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Berlin to Canberra - the even longer return journey

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Mattg

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Some of you may remember my trip report from last June, when I was relocating to Berlin (http://www.australianfrequentflyer....os/trip-report-canberra-berlin-few-61107.html). Well, my seven month stay in the amazing German capital has unfortunately come to an end and I have now begun the trip back to my home city of Canberra.

The trip will be even longer and crazier than the one to Berlin last year. This time the journey will involve at least 14 cities in 7 countries and take just over 3 weeks. Like last time, I will keep the actual routing a secret for the time being but will reveal two of the cities I plan to visit: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil & Montreal, Canada. All flights will be on oneworld airlines.

Before I start the actual trip report I will give a very brief update about my life in Berlin over the past seven months. (Feel free to skip to the next post if you aren't interested in that.)

It ended up being a little bit more difficult than I expected to find a job as a foreigner only staying in the country for a short time. Nonetheless, I did spend about 5 months working at a fast food chain. I found the job itself easy, but speaking German for 8 hours every day was a challenge and a good experience. My German has improved a lot as a result and I learnt something new every day I turned up for work. They kept me out the front dealing with customers the whole time; I think they found it useful having a native English speaker around as there were a lot of tourists at my store.

You could actually say that I had to speak three languages at work: German, English, and English for non-native English-speaking tourists. (You’d be surprised how differently I would have to put sentences together to be understood, for example, by most of the Spanish tourists...)

I was fortunate enough to only work part-time, so was able to spend a decent amount of time travelling. I did not waste any time – if I had at least two consecutive days free, I almost always travelled somewhere. I also had a couple of decent blocks of leave to do some proper trips.

I have put together a quick GCMap outlining my travels in Europe over the past months:
image.jpg

I wrote some short trip reports about a couple of these trips. A few highlights for me were Morocco, Turkey and Venice although I had some great trips to lots of other places. In Europe, nothing is far away and there are so many ways to get around efficiently and cheaply. Sure, flying is generally a much nicer experience in Australia but it's also more expensive and there aren't nearly as many destinations so close by. And don't get my started on the lack of high-speed trains at home.

A few photos from my travels around Europe:

Morocco (okay, I realise that this is Africa, not Europe)
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Venice

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Porto, Portugal (great city by the way)

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All in all, living and working in Europe was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone. The last seven months have been a whole lot of fun and a great learning experience. And I still love Berlin, maybe even more than before. Seriously, it's an incredible city and if you haven't been yet, I would encourage you to check it out. (And if you do, please don't just take selfies at the Brandenburg Gate & Checkpoint Charlie, then leave… there’s so, so much more to see!)

Alright, that's enough about that... the trip report will start with the next post. :)
 

Mattg

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Es geht los! The journey begins! You may recall that I travelled to Europe last year on a 140K point oneworld award, flying via Asia. For various reasons I had to fly into Paris, and this is exactly where I would be picking up the second half of the booking after a stopover of around 7 months.

First of all, I had to actually get to Paris. This required a positioning flight on airberlin.

After handing back the keys to my apartment and de-registering with the Bürgeramt (gotta love all the German bureaucracy – although that's a story for another time!) I was back at Tegel Airport. I had been a regular visitor to TXL over the past months but this would be my last visit for the foreseeable future. To be honest, I won't really miss Tegel – sure, it's better than Schönefeld Airport but it will be much better once the new BER airport opens (if that ever happens… I’m skeptical).

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TXL


There was no queue when I wanted to check-in.
“Where are you flying to today?” the man asked.
“Paris.”
“Excellent choice, sir!”
This was shortly followed by, “I see you are in 1A. Excellent seat, sir!”

I had a bit of time in the BA Lounge before the flight. It's nothing special really and there was just a small selection of sandwiches and pretzels to eat, although there was a decent range of alcohol. There are no toilets in the lounge. It was starting to get full until the BA flight to London boarded – at which point there were only me and two other people left in the lounge.

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The BA Lounge. Not a great photo, I know but there isn't that much to see anyway.

My flight was departing from the shed (aka. Terminal C) so I allowed 40 minutes before departure time to walk over there and clear security. By the time I arrived at the gate boarding had started.

