12 surprises of our FIFA World Cup Brazil experience

The FIFA World Cup served us a few surprises, and I’m not talking about the results of the games. Here’s some snippets of our experience in Brazil.

12 surprises of our World Cup experience

 

  1. Fans who wanted to take photos with fans of opposing teams – we’ve never experienced anything like this before. The fans from Uruguay were the most enthusiastic of all the games we went to.

 

The Dutch fans were so much fun! Salvador QF Netherlands v Costa Rica

The Dutch fans were so much fun! Salvador QF Netherlands v Costa Rica

  1. The quality of the stadiums and the awesome viewing from our Category 3 seats.

 

  1. How the FIFA World Cup has captured Zorba and how much he has got into it. Coming on this trip was my idea – and he just went along with it, initially. Now he loves it and is completely hooked.

    The FIFA ticket collection machine

    The FIFA ticket collection machine

 

  1. The incredible atmosphere at each game – it exceeded my expectations.

 

  1. Collecting tickets from the FIFA Ticket Collection Centres was a breeze. Took just a couple of minutes at the automatic machines if you had the Visa card your tickets were purchased with. Insert Visa card into machine, enter your date of birth, select which tickets you wanted to collect, stand still in front of the built-in camera while your photo is taken, and voilà, tickets are printed.

 

  1. The number of people who go to games wearing the shirts of their country / team, even if they aren’t playing.

 

Mexican fan at the Uruguay v Italy game

Mexican fan at the Uruguay v Italy game

  1. The number of people wearing Brazilian shirts that weren’t from Brasil, and the number of people wearing shirts from countries they are not from. We met an Australian from Sydney who had five shirts with him: Italia, Holland, Australia, Brasil, and Argentina.

 

  1. Full strength beer is sold at the stadiums for A$5 a pint that came in a Brahma plastic cup with the game printed on the side – a collectors’ item.

    Brahma souvenir cup Italy v Costa Rica

    Brahma souvenir cup Italy v Costa Rica

  2. AC/DC Thunderstruck was played before the teams came onto the pitch at every game. Awesome to hear Australian music featured. The same sound track was played at every game.
  3. The same sponsor stands / stalls / experiences were set up around each of the four different stadiums we went to, making them a bit boring. In Salvador we did notice that traditionally dressed women were selling aracajé (basically a deep fried bread like ball that’s made with beans).
  4. The Fan Fests in host cities had (almost) the exact same set up in every city. They were crowded and offered little or no shade. Fan Fests were not good places to go if you really wanted to watch the game – and were rife with pickpockets (Rio in particular).

    FIFA Fan Fest, Copacabana Beach, Rio

    FIFA Fan Fest, Copacabana Beach, Rio

  5. Not once did we feel threatened, frightened or in danger. Brazil rolled out the army and the police and their presence was felt in each city we visited. We were also careful and I haven’t carried a handbag with me for four weeks now (getting used to it actually).

 

The best football chant award has to go to the Chileans: Chi-Chi-Chi, le-le-le, Chile, Chile. Olé!

 

Other observations in Brazil

 

  1. Brazil is a complete football mad country. Watching Brazil play in bars around the country, often the women were the ones getting vocal and hysterical at the television, a lot more so than the men.

    Happy Brazilians in Olinda (Recife)

    Happy Brazilians in Olinda (Recife)

  2. Casual attire in Brazil is the norm. Due to everything I had with me being washed, I spent a day in my gym gear – leggings, tank top, and thongs, and did not feel out of place.

    Zorba and I with our capirinhas watching Brazil qualify for the R16 game

    Zorba and I with our capirinhas watching Brazil qualify for the R16 game

  3. The food was better than I expected, and cheaper than I expected. Some of the best things we at were from the street. Anything with prawns or shrimp was about double the price of the same dish with chicken. My favourite things included fresh mango juice, pastels (deep fried pastry stuffed with chicken, meat, cheese, and / or puree of manioc), barbecued meat, bean soups, bean stew, any kind of black-eyed bean dish actually. Serving sizes in restaurants are usually enormous.
  4. Besides beans and manioc (like a white sweet potato), Brazilians don’t seem to eat a lot of vegetables, and the vegetables sold at supermarkets probably explains why.
  5. Brazilians love to drink and have a massive drinking culture. Capirinhas are delicious – just vodka, mint, sugar and ice. Beer is cheap too, a long neck (600ml) cost between A$2.50 – $5 in bars, and about A$1 in supermarkets.
    WorldCupBrazil_23
  6. Transport to the stadiums was on the whole fairly easy and taxis were cheap.
  7. Local buses are cheap, old, rickety and travel at warp-nine speeds.
  8. Besides the stadiums and tourist areas, Brazil really does feel like a third world country and the economic difficulties of the mass population are evident.
  9. Seeing the street dogs in Brazil broke my heart, time and time again.
  10. No one is in a hurry in Brazil, ever.

    Coconuts A$2.50

    Coconuts A$2.50

  11. Everywhere we went there was a street peddler selling something – Brazilian shirts, flags, sarrongs, hats, bags, hammocks, swimwear, jewellery, food, drinks, trinkets, belts, toys, coconuts – you name it.  The good thing is that they weren’t in your face like they are in Bali. For example, on the beach they’ll look your way, offer you a sarong and unless you call them over, they’ll keep on walking.
  12. Australia’s beaches are as beautiful if not more beautiful in some places than Brazil’s.

    The beach at Stella Maris, Salvador

    The beach at Stella Maris, Salvador

  13. Havianas cost just A$10 in Brazil.
  14. No matter what your shape, size or age, in Brazil it is completely acceptable to wear a g-string on the beach. Lumps and all.
  15. Never ever take anything to the beach but your towel – we knew of several people that had bags / things stolen at the beach.
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The best thing about Brazil is the Brazilian people. We were always welcomed warmly and every Brazilian we met was friendly and helpful. They seemed genuinely happy to have so many visitors in their country. The people made visiting Brazil for the World Cup extra special.

Have you been to Brazil? Were you there for the FiFA World Cup? What surprised you about Brazil? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

Where we ate in New York

Besides a fantastic Italian meal at Malaparte in the Meat Packing District, a decent lunch at The Spotted Pig, and fresh and enjoyable bar snacks at Soho House, we had a few other food experiences worth noting. This is where we ate:

Bagels

 

New Yorkers love a bagel. I don’t mind a bagel myself, but if I’m honest, I don’t really understand the fuss. A great continental crunchy bread roll is what floats my boat.

We asked several people where we can get an excellent New York bagel and were told on each occasion: Murrays.

Breakfast bagel with egg

Breakfast bagel

Murrays is a chain with several dotted around Manhatten. We went to one close to 6th Ave in West Village. It was a bit like an Australian sandwich shop – nothing really to report about the premises, besides the great display of different varieties of smoked salmon.

This was our breakfast, so Zorba choose a bacon and egg on a wholegrain bagel. I went a traditional New York bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers on a white bagel. Poppy seed was recommended, but those little black poppy seeds annoy me when they get stuck in my teeth.

Murrays Bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers

Murrays Bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers

Zorba said my bagel tasted heaps better than his. And my bagel was fine. It filled a gap but failed to wow me. The salmon was gorgeous, the combination of ingredients pleasant, and the bagel was like plenty of other bagels I’ve had in my time. Nice, but not memorable.

Verdict: If you love bagels, then you’ll love Murrays. 7/10

FACT FILE

Murrays Bagels
500 Avenue of the Americas (close to 6th Ave), New York, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212.462.2830

Murray's Bagels on Urbanspoon

 

Eataly

 

Now we’re talking – Eataly is my idea of foodie heaven outside of Italia. It’s a gigantic mall with different zones for fish, meat, pasta, delicatessen, cheese, vegetarian, sweets and my favourite, a Nutella Bar. There was also a fruit and vegetable market. Each zone contains a shopping area and most have a restaurant where you can sit and eat. Each zone is separate and one must settle the bill in a zone before moving to another. Slightly cumbersome – I’m sure they can come up with a better system that would encourage diners to try more zones.

I chose vegetarian – feeling a need for something healthy. On the menu was ribolito, which translates to reboiled. It’s like a minestrone soup and hails from Tuscany.

It was exactly what we were craving. Good, healthy, and warming. It came with plenty of bread and we asked for olive oil and balsamic to make our own dip. A thoroughly enjoyable dish and I could have eaten two portions of it.Eataly ribolita

Of course for dessert, I had to go to the Nutella bar. I ordered a Nutella crepe – it was very nice. Although the Nutella inside was scorching hot, which was not pleasant. When I had a Nutella crepe at the President Wilson market in Paris, it was the perfect temperature.NYC_SohoHouse_28

We didn’t get overly excited about the zones, the produce, products or offerings only because we’d just come from Italy. But had I be missing Italia, I would have wet my pants in Eataly. It’s awesome.

