Let's Learn Portuguese & try to feel Christmassy

Trip Start Dec 03, 2012
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Trip End Feb 25, 2013

Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Last weekend comprised of walking around the "Hippie Market" in Ipanema on Saturday and the Botanical Garden on Sunday with our new roommates, Max, Raffa & Luca. The gardens were built by one of the old kings of Portugal in 1808, and home to an array of birds, monkeys, flowers and plants. We saw a couple of little monkeys although couldn't tell you exactly what kind of Monkey they were, and went for a walk around the lakes and waterfalls. Very nice and interesting walk around and we felt rather cultrured-out afterwards, so headed for the beach.

Shortly after the heavens opened again and as per normal the majority of Brazilians on the beach ran for cover, we ran in the opposite direction and went for a swim in the rain. Almost had the whole beach to oursleves.

Last week we started Portuguese language school. Originally planning to do a slow paced 4 week beginners course for English natives, we subsequently found a much cheaper and more intensive course for just 1 week for Spanish speakers. So we were in a class with a Colombian, Puerto Rican, German and Estonian, all of which could speak Spanish so we felt right at home. The course itself was fast and focused on the differences between Portuguese and Spanish, rather than a a complete language novice course. We had 3 hours of tuition each morning and a mountain of homework every evening for the next day. Our teacher only spoke Portuguese with us and on the Monday we could hardly understand, but by the Friday we were all having full conversations in Portugues. From total beginner to lower intermediate in 5 days, amazing! It may have helped our progress slightly that our teacher looked like a Brazilian Orlando Bloom only shorter, and coincidentally learnt his English by living in Clifton in Bristol of all places!

Midweek we were invited by one of our fellow students to the bar in which he works next to the huge lagoon in the middle of the city, with a massive Christmas tree lit up in the centre of the lake. We sampled an array of champagnes and tapas all on the house, very nice!

Friday night consisted of cocktails in one of the best cocktail bars in Ipanema (one of the nicer districts in Rio) and partying at the Fasano hotel (just happens to be where Madonna and Lady Gaga stayed when they came to play in Rio). We know how to party traveller style!

Saturday night we went back to the roots of Samba music and Rio nightlife, and checked out a venue called Casa Rosa - "The Pink House" - this used to be an old brothel which was converted into a cultural centre in the 80s. Very random place with higgledy piddlegy with lots of little rooms playing different genres on music in each, from samba to dance to a live band in another, we danced the night away again.

On Christmas eve we thought it only fitting to go to visit the Christ, and we picked a beautiful day for it. One of the clearest days yet so we got great photos of the Christ itself and of the views. It took us a while to get up as had to catch a bus, a taxi, a minibus and finally walk up quite a few flights of stairs, but we found him at the top surrounded by so many tourists we could hardly move. Decided against the traditional "arms-out/hug" pose, held out a Merry Christmas sign instead.

That evening the hostel owners cooked a traditional Christmas Eve meal for all of us guests comprising of Chicken, rice and Farofa - a maized based floury mixture which is fried up with saltanas and onions, or whatever is left in the kitchen. Very nice tho and Brazilians seem to have it on everything! Only one more sleep til Christmas, but with this hot weather, almost no Christmas lights, music or snow it's hard to get into the Christmas mood and the whole holiday seems very surreal as if it's not really happening. We've noticed the majority of decorations in shops seem to feature Santa, snowmen, raindeer and other associate Christmasy snow-scenes. In a country that is 30+ degrees around Christmas time, snow is a very distant memory and feels almost wrong to see it pictured as "tradition". It's obvious here that Christmas is very much a Northern Hemisphere holiday, which has been adopted in parts and underplayed by countries in the Southern Hemisphere. To be honest, it just feels a bit odd!

On Christmas day we were spoiled with yet another Christmas lunch and homemade "habanadas" (incredible eggy bread/french toast with cinamon and sugar) then we took off for Copacabana beach. We managed to get an amazing spot directly infront of the stage and was truely incredible watching Stevie Wonder perform, an unforgettable christmas!
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