Hello friends, I hope this blog finds you in good spirits and good health!
Well, I am back in the swing of urban Rio and recovered from my harsh transition back into urbanity. Luckily, I have been relying on some old friends to help with that: cerveja, surfing and food. The surf at Arpoador has been pretty good the beginning of this week. Monday we saw some big swells pushing through and the local crowd was ripping. They, the waved tapered off but since I had not seen much of the city besides Copacabana and Ipanema, this week has been filled with city exploration and reading in the sun on the beach.
The first adventure was a little walking tour of the downtown area of the city, a neighborhood called Centro, home to beautiful old churches, colonial parliament buildings and remnants of the original Portuguese settlement over 500 years ago.
The first stop was a visit to the Paco Imperial, formerly the royal palace (duh) and then the seat of the parliament and government of Brazil until it was moved to Brasilia. Today, the beautiful marble building is home to the seat of the government of the state of
Rio de Janeiro. The building is in wonderful condition and the inside is beautifully preserved with many of the original doors, doorknobs and windows still in tact. The main feature of the building is the large house chamber that fills the middle of the building and smacks of a rich colonial history of power, prestige and Brazilian independence from Portugal. The antique chairs and desks number in the hundreds as the chamber was designed to be the seat of government for the entire country but now holds seventy-five representatives from RJ state. Another distinguishing feature is the marble décor. Everywhere one turns they find a leaf motif carved into the ceilings, walls and railings. At first glance this appears to be some sort of olive leaf but is actually based on the coffee plant, the major source of wealth and export of the colony when the building was originally designed. The most impressive part of the building, however, is the ceiling of the main chamber. Not only are there large frescoes painted around the dome that depict important events, people and themes of Brazil, but the dome is punctuated by an incredibly intricate stained glass cap designed to look like
the sky on the day that independence from Portugal was declared. Not only are there beautiful pink clouds but the positions of the major stars and constellations are also evident. I highly suggest taking a tour if you ever come to Rio.
Another highlight of the tour was the two food stops. The first was to a small restaurant near the water where another delicious meal of feijuada was consumed (this time a white bean base with pork) followed by a trip to Confeitaria Colombo, an elegant high stained-glass ceiling coffee house with delicious café con leche and tremendous little deserts including a devilish little lemon tart…yum!
Near the confeitaria was a road called Alfandega that appeared to be the local market street. Bustling with life and color and smell, the street contained vendors and shops selling everything from the chintzy necklaces hawked by beach salesmen to knock-off Converse All-Stars stores to building supplies and materials. Just blocks away was a beautiful park called Campo de Santana where Dom Pedro I initially declared independence from Portugal in 1822. The park is quite a funny place. The well-to-do and scrizzle alike mix on the benches around the main pathways
because you are not allowed to walk on the grass. Thus, the lawn is pristine and huge trees shade the paths and grounds. Furthermore, the park seems to be home to, I would guess, about 200 cats who lie lazily about the warm concrete paths, basking in the sun and paying absolutely no mind to people or the immense population of similar sized guinea-pig looking rodent known as a catypury.
There are also two great museums to visit when you are in downtown. Okay, there are probably more but I only went into to of them. The first is the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes in Centro. The collection is not extensive but it houses some very interesting modern Brazilian art from some of the best Brazilian painters and sculptors. Similarly, the Museu Folclorico in Catete (Next to the Museu da Republica which went unvisited) was very interesting. Though no "high-art" exists here the folk art displays are very interesting and even amusing. There were wood scenes of circuses and samba bands and such that were mechanized, moving robotically like old wind-up toys. With trapeze artists moving along their tight ropes, lion tamers cracking whips at tigers and Samba
drummers pounding out a bead, the wood scenes were quite marvelous. Furthermore, the extensive collection of Candomble (villages formed by escaped slaves) head dresses and ceremonial wear was absolutely spectacular, as were the wide variety of masks.
The cog train ride up to the Cristo Redentor and the subsequent views from the Corcovado (hunchback) hill are worth a trip as well. The hill rises virtually straight up to 710 meters giving a grand view of the city (if it is not cloudy, like it was the day we went). I would say definitely take the train. You can take a tour bus or a cab to the top but the train ride is way more pleasurable as you can skip the sickeningly windy road and the route takes you through the jungle covering the mountainside. The statue is cool for about five minutes but the real attraction is the view and the people watching. Everyone seems to be putting their arms out like the statue and getting their picture taken in that pose. A little creepy. The statue is one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World" along with Machu Piccu, the Taj Mahal, the Roman Colloseum, Chichen
Itza in Mexico, the ruins at Petra, Jordan and the Great Wall of China. In 2001 an initiative was started by the Swiss corporation New7Wonders Foundation to choose the New Seven Wonders of the World from a selection of 200 existing monuments for profit. One thing is for sure, if you think you are going to see something amazing like any of the other wonders think again. The Cristo Redentor pales in comparison to the others.
Anyhow, thanks for reading. I will have my final dispatch from Cidade Maravilhosa coming soon! I love you all. Happy Travels! Also, think kind thoughts for the the many passengers and families of the Air France flight that departed Rio last night and went down somewhere in the Atlantic this morning while on its way to Paris.
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