Verdict: A must visit for any Italian loving foodie. 8.5/10

FACT FILE

Eataly
200 5th Ave New York, NY 10010
Tel: +1 212 229 2560

Eataly on Urbanspoon

 

Chelsea Market

 

Sadly, we only had a quick walk through Chelsea Market and I was wishing we had more time. It’s awesome!  The lure of the best coffee in NYC is what brought us to Chelsea Market – Ninth Street Espresso.

Ninth Street Espresso

Ninth Street Espresso

The coffee at Ninth Street Espresso was good. I ordered a cappuccino and it was scalding hot – so hot in fact that I needed napkins to wrap around the cup so I wouldn’t burn my fingers. Once it cooled a little, it was good.

Inside Chelsea Market there’s a massive seafood market complete with oyster and sushi bar, and olive oil dispensary (BYO container), organic green juices, artesian chocolates, a specialist cheese shop, Italian delicatessen, sweets, bagels, and a whole host of other cool food related shops. There’s also a heap of retail shops, including pop up designer stores holding flash sales.

Well worth a visit – and I’d definitely recommend giving it more time that we did.

Verdict:  Ninth Street Espresso – good coffee but too hot for takeaway. 8.5/10

FACT FILE

Chelsea Market & Ninth Street Espresso
75 Ninth Avenue, Meatpacking District, NYC
Ninth Street Espresso on Urbanspoon

 

Shake Shack

 

Shake Shack is a New York institution. It’s a fast food burger place – the flagship stand is located in Madison Square Gardens. The day we were there happened to be Shake Shack’s tenth birthday. As a result, they was a stage set up and festivities planned. Each day of that week a different celebrity chef shared his burger menu and Shake Shack served up 1500 of those.

I was confused when we got to Madison Square Gardens – what are all these people doing?

The long, long queue to Shake Shack

The long, long queue to Shake Shack

There were really long queues everywhere. I went to investigate while Zorba rested his weary feet. On talking to a security guard, I learned that today was the main birthday celebrations for Shake Shake and the day’s celebrity chef had a restaurant on 5th Avenue and his burgers cost US$30 in his restaurant.

Security guard: The queue is three blocks long and they are only serving 1500 burgers.

Me: Really? If you really wanted to try this chef’s burger, why wouldn’t just pay US$30 for one instead of wasting all day in queue?

Security guard: Well, thirty bucks is a lot of money for some people…

Me: Maybe, but my theory is that we live in a first world country and as such, we shouldn’t have to queue for food…

I thought it was a bit ridiculous to be honest. Queuing for three blocks for the chance of getting one of just 1500 burgers? It’s this sort of bollocks that makes me shake my head at Americans.

Needless to say, we didn’t queue and never got the chance to try a Shake Shack burger. It was just all too hard and didn’t seem worth the effort.

 

 

The Spotted Pig, New York

The Spotted Pig in New York is so hot right now – it was recommended by chef Gary Mehigan, from Australia’s MasterChef, and by another esteemed food, wine, and beer writer in Australia. A Michelin-starred gastro pub, the couple sitting next to us at Malaparte also said it was on their list of places to go. Reading reviews, many recommended avoiding the long queues by going for lunch instead of dinner, which is what we did.

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The eclectic interior of The Spotted Pig, New York

Walking in, it felt like I’d entered a little pub in the English countryside. It was small, walls adorned with eclectic artwork, mainy depicting pigs. I felt a little sorry our friendly host who seated us straight away because we weren’t overly warm and friendly ourselves. We were tired and had been bickering about shopping versus eating. Of course, I opted for eating and by eating, I meant eating at The Spotted Pig in Greenwich, which involved a 20-minute walk back to almost where we had started, our hotel. Zorba was not impressed and made it very clear that he preferred to stay in where we were in Soho to shop. It’s got to be the only time ever he would rather shop than eat. So, after our host received our frosty return greeting, we asked him what beer they served. For me given I like lager, he recommended a Samuel Smith organic lager. It was clean, crisp and went down a treat. It reminded of Fat Yak in Australia and I enjoyed it very much. NYC_Spotted Pig_3 For entrée, we (rather, I) decided to share the gnudi with a sage and butter sauce, which is like gnocchi but made with sheep’s milk ricotta instead of potato. The little pillows of gnudi were gorgeously soft, light and fluffy inside. The sage and butter sauce was textbook perfect. It was a delicious dish. I was wishing I didn’t have to share it.

