São Paulo downtown
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The central area of São Paulo (Old Downtown, or Centro Velho) offers History, architecture and traditional businesses (the São Paulo Stock Exchange is located here).
For a long time the Center was seen as being dirty, vulgar and decadent. There is still an area which is best avoided; the area is known as Boca do Lixo (literally, Mouth of Rubish), and is taken by popular shops (most selling second hand electronic gadgets) and low standard hotels (and respective clientele).
Recent renovations have attempt to bring a feeling of European capital to the region. Today there are plenty of antique facades with facelifts, charming cafes, art exhibits and classical music concerts. For longer distances, get a metro ticket that includes various trips and take a tour around the region.
Suggestions for a one-day trip around downtown in São Paulo:
Wear comfortable shoes, because the little things are what make a difference on this route that can only be enjoyed on foot.
The Sao Paulo Cathedral.
Coming out the Sé subway station, the first stop is the Padaria Santa Tereza, the oldest bakery in the city. Founded in 1872, it has been open since 1940 on the Praça João Mendes, offering some of the best soft rolls and sweets in town.
Afterwards, head to the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo, the former Mother Church of the São Paulo capital at the end of the 17th century. The simple facade hides one of the more interesting interiors in the city. Its outstanding feature is the beautiful ceiling in the main hall, painted by the priest Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo in 1798 (the works by priest Jesuíno are protected by the Brazilian Heritage Institute).
Crossing the avenue, head to the Catedral Metropolitana on the Praça da Sé. Admire the stained glass windows and the Italian organ with more than 10 thousand pipes, and if you're fortunate enough to be there at the top of the hour, listen to the sound of the chimes made from 65 bells. Inside the church, a guided tour allows access to the crypt where Jesuit Bartolomeu de Gusmão and Indian tribal chief Tibiriçá are buried. For more information regarding the cathedral, contact the Archdiocese of São Paulo.
Right near there, at the crossing of Floriano Peixoto and Roberto Simonsen streets, you'll be welcomed by the Marquesa de Santos (Marchioness of Santos); at number 136B you'll see the Solar da Marquesa de Santos, a rare example of an urban residence from the 18th century. This lady was mistress of D. Pedro I, the man who lead the Independence process and became the first Emperor of Brazil; History books say that Pedro didn't measure efforts to please the Marquesa wishes.
At the end of this street is the architectural complex of the Pateo do Collegio, cradle of the city, founded in 1554 (see History of São Paulo). Visit its Museu Padre Anchieta, which exhibits rare pieces such as the first baptismal font of the College church from 1556. On the ground floor, take a break and have an espresso at the Cafe do Pateo.
Then continue on to Rua da Quitanda, visit the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil; maintained by the biggest bank in Brazil, the place offers permanent and temporary cultural exhibitions.
A bit further on, visit the Edifício Banespa; finished in 1947, this is one of the tallest buildings in São Paulo (currently, the highest is Terraco Itália - see photo further below); it was head office of Banespa Bank (hence the name - the bank was purchased by Spanish Santander a few years back), and its aspect resembles the Empire State, in New York.
Estação da Luz
By subway, take a ride to the Luz station, and then walk to the Estação da Luz (Station of Light). The grandness of the station marks the importance of coffee to the Economy of São Paulo; it was to the Luz station that all the railways of the State converged. Today, the station houses the Museum of Portuguese Language.
On your way out, walk toward the Bom Retiro neighborhood and check out the display windows on Rua Jose Paulino and the surrounding area, with their popular shops and ready-made women's fashions in all styles sold at inviting prices. The Bom Retiro (Good Retreat) used to be the main neighborhood of the Jewish community in São Paulo.
Take the subway back to the Sé station and continue on to the Largo São Francisco, a symbol of cultural and student life of the capital (the School of Law of São Francisco was the first, and until today the most important one in Brazil). At its side are the Convento de São Francisco and the São Francisco de Assis and Chagas do Seraphico Pai São Francisco churches, one of the most significant rococo complexes in the city.
If you enjoy music, particularly rock, visit the Galeria do Rock. This gallery concentrates several stores with items related to rock, and also has tattoo parlors, piercing and silk screen ateliers. Make sure to browse for relics among the vinyl records and CDs; also, check out the guitars section for some nuggets.
São Paulo, viewed from the restaurant
at the top of Terrace Italia.
Click here to enlarge.
Happy hour starts with codfish balls and foamy beer at Bar Léo, the supreme icon among São Paulo taverns; in a city which loves chope (a kind of draft beer), this bar is considered the best chope house.
The evening continues with samba and MPB at Bar Brahma, on the most famous corner of São Paulo: the cross of Ipiranga and São João avenues; the most famous song about São Paulo, Sampa, by Caetano Veloso, goes: "something happens in my heart, only when I cross Ipiranga and São João".
For dancing and a candlelight dinner, the Terraço Itália, the highest building in São Paulo, has a restauant on the 42nd floor with a privileged view of the city. To guarantee a spot at this live music spot, it's a good idea to make a reservation.
After all this, if you still want to dance until dawn, go to the dancing bars at the Edifício Copan, built in 1954, designed in the shape of an "S" by a then young architect called Oscar Niemeyer, who would later design Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
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