Porto Alegre-The Southern Brazilian City

At long last, after driving for weeks through Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, we entered Brazil, our final destination for this leg of our travels. Part of the southernmost state of Brazil, and a neighbor of Argentina and Uruguay, Porto Alegre definitely had a different feel than anywhere else we had been in Brazil before.

 There a romanticism to traveling like this that will never fully fade. So for a moment, we let our shields down and went full tourist. We had one day here and we weren’t kidding anyone. We stopped outside the bus station, I opened our Lonely Planet, and we decided to head to the Mercado Publico: basically the giant downtown market. (Its a miracle this alone didn’t get us mugged- I always stress seeing other travelers doing it).

Being massive, and my first destination in South America, Brazil is the only country we have a guidebook for so we headed out in search of ba place to have breakfast and read up on our current location. Generally we prefer to read blogs (surprising?) about where we’re going for current and straightforward opinions, but there is something wonderful about showing up, having no electronics, no wifi, and just opening up your book and finding a way to spend the day.

Porto-Alegre-Brazil

To our credit, we had asked the guys in one of the ticket booths for recommendations before doing this. We bought our tickets from Porto Alegre to Rio de Janeiro from them, and figured they could help. “What to do in Porto Alegre?”, the guy questioned back at us in Portuguese so his friend could hear.

Read more: Exploring Uruguay: Montevideo & Punta del Este

Read more: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Rio Carnival

When we arrived to the Mercado Publico, we saw the restaurants and stalls setting up for the day. It was early morning, so everything had that weekday morning buzz to it. The streets around reminded me of downtown Rio, where guys are slicing pineapples and stacking them impressively high while shouting prices as stores full of mutli-colored flips flops pass out flyers and trucks drive through the streets unloading every other kind of good. It was a bit smaller, but had the same crazy bustle to it. Packed storefronts on the first floor, colorful colonial facades of apartments on the second.

They both started laughing. “Go to Rio!”. They simply pointed us downtown, and continued to recommend that for the day before Carnaval, we should really just move North. But then again, don’t locals in mid-sized cities always say things like that? You can’t always expect some young guys who want to move away from home to tell you the hidden beauty of their city I guess. We had only heard positive things from the older people on our bus, so we didn’t let them deter us. But we had to resort to the more typical tourist suggestions from there.

Pineapples-Mercado-Publico-Port-Alegre---The-Borderless-Project

So to sum it up, Porto Alegre seemed to have a large mix of outside influences defining it’s culture, and very different influences at that. The guide listed a score of incredible sounding artisanal bars, and barbeque restaurants where you could enjoy the meat, wine and cowboy traditions, but the options for things to simply walk around and see was a bit more limited. But without too much time, maybe that was in our best interest…It directed us to one square, and everything listed would be found there- a Cathedral, a second church and a government building.

Inside the market we found a little cafe to post up in and decide what our next move would be. We accidentally ended up eating a chicken heart sandwich (weird texture, not ideal for breakfast, but not too horrible), and researched in our old school travel guide. One of the things that Lonely Planet does so well is give a great overview of a place. While often written for a wide audience, it still helps you understand the history of a city and it’s role in the context of the country or continent, and usually only within a page or two, and this is something I feel I can’t go without showing up to a new place if I want to try to appreciate and understand it.

A neighbor to Uruguay, the cowboy and mate tea drinking culture was said to be strong here. Aother neighbor, Argentina, lends the influence of good wine and steak. Close to Paraguay, the city has connections to Paraguayan native history and language. And on top of that, it is well-known throughout Brazil for being home to many German immigrants. Many people have a German heritage and they brought their food and beer-making skills with them (the Oktoberfest here is popular with a lot of young Brazilians).

Museum-Side-Porto-Alegre-Brazil---The-Borderless-Project

Along the way we wandered through other various plazas, always with beautiful classic architecture surrounded by droves of greenery. Hanging trees swept park benches, and street vendors all sat in their shade selling mate tea jugs and leather bracelets. It was serene for a city, just a block any direction from the Mercado Publico and we kept finding plazas like this. Few of the buildings were very high, and everywhere felt comfortable and casual enough for anyone to walk into. It seemed like even though we had yet to find a massive list of daytime things to do and see, it would be a wonderful place to spend time friends and relaxing in the plazas and trying all of these artisanal beers we kept hearing about.

We finally made it up the hill to the plaza housing the attractions we had been directed to. The cathedral was definitely impressive, a bit modern feeling. It was covered in incredible mosaics and gold, yet the one downside of all the greenery was that it hide most of it from view until you were right up in front of it. We lingered around in front for a while, looking at different statues and guarding our bags near the shantytown that seems to have set up in all of the shaded areas of the plaza in front of the church.

Cathedral-Porto-Alegre-Brazil---The-Borderless-Project

There’s a giant buffet of food that is constantly being refilled and you choose what you want, how much you want, and pay by weight. For someone without the freedom to cook while traveling, on budget and wanting to eat quickly it’s so efficient. You have to check the kilo price before though- below R$3 is a good deal, above $5 is expensive, and anything above that is guaranteed to offer sushi or other very high-price items. But it’s great because you can alter to your budget- backpackers can get full on R$10-15. Travelers wanting to sit down in A/C to freshly grilled picanha steak, sashimi and gourmet casseroles can do it as well.

We ambled back down the hills towards the main roads close to the river in search of food after this. With a dwindling budget, days sans shower and our main goal being surviving until we made in to Rio for Carnaval, we went simple with a kilo restaurant. For those of you not familiar with the Brazilian kilo restaurants, it’s a genius concept (even though it can be a slightly repetitive experience).

Stomachs full, we went out just a bit longer before having to get to our bus. We were glad we had seen the city, but not in too big of a fuss that we couldn’t stay much longer and we hadn’t found too much to see. But as a city itself, the architecture, greenery and interesting mix of cultures definitely lends a unique vibe that people living there must get much more of a benefit from. We said goodbye to the pretty port city, boarded our FINAL bus to our destination city of Rio de Janeiro, and off we went!

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