In-and-Out: Superior, Wisconsin

On a business trip last year to a place north of Duluth, Minnesota, we arrived late at night so we stayed in Duluth and then we would head north to our destination.  Not much time to do much before heading north was a bummer because every place has a story and Duluth is no different and no less interesting even if it is not a household name for the vast majority of folks.

The next morning, we were planning to leave 10ish and with the time difference I knew I had a couple of hours to spare.  I learned that Wisconsin, a state I had never been to, was just across the bridge from Duluth.  Not one to waste an opportunity to add one more state to the list, I informed by co-workers that I would be getting up early and driving to the town across the water:  Superior, Wisconsin (aptly named as it sits on the shores of Lake Superior…).  It sits on the westernmost tip of this huge (sorry, popular word these days) lake in pretty much the northwestern corner of Wisconsin.  Upon announcing that I was doing this, a co-worker said she would come – that’s the spirit!

I-535, Duluth, Superior, bridge, Wisconsin

Wisconsin or bust! Dark skies ahead were not an omen.

So, we needed kind of something to go see in Superior or something to do other than drive in and drive out.  So, in this world of smartphones, that was an easy thing to solve:  find a coffeeshop.  We lucked upon one right on the same road fed by the bridge (I-535) in a turn-of-the-century (two century switches ago:  1890) stone building labeled City Hall.  The building may or may no longer serve as city hall but it is impressive enough to be one.   Anyway, the coffeeshop was the Red Mug Coffeehouse and Bakery on the corner of Hammond and Broadway in the basement of the building.Superior, Wisconsin,street scene, City Hall, stone building

Superior, Wisconsin, coffeehouse, Red Mug, coffee, bakery

The scene at the Red Mug early in the morning

Technics, record, player, technology, vintage

I opted for coffee and a danish and enjoyed looking around this coffeehouse which seems to play live music at some point since it was set up for that.  The Technics record player was a bit of vintage quite appropriate to the place.  My co-worker and I used the opportunity to catch up on projects we are working on and just relax which was a good start to the day.

Superior, Wisconsin,street scene, traffic

Morning traffic. Just like L.A. or Atlanta…

Of course, I likely missed some good places to have seen (a church, a park, an old district, etc.) but that was all the time I had.  And despite the original intent of the “lake crossing,” the short hop made me wonder about the industrial and maritime past that drove the establishment of towns like Superior in this part of the U.S.  These parts of the U.S. were first explored by the French actually as part of the fur trade empire.  This then led to Jesuits coming to make new Christians out of the local tribes.  Eventually Hudson Bay Company and others also established trade with the local tribes.   Much later, these “city-ports” became the outlets for manufacturing and natural resources from the north and midwestern U.S. onto waterways that could get the goods elsewhere by sea or train).  In fact, I read that the twin ports of Duluth and Superior were the most important ports in the Great Lakes for a while.

If time and money were not an issue, I think I’d enjoy driving around the Great Lakes and explore this part of the American past that help build the nation with its industrial output.

Landing in Sao Paulo and Experiencing It

As a travel blogger, I read other bloggers’ blogs because, you could say, I like the topic.  I always enjoy when one of them goes to Brazil for the first time and I get to read their writings about their experience.  Those writings remind me I want to go back badly.  I traveled to Brazil (Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) a few times for business in the late 1990s and found it a mesmerizing country even though I spent weekdays working.  But the cool thing was that Brazil was a great experience even while working – THAT’S how great this country and its people are!

Let me jog your memory – if you are old enough!

My trips to Brazil happened in 1997 – a LONG time ago:  before the Internet was prevalent, email being a young thing in the consumer space, and when flights used PAPER tickets!

Airplane ticket old non-electronic flight memento souvenir antique

Who remembers these???

Landing in Sao Paulo

Arriving in Sao Paulo for the first time I remember looking out of my plane window and seeing high rises as far as my eyes could see on final approach.  It was MIND-BLOWING!

Landing Sao Paulo Guarulhos airport city urban

This pic doesn’t show the true myriad of high rises!

I remember that the airport had bank machines right when one went outside after claiming luggage and going through customs.  (Exit and make a left.)  I was quite impressed by that (remember, this is the late 1990s and though bank machine existed since the 1980s, international networks connecting bank machines abroad to your bank at home was not commonplace yet!).  I wonder if that bank machine is still there…  Anyone??