NYC_Spotted Pig_5

The delicious gnudi, much like gnocchi but made with ricotta, not potato, served with a burnt sage butter sauce

Upon our waiter’s recommendation, and because the menu wasn’t that appealing and we were finding it difficult to decide on a main, we choose the Cubano sandwich with a side of shoestring fries.

NYC_Spotted Pig_7

The cuban sandwich. It was fine, if erring on the ‘meh’ side of okay

The serve of fries was ridiculously large, the potato thinly cut, well seasoned and crunchy. I enjoyed them.

NYC_Spotted Pig_6

The shoestring fries were a winner

The Cubano sandwich was okay. I won’t say it blew my socks off. A ciabata with melted cheese tender meat and pickle. I think the Cubano is something New Yorkers love –  just like they love bagels and pastrami – and I don’t get it. It wasn’t unenjoyable, but the flavour combination wasn’t to my palate. However, the use of quality ingredients was evident. NYC_Spotted Pig_4

Zorba on the other hand was quite cross that a sandwich and a beer cost us US$96. That wasn’t the case as such; we had the gnudi, fries, beers and sparkling water.

Verdict: A good meal but didn’t quite live up the hype. Perhaps we ordered badly, perhaps the dinner menu is better, or perhaps our expectations were too high. In any case, 8/10.
The Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon
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FACT FILE

The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th St, Greenwich Village, New York
Tel: +1 212-620-0393

The menu

The menu

Malaparte Italian Restaurant, NYC

While watching the opening match of the World Cup, Brazil v Croatia, at our über cool hotel roof top bar Soho House, we met Will, an architect from London now living in NYC. Will was one of the founding members of Soho House and is friends with the guy that started it years ago. We asked him for a restaurant recommendation – I felt like pasta and he suggested a little unpretentious family run restaurant about five blocks away in the West Village called Malaparte.

We followed his recommendation. After the game, which Brazil won 3-1, we walked five blocks, or more accurately stumbled as Zorba had enjoyed a few complementary cairpirinhas at Soho House’s roof top bar.

Malaparte Restaurant was busy, but there was a table for two outside. Tables were packed in tight. The menu was typically Italian and the wine list included Italian varietals. We ordered a bottle of Nero D’Avola, my favourite Sicilian red. For starters, I ordered polenta with mushrooms. Zorba ordered polenta with Italian sausage. Both dishes were divine. The polenta was creamy and smooth (not the grainy type) and the mushrooms were full of earthy flavour.NYC_Malaparte_HR_1

I quizzed the Italian waiter about the carbonara. Zorba loves spaghetti carbonara and almost always wants to order it when he sees it on a menu. I, on the other hand, am always cautious. We weren’t in Rome and there was every chance the carbonara would have cream or mushrooms or some other ingredient that does not belong in traditional dish. The waiter assured me it was made traditionally the without cream and contained a special type of pancetta. He seemed annoyed by my quizzing, but hey, if I’m paying for it, I want to know what I’m paying for.

We both opted for spaghetti carbonara, and wow, I’m so glad I did. It was full of flavour, the egg and parmesan sauce was silky and coated the spaghetti beautifully. It was a sensational version.

NYC_Malaparte_2

We got chatting to the local couple next to us. Even though they lived only a few blocks from Malaparte, they had never been there before. They said they would definitely return, and so will we if we find ourselves in New York again.

Thanks Will, your recommendation was a winner!

Verdict: No fuss family-run Italian restaurant serving great food. Service was adequately efficient if perhaps lacking a bit of warmth. 8.5 / 10

FACT FILE

Malaparte Italian Restaurant
753 Washington St (Cnr Bethune St), Meat Packing District, NY 10014
+1 212 255 2122

Malaparte on Urbanspoon

New York: Soho House, the coolest place to stay

Zorba continues to remind me that he found us the coolest place in New York to stay, Soho House.