Flight 1: AB8156 Berlin (Tegel) – Paris (Orly)
Boeing 737-800 | D-ABML
Departure time – 18:40
Arrival time – 20:25

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The flight was perfectly pleasant. We left on-time and the usual choice of a “sweet or salty” snack was served shortly after take-off. This time there was a choice of chocolate cookies or crackers, accompanied by a choice of drinks (although you had to pay for alcoholic drinks).

Ahead of schedule we landed in Paris Orly Airport. We got some nice views of the city, including the Eiffel Tower on the approach.

As always with airberlin, chocolates were handed out as we got off the plane. It was an enjoyable flight. My only criticism is that my suitcase, tagged with a “priority” tag come off the belt last. It was literally the last bag to arrive. I noticed that none of the bags to arrive first had “priority” tags either. Epic fail on that one...
 

robd

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I'm in, but first I'll head over to the other trip report :)

Back now and looking forward to your return journey.
 
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Mattg

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It was only a (very) short stay in Paris last night. From the airport I caught the train to a friend’s place in the city. Then this morning I had to get a taxi back to the airport at 4.30am. As it was a shared taxi we had to go for a bit of a drive around the city to pick up another passenger… that's the only chance I got to actually see anything, unfortunately. It's not the end of the world – I have been to Paris before, but it would’ve been nice to stay longer.

Anyhow, I was back at Orly Airport to take an early British Airways flight to London. From Heathrow I will connect to another flight to Rio de Janeiro.

I checked out the Iberia lounge before the flight – a pretty standard fare.

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Flight 2: BA331 Paris (Orly) - London (Heathrow)
Airbus A320 | G-EUUM
Departure time: 07:35
Arrival time: 07:55

The flight attendants were tagging some carry-on bags with yellow stickers requesting that the bag is placed under the seat in front (like I believe Qantas started doing recently). An announcement was made in relation to this saying something along the lines of “As we do have a full flight today, we ask for your cooperation in placing tagged hand luggage underneath the seat in front of you.” To be honest I have no idea what they were on about; the flight was about a third full.

It was another pleasant short flight. Somewhere over the English Channel:

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It was almost refreshing (after a lot of intra-Europe flying lately) not to have to listen to announcements repeated in two or even three languages like on some Euro airlines. For reasons only BA understands they never seem to bother making announcements in a second language on flights to/from non-English speaking countries.

The flight ran early and arrived at around sunrise to a cold, foggy morning in London. Transiting in T5 wasn't too difficult, just went through a security checkpoint and made my way to the Galleries Club lounge. I notice there’s a north and a south lounge at Heathrow T5. I chose the southern lounge… is there any difference?

Right now I’m still in the lounge and watching the Big Bash final that happens to be on the TV here. Go the Sixers! Boarding for my flight to Rio is in just over an hour.
 
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Mattg

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Boarding started before the end of the Big Bash game so I had to wait until the next day to find out the result. (And it seems the Scorchers won… oh well.) I’ll quickly make some comments about the BA Galleries lounge in Terminal 5. It was a nice big lounge, with plenty of comfortable places to sit, good wifi and showers downstairs. It was quite crowded in the morning, however and I was a tad underwhelmed by the food on offer. During the morning there was just croissants, cereal, toast, porridge and some fruit. Not bad, but I would have liked a proper meal of some description. Around 10.30 they took the croissants away leaving just toast and porridge. The lunch items still hadn't been brought out at 11.45am when I left the lounge. Not a big issue; more of an observation.

Now onto the flight.

Flight 3: BA249 London (Heathrow) – Rio de Janeiro (GIG)
Boeing 777-300 | G-STBF
Departure time - 12:30
Arrival time - 22:05

Like the rest of my flights will be, the long trip was spent in economy (or “World Traveller” class, as BA calls it). It was an almost full flight; I barely saw any free seats so it was a little cramped for the 11 and a half hours by the window, but bearable.

We departed on-time and took off right behind this bird; I hadn't seen a Qantas aircraft for around 7 months so it was nice to see QF10 depart bound for Melbourne:

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The Boeing 777-300 used on this flight is exactly the same type of aircraft BA uses on its London – Singapore – Sydney route. It’s a comfortable enough plane with decent legroom (for economy, anyway), comfortable seats and a good selection of AVOD IFE. The aircraft has a 4 class configuration.

