Ancestral Journeys — Part One: Tracking Down my Müller ancestors in Rheinland-Pfalz

My great uncle used to tell me stories about my great-great grandfather, William Miller, who grew up in Speyer, Germany before immigrating to the United States. He had been an altar boy in the city’s Romanesque Cathedral and considered studying to become a priest. He was drafted into the military of the newly formed German Empire, but decided to leave the country after witnessing a Prussian officer strike one of the other conscripts. He smuggled himself aboard a boat on the banks of the Rhine, following the river all the way to Rotterdam where he boarded a ship for America.

Speyer Cathedral

Speyer Cathedral

He found work in Thayer County, Nebraska shoeing oxen at a fort. He later made his way back east to Wisconsin where he met Angenette Barth, my great-great grandmother. After they were married, they moved to Chicago, Illinois where William worked on refrigerator cars in the meatpacking industry. Angenette gave birth to four sons. By 1900, the family moved to Dunmore, Pennsylvania where William worked as a master car builder for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. He rose up through the ranks of the railroad company and became wealthy enough to send all four of his sons to Lehigh University to study engineering (unfortunately my great-grandfather dropped out before graduating) and send financial support to relatives back in Germany.

Back in 2004, I took a three-week, post-bar exam backpacking trip around Central Europe and visited the lovely town of Speyer. It was a thrill to see the Speyer Cathedral and walk the streets of this wonderfully preserved city. I had been researching family history since I was 12 years old, but the internet had brought me new discoveries. I found out that William’s parents names were Jacob Müller and Catharina Buchner. While in Speyer, I had hoped to see if I could trace them some more generations back. I stopped by the Speyer Stadtarchiv (Speyer City Archive) and was helped by very friendly woman who spoke excellent English and translated the registration records for me. I learned that William was an illegitimate child and that he had actually been born in Frankenstein, over 20 miles away, rather than Speyer. His mother, Catharina, had another illegitimate child with his father’s brother, Adam, and later married him and gave birth to seven more children. I also learned the names of Catharina’s parents, Franz Anton Buchner and Maria Barbara Weber. The woman at the Stadtarchiv recommended that I visit Frankenstein to see if I could trace the Müller’s back further, but unfortunately I had not budgeted enough time on my trip and needed to proceed on to Switzerland. After that, I told myself that I would come back and spend an extended amount of time in the area to see if I could find out more.

Eleven years later, I was fortunate enough to make a return trip to Speyer for several days. I was able to perform some additional research and visit some of the towns where the Müllers lived. I stayed at an AirBnB for five nights. The host had a bicycle, which came in handy for making my way around Speyer and exploring the region.

My first stop was the Rheinland-Pfalz Landeshauptarchiv (Rheinland-Pfalz state archives).  At the library, I tried to locate some of the church parish registers, but they were actually housed in other locations. The library has a list of parish registers online which provides location which you can find here if you open the PDF.  The staff were nice enough to provide me with the locations of other city archives. They also had a book I was looking for about Ober Ingelheim, where my Barth ancestors came from. This allowed me to begin tracing them several generations back. I was able to ask my questions in my rudimentary German, but really wish I had better command of the language.

The Landesarchiv told me that most of the records I was seeking were located at the Stadtarchiv. For some reason, Google Maps told me the Stadtarchiv was located several miles outside of the city. I recalled it being closer to the Cathedral, so figured something was wrong and asked the librarian where it was. The library told me that, indeed, it was located in the city center and just a short bike ride away.

At the Stadtarchiv, the staff were still very helpful, provided me with a guide for reading the Sütterlin script in the records, helped translate some German words, and showed me some resources for figuring out where my ancestors lived Speyer and what they did for work. One of the records provided a lot of detail about the ancestry of the Müllers, stating that they were originally from Otterbach and Katzweiler.


After leaving the Stadtarchiv, I went exploring the streets of Speyer to find the locations where my ancestors lived. Most of the houses were only a couple blocks away from the Stadtarchiv. I found the small house where Adam Müller lived when he first married Catharina Buchner, the larger house where Catharina’s parents lived, right across the street from where a famous artist named Hans Purrmann grew up, and also the house on Maximilianstraße where William’s spinster sisters Luisa and Emma lived and worked as seamstresses. Speyer survived the Allied bombing largely intact, so I felt fortunate to be able to see the actual buildings occupied by my ancestors.

The yellow house was the home of my ancestors, Franz Anton and Maria Barbara (Weber) Buchner

The yellow house was the home of my ancestors, Franz Anton and Maria Barbara (Weber) Buchner

The following day I visited the Bistumarchiv (Diocese Archive), run by the Bishopric of Speyer. The staff there spoke good English there as well and also helped me out with some of the records. Initially I came here to research the Buchner family, but I found out that the Bistumarchiv has microfilm parish records for localities all over the Rheinland-Pfalz, so I decided to look for records of the Müllers in Otterbach and Katzweiler. They told me that Katzweiler records were placed in the same books as Otterbach, so I started looking there. I managed to glean quite a lot from the Otterbach records, finding birth records of siblings, and tracing the Müllers another generation back. Here, most of the Catholic records were written in Latin, so it was actually much easier for me to read than the Sütterlin script and figure out the meanings of most of the words. They charged me a small fee based on the amount of time I spent researching there, but I thought it was well worth it.

I decided to take the remaining time I had in Speyer to explore some of the towns the Müller’s came from: Katzweiler and Frankenstein.  Luckily, all of these towns were along the rail line. It took a little over an hour to travel out to Katzweiler from Speyer. The train goes from the relatively flat agricultural lands of the Rhine Valley into the heavily forested and mountainous Pfalzwald, an area that resembles Pennsylvania. I changed trains in Kaiserlautern and followed another train out to Katzweiler. Otterbach was along the rail line, but it did not look interesting enough to make a stop.

Katzweiler is a rural town on some relatively treeless hills north of Otterbach and Kaiserslautern. There was  a small information booth in the town, but not many ways to learn about the history or note historic buildings.


I visited one of the cemeteries, but as I later discovered, German cemeteries are usually not worth spending time in when doing genealogy. There is a headstone tax, so families usually have the stone removed after a few years in order to avoid paying the tax. Accordingly, most of the gravestones you will find in a German cemetery will be rather recent. After snapping a few photos around Katzweiler, I boarded the train and followed it back to Frankenstein.

Frankenstein was one of the more remarkably beautiful places on this particular portion of my trip. It is such a tiny town, I was surprised that it actually has a train station. It is a small town, nestled in a valley and overlooked by the ruins of a castle. The knights von Frankenstein had lived in the area since the thirteenth century. I could imagine my great-great grandfather playing in the castle ruins while he was a boy.


Burg Frankenstein

Burg Frankenstein

As far as I know, there is no connection between this town and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

If I had more time in Speyer, I would have stopped at the Zentralarchiv der Evangelischen Kirche der Pfalz (Protestant Church Central Archive) to research my Protestant Weber ancestors who lived in Zweibrücken, but I will have to save it for another adventure. If you have ancestors in Rheinland-Pfalz, Speyer is a great base for doing your research and exploring the region. The city itself is worth exploring a day or two, especially the cathedral and the Jewish Museum. If you’re feeling adventurous, I highly recommend renting a bicycle and exploring the bike trails. I rode all the way to Heidelberg and back in a day.

If you’re making a genealogy trip to Germany, try to learn as much as you can about the history, language and resources before you go. It will make your trip so much more satisfying.

Here are some helpful links for planning a genealogical research trip to Rhineland-Pfalz:

Rheinland-Pfalz Resources from

German Genealogy – Rheinland-Pfalz (a very helpful list of sources)

Palatines page at Cyndi’s List

Here are some links for learning how to read Sütterlin script:

Here you can learn Suetterlin – the “German handwriting”

Germany Handwriting –

Helps for Translating That Old German Handwriting


Sun, Sand and Ceará: Exploring Fortaleza, Brazil

Fortaleza is a city of 2 million inhabitants located in Brazil’s Northeast region and capital of the state of Ceará. Fortaleza and the Ceará coastline are a popular tourist destination for Brazilians and, to some extent, Europeans. Few Americans visit Fortaleza, possibly due to the greater popularity of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Iguaçu Falls and the lack of direct flights. Another reason could be Fortaleza’s lack of a marketing campaign within the US. Known as the Brazilian Miami, Fortaleza offers luxury high-rises, urban beaches, interesting museums and cultural attractions, sweltering heat and, unfortunately like other large cities in Brazil, a share of danger.

Fortaleza’s colonial history began with the construction of Fort São Tiago in 1603 and the settlement of Nova Lisboa by Pero Coelho de Souza of Portugal. The fort’s name was later changed to Fort São Sebastião. The Dutch invaded northeastern Brazil in 1637, fought the Portuguese and the natives, destroyed the fort and constructed a new one, which they named Fort Schoonenborch, in 1649. With the end of Dutch occupation of Brazil in 1654, the Portuguese renamed the fort, Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora de Assunção. A village was founded by the fort in 1726 and took its name, Fortaleza, from the fort.

The cotton industry contributed to the growth of Fortaleza in the 19th century and the city continued to grow throughout the 20th century, augmented by migrants from rural Ceará and annexation of surrounding cities.  Fortaleza is now the fifth largest city in Brazil and was a host city for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

I spent a week in Ceará in August of 2014, during which I took some trips to the resort towns of Canoa Quebrada and Jericoacoara, but I also enjoyed a few days getting to know Fortaleza. Below are some of the places that I was able to experience there.

Beira Mar


Avenida Beira Mar runs along Fortaleza’s popular urban beaches of Meireles and Iracema. The area is filled with hotels, high-end apartments, bars and restaurants. Wander through a flea market full of interesting Cearanese handicrafts. Sample a caipirinha, an água de coco, or fresh shrimp from one of the many kiosks along the way. Hundreds of tourists crowd the promenade and beaches each evening to watch the sunset and the activity continues well into the evening. Walking on the English Bridge (actually a pier) is especially sublime on a clear night. While the Beira Mar area seems very safe, you should keep your eyes open as tourists are often unfortunately targeted by thieves.  Keep your valuables locked away in your hotel safe.

Shrimp and a Swimming Pool


On my first night in Fortaleza, a local friend of mine took me to dinner at Neide do Camarão, a popular restaurant situated alongside some railroad tracks. As you walk in, a man stands by with trays of freshly caught shrimp. You tell the man how much you want by the kilo and then they’ll cook up the shrimp in garlic and oil for you while you take a seat inside and enjoy a bottle of Skol. The tables are situated around an Olympic sized swimming pool.  Neide do Camarão doesn’t offer fancy dining, but the food was decent and inexpensive and eating there was a unique experience.

A Historic Walk

Fortaleza has not retained nearly as many of its old buildings as Salvador, but the city still has some fine examples of historic architecture.  I spent a day walking around some of Fortaleza’s historic sites.  Below is a sample self-guided walking tour you can follow to take in some of these sites.  You can complete the walk in about 2 or 3 hours depending on how much time you want to spend at each of the stops along the way.

1) Mercado Central


The Mercado Central is a good place to start and end your walk as many of the city busses stop here.The existence of a Fortaleza central market goes back to 1809, but in 1931 the city prohibited the sale of meat, fruits and vegetables inside the market building, so the vendors turned to the sale of handicrafts.  Admittedly, the market is very touristy, with a range of goods from quality artisan handicrafts to t-shirts and flip-flop shops and cashew and candy stalls. However, one of the more interesting things about the market it is architecture, the curvy walkways and design that appears to have been built in the mid-20th century but it was actually constructed more recently– in 1997.  In front of the Mercado Central is the

2. Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora de Assunção

Unfortunately, I am not able to provide a firsthand account of a visit inside this historic fortress, which gives Fortaleza its name.  I only had a look at the outside.  However, if you’re interested in the history of the region, this spot may be worth a look.  Since 1942, the fortress has served as a regional headquarters of the Brazilian Army. From the fort, walk to the west along Rua Dr. João Moreira to the

3. Passeio Público

Passeio Público

Passeio Público

This charming small park, also known as the Praça dos Martires, is filled with green benches and gnarled hundred-year-old trees.  Beautifully restored historic buildings line the surrounding streets.  One of my Fortaleza-born friends told me that this area was once quite seedy and frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers.  Today, it is great place for an afternoon stroll or moments of relaxation in the shade.  From here, keep walking west along Rua Dr. João Moreira until you reach the corner of Rua Senador Pompeu, where you will find the

4. Centro de Turismo do Ceará


Situated in the walls of a former prison dating back to the nineteenth century, the tourist center offers another chance to browse local handicrafts and souvenirs, admire the architecture of the building and the center’s exhibits, snack on cashews or ice cream or obtain information about Fortaleza.  From here, walk south along Rua Senador Pompeu, make a right on Rua São Paulo, walk one block and turn left on Rua General Sampaio, which you will follow two blocks by an open square and the

5. Jose de Alencar Theatre


My favorite historic building in Fortaleza by far is the Theatro José de Alencar, definitely worth a visit. The building was built in 1910 with ornate art-nouveau stained glass windows, cast-iron railings and lamps.  The theatre takes its name from Fortaleza’s literary son, José de Alencar. From the theatre, re-trace your steps north along Rua General Sampaio, turn right on Rua São Paulo and walk east four blocks until you reach Rua Floriano Peixoto, there you will find the

6. Museu do Ceara


This museum, housed in the rooms of a neoclassical mansion dating back to the mid-19th century, allows the visitor to literally walk through the history of Ceará with some truly intriguing exhibits, furniture and art-work from the state.  From the museum, make a right on Rua São Paulo, go two blocks and then turn left on Avenida Conde d’Eu.  Follow the avenue two blocks and on your right, you will see the spires of the

7. Metropolitan Cathedral


Constructed between 1939 and 1978, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza was designed by architect George Maunier in the eclectic style, combining elements of gothic and romanesque. The cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Fortaleza. The interior is white and simple in design, but illuminated by colorful stained-glass windows.  Next to the cathedral is the market where you began the walk.

Praia do Futuro


One of the more popular urban beaches in Fortaleza is the Praia do Futuro, a 8 km expanse of sand.  The beach is lined with barracas (beachside restaurants that offer chairs, food and drinks), one of the most popular of which is Crocobeach.  The waves at Praia do Futuro are incredibly intense, which makes it a popular surfing location. Novice swimmers should be very cautious before entering the water.

Places to Eat

Other than Neide do Camarão, here are a few other restaurant recommendations in Fortaleza:

  • Vignoli – Pizzaria in Meireles.  Really good pizza, but a little expensive.
  • Coco Bambu – Trendy tropical themed restaurant. Enjoyed it, although it is actually a chain.
  • Barney’s Ice Cream – 1950s American style ice cream shop

Trips to the Ceará coastline

Fortaleza is a great place to spend a couple days before heading out to explore the Ceará coastline.  Fortaleza-based tour companies offer several journeys to the east, including Morro Branco and Canoa Quebrada and to the west including the incredible Jericoacoara.


A couple big attractions I missed on my trip to Fortaleza were the Dragão do Mar cultural center and the Beach Park water park.  Also, I would have liked to have more time to explore the surrounding beaches. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my time in Fortaleza and would definitely consider a return trip.

Have you visited Fortaleza? What was your experience like?

Slow Boat Voyage on the Mekong River into Laos

One of the most unique and memorable ways to travel into Laos from Thailand is to take a slow boat on the muddy Mekong River from Chiang Khong/Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. Rather than trying to coordinate the border crossing and boat rides on my own, I decided to go with an organized tour (the Thailand to Laos Adventure by G Adventures) and let them figure out the details.  This stretch of my trip through Southeast Asia was interesting, peaceful (maybe even a little boring at times), but certainly an adventure I will not forget.

We left our guesthouse in Chiang Khong early in the morning, loaded our baggage onto a tuk tuk which took us to the Thailand customs office.  The border crossing location was brand new, but somewhat inconveniently located a few miles downriver from Chiang Khong.  After exiting Thai customs, we crossed the bridge to the Laotian border station where we received our Laos visas on arrival ($35 USD) arranged through our tour guide. Once we cleared customs on the Laotian side, we had to drive 10 kilometers back all the way back to Huay Xai just opposite Chiang Khong on the other side of the river. There, we boarded our slow boat. If you happen to be organizing this trip on your own, make sure you aren’t using outdated information!  The friendship bridge connecting the two customs stations was only completed in December 2013.


Crossing the river into Laos was like traveling back in time.  Chiang Khong, on the Thailand side, is a modest town, but Huay Xai even more so.  I noticed the Laotian flags, hammer and sickle flags and tiny taverns selling Beerlao.  Our slow boat was run by family who lived on board:  husband, wife and baby.  They sold Beerlao on the boat and you could snack on bananas or chips. For a lot of the journey, we played card games, read books, chatted with each other and admired the scenery from the boat.  If you’re making this journey during the winter months, as I did, I would advise taking some warm clothes or even blankets with you.  I made the mistake of assuming that Southeast Asia would be hot and didn’t initially bring cold weather clothes with me. Sitting on the boat exposed to the wind all day long can definitely be uncomfortable. Overall, we were pretty fortunate because our small tour group of eight made up the only passengers on the boat.  From other blogs I’ve read, some of these boats look like they can get really crowded!


While the journey to Luang Prabang takes two days on the slow boat, I noticed speedboats whizzing by down the river. Although this seems to be a quicker way to travel the river, these boats are quite dangerous and tourists are frequently injured or even killed using this method of travel.  With all of the rocks scattered in the Mekong, I’m not surprised.


The muddy Mekong winds its way into Laos flanked on either side by verdant, jungle-covered mountains, dotted with primitive looking huts and settlements.  Now and then you would an elephant walking along the banks of the river.  Near the end of the day, the setting sun makes for some spectacular scenery in the flowing waters.


The first leg of the journey ended in the small, but developing village of Pakbeng, an impoverished yet beautiful settlement on the banks of the Mekong.  Our accommodation was a beautiful guesthouse up on the hill overlooking the river.


In the evening we took a walk through the town led by our Laotian tour guide (our Thai tour guide told us that she actually was not able to officially “guide” us while in Laos due to Laotian tourism laws). We stopped at a market and ate at a surprisingly modernly decorated restaurant where we enjoyed some traditional Lao laap, a delicious blend of minced meat, lime juice, herbs and sticky rice.


Pakbeng looked like it certainly had the potential to become the next touristy hotspot, and it probably sees its share of tourists traveling by boat between Thailand and Luang Prabang, but on my visit, it still felt somewhat undiscovered, serene and authentic.  In the morning, we also witnessed a few orange-robed monks collecting alms.  It was interesting to watch this ritual in Pakbeng, where you don’t have crowds of tourists taking photos as you do in Luang Prabang.

On the stretch of river between Pakbeng and Luang Prabang, our slow boat stopped at the Pak Ou Caves, an upper cave and a lower cave inside a cliff overlooking the river.


The caves are filled with thousands of statutes of the Buddha in various poses, left there during any time within the last 300 years.  Locals continue the tradition of leaving Buddha statutes here.  It is believed that the caves were first a holy site for the worship of Phi, a god of nature worshipped by the Lao people prior to the advent of Buddhism, adopted by the Lao royal family by the 16th century.  The caves served as the destination of an annual pilgrimage from Luang Prabang for the New Year.


From the caves, it was 25 more kilometers to Luang Prabang, where our long two-day journey on the Mekong came to an end.  While the trip took a long time and could at times be a little monotonous, it was a fascinating introduction to the country of Laos.  Because of the long stretches, it was definitely an advantage traveling with a group so I had people to talk to, play games with, etc.  Overall, I am very happy that I had this experience and would recommend it as a way to introduce yourself to the enchanting country of Laos.

If you’re doing this journey solo, I would recommend doing a little bit of research and make sure you have updated information.  Travel agents in Chiang Mai can help you book your trip.  Here are some worthwhile blog posts from other travelers who have made the same journey:

The Slow Boat Down the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos by Around this World

The Slow Boat to Laos: Drugs, Jail and a Mutiny (a not so pleasant experience) by Audrey Bergner

Slow boat to Laos by Travels of Adam

Have you taken the slow boat on the Mekong River into Laos?  What was your experience like? 

Serra Negra: A Weekend Escape from São Paulo

Paulistanos (natives of São Paulo) often find the need to escape the concrete megalopolis of 20 million people and enjoy a weekend in a more relaxed and rural setting. Serra Negra is one such popular destination in the interior of the state of São Paulo that offers both laid back charm and bucolic scenery.  Serra Negra is a city of approximately 25,000 residents, located in the Serra da Mantequeira mountain range, approximately 150 kilometers northwest of São Paulo, and close to the border of Minas Gerais.

