it's so addicting.  There is something for everyone.  Want a recipe for the best brownies on the planet?  You'll find it stumbling.  Want to know which Greek god used a lightning bolt?  Stumble can be the answer.  And if you just need a cute animal fix, you can definitely find in on Stumble Upon.

So what are you waiting for?  Stumble on over and see what you can find.  Trust me, once you do you'll be joining me at Stumblers Anonymous!!!!

Have a great week!!!

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams

Friday, March 21, 2014

Signage Humor - From Street Signs to Store Fronts

Hey all,

How have things been going for you all this week?  Mine has been a busy one, what with a day of museum hopping, visiting the artist's fair, organizing files for taxes, writing, and to end up the week, a fun night out for Saint Patrick's Day.

We always do something special, ever since we found ourselves in Ireland on the big day, sitting in a pub and singing "Whiskey in the Jar" with the locals.  We've tipped our glasses to the Irish in Singapore, Macau, Amsterdam, Sao Paulo, and now here in Porto Alegre.  We always have a blast and meet new friends while doing it.  It does make for an interesting night, I promise you.  As you can see in the picture, this time we went all out.  Funny hats and shirts.  Add some Irish whiskey and Murphy's Stout and it's a perfect way to celebrate the day!!!

Speaking of funny, I thought it was time to do a blog about funny signs again.  I haven't done it for awhile, so I've got quite a few collected.  Different from the ones in Europe, some of these are funny, some are head-scratchers and others are just bloody interesting.  So I hope you enjoy this look at funny signage in Brazil.


One of the oddest things I've found here in Brazil is the fact when you use toilet paper (for the obvious reasons) you DON'T toss it into the toilet.  Most places have a waste basket in the stall to toss the used paper into.  It's stinky--especially in the summer--but they still do it.  Sewage problems is my only thought, but to an American????  Yuck!  And since we're not used to it, they have signs in places where foreigners frequent.

Really?  This is what you came up with to name your little kiosk?  This sits in Rio de Janeiro on the famous Copacabana beach.  It's a common little restaurant, but each time I'd see one, I get this picture of a little kids screaming, "I've got to go Potty!!!!!!"

Talk about obvious!  This is a motel AND it's just what you think.  A motel by the hour.  And while we may hide what these types of motels are in other countries, here in Belo Horizonte, they announce it proudly.  They even have drive-in LOVE hotels.  I kid you not.  Drive in, do your business and then drive out.  Who said Brazilians aren't efficient?  :-)

Okay, so this was as sign Jonathon found in Curitiba.  In a men's bathroom.  While in reality it admonishes the guy's to keep the urinal clean, if you're a guy, the word "limpo" staring at you while you're doing your business can have a detrimental effect!  LOL

This sign in Sao Paulo makes you stop dead in your tracks, doesn't it?  Actually, the word means "tired", but to name a store this, just makes me giggle.  Not sure I'd shop there.  I think the smells would totally put me off !

This confusing sign was in one of the hotels we visited in Sao Paulo.  Maybe they got their design from Willie Wonka or Gringotts.  It wasn't a glass elevator, but I really wanted to see if it went to the left as promised.  *sigh*  It didn't.

I'm used to seeing these signs just outside of Amish country.  Places where they'd prefer horse and buggies not go.  They are rare and not often seen.  But here in Porto Alegre and other southern cities of Brazil, they are commonplace.  Horses are used a lot to transport goods in the city.  But they aren't allowed on the freeway.  Go figure!

This one tickled me.  There are taxi signs everywhere, that's not the funny part, but to have a volkswagon as a taxi?  Now THAT isn't so common.  Meep Meep!!!!!

And finally, one of the oldest pubs in Porto Alegre, it was inspired by the bohemian writer, Charles Bukowski and is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.  
Me?  I just like the name.  *snicker*


There you have it.  A look at some of the great signs across Brazil.  I have many, many more, but maybe I'll put those up another time!  Of course, by that time I'll be in Argentina and who knows WHAT I'll find there!  LOL

Until next week...


CJ England
Follow Your Dreams

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wine Is Bottled Poetry

Hey all,

The title is a quote from the amazing author, Robert Louis Stevenson.  And it's true.  Even though I'm not a big wine drinker, I've learned that some wine is poetry, while others are more like a ugly limerick!  LOL

Like many other countries, Brazilian wines are a hit and miss overall.  We've discovered a few great ones (Vinhos Durigan from the Saint Teresa neighborhood in Curitiba) and we've tasted some mediocre ones.  But coming here to Porto Alegre, we discovered we were only a couple hours from the best wine country in South America.  So of course, we had to visit.

