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Continuing on my tradition to seek out the bohemian and artistic neighbourhoods when I travel to a new city, my first stop the morning after I landed in São Paulo, Brazil, recently was to visit the borough of Vila Madalena — located in Pinheiros district.

São Paulo is not only Brazil's economic capital, as well as the financial center of the South American continent, but it's also one of the world's foremost creative hubs and culturally diverse cities. After my first visit this past February, I've added it to my list of favourite cities. 

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Filled with dozens of art galleries, creative studios, and eclectic restaurants, the upper-middle-class neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, in the western part of the city of São Paulo, is known as a hot spot for street art. Particularly standing out for lovers of street art is "Beco do Batman" (or Batman's Alley in English). The entrance is at Harmonia Street, and it ends at Medeiros de Albuquerque Street.

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A Google Maps search for Beco do Batman will often yield a picture of one of my favourite murals — depicting legendary Brazilian footballer Pelé planting a kiss on the Adam West-era Batman's cheek — painted by street artist Luis Bueno, a native of the Guararema municipality in the state of São Paulo. 

This piece is part of his most famous series called "Pelé the kisser" — which can be found in different spots around the globe. Some of the other murals show Pelé kissing Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse and other famous luminaries.

A mecca of bohemian culture and an open-air gallery, Vila Madalena (often simply called "Vila" by Paulistas) attracts thousands of visitors annually eager to admire and capture snapshots of Beco do Batman's graffiti-covered streets and alleys. Interestingly, each graffiti artist owns the wall where their paintings are featured in the tree-shaded alleys. So only the original artist can paint over the wall's artwork — unless their permission is given.

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The tradition began in the 1980s when an unknown tagger painted a facade with a huge portrait of the legendary DC Comics character Batman. This started a trend as other street artists, and fine-arts students began filling the area's walls with similar graffiti, cubist images and psychedelic paintings. This is how the neighbourhood got its name of Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley). Today, there are many colourful images plastered along the alley's walls inspired by the vigilante.

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Brazilians are serious about their street art, and São Paulo is where the country's, and the world's, best street art creative geniuses come from and come to create. The neighbourhood attracts both local and international street artists — helping to maintain São Paulo as the Graffiti World Capital.

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A can't miss during any visit to Beco do Batman is the massive mural of Brazilian musician Tom Zé, painted by prominent street artist Eduardo Kobra. Completed in January of 2016, the 6-7 metres photorealistic mural is located on Medeiros de Albuquerque Street. It stands gloriously at the entrance of a beautiful staircase — also covered with colourful art — attracting its fair share of visitors lining up for the perfect Instagram-worthy pose.

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Born in São Paulo’s Campo Limpo neighbourhood in 1976, Eduardo Kobra is an "OG" of the city's contemporary street art scene — having been part of a pioneering graffiti crew known as "Hip Hop" back in the 1990s, as a teenager. But he actually officially began his street art career as a 12-year-old in 1987.

Kobra holds an impressive track record of over 3,000 murals spanning five continents. The self-taught artist still calls his beloved São Paulo home.

Finally, don't leave Beco do Batman without your wings!

Yes, one of the most popular Instagram shots is standing in front of the splendid paintings of colourful wings by Paulistano artist Celso Campos Amaral Netto, better known as Gatuno.

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Featured tours

São Paulo, Brazil | From $175 USD

Private Street Art Tour of São Paulo with Batman's alley visit (3 hours)

Viator

São Paulo, Brazil | From $150 USD

São Paulo Street Art Tour
(3 hours)

GETYOURGUIDE

São Paulo, Brazil | From $65.60 USD

Sao Paulo Graffiti Bike Tour
(4 hours)

Civitatis

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Experiencing the Rio Carnaval has been a big item on my bucket list for a long time. I had the opportunity to make this dream a reality in 2020. The world-famous extravaganza is considered the biggest carnival in the world — bringing around 2 million people per day on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Carnaval begins on the Friday preceding Lent and ends on Ash Wednesday. But the Winner's Parade takes place on the Saturday after the carnival ends.

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"You're from Canada like Bryan Adams," is what I was told more than once the first time I ventured out on an international trip on my own outside of Canada when I was still a teenager — venturing out on a student work abroad program in England, back in the early 1990s.

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"Over there is where the Paris-Dakar Rally used to end," said my guide when I travelled to Lac Retba, Senegal, a couple of years ago (also known as Lac Rose). Many of the local people I spoke to, living along the salt-producing pink lake, were nostalgic about the rally's heyday. I had heard a lot about the mythical Dakar Rally growing up in the late 1970s and '80s. Being there felt a bit surreal.

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Within the last couple of years, I discovered a new café in Jeddah, which has now become my favourite spot in town for the perfectly frothed cortado. The Caffeine Lab is serious about its mission to create the best possible coffee experience. Behind the cozy and stylish coffee shop, the founding team brings years of experience, training and skill in the coffee market.

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Cape Town, colloquially known as South Africa's Mother City, is the country's legislative capital and the main city of the Western Cape province. I first visited Cape Town in 2010, just after the FIFA World Cup. I still have the emblematic vuvuzela plastic monotone horn, which became part of the world's lexicon during the World Cup that year.

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I had planned a two-night stop-over in Johannesburg, South Africa, before Amaria and I headed on to our self-drive adventure in Namibia. It was our second time in Johannesburg. We had already experienced driving to Soweto, sampled the vibrant life there, as well as visited Pretoria the last time; so the idea this time was to explore more of Johannesburg itself.

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The Republic of Namibia is situated in the south-western part of the African continent. Positioned along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s bordered by the Republic of South Africa to the south, by both Angola and Zambia to the north, and Botswana to the east.

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If anybody would have told me back in the summer of 2012, when I first arrived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that I would one day attend a concert in this country featuring Sean Paul, Mariah Carey and DJ Tiësto, I would not have believed it. 

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No expat experience in Saudi Arabia would be truly complete without venturing out into the desert, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of the best and most memorable ways of doing that is by trekking or trail running through the rocky and mountainous parts of the Arabian desert.

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