Culture Shock in Rio de Janeiro, pt 1

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There are a few things when traveling to Rio de Janeiro that you may find strange. No one will tell you up front. I hope you find these notes helpful.

1 The military police are everywhere and kinda scary.
military policeOn my first trip to Rio de Janeiro, after they stamped my passport, one of the first things I saw was the military police: men in military khaki cargos with assault rifles at their side, keeping a watchful eye on all that passes. When you leave the airport, you’ll see military police cars on the road, on random corners, on the beach road, outside of national landmarks. You can’t get away from them. But honestly, the more you go the less you notice them. NOTE: The general advice is to not acknowledge them. Don’t talk to them or take pictures. These aren’t the Queens Guard in England.

2 The paper napkins in restaurants are weird.
Please note: The napkins in the dispensers are really wax paper. They literally remove nothing from your fingers and/or face. Why? BECAUSE THATS NOT WHAT THEY ARE FOR! Brazilians are so clean when they eat that they don’t get food on their face and fingers. Forget clothes. They use these waxed napkins to pick up finger foods so there is never any grease on their fingers. They cut even finger foods into even smaller pieces with a knife and fork so they never get food on their lips and face. Table manners are very important in this culture. Keep that in mind when dining with Brazilians. Even burgers are eaten in a wrapper to keep hands clean.

3 Toothpicks are not strictly for cleaning teeth.
linquica, botecoIn some restaurants you will find toothpicks on the table. It may seem like a nice post-meal courtesy, but thats not what they are for. At botecos and kiosks, sharing food is common. You rarely eat an entree alone. And to share the food, you don’t need to ask for several plates and forks. You just use the toothpicks to pick up with you’re eating. Whether its fries, slices of picanha, shrimp– you never use your fingers and you never use the fork that you’ve put in your mouth to dig into shared food. Ask for a spoon to shovel food onto your saucer.

4 They don’t use/sell facial towels
I always stay in an apartment found on Airbnb when I visit Rio. They are always fully equipped for our needs with one exception: the closets stock only body towels and hand towels. I was so confused on my first trip. What was I supposed to shower with? The landlord, an American resident of Rio, explained to us that loofahs, sponges and hand towels are the norm. I actually left the apartment to walk to the “Lojas Americanas” (portuguese for American Things Store)– and found nothing. I even found a bath linens store, where they confirmed that I would not find what I wanted. We bought our own hand towels and cut them. LOL. Now I bring an arsenal of facial towels from home when I travel to Brazil.

5 American food isn’t worth buying.
hamburger, burger, american food, fast food, dinewithdani, dani styles, dine with daniBurgers, popcorn, hotdogs, ketchup, pancakes and even pizza (i know that’s really italian, but work with me): They all taste different because all the tasty, bad for you ingredients are banned. (Which actually makes me think twice about what I’m eating in America.) In Rio, common American snacks taste a little off because they are made with local ingredients. So don’t bother. If you’re missing American fast food or American snack foods, you’ll just have to get over it. Its not worth it. PS- American peanut butter is stupid expensive down there. Not worth the expense in my opinion.

6 Rio is super brown.
The mainstream media will have you believe that all Brazilians look like Giselle Bunchen and Adriana Lima. But I met so many people who looked more like a mixture of many races but largely of African descent. Think Tia and Tamera Mowry. And when you leave the south zone (Copcabana, Ipanema) to go north or west (Tijuca, Madueira), you’ll see so many straight up black people it might surprise you! Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of white people in Rio. PLENTY. But its not nearly as white as TV would have you believe. I mean, the only country with more people of African descent than Brazil is Nigeria. Think about that: Nigeria is the only place in the world with more people of African descent than Brazil. America doesn’t even come close.

Even with all of it’s color, race in Brazil is a very sensitive subject. Even a Brazilian who doesn’t identify as black will likely tell you that they have black relatives. But its hard to get Brazilians to talk in depth about race and what it means, even within their life. In fact, sometimes calling someone black can be considered an insult depending on the language and context. And despite how deeply African traditions are ingrained into the Carioca culture, it is never really acknowledged in polite or casual conversation.

