I’m not a morning person. So when I saw the itinerary for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I did a double take. 6 a.m. start time! With a little coffee, I managed to make it through the early morning(read 4 a.m.) trips from the hotel to the park, all bundled up in my layers of thermals and wool. After learning from my hotel concierge that this was the largest ballooning event in the world, I was a bit curious…
Once I saw a few of these colorful globes take to the sky before dawn, all of my fatigue melted away. The few brave balloons, known as the “Dawn Patrol”, tested the wind patterns for their fellow fiesta goers still on the ground. This scene was absolutely stunning!
What’s even better than the visual of the gas balloons set against the vista of the Albuquerque mountains, is the sound of them lighting up. The powerful “whoosh” of the helium and hydrogen flooding these giant globes is almost as magical as the sound of the crowds cheering them on as they lift up to the heavens.
And what a crowd! I literally saw generations of families, young and old, groups of friends, couples on honeymoons, photography clubs, and every combination of group you could think of. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is fun for everyone. If you don’t marvel at this magnificent event, then there’s something definitely wrong with you!
My family decided to attend this annual display of color to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. In between balloon fiesta fun, we got a chance to sample some of the delicious cuisine in Albuquerque, known for its generous use of red and green chiles. If you don’t like spicy – ask them for super mild. Trust me on this one!
When we weren’t eating the tasty New Mexico treats(like sopapillas), we did some shopping in the town square and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. My favorite finds were a store called Masks Y Mas, which housed art, jewelry, and of course, masks. Then just a few doors down I discovered, Off Broadway, the most decadent vintage shop that had me pulling at my purse strings as I piled my dressing room with a number of gorgeous gems. I walked away with this wool coat – perfect for the brisk New Mexico breeze!
After some well-deserved naps, my family and I headed back to the park to witness what is known as “Balloon Glow”. This evening event is not to be missed, as the visual of vibrant balloons against the night sky envelops you. Everywhere you turn there’s some new wonder to be seen. It’s no surprise that this is the world’s most photographed event, with over 25 million photographs being taken each year!
Since the balloons don’t embark at the evening events, you’ll get to wander among them in all of their colorful glory. The hum of the gas lighting up these beauties gave me the chills! And hearing the oohs and ahhs coming from everyone around you, all of us in collective childlike wonder, is enough to give you goosebumps.If you want the true VIP experience at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, get tickets to the Gondola Club. And don’t wait until the last minute! We waited a bit too long and were only able to get them for one morning, but we’re sooo glad we did. A hot breakfast buffet, open bar, and fire pits greeted us as we descended on the park for another early morning of fiesta fun.
And when you’re ready to get up close to the balloons, there’s a VIP tram waiting to drive you closer to the action. This is one of the best Gondola Club benefits since the park is over 350 acres big. The highlight of that morning was watching Annabelle, the Creamland Dairy mascot, finally come into her udderly full glory. After the team tried for a couple of days to get her up, she finally made it to the skies and set sail with the rest of her balloon friends. The crowd went wild as she was set free!
These balloons are too gorgeous for words. No filter is needed for your photos! In fact, I spent very little time editing photos because the light and color of the New Mexico sky is just perfect. Pro tip – bring an extra memory card and a portable charger. You’ll be out there from around 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., so it’s good to be prepared. And bring a backpack or bag to hold your gloves, hats, etc. You’ll want to shed some layers as the sun comes up – it gets surprisingly warm!
Swirling in a serene symphony led by Mother Nature’s wispy winds, the balloons drift above your head and then eventually out of sight. The heavens, dotted with color, will leave you in awe. As I watched everyone gaze up at the sky, some of us snuggled next to our loved ones for warmth, I felt so happy to be here. What a unique experience!
Even with the early mornings and bone-chilling cold, I would do it all over again. There’s nothing like gazing up at the sky and watching the balloons dance along the desert sky. Next time this California girl will pack her earmuffs. And I’ll make sure to get my Gondola Club tickets well in advance!
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I first discovered the art of Robin Hiers as I was walking downstairs to the beachfront gem, The Deck. Enjoying my handsome date, and the picturesque sea scene that enveloped us, Robin’s signature beach babes, all decked out in the happiest hue of pink, caught my eye. It was at that moment that I found her on Instagram and we’ve been virtual friends ever since.
Robin’s art is always a cheerful interlude in my feed, and although I had never met her in person, I felt like I could sense the positivity and playfulness of her personality through her images. When I finally met her, my instincts were right. She showed up to our interview in typical California beach girl fashion: a breezy cover-up, comfortable flip-flops, and an enviable tan that she earned right here on the shores of Laguna Beach.
Having grown up in Laguna Beach, it’s no wonder Robin draws on this laid-back vibe for inspiration. “I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was 8 years old. My parents had an art gallery, ‘The Pink Palette’, and they started the annual festival Art-A-Fair, so I’ve been surrounded by art. I knew I wanted to do it – I just wasn’t sure how I’d get there!”
Diving into art full time after raising her 3 children in Boulder, Colorado, Robin has spent the last 20 years refining her style and her art. Reminiscing about her path as a career artist, she mentioned an ex-boyfriend who nudged her to return to California. “He thought my art would do really well here, but I was nervous about coming back; things had changed. But I always had my passion and talent and I feel like I am doing what I was born to do. I am at the happiest point in my life.”And happy is just how she wants you to feel when looking at her art. “When people see my art, I want them to close their eyes and sense how I grew up. My mom always lived near the ocean, and she’d have samba music or Billie Holiday playing. She was a character! On Sundays, we’d have champagne brunch and go to flea markets – a very non-traditional mom! It was a shabby chic champagne lifestyle; not a snobby or fancy champagne lifestyle. I want you to sense what’s cool, the sensual music, with a sense of taste.” Surrounded by her mother’s art, unique treasures, and furniture crafted by her mother’s artist friends, Robin still draws on those happy memories of her childhood to infuse her art.
Hearing Robin talk, I got the chills as I remembered the painting that captured my attention over a year ago at The Deck – a beach babe donning a bikini made out of Tab soda labels. Memories of my grandmother sipping on Tab by the pool flooded my mind, as happy tears welled in my eyes.
When I asked Robin what else inspires her art, she motioned to the exuberant scene behind us at The Deck. “This place is my idea of perfection. I mean look at the ocean – it even looks better with the orange umbrellas!” I had to agree. This Laguna Beach hotspot has all of the makings for a perfect afternoon – a gorgeous view, tasty libations, and of course, Robin’s art lining the walls.It’s also a short walk from many of the galleries and museums that Robin frequents, including the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, which showcases her work along with established and emerging artists.“Laguna is an art community. Besides the galleries, we have amazing festivals, like the Sawdust Festival which showcases local Laguna Beach artists, the Festival of Arts, and Pageant of the Masters.” Between these festivals, including the Art-A-Fair that her family started over 50 years ago, formal art institutions like the Laguna Art Museum, and numerous galleries which line PCH, Laguna Beach is an art-lover’s paradise.
As Robin shared more about her career path, I was intrigued and inspired by her infectious enthusiasm. “I actually went to college with the intent of study advertising and doing logos, but my professors kept pushing me towards illustration. I loved looking at the old ads from LIFE magazines from the 50’s and 60’s. And I remember my dad telling me when I was about 7 years old, ‘You could put your style on anything, Robin’, and so I did! He was a huge influence on me. I looked at my mom’s seascapes and thought ‘these aren’t happy enough!’. So I often drew sexy women having fun – maybe that was my lifelong goal,” she giggled as she tossed her hair aside.
What’s next for this quintessential California girl? Robin’s art is now being shown at a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, Artspace Warehouse , and she plans to take her art to an international audience in 2019. As we sipped on our colorful concoctions(my favorite being the Desert Pear Vojito) and chatted about some of our favorite international beach destinations like Rio de Janeiro, the French Riviera, and Barcelona, I felt like Robin and I were meant to be travel buddies.
But her heart and soul will always be here in Laguna Beach. “I can be myself here – 100%! There’s a lot of happy people here and we have live music every night of the week, with a beach chic vibe that I love. My inspiration is here. It’s coming to The Deck. I’m friends with a lot of artists here in Laguna Beach and it’s so fun to see each other and trade techniques. I get inspiration from living a fun life and my bikini girls are just that – sexy, confident, and fun!”
I smiled and said, “That’s me in three words!” as I leaned back and inhaled the fresh, ocean air. And just like Robin’s art, I felt happy.
Want to see more of Robin’s art and the scene in Laguna Beach? Contact me!
This Brazilian Art Immersion starts in São Paulo at the Bienal, the second oldest biennial after Venice and continues at Inhotim, a work of art that spans over 5,000 acres and houses a multitude of exhibits that will transform you.
Far beyond an “art trip”, this unique experience will provide you with exposure to art directors, collectors, curators and artists, above all, exclusive access that would not be possible without the fine-tuned itinerary compiled by two Brazil travel experts.
Meet Your Travel Experts
About Flavia Liz: Considered an Urban Legend by Condé Nast Traveller U.K.’s “The Experts” series, Flavia Liz Di Paolo is an expert on São Paulo in the luxury segment, and offers unique work as a personal guide, catering to clients from all over the world in six languages. Her experiential tourism has garnered coverage in Delta magazine, Italian Vogue, Fortune, Travel Weekly, and plenty of Brazilian publications. With her MBA in Luxury Hotel Management, Flavia Liz is well-versed in places that very few have access, while also being a pioneer in graffiti and favela tours, which will soon be highlighted in a short documentary produced by Sant’anna Miranda Films. www.flavializ.com
About Sarah: Having lived, worked, and traveled throughout Brazil for the past 17 years, Sarah Taylor has the unique advantage of understanding Brazil from a foreigner’s perspective and using that to help her clients have the trip of their dreams. At her firm, All Set Concierge, she provides travel services to individuals who want a unique experience. As a member of the luxury network, Virtuoso, she curates travel excursions that fit your personality and travel dreams. Her adventures throughout Brazil’s magnificent destinations can be seen here https://allsetconcierge.com/blog/
São Paulo – Brazil’s Urban Gem
About the 2018 Bienal: Considered one of the most important contemporary art events in the world, the São Paulo Bienal’s title for this year is Affective Affinities – inspired by the novel Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and by the thesis “On the Affective Nature of Forms in The Work of Art” by Brazilian critic Mário Pedrosa. The 33rd Bienal, curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, shifts the conventional model of contemporary art projects and promotes the individual experience of the visitor with the works, instead of a predetermined curatorial narrative. The artists selected for the 33rd Bienal represent important aspects of art in the 1990s, a transformational moment for Latin America. “This was the first Latin American generation to create art free from the oppression of totalitarian regimes of the previous decades.” explains Pérez-Barreiro.
Meet your Bienal guide: João Correia is an art advisor and art historian, who graduated from the Open University in London, where he also studied at the Sandler Institute and Sotheby’s Institute. As a speaker, he has presented at Yale University, University of São Paulo, and Itau Unibanco Private Bank. In addition to presenting his art expertise, João has collaborated with publications such as BBC, NBC, and CBN. He lives and works in São Paulo where he runs the art advisory company, Collezionista.
Your Tailored Itinerary Starts in São Paulo
Day 1 (September 13): Welcome cocktail reception and dinner at Hotel Unique. Unique is a top-ranked luxury hotel in São Paulo, the #1 hotel in South America by Conde Nast Traveller in 2016. Its inventive design, drawing on architectural greats like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, leaves you in awe.
