A few weekends ago, Tom and I joined a friend from the Consulate on a private car tour of Sao Paulo. None of us had seen much of the city, and we wanted to get a good look at this place we’ll call home for the next two years, so we hired a driver from the Consulate to take us to all of the “tourist sites.” The driver picked us up at our condo and off we went for a day of exploring. He later confessed to us that he doesn’t do tourist trips very often: Sao Paulo isn’t really big on tourist sites.

He’s right. Sao Paulo doesn’t have a downtown area such as you see in Buenos Aires or some other South American cities, with their broad boulevards reminiscent of Europe, reflecting the tastes and architecture of the immigrant population of the country.

Instead, most of Sao Paulo’s sites are scattered, lost among skyscrapers and the concrete jungle. I’d be hard-pressed to name more than a few sights that were especially striking, other than the “jumpers of Sao Paulo,” which I wrote about in a previous post. Granted, this was a driving tour, and we didn’t get out at many places, so I know there is more to see that we likely missed. It was Mother’s Day, a national holiday, and a Sunday, so much of the city was closed, abandoned, and the weather was rainy, which didn’t help our first impressions.

For this post, I’ll just share some of the random sights from the day’s trip. In future posts, I will concentrate on specific places, such as Ibirapuera Park, the Opera House, and other spots. Here are first snapshots of the city, in all its majesty.

The Catedral de Sé de Sao Paulo:

Pateo do Colegio, the birthplace of Sao Paulo, where in 1554 two Jesuit priests established a mission on the site of what was to become the largest city in Brazil.

The international peace bell, Marca de Paz (Mark of Peace), erected on December 15, 2000. The plaque reads: “This landmark symbolizes the ideal of all people in the search of peace, fraternity, and solidarity.” (That’s our driver, grinning because I asked him to pose for me.)

The Impostometro, which keeps a real-time account of the taxes that Brazilians have paid to date in any given year: these taxes are horrendous, and include taxes charged on income, assets, and consumption. This is the charge as of May 13, 2102. It is expensive to be a Brazilian. According to the Tax Planning Brazilian Institute, Brazilians worked an average of 102 days in 2011 only to pay taxes, fees and contributions. The amount of money collected annually by Municipal, State and Federal Governments reaches BRL 1,51 trillion.

Rejuvenated and remodeled buildings next to the Pateo do Colegio, which now sit vacant. Millions of reals spent on the renovations, and now they are abandoned.

The financial district, empty on a Sunday:

And, finally, the street art along the main thoroughfare into the City Center: