What to know about São Paulo

São Paulo is a big city; in fact, it is the largest city in South America, and the fifth largest by population in the world. It has a very different feel to the other Brazilian cities we have visited, being more European and reserved, however, not without some interesting landmarks:

The ‘Parque Ibirapuera’ is a beautiful city park, with a number of Oscar Niemeyer buildings; museums, pavilions, an auditorium, and even a planetarium! Several of these are linked by a huge concrete covered walkway, the ‘Grande Marquise’ (Great Marquee). Whilst the park is well used for walking, cycling, skate-boarding and running by ‘Paulistanos’ (residents of São Paulo), the buildings within it seem to have become white elephants. Many of the galleries are empty, only partly used, or closed to the public completely; as though they are surplus to the city’s cultural requirements. And Niemeyer’s architecture is certainly not as celebrated as in other Brazilian cities.

Museu de Arte de São Paulo, designed by Lina Bo Bardi is much more loved. The concrete and glass body of the museum is supported by two lateral beams, with a distance of 74 meters between the vertical supports. Quite a sight.

The Mercado Municipal showcases the diversity of immigrant communities who have settled in São Paulo since its boom in the 1890s – Italian produce dominates the stalls, along with many Greek and Arabic ingredients. Whilst the market proper is undoubtedly pleasant, it is surrounded by one huge tat-fest with shops offering bewildering displays of junk, most of which is made in China. One example is the emporium of giant inflatables (think seaside, opposed to bedroom). And lest we forget ‘Spectacle Street’, where each shop offers a dizzying range of glasses, with more stock than the national SpecSavers warehouse.

São Paulo is also home to the largest community of Japanese outside Japan, which means top notch sushi. In fact, the food in São Paulo was excellent and is probably the most notable thing about it as a city. This was a culinary highlight on what is otherwise a Brazilian food wasteland.

One final observation is that the good people of São Paulo love a communication mast. This is taken to a ridiculous extent with some buildings, which are seemingly crushed by structures akin to Monsieur Gustave Eiffel’s tower on top.

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