German architecture, changing autumn leaves, hot chocolate, Tibetan temples, and snow are rarely the images that come to mind when most people think of Brazil. But Gramado isn’t like anywhere else I’ve seen in Brazil.
Situated down south, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Gramado and its surrounding areas are highly influenced by German culture. Stepping into the street, you see wooden houses, almost gingerbread-like, full of wooden carvings and thick, heavy foods more reminiscent of Northern countries.
We (myself, Gustavo, and two good friends) drove from Porto Alegre and stopped at the Buddhist temple in Três Coroas before checking into our hotel in Gramado proper. For lunch, we had an amazing meal at Espaço Tibet in which the waiters asked if anyone had any dietary restrictions (ME!) before explaining the menu, something I’ve rarely seen here but is so endlessly helpful. The butter roasted potatoes were full of flavor and they even had a gluten free brownie for desert. I basically wanted to swim in it, if you could swim in a brownie.
Later, we visited the Templo Buddista, a Buddhist temple at the top of a hill in Três Coroas. In addition to being an extremely sedate, beautiful place, there were also a lot of opportunities to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism and its various teachings. There are elements of Brazilian culture that I struggle with, but after spending quite a bit of time studying yoga and Buddhism in the US, it felt very comforting to walk around the temple and find a bit of solace in some familiar teachings and philosophies.
We spent one night in Gramado, and the next day drove to Canela to explore the city. Bottom-line: we ate well on this trip. We went to Josephina Café, which had both vegetarian and gluten free options, on the first night and followed our meal with a hot chocolate (which, I believe, was not gluten free – watch out for wheat fillers as a thickener, folks). We walked up and down the main street at night, where it was pretty cold – I’d even wished I brought my winter jacket. Right when I left home, it was turning into summer in New Jersey, and here I was in Brazil, feeling like it was winter all over again.
I was surprised by how European it felt in Gramado. It was also the first time I heard a Portuguese “tu” in the wild. It’s still a lot of fun to hear the different accents and ways people talk all over the country. In the US, we forget how large Brazil is. It’s just “somewhere down there” in South America, when it’s the vast bulk of South America. So of course there are accents and slang and ways of being that change from region to region.
I’m back in Rio now, for a while, enjoying a winter that will feel like summer and the uniqueness of this city. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve seen in Brazil and, I’m realizing, how unique that is.