CARNIVAL IN RIO 2019

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.  For 4 nights from 9pm until DAWN – Over 100,000 performers & 90,000 spectators share in the greatest show on earth.  It’s should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Here’s highlights with my bilingual commentary.  Bom carnival. 💚🇧🇷💚

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A MONEY-SAVVY GUIDE TO GLOBE TROTTING

0A1E55DD-8B6E-4DF1-894A-D2958311BC66Step outside your home country, and you’ll quickly learned that banks, credit cards, ATMs, and currency exchanges are not all created equal. Expats and those who travel abroad frequently would do well to have a basic knowledge of how to save money when converting dollars into other international currencies.  Let this blog be your primer to “international money”. Whether you’re going on vacation, living abroad, or buying a second home- let these lessons guide you in stretching your dollar.

BEGIN BY KNOWING THE CURRENT RATE

The first and most crucial step is knowing exactly what your dollar will/should buy in the foreign currency you want at the time you want to exchange it.   Be aware that not only do currency exchange rates fluctuate, they fluctuate throughout a given day.

2688CAD0-689F-42FC-BE44-DC837F5CC4A2I recommend adding a currency converter app to your smart phone. There are several to choose from, and will provide the mid-range rate for the currency/currencies you want.  I like one called, Currency, just go to your App Store and find the logo on the left- it’s free.  Again, the rates change constantly, so a rate you may see today, may be much different later in the day, next week, or next month. But by having an app on your phone, you’ll have the latest real-time rate.   This current rate is the rate you want to aim to achieve in your exchange.

F40AD439-A2EC-4CBC-8842-6C8EA3EA8D00Having that app on your smart phone allows you to see the current rate while you’re standing at that ATM, currency exchange office, or bank.   The app allows you to add multiple currencies on one screen. Simply type in the value of your dollars, or foreign currency to see current rates.  Simple, quick and easy.

[In many ways, exchanging dollars into another currency is very much like gambling. The dollar’s value may go up or down depending on many factors that you’re unable to control.  In addition to the regular fluctuations of currency based on financial trends, there are other factors to consider.  Elections, natural disasters, political unrest, etc., can all impact a currency’s value.  If you’re traveling on vacation, living abroad, or making a major purchase, timing can be everything – but unless you have a crystal ball, you’ll need to make your best guess in timing your exchange, and then go for it.]

CONVERTING DOLLARS INTO FOREIGN CURRENCY

Once you know the conversion rate you should be receiving, the challenge begins in finding the best process to make that happen. Banks, credit cards, ATMs, and currency exchange agencies are all built to charge you fees, commissions; and NOT give you the daily exchange rate you see on your app.  That’s how they make their money, by taking a part of yours.  Your challenge is to convert dollars into the foreign currency, and be as close to the conversion rate provided by your app as possible.   That’s more difficult than it sounds, but with preplanning, it can happen.

ATMs

Not all ATM cards are created equal in the world of currency exchange. As a matter of fact, most American bank ATM cards charge fees for using ATM machines outside their network, charge a currency conversion fee, and may also give you a conversion rate significantly less then you’ll find on your app.  In addition, the foreign ATM machine will also charge their own fees, which will come out of your bank account.  And you may not even know the conversion rate you’re receiving, as foreign ATM machines will simply give you the cash requested, not itemize what was charged.  You’ll need to log into your bank account to see what you were charged in dollars for that foreign cash you received.

2713EAC4-7CF4-4E64-B504-6706D340DD43But a phone call to your bank before you leave the US is an important step -and ask them what’s the fee for using an ATM machine outside their network, and what do they charge for a currency conversion fee.  Again you’re looking for an ATM card that will give you exactly what the currency conversion app is showing you. There are three banks that I recommend for ATM cards with a good reputation in this area. They are Charles Schwab bank, USAA bank, and Capital One 360.   Each advertises that they not only waive their own non-network ATM fees and the currency conversion fee, but each also waives the ATM fees charged by the foreign ATM machine you are using.

Your goal is to get a conversion rate as close to that indicated on the Currency app.  Also be aware that different foreign ATM machines will give different foreign conversion rates-  so it pays to switch around and compare.   And avoid foreign ATM machines that do not appear to be associated with a particular bank, those are independent for-profit machines that will give you a lousy exchange rate.  I live part time in a very small town in Italy.  When using my Charles Schwab ATM card, I receive a better conversion rate from Deutsche bank & BPERS bank than I do from Bank of Napoli, for example.   And I never use ATM machines that are located near tourist offices, bars or restaurants that appear unrelated to any national bank in the country I’m visiting.  So you want to be sure the ATM card you are using charges NO fees, and then select a foreign ATM machine that will give you the best rates.  One other note, sometimes the foreign ATM machine will ask if you want the withdrawl converted to your home currency – don’t do it.  It’s more expensive.  Let your own bank make the conversion from the foreign currency to dollars from your account.