Working in Brazil

One of the things I consider myself lucky to have experienced was working in Brazil.  It is one thing to go to the beaches of Rio and things like that – all wonderful experiences.  But it is another to be truly in the day-to-day hustle-and-bustle in a business environment.  And one thing I learned is that Brazilians are just as warm and fun at work as they are out in the beaches or clubs.  I got to speak “portuñol” at work with colleagues who did not speak English.  It was a fun meeting when I met with the Marketing Director at my client and he spoke Brazilian Portuguese and me in my Spanish peppered with the few words in Portuguese that I had picked up that were different than Spanish (“acho” in Portuguese, “creo” in Spanish; meaning, “I believe”).

What number, obrigado?

Another funny thing from those days that I wonder if it still exists in Brazil in “this day and age”:   I worked on a high-rise building on floor 10, 11, or 12, I can’t recall.  When you walked into the elevator, you were NOT supposed to press the button for the floor you were going to.  No, no voice recognition back then.  See, in that building and -probably many others- there were “elevator ladies.”  I know, I know, that sounds like a variation of the world’s oldest profession but it wasn’t – to my knowledge anyway.  They had a stool to sit on, though they weren’t always sitting on them.  Their job was to “man” the controls of the elevator.  You know those complicated buttons next to those hieroglyphs we call “numbers.”  Yes, I am sure a legacy of some nanny state period.  And when they went home, guess what?  The elevators would no longer run.  I learned that the hard way one day when I stay beyond their working hours (which you can imagine, were not too many minutes after 5 or 6 PM – I can’t recall).  So, I walked down the stairs that night.  What I did get to appreciate was how quickly they learned the floor you normally went to such that you no longer had to tell them which floor’s button they needed to press.  See?  They were EFFICIENT!

A convenient bridge to Rio de Janeiro

Work was in Sao Paulo but I got to take the ponte aerea (“air bridge”) to Rio for the weekends :).  The ponte aerea was a multi-flight per hour air-bus that enabled the passenger to just arrive at the airport and buy a ticket for the next flight with an open seat from whichever of the three participating airlines.  If I recall, back then there were three flights per hour.   I REALLY appreciated not having to stress over traffic delays for a scheduled flight time (and, boy, is traffic BAD in Sao Paulo!).  Mercifully, this ponte aerea ran from Congonhas airport which was right in the city versus Guarulhos, the big international airport, which is way further out.  I have read since that this arrangement ended as the domestic airlines decided to go their own way in terms of flight schedules and pricing.

ponte aerea air bridge congonhas airport sao paulo brazil

Three airlines that partnered in the late 1990s on the air bridge

In any case, Congonhas (site of a few plane crashes) is known for being a difficult airport to land and take-off from given it is surrounded by high rises (clearly the city grew without proper regulations) and short runways.  Before 1985, when it used to be the main airport of the city, longer haul flights had to go to Rio and then passengers would go on a smaller plane to Sao Paulo..  At the time I was blissfully oblivious to all this and just enjoyed said take-offs and landings…  In any case, more about Rio in another post!

Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Congonhas (Source:

Food in Brazil

One thing I learned to love in Sao Paulo was pao de queijo.  It is the small morsel filled with cheese that you get with that shot of espresso anywhere down any street.

pao de queijo brazil espresso morsel cheese


It is ADDICTIVE – as are the espresso shots and any coffee for that matter in Brazil.  At work, there was a young woman who worked out of a mini-kitchen, almost a closet, whose sole job seemed to be to walk around the floor wearing a maid uniform serving rounds of coffee.  It was a throwback to how things must have been long ago in corporate America, think Mad Men maybe.

One thing I learned during those trips was how good food was in Sao Paulo!  I am not just talking local food, though “local food” there means a high diversity of regional cuisines like form Bahia (Bargaço on Oscar Freire was outstanding!) and others.  I am also talking about French, Italian, Japanese, etc.  Speaking of Japanese, did you know Brazil has the largest colony of Japanese outside of Japan?  They migrated to Brazil starting in the early 20th century and it is said there over a million people of Japanese descent in the country.  But I digress.  I had many phenomenal meals.  And I wonder if any of those places are still there…  La Vecchia Cucina, Charló, Gero, etc. (OK, I just searched and they seem to still be open!  Now I REALLY have to go back!)

Charlo Restaurant food Sao Paulo, Brazil

One of the many restaurants in Sao Paulo that I enjoyed. I just looked in the Internet and it seems to still exist!

