Checking Out the Hype in Curitiba (by Carmen)
Anyone who knows me knows that I love transit. Buses, trains, streetcars, subways…they all hold a special place in my heart. I had drafted a long paragraph on all the reasons I feel this way; how transit is an important part of environmental sustainability, social equity, economic efficiency and public health. But Nathan said it was a bit of a snooze for people who aren’t as passionate about this topic. So I’ll spare you the details. But I will say this: Everyone deserves a balanced transportation system (including transit, walking, biking and driving) that gives people choices on how to travel depending on when, why and where they are going.
All this transit talk is a preface to my post on Curitiba. This city in Brazil is known throughout the world for its investment in bus rapid transit (BRT). The BRT system is essentially an above ground subway with buses instead of train cars. As they built the BRT in the 1970s, the government encouraged tall buildings along the routes so that more people could benefit from the system. What more could a transit lover ask for?
I’ve heard a lot about Curitiba over the years and I’ve often wondered if it would live up to the transit hype. Also, would there be anything worth seeing besides the BRT? And of course, the bottom line for us – how is the food? The answer to these questions are yes and good!
The success of these bus lines is evidenced by the dense land uses lining the routes. These development patterns are no accident. The city planners encouraged tall buildings in these areas to enable more people to take advantage of the transit. My only complaint is that they did not always do enough for pedestrians. Once people left the safety of the bus tubes, there are areas with no crosswalks or lights for people to safely cross busy streets. But in the end, I was impressed and happy to finally see this transit system we (ok, more specifically transit fanatics) so often put on a pedestal.
There was more to the city than good transit. It also had a cute colonial center which on Sundays turns into a huge market. We found everything from bus key chains to pierogies! Pierogies (Polish dumplings) are a strange thing to find in Brazil but this area actually had a lot of German and Polish immigrants in times past.
Which is why they had Schwarzwald´s, a German restaurant modeled after a medieval Bavarian beer hall. I couldn´t get enough of their submarinos or mini-steins with pictures of Curitiba on them. They would stick these in your glass of beer for no other reason than as a set of trophies to how many drinks you have had.
The next day we filled up our bellies with the best buffet we found in Brazil. Tempero de Minas is a per-kilo restaurant, meaning they charge by the weight of your food. The stews and veggies looked so good we had no trouble filling our plates to the brim. Fortunately, it tasted as good as it looked. Savory, slow-cooked goodness.
Besides transit, a major attraction of Curitiba is the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. It mostly consists of modern art in a basic square building with this funky “eye” shaped bit in front. We enjoyed ambling through the ultra modern architecture although the eye was under renovations.
Another much advertized sight was the opera house. It is a bare steel structure that seems to float above a lagoon.
After the sights we still had some energy to go out on the town. I had heard about a cool samba club and since our time in Brazil was coming to an end, I couldn´t pass it up. Of course the club was completely empty until 12am so we waited in a bar across the street. Fortunately, this was where the band was warming up so we got a very personal concert.
One more food adventure: hot dogão. Everything in Portuguese ends with “ão”, pronounced “ow”, so why would hot dogs be any different? We found them at a little stand on Plaza Tridentes that was hopping with people. The strange toppings convinced us to try one. Truth be told it wasn´t the greatest dog but the novelty factor was worth it.
Overall, I´m so happy to have made it to Curitiba. It deserves its reputation as an inspiration for bus transit systems. Also, special thanks to Nathan for supporting my transit geek out excursion : )