Up your limit.   Most ATM cards will allow you to withdraw the equivalent of US$300-500 in foreign currency per day.   However, sometimes I just need more cash than that. A simple phone call to my bank requesting to ‘up my limit’ to $1000US in foreign currency can be done. You’ll have to answer special security questions so the bank can be sure it’s you.  And the increased withdrawl is only good for the next six hours. But it’s a good option to have if you need to make larger withdrawls than normal.

For security-  When you take an ATM withdrawal abroad, be sure to log into your bank account and see what you were charged overall.  This should also be a regular practice to protect your ATM card, as well. All over the world, there are ATM machines with skimmers, illegal devices used to copy and then clone your card, and deplete your bank account.  So regularly monitor your bank withdrawls when traveling or living overseas.   And contact your bank immediately if you discover any irregularities.

CREDIT CARDS

There’s also a strategy to using credit cards abroad.   Just as you are careful to avoid extra fees on your ATM cards, the same is true for your credit cards. Credit card companies are notorious for charging currency conversion fees, and other hidden fees, when using your credit card out of the country.

4BEB6995-260A-4754-B468-9DCD3469F177When using a credit card, the goal is always to be charged in dollars what the Currency app indicates at the time of the purchase.   Again, as you did with your ATM cards, call your credit card company and ask what fees they charge to use your credit card outside the United States. Ask if there is a currency conversion fee, and other charges. In addition, when using your credit card at a foreign merchant, if asked if you want the charge made in your home currency, say no. It’ll cost you more if you do it. You want the merchant to charge in the foreign currency, and let your credit card company do the conversion themselves.

I love and highly recommend my Capital One credit card for use overseas. No fees, and excellent currency conversion rate.  As a matter of fact, I always use my Currency app to see what rate I should be getting for my credit card purchase.  Then with Capital One, I’ve signed up to get an immediate text messages for any credit card charge over $1 dollar.  I always receive Capital One’s text message notifying me of the charge in DOLLARS, within a minute of signing the merchant’s receipt.   It’s an excellent way to monitor all credit card charges, and be immediately alerted to any unauthorized purchases.

OTHER OPTIONS NOT RECOMMENDED

I do not use and do not recommend using the following.  However, in an emergency situation, you may have no choice.

  • Bringing dollars (In most countries, changing dollars into local currency costs more, much more than simply withdrawing money from an ATM machine).
  • A debit card (too risky),
  • A cash advance on a credit card or ATM card (too expensive),
  • Personal checks (difficult and expensive to cash), or
  • Travelers checks (difficult to use & poor exchange rate).

CHANGING MONEY BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE US

25B31033-BF9A-45BC-B9F7-1BA6CF6C6F88Many travelers will ask what’s the best way to get foreign currency before I leave the US?  The easy answer is don’t. You will always get a better exchange rate on the ground from an ATM machine in your destination, including the arrival airport. However, sometimes those airport ATM machines upon arrival are crowded with a line.   If you can arrange transportation to your hotel using a credit card, do it.   Then exchange money at a bank ATM near where you were staying. But if you simply feel better carrying some foreign currency from the US, then you can use Currency Exchange booths inside the departing airport, if available—-  or currency exchange services in the US like Thomas Cook or your own local bank.   But be aware their exchange rates are usually terrible, and they charge commission.  Use your Currency app to see just how much money you’re going to lose with this option, and exchange only enough dollars to cover you until you can get to a foreign ATM machine.

OPENING A FOREIGN BANK ACCOUNT

For those individuals living and/or working overseas, or owning property overseas- serious consideration should be made regarding opening a foreign bank account.   Generally speaking, opening a foreign bank account is tedious work,  involves paperwork and visa/residential requirements, and most likely will involve substantial monthly fees.

E41EB7AE-2DAB-4955-8495-4EB279ECD736In addition, Americans will find they’re not welcome to open a foreign account at some banks because of FATCA,   The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is a 2010 US federal law that requires foreign banks to report to the US any American holding an account at their bank.  It’s a reporting nightmare.  And many foreign banks are simply turning down Americans that apply for a bank account.   And I also know Americans that have had their established foreign bank accounts closed because banks simply don’t want the FATCA hassle.   Also because of FATCA,  it’s important to be aware that Americans holding a foreign bank account must report those accounts and their assets each year to the US or face stiff financial penalties.

Most individuals choose to open a bank account to set up automatic bill pay, particularly if they own or rent an apartment abroad.   This is a significant convenience, however I am repeatedly aware of individuals that have tried to stop auto pay and found it extremely difficult, and costly.  Giving the gas or electric company, cable or Wi-Fi company, or others access to your bank account via autopay is risky business overseas.  I have repeatedly heard of expats that have been transferred to another country, but found it nearly impossible to close the bank account while an auto pay vendor refuses to stop making deductions.  If you’re interested in opening a bank account for this purpose, you’ll do well to talk with others in your town/country and get firsthand recommendations regarding their experiences.

I’m an expat to both Italy and Brazil, and own property in each country.  So I have monthly bills to maintain those properties.  I’ve chosen NOT to open a bank account in either country.   And I haven’t regretted that decision. Instead, I rely on friends or neighbors to assist me in paying my bills when I’m out of the country.

