Wanderlust and Baby AirBnB Awards 2016

AirBnB has been absolutely pivotal in making our trip affordable and practically possible. All but one of our 18 different accommodations so far have been booked through the site. 

Not only are hotels (and indeed often hostels) far more expensive but without the kitchen facilities available in our AirBnB properties feeding Amber and ourselves would be impractical / impossible. 

AirBnB has also give us the chance to meet local people and experience neighbourhoods and properties that would otherwise have eluded us. That is not to say it’s all been plain sailing. Putting your stay in the hands of a random punter instead of the professional services industry can lead to problems, some more serious than others. In this post we’ll look back on our accommodation for 2016 and pick out the best and worst that AirBnB has offered.

Award: Biggest property

Winner: Luna Azul, Punta Ballena, Uruguay

For our second week in Uruguay we stayed at this vast 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom detached holiday home (only affordable as we stayed here way out of season). It even had its own name. In a predictable reaction to its size and the quietness of the neighbourhood overall we decided it was haunted. At least we didn’t feel quite so alone if we imagined a ghost making use of the third bedroom.

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Amber helps give a sense of perspective in front of Luna Azul (ghost can be seen in top left window)

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Brazil – in a nutshell

We left Brazil at the end of last week. In total we spent five weeks roaming around, arriving in Rio and travelling south via Barra da Lagoa (outside Florianopolis), onto Porto Alegre and then finishing in Gramado in the Sierra Gaucha mountains. We can by no means say we have ‘done’ Brazil – there are huge swathes of the country that we did not get to see (saved hopefully for a future trip – the Amazon in particular is a dream, albeit a much less baby friendly one) but what we did see we loved, and we had a pleasingly varied itinerary that included beaches, mountains, cities and a zoo.

We have covered our Brazilian adventures pretty extensively to date so not much more remains to be said. However, there are a couple of final overall observations and experiences that we would like to jot down.

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Gramado or Gramano?

If you’re not bothered about what we have spent the last week doing and just want to know what the title is all about I’d suggest scrolling down the page until you get to the quiz section. For those that are left here’s our quick update.

On 9th September we left Porto Alegre and took a 2 hour bus journey north to Gramado which lies in the mountains of the Serra Gaucha region. As explained in a previous blog entry  Gramado received an influx of German and Italian immigrants in the 19th Century who had a significant influence on the town. The resulting resemblance to a European Alpine resort is striking and is completed by a plethora of artisan chocolate shops and fondue restaurants.

With the hot sun and clear skies giving an unseasonable warmth on the day we arrived combined with the European architecture it felt somewhat surreal getting off the bus, particularly after what was a rather wet and cold week in Porto Alegre. A surreal start soon gave way to excitement though as we breathed in fresh mountain air and admired the pristine town centre.

Gramado is a high profile tourist destination, having been voted by Trip Advisor as the 2nd best destination in the whole of Brazil after Rio. A bold claim for a country that houses the bulk of the Amazon rain forest, as well as hundreds of miles of paradisaical beaches but regardless on first sight we were impressed by how clearly well cared for the town is. What with the tourists, the Alpine architecture and a very apparent love for Christmas there could be a danger the town drifts into tackiness but actually we found it upmarket and classy clearly appealing to well-heeled Brazilians (and us).

In Gramado we were staying through AirBnB at Casa Marlene, an annex to a house located about 10 mins walk from the centre of the town. It was Marlene herself who greeted us on arrival and who subsequently provided us with the best hospitality we have enjoyed so far in Brazil – opening up her kitchen for us to use, ferrying us to the zoo and bus station and playing with / cuddling Amber (maybe we should start charging for that…)

Anyway here’s some of the highlights of our week in the mountains:

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Porto Alegre – the highs and the lows

We assumed upon arriving in Porto Alegre that following our stay we would write some sort of post along the lines of 5 best things to do in PA or How to spend a week in PA etc etc etc. The city is a major urban hub and has a population of nearly 4.5 million, and as such we assumed it would have more than enough to occupy us for our stay. But after a week of near constant rain so heavy that we were virtually housebound, an unexpected flat move mid-week due to a cockroach the size of a mouse, and two consecutive days spent killing time in the local shopping mall (we are not mall people), we started feeling like a post about what not to do in Porto Alegre would be more appropriate.
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Amber loving the ball pit in the local shopping mall

Porto Alegre is not on most typical traveller routes. It is the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, and the region has more in common with Uruguay and northern Argentina – think cowboys, vinyards and rolling hills as opposed to the white sand beaches or Amazonian forays that are more often associated with Brazilian tourism. The state has a more temperate climate than its northern neighbours, and given it is still winter in these parts at the moment, it was pretty cold for a lot of our stay.

