Buoyed by Sunday’s free and easy promenade along Avenida Paulista we thought we’d stray further afield and explore some of the other sights of São Paulo.
So, mid-morning on Monday we plunged headfirst into the subway system, thinking first to the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Sé district and then a stroll through downtown and over to the Mercado Municipal, one of the top things to see and do in in this city, might be a nice idea.
Ok, first off, the subway is deep, concrete, vast, clean and efficient, costing just R4.30 for each journey (80p or A$1.50). São Paulo has an extensive sprawling subway network that stretches out some 96 kilometres (though I guess compared with London’s 402k and Seoul’s 980k, and given the population size (25 million!) and density, it’s relatively small). However, it’s often packed, and I mean sardine packed, though luckily not for us on our particular line this morning. But as we could see from the specialised off-and-on barriers at some stations it’s not just the trains that can be packed but the subway platforms, quite staggeringly so, and multi-story stacked. It’s actually rather surreal – we witnessed this at Sé.
It’s not the Buenos Aires SUBTE, with its merry band of wandering minstrels and moveable markets onboard, no, this is an austere, super air-conditioned, spacious and functional subway system – when not super-crammed with people.
We emerged at the Sé subway station at the foot of the Metropolitan Cathedral and were immediately confronted with an overwhelming smell of piss and dozens (clusters) of largely dishevelled men lurking around the edges of the square. We felt like prize targets I have to say – pastel linen shirts, shorts, leather satchels and fashionable walking shoes. We stood out like sore, well…
There was a heavy police presence around the square and in front of the cathedral, on foot and in groups, but also on ‘armed-to-the-teeth’ motorcycles that patrolled the area. We really didn’t feel that safe and quickly entered the cathedral which is neo-gothic in style, first begun in 1913 and finally completed in 1954, so relatively new when compared with other cathedrals in Latin America. It’s nice enough, with a grand somewhat plain interior space, but nothing compared with some of the incredible cathedrals we’ve seen on this trip.
After leaving the cathedral we didn’t fancy walking the streets of Sé so plunged back into the subway for a one-stop ride to São Bento and the nearby Mercado Municipal.
Look, I consider us relatively world-weary experienced travellers, having experienced our fare-share of dodgy districts, hairy encounters and those ‘get me out of here’ moments… but this takes the bolacha. Today for us this place really felt quite menacing, noisy and crowded, so I’m afraid no photos, as the mere act of producing a camera would, I imagine, not have gone down so well.
The chaotic streets finally delivered us to the Mercado and, on first impressions, it looked to be packed with wonderous things! It has hundreds of heaving stalls and shops selling exotic fruits, some of which are rare fruits from the Amazon. Heaving piles of spices, hanging cured meats and some of the most impressive butchers stalls I’ve ever seen!
BUT, and here’s the ‘big but’, we were harangued from the moment we stepped foot in the market, and this unfortunately became so oppressive it made us somewhat dismissive (to them perhaps rude even), such was their insistence and desperation to sell us something. Disappointing, as I love mooching around a market. No, this experience thrust us back out onto the streets and straight into the first available taxi back to the relative peace and order of Jardim Paulista. The taxi-ride was long and took us through barrio after barrio of towering concrete apartment buildings, bypassed by clogged avenidas. The journey on the city map is only three centimetres. This place is huge. You need to know someone.
So, I’m sorry to say, this particular mission in São Paulo was abandoned. Back to the hotel and that glorious pool.
Last night here. We’re off to Brexit-Land on Tuesday!