I’m happy to welcome back Liam Newman to Hanwanderlust, he’s here to share his Brazilian adventures that he had whilst he was over there watching England play in the World Cup. Take it away, Liam. Viva Brazil!
As a male football fan who has a deep-lying need to travel, the FIFA World Cup is the perfect opportunity to combine my two biggest passions in life. A World Cup in the spiritual home of football, which just happens to be a country bursting with vigour, is probably as mouth-watering as it gets!
Less than a fortnight earlier I was sunning it up in Miami, but the excitement for this trip was on another level altogether. This World Cup was something that all football fans had looked forward to for years – for those heading out, though, it was another chance to feed the travel bug. Following the English national football team has become a drug and the opportunity to watch them in Brazil is the crack cocaine of my addiction. I’d already visited Rio in June 2013 and that was one of the best weeks of my life, this had the potential to be something extra special; it didn’t disappoint… although my first impressions were that it would.
The one major downside of following football, aside from the sky-rocketed flight prices, is that you don’t get to choose on the destination. The first city of my trip was Sao Paulo. In hindsight, I wish it hadn’t been. When visiting the largest city in the Southern hemisphere, your preconceived ideas are largely positive. How wrong I was. The only way to sum up Sao Paulo is that I’ve never been to such a large place with so little promise. It is a concrete jungle void of character, I hated the place.
Staying just off Paulista, we were assured that this was the place to be. However, I’d have rather been anywhere else. Within an hour I’d come to the assumption that this grey, soulless city was the place where dreams come to die. I needed a stiff drink. Unfortunately, the only pub found within a mile of our hotel was an Irish bar. O’Malley’s is a fairly decent little boozer but ultimately, after travelling four and a half thousand miles, you expect a little more. The fact you have to pay R$15 (just under £5) only adds further insult to injury.
I’m one of those types that loves to walk around a city and take in all the sights but the most common sight here was graffiti. Sao Paulo had been the epicentre of the well documented pre-tournament protests and the habitants weren’t shy about showing their dissatisfaction.
I would love to be in a position where I could post snaps of monuments and other landmarks but there either aren’t any, or they are all hidden away. To be fair, the latter could well be true. On collecting our match tickets from a secluded building full of kids practicing their breakdancing moves, we did find a lovely art gallery. The security working there couldn’t tell me if this was a temporary or permanent feature, but it was the one glimpse of Brazil’s beauty.When it comes to nightlife, there was only one place on the tip of everybody’s tongues: Vila Madelena. The hype was that this place would be carnage and, to be fair, it didn’t disappoint in that respect.
However, instead of the anticipated strip of bars, there was instead just a huge street party. I’m 25, male, and follow the England football team with a group of lads. I love a carnival atmosphere as much as the next person, but this was too much. Pure pandemonium. Perhaps the fact Brazil had just played Mexico added to the scenes of bedlam but either way this was too much. By taking two taxis to the area, our group of seven had been split into two and were six blocks apart. It took 45 minutes for the two halves to be rejoined. The sheer volume of people made manoeuvring through this hellhole an impossible task.
The city as a whole had been hugely underwhelming but the worst was yet to come. England lost 2-1 to Uruguay, meaning we were out. Just two days after arriving, the World Cup dream was over. I won’t go into details about the football as this is a travel blog, however, it is worth noting that the stadium was an absolute eyesore. When there are tens of thousands living in poverty and the government instead spend hundreds of millions on a quite frankly inadequate football stadium, you start to empathise with the public discontent. I’m not suggesting for a second that I agree with the mass rioting, but I certainly understand their anger.
However, the next day we were up and out early and on to our next destination. After a city as reputable as Sao Paulo had so little offer, I didn’t hold out much hope for Belo Horizonte. Fortunately, I would go on to be pleasantly surprised.
Within an hour of rocking up to my hotel, I knew that Belo would be more agreeable.
It is still a large city, but it isn’t even close to being the size of Sao Paulo and that in itself was a positive. This destination certainly had a lot more to offer my explorational side too. There are a number of landmarks and monuments plotted around the city, including a number of attractions that are designed by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
In addition to that there is Freedom Square, Liberty Palace and the City Park – unfortunately, we found out the hard way that the latter is not open on Mondays. Nevetheless, there is plenty to keep even the most ardent traveler entertained.
However, after the laborious slog of three days in Sao Paulo it was quite relieving to be plotted up in an area that contained everything that was required. Our hotel, the Promenade Ianelli, was in the perfect location and additionally offered fantastic value for money and a great customer service to boot. Staying in Savassi turned out to be a masterstoke as that not only tended to be the congregational point for England fans but also a vibrant place full of locals and World Cup supporters alike. The streets were packed with fans of all nationalities and that helped to create a real party atmosphere.
The main square was somewhat reminiscent of Vila Madelena, in the sense that there were plenty of people having street parties night after night. However, the layout of streets combined with far superior planning from the organisers made this a far more pleasurable experience. The music pumped, the beers flowed (at just R$5 a pint too!) and the general feeling was superb. This was the perfect blend of energy and comfort, a brilliant way to end each of our five days in the city.
In the daytime there were plenty of shops and stools to fulfil all your needs, while a plethora of food establishments easily satisfied my palate. Savassi in itself could have kept me entertained for the full five days, but the tourist attractions further afield were certainly worth a visit.
Then there was the football. England’s final game against Costa Rica meant absolutely nothing in terms of the tournament but, like almost every other aspect, the stadium in Belo Horizonte ran rings around its Sao Paulo counterpart. The match itself was poor but visiting this stadium was a pleasure nonetheless; one can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like for Tuesday’s semi-final between Brazil and Germany.
Having been to Rio in 2013, it would be foolish to say that Belo is the best city that Brazil has to offer and I wouldn’t necessarily advise basing a holiday on visiting this location alone. However, if you ever find yourself backpacking across South American then this little gem is well worth a visit.
From a football perspective, my second World Cup failed to deliver. However, my five days in Belo Horizonte not only made up for this but additionally compensated for a terrible three days in Sao Paulo.
That’s it then, the long-haul trips are over and the next four years of supporting England will be dominated with trips across Europe. Next up for me is Estonia in October, unless I can readjust my schedule to accommodate September’s visit to Switzerland. Until then…
Thank you for contributing your Brazilian adventure over here at Hanwanderlust, Liam. I loved reading about one of the countries that I’d love to visit; I will look forward to reading more about your upcoming adventures around Europe and further afield.
Liam is a Football and Sports Writer based in England, you can find him over on Twitter at @thatliamnewman He is well worth a follow, not only is he bouncing all over the globe often, but he’s rather funny as well.