Serra Negra started out in 1828 as a modest outpost for travelers between São Paulo and Minas Gerais, but grew in population in the late 19th century with Italian immigrants who came to work on the nearby coffee plantations.  It became a spa town in 1928 when mineral springs were discovered there.  Today, Serra Negra remains a favorite weekend getaway spot for paulistanos, but appears to be somewhat undiscovered for foreign tourists.  When I visited, I felt like one of the few English speaking tourists there.  If you can manage the language barrier, Serra Negra and the surrounding area makes for a fun and relaxing place to spend a weekend.

The Town


The center of Serra Negra is much like any pleasant, touristy town, with main streets lined with shops, cafés and restaurants.  On busy weekends, visitors fill the sidewalks and squares.  Prices in Serra Negra overall seemed to be quite a bit less than what I found in São Paulo. For example, my friend and I were both able to get coffee and cake at the Brazillian Coffee café (yes it is actually misspelled for some reason) for the equivalent of $6 combined, quite a bit less than cafe and dessert at Suplicy in Jardins.

Teleférico Serra Negra


One of Serra Negra’s most popular attractions is the Teleférico Serra Negra, a chair lift that, for the price of R$12, whisks you up to the top of the 1,080 meter Pico do Fonseca in fifteen minutes. Some people find the ride terrifying, but if you’ve been on a ski lift before it’s quite similar.  The mountaintop has its own version of Christ the Redeemer and panoramic views of the valley below.  You can either ride back down the chairlift or ride a horse down the mountain instead.  The park at the bottom of the Teleférico has a delightfully kitschy candy store.

Disneylândia dos Robôs


Disneylândia dos Robôs isn’t affiliated with Walt Disney at all, but it is a really fun place to go and admire the impressive collection of mechanical toys made from scrap metal that the owner has put together.  It is an eclectic place that engineering geeks will love.

The Countryside


Much of the appeal of Serra Negra resides in its surrounding countryside.  My friend and I spent one morning exploring a trail near the estância where we stayed to explore a cachoeira (waterfall).  We branched onto a dirt road that led past an abandoned chapel and up through coffee plantations.  Showy flowers lined the sides of the road.  Once we got to the property where the waterfall is located, we noticed a sign saying that we needed to pay R$15 just to enter the gate and see the waterfall.  Thinking the price a bit too steep, we decided against it, but the walk there was worthwhile in and of itself.

Have you been to Serra Negra?  Please share your experiences.

Beach and Buggy Adventure Near Fortaleza

Brazil’s northeastern state of Ceará offers some of the country’s most stunning beaches.  While visiting Fortaleza, I took a day trip to explore some of the coastline to the east of the city.  A local friend of mine helped me find a tour company, Enseada, that would take me to the beaches east of Fortaleza on a day trip. I also booked a trip to Jericoacoara through the same company. It was pretty inexpensive overall and I thought the tour company did a fairly decent job.

After picking me up from my pousada and several other passengers, the bus took us out to the eastern outskirts of Fortaleza. The city gave way to a countryside of palm trees, red rocks and open space. Small stucco buildings with red tile roofs lined the sides of the road. Our first stop was the picturesque town of Beberibe, perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. The town has a Mediterranean charm to it. We got out of the bus and walked through the town and then down through a series of red, pink and white rocks by the ocean.  This beach is known as the Praia de Morro Branco, one of the most popular day trip destinations from Fortaleza.


Surfers were out in the water, taking advantage of the powerful waves. A sandy trail leading down to the beach through a small canyon. Cactus plants also appear here and there along the trail. The red rocks provide a sharp contrast against the blues of the ocean and sky. At the end of the trail, we reached the beach where dune buggies were waiting to take us on the next leg of the journey.


The buggy ride on the beach was an optional part of the tour, but well worth doing. Whizzing along the edge of the ocean while sitting on the back of the buggy is a remarkable way to experience the beauty of the beach.


We passed cliffs, waterfalls and caverns. We stopped inside one of the caverns on the Praia das Fontes to take pictures. Leaving the beach, we rode up into the hills and past giant white wind turbines, a common feature along the breezy Ceará coastline.