An emerging trend is online or virtual banks.  Not online banking, which most brick & mortar banks provide- but actually banks that are completely online, no bank branches or buildings.   These are aggressively recruiting customers by eliminating monthly fees, providing competitive services, and customer service.   Again chat with neighbors and others in your town/country regarding this option.

0C92AFB2-B254-464D-AC62-B60D1CB53627I recently opened one of these virtual accounts with Transferwise. Transferwise is a company that established itself several years ago with low cost wire transfers from one country to another.   Transferwise recently began an online banking service called “Borderless Account”.   With my Borderless account, I can hold money in various foreign currencies from over 40 countries.   With this type of account, others can pay me IN the foreign currency directly to my Borderless account, or I can pay out to others using the foreign currency directly.  In my case, I have simply chosen to hold euros in my Borderless account.   So others can pay me in euros and deposit directly into my Borderless account, or I can pay others in euros directly from this account.   One advantage of holding foreign currency in my account is the ability to move dollars into euros when the exchange rate is the most positive for me. I don’t have to wait to pay a bill or make a purchase before I convert dollars to euros. I simply move dollars into euros when the exchange rate is favorable via my Borderless account. And then I have banked euros to use when I need them.    Transferwise even allows you to set up a notification service, so I get emails when the dollar to euro exchange rate significantly changes in my favor. There are limitations to this kind of account, for example there is currently no auto bill pay, and there is a cap in how much you can withdraw using the ATM card associated with your account.

WIRING MONEY

B8DE96DA-F028-42BC-8A3E-FC4DDCD209E0Finally, sometimes you just need to move larger amounts of money from one location to another- and ATM cards, credit cards, etc. won’t do the job.   Or you have a foreign bank account or virtual/online bank account and need to move money into that account.   Then transferring or wiring money is the next option.  We’ve come along way since the days of wiring money from your bank in the United States to a foreign bank.  While people still use this option, it tends to be the most costly, and time consuming.   12 years ago I bought my property in Brazil, and transferring the money from my US bank to the Brazilian bank took more than two weeks!  And my US bank was unable to specify in detail exactly how much foreign currency would arrive at the other end!  Today, that kind of transfer can happen in just a few days with the exact arrival amount confirmed upfront, thanks to new competitive agencies, vying for your business.

Remember the Currency app I encouraged you to place on your smart phone? Throughout this blog it’s been an important resource for knowing the current exchange rate.   That app should be your guide in selecting a bank/service to wire your money, as well.  Over the years, I have wired from my banks- CitiBank and Bank Of America. When I reflect back on the terrible exchange rates and high fees I received, I’m thankful for the new services available.  Here’s two services to consider when wiring money:

Transferwise-  I swear by Transferwise. They provide the latest currency rate, and detailed their fees upfront. In addition, you can send money based on the dollar amount, or the international currency amount.  Everything is upfront. And most wires take just a day or two! They have a convenient app for your smart phone, and I can send money in less than a minute.  They also have live people who answer the phone when you call. All around it’s a solid, well respected, and convenient service.

OFX  is a similar service to Transferwise. Competitive rates, and quick service.

I’ve had many people speak about wiring money using their local US banks, or Charles Schwab.   I have compared the rates, and they’re not even close.   I have bought three different international properties, and have had to wire large sums of money.   Even a tiny fluctuation in the currency conversion rate can mean thousands of dollars.   So it pays to do your homework. Compare banks and transfer services like Transferwise and OFX and others.   Use your Currency app to know exactly what rate is the target.

MONEY-SAVVY

Keeping more money in your pocket is the goal. They say, “A fool and his money are soon parted”.   I hope you’ll use the tips I’ve provided here to keep as much money in your pocket as possible.  Be savvy in the ways of international money exchange and transfer.   And bon voyage.

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THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE TEST FOR LONG TERM STAY

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DIRECTIONS TO AMALFI COAST, ITALY

FROM ROME AIRPORT
D619849D-B3D9-4CCB-BA68-EDFCD4324AFEBus, 1 hour, 7 euros
There are buses from the airport to Termini train station. Buses are located very close to baggage claim. Go outside to the sidewalk, then turn right. Just walk along the sidewalk to the end, and you’ll see the buses. Buy a ticket from the ticket window on sidewalk on the right. Only 7 euros, takes about an hour- safe, comfy, WiFi onboard, and a lovely and scenic way to enter the city. Most times it passes right by the Circus Maximus, and the Coliseum! [I prefer the bus over the train to Termini. The train costs 17e, it’s a long walk from arrival area, there’s no place to store luggage, it’s uncomfortable, theft is common, and it’s a very ugly view into Rome. While the train makes the journey in 30 min, you’ll usually have to wait 15-20 for the next train. Not worth a possible time savings to me.]

FROM ROME’S TERMINI TRAIN STATION
1F4853C4-63F6-4168-9204-4F7DB6BE633ATrain, 2 hrs, 39 euros.
Take a 2-hr train from Termini station to Salerno train station. 39 euros (less if u buy your ticket in advance, or take a slower train).  There are two train companies- Italo & TrenItalia. Compare prices & schedules. I prefer Italo’s sleek new trains, WiFi onboard which include free movies on your mobile device. But fewer trains. Be very careful and attentive to your belongings in Termini station.

