Despite what TripAdvisor told me, the people at the front desk of my hotel do not speak English. That would have been fine if I knew that beforehand, but since I was expecting “Excellent English skills” I didn’t exactly do a lot of research, figuring it would be easy to just ask the front desk. Now, this isn’t because I’m the type of person who likes to travel and figure it out on the fly, quite the opposite actually. However, I’ve found that no matter how much time you spend researching a city there is just no way you’re going to know more than the people who live there.
First, let me clarify. Brasilia is not a destination like Rio. Going to Brasilia is a bit like traveling to Italy and choosing to go to Milan. No offense to any fans of Milan out there. I will admit my only experience with the city was a night sleeping on a cold marble bench in their train station, but you get the idea. To drive the point home, I was the only non-Brazilian on my flight. This is not speculative; I walked through the ‘foreigners’ customs line alone. I was pretty relieved to even be let into the country considering I look a bit like a mass murderer in my VISA photo (I’m gonna split the blame on that one with the Walgreens photo guy).
Check in with the front desk and my general questions about the area (like where to eat) did not go quite as smoothly as I imagined. After realizing neither of us could understand each other (I had a feeling that my one Portuguese phrase, “A menina come uma maca//the girl eats an apple” would not be getting me very far) we met in the middle and conversed in Spanish. I use the word ‘conversed’ lightly, it was mostly him speaking Spanish phrases or words quite slowly to me, followed by a lot of hand motions. But ultimately, as it often does in these situations, we had a good idea of what each other were trying to say, though the conversation ended with me putting my credit card number on a slip of paper for reasons not entirely known. I suppose I should start checking my bank account on a more regular basis just in case.
Apparently, because of Carnival and Brasilia’s poor pedestrian planning, nothing is open within walking distance. Oh well, what’s the saying? “There’s no better way than getting to know a culture than eating their frozen meals”?
The first thing I notice is how empty it feels here. I was the only one checking into (possibly staying at?) my hotel, and despite being surrounded by high-rises, I didn’t see anyone as I walked the block from where my taxi dropped me off to the hotel doors. It felt a bit post-apocalyptic. When I got to my room on the 16th floor and looked down onto the main axis (think of it like DC’s mall) I could see a few groups of people walking the immense stretches between cross streets like little ants. But that was the only real sign of life. This may just be my reaction to staying at a business hotel instead of a crowded youth hostel. I guess when one has spent most of their nights traveling on a bunk bed in a crowded room, one comes to expect certain things with their lodging (namely, a steady stream of loud young travelers coming into and out of the room at all hours of the night). But it still feels eerie, and I’m not exactly sure what to do with myself…
I was told it wasn’t really safe to walk around the hotel area at night, and I can kind of seem why. This is what the view of the place is at night:
Luckily I did do some research, and had written down the number of a highly recommended tour guide who has a background in architecture. One phone call later I am poised to meet Roberto tomorrow in the lobby of my hotel at 12 to begin our day of touring the architectural sights of Brasilia.
I’m excited to finally see Oscar Niemeyer’s extensive work in this city, as for so long they have been just been staring back at me from the pages of a book. I am a little worried they will not live up to the photos (some CC students may recall me dragging them through the streets of Vienna one night in a desperate attempt to find Otto Wagner’s Postal Savings Bank. I was met with several “this is it?” stares upon arrival) but architecture is an art form you must experience to really appreciate, so I remain deliriously excited to finally step into these buildings.
That’s it for now!