A drinks run was done almost two hours after take-off and the first meal service was completed around 3 hours into the flight. For the first meal, there was a choice of honey chicken or a sweet potato curry. I chose the latter, which was sufficiently tasty:

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After the meal service the crew were seen only occasionally until the second meal service around an hour out of Rio, although they did walk around offering cups of water or juice from time to time.

We were approaching the north-east coast of Brazil just as the sun was setting. That morning I watched the sunrise out the window on BA; sunset was no different.

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For the second meal service, there was a choice of chicken with mushrooms or pasta and I picked the chicken this time:

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To be honest, I was still hungry after this. For a flight of almost twelve hours, I would have liked two proper meals and a maybe also a snack in between, rather than what I feel was only one-and-a-half meals. The second meal consisted of just the hot dish and a small pastry like the ones Virgin hand out on the early morning CBR-SYD hop. A salad, bread roll and/or dessert to accompany the second meal would not have gone astray.

The cabin crew did their jobs professionally but I wouldn't say they went at all beyond what they were required to do.

I only noticed one cabin crew member on the flight who could actually speak Portuguese and, just like on all of my previous flights with BA, announcements were made in English only. This is despite the fact that I would estimate at least half of the passengers on board were Brazilian.

We landed more or less on-time after a relatively uneventful flight. Just after landing a cabin crew member had to get up in order to gesture to a Brazilian passenger to sit down while we were still taxiing. The passenger didn't seem to understand what she was saying… another reason a few flight attendants who can speak a foreign language or two might come in handy!

The bird in Rio:

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When booking my oneworld award I had a choice between British Airways via London or Iberia via Madrid. I chose BA, despite the higher fuel surcharge, as I expected to get a superior level of service. While the flight wasn't bad per se, it didn't really exceed my expectations either. Next time I would probably just pocket the extra few hundred dollars in fuel surcharges and go with Iberia, given the choice.

I paid for a taxi in the arrivals hall just before you exit the secure area and enter the main kterminal. I know I paid a little more this way (BRL110 or ~ $55) for the trip to Botafogo but the experience was hassle-free. After paying the money I got a receipt that I just had to show to a driver. When I walked out to the taxis a man who I think worked for a taxi company took my receipt and suitcase and walked for about 10 metres to the cab with me. He then asked me for a tip, and when I told him I didn't have any Brazilian currency (which was true) he said Euros or US dollars were also fine. I didn't really think he deserved it for wheeling my bag 10 metres but I gave him a Euro. He gave it back and asked if I had any notes. I told him to forget about it and got in the cab…

The rest of the trip was indeed hassle-free though and after more than a day of travelling, it was nice to check-in to my hostel for the next 4 nights and get some sleep.

To be continued...
 

Mattg

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After catching up on some sleep I did some sightseeing yesterday afternoon around the Copacabana and Ipanema. It was a scorching hot day and I can confirm that Rio is just as beautiful in real life as it looks in the pictures!

But first it was time for some lunch. I really enjoyed this typical Brazilian dish of meat, beans and rice. It was a large serving but even with the beer it came to under $10.

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Copacabana beach:

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And Ipanema beach:

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Coming from a freezing cold Europe, the temperature has been a bit if a shock. To make it worse, it's a very humid heat, not a dry heat. Having said that, I much prefer the sun here!

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Mattg

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This morning I visited the one attraction every visitor to Rio de Janeiro has to see. I'm talking about the Christ the Redeemer statue, of course. Thirty metres high, and situated on the top of a mountain, the enormous statue of Jesus can be seen from almost anywhere in Rio. It's pretty impressive.

To get there, I opted to take a mini-bus, rather than the tram. I think it was a little cheaper at BRL53 (~$26) for the return transfer and entrance. I bought my ticket and got in the bus at Largo do Marchado (right outside the exit of the metro station). The bus waited until it was full and off we went. The trip took around half an hour each way and the bus left us right at the entrance to the monument.

The statue itself was pretty impressive, but almost better was the views of Rio de Janeiro. This would have to be one of the best spots for a view of the city. Naturally there were a lot of people and getting a good spot to take a photo was not easy. That I can deal with, but the one thing that really annoyed me was those bloody selfie sticks! I can't tell you the number of people walking around with those sticks. In my opinion, they not only look stupid, but they get in the way of other people in a crowded place like this as their use requires a space in front of the person using the stick. Seriously, how difficult is it just to ask someone to take a photo for you??

Okay, I promise to make that my last rant about those annoying selfie sticks. I just can't stand those things!