FROM SALERNO TRAIN STATION
32B0203C-2A4B-4E27-A224-6C78658155D9Bus, 1 hr, 2.5 euros
From Salerno there is a 1 hr spectacular SITA bus ride to my town, Atrani/Amalfi. The SITA bus picks up from right in front of train station, on the island in the right. Price 2.5 euros. Schedule is listed on window in travel agency located inside the station but their door faces the street, or in little cigarette stand inside train terminal. Buy tickets from either place.   Here is an online bus schedule-  SITA   Sit on same side of bus as driver for amazing views! Tell driver or any local Italian you want to get off in ATRANI. Atrani is minutes before the final stop of Amalfi.

C246D9EB-F087-4AF4-8EC5-46F3CEDD26F9ATRANI-  After bus drops you off in Atrani, notice the stairs to your left.  Go down the stairs and turn left, and you will enter Atrani’s very cute little piazza.  My favorite bar/cafe in piazza is Risacca.  It’s directly opposite the church stairs.  Order a drink and use their free WiFi.  This is where I meet visiting family and friends.

AMALFI-  If you stay on bus until the end, you’ll arrive in Amalfi.

POSITANO-  To go on to Positano, connect to Positano bus in Amalfi. 45 min ride, 2 euros.

265F92F2-E36D-49A0-9E87-C310FFEF61C7FROM NAPLES AIRPORT-  Pintour is a very convenient shuttle for 15 euros from Naples Airport to Amalfi.  It takes about 80 minutes passing through Vietri, Minori. Maiori, Atrani and Amalfi.  Make reservations using Facebook messenger, on their website or call. They speak English.  Pintour: https://www.pintourbus.com/it/?lang=en

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AMALFI COAST SPECIAL DELIGHTS

The Amalfi Coast is famous for Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, and the spectacular 25-mile cliffside drive.   Tourists also enjoy excursions to Sorrento, the island of Capri, and the ancient city of Pompeii.   But the Coast has some wonderful delights that tourists often overlook.  Here are a few of my favorites:

FURORE

01CCCB47-362A-429A-932B-A3DE8C88939DFurore is a photographic gem on the Coast.  This bridge-covered small picturesque beach is located just off the Coast road, several hundred stairs down.  With calm clear water for swimming, it’s popular with locals and tourists “in the know”.  The small narrow beach is nestled between towering cliffs on both sides, with stairs and trails that rise up into the mountains above.  About 30 minutes by bus from Amalfi or Positano.  Just let the bus driver know you want to get out at Furore.  During high season, there’s a very small concession stand renting chairs and umbrellas.  Plus rent a kayak and explore this pristine coastline filled with grottos, caves and beaches.  58F83A9E-46E8-4504-B326-D6A3D0A7A145

 

VALLE DELLE FERRIERE (Valley of the Ironworks)

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Enjoy this marvelous hike behind Amalfi town.  In less than an one hour you’ll be in the lush forest of the nature reserve enjoying waterfalls, and streams.  Enjoy the cool tranquility of this very special area as you walk past lemon groves, papermills, and old ironworks buildings.  It’s an uphill hike along stairs, pathways and goat trails.  The path is well marked, just walk up Amalfi’s main street going toward the valley.  Stay to the right and just keep going up.  All the small staircases and pathways on the right end up on the one path to Valle delle Ferriere.  You’ll pass two different impressive waterfalls within the hour, but keep going up.  The trail becomes steeper and more challenging, but quite rewarding as well.   Cross over to the left side of the stream when you reach a series of small waterfalls and pools, and a tiny stepbridge.  And then keep going up again, the trail is more steep and rugged.  But lush forest, streams, waterfalls and very dramatic scenery await you.

 

ON THE WATER

A wonderful way to enjoy the Amalfi Coast is on the water.  The coastline is 25 miles long (40 kilometers), and is delightful to explore.  There are numerous small beaches, inlets, grottoes, caves and spots of interest.

B3EF7D34-FF46-446F-B4B2-99AEBDB87F7DKayak & canoe- Rentals are available in most coastal towns. Just walk down to the beach and ask around. The coastline is delightful to explore via kayak.

Public Boat Services-  There are boat companies with scheduled routes up and down the Coast from Amalfi town.   These include boat service to Positano, Capri, Minori, Maiori, and Salerno. During high season there’s also boat service to Naples and Sorrento.  Kiosks with various boat schedules, destinations and pricing are located where buses arrive and depart in Amalfi.  10C80DE5-5693-4AE9-BD25-842AAF6C7DAB

Amalfi beach boats-  From the Amalfi pier are very small motor boats which take clients up the coast to Santa Croce Beach for about 3 euros. This small beach includes a couple of restaurants, umbrella and beach chair rentals, and kayak rentals.  This pretty picturesque beach contains crystalline water for swimming, but the beach is pebbles not sand. So be sure to take your sandals.   This beach is also accessible from the coast road, down hundreds, and hundreds of stairs.  But boat approach and access is much simpler, more beautiful, and preferred.