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Food in Brazil

Third on the list of things I love after numbers and plans is food and this was always going to be a major part of our experience.

Before leaving we were intrigued by what we would and wouldn’t find as we went from country to country. Claire and I love food, from the odd Michelin star treat to a hungover Burger King, so we were both excited about the new foods we would discover and how we would adapt from place to place.

The other major factor in our food journey was always going to be what the hell would we feed Amber. It’s safe to say Amber is a typical toddler (it’s taken me quite some time to accept and understand that) in that her preferences seem to change on a daily basis. Just when you think you can always fall back on some bread and cream cheese suddenly both are off the menu and you’re scrabbling around the fridge searching for something she will like. New foods, even new brands of old foods, are treated like extra terrestrial objects – probed, poked and if you’re lucky they may touch the lips before somewhat inevitably being rejected.

So take that fussy toddler and drop her into Brazil with two hyper-sensitive parents and you have a recipe for a rather emotional start to our trip, at least when it came to meal times.

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Barra da Lagoa and our plans for the next few weeks

As well as numbers I also love a good plan and this trip gives us plenty of opportunities to scour maps, AirBnB and flight / bus schedules in order to arrange the next phases of our trip.

With 2 weeks in Rio behind us (see Claire’s blog here) we want to lay out what we have planned over the next few weeks as well as quickly comment on the week just gone.

26th August – 2nd September: Barra da Lagoa

This week we have been in the fishing village of Barra da Lagoa (not quite as small as it sounds with the plethora of hostels, surf schools and restaurants around but that said it is still very quiet and relaxed) near Florianopolis. This is a tranquil, serene and beautiful place that sits at the southerly point of a seemingly endless beach on the east side of Isla Santa Catarina. Our days here are simple – playing on the beach with Amber, drinking Brahma beer, keeping our costs down and trying (sometimes succeeding) to make meals that Amber will eat (more on this to come but it’s been emotional to say the least).

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Barra da Lagoa

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8 things to do in Rio with a baby

We knew before arriving in Rio that visiting with Amber in tow would be very different from the trip we would have had before becoming parents. For this visit at least, the city’s infamous nightlife would remain out of our reach.

But caiprinha fuelled samba parties are not all there is going on, and after two weeks in the ‘Cidade Maravilhosa’ we feel that we got a great taste of what it is about. Stunning, massive and fascinating, it had more than enough to occupy us, and despite thinking we were taking it relatively easy, we covered a lot of ground.

Rio is far more accessible than you would think given its reputation. Where we were staying in Barra Copacabana was safe and secure, and easy to get around by foot. The metro system is handy and linked us to various points of interest. Taxis are in abundance, and with Ubers as cheap as they are it often cost less to travel by taxi than by metro.
Here is a list of the things we did that we particularly enjoyed, and that we found to be either baby friendly, or at the very least baby accessible.

1. Parque Lage. The place we loved the most during our whole stay and the scene of Amber’s first official hike. Once the residence of a rich industrialist and now a public park, it has an abundance of fish ponds, woodland paths and, most enjoyably, grottos and caves to explore. As enthusiastic but novice spelunkers, we could barely contain ourselves.

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Spelunking for beginners

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Inside Santa Marta Favela

Favelas (slums in Brazilian urban areas) are synonymous with Rio. And despite at least one favela being visible from most points in the city a tourist has no real need to visit or even go through one such as they are positioned high up on the hills overlooking the offices, homes and beaches below.

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View of Santa Marta favela from its base

That said and in a similar way to the slums of Mumbai some favelas are now open to tours to give outsiders the opportunity to witness first hand what life is like for the residents who live there. With our knowledge of favelas limited to watching City of God (also set in Rio) this was an opportunity we wanted to take and would further round our experience of this city as our time here drew to a close.

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Our first week in numbers

I love numbers. And so what better way to mark our first week than a run down of some of the key facts and figures from our time in Rio so far. So in no particular order:

Twenty
The number of minutes spent at Christ the Redeemer where cloud cover meant we only saw a fraction of the famous views. Also the number of times we got annoyed by tourists pushing and shoving to get their perfect photo. Not that we’re bitter.

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Christ not doing much to redeem the view. Out of shot are a million tourists lying on the ground taking photos.

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First impressions

With 48 hours in Rio now behind us here’s some of our first impressions:

1. Natural beauty. To state the obvious the geographical setting of this city is absolutely majestic. Mountains, lagoons and beaches merge seamlessly with the city which wraps itself around its landscape in a natural, unimposing way.

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