7 Laundry service is worth it.
laundry, laundromat, dirty clothes, dine with dani, dinewithdani, dani stylesPrior to my first trip to Rio, I always returned from every vacation with dirty clothes. Lavanderias, or wash-n-folds, are on every other block in the south zone, as many apartments don’t have washers and dryers. In 2014, two weeks of clothes for two adults cost R$68, which was less in $20 USD. Pricey for laundry in general, but paying for that convenience was worth it. Now, for a three week vacation, I travel with a week of clothes. I know that I can drop off my clothes and three hours later, they are washed, dried, folded neatly and placed in a bag for pick up.

So my new tradition on the last day of vacation is to drop any dirty clothes at the lavanderia, head to the beach for one last hurrah (swimming, drinking, snacking, hanging with friends, securing that tan). And I pick the clothes up just before heading to the airport. Trust me, you will remember your vacation even more fondly when you get home and all you have to do is put your clothes away.

8 There can be sewage issues even in the best neighborhoods.
sewer, sewageIn my opinion, Rio lacks a strong sewage infrastructure. It stinks in more places than expected. Its not overwhelming, but it is noticeable if you have a strong or sensitive sense of smell. On my second trip to Rio, my luxury apartment in the posh neighborhood of Ipanema reeked of “nasty sewer” for approximately 2 hours every day. Most Brazilians said they weren’t familiar with anything like this. The landlord even insulted me by suggesting that the smell was because we needed to clean the bathroom. (I think he was surprised when he showed up unannounced with the maid only to find that the only things that needed cleaning were the dishes.) Back to finding the problem, a friend told me that her sisters apartment just outside of the south zone had the same problem and it was due to a problem with pipes in the building. Also, just be prepared as you walk down the street to get wofts of poop, urine, rotten food, raw sewage, etc. at random moments. It’s like New York at times.

9 You can’t flush anything down the toilet.
In Rio, you don’t flush tissue paper down the toilet. In fact you don’t flush anything but your bodily waste. There is always a trash bin near the toilet for the paper that you wipe yourself with. Due to the fragile sewage system/infrastructure, you don’t put anything in the toilet. There are generally signs that say this, but apparently you assume this to be the situation even if the sign is not there. Also there are generally hoses near the toilet that can be used to clean the commode if you don’t get a clean flush. In the apartment, I use that hose like a bidet as well. I feel so much fresher. TMI? Shrugs. Sorry.

10 Drinking the water is debatable.
Most travel guides will recommend that you avoid drinking the water directly from the tap. Some tourist don’t even use the water to brush their teeth. I don’t go that far. If you are uncomfortable, rent an apartment or house with a water filter by the sink so you can drink and cook with clean water. You can also use the filtered water to make ice if you don’t want to buy bags. Buying ice is very common. Even some restaurants don’t have ice makers; they have the ice delivered by a kid on a pedicab. When you order water at a restaurant, they will ask if you want it “sem gas ou com gas”, which is basically “flat or sparkling”. No matter what you choose, it will be an overpriced 12oz prepackaged bottle and it will not come with ice. So just keep that in mind.

view from urca, rio de janeiro, brazil

The food, the beaches, the parties, the people and more make Rio a very special. And all the little protocols I mentioned before make Rio a very unique place. Even with all of these unfamiliar things, I enjoyed my first few trips to Rio immensely. Everyone gave me the physical safety tips, which I have passed along to you, but no one shared these little nuggets; some of which would have been good to know upon arrival– if not before. So I hope you find these random notes helpful. Let me know your thoughts on social media. @DineWithDani

 

 

 

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Financial Safety in Rio de Janeiro

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International travel can be dangerous. We all think about our physical safety in Rio de Janeiro, but we must also take the time to think about our financial safety. The Brazilian Real is nearly at an all-time low, but you can still get ripped off. Here are a few ways to protect your purse.

(1) Buy Brazilian currency from your bank before you leave America.
Yes, most major bank brands sell foreign currency. If you will be in Brazil for longer than a week, you don’t need to buy enough currency for you whole trip, but you’ll want to buy at least enough for your first few meals as well as enough to get you safely to your accommodations. Compared to any currency exchange company, your American bank will likely offer the decent rate with a low fee. The challenge is that you can’t do this last-minute. It may take your bank a week to even get the money. So make sure you order your Brazilian Reais (plural spelling in Portuguese) well in advance.

