Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
64Trip End Jul 29, 2008
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Where I stayed
Landing into Brazil, the country has a very different feel to the other South American countries. Its a melting pot of European and African culture. The language is different to the Spanish of the rest of the continent, with Portuguese being the official language. Although you hear so much about the poverty in Rio, the Brazilian economy is actually the worlds 8th largest!!
When Napoleon invaded Lisbon in 1807, the prince regent had to retreat to Rio. He then stayed on after Napoleon left the capital in 1815. As king of the empire in 1816, he declared that Rio become the capital of the United Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal. It was the only New World city to be the capital of a European state.
Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa, the marvellous city, it is one of the worlds most stunning cities. With its sweeping golden beaches, the stunning bay of Guanabara, the backdrop of lush rainforest and the scattering of steep rock formations around the city, the most famous being Sugar Loaf Mountain, added to this the unique culture and history of the city and its peoples, its one of the most vibrant and beautiful places either of us have ever visited
We arrived into our hotel at the north end of Copacabana beach, in an area called Leme. This is one of the worlds most famous beaches, and we could see why! It is a hub of city life.
On our first night, we decided to explore the cities nightlife. One of the nicest area for restaurants and bars is Ipenema, and headed there for dinner and drinks. The Caricos (as the locals are known) start very late, with most not venturing out until after midnight!! Having had one too many legendary nights out at Guanabara bar in London, it was great to be sipping Caprinas with the locals on the streets of Ipenima.
The next day was a Sunday, so we decided to take the long walk along Copacabana beach to Ipenima Beach. On Sundays the main road off the beach gets closed off to traffic, and it is filled with locals going about their day along the beach. There was even a marathon on when we were there, these poor athletes running in the sun! Walking along you really can appreciate how ingrained beach life is to Caricos. They live their life on the beach, with large groups of friends playing games or relaxing on the beach or having drinks along the beach shacks watching the passers by! There is an amazing amount of games going on on the beach, there is beach volleyball, which was invented here! Then there is football....the locals live and breath it! The other cool game is called footvolley! This was a game invented when football was banned on the beach in the 60's, so the locals adopted the game of volleyball but not using your hands, instead the team keeps the ball up by using their head, chest and feet!...Looks amazingly difficult and you need to be highly skilled to play, yet these games are everywhere on the beach
That evening, I had convinced Marie we needed to experience more of the Brazilian culture, and booked us two seats at the Maracana Stadium to watch two local teams Botafago and Flumenese battle it out. The stadium was built for the world cup in 1950 and at the time was the largest stadium in the world! The stadium got into football history after the incredible final that year, when Uruguay surprisingly beat Brazil in front of the 200,000 fans (both legal and illegal spectators). This figure represents the largest crowd ever to attend a football match in history. After the game, desperation ruled all over the country and several people even committed suicide! Our game was far more subdued and less crowded. It was a league game, and Flumenese were in the final of the Copa Libertadores (The South American version of the Champions League) in a few days so they were resting most of their players. Even with this, Botafago didn't manage to get into the game, and it ended 0-0!
The next day we relaxed on the stretch of beach just outside our hotel on Copacabana. The place was deserted compared to Sunday, so it was quite nice to have it almost to ourselves. After a relaxed morning, we took the bus into the centre of town, just to check it out. The bus was quite interesting, it has a turnstyle type barrier, so you cant get on unless you pay! The centre was different to what we expected. The nice streets of Copacabana and Ipenema are very different to the streets in the centre. We didn't even get out of the bus, thinking it was not the centre, but eventually got off at the main bus terminal....and it was full of dodgy characters...this is the side of Rio most tourists don't see. We decided to head back towards the nicer part of the centre by foot, the busses were far too complicated!! We passed shopping streets, and eventually found the English bookshop we were looking for. We had 11 days in the beaches of Los Roques in a few days, so needed to stock up! We took a bus back to Copacabana, but unfortunately got dropped off at the centre of the beach, but the long walk back along the promenade at night was equally nice, not as dodgy as we had thought, with many locals still having coconuts at the beach juice shacks, and relaxing. Copacabana has a reputation of being a dodgy place at night, but I think it must be the streets further in, because the streets along the beach seemed safer than many parts of London
The following day, we spent sorting out things on the internet and phone calls back home to catch up with people. As we are not on a prearranged tour of South America, we needed to sort out hotels at the next places, and arrange transport etc, plus start to think of things back home, not long left before we head back!! These months now seem to have flown far too quickly!!Marie was hoping to get on a course for Interior Design in September, so she was sorting out stuff for that and calling them to arrange an interview. It was lucky for us because the weather was dodgy that day, with tropical rain!!!
We then headed to the main tourist spot in Rio, and now officially voted in as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Perched 2343feet above sea level, on the Cocovado Mountain is the 100ft tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, known locally as Cristo Redentor. From the moment we got our cab into town from the airport, you can get glimpses of the statue overlooking the city from almost all neighbourhoods. It was built between 1926 and 1931, and not is the icon of the city, and one of the worlds most iconic images. We got up these on a cog railway which steeply winds its way up the mountain, and you pass through an urban rainforest as you get to it. Once near the top, you can get spectacular views of the city down below. The statue is an awe inspiring sight, its open arms watching over the city far below
Our last day in Rio, we decided to head for a bit of culture at the Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a very futuristic building, designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The building is in one of the outer suburbs of Rio in an area called Neteroi, which we reached by ferry crossing the bay of Guanabara. Unfortunately for us the day was hazy, on a good clear day (quite rare in Rio) you get fantastic views of the main city centre, Sugar Loaf mountain and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipenema from Neteroi. We just got a hazy outline!! The building itself resembles a spaceship, and looks fantastic perched on a small peninsula jutting out to sea. Access to the galleries is via a sweeping bridge, and it really feels like you are about to enter a spaceship! The building was designed in 1991 and completed by 1996. We were expecting to see some crazy stuff, to the likes of the art displayed at the Tate modern back home....however we were very disappointed. The fantastic building houses some very dodgy works, most of which resembles wrapping paper!
We headed back into town to do some shopping in the nicer shopping area of Botafago, before heading to an enchanting area of town called Santa Teresa. This neighbourhood developed when the middle classes of Rio headed out of town to avoid the congestion of the industrial city, and settled on the side of the hill with its clean air. The cab journey was amazing, taking on some hairpin turns at a very steep angle over cobbled streets. There is a tram which also gets you there, but its very dodgy. After dinner we headed to an area called Leblon, which has the best samba bars. The one we went was quite strange in that you don't pay to get it, but you pay to leave!!!! Crazy Brazilians!! The place was cool, with live Samba and the locals all giving it some! I made up my own version of Samba, which was interesting to say the least!! It was a great way to finish our time in Rio! The music optimises their culture, the fusion of Latin and African traditions. We loved Rio, it definitely lived up to its billing, it was certainly less dodgy than we had expected. We will miss the laid back lifestyle, the beaches, the football, and samba stitching it all together! It's on our list as a place to return to sometime in the future!