Private Boats- Lots of private boats and captains are available for hire. Just walk north along the waterfront in Amalfi to find a line of tables set up to arrange private boat rentals, with or without captain.2ADBAE8E-0E8A-4420-BF4B-423B56417D34

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ENJOY RIO FROM FOREST, SCHOONER, FORT & MORE

Rio de Janeiro is so much more than just its famous and iconic landmarks of Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf, Maracana Stadium, the arches of Lapa, and famous beaches at Ipanema & Copacabana.   Here are some of my favorite ‘other’ activities that are a hit with visitors & residents time and time again.  Enjoy!!

PARQUE LAGE.     This gorgeous mansion and estate are set in the lust forest in the heart of the city.   It is now a public park, with free entry, in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood at the foot of Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer statue.

image

The park includes a reflecting pool, fountains, and a small cafe with excellent food. There are many lovely walking trails throughout the estate—with butterflies, monkeys, duck pond, and even a tiny aquarium, if you can find it.  Behind the mansion, begins the trailhead for a difficult, steep & dangerous climb up to the top of Christ the Redeemer Statue.  The mansion was notably featured in the 2003 music video for Snoop Dogg’s single “Beautiful.”  Pargue Lage appears in 2nd half of this video, about minute 3:50.  But the entire video showcases much of Rio:           http://youtu.be/_FE194VN6c

SCHOONER TOUR: GUANABARA BAY      As one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rio is truly spectacular. However she’s also quite beautiful by sea, as well.   Taking a schooner tour is a unique way to see the beautiful city and topography of the area.  The two-hour trip is also surprisingly inexpensive.

image

The schooner boat travels from the Gloria Marina, Flamengo, Botafogo, Urca, Sugar Loaf, São João Fortress, Lage Fortress, Niterói , São Francisco beach, Icarai beach, Itapuca and Indian stone, Flechas beach, Boa Viagem beach, Contemporary Art Museum, Gragoata beach, Gragoata Fortress, Mocangue Island, Rio-Niteroi bridge, Enxadas Island, Cais do Porto, Cobras Island, Fiscal Island, Villegaignon Island, Modern Art Museum, Monument to the dead soldiers of the Second World War, return to the pier. Daily in the morning. Usually Embark: 09:30 am | Disembark: 11:30 am | Marina da Glória, Flamengo.   Telephone: 21-2225-6064    http://www.saveiros.com.br/guanabara-bay-rj/daily-tour-around-guanabara-bay/?lang=en

FORT OF COPACABANA FORT AND COLOMBO’S CAFE     In the heart of the Zona Sul, between the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana lies this oasis on a promontory point into the sea. This wonderful location has fabulous views. The Fort is an interesting historical location and still part of the military. Pay a minimal entry fee, and you can walk all around the expansive area, see the military museum, and enjoy wonderful views of Copacabana and Sugarloaf too. Best of all, get a table at the open-air Colombo’s cafe to enjoy the fine views, great food, one of their delicious sweets, or a light snack. http://www.confeitariacolombo.com.br/siteen/?p=78

FREE WALKING TOURS IN RIO DE JANEIRO     Why not try a free walking tour in Rio? This organization offers two free tours (as well as several others for a small fee). imageThe first free tour is through the heart of Rio’s historic downtown area. This three-hour free walking tour includes the Imperial Palace, Tiradentes Palace, Municipal Theater, National Library, Fine Arts Museum, and Lapa’s famous Arches and stairs.The second free tour covers Copacabana and Ipanema. In addition to covering these famous beaches, it includes Arpoador rock, Vinicius de Moraes Street and the Lagoa (Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon).   http://www.freewalkertours.com

BIKING       Rio’s most picturesque areas have bike paths to take advantage of the vistas. There is beautiful oceanfront biking from Leblon through Ipanema to Copacabana and Leme.  This beachfront bike path connects via two tunnels, to the bayfront bike path in Botafogo.  Also biking around the Lagoa is a great way to spend a day.   imageThere’s a bicycle program in the city which features orange bicycles. You pick them up at different stops in Rio, and can drop them off at other locations. See directions at the stations for specifics.  Another inexpensive place to rent a bike is in Arpoador at Ciclovia at Rua Francisco Otaviano 55/A, telephone 2247-0018.   OR a more expensive Ipanema locale is Caloi at Rua Visconde de Piraja 135-B (only 1/2 block from the Ipanema metro).  Telephone 2521-2686.

