12. A Rio runs through it


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Published: July 8th 2007
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(N) Firstly apologies to those expecting Paula to be writing this week; for some reason, she decided that it would not be fun to spend her final couple of nights in Rio on the computer, so I am doing it.

Because we are spending so long in Rio, I thought it would be good to describe the area around the hostel. Up on Santa Teresa hill, it enjoys a good view over towards the centre of the city and the odd-shaped new cathedral (see pictures below). From the little balcony at the front, I have been fortunate enough to see a hummingbird in the flowers, and a couple of small monkeys scampering along the telegraph wires. Heading down the hill and some steps, the area becomes Lapa. It has been hot this week, and between Monday to Friday it is a hive of activity - lots of shops, bottle bars, cafes and restaurants; large murals depiciting Brazilian football exploits; walking salespeople selling gum and lottery tickets; people sleeping rough on the pavement; the local Sinuca (snooker!) hall; a building of squatters facing armed police for a stand-off that lasted at least 2 days; the Lapa arches in the background; and music coming from everywhere all the time!

Saturday 30th June Spent the daylight hours catching boat/bus/taxi back to Rio from Ilha Grande. It was a special weekend in the Santa Teresa district, called ´Open Doors´, where residents display art & crafts, there is music in the streets and food and drink available. This area is known as the Bohemian part of Rio, the Montmartre, and fittingly it is also up a hill, with cobblestones everywhere.
We stopped in what was normally a garage, but which had been decked out in African batik art, with food on a table at the back, and home-made cachaça, the sugarcane spirit of Brazil. We had seafood stew, bread and oats - very tasty! This was followed by a couple of beers at Bar do Minheiro, a neighbourhood favourite watering hole. We met up with other guys from the hostel there, and decided to head to a samba club. On the way down, we passed live music from another house participating in the ´open doors´weekend. It sounded so good that we couldn´t resist going in. Once on the patio there were 4 musicians playing samba, local people dancing, cheap beer, and a good time was had by all (we were not left alone to sit and watch!!).
After an hour or so, we set off for the Samba club, Democraticus, in Lapa, which is Rio´s samba district, and just at the foot of Santa Teresa. Inside, it was like an British dance hall from the 1950´s, with a long stage along the back wall (with ELEVEN different musicians!), and lots of couples dancing samba together - a very friendly place to be. After a beer to get even more in the mood, we took to the floor and, well, had a good bash at joining in. I think we got away with it. The good thing about Samba is that, unlike Salsa in Cuba, the dance moves are less flamboyant and so you can move around, looking like you can almost do it, as opposed to salsa - which Paula can do, but at which I am the archetypal British cardboard dancer. Halfway through my first (and only) salsa lesson in St Albans (where else?), I had given up and repaired to the bar. We spent another couple of hours at the club, getting back to the hostel at a fairly respectable time before sunrise.

Sunday 1st July - today was quite overcast, and we headed to Ipanema for its weekly hippie market. Although the streets were much quieter than during the week, local bars were cooking on makeshift barbecues and music was emanating from all over the place. Following the market (which was less hippie than expected, and quite good), we made our way down for our first glimpse of the the famous beach. Looked cool, but it was not the weather to hang around on the sands. We wandered along the lake not far from the beach (a few streets back) and caught our first glimpse of the famous Cristo Redentor (meaning Christ the Redeemer) statue, well only his knees because it was so cloudy!
Quiet night. Saw more live music up the hill in Santa Teresa. Managed to see the full Cristo Redentor in all his glory as we walked up - the clouds had cleared and the statue was illuminated, looked amazing.

Monday 2nd July - my birthday! Headed for Copacabana, where we had a picnic lunch (had to move back from the sea four times in 15 minutes because the water kept coming in so fast!) Directly behind us, through one of the few narrow gaps in the tall hotels, we could see the Cristo Redentor again. The waves were amazing, not the largest ever but impressive and powerful enough. Went and mucked around in the surf, the water was quite warm, lots of fun getting thrown around in it...

It was very relaxing to walk along the length of the beach, then to go round the short headline and come to Ipanema and do the same again. Towards the late afternoon, we stopped for a beer on the beach as the sun set and some samba jazz came out from one of the many beach bars.
Before heading out we had one of the hostel´s great caipirinhas. For dinner, I had the largest meatball in the world ever, with rice and green stuff. We then went to one of Lapa´s well-known samba clubs, Carioca da Gema , where the self-styled ´Pavarotti of Samba´ was singing with his 6-piece band. He merged lots of songs into one long 45-minute set and we had a great time.

Tuesday 3rd July - another beach day! This time the weather was warmer and the skies were bright. Kicked around in the sand and the sea, saw some great sand sculptures and walked the whole length of Ipanema, to the lookout point. Another beachside drink, though this time Paula had fresh coconut juice, straight from the coconut! We had a great steak dinner (yes, another one!) at the bar where the song The girl from Ipanema was penned. (The bar has become almost as famous as the song, to such an extent that they renamed the bar after the song: http://www.garotaipanema.com.br/eng/default.htm).

Wednesday 4th July - Paula's last day, boo! Packed up and headed to Sugar Loaf mountain for a couple of hours. Got an ice cream and spent some time on the beach with the mountain looming overhead - it was very impressive.
Paula left smoothly and my friend Nick arrive shortly after. With a caipirinha to help his jetlag, we went out to a local bar to see Brazil (1) beat Ecuador (0), over a beer and a traditional bean soup.

