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Published: September 3rd 2012
Rio De Janeiro Our heros try to negotiate a new country and a new language whilst battling sleep deprivation, disorientation and dodgy shower systems...will they survive? Yes, yes they will, obviously...
The first port of call on this adventure is Rio De Janeiro, probably one of the more glamorous cities on the planet, with a reputation of a dangerous underbelly. We arrived at 5am after very long overnight flight from London via Rome and I was woefully short of sleep. It's hard to be impressed by much when you've been in a haze for the previous 12 hours watching a couple of terrible films (Inglorious Basterds and Safe House in case you were wondering). That said I was awake enough to know that my first impression of Rio wasn't too great. Coming through the arrival gates you are greeted by the inevitable flock of "taxi people." The "official" firms are worse than the blaggers. R$120 we were quoted for a taxi to Santa Teresa, which was 4 times what our hostel had told us to expect to pay! Wow! Luckily we got in to a bartering battle with a driver outside and got a taxi
Part of the Cityscape
Rio has a unique skyline
for steal at R$80. It wa an unpromising beginning to the trip, but it was easier and safer than negotiating the buses at such an ungodly hour. I imagine it would be much easier and more pleasant to arrive at a busier time of day!
It's a shame that this was the first thing that Rio offered to us because it's just not a true reflection of the city or of the people that live here. The journey form the airport towards Santa Teresa was enlightening and a rather brief overview of the city itself. As the car glided down the motorway the vastness of the city sprawled away in all directions ending only at the ocean's edge or when the mountains became too steep. The (in)famous favelas creep up the sides of many of the peaks that surround and, in places, penetrate in to the cityscape. Some of the favela dwellings appear to cling periously to the edges of the natural rises, perhaps they mirror the attitude of their inabitants? Rio's government has pledged to remove many of the favelas ahead of the world cup, an undertaking that will necessitate the relocation of many thousands of people. Standing
Ellie with Selaron
proud over all of Rio is Christ the Redeemer, perched high upon the Corcovado peak andvisible from almost any place in the city. In the dawn light it was a spectacle to behold.
Rio is an amazing city to experience. My parents were full to the brim with anxiety about us being here due to the reputation the city gained for itself, not unfairly mind you, in the 70s, 80s and 90s. However, Rio in 2012 is a different animal altogether. Crime is down and the city centre, Copacobana, Botafogo, Ipanema, Flamengo and Santa Teresa/Lapa are perfectly safe during the day (just don't be an idiot and flash money or valuables about). At night things can be different and you need to be more alert and take taxis about the city but once you realise you won't be mugged or beaten up at every juncture you can really start to appreciate the city.
Rio is a huge place and it took us 5 days to fully work out how it all fitted together, but it was fun doing so. One of the sad things about travelling is that once you start to get to
Eu sou galês
Obviously the best tile there!
know a place and feel comfortable it's in variably time to pack up and move on. I guess that's always going to be the case unless you actually move to live in the place! We stayed in Santa Teresa in Villa Leonar. They had a great view of the centre of the city from the breakfast bar and the staff particularly David and Daniel were friendly and helpful. These guys also don't really like football too much; perhaps the football-mad male popuation is just a myth? They went out of their way to help us and were great for a bit of conversation too. I'd recommend a stay here if you're ever in the neighbourhood. There were not too many other guests, except a French guy who was too afraid to walk about the city and got taxis door to door. We convinved him this wasn't necessary and he eventually ventured out apparently. I say apparently as I never actually saw him again...makes you wonder...I'm sure he's fine really.
Santa Teresa is a nice place to be with it's cobbled street, tram tracks (they don't run anymore) and clutter of bars and restaurants. It happens that all
Much more pleasant that its famous cousin Copacabana.
eateries have their own hot sauce (many buy it in, but the best places make their own). In one of the bars I lost 50% of my tastebuds to one such homemade molotov cocktail, but it was worth it. Some of the restaurants are pricey (Rio is an expensive place) but we found the best Feijoida (a stew of black beans with pork and salt beef served with rice, kale and a generous helping of manioc flour) in Rio for a bargin price in this part of town. To many British people most of the reasonably priced eateries probably don't look like much, they tend to be overly lit with florescent tubes and have little tangible character, but the appearance of the restaurant is usually deceptive as it's the food that counts. And Brazil does food! But more on that in later blogs.
The best way to see any city is by walking. We tried this on a Sunday, when it was, to all intents and purposes, a ghost town (the norm in Brazil on Sundays), but got a bit lost and gave up (but not until finding the Gormely exhibition here). To get us orientated properly
At the state bank museum in down town Rio
to time and space we did a great tour of Rio with Rio Walks. They cater for groups but as it was only us we had a private tour. Bea, our guide, was great. She had a wealth of knowledge and made the 3 hours fly by. We pretty much learnt the history of Rio and the stories helped to contextualise much of what we had seen previously. Cinemaland was a a lovely area that we may not have visted. The name hints at Disney World-esque buildings and streets but it's a lovely, architecurally rich area of the city with the Theatre and many municiple buildings. We crammed in a lot that morning and needed to chill on the beach. Luckily Ipanema was a 20 minute bus ride away. We got suitably burned chilling on the beach and admired the skill of the volley ball players, who used their feet to play! There are too many trendy people in Rio I feel, and they like to show it off too. The beach could be a catwalk or a meat market for all the posing and perving that goes on! But i'm just self concious as I have no tan or
Get there early to avoid the crowds.
fashion sense! Both Ipanema and Copacobana are lovely beaches and the areas of the city that cascade beyond the beach front are relaxed and cool with coffeeshops and parks alongside bars and fashion emporiums. They are fine to spend a few hours in but really you could be in any city in the world!
The landmarks that set Rio apart are Sugar Loaf and Corcovado (Jesus Christ The Redeemer). These are must see attractions, and the prices for admissin reflect their status in Rio! The sunset from Sugar Loaf is spectacular, although many people make this journey, and it's easier to get a picture from the halfway mound, not Sugar Loaf itself. The Jesus (not John Turturro in "The Big Lebowski") is pretty cool and views from the summit of the Corcovado are almost unbelieveable, although since your eyes are seeing them, and your brain processing them, they must be real! It's busy up there though, always so be prepared to queue for the train and to be knocked about by tourists up there as the platform around the statue isn't huge. Although these are both overtly "touristy" they are landmarks and regarded by the people as
symbols of their city and unique too.
For most people Brazil conjures up images of Carnival (in February sadly), the above mentioned landmarks, the Amazon, Samba and, of course, football. Rio is home to the biggest stadium in the world, the Maracana, but it is undergoing renovation for the World Cup in 2014 and so we didn't watch a game, not that I'm actually too bothered as I've seen a bit of Brazilian football on the TV and it's not that great. It seems nearly every male here owns atleast one football shirt (a bit like walking about Glasgow or Newcastle, except the weather is good and there aren't as many beer bellies and pasty-white complexions on display). I don't have a football shirt, I have a rugby shirt, but Brazilian's probaby haven't heard of rugby...
One last thing, Rio has many "Juice Bars" on street corners, they are tremendous. Although the supposed healthy "Super Drinks" are bloody disgusting.
Off to Ouro Preto next but plans are bit up in the air after that...the difficult decisions that need to be made when travelling...
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