DAYTRIP: BEACHES SOUTH OF RIO – SPOTLIGHT PRAINHA BEACH      Visiting pristine beaches outside of the city is as easy as a 1 hour bus ride. The Surf Bus goes from Botafogo to Prainha Beach (along the beach thru Copa, Ipanema, Leblon, Sao Conrado, Barra, Recreio, and Macumba).  About 15r each way, the bus is FAST, with few stops.  It only stops where riders request to stop.  Yes, surfers use it, but so can everyone else.  SO if you want get out of the city, cruise south along the beachfront, and visit any beach along its route outside the city, the Surf Bus is for you. The last stop of the bus is Prianha Beach- just a simple 10 min. walk over a low hill. Highly recommended. Rent chairs and umbrellas on the beach, and there is even a snack bar, fresh water showers and clean bathrooms, too. Be sure to call to confirm operation, pickup times, and the bus host, Guillermo speaks English so you can call anytime to see where the bus is- 99799-5039 or 8515-2289.   
http://www.rio-de-janeiro-travel-information.com/surf-bus.html

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DISCOVERING THE GEMS OF THE AMALFI COAST

Italy’s charms abound, but who’s heart hasn’t skipped a beat when visiting Rome, Venice, Taormina, Verona, or Sardinia? But my heart literally stopped and dropped when I first rounded a hairpin corner, and began my first ride down the Amalfi Coast highway. I seriously suspected that after Walt Disney created Disneyland, he must have secretly designed the ‘Costieria Amalfitana’.  Spectacular cliffs, azure seas, beaches, coves, and mountain peaks go on for 25 miles (40 kilometers); while along the way are picturesque, unique Italian towns that could be the envy of Disney and Hollywood, too. hikeGods
The Amalfi Coast begins just west of Positano and continues east to Vietri Sul Mare map(almost to Salerno).  There are 13 major municipalities along the coast, with many more tiny communes- each with their own unique charm, highlights, and pride.  While Positano, Amalfi and Ravello seem to dominate the limelight and tourists’ attention; there’s much more to discover and savor on this world-famous coastline.  It takes about 2 hours to do the full coast drive; most conveniently accomplished by the local bus, Sita.  One common tourist mistake is including Sorrento as an Amalfitana town.  It’s not.  Sorrento is on the Gulf of Naples– but mistakenly gets included because of it’s proximity to Positano, about one hour away.  Also less than an hour away by boat is the breathtaking island of Capri.

After decades of visiting and re-visiting this gorgeous part of the world, I finally bought the world’s smallest apartment on the Amalfi Coast.  Located in the small commune of Atrani, I’ve gone from frequent tourist to local resident.  So here’s my 2 cents, and insights into this UNESCO heritage area.

THE TOWNS AND THEIR CHARMS

POSITANO
pos

The most famous town on the coast, Positano won’t disappoint.  Popularized by such Hollywood movies as Under the Tuscan Sun and Only You, it’s fame seems to feed its popularity.  Here you will find the rich & famous, the beautiful people, and throngs of tourists.  Chic and trendy (with prices to match), Positano contains scores of hotels, pensions, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and nightlife.   The town climbs from the sea and clings to cliffs up, up and up.  This provides for dazzling vistas- but be forwarded- everything is up or down- nothing is level.  So climbing 100, 200, 300+ steps is a must to truly enjoy this town.  Luckily a local bus & taxi’s make the circular drive around most of the mid-to-upper town.  But from the lowest bus stop, there’s no escaping a 15-20 minute walk down to get to Positano’s main beach.  If you’re like me, and enjoy a daily swim in the sea, you may wish to daytrip to Positano and instead stay in a town that doesn’t require more time going up and down to the beach, than you’d actually spend IN the sea.  But if resort living with a healthy dose of serious stair-climbing appeals to you, Positano is your kind of place.

AMALFIamalfi

The Coast was named after Amalfi, an historic town dating back to the 6th century. Located in the very center of the spectacular 25 mile coast drive, Amalfi boasts a rich and respected history of maritime dominance, independence, Dukes, and aristocracy. Famous for its impressive cathedral, Duomo church, Amalfi town is also a popular tourist destination on the Coast. Beach-lovers, swimming enthusiasts, and older visitors appreciate Amalfi as it’s primarily at sea level.  Three favorite piazzas with different characteristics include the main piazza, Piazza Duomo, with impressive views of the towering Duomo; Piazza Municipio with an active nightlife in the summer; and super-quaint Piazza Dogi, tightly packed with restaurants. A single street gently rises from the sea and meanders deeper and deeper into the valley, and is filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Amalfi beach sits only a minute’s walk from its main piazza, and includes an impressive number of seafront restaurants and bars. Located in the heart of the coastline, Amalfi is just 20 minutes below Ravello, 45 minutes from Positano, and one hour from Salerno’s main train station. Amalfi is also a major transportation hub for the coast with its impressive and beautiful port, and bus station. Conveniently, Amalfi is the origination point for boats up and down the coast; and buses to everywhere including Naples and Rome.

