Rio De Janeiro

Published: June 8th 2011
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I had been looking forward to getting to Rio. Not so much because of Rio itself, but because I had some visitors coming to see me, my only visitors on the whole trip, namely Pam, Stephen and Phil. They were to stay with me for 8 days, with most of our time spent in Rio and a couple of days in Iguazu at the end. As a result of this, the next 2 or 3 blogs are going to be a little different from what you might have read from me so far. First of all, this was as I called it “my week's holiday in the middle of my holiday”, out with the grotty hostels and chicken buses and in with the 5 stars, taxis and nice restaurants... The other thing is that Stephen also did a blog from his trip, so you can get a different angle on the few days we spent together. So I will do my 2 blogs as normal (one for Rio and one for Iguazu) and then post Stephen's piece, which I'm sure you will all enjoy.

So where was I? Oh, yes... 6.30am and my plane was landing in Rio. My guests weren't arriving until late afternoon, so I was going to have to entertain myself for most of the day. The only problem was that I hadn't done any research on what to do in Rio (I was relying on my holiday buddies to have done all the legwork!) so I didn't really know where to begin. I started with getting the bus (10 Reals, about £4) from the airport to our hostel, a 4 stars number with view over Ipanema beach – oh yeah! Bring on the luxury. The trip turned out to be very straightforward despite the bus driver not speaking a word of Spanish. He still managed to tell each person where to get off, every time jumping off his seat to help them with their luggage. It was a good start to the Rio experience as I'd been used to more indifferent bus drivers. The bus route happened to go just in front of the hotel so I didn't even have to trek there. As I walked in (with a man in suit holding the door for me), I felt a bit awkward in my backpackers outfit and wondering if I smelt (remember I'd spent the night
Ipanema beachIpanema beachIpanema beach

view from the hotel room
in the airport) or looked like a tramp. It was too early for the room to be ready, so my plan for a snooze and shower was off, but I was able to leave my luggage while I went for a walk. I grabbed a city map and decided to head for the lake. I started walking down Ipanema beach. As it was Sunday morning, half the road was closed to cars in order to make way for joggers and walkers. There were a lot of them, despite the fact that it wasn't even 8am yet. From the beach, I walked to the lake, which I had decided to walk around. When I got there, I thought it looked like quite a big lake and wasn't so sure about walking all the way around, but decided to have a go anyway. It turned out to be 7.5km in circumference but most of the stroll was pleasant (other than the odd bits along busy streets), with joggers and cyclists galore. I got a glimpse of the heliport, base for the helicopters taking tourist for a trip over the city and of the rowers practising up and down the lake. The views across the different sides of the city were very good, with Cristo Rendentor dominating the landscape.
It took me a good couple of hours to get round and back to the hotel and by the time I returned, it was starting to be quite hot. It was a sunny day and I hadn't been sure what to expect having flown such a long way South, but it seemed it wasn't yet time for jumpers and scarves. Back at the hotel, the room wasn't ready yet, but they had the football on TV, so I watched the game at reception while they were getting everything sorted. When I eventually got the keys and entered the room, I looked around and couldn't help but giggle. I guess I knew what to expect (I have stayed in nice places before, but I just wasn't used to it anymore) but I still was a bit under the shock, especially when I looked out of the window.
I settled in and after the football finished, managed to have my siesta, followed by a session at the gym (well, if it's there, you might as well!) and a nice hot shower. After that, it was time for another walk around Ipanema and a quick visit to the supermarket (it was mid afternoon but I hadn't got round to lunch yet). On my way back, I noticed there were a lot of people standing outside all the cafés, watching some football. I didn't know who it was but given the number of people wearing red a black stripy shirts, I figured it was a local team. When I arrived at the hotel, the match was on TV and the whole staff was standing in the lobby watching. It turned out it was a very important game (something along the lines of the final of the Rio cup), so they were both Rio teams and Flamengo (the black and red) were the one everyone around was shouting for. I watched the rest of the game and enjoyed seeing everyone getting very excited and nervous. As extra time went on, you could feel the pressure in the room and every time a customer needed attending to, it was as to whom would get landed with the job of looking after them and being dragged away from the screen. About half way through the penalty kicks is when the taxi
Botanical gardensBotanical gardensBotanical gardens

With Stephen (and me in some new clothes they'd brought from home for the week)
pulled up and Phil and his parents arrived. I felt a little sorry for the porters who got to miss the final minutes, but I was really happy they'd finally made it! Incidentally, Flamengo won, so it was party time.
After everyone settled down, it was time to reconvene downstairs for some celebratory cocktails. Caipirinhas all round, as it is the typical Carioca (that's the name of the inhabitants of Rio) drink. After that, Phil and I went for some food before getting back for a well deserved good night sleep.