When we arrived at Soho House at 9.30pm after a long flight from Milano, we didn’t know much about it.  All we knew was that it was a Mr & Mrs Smith recommended hotel located in the cool Meat Packing District.  Rather than venturing out jet lagged, we just decided to go to the roof top bar for a drink, on the recommendation of the concierge, Jamie.

Stepping out of the lift, I felt completely underdressed in my MacPac trousers and polo shirt – this place was like a scene out of Sex and the City. In fact, we found out later that Sex and the City had filmed an episode here.

Pool roof top bar at Soho House New York

Pool roof top bar at Soho House New York

Let me paint you a picture – beautiful young people dressed on-trend in the latest designer garments, impeccably groomed and perfectly poised. The decor was a cross between Hampton’s beach and French chic with big white and blue cushions everywhere. There were views of Manhattan’s skyline beyond, and a pool with perfectly sculpted bodies swimming in it – mind you, it was almost 10pm, but that didn’t seem to matter.

Right there and then I wished I had made the effort to do more than a swipe of lipstick. Oh whatever. After a quick look around, we sat at the bar and had a beer, not talking to each other at all as we oogled the activity around us.

Screenshot 2014-06-18 17.50.11

Soho House is a members only club and hotel. It first started in London as a result of West End theatre actors and crew not having anywhere open to go for a drink after their shows.  As such, membership is restricted to those in the arts / media / creative industries. There is a longer list of those waiting for membership, than members themselves. The annual fee is US$3,000 and for that, you have access to the coolest roof top bar in town, complete with pool, the club room, restaurant, a cinema, a day spa supplied with gorgeous Cow Shed products, and there’s a gym / fitness centre around the corner.

Our room, whilst classed as ‘small’, was amazing. The bed was huge, soft, and made up with the finest linen. The bathroom was stocked with five different Cow Shed shower gels and a fantastic array of complementary products that I would actually use. The decor was awesome – big red velvet arm chair, stressed / recycled wood panelling, antique phone, and brass bedside lamps.

As an added bonus of booking through Mr & Mrs Smith, we had a butler who made us a cocktail in our room while we got ready to go out. We didn’t know that he only does this between certain hours – and we were out during our first two nights. We did enjoy a cocktail in our room on our last night though, which was pretty cool.

Other things worth mentioning:

  • Awesome mini bar with 375ml bottles of spirits (not mini one-serves)
  • Nespresso machine and free nespresso pods – yay!
  • Chocolate chip cookies each day
  • small bottle of water each day
  • Free New York Times delivered every morning
  • Digital radio / alarm clock
  • Turn down service
  • Use of thongs (flip flops) for pool, and fluffy robes

The Club has rules:

  • No cameras
  • No mobile phones
  • No corporate suits
  • Smart dress at all times

The no mobile rule I really liked – people were actually talking to each other in the club bar. The no camera rule meant that I had to ask permission from Soho House to use their photos, which was granted.

Because the hotel and club rooms were so awesome, we didn’t feel the need to have to go out at night. Why would we when we were staying in the coolest place in NYC?

On our second night, we got dressed up in our new clothes that we had bought after a marathon day shopping, and sat at the club room bar and chatted to a very friendly Irish bar tender who has worked there for years. When quizzed about Soho House, he was very diplomatic, but putting two and two together, what he didn’t say was that they get a lot of wankers in there. As you would expect with an arts industry members only club.

We had a light dinner at the bar – delicious avocado hummus dip with fresh vegetables (craving veggies – have not been eating enough of them), and croquettes.  Simple, delicious, and not expensive.

NYC_SohoHouse_15

The opening match of the World Cup was on during our last day – so we watched it in the roof top bar and saved ourselves the hassle of having to get into one of the packed pubs showing the game. We had table service and free caipirinha cocktails – happy days!

NYC_SohoHouse_31

It was a truly awesome hotel and it was hard to leave.

Perhaps if we’d known the nightmare we would endure after leaving Soho House, perhaps we wouldn’t have left!  Read about our Shattered World Cup Dream here.

 

FACT FILE

Soho House New York
29-35 9th Avenue, NYC (Meat Packing District, between 13th and 14th)

Book through Mr & Mrs Smith for added bonuses such as ‘one while changing’ butler cocktail service

Three nights cost A$1,450 (but everywhere in NYC is expensive. Even the 3-star hotels are expensive)