Jan 24, 2009

A private and tailored tour of São Paulo

Last November I discovered something new and wonderful in my own city: personalized tours that can be tailored to any likes or dislikes or time restraints or specific interests. The company is tiny, and called SP Bureau, and I went on a trial tour with the owner himself, Diogo Oliveira.

The tours cost, on average, 400 reais, and last 3 or 4 hours, but, again, this varies immensely according to what the person wants. Diogo usually takes 2 to 6 people - this ain't your run-of-the-mill tour where twenty or thirty people are packed into a bus and hear stuff on a microphone. Diogo usually picks up his clients in a car with driver.

My friend Karin and I chose, instead, to do a walking tour, with longer distances covered by taxis. We gave him our guidelines: lots of architectures, grand old homes, and the Centro, which is São Paulo's Old Downtown and, for beginners, quite hard to navigate.

I've got to say this was the best investment of the last few months. The tour was everything we'd hoped for and more!

Wearing comfortable shoes and casual clothes, backpacks on our backs, we felt like we were on a treasure hunt, hurrying through streets and galleries and shops as Diogo led the way. Fun.

I am FROM São Paulo, so this might seem odd, but the truth is he made us see our own city with new eyes and took us places we'd never visit on our own.

We started in Jardim Europa, the posh residential neighbourhood, where we checked out the house of deceeased spinster and art patron Ema Klabin. It had an old-money seventies vibe, with top-notch art thrown in here and there:

Gotta love the Dalmatian tiles... ;)

We then cabbed it to another big old house, that one once owned by society dame Veridiana Prado. Today, it is the clubhouse for the Iate Clube de Santos and often rented out for weddings. A fresh coat of paint would go nicely, but I could still feel a certain aura of luxury:

On our way there, we made a quick pit stop at a street fair which takes place weekly behind the Consolação cemetery, for some coconut water:

By that point we had reached Higienópolis, which is renowned worldwide for its amazing collection of striking fifties-style buildings, most still in great shape. Diogo kept pointing out his favourites and giving us the scoop on the architects that designed them:

It was time, then, to hit the Centro - São Paulo's Old Downtown. We started at its most iconic building, the modernist gem called Copan:

It is, still today, a residential building, and it's not open to visitors. But Diogo, of course, got us in AND took us to the rooftop! Amazing.

What a rush. The morning was a dull gray, but somehow the sky seemed a perfect match
for the equally gray skyline!

As we got back down and exited the Copan, we walked by a bar that has been very talked about in the last year, the Dona Onça - great food, great ambiance (it can be seen below, with the wood façade):

The sidewalks in the Centro are done in mosaics that form the shape of São Paulo state.

We zig-zagged our way across old shopping galleries, like the Metropolitana. That concept of opening shopping malls to the cityscape, popular from the fifties until the seventies, is now all but dead, which is too bad...

Each gallery in the Centro draws a different crowd. The one below, clearly, is favoured by young rapper-types:

From gallery to gallery we ended up at the Teatro Municipal:

Diogo managed to get us in through the backstage:

From which we accessed the vast and empty and dimly-lit stage. My heart beat faster - wow! - this was quite an experience, having the stage completely to ourselves...

Lauro Lemes, coordinator of "cenotécnica" (below), explained how he gets the stage ready for different kinds of spectacles: ballets, operas, orchestras, etc.

Gostei ainda mais de ter o teatro só pra mim, de poder tirar minhas fotos deitada no chão, por exemplo. E modéstia à parte, achei que esta aqui ficou lindona:

We moved on, and walked ten minutes or so through the mid-day chaos until we reached the historic Casa da Bóia, where I bought a beautiful copper pot for 40 bucks.

They have a tiny and little-known museum on the
second floor, from which I took this photo:

We then walked down a very steep hill and hit the madness of 25 de Março street, where fabrics, toys and a million other kinds of junk, both nice and gaudy, are sold at cut-rate prices, and mostly at wholesale. Street vendors offered us all sorts of things, from green beens to Chinese dolls. We bought adorable ceramic pigs for a handful of reais and I also scored a great pair of Marc Jacobs (!!) sunglasses for 5 bucks. Not bad!

We relished in the kaleidoscope of sounds, colours and smells:

The video ends at the same place where we ended our whirlwind tour: the Mercado Municipal. This beautiful market is the city's best for buying dry goods (cheeses, olives, spices) and cod, among other things. And it has a mezzanine full of great and cheap restaurants.

We couldn't think of a better ending to our adventure than this: pork sandwich on pão francês, draft beer (chopp) and pastel de carne.

Quite the trip, huh? All this in my very own São Paulo….

Diogo de Oliveira
tailored tours
(55-11) 3104-3577 / 8259-8317

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