From the end of November until the end of December there is the annual Feira Especial de Natal (Special Christmas Fair) in Praca Osorio. Local artisans participate in the fair with the products that are related to Christmas, suitable for presents or directed to tourists. It is organized by Municipal Office of Tourism which make the selection of crafts and food related to Christmas that are typical or ethnic groups of the state of Parana.
They focus on products that can delight visitors of the city and awake the spirit of Christmas among curitibanos: garlands, tree decorations, embroidery, little angels, snowmen, little pine-trees, wooden toys, dolls, panetons, Christmas biscuits, table arrangements, sweets and other items. The fair also includes the traditional house of Santa Claus.
But what I enjoyed the most here was the cuisine. There were numerous stalls selling food that is typical for individual states, from Para to Bahia. I was more than happy that I coud get my favourite Brazilian dishes here: tacaca, acaraje, tapioca and cocada. Pure delight!
One of the first things that I noticed on my visit of Curitiba, was a large number of interesting flat-topped trees, with tall straight trunk and horizontal branches, that resemble pine tree. These are Araucaria angustifolia, also known as Parana pine tree is the symbol of Parana. You see them everywhere - not only in the numerous city's parks but also on the squares and along the streets.
The name Curitiba comes from the Tupi (one of the main ethnic groups of Brazilian indigenous people) words core (pine tree) etuba (many), or kurit (pine tree) yba (great quantity), due to the high concentration of of pine trees previously found in the region. Native people used to gather the cones and harvest the seeds for food. They baked the seeds before eating.
In Curitiba the characteristic silhouette of Araucaria angustifolia appears in patterned sidewalks made of tiny black and white stones and also in many art and craft forms including photographs and paintings. I've got a lovely pine tree fridge magnet from Luiz and each time I open the fridge (and it happens very frequently, hehe) it reminds me of Curitiba and of my very dear friend :)
Presentation that none of those who visit Curitiba during the Christmas season should miss, is HSBC Children's choir. The celebration started in 1991 as a present for the city of Curitiba, home to HSBC's Brazilian headquarters. This annual celebration has become one of the city's best known attractions.
At night, three times a week, starting the third week of November and ending at Christmas, there happens a beautiful show of 160 children's choir singing Christmas songs (some adopted to Brazilian rhythm) from the windows of the historic Palacio Avenida - the building of the HSBC bank and a landmark of Rua das Flores. Between the songs, there is a presentation of children's play lead by some famous Brazilian actor - Irene Ravache when I visited. The building is lit up by thousands of lights that change the colour all the time as change the sceneries on the windows. The show ends with fireworks.
It is a show of lights and music. It's magic!!!
more pics in the Travelogues
Look up the definition of 'obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder ' in the DSM-IV and you will most likely see a photo of Curitiba. Lucky for you, these people go nuts on cleaning the city. You see the orange uniformed cleaning people all over the city - one of the cleanest cities in the world - and not that Paris Hilton clean like Hollywood or Dallas - this is a real city living clean. The guys in the picture are actually holding a NET to keep the grass being cut off of the street and cars while they drive by!
During my first trip in January 2004, during the end of my 3-week stay in Curitiba, I was in a car with some friends. All of a sudden, there seemed to be many youth, with dirtied faces and clothes, going car to car begging for money. In most other cities around the world, it wouldn't seem so strange. But, having spent 2 weeks in Curitiba, where it seemed relatively safe, clean and not so many beggars (there are some, but not as many as in bigger cities), I was surprised to see so many--and they appeared to be youthful and very able-bodied!
I recounted this experience to my friends who live there, and they laughed and said it was part of the university custom. On the first day of the term (in my case, I think it was January 18, 2004), the new university students put dirt on their faces and beg in the streets. My friends said it is a local custom. A sort of hazing ritual I guess!
Just sharing, in case you happen to visit during January and surprised to see so many beggars on a particular day!
The official national dish of Brasil is feijoada, a stew of pork, black beans and many spices. Ask around with the locals to hear what their favorite feijoada restaurant is, most will serve it only on Saturdays. See also my Restaurant Tips for "Villa das Artes," a restaurant that serves a feijoada buffet on Saturday.
In addition to the national dish of feijoada, if you are in Curitiba, many will recommend that you try the official dish of the state of Parana (the state in which Curitiba is located.) That dish is called "barreado"--a beef stew that is simmered in a sealed clay pot for over 24 hours. Most people you talk to will tell you that the best barreado is to be had in the town of Morretes, just a train ride or an hour's drive away. I suggest taking the scenic train ride (Serra Verde Express) which will take you directly to Morretes, where you will have several barreado restaurants to choose from. See my Morretes page for detailed information about how to eat barreado, and for tips on at least two barreado restaurants there.
Finally, some say the official "drink" of Brasil is the caipirinha, made from a liquor distilled from sugar cane. It is mixed with sugar and lime (kind of like a mojito, but a different taste.) Refreshing, and yes, delicious. You can purchase little vessels with a pestle in souvenir shops, some have the caipirinha recipe printed on them.
In Curitiba, I was surprised (but happy!) to find barreado, feijoada and caipirinhas all served at Villa das Artes (see my Restaurant Tips.)
The Parque dos Poloneses (Polish people Park) has been built with original reconstruction of traditional Polish rural houses (see picture). The Polish community is very strong in Parana, mainly in the southern surroundings of Curitiba.
The stronger community is the Italian one, followed by the Polish and the Germans (most of them still came from former Pomerania).
Brazil is a land of enormous contrasts, not just as to what concerns the natural environment, but the social environment too! By UN statistics, the bad division of wealth is the most acute in the World, even worse than in Arab gulf countries.
A typical field of confrontation is land property rights; in the picture, you may have a look at a peaceful protest of Rural Workers Union in face of the Governor's Palace in Curitiba.
In Curitiba, there are famous meeting places such as the Opera de Arame (the iron theatre) or the Pedreira Leminsky (a huge concenrt place in the open air, from an ancient cave). But, beside these architectural and cultural jewels, you still find poor bairros, where most of the people have to face difficult lives.
Social relations among people of Curitiba has been subject to researchs for many years. People in this city tend to have a different behavior than other parts of Brazil. This is clearly perceived by any visitor, as in general, most shows signals of shyness and embarrassment at any simple talk. Locals define themselves as "cold people" and they are conscious about that, but you will probabily experience some difficulty in communication there. This doesn't mean in any matter locals are not good people, rude or not friendly, that's just a fact they are less open-hearted than brazilians from other places. Maybe this is the most european thing in this place, as their behavior seems to be the same as some parts of europe [probabily because of their european ancestry, mostly polish, ukrainian an german origins].
When there, do not expect people going to talk with you at all. Be ready to take the initiative, all the times. Their shyness is an obstacle to any initiative, but once you take some, generally they reveal a more friendly side. At the same time people are "closed", they will appreciate this warmer behavior from others. Don't be shy to talk to people in any place, such stores, supermarkets and even in the street or city buses. Sometimes you can think there's some rule that ordinary talks are prohibited, as many public places are totally quiet, you hear no voices. But that's just local customs, just shyness. Many people from other places who come to live in Curitiba feel very unconfortable with this, but once you get used to, be ready to have a good time there.