CURITIBA Brazil (Reuters) - Wander around downtown Curitiba on a rainy midweek morning and World Cup fever is about the last thing that comes to mind in a southern venue that could be almost on another continent.
There are few banners, no national flags other than the yellow and green Brazilian ones, and scarcely a nod towards the soccer spectacular that has fans flocking to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
The atmosphere is one of a comparatively affluent community, organized, friendly and above all quiet - although that may change when the Australians arrive in town for their match against Spain on Monday.
The Baixada Arena, home to top flight side Atletico Paranaense and host of four group stage games, looks more like a grey-walled shopping mall from the outside.
That is not to say that the locals are left cold by the event, even if there have been protests against the amount spent on hosting the tournament, or any less soccer-crazed than compatriots in Rio or Recife.
They just do things differently in this more European of South American cities, one that tries to live up to the Brazilian flag’s motto of ‘Order and Progress’ even if the stadium was one of the last to be completed and still lacks some finishing touches.
“Here in Curitiba, we don’t get together a lot to watch games in the street or make a lot of noise,” locally-based Globo TV reporter Nadja Mauad told Reuters with a laugh.
“If you go to Rio, Sao Paulo, Salvador you are going to find that atmosphere. But here in Curitiba, we are like the weather - more cold. We are not that explosive.”
What cosmopolitan Curitiba does have, that others may yearn for, is an urban transport system whose fame has traveled far and wide and been studied by foreign academics and city planners.
A media tour laid on by the City Hall for the visiting World Cup media focuses on the extensive network of bus lanes, the 300km of bicycle lanes, traffic calming measures and pedestrianized streets.
“Urbanized and modern, the city is a reference in solid waste picking, public transportation and human development,” boasts the official press pack.
Latin America’s greenest metropolis has 22 urban parks, one of them hosting an official FIFA fan zone, a botanical garden and a museum designed by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer whose modernist vision is encapsulated in the capital Brasilia.
Visiting fans looking for sun, samba and sandy beaches will be disappointed in an inland city whose locals tell visitors they can expect to see four seasons in a day.
“It’s a little bit cold,” said 23-year-old Colombian mechanical engineer Johnny Munoz from Bogota as he took photographs outside the stadium. “The only World Cup atmosphere we’ve seen was at the Fan Fest yesterday.
“We thought there would be more, but no. Porto Alegre was a lot livelier. Much better. Brazil is famous for being a lively country, we haven’t seen it here yet.”
“We hoped for more. More fiesta, more noise. It’s very quiet here,” added traveling companion Wilmer Pulido.
Italians from the Veneto region settled in the area in the late 19th century, joining large communities of Poles, Ukrainians, Germans and Lebanese.
Stalls at a winter fair set up in a central square offer Polish ‘Pirogi’ dumplings along with other ethnic delicacies.
Those of German extraction do have a team to cheer at this tournament, but they are not playing in Curitiba, and the Ukrainians are unlikely to be rooting for Russia given the events in Europe.
For Curitiba, the World Cup on their doorstep has so far been a dull 0-0 draw between Iran and Nigeria with Ecuador, Honduras, Russia and Algeria yet to visit.
“It’s very organized. The bus stations, the streets...people who live in Curitiba, love Curitiba,” said Mauad. “You can walk around with no danger, so people enjoy it a lot. But it’s not Copacabana.”
Editing by Ed Osmond