(2) Never exchange currency in the airport
This is just to piggy back on the first tip. There are several currency exchange stands (cambios) in the airport. One of two things will happen: Either (1) you will get a bad rate with no fees or (2) you’ll get a good rate with exorbitant fees. You can choose your poison, but I’d bet on getting your “reais” in America. Also, there are better cambios outside the airport. But do your research before you go to them. Read all the tips below and determine whats right for you when it comes to converting your US Dollars to the Brazilian Real.

(3) Never use the ATM in the airport.
There are scammers at every turn and American cards are not as encrypted as our banks would have you to believe. Your card can be cloned in a few seconds by someone standing a few feet away. This has happened to people I know. And depending on who you bank with, it could take days or even weeks to get your money back. Don’t take the chances. If you go to an ATM, only go to the ones inside an actual bank branch to avoid hacking and robberies.

(4) Pay with cash whenever you can.
If you are buying souvenirs, food or anything from a street vendor, USE CASH. In my previous travel safety post, I recommended that you not carry large amounts of cash. So be mindful of what you intend to do each day. If you know you’re going to buy souvenirs, set a budget and carry that much cash. If you know you’re going to the beach and intend to rent an umbrella, buy a cocktail and maybe a snack– carry that much cash. See my previous travel safety post, there are tips for how to carry your money as well.

(5) Use a credit card with no international transaction fees.
Again, I recommend using cash whenever possible– especially with street vendors. But in some international cities it is not wise to carry large amounts of cash. Rio de Janeiro is one of those cities. So when I make large/expensive purchases like fancy dinners, groceries, samba costumes, shopping sprees, spa services at a hotel, etc– I tend to use my credit card. I know that I have purchase protection against fraud AND I won’t be charged any additional fees.

(6) Know your banks international fees and limits.
If you run out of cash and you don’t have a credit card with no/low international fees, your bank card is a last resort for shopping. I repeat, avoid buying things with your bank card. Use your bank card ONLY for ATM transactions inside an actual bank branch. Not only can American cards be cloned by hackers in close proximity, but some US banks charge a foreign transaction fee for every purchase. This can be as much as 10% markup for every swipe, plus a flat dollar amount. Do your research. You may find that your bank only charges $5 plus 1% markup at ATMs. This may be a better option than going to the cambios if you get your max each time you go to the ATM.

You should also know your withdrawl limit and be sure to convert that number to that day’s rate for the Brazilian Real before the transaction. I’ve seen people’s cards be frozen because they requetsed more money than their daily US limit. And the ATM will not tell you that you’ve exceeded your limit when you punch in the numbers. If you’re unable to withdraw money its because either your card has been blocked or the ATM is out of money. Yes, it is a VERY common thing for ATMs to be out of money– especially over the weekends.

(7) Determine prices before you accept any services or products.
Do not find yourself in an argument over money in another country. You will likely lose. Two things: (1) always keep track of what you order/request and most importantly (2) always ask how much things cost in advance. Caipirinhas are typically very cheap in Rio de Janeiro, but if you don’t ask how much before you order one on the beach you might pay double because they didn’t show you a menu. Plus most prices on the streets/beach can be haggled. I typically choose ubers over taxis because I know exactly how much the service will cost in advance. Also, happy hour prices are ONLY valid if you pay your bill DURING the actual happy hour (not after). AND executive lunch deals (lunch specials) in restaurants are only available if you sit alone. No one will tell you that, so ask your questions before you order anything!

(8) Research and arrange logistics in advance when possible.
Don’t buy a plane ticket and then just wing it when you arrive. You might find yourself in a dangerous situation. Last minute bookings can work in some cities, but I do not recommend this for international travel– especially in Rio de Janeiro. For the best prices, research and book travel and accommodations in advance. You don’t want to find yourself in a favela without a guide.

If you have friends in the city, try to arrange an airport pick up. Cab company kiosks in the airport will overcharge you. And cab drivers may take you the long way to earn more money. Also, if you want to see other neighborhoods in the north or west zone, look into what it takes to get there. Maduereira is one of my favorite places to go in Rio, but it can be a long trip from Ipanema. Getting there for a reasonable price requires first the metro, then the commuter train and possibly a bus or cab after that. Research is your friend.

For more safety tips for Rio de Janeiro travel, click here.

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Where to Eat in Rio de Janeiro, pt 2

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Rio de Janeiro is not known for its food, but there are some really tasty and cost effective restaurants in Copacabana. |DineWithDani

When I traveled to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval 2018, I stayed in Copacabana. I typcially ate in that neighborhood for convenience. Rio de Janeiro is not known for its food, however there are some really tasty and cost effective options in Copacabana.

(1) Temperarte
Temperarte Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Por kilo buffets are a dime a dozen in Rio de Janeiro. Por kilos are restaurants that charge you based on how much your food weighs. The menus of por kilos all overlap in one way or another. Finding one that serves all your favorite things cooked well is the challenge. Temperarte was that place for me. Close to the apartment in Copacabana, well priced, tasty and clean. Every day they had baked fish, roasted chicken, steak, feijao, shredded beets, aipo e aipim, potato salad and so much more. Our Brazilian friends always laughed at how much I would eat. NOTE: If you’re hungry, ask them how much for all-you-can-eat. It costs slightly more, but it will save you money if you think you’ll want to get more than one plate of food.

(2) Cervantes
Cervantes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato The restaurant appears to be Don Quixote themed (I could be wrong), but the menu is not. They are known for their sandwiches, yet I found the other items on the menu to be just as appealing. One of my favorite things about the restaurant is that, despite the casually dressed clientele, the servers are dressed traditionally in white jackets and there are no cell phones allowed. Guests must interact with one another. The other thing that came to endear the place to me is that it is open late– even on Wednesday, when seemingly everything in Copacabana closes early. NOTE: I have a new found respect for beef and pineapple served together on one sandwich.

(3) Galeto Sat’s
Galeto Sat's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Anthony Bourdain put this on my radar. He called it the perfect place to eat after a night of drinking in Rio de Janeiro. My first visit in 2014 was midday and I was underwhelmed. The food wasn’t great, but it wasn’t mindblowing either. I finally got around to visiting in 2018, after an amazing night of pagode, club hopping and dancing in the streets of Lapa. On the way I had to dodge a potential attacker, but with the help of a newsstand worker I made it safely to Galeto Sat’s and saw the huge crowd. I knew that late night must really be the time to go. Surprisingly, the picanha with onions and farofa served with ice cold beer was exactly what I needed. I can’t wait to go back.

(4) Bar do David
Bar do David Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoBe very clear, this place is not exactly in Leme. It is firmly established in a favela at the back of Leme. But many asphalt dwellers (middle class people) gladly make their way up the hill (into the favela) for this hidden gem. International celebrities and politicians have been to Bar do David for the amazing cuisine. Its not just your run of the mill bar or boteco. This place is gourmet. Beautiful seafood, juicy ribs, wildly tantilzing cachacas and more make this place special– along with David’s bright personality. I hope to get a group together next time and make an evening of it. Note: You can walk it, but I advise taking a mototaxi up the hill if one is available.

(5) Crack dos Galetos
Crack dos Galetos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Like any other chicken restaurant, this place has a straight forward menu. You’re going to want to get a whole bird and two or more sides depending on how many people you’re eating with. It is super casual and loud. If you’re in the neighborhood (Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro) and really want to eat something fast, tasty and cheap– stop here. NOTE: The space is not made for groups as it only has counter seating.

For more recommendations, see my earlier post: Where to Eat in Rio de Janeiro pt 1.

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FIVE (5) Things to Know BEFORE Traveling to Rio de Janeiro

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Before you book your trip, make sure you understand what going to Rio de Janeiro really means. 

I’m prepping for another trip to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval 2019. As always I’ve invited my friends and family to join me. In my discussions, I’ve realized there are a few things that people need to know before traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

(1) You’ll need a visa to go to Brazil.
I know for some people the passport thing is common sense, but most people don’t seem to know that you need a visa before you go. Americans can not get the visa in the airport. You must obtain it from your nearest Brazilian Consulate weeks in advance. Each city has its own process and requirements. I found Georgia to be really stringent. California requires almost nothing. So do your research and don’t get stuck at the airport unable to check-in for your flight. NOTE: If you have a stop in a neighboring country before or after, you may be required to have a yellow fever vaccine to enter.

(2) The people of Brazil speak Portuguese.
There is no need to brush up on your Spanish before because no one will understand you. Brazil historically was settled by the French and the Spanish, but it was officially colonized by Portugal and therefore present day residents of the land speak portuguese. Certain phrases are the same, but by-and-large they are different languages. Even the things that look the same on paper are pronounced totally different. My recommendation for a quick-learn handbook is “Dirty Portuguese“. The title is suggestive, but it actually includes pronunciation for many useful things like ordering in restaurants, booking hotels, etc.

(3) Rio de Janeiro is a large city in a small state in a very large country.
Brazil is larger than America and it also has a very diverse topography and population. Cities like Sao Paulo (gotham), Brasilia (government), Manaus (amazon rain forest), Salvador (historical afro-brazil), Belo Horizonte (culinary capital) and Florianopolis (silicon valley) all have very distinct identities and cultures. So going to another city in Brazil is not at all like going to Rio. And going to Rio doesn’t mean you’ve experienced the best of Brazil. You can do so many amazing things in Rio de Janeiro. Some people say a week is long enough, but not for me. The city is huge so I never seem to get my booty in gear to go anywhere else. Because I love the city, it’s not that big of a deal to me.

(4) Rio de Janeiro can be very dangerous.
The wealth disparity in Rio de Janeiro is huge, meaning the gap between rich and poor is visible. As in most places of extreme poverty, desperate acts of violence frequently occur. Muggings, robberies, kidnappings, shootings, etc. are a daily part of life and they dominate the new cycles. Despite the presence of the military police, no one is immune to these troubles. But there are steps you can take to make your travels there safer. NOTE: The US Dollar is valued higher than the Brazilian Real, so tourists can be targets. See my earlier post with safety tips.

(5) The city is not really made for solo travel.
Cariocas, the people of Rio de Janeiro, are very social. They are always in groups when going to the beach, grabbing a beer, or meeting for dinner. Going out alone is not a common thing, so it makes you stand out. Also, you’ll want to make memories in all the gorgeous places that you’ll see. And therefore the city is best experienced in groups. Plus, my mother taught me that there is safety in numbers. So grab your gang, rent an apartment and enjoy “the marvellous city”!

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Favorite Podcasts 2018 || Recommended Listening

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Dine With Dani Favorite PodcastPodcasts are a growing form of entertainment and news. Here are a few suggestions to listen to on the way to work, at the gym or while you cook and clean.

 

 

(1) The Read
Radio/TV personality and writer Chrissle along with YouTuber/actor Kid Fury dissect celebrity gossip and pop culture with bite and humor. They stan for all things Beyonce, they champion social justice and they celebrate black excellence. I’m all the way here for it. I’ve been a loyal listener for years. Get involved.

Image result for the read

(2) Pod Save America
This is exactly who the “right” talks about when they say “the liberal media”. Part of the Crooked Media Company, this group of former speechwriters, journalists, strategists etc. come together to unpack and explain the importance of the week’s political headlines. They joke with each other throughout creating a lighthearted but informative environment designed to rally their “leftist” base of listeners.

(3) Lovett or Leave it
Comedian and political speechwriter Jon Lovett hosts a live show, recorded at a comedy club. The weekly live show features interviews, panel discussions and hilarious games. His panels are normally engaging political figures, witty writers and well informed entertainers. I can’t wait for them to come to Atlanta to record.

(4) Bodega Boys
Desus Nice and The Kid Mero rep BX all day. The podcast is not about anything in particular. It is just two friends in a recording studio talking. To get to the hilarity, you’ll have to get through the intro, the drop and their MILLIONS of aliases which take approximately 15 minutes. Yes, the introduction is long and confusing for newbies, but the show is overall hilarious. In addition to their podcast they are actually the hosts of the hit Viceland tv show “Desus and Mero”. The brand is strong.

(5) The Thick
Plus size model Tabria Majors and friend Mindy J. discuss dating, love, beauty and more in a raw, unfiltered way. For me it’s refreshing to hear black women keep it so real about sexuality, finance and dating. Plus can I just point out how they celebrate their curves and other full-figured bodies.

(6) On One With Angela Rye
Angela Rye is an Ivy League educated attorney and political activist, come political analyst. She is probably best known for her lively, straight-shooter commentary on CNN in the wake of the Trump election. Her podcast quickly recaps the news of the week and why it matters. She shares important stories for African-Americans to follow. But I live for her no-holds barred conversations with some of the the best and brightest in politics, philanthropy and journalism. She refers to herself as “sophisti-ratched”. I actually love the descriptor.