Our buggy stopped at a lake where we could relax and have a swim.  After spending some time at the lake, we rejoined the bus and moved on to the final stop — Canoa Quebrada.

Canoa Quebrada is situated on a rocky red cliff overlooking the beach.  The town has a main drag of shops and restaurants that they refer to as Broadway.  Canoa has a history of being a hippie community, a place where people active in Brazil’s counterculture sought refuge in the years of the military dictatorship.


Along the cliffs, people were practicing paragliding, floating over the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach.  In the water, kitesurfers glide around on the wind and waves.


I walked the length of the beach, climbed up the stairs along the walkway and explored some of Broadway as well.  I thought Canoa Quebrada to be a charming and fascinating place.  The tour only provided a three hour taste of Canoa, leaving me wishing for more time to spend there, especially on a weekend when I hear the town is quite lively with visitors!


Day Trips From Salvador, Brazil

While staying in Salvador, I was fortunate enough to have a chance to explore some of the outlying areas on a couple day trips. I highly recommend doing this, especially if you are a beach lover.  I had originally planned to go to Morro de São Paulo, but on the day I was supposed to leave it was pouring down rain and the high winds meant that the boat ride out there was going to be rough. Instead, I opted to stay in Salvador, but was able to see the following places on a couple day-trips organized through a local friend.

Praia do Forte


Praia do Forte is a pleasant, upscale beach town to the northeast of Salvador.  Leading to the beach, is a promenade full of well-kept shops and restaurants.  At the beach is a tiny church, lighthouse and a sea turtle sanctuary run by Projeto TAMAR with interpretive exhibits.



Diogo is a tiny village secluded in the sand dunes and palms north of Praia do Forte.  One of the main attractions to this sleepy hamlet is the popular restaurant Sombra da Mangueira.  The restaurant’s signature dish is the moqueca de camarao (shrimp stew with cheese) served with rice and farofa.  Each meal comes with complimentary ice cream of coconut, pineapple or mangaba. Some of the nearby sand dunes and beach are worth exploring, but it happened to be raining the day I visited.

Santo Amaro

Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Purificação, Santo Amaro

Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Purificação, Santo Amaro

Santo Amaro is worth a short stop if you are in the area to admire its architecture, especially around the main town square.  The town was had most of its growth due to the sugar industry and is the hometown of brother-sister singers Caetano Veloso and Maria Betânia.  They come back to Santo Amaro annually and perform.




Cachoeira is a town nestled in a verdant river valley, a region known as the Reconcavo.  The area prospered under the sugar and tobacco industries in the eighteenth century.  I found this city to be enchanting with its colorful historic buildings and churches, some well preserved and others not so much.  The abandoned train station is particularly interesting.  The riverfront of Cachoeira makes for a pleasant walk.  Across the river, you can see the town of Sao Felix nestled on the hillside.  Deeper into the town, there is a market where you can buy liqueur made with exotic Bahian fruits.  You can definitely spend a few hours exploring and enjoying this amazing historic town.  The entire city is considered a national monument by Brazil’s Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional.

São Felix


São Felix is a town across from the Rio Paraguaçu from Cachoeira, which you can reach by crossing a rickety one land bridge. It is much smaller than Cachoeira, but still has some interesting historic buildings. Like Cachoeira, São Félix owes its growth to the sugar and tobacco industries. Of interest is the old Dannemann cigar warehouse, which now serves as a cultural center.

Ilha da Itaparica


I ended up getting to spend a few hours on a beach in the late afternoon on the Ilha da Itaparica.  My friend took me to a quiet beachside boteco, the Bar e Restaurante Iemanja, the Candomble goddess of the ocean.  We essentially had the beachfront to ourselves.  The owner cooked us some fish and served us beers.  You could see the faint outline of the Salvador skyline across the water and the evening had a full moon that shone almost as brightly as the sun.  After night fell, we drove to the northern tip of the island and caught a ferry boat back to Salvador.

Have you explored Praia do Forte, Diogo, Cachoeira, Sao Felix, Ilha da Itaparica or any other places on a day-trip from Salvador?   Share your experience here. 

Liberdade: A Taste of Tokyo in São Paulo

Liberdade is a traditionally Japanese neighborhood located near the center of São Paulo. It makes for an interesting exploration of Brazil’s diverse population and history of immigration.


Brazil and Japan established diplomatic relations in 1895. A little over a decade later, the first boat of Japanese immigrants, the Kasato Maru, arrived in Brazil with 790 people, many of them farmers escaping hardships in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War.  Most of the early immigrants worked on coffee plantations in southern Brazil and some managed to run coffee plantations themselves.  Later, many Japanese would settle in the Amazon River region.  The Japanese often faced prejudice and difficulties assimilating to Brazilian society.  As years went by, many of them moved away from farms and into larger cities like São Paulo.  During WWII, authorities in Brazil looked upon the Japanese immigrants with suspicion as it was fighting against the Axis Powers.  After the war, the position of the immigrants improved and additional waves of immigrants were allowed to enter Brazil.  Liberdade became the home of Japanese immigrants in the early twentieth century and today constitutes the largest community of Japanese outside of Japan.

Praça da Liberdade


My first visit to Liberdade was on a Sunday for the weekly market in the Praça da Liberdade, just outside of the Liberdade Metro Station.  The square is filled on one side with food vendors selling soba noodles, takoyaki, yakimochi, and more. Another portion of the square is filled with artisan booths selling pottery, clothing, jewelry, decorative items, cooking utensils and many other goods.  The fair is especially crowded and at times it was difficult to navigate through the sea of people.

If you’re in the vicinity of the Praça da Liberdade, but not in the mood for Japanese food, stop by Yoka, a pastelaria just off the square at Rua dos Estudantes, 37, for some of the most delicious pastel in all of São Paulo.

Rua Galvão Bueno


A walk down Rua Galvão Bueno between the main square and Rua São Joaquim is a journey that will make you think you’ve been magically transported from São Paulo to Tokyo.  The street, like other streets in Liberdade, is adorned with Japanese style lamposts.  Near a highway overpass is a large red torii, a Japanese gate that one often sees in front of Shinto temples.  Along the street, you can find several shops selling Asian foods and goods that may be difficult to find elsewhere in São Paulo.  The Marukai market is an especially popular place to browse and sample exotic grocery items, though it is often uncomfortably crowded.  Other shops sell souvenirs, a mix of samurai swords, sake, geisha dolls and teacups along with traditional Brazilian souvenirs like flip-flops, soccer jerseys, and gemstones.  Along Galvão Bueno, you’ll also find vendors sitting on the sidewalk selling pirated items.  These people hurriedly scoop up their goods into their blankets and run away whenever the police come down the street.  A walk down Rua Galvão Bueno is also interesting for its street art and historic architecture, some buildings in better shape than others.

Rua Tomás Gonzaga

As you walk down Rua Galvão Bueno, you might want to make a turn into Rua Tomás Gonzaga and stop by one of the many restaurants lining the street.  Lamen Kazu, located at number 51, offers delicious bowls of Japanese noodles. Another interesting spot is Kintaro (number 57), a fusion between a Brazilian boteco and a Japanese izakaya (sake bar).   The bar is apparently popular with sumo wrestlers, although I’m not sure how they could possibly squeeze themselves into this tiny place.  If you’re after sushi, try Yamaga at Rua Tomás Gonzaga 66, a restaurant listed by the Guardian as one of the top ten budget restaurants in São Paulo.  These spots are but a sample of the many restaurants along Rua Tomás Gonzaga.

Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil

If you want to learn more about Japanese-Brazilians, there is no better place to visit in Liberdade than the Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil.  The museum does an excellent job documenting the story of Japanese immigration to Brazil, the challenges the immigrants faced in their new country, and the contributions they made to Brazilian culture.  While only a select number of the informational panels in the museum have English translations (most are only in Portuguese and Japanese), the museum has plenty of interesting physical exhibits that help recount the history: models of the boats that brought the immigrants to Brazil, a reproduction of a cabin used on a coffee plantation, photographs and personal items belonging to the immigrants.  The museum is located in an office building at the corner of Rua Galvão Bueno and Rua São Joaquim.

Whether you come to Liberdade for the Sunday market, to shop for exotic groceries, gifts or gadgets, or to learn more about Japanese immigration to Brazil, you’ll be left with a deeper appreciation of the diversity of Brazilian culture.

Have you visited Liberdade?  What was your experience like there?