And we had an amazing time.

The Vale dos Vinhedos (Valley of the Vineyards) is the area where most of the wines are made.  It's nearby the town of Bento Goncalves and the whole area is rich in beauty and history.  We visited for two days and could have easily spent several more.

There are two main areas to see.  One, where the majority of the Vineyards are is the Vale dos Vinhedos and the second, an area which traces the path of the early settlers of the area--Italian--is called the Caminhos de Pedra (the Path of Stone).  Both areas are absolutely beautiful.  Verdant valleys with gorgeous architecture and rolling grape-covered hills.  There are wineries, historical homes and cottage industries with some wonderful food and crafts.  There is even a working sheep farm that I loved visiting.  More about that later.

Anyway, the first day we spent driving through the Vale dos Vinhedos.  There are dozens of wineries dotting the valley, some small and intimate, a couple of others quite large.  There are those that sell only out of their small vineyards, but many are actually award winners and are distributed all over the world.  It's difficult to visit without buying something, so we came home with a trunk full of truly delicious wines.  

But for me it's the beauty of the area.  The canopies of vines that line the rolling hills.  The beautiful wineries, each with their unique flavor and look.  The amazing restaurants with some of the best Italian food I've had since visiting Italy.  The views are incredible, almost as wonderful as the wines we tasted.  See what I mean.

The next day was even better as far as I was concerned.  The Caminhos de Pedra has a little bit of everything.  Vineyards, impressive historical homes, cottage industries with items including meats, cheeses, tomato wine, clothing, pasta, and so much more.

We drove through this area, stopping at all the different places you can visit.  We watched candy being made, tasted more wine, stopped at an old homestead where salami was made, and went to a great bakery where the pies were being baked right in front of us.  The scent was amazing, and we had to get some.  But there were three places I loved the most.

One was called the Cantina Strapazzon.  It was a small family vineyard with some truly delicious wines.  But even better was the fresh baked traditional Italian bread produced in an outdoor brick oven.  It was made by a lovely lady by the name of Grandma Gemma.  She had the sweetest smile and set some bread aside especially for us when she saw how intrigued I was by the whole process.

Next was a farm I was so looking forward to seeing.  It was called the Casa da Ovelha (House of Sheep) and is a working sheep ranch.  But not for wool.  For milk.  Yep, that's right.  Three hundred sheep a day are milked there, and another 1500 are milked elsewhere and the milk shipped to Cas da Ovelha.  Cheese, yogurt, ice cream (yum) and other milk products are made here and are absolutely delicious.  We were able to do many activities on the farm including feeding the lambs, watching a border collie run the sheep and help with the milking.  Brenda, the border collie was amazing to watch and we got to taste fresh sheep's milk.  And it was absolutely delicious!  Even warm out of the teat!  Overall, it was an amazing place.  Check it out!

 One of my favorite things to do is feed baby lambs.  Did it a hundred times on our own farm, and I hadn't realized how much I missed interacting with the little ones.

 Don't I look cool in my lunch lady hat?  LOL  Milking sheep was a new experience.  I've milked goats and cows, but other than getting a new born lamb started, I've never really milked a ewe before.

Brenda was amazing.  I fell in love immediately.  Got my puppy fix loving on her after she did her work.  Made me miss my Ares so much!

And lastly, we visited something uniquely Brazilian.  An Erva-Mate mill.  Erva-Mate is a tree/weed (I think more like an herb) that people drink here in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.  It was first discovered by the indiginous indians, but you can see people drinking it all over the area.  In parks and just walking down the street.  VERY common.  

I won't go in how to make this special brew--you can check it out HERE.  But it's fun to do and delicious.  While most just drink it on their own, it's original use was communal.  One cup passed around a group of people.  

We were shown around by the son of the family, Paulo Ferrari (yes, just like the car) and he showed us how to properly make the tea and drink it.  

I hadn't had it before, but I loved the taste.  Think of a really strong black tea and that's close.  It's excellent for the digestion and we had to get some, it was so wonderful.

By the time we left Paulo, we were losing the light.  We wandered back along the Caminhos de Pedra and then headed back to Porto Alegre, happy and satisfied by one of the most amazing adventures we've had.  I heartly recommend this area to anyone who visits Porto Alegre.  

Wine, good food and great people.  A perfect weekend, and one I'll never forget.

Until next week...


CJ England
Follow Your Dreams