Thursday 5th July
Room at Rio HostelRoom at Rio HostelRoom at Rio Hostel

(We didn’t stay in the chalet the whole time!)
- headed off to see the famous footy stadium, the Maracana, which was built for the 1950 world cup final, a match at which 200,000 people were accommodated - a record for a football match.
(For more info & pics, see: http://www.worldstadiums.com/stadium_menu/architecture/stadium_design/rio_de_janeiro_maracana.shtml)

Unfortunately, the whole place was closed while being prepared as a venue for the Pan Am Games which are about to take place in Rio, even the stadium's celebrated football museum - doh! At least we could stroke the walls...
Late afternoon, we went up Corcovado hill to the Cristo Redentor statue. It was completed in 1931, measures 38 metres tall and looks out over most of Rio. We saw night fall over the city while we were up there, so that just before we left we could appreciate the metropolis all lit up, with a sea breeze wafting up mixing with the warm air, music rising up from the mass below, against a backdrop of Sugar Loaf mountain, and boats floating in the waters off Copacabana and Ipanema.



Friday 6th July - a day to explore
Art in Rio HostelArt in Rio HostelArt in Rio Hostel

Santa Teresa hill
Rio centre. Walked down to the new cathedral and was impressed again by its stained glass windows, measuring 60m tall. From there we went to Praca Floriano, considered the "heart of modern Rio", surrounded by impressive buildings.
It was not far from there to the Convento de San Antonio, which is one of Rio's oldest churches, built in 1608. One unusual feature were the balconies with velvet curtains fairly high up on both sides of the church - just like at the theatre!
Had lunch in a quaint cobbled street called Travessa do Comercio - it was supposed to be a way to get a cheap meal, as it was a 'pay-by-weight' place, which are quite common in Brazil. However, before I knew it, my plate had somehow got piled up with boiled and mashed potato, ravioli (carbohydrate kid strikes again!) along with a couple of pieces of meat, a plate which weighed around 700g in total and costing about double what I thought I would get! Schoolboy error, but I will plan my attack better next time.

Saturday 7th July - A group from the hostel headed down to Copacabana for the Live Earth event (http://www.liveearth.org), one of 8 concerts taking place in big cities across the continents. We were not quite sure what it would be like - we had been told that up to a million people would be down on the beach, listening to some big names. Amazingly, it did not feel too crowded. The first act we saw was Pharrell Williams who, to be honest, did not stir up much emotion with some aggressive hip hop, which was a complete contrast to a Brazilian reggae artist who followed, and to whom thousands of locals around us jumped around, sang and waved their arms! Other acts of note were Macy Gray, who was pretty good, and my new Brazilian music hero Jorge Ben Jor, whose music is often on in the hostel and who played 'samba rock' (sounds like it should be terrible but is very melodic!). Lenny Kravitz topped the bill and was also well received.

See this link for Jorge Ben Jor performing, plus good aerial views of Copacabana (not sure how long MSN will keep it active for):
http://entimg.msn.com/i/ExperienceData/p1-7/pt-br/x.htm?sh=LiveEarth&ep=le_rio_de_janeiro&ch=19

Sunday 8th July - went to visit The Santa Teresa Convent Stairway, which consists of 215 steps covered in tiles, designed and worked on by a slightly eccentric Chilean artist called Selaron. He keeps renewing the tiles with ones he either buys or receives through the post from many worldwide contributors. Selaron calls it "a personal tribute to the people of Brazil...I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life"! We took a photo on the disposable camera which I hope to put on this blog next month.

We then headed into town to take the last remaining tram in Rio from the centre back up to Santa Teresa. I have described the interesting experience (in the previous blog) that it is to ride on this shaky vehicle, it's a lot of fun and just as good by day as by night! The highlight of the trip is crossing the 18th Century Lapa Arches - built by slaves, there are two layers of arches, of which there are 42 on the upper level, and was originally an aqueduct to take water from Santa Teresa to the centre. It was used in this way till the end of the 19th century, at which point it became a road for the tram, and there are good views across the city from it. See the video attached to this blog, and ride along!

It was the second weekend of "Open Doors", so we got off the tram a long way up the hill, in Lago dos Neves, and walked back. We went to several of the artists' houses, which were often more interesting - with their city views - than the art they were displaying (you might describe some of it as experimental if you were in a benign mood). I did like some of it though, especially some fairly simple art nouveau beach and sea pictures, and the setting of the cultural centre Casario da UNEI with its view out to sea and distant mountains as the sun began to set was worth taking in. Also had a beer at a great old bar Bar do Gomes, outside of which a DJ was spinning popular Brazilian dance music, and lots of people boogying around, fantastic atmos.


Note on photos -
1. There are 2 pages of photos on this blog;
2. Rio is well-known for bag-snatchers so, to date, Paula & I did not take out our cameras. However, with Nick's arrival, we have been slightly more daring, and he has whipped his one out (so to speak) when we have judged it safe to do so, while I kept a close guard and tried to look tough - grrr!


Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 31


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Inside Rio´s modern cathedralInside Rio´s modern cathedral
Inside Rio´s modern cathedral

(Courtesy Nick Hewitt)
View of downtown RioView of downtown Rio
View of downtown Rio

(Courtesy Nick Hewitt)
ConventConvent
Convent

(Courtesy Nick Hewitt)
Selaron's stairsSelaron's stairs
Selaron's stairs

(See earlier blog)


10th July 2007

Best cappucino
Your mate has obviously never had a cappucino at Harpers then! Enjoying the blog - looks fantastic
13th July 2007

Thankyou
Thankyou so much for the wonderful blog it has helped me with an assignment I had to complete. The assignment was to write about a country I had never been to (I chose Rio, Brazil) and write a travel blog about it. So thanks! Your blog has helped me understand and imagine Rio so much better. X.

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