Anyhow, here's a few photos of the monument, and the view from the top of the mountain:

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Looking out towards Ipanema:

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Downrown Rio de Janeiro, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background:
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You can see Santos-Dumont, Rio's downtown airport in the next photo. I will be passing through there on Sunday morning.

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Mattg

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I had a great few days in Rio. But 4 nights is not enough! Regrettably, there are a few things I really wanted to do in Rio that I didn't get a chance to. If time allowed, I would have liked to stay for at least a week in Rio de Janeiro. But as it happens, I just don't have the time as there are other places I want to visit while I am still in Brazil.


I had planned to do a favela tour on my last day and was really looking forward to this, actually. I'm very interested in Brazil’s economy and social issues and would have liked the opportunity to see firsthand the conditions some of the poorest people live in. Favelas (a kind of Brazilian shanty town) are not somewhere I would dream of venturing on my own, so doing a guided tour was the only option for me. Furthermore, the money from the tours goes towards helping the people in the favelas, so I see these tours as a way of helping the community. Unfortunately my tour was cancelled at the last minute because it had rained, and with no more tours until the next day I was out of luck there.


Instead, I did a free walking tour of the historic city centre and Lapa district, which was also interesting. Some of the sights we saw include Carioca Square, the Imperial Palace, Colombo Bakery, the Municipal Theatre and the National Library.

Tiradentes Palace:
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Municipal Theatre:
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Lapa steps:
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Mattg

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I made some friends on the tour and we went out to lunch afterwards, followed by sugarloaf mountain. We thought we were up for the challenge of climbing up the first mountain so saved some money on the cable car and set off up the hill on foot. It was a stinking hot day and the climb was a little tougher than we anticipated, but it was certainly achievable. Once we reached the top we got a great view of the city, including Santos Dumont Airport, Rio’s smaller, better-located downtown airport. It was nice to do some plane spotting while we waited for 7pm to come around. The reason we waited is that the cable car is actually free after 7pm (not that anyone seems to know this). We didn't go right up to the top of the second mountain, but I still think we got an excellent view and it didn't cost a cent (just a bit of energy).

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Rio's downtown airport:
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For dinner we headed to Ipanema where there just happened to be a raging pre-Carneval street party going on! Although Carneval isn't for a few more weeks officially (so I will miss it entirely) the Brazilians like to party and are happy to warm up for the real celebrations weeks in advance. There were musicians, dancers and all sorts of other people marching (well, samba-ing) down the street just having a good time. The atmosphere was electric. There were some pretty amazing costumes too. At one moment I saw a woman, who was selling beer, link arms with a guy dressed up as a fairy and they danced in the street together for about a minute before going their separate ways again!

image.jpg
 
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Mattg

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Before I knew it, I was waking up very early the following morning and in a taxi on my way to Santos Dumont Airport… with a small hangover to boot. I arrived at the airport at around 5.30am for my flight at 7.16am. It seems I actually allowed unnecessarily too much time as the TAM check-in staff hadn't even showed up yet.

For the next week and a bit I will be travelling around the amazing country of Brazil, visiting 3 cities other than Rio de Janeiro. I'm pretty excited and am looking forward to a couple of things in particular. I will be visiting and staying with friends in each of these cities so it should be a good week or so!

I’ll eventually pick up my oneworld award back in Rio de Janeiro so all of my internal Brazilian flights are on a separate booking. Naturally, I chose TAM for my internal flights as they are in oneworld, but they were also somewhat competitive on price. There are five flights in total, so I wanted to book on the TAM website using the multi-city booking tool. Such a tool does exist, but there was a problem where only the first 4 flights of the day for each sector would show up online. As I am flying a couple of high-frequency routes where I wanted to take an evening flight, this meant it was impossible to book on TAM’s website. So, I searched further afield and came across an old friend of AFF: Expedia.br… With a little help from a Portuguese-speaking friend I made the booking with Expedia and hoped for the best. (By the way, does this make me the first person on AFF to actually use Expedia.br for a legitimate Brazilian flight booking? Lol.)

Anyway, I checked in using the TAM kiosk and waited about 20 minutes for somebody to decide to show up and open the bag drop counter. The boarding passes that spat out of the machine were possibly the flimsiest I’ve seen so far. They were so bad that I asked the guy at the bag drop counter to print me new ones, but I don't think he understood my English.