Day 2 (September 14): Breakfast at Unique followed by departure to Bienal. Your guides, João and Flavia Liz, will walk you through the highlights of this groundbreaking install of art from around the world. Included in the day’s programming is a lunch at Dalva e Dito, one of São Paulo’s Michelin star restaurants that features traditional Brazilian cuisine with an inventive twist. Conclude with an evening tour of Galeria Millan, which represents Brazilian Tunga, the first contemporary artist in the world to have a show at the Louvre. Galeria Millan recently participated in the Pacific Standard Time LA art event sponsored by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, with past participation at Documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale.
Day 3 (September 15): Continue your art immersion of São Paulo as Flavia Liz guides you on an exclusive tour of the city’s art and architectural highlights. We’ll break for lunch at Tuju, which was just awarded its second Michelin star, and is the restaurant creation of chef Ivan Ralston, who worked at two of Spain’s Michelin starred gems, El Celler de Can Rocca and Mugaritz. Our day concludes with a visit to Galeria Nara Roesler, one of the most important galleries in São Paulo, with branches in New York and Rio de Janeiro, representing seminal Brazilian artists who emerged in the 1950s, as well as current artists that dialogue with their foundation.
Day 4 (September 16): Back to the Bienal for a closer look at the 12 individual projects selected by Gabriel Pérez Barreiro. Included in today’s events is a cocktail reception and dinner at Bossa Restaurant in the lively Jardins neighborhood. With accolades from GQ, Harpers Bazaar, and numerous Brazilian publications, Bossa is top ranked in São Paulo for dishes that are tasteful both in presentation and to the palate. The evening closes at Galeria Vermelho, designed by Brazilian Pritzker prize winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha, with over 10,000 square feet dedicated to art production by both emerging and established artists.
Day 5 (September 17): Museum day at your leisure! Participants will be given a list to choose from the city’s best including: Estação Pinacoteca, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Museu de Arte Moderna, Museu Afro Brasil, and Instituto Tomie Ohtake. After your museum visit, participants will be driven to a gallery event with Flavia Liz for a private tour of Galeria Luciana Brito. This beautiful gallery was designed by esteemed Brazilian architect Rino Levi with gardens by famed landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Our dining adventures continue at Michelin star restaurant, Maní, where we’ll witness the culinary masterpieces of Helena Rizzo, awarded the World’s Best Female Chef. Her creative contemporary cuisine puts her São Paulo restaurant in the top 50 in Latin America.
Day 6 (September 18): Our final day in São Paulo allows for an exclusive tour of one of São Paulo’s private collections that will prepare you for Inhotim. After this private tour, Flavia Liz will guide us to some of the city’s finest art houses including: Apto 61, a beautiful house specializing in modern Brazilian design, and Passado Composto Século XX, a modern antique shop with the best in Brazilian design. In the evening, we’ll toast a farewell to São Paulo for a closing reception at Unique Hotel including cocktails and dinner.
And Continues at Inhotim…
Day 7 (September 19): Check out and departure to Belo Horizonte. Once in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Brazil’s farming state, Minas Gerais, we’ll settle in to the city’s best hotel, Ouro Minas, for a welcome dinner. It’s luxurious but with the character of the Minas Gerais countryside and will be our resting point while we explore this state’s artistic gem, Museo Inhotim.
Day 8 (September 20): After a ride through the Brazilian countryside, we’ll arrive at an artistic masterpiece set over 5,000 acres. This museum, known to locals simply as “Inhotim”, is like none other in the world, and is a must see for art lovers and enthusiasts. A lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Tamborim, featuring local Minas cuisine is included, as well as private transportation and a guide throughout the museum. We’ll ride back to BH for a night of well needed rest after a long day at Inhotim.
Day 9 (September 21): Because Inhotim is so expansive, one day is not enough! We’ll finish our tour of this outdoor museum – lunch included of course – with plenty of time to see all of the exhibits that you missed on day one. On our ride back to BH, we’ll stop at the city’s best spot for all things pão de queijo, the cheese bread that’s famous all over Brazil and will leave your taste buds wanting to book another trip to South America.
Day 10 (September 22): Departure to Belo Horizonte airport, where we will depart back to São Paulo for transfers back home or to your next Brazilian destination.