We had established that during our visit, there were some key things we wanted to see, namely Cristo Rendentor (Corcovado), Pao de Acucar, the beaches, the favelas and the city centre. With the first 2 involving going uphill for views over the city, the weather was going to be key. So as we all woke up on cloudy morning, we decided to start the day with a walk along the beaches. We went from Ipanema to Copacabana, all names we've heard a hundred times before but I never thought I'd be there one day... I have to say though, that from the previous day's walk along Ipanema beach
Botanical gardensBotanical gardensBotanical gardens

Orchids' house
and that second morning along the longer stretch, I was almost disappointed by the people I saw around us. I had been led to believe that I would be surrounded by “beautiful” people who have all day to spend in the gym and money to give to the surgeon, but that wasn't the case at all. Instead, we saw a few fit people, but mainly older generations trying to keep in shape and many overweight individuals who clearly hadn't been jogging for very long... So forget the postcard pictures, there was no perfect lady with massive boobs anywhere to be seen...
After a stop at a beach-front hut for some coconut water (drank with a straw straight from the coco), we decided it would be a good idea to visit the botanical gardens. This was interesting because it wouldn't have been something I would have picked if I'd been on my own, but I was very glad we went (although we walked there and it was rather a longer walk than we expected). For me, it was also nice to see my visitors being amazed by all the things I'd grown accustomed to over the last few months. The gardens had so many beautiful and original trees and plants that it was well worth the visit, with the highlights for me being the giant palm trees bordering some of the paths and the orchids' house where I went a little bit snap happy! We also managed to see a couple of hummingbirds, which we were all delighted about.
After our afternoon in what felt like a world away from the city, it was time to head back to our hotel. We grabbed a taxi outside the botanical gardens and got back for a well deserved drink by the pool. I dipped my toes in the water but wasn't brave enough to go in as it felt far too cold for my liking. In the evening, we made our way to a local restaurant. The done thing is to go to kilo restaurants, where you pay by the weight. This is supposed to be a cheaper (and at least fairer) way to eat, but we'd found this place in the guide book, described as the posh version of kilo restaurants. After quite a big starter plate, I tried the beef and wished I hadn't bothered with the salads. It was some of the nicest meet I'd ever tried... Phil and I somehow ended up in a bit of a competition as to who would eat the most... I thought I had no chance, but I won the “fat cow” crown and I was very proud of myself!

On the morning of day 3, we looked out of the window and it was still cloudy. Not what we were hoping for, especially as the weather forecast kept suggesting things were going to brighten up. We decided this was going to be a good day to visit the city. Before we left the hotel, we booked ourselves on an organised “favelas tour” for the same afternoon and then caught a taxi to the Maracana Stadium (for those of you who aren't into that sort of thing, this is just about the most famous football stadium in the world). I was really excited to get to visit the place but in the end I was a little disappointed. With Brazil due to host the 2014 Football World Cup, it was time for the stadium to be refurbished. As a result, we were only allowed to go up to a view point where we could see the diggers and men at work. There was also a sort of “museum” section, with footprints of some footballing legends, a model of what the stadium will look like after the work is completed, a video projection and the inevitable gift shop... Unfortunately we didn't get to go in the stands or anywhere near the pitch. I guess I'll have to come back in about 3 years if I want to do that...
After that little visit, we opted to catch the tube into Rio's centre and despite a man outside the stadium telling us to be careful of robbers and that we weren't safe around there, we made it unscathed. Once in the thick of the city, I had had a look at the map and had a vague idea of where we were going. It didn't feel particularly welcoming, just another massive busy capital with people going on about their daily business. We saw a few nice buildings (but as always, I don't really know what they each were) and after a quick detour via the sea-front, we ended up in a friendlier looking area, with a lot less people and a few cafés. We kept