RAVELLOravello
From it’s perch high above the Coast, Ravello’s vistas are unrivaled.  Gore Vidal owned a huge villa here, Jackie Kennedy summered here; and it was a favorite of Greta Garbo, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams.  It’s a town filled with ancient Roman ruins, villas, gardens, peace, and privacy.  Dating back to the 5th century, Ravello became famous for the nobility that built huge sweeping villas and gardens, including Villa Rufulo and Villa Cimbrone.  Each summer Ravello hosts a season-long music festival, with key performances from the belvedere of the Villa Rufulo with it’s endless views of the Amalfi Coast.  This is a walking town, with flower-lined lanes, high-walled private residences, fine restaurants, meticulously maintained gardens, and historic villas converted into elegant hotels.  Beaches are a 20-minute drive down, or hike down for one hour along ancient lanes and stairways past lemon groves and ruins with sweeping views around every corner.  Ravello is perfect for visitors seeking privacy, peace, and an elegant Italian town experience.

ATRANI
atrani2For a truly authentic Italian experience discover Atrani.  One of the smallest communes in all of Italy (only 900 residents), it has a lovely beach & arguably the most picturesque piazza in all of Italy.  It is featured in the first 16 seconds of this Fiat commercial below.  Fiercely proud and independent, the Atranese (the locals) have successfully protected their town from commercialism & development.  And the result is the delightful experience of stepping back centuries in time.  There’s only one hotel, no tourist shops, and feels light-years from the hoards of tourists you’ll encounter in Positano or Amalfi.  Many Italians and others have been charmed by Atrani, and rent rooms or entire homes from the residents.  Atrani is conveniently located only a 10-minute walk along the breathtaking coast highway from much larger Amalfi, with its buses & boats to everywhere.

THE COAST
Considered one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Coast continues to charm visitors each year.  Come visit the Coast, and find your slice of heaven in one or more of her picturesque towns.

This Fiat commercial cleverly highlights the coast’s charms:

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VENICE: GONDOLAS, GELATO & GRAMMAR

Venice view 3I LOVE Venice, and wanted to improve my Italian.  So decided to combine both.  I enrolled in a two-week Italian language program in magical Venezia.  The educator in me wanted a rigorous language program; while the world traveler in me kept thinking, what better place to study Italian than in the city of canals, gondolas and history?

For the amazing price of only $800US, I venice view 2rented a room in a shared apartment for 14 nights in the heart of Venice AND studied Italian.  The price included housing, 4 hours of daily language instruction mornings Mon-Fri, daily FREE afternoon/evening excursions, walking tours, & programs; and free chaise & umbrella at beach club on Lido Island.  There was even a small canal with passing gondolas right in from of my apartment window.

How lucky I was to find Instituto Venezia: http://www.istitutovenezia.com/en/  venice view 6Classes were held at Campo Santa Margarita- also in the heart of Venice– just a 12-minute picturesque walk from the apartment–  over 5 bridges and numerous canals.  But be warned:  Il Doge Gelateria is just steps from the class.  Serving up some of the best gelato in Venice, their ‘frutti di bosco’ was one of the best I’ve ever had- it was a clear, delicious, and constant temptation.

After two weeks, my Italian flows a bit more smoothly, and feel I’m a mini-expert on living like a local in Venice.  And watching the rush hour ‘gondola’ traffic jam outside my living room window will be a cherished memory.  Gracie, Venezia, per una esperienza indimenticabile.  

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RETIREMENT REFLECTIONS

imageToday’s the 2nd anniversary of my retirement. Many thx to family & friends that have made this time an amazing & unbelievable adventure. Here’s lessons learned.
1. My dress shoes are now Havaianas with ‘bling.’
2. My inner child is better than ever.
3. If it’s below 70F degrees (21C), I don’t go.
4. My time & my health are priceless.
5. Rediscovering who I am required removing layers of piled-on expectations, social pressures & stress.
6. Doing what you want, when you want takes time & practice, but most of all creativity.
7. Spending time with friends, enjoying nature’s beauty, watching my favorite movie for the 1000th time, or napping isn’t wasting time at all.
8. My life is so much bigger that a single zip code, job title, nationality, or identity.
9. I cherish my family & friends even more.
10. AND I was blessed to have a father who taught me the value & pride of a job well done; and a mom & grandparents who taught me the sacrifice & disciple to save, save, save- even when I didn’t want to do it.

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RESISTING THE SEDUCTION OF WORLD CUP

I didn’t even like soccer until sitting in a small Italian piazza 8 years ago. An outdoor café in Atrani’s piazza had free wireless internet, so I found myself there each day to catch up on Piazza- Atrani, Italyemails, web searches, & online calls to home. One afternoon, as I was completely engrossed on my laptop, the café became packed with locals and a few tourists. I didn’t know what happened, and didn’t realize the café owners had rolled out a big screen TV right in front of my table. Within moments, the café was full. Really, really full. Chairs were haphazardly added to aisles, and we were elbow-to-elbow. The back of the café filled too, with people standing, and more people poured into the piazza itself. Seems I had the best seat in the house for World Cup, a game I didn’t understand. This was my baptism into what the world calls, ‘football’, the beautiful game.

beachSoccerEight years later I’m in Rio de Janeiro, at the epicenter of World Cup 2014.  And I’m enjoying a sport I have come to adore, amidst other devotees. There are 32 countries competing in 64 games over 30+ days in 12 Brazilian cities. With 3-4 world class games a day, the ‘high’ is dizzying, intoxicating, and addicting. It feels like a daily, delicious drug trip.