(7) The Gary Vee Audio Experience
Gary Vaynerchuck is a master salesman, marketing guru, entreprenuer, motivational speaker and all-around hustler. He has a “Watch” Facebook talk show and a YouTube vlog. The podcast tends to be audio clips from speaking engagements, interviews on his talk show, advice given on his YouTube show. These quick bytes tend to work for those who are seeking business advice or motivation.

(8) EW Game of Thrones Weekly
Yes, I know this podcast is seasonal and coming to an end along with the HBO series Game of Thrones, for which it is the companion. But if you EVER decide to go back and watch the series from the beginning– these would be so great to listen to in between each episode. They talk about the episode itself, the making of and more. They have insights from the show runners and actors. And they frequently compare the show to the book series. It just makes the show more amazing. I’m definitely going to relisten when I rewatch!

(9) Insecuri’Tea
This companion to the HBO hit series “Insecure” features two of my favorite internet personalities who are real-life besties. If you watch Insecure, which you should, they break down the episodes delving into sexuality, mental health, relationships, friendships, careers, morality, social justice and more.

(10) Steele & Ungar
In short, Michael Steele is an interesting figure. You may know him as “the Black Republican Spokesperson”, but he’s so much more. Former Luitenant Governor, former Chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and now a politcal commentator. On the SiriusXM radio show he hosts with Rick Ungar, they try to present “Rational Republican Radio”. They try. But I sometimes enjoy the excerpts they share on the podcast.

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Tips for Booking Airbnb || Rio Apartment December 2016

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To get a real understanding of any city, renting an apartment or house is a really nice option when traveling. Here are a few tips for booking your next vacation on Airbnb!

I traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the second time in December 2016. This time I stayed longer than I’ve ever stayed on any vacation: a whole two weeks. I went with my fiance and his best friend. Together the three of us shared a luxury two-bedroom, two bathroom apartment in the upscale neighborhood of Ipanema, just a block and a half from the famous stretch of beach (and two blocks from the foot of a favela).

While the apartment was huge and perfectly furnished for us, there were some challenges that had nothing to do with the property, the host or the neighborhood. There are local infrastructure problems that weren’t insurmountable, merely frustrating at times and slightly irritating at others. I discuss those at the beginning and end of the video.

Anyway, here is a walk-through of that apartment with commentary. I hope you’ll enjoy. Let me know your thoughts on the apartment! Below are some tips for booking on Airbnb

SAVE $40 ON YOUR FIRST BOOKING BY CLICKING HERE.

Tips for Booking on Airbnb

(1) Fill Your Profile– Make sure your profile is complete with pictures, info about what you do for a living, why you love to travel, why you prefer airbnb, etc. Get references if you can!!

(2) Make Thorough Lists– Airbnb has a function that allows you to make wish lists for different purposes and add friends, etc. This allows me to save all the places I like while I go ALL the way to the end of the search list. On Airbnb you can filter, but you can’t sort properties, so look at EVERY apartment. You might be surprised by what you find on page 16 or 17 of your search. Most people won’t even go that far. The more popular hosts get top billing and are featured on the first few pages of the search.

(3) Ask Questions– I usually start by asking questions as opposed to immediately requesting to book. Let the host have the opportunity to engage with you first before requesting to book their place. In my message I compliment the property and then ask my question (making sure the details are not in the description). If they aren’t responsive, that’s probably an indicator of why type of host they are. I understand there are always extenuating circumstance, but you want to make sure that you and host are on the same page

(4) Read the Details– there are places that charge additional fees, etc.  One host said i needed to email a copy of my passport and the country visa– as a mandatory policy. I didn’t comply because Airbnb has already confirmed my identity. When I asked “for what purpose do you need my passport and visa,” he backpedaled and said he’d need to see upon check-in, which is fine. There are also places that give discounts for renting more than 7 days! Just make sure you read everything!

(5) Report Prejudice or Discrimination– There are people who wont rent to blacks, muslims, gays, etc. Airbnb has said they don’t support these policies, BUT have put nothing in place to combat the practice. And many host continue to restrict their availability for certain people. I had a host say a property was no longer available. Then they marked it rented. When I resumed my search the next day– the exact same property was available again. I messaged the host who continued to say the place was not available. I made the mistake of going back and forth with this person when I should have just reported them.

I hope these tips are helpful when you book your next vacation rental. SAVE $40 ON YOUR FIRST AIRBNB!

booking airbnb

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My FIVE Favorite Christmas Holiday Films

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I’ve compiled my list of the top Christmas movies of all times. My favorites to say the least. And no, “A Christmas Story” is not on the list, classic though it may be. If you have a free night with your friends, or if your family watches movies after Christmas dinner, I’ve provided a list of films that you may want to check out. Grab a few bottles of wine, some tissue and all your blankets. It is time to curl up with the ones you love and get into the holiday spirit.

Love Actually (2003)
When people ask what we should watch around the holidays, my first thought is always “Love Actually”. But I have to remember the first line of the movie is filled with expletives (which I usually recite along with the character). Also in this film there is nudity, sexual innuendo, children with transgender dolls. NOT AT ALL A family friendly film, despite Freeform’s attempts to censor it. But I love this film because I laugh, I cry, I cringe, I cheer. You will feel every emotion for this film that intersects no less than 10 different storylines, all taking place over the five weeks leading up to Christmas. This is not your typical holiday film. But for me it is perfect.

The Holiday (2006)
This film probably spoke to single women in progressive nations around the world. It definitely spoke to me. Premise: In an effort to forget their present relationship status, a British woman in a one-sided love affair and an American woman in a failed long-term relationship swap houses for the Christmas holiday. The exchange doesn’t have the desired effects initially because it exacerbates their internal struggles, but in the end it forces them to explore parts of themselves that they had forgotten. I love Kate Winslet’s character so much and I relate to Cameron Diaz’s character more and more as I get older. I love Nancy Meyer films. And I love almost every score by Hans Zimmer. So just imagine her story telling with his audio support. Perfection.

This Christmas (2007)
Despite the brevity of this film, I felt like I knew every character in this movie. And the fact that they called their mother “Ma’dear” (not Tyler Perry’s Madea) endeared them all to me as my maternal grandmother was Ma’dear. If you aren’t familiar with the term, don’t take it personal—it truly is a HISTORICAL part of black culture that I’m not going to explain here. Anyway, all of Ma’Dear’s children come home for Christmas bringing all of their personal drama. It was predictable, but still GREAT to see people who spoke like my family (educated but not crazy wealthy) portrayed in a film. To my non African-American readers: The vernacular of this family is exactly that of my family.

The Family Stone (2005)
Where do I begin? Dianne Keaton. The end. LOL. No, I kid but she is amazing in this film, where her son brings home his frigid girlfriend to meet his regular-degular family. This film is so honest without being dark that I almost cried. You wouldn’t have to change one word of dialogue for this film to represent any American family. If I were a filmmaker, I’d remake this film in ten years with an all black cast. Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams are two of the other female actors in the film. But just grab your tissue. It’s a good one.

The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
Let me be very clear: The soundtrack ALONE is reason enough to watch the movie. Whitney Houston sings her face off in nearly every montage. But back to the film. It is a remake of an older film “the bishop’s wife”, but this version features an all black cast including Denzel Washington (uh, yes), Courtney B. Vance (oh absolutely) and the incomparable, late, great Whitney Houston. If you believe in love, angels and Christmas miracles—this film will give you ALL the feels. You can be sure that it is a sweet film with a sweet ending—as most Christmas movies are, but this film takes me right back to my childhood. And I miss Whitney Houston’s presence all over again. Trust me. Its worth a watch.

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National Queen and King of Samba 2017

rainha do samba
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In October 2017, SambAZ crowned the Queen and King of Samba for 2017. Though I was not a competitor, I was able to travel to Phoenix, AZ for the festivities, which included many classes taught by some of the best dancers and choreographers out of Brazil. Below, you’ll find my footage from the competition. I captured as much as I could while staying in the moment. I look forward to being a competitor in 2018!

rainha e rei do samba 2017

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White Capoeira Pants (Calcas)| $35

capoeira roda white pants
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 Authentic capoeira pants made in Rio de Janeiro. Purchased with you in mind and priced below average. Shipping from Atlanta. Message me on social media if you have any question.

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My FIVE Favorite Things to Do in Rio

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I’m planning my next trip to Rio de Janeiro. Here are a few recommendations for first timers to maximize their experience in a Cidade Maravilhosa, “The Marvelous City”. 

