Escaping the Madness

We tried. I’m telling you, we tried. And then we procrastinated, and then everywhere we want to go in Brazil is either also a Carnaval hot spot, too hot, or too expensive. And then a friend decided to come. And so… Here we are again! Oh Carnaval.

It’s better this year- we know what to expect, we’re settled in our apartment and with each other, it isn’t a short visit for me. But it is still maddness. Maddness!

We’re doing Sambodromo this year for the parades and Samba competition, and I intend to walk through a little but more of a block party. Maybe. The blocos started right after New Years. Can you believe it?

I think my favorite article about Carnaval is titled “Weary Brazilians Seek Escape From Carnaval Crowds.” Old, but still so relevant. Of course, not everyone dislikes Carnaval. One person interviewed said “I broke up with my girlfriend so I could really enjoy it. We get back together on Wednesday, that was our agreement.” Isn’t love great?


Cristo Photos

Right after I arrived at post, we hiked up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.  Yes, we hiked up that hill.  It was definitely not an easy hike, but it was doable in a couple of hours.  The hardest part was getting back down! We didn’t want to hike back down the hill, but we hadn’t realized that you can’t buy tickets for the return bus at the top.  Who knew!?

The views were amazing, and the best part was ending the afternoon adventure, sweaty and gross, at an all you can eat Churrascaria.  Hike with steak as a reward?  Yes please!

Olympic Fun Facts

The Rio 2016 website is so cool.  They’ve done a really amazing job with branding their Olympics, and it is consistent from their website to their office building to their merchandise.  Go Rio 2016.  You should check out their website, just for fun.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games

But in case you don’t, here are some fun facts about the Olympics for your day!

  • There have been 27 Summer Olympic games.
  • This will be the first Olympics held in South America.
  • The Olympics were first held in 776 BC.
  • 10,500 Athletes from 206 countries will compete in 42 sports over 17 days.
  • Rugby is returning to the Olympics after 92 years.  The U.S. won the last gold medal in Olympic Rugby.
  • Rio 2016 will provide 11 million meals, 100,000 chairs, and 8,400 shuttlecocks during the games.



Olympic and Paralympic Mascots – Vinicius and Tom

Paralympic Fun Facts to follow!

Explaining the Foreign Service

People are really curious about the Foreign Service. I get asked about working in the FS all the time.

  • What is it like?
  • How do you get in?
  • Wow, you must be really smart!
  • Why is your housing so nice?

I’ve gotten them all. That last one is particularly awkward.

The type of person asking kind of determines the answer I give. I could wax poetic about the Foreign Service for hours, but most people really don’t want to hear that.

My parent’s friends? “No, I don’t work for Alphabet Soup Intelligence Agency, but if I did I wouldn’t tell you anyway!”

The itinerant backpacking hotel manager? “The Foreign Service is great – you do get to move around every two years, and the travel opportunities are awesome. But you definitely lose a bit of your flexibility, since it is a government job.”

The super enthusiastic high school student? “I studied history and international relations in college, and I joined right out of undergrad. If this is really what you’re interested in, do an internship. Most people don’t join until they’ve worked elsewhere first, and that is also a great way to do it. In my basic course we had historians, concert pianists, former military, and statisticians. Basically, as long as you can write and speak clearly, the Foreign Service wants all kinds of people and skills.”

The kindly couple who thinks working for the State Department means I work for the State of California. “Foreign Service Officers work at U.S. Embassies overseas. Our most basic purpose is to be in those countries to help Americans who travel and need assistance. We also issue visas to people who want to visit the United States, and we work with the other countries on issues that are important to us both, like trade.”

And my favorite – the American English teacher living in the same country as me. “The Embassy assigns our housing – we don’t have options on where we live. I agree, my housing is very nice. I’m very lucky. Part of the reason for that is that I may be expected to entertain for professional reasons and I need to have an appropriate space in which to do so. Another reason is that the Embassy has to try and provide housing that meets standards of building and safety.  Congress wrote the act that we have to follow about providing housing overseas.”

Pretty good, huh?


Workouts Abroad

I have never been one for workout DVDs, and I really hate running.  I do like working out, but I like classes with other people in them.  Part of that is the guilt factor – if I pay for it each time, I have to go.  A schedule helps too.  But moving every year or two means finding a new gym or studio, and that can take time.  Or be impossible, depending on where you are posted.  And you may speak Portuguese or Italian or Czech, but I’ll bet you don’t know how to say all those technical body part stretch words you need for a class in the local language.  I say all this knowing that if I would just suck it up and run, all of my issues would be solved.  I know people.  I KNOW.

My workout of choice for the past couple of years has been Pilates.  Super easy to find in the DC area, and I managed to find a couple places in Mexico City that I was happy with.  Brazil loves Pilates too, but I have yet to find a studio I like.  Private sessions are the most common class in Rio, and they are just as prohibitively expense here as in the U.S.  The group Pilates studio I found was really a circuit training class with little to no emphasis on or use of actual Pilates techniques.  Which was fine.  My gluts looked great.  But I missed the feeling of length and poise, balanced with tone and strength, that I would get from a real Pilates class.

Enter PilatesAnytime.  I’m not sure how I found it – maybe a Facebook ad.  It is an online archive of over 1,000 classes, and they keep adding more every week.  I was skeptical at first, re:my point about not liking workout DVDs.  But with all my travels towards the end of the year, I wasn’t going to be able to attend studio classes regularly anyway, so I figured why not.  This travels with me.

The first week I started, I was hooked.  It was so, so, so nice to be doing real Pilates again.  In English.  English!!!  The teachers talk as if they’re just teaching a regular class, so it felt like I was right there in a studio room.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the site to someone with no prior Pilates experience, but the beginner classes are very thorough.  I just think you’d miss a bit not having done at least a few classes with an in-person instructor.  For me it’s great, because I know the terminology and correct positions, I just need to be reminded to use them.

I’ve been doing the video classes for three months now and I love it.  Plus, it is super cheap, and I can take as many classes as I like.  I find myself working out more because it is so easy.  Now I just have to convince myself that running really is fun.  Sigh.


After the fact: I wrote this blog post ages ago and am just now publishing it. Since then, I have actually started running! Gasp! Shocking, I know. It is staying light until after 8pm now, and going for a beach walk every night after work seemed like such a good idea. Then it turned into jogging, and now we’re working up to running. I feel like such a fraud. Haha. But the Pilates website is also still awesome. :) Also awesome? The FitBit I got for Christmas. Those things are really quite motivating!


You know summer has arrived when people stop wearing clothes and just wear bathing suits. Not that I blame them- it was 40 C last week. That’s 104 F for you Americans. And it felt like 112 F. I’ve started wearing my swimsuit around too (although I usually cover it up with something. Usually.) Welcome to summer everyone! Only two more months of melting to go.

Best Things About Rio

Let’s start the new year off on a positive note! Here are all the best things about Rio.

  1. Pao de Queijo – anyone who got Christmas gifts from us this year knows how we feel about Pao de Queijo. It is my favorite food in all of Brazil. Is it sad that my favorite Brazilian food is nothing more than cheesy bread? Probably. But don’t judge until you’ve tried them.
  2. Cafezinho – Brazilians take a small coffee, a cafezinho, after large meals. I love this. I’m on board. Plus, it usually comes with a chocolate.
  3. Churrascaria – who doesn’t love all you can eat meat?
  4. Sunday Morning Walks – every Sunday (and on Holidays) the road that runs along the beach is closed to vehicle traffic. For miles. I love getting up in the morning and strolling down the beach and watching all the other people out enjoying the day too. I just wish I could make myself get up earlier.
  5. The Views – Rio is gorgeous. Period. Everyday driving home I am awed by the sunsets over the mountains, the ocean for miles, and the green everywhere.
  6. Cheap Theater Tickets – the arts are subsidized in Brazil, and in Rio they have a beautiful old municipal theater. Operas, ballets, concerts – they’re all about $15 a person for a decent seat on the mid-upper level. Plus, on weekends, it is cheaper to park than take public transportation. (Not really, but it sure feels that way when you add in the transit time and comfort!)
  7. Really Cold Beer – in Rio, they do this amazing thing where they serve ice cold, cheap, draft beer in tiny cups so you can drink it all before it gets warm. And then order another. And another. And another. You get the idea.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Rio! Did you see the fireworks in Rio on the news? We were there! Along with 2.5 million of our closest friends.

We had to psyche ourselves up to go- it just sounded like such a crush- but we are so glad we went. Best fireworks I’ve ever seen, good friends, happy crowd. And when else am I ever going to get to walk to and from something like that? Just watching the white dressed masses was worth it. Very, very cool.

We started by having dinner and champagne at a friends place. She made us okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancakes, and they were amazing. It reminded the husband and me of our second date – the one where we met in Tokyo. Yea, our story is like that. ;) I think our Copacabana New Years Eve is up there with Hong Kong two years ago as best ever.

Happy New Year!


Tourist Moment of the Day

While heading home from work recently, my colleague and I were driving along the beach road in Ipanema and Leblon. It was one the rare clear days we’ve had in a while, and it was gorgeous. Dois Irmãos, the twin peaks you see in the background of all the famous pictures of Ipanema beach, were beautifully framed by these amazingly fluffly white clouds.  I whipped out my phone and started snapping pictures, but of course it was the one time that we didn’t hit any red lights. When one finally came up, we were conveinently in the lane next to the median, so what do you think I did? I jumped out the car and darted under the tree line to get a few more pictures, much to the amusement of the taxi driver next to us. Totally worth it. :)

Across from one of the hotels on Ipanema, they have actually constructed a little wooden platform and marked a spot to stand and take good pictures, and on clear Sunday evenings when the road is closed you’ll see tons of people out with cameras up and down the street photographing the sunset. We do live in a pretty spectacular place.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, blog world! Christmas this year is on the beach – I keep hearing that Jimmy Buffet song “Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum” in my head on repeat.

Rio likes Christmas – it is hot, lots of tourists, lots of days off. Basically, Nov-Feb is holiday central here.  Remember that article I posted from the Wall Street Journal about the Christmas tree in the lake? They started constructing it in early November – it is so huge we can see it perfectly from our window up the hill.  It’s pretty cool. And then, just as they were starting to test the lights in late November, it FELL OVER. Like snapped in half. And they had to rebuild the whole thing. Which you know, because of that article. But here is photographic proof.

Mom and Dad have been visiting for almost two weeks and we’ve had a lot of fun traveling around.  We are having a tropical Christmas morning on the beach today – let’s be real, it is way too hot for a Christmas ham!

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Christmas Cat.jpg