Maybe you are one of the few holdouts that still don’t understand or appreciate World Cup? Hmmm, are you American? Are you significantly annoyed by the month-long media focus on this sport? No worries, I have the perfect five step program to immunize yourself against the seduction that IS the World Cup.

1. Avoid the Magnetism. Serious fans of World Cup LOVE the sport, and show it. You see it on their faces, in their animated conversations, face1& in their focus while watching a game. They wear their emotions on their sleeve, the highs and the lows. The screams of joy and the groans of loss. And many also wear shirts, hats, flags, face & bodypaint, wigs, and glasses to declare that love. There are also lots of songs, dances, and chants by fans & players before, during and after games- anytime & anywhere. And being surrounded by that electricity, devotion and focus is heady stuff. Avoid the magnetism of being caught in the midst of all that. Stay far, far away from games, celebrations, discussions or any events surrounding World Cup; or risk being drawn into the strong magnetic pull of this global event.  Even the Columbian players (from the land of ‘Shakira’) have their own little goal dance.

2. Keep Your Feet on the Ground. The World Cup creates a parallel universe for futbol fans. brloveGames take us beyond the realm of time and space. We are IN THE MOMENT so fully that other cares, issues or concerns fall away as we are 100% in the singular experience. Researchers say true happiness comes from experiences that take us to another realm, and out of our conscious existence. Like falling in love, there is no anchor in today’s ‘here and now’; instead there is just a surreal feeling of lightness, joy & singular focus. stSo if you can keep your nose to the grindstone during World Cup, congratulations.  Keep doing it.  There’s a reason Brazil has declared holidays on days the Brazilian team plays. The collective adoration by the Brazilian population for World Cup brings the country to a halt. Don’t believe me? Check out the empty streets and boulevards all around Brazil when their team is playing.

3. Adjust your Nationalistic Blinders. The sporting rivalry between 32 countries isflags globally enlightening. World Cup features a wide array of flags, colors, peoples, clothing, and languages to create a potpourri of international proportions. Even Bosnia, Iran, & Camaroon are here competing against their more famous rivals like Brazil, Spain, Italy, and Argentina. An estimated 3.7 million fans have descended on Brazil, and filled restaurants, bars and other venues featuring the games on TV for those who couldn’t afford or find tickets for stadium play. And each time a game is played a new collection of foreigners fills the chairs, yellto chat up their neighbors, tease each other regarding their team’s prowess, and share a drink, and conversation—and maybe even a new friendship develops.  National anthems of competing teams are featured before each game. Players and fans alike belt out their country’s songs with fervor and passion. (Funny, but I can’t hear France’s national anthem without thinking of that famous scene in the movie, Casablanca. You know the one.)   One cannot avoid expanding one’s global horizons at World Cup. So to avoid that World Cup seduction successfully, best to keep your nationalistic blinders on, and remain inoculated against a world view.  But if you haven’ heard Algeria’s national anthem, it’s a  “peppy little number”, as a friend noted.

4. Stay Focused on Sports with Commercials, TimeOuts, and Undetermined Ending Times. A World Cup game is only a 2-hour commitment, that’s it- two hours, max. It consists of two 45-minute halves with no interruptions, commercials or time outs.ad If you want to replenish that drink or “see a man about a horse” (as my father used to say), gotta make it fast. ad2Halftime is only 15 minutes, with no halftime shows, glitz or glamour. So to avoid the World Cup seduction, stick with other sports and their commercials, timeouts, and lengthy shows at halftime. Surely you need to buy something from all those commercials you’re watching, right? And all those breaks gives you lots of time in-between to prepare meals, run errands, wash the car, and balance your checkbook, too.

5. Find your Own Fun.  A month of World Cup with multiple games each day means austhere’s a party somewhere. And since World Cup fans are in high form, these parties are intense. However, for you ‘do-it-your-selfers’, this may seem too easy. A party around every corner? Fun and frolic on a daily basis? No, not you. So be adventurous, find & create your own fun. It’s gotta be out there somewhere. And leave the World Cup partying to those of us already stricken with World Cup fever.   But trying to find a bar or fanfestrestaurant with television NOT tuned to World Cup is a challenge.  At least you can avoid the FanFests where tens of thousands of us can easily find a party of epic proportions.

Exactly 32 of the 64 World Cup games have been played as I finalize this article. So for you anti-World Cup holdouts, hang in there a bit longer. There’s a light for you at the end of this World Cup tunnel. It’s almost over.

However, for devoted fans, this means we are happy gluttons and wanting more during this ‘football feeding frenzy’. The downside is we know this intoxicating high is counting down too.

No matter if you are a fan or foe, it’s going to be four LONG years before the next World Cup. So throw a bit of mercy our way. We are building with anticipation as increasingly important games will determine a world champion.   At the same time, we know each additional game is taking us closer to the end of this amazing love affair. It’s a delicious but painful double-edged sword.   But this is the seduction of the World Cup.

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