In fact, not many people in Brazil do in my experience. On my first day in Rio I asked the receptionist at my hostel to recommend a place to have lunch. He suggested a place and I asked if the waiters there could speak English. He laughed at me and replied “no-one in my country can speak English!” He was more or less right. Unlike Europe, if you speak to someone in English here they probably won't understand.

Santos Dumont is a nice small airport, although it lacks any oneworld lounges (I think there was a Diner’s Club and/or Amex lounge but I am not eligible) so I went straight through security and to the gate. At the security checkpoint the guy said something to me in Portuguese and I asked if he could perhaps repeat it in English. I was met with a blank stare followed by some hand gestures.

I guess I had better tell you where I was actually flying to! My first stop was Porto Alegre, and I was flying there via São Paulo.

Flight 4: JJ3905 Rio de Janeiro (SDU) – São Paulo (Congonhas)
Airbus A319 | PR-MYC
Departure time - 07:16
Arrival time - 08:30

This was a pleasant short flight. It was a nice morning in both Rio and São Paulo making for some good views.

Taxiing at SDU: Sugarloaf mountain is in the background.
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Departing from Santos Dumont airport was an interesting, high-power takeoff. The runway here is pretty short and surrounded by water and both ends, so I would imagine maximum thrust was used on takeoff. Seconds after leaving the ground we entered a sharp right-hand turn; presumably this was part of the SID. We were very quickly above the clouds so the views didn't last long but were pretty amazing while they lasted.

For the morning flight a bread roll with ham and cheese was served with a choice of coffee, orange juice, coca cola or water. None of the flight attendants could speak English (you may be noticing a common theme here) so I got a chance to practice my barely existent Portuguese. “Um caffe e uma agua por favor…” He seemed to understand me, surprisingly.

Flying into Congonhas represents a similar challenge to the airport in Rio for pilots. Although there is no water in sight, this airport in downtown São Paulo has two relatively short parallel runways completely surrounded by houses and even high-rise buildings. I couldn't believe how close we got to the roofs of some rather tall buildings on the approach. After touching down the pilots applied the brakes pretty hard.

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And on the ground at CGH:

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We disembarked around 15 minutes early in São Paulo and I went for a walk to find my connecting flight. I didn't have to go far at all as the next flight to Porto Alegre was on exactly the same plane.

There were no TAM/oneworld lounges in Congonhas Airport either, so I just waited at the gate using the free wifi.

The plane at the stop in São Paulo:
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Flight 5: JJ3045 São Paulo (Congonhas) – Porto Alegre
Airbus A319 | PR-MYC
Departure time - 09:50
Arrival time - 11:33

This flight was more or less the same as the last one, except that the equivalent of the CSM attempted to speak English. Okay, the announcements were pretty difficult to understand and it took him a bit of time to comprehend what I was saying and respond when he asked me if I wanted something to drink, but full marks for trying!

Exactly the same snack and drink offering as the other flight was served, but this time at least an episode of Friends was played on the overhead screens (it was just the flight map on the previous flight).

We landed a little early in Porto Alegre, rounding off a pleasant morning of flying and marking the start of my three and a half days in the southern Brazilian city.
 

Major

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Great photos. Certainly an interesting way to return to CBR
 

Mattg

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I've had a busy few days - which is great, but means I'm not getting much time to update this trip report. I'm currently waiting for a flight but the wifi at the airport here is pretty bad, so my next update will have to wait a little. I promise to catch up eventually!
 

Demon_fan

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Look forward to it. To be truthful, I'm a bit bummed that this post wasn't a big update like I was expecting.
 

JessicaTam

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Just checking in and settling down for the next instalment.

And yes, I think you may be the first AFFer to use Expedia.br to book a Brazilian flight whilst actually in Brazil to boot.
 

drron

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No worries mattg.I know exactly how it is.Doesn't matter to me how long it takes as I know it is going to be interesting.Enjoying life has to come before doing TRs.
 

Mattg

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I had a nice stay in Porto Alegre. The city has a bit of different feel to other Brazilian cities I’ve visited so far. The main thing I noticed is that it seems a bit less hectic. There were also more trees and it seemed like a generally greener and better planned city than, say, São Paulo.

I stayed with a friend who I met in Germany and she showed me around the city. The historical centre around the port and the market was nice.

Some photos from around the city:

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