(1) Visit the beaches…
Rio de Janeiro arguably has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And there is something for everyone: public, crowded, secluded, white sand, pink sand, surrounded by mountain, smack dab in the city, full of activities, chilled out. Whatever type of beach you want, Rio probably has what you’re looking for. Also on the more populated beaches, there are vendors selling and renting everything you need: umbrellas, chairs, wraps, sunglasses, bikinis, food, beverages. And feel free to haggle. I personally love to rent an umbrella, lay on my canga (sarong), order a cocktail and grilled shrimp from a beach vendor. And yes, I do wear the teeny tiny Brazilian bikini. When in rome… or better, when in Rio.

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(2) Eat the Galetos…
Not gelato (the Italian style ice cream), but galeto– which is Portuguese for a young/small “rooster”. They are smaller than you expect because they are young and aren’t pumped with steroid. They are served just like chicken and they are everywhere in Rio. These birds are typically roasted and then grilled with spices and herbs. And because they aren’t typically expensive, this is the perfect food to eat before you go out or when you’re coming home from a night out. On my last trip, this was nearly a daily thing. LOL.
grilled chicken

 

(3) Visit the Samba School Parties…
I have a deep love and appreciation for Brazilian samba. And I respect the pomp and circumstance of the Rio samba schools. Samba Schools are basically community centers that teach music, dance and costume design in order for the community to compete in the the carnival parades at the sambadrome, which airs on television. The winning schools get recognition, money, etc. Anyway, each school has private rehearsals all year to prepare for carnaval, but each week they have at least one public rehearsal to raise money, which is basically the best samba party you’ll ever attend. Live drums, the best dancers, great music, the occasional celebrity appearance, drinks and food. It is an incredible experience– especially for first timers. They start around 10pm and go until the sun comes up again. That is NOT an exaggeration. Below is a video from my first trip to Salgueiro in 2014. Footage from other samba schools in 2016 coming soon!

 

(4) Take in all the Natural Beauty…
When you go see the touristy sights, you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty. On the train ride up the Corcovado mountain to see the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) or when you take the bondinho (cable car) to see the views from Morro do Urca (Mount Urca) and Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain)– you’ll agree that the views of the landscape, the wildlife, the vegetation and the water are gorgeous. Rio is naturally green and lush, but now it is pretty urban and in many areas visibly impoverished. So keep your eyes open. There are these amazing nature reserves; these areas that are well maintained. And there are other areas that have grown wild and remain untouched despite the urban sprawl around them. I especially like to look up at the trees as I walk the streets. You’ll see beautiful flowers and birds everywhere.
view from urca

 

(5) Hang with the Locals…
Brazilian culture as experienced in America is super different than the real thing in Brazil. Brazilians have a reputation for being very open, warm and inviting– and they are to a degree. But the reality is that people are people no matter where they are from, so it may take some time to crack the code. Keep in mind that Rio is a social place. You’ll often see people out in groups. You can have a great time with no Brazilians friends. You’ll have a better time if you make friends while there. But to have the ultimate experience, do whatever you can to meet people before you go and meet up with them when you’re there. They will probably introduce you to their friends and those friends will probably introduce you to their friends and so on and so on. Obviously the locals know the best parties and places that aren’t advertised on the internet. So with Brazilian friends you could experience a Rio de Janeiero that you never knew existed. Ask your friends about a sarau, a samba de raiz, a baile funk, a true Brazilian churrasco, etc. Below is a pic of Edrick, Carlito and I with three Brazilian friends.
friends in rio

 

(6) [Honorable Mention] City Walking
This gets honorable mention because its one of my favorite things to do in any city outside of Atlanta. I love to walk around and get a feel for a city, by experiencing the sights, sounds and smells. Yes the smells– sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but it always makes memories. On our first trip to Rio, I walked more in the first day than I had the whole month before. My feet felt like they were gonna fall off. But I survived and repeated the same thing the next day with more comfortable shoes. LOL. Videos to come! Share this post with your friends before you travel!

Thank you for reading. Go ahead follow me on social media. And of course by the book below. It is so much fun to read. And it will come in handy when you travel to Brazil. Its not just dirty words, there are REAL LIFE common phrases in it. Thanks, friends!

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