Reserve Your Space on the Bienal São Paulo Trip!
The Brazil Art Immersion Package price: $5,289.00, with 50% deposit due by June 29, 2018. Space is limited to 12 travelers. To reserve a space, fill out this form to begin the reservation process.
Please plan to arrive in São Paulo on September 13th. All Set Concierge can help you arrange flights to/from Brazil. Your flight within Brazil to/from Belo Horizonte(with 1 piece of checked luggage) is included in the package price.
You will need a tourist visa to travel to/from Brazil. If you don’t already have one, All Set Concierge can refer you to a trusted agency or you can secure a tourist visa at your local Brazilian consulate.
Private ground transportation within Brazil is included in the package price. Transportation to/from your departure city airport is not included.
Daily breakfast is included, as well as all meals listed. Travelers are welcome to purchase additional meals & other incidentals on their own accounts.
Travel insurance is not included. If you’re interested in rates, All Set Concierge can provide a quote.
For a full list of terms & conditions, click here.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Sounds easy, right? Many companies give lip service to the words eco-friendly, sustainability, and social responsibility, but the team at Itaipu Binacional is living it. On my press trip to Iguazu Falls, I was able to go behind the scenes at the world’s largest generator of renewable clean energy and witness firsthand some of their earth-friendly initiatives.
As my guide Edivaldo drove me around the plant in our electric vehicle(charged by the dam of course!), he shared the story of Itaipu. “Itaipu Binacional started at the junction of the Iguaçu River and the Paraná river, with construction beginning in 1974 in response to rising oil prices and the search for renewable energy sources. A few years later, the concreting of the dam began at a pace of one 10-story building per hour.” That’s a lot of manpower! Finished in late 1983 with its initial electricity generation by mid-1984, Itaipu is still going strong. In fact, just during December 2017 the dam produced 9.2 million MWh of hydraulic energy – enough to power Brazil for six days or the city of São Paulo for three and a half months. Wow!
Since its start, Itaipu has been a leader in ecofriendly practices. And it has the awards to prove it! In 2015, the United Nations gave Itaipu the “Water for Life” award for their “Cultivando Água Boa”(Cultivating Good Water) program which beat out 40 similar initiatives from all around the world.
Additionally, in 2010 the British magazine The New Economy, responsible for the Clean Technology and New Energy awards, recognized Itaipu as a “leader in developing renewable energy sources”. And it doesn’t stop at green energy! In 2006, Itaipu was awarded the first Pro Gender Equality Seal by the United Nations Development Fund for Women for its equal employment and labor practices. Awesome!
Whether it’s water conservation, education outreach, animal protection, or gender equality, Itaipu has been winning awards since its start. Walking along the dam’s edge, Edivaldo told me about one of their local farming programs to help low-income communities. “Itaipu has donated over 70,000 acres of soil for crops and safe farming practices, including equipment and tanks.” The result of Itaipu’s efforts? The sustaining of over 34,000 families that have benefited from this land, as well as the proliferation of food from Itaipu’s donation of chickens, goats, and hogs, ensuring everyone has enough to eat.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” -Maimonides, Spanish philosopher
This quote couldn’t be truer than with the work at Itaipu. Besides just feeding the local communities through the farming program mentioned above, Itaipu has a structured intern program for low-income youth. Known as the “Leading a Working Life” program, this work experience gives 15-17 year olds a chance to learn about the power plant’s initiatives and continue their education in technical fields that will lead to job placements upon graduation.
Standing above Latin America’s largest generator is easy. Taking in the vast views of Brazil, Paraguay and far off Argentina will hold you in awe. Going inside is where the wonder and a bit of hesitation take over! As Edivaldo led me inside these sixty-something storied turbines, my knees did get a little weak as I heard the whirring of electric energy all around me.