The food in Sao Paulo is some of the best I have ever had in one city.  PERIOD!

Sorry Sao Paulo, I can’t do you justice here…

This post will not get even close to do justice to this megalopolis (that feels like one for sure!).  But, trust me, Sao Paulo is understatedly fascinating.  Food, art, nightlife (oh yes, I had a BLAST!), architecture and people all make it a really interesting place to visit.  It doesn’t feel like London, Paris, or its closest neighbor, Rio.  Because this is not a city one explores – it is a city one experiences!

Ave. Paulista in Sao Paulo, Brazil architecture

View towards Ave. Paulista


As I wrote this post, I was amazed at how good these photos look despite being 16 years old back in the day when all photos were, umm, not digital!  Thanks to my faithful Canon EOS Rebel!

Of Long Doughnut Lines and Cold Coffee – The Rest of the Story

Last May, I participated in the Windy City Travel Tweetup.  Met some “old” friends (Lola and Leah) and some new ones (Francesca, Pola, Aaron, and Ted) – by the way, check those blogs out!  As part of any tweetup, we like to hit some neat local spots and discover the unique places in a city.  So, it was exciting to run into a list of the best doughnut places in the U.S. that had been published by Food & Wine as one of the places WAS in Chicago:  the Doughnut Vault.

The story has been eloquently told with awesome pictures here.  But I thought it’d be good to tell the story from my side…

The Pickup

Our fellow tweetupers, Leah and Aaron, volunteered to grab doughnuts at the Doughnut Vault and get some coffee for the rest of the gang; key word is volunteered – which made them my favorite people, of course.  Not being one to pass an opportunity for yummy doughnuts AND sleep in a little, I accepted.  Lo and behold, the doughnut place had a line that took our friends an 1.5 hrs to clear!  Leah texted me informing me of the horrible situation (it was also raining some) they were in.  I offered to join them after a leisurely shower but Leah very kindly told me to not worry so I didn’t. Now, I have to go a step further and show some evidence as I have to show my thoughtfulness… (I learned this trick from a lunatic blogger a little over a month ago…)

1st set of messages (local time 1 hr less than displayed); yellow text is Leah’s

2nd message

Notice how I expressed my appreciation up there?

The Tasting

When they got to the hotel, we were eager to try the doughnuts.  I was almost salivating looking at the doughnut and was dying to try it.

They are taunting and tempting me

As I took a bite a few pictures were taken.  Leah showed the non-airbrushed picture in her post but here is my preferred shot:

Aforementioned preferred shot

OK, so I take a bite and… it was OK.  Inside my head neurons start wildly spinning trying all branches of logic to see what the right statement was going to be.  My programmers didn’t factor in the Leah factor…

Meltdown!  Core Dump!

I was in trepidation at saying anything other than “ausgezeichnet!  wunderbar! completely out of this world; I have never had a doughnut like that and will never again” yet I couldn’t lie to a friend either.  What to do, what to do??  Amperes were flowing through my brain’s electrical wiring seeking the coded instructions to no avail; it was an IF statement without a proper switch for the current situation.  It finally hit the ELSE statement and “it’s OK” came out of my I/O device:  my vocal cords.

Aforementioned IF-ELSE statement (not the ACTUAL one in me)

Action in the room froze.  I detected a slight shaking in some of those present.  Leah’s eyes became red.  A red that only the core of the sun has.  Lightning flashed in front of her.

Lightning strike indoors

Aforementioned lightning strike and aforementioned Leah

Cold as Ice

And then I had a sip of my coffee.  Cold as an iceberg.  The heat of the glare evaporated as this not-intended-to-be-cold cold coffee worked its way down my esophagus.  Now THEREIN the real crime in the morning with nary a microwave in sight.


I hope my post clarifies some of the finer points of the morning, adding to what Leah shared.  Leah who so generously gave of her time (along with Aaron) so we could try those doughnuts. Further, I hope this post communicates the extreme duress I was under with the pressure to LOVE the doughnut and with having to drink that hyper-cold intended-to-be-hot coffee.

We have learned something here.  We all have, dear reader, haven’t we?  What have we learned out of all this?  Do not trust all “”best” X lists you read and watch out for the Doughnut Vault:  they don’t take cash and don’t tell until you approach the door an hour + after you get in line!

(No pets or children were harmed in the production of this post.)
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