The Favela on the left and the view over the city on the right
walking, vaguely in the direction of Ipanema but we were miles away and as the clock kept ticking, we decided it was time to hail a cab and go home to be back in time for the afternoon tour.
After a very quick bite to eat in a café around the corner from the hotel, we rushed back to find the tour guide was already there waiting for us. This was one of the week's activities I was looking forward to the most. Rio's slumps are famous worldwide, for not the nicest of reasons. Generally ran by the drug cartels they're a no go area for the likes of you and me, unless as part of an organised tour. Our guide explained to us that we would visit 2 different neighbourhoods. First stop was Rocinho, the biggest favela in Rio. There, we were told that we had to be careful not to take snaps of the streets (we were allowed to take shots of the view away from the main road, so we got overall pictures but no detail). We stopped at some art stalls where the locals were selling paintings of the area and it was made clear to us that we should stay along that stretch of road as well as show interest in what they were trying to sell to us. After this brief stop, it was back on the bus until we were directed through what looked like a workshop and onto a large terrace where we could again take pictures of the overall views. The guide explained to us how the favelas work and how they have evolved over time. I was surprised in so far as I was expecting much worse living conditions. In my mind, there would be “houses” made out of cardboard and tin and no running water or any luxuries. Instead, it was little concrete houses, with electricity, water and everything you would expect. They were very cramped, all built very close together and not exactly looking like luxury, but other than than, it was just like a normal community, with people walking up and down the street, doing their shopping and going about their business as normal. Our final stop was on the way back down the hill, where we were allowed to walk down the street (following each other in a straight line), until we got the the exit of the neighbourhood. This last part allowed us to soak in the atmosphere a little more, which I very much enjoyed.
After Rocinho, we were off to another neighbourhood, this one, not ruled by the drug cartel, so we were allowed to walk and take pictures more freely. The décor was about the same, although it was a much smaller and quieter affair. The end of the walk took us to a little man selling Caipirinhas, which I believe were the best in the whole of Rio. I didn't have one myself, but the other 3 definitely enjoyed theirs. The final part of our tour was the visit of a local school, a project supported by the tour company and trying to help the local kids receive an education to help them get out of poverty. I wasn't so interested in this bit, although it was nice to see that some of our money was put to good use.
Back at the hotel, it was time to some more drinks by the pool, followed by another lovely dinner and a quiet evening at the hotel. The next day, come rain or shine, we were going to have to tackle (although using transport) one of the hills, as we were running out of time.
So, on our 4th Carioca morning, with the sun still hiding away, it was time to go up and see Cristo Rendentor from a bit closer. The taxi dropped us off at the bottom of the hill, where we could catch a little tourist train up to the top. The ride was entertaining, with a Samba band creating the atmosphere. When we got to the top, it was resolutely cloudy and we barely managed a few photos before we couldn't see anything anymore. We waited for while, looking at all the other tourists having their photo taken with outstretched arms in front of the statue of Christ. We had a brief break at the café (brief because the wasps wouldn't leave our drinks alone) and managed to capture a few more of the views over the city, although unfortunately, because of the light, the pictures don't look anywhere near as good as what the real thing did. We did manage to see the Maracana Stadium where we'd been the previous day, along with some of the landmarks in the centre where we had walked along and of course, the beaches were unmissable. It was a very enjoyable little excursion and I kind of didn't want to go back down, just in case the clouds cleared up. But eventually, we had to go and the cloud cover got worse in the end, so we probably got the best view of the day that morning.
That day was football day, as United where playing the Champions League semi final return leg. So for the afternoon, we decided to hit the Irish Pub. We were some of very few customers (but it was only mid afternoon) and seemingly the only ones interested in the game, but it didn't matter and we won, so we were happy. The evening was spent in a celebratory mood and we ended up in a rather expensive French restaurant having some very nice food (although we didn't all get what we had ordered!!!)

The next morning, we woke up for our final day in Rio and finally, the sunshine had decided to make an appearance. We were off to Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf mountain), another hill you get to the top of for views over the city, with access by cable car this time. The ascension is done in 2 parts and as you go up you can see more and more of the city. The views were simply amazing and in the end, I was almost glad we'd had clouds the day before as I feared otherwise, it would have been a little bit the same, just from a different angle. But instead, we ended up with two completely different experiences and I was glad for it.
Our visit was finished by mid morning and as Pam and Stephen decided to return to Copacabana for a chilled out day, Phil and I decided to hit the town for some further exploration. From the top of Pao de Acucar, I had seen some yachts docked not too far away, so we walked that way. Unfortunately, there was no access and everything was hidden by the yacht club until we got to the other end and a small “beach”. From there, we walked through the borough of Flamengo, but we were still a long way away from where we wanted to go, so decided to catch the tube to the bohemian area of Santa Teresa. After getting a little lost (all my fault for looking at the map the wrong way), we finally made it. It was very pretty, with more of a village feel to it. Café and restaurants were bordering the streets, along with arty and crafty souvenir shops. To top it all up, there was a little open air tram running through the cobbled streets. We stopped for lunch in a lovely shaded café before having a good walk around the area. We started to venture up a hill, but with houses starting to look like we'd seen a couple of days before on our favelas tour, we decided it was better to go back the other way. After a couple of hours mooching, we headed back down to the centre with the tram. The guide-book suggested that if you hung outside the tram, you didn't have to pay the fare, which I decided to do. Only the driver wasn't prepared to let me (I don't know if it was because I was a woman or a tourist) and made me sit down and pay... I was disappointed, but my Portuguese skills did not allow me to argue! On the way down, we went over the aqueduct and got a good
In the Irish pubIn the Irish pubIn the Irish pub

Celebrating United's victory
view of the cathedral, 2 of things we hadn't seen yet, so that was a bonus. After a further short walk around town and past the theatre, we caught the tube back to Ipanema and to the hotel, where it was no surprise to find Pam and Stephen by the pool.
For our last supper in Rio, we chose to return to the kilo restaurant we had been to a few days before. I had learnt my lesson and skipped the salads, although I did have some sushi for starters before hitting the meat. I ended up trying something which we suspect might have been chicken hearts and I didn't much care for. Before long, somebody suggested that I should try and eat a whole kilo worth of food. By 850g, I was ready to explode, but I stopped for a while and finally went to have my 150g worth of desert. Oh yeah! Kilo Queen, that's me! We got back to the hotel and I was feeling like I could happily not eat for a week.
That was the end of our few days in Rio. It had been great, but Igazu falls were awaiting us and I was eager to see what is supposed to be one of the best sights on the whole continent...

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25



The cathedral

The theatre

8th June 2011
Agua de coco

si ca ne fait pas vacances!!! ca donne envie
8th June 2011
Santa Teresa

j'adore, c'est typique
8th June 2011
Pao de Acucar

wahhhhhhhhh quelle vue!

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