Driving over to our catamaran for the sunset tour, my crew and I talked about what we could do to help with our own conservation and recycling efforts back home. A conversation about recycled water bottles prompted Edivaldo to talk about Itaipu’s outreach with local trash pickers in Iguaçu Falls. “Itaipu helps the pickers that work in dangerous conditions by donating equipment, uniforms, carts, and scales as they remove recyclable material from the streets. The company website states, ‘They are genuine environmental agents helping protect nature [and] they substantially decrease the amount of recyclable materials dumped in the environment’.” It’s true! This successful community program is now moving to other cities in Brazil like São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.
Cruising along the gorgeous river, I was mesmerized by two of nature’s energy sources – the sun and water. I thought about all the families using this energy to power televisions, refrigerators, and of course smartphones all across Brazil and Paraguay. Wrapping up my tour back at Itaipu headquarters, I thanked Edivaldo for the amazing visit and enlightening education about some truly inventive initiatives around social responsibility and green tourism. Taking care of our natural energy sources will be something that we will all be dealing with in the years to come.
Novelas and coffee: two things that make up the fabric of many Brazilian evenings. So in 2008, when a novela aired to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Brazil, it was another case of “art imitates life”. The novela, Haru e Natsu, told the story of a Japanese family that came to Brazil in the early 1900s to work on the coffee plantations that were in need of labor to replace the work force since slavery ended just a few years earlier.
Much of that novela was filmed at Fazenda Tozan, where I toured the farm, heard a bit of Brazilian history, and had one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Fazenda Tozan was founded in 1798 by a Portuguese family headed by Floriano de Camargo Peneado, and at that time, only produced sugar cane with the help of African slaves. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when coffee made its way to the region of São Paulo state, “with an ideal climate and soil conditions” as my guide pointed out, that Fazenda Tozan jumped in on the coffee craze weaving its way through Brazil.
Fazenda Tozan wasn’t always known by this name. Its original Portuguese owners called it “Ponte Alta”, meaning high bridge, but after being in the family for a few generations, it was eventually sold to a Japanese family in 1927. The Iwasaki family, also the founders of Mitsubishi, renamed the coffee plantation Tozan, meaning “east mountain” in Japanese. A bit of a misnomer, as there are no mountains nearby Fazenda Tozan, the name survived the discrimination and detention of Japanese immigrants during World War II. After being abandoned during this tumultuous time in Brazil’s history, the Iwasaki reinvigorated the farm with new life in its later years.
Listening to my guide talk about this tragic time in Brazil’s history, it reminded me of the similar situation suffered by Japanese in the United States. Walking through the fields, I thought of the contributions of immigrants here in Brazil, and around the world. With the upcoming harvest, the labor of generations past were planted firmly in this soil as my guide told me about the manual harvesting process. “We still use a manual process here at Tozan which begins by placing a cloth beneath the coffee trees to avoid the coffee cherries coming into contact with the ground. It can be damaging to the quality of the coffee.”
Back at the main house, my guide walked me through the process of making coffee, explaining the different colors and what they meant, as well as the cleaning process in the reception tank. But the highlight was watching one of their longtime farmers, Raimundo, do a live demo of the coffee harvesting process. His enthusiasm invigorated me the way this popular morning elixir jolts people out of bed every morning!
Nothing prepared me for finally sipping on this delicious coffee at Fazenda Tozan. I had a new appreciation for the world’s most popular drink! Each sip delivered rich notes and a depth unmatched by most coffee I’ve had in my lifetime. Savoring the house special, I had a flashback of my visit to Ceja Vineyards in Sonoma, California where my tastebuds had a similar epiphany. Learning all about chardonnay and pinot noir from the inspiring Ceja women was a true gastronomic adventure!
As I sat in the window looking out at the farm, I laughed as I thought of the droves of Americans lined up at Starbucks to guzzle down their diluted coffee drinks. What a treat to be able to enjoy something right at the source that had been harvested with such pride! Driving back to São Paulo, I thought of the many lives that helped keep this farm alive – African slaves, Japanese immigrants, and Brazilian farmers. Learning about the history of this drink made me even more grateful to have had this experience at Fazenda Tozan.