Monday, November 19, 2007

13 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

November marked six months at our new jobs, which most importantly meant that we now qualified to take vacation days! Wasting no time, we set out on our maiden voyage to South America-- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to be exact.

We quickly learned that traveling overseas to South America is nothing like the transatlantic flights to Europe. Our combined 13-hours in the air on American Airlines was cramped and uncomfortable and to make matters worse the promised showing of "Evan Almighty" never happened.

Our descent through the early morning clouds was breathtaking and the very first thing we saw upon touching down in Rio was a soccer pitch in the middle of the airport tarmac. After spending a few hours navigating customs we stepped out into the humid (and thankfully warm) air of springtime in Brazil to grab the bus. The journey from the airport to the tourist beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana is about 45 minutes, so rather than start out the visit with an expensive cab ride we took the
Real Autobus from the airport. Thanks to a little pre-trip research we found this transportation gem which for the price of 6 Real (the currency of Brazil, which is somehow pronounced hay-ow) drops you off at the door of your hotel upon request.

After passing by dozens of rundown hotels en route, we were relieved to see that Hotel Praia Ipanema was clean, modern and in one piece. It was perfectly located in the heart of Ipanema, surrounded by shops and restaurants, and a short walk east to rowdy Copacabana or west to pedestrian Leblon. It's also one of the few hotels with private balconies off each room. We spent many evenings sitting on our balcony (pictured above) with a cold Skol taking in the sunset and local youth playing soccer on the fields placed end to end all the way down the beach.

If you haven't been able to glean it from the previous paragraphs....soccer is kind of a big deal in Brazil. As a matter of fact our trip coincided with the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup which was being held on Copacabana Beach. We made a point of attending a club match while in town so we ventured out to Maracana, one of the world's great soccer stadiums, to take in local Flamengo versus Santos, the former club of the one and only Pele. Much to our dismay, though we arrived 4 hours before game time, there wasn't a seat available of the 95,000 in the cavernous stadium. Patrick, decked out in his new Flamengo jersey, even tried to buy tickets from two scalpers but his hand gestures were not very effective. We were left to take in the pregame festivities/fireworks show which was a spectacle in itself.

Rio offers an amazing combination of natural beauty and city life. We took the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain to get spectacular views of Copacabana Beach on one side, and bustling downtown Rio on the other. At the botanical gardens we saw lush, tropical foliage from rainforests across South America. And on our clearest day we took the cog rail up to Christ the Redeemer to see this "New" Wonder of the World (pictured below).

Of course we also used that good weather to spend an afternoon on the beach, where vendors peddled snacks, caprinhas, beer and other goodies as we soaked in the sun. Katrina took a dip in the chilly ocean, but made sure to stay on the Ipanema side of the smelly canal that divides the beach from Leblon. A strong ocean current moves the city waste from the canal east to west, so we do NOT recommend swimming in Leblon.

Downtown Rio, known as "Centro", offers all the benefits of a metropolitan city. We saw historical landmarks like the Palacio de Catete and Quinta da Boa Vista, both former imperial palaces, as well as the National Museum of History. We also made a point to visit a samba club at night to hear great live music and watch the very skilled dancers. Though it was apparent that we had no idea what we were doing, we had a fantastic time faking a samba and dancing the night away.

While in Rio we became addicted to sucos tropicales--tropical fruit juice that is freshly prepared for you at sucos stands (our favorite, "Natural e Sabor", is below) on every corner. They offer every fruit you could possibly name, and many we couldn't. Like acai, a purple amazonian berry that is popular for blending with other fruits. On one occasion we ordered a pineapple sucos and were surprised by the thick green concoction presented to us. Halfway through the drink we figured out that it was definitely an avocado milkshake we were consuming. The words for pineapple and avocado are very similar in Portuguese, and our pronunciation skills are definitely lacking. Who knew sweetened, liquified avocado was so delicious?

One of our favorite meals was at the Garota de Ipanema restaurant where we tried a banana and pineapple pizza. For you bossa nova buffs out there- Garota de Ipanema is the location where the famous tune "The Girl from Ipanema" was penned, hence the name of the restaurant.

Aside from fruit, what Brazilians seemed to love most was their meat and cheese. The churrascarias (traditional, all-you-can-eat barbecues) offered dozens of different meats, which the waiters served by shaving slices off of skewers directly onto our plates. Pay-per-weight buffets are also very popular in Rio. We tried this out at a popular chain called Kilograma, where almost all the dishes were covered in heavy amounts of cheese and cream. We don't know how those Brazilians manage to squeeze into their itsy bitsy bathing suits!

All and all our first visit to South America exceeded expectations and we are looking forward to returning to the great continent to the south!

13 comments:

  1. Rio De Genaro seems to be one of the favorite destinations around the world. You are lucky to see that fabulous place and then share it with us.

    It is inspiring me to add this destination to my next vacation plan.

    Debra
    Houston

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  2. Rio de Janeiro is really great, beautiful place.

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  3. Hello there, I am from Rio and was searching Lonely Planet's website. I wanted to know what other people thought of my city. I took some friends there this year and it's always nice to see people's perceptions of a place. I am currently not living in Brazil and am constantly homesick. I was delighted to read your article and how you guys enjoyed Rio. BTW, the avocado milkshake brought back childhood memories. My father used to make it to me with lots of sugar when I was child. We had an avocado tree in our 'garden'.

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  4. It sounds like you really enjoyed Rio. I am considering it for a vacation at the end of the year but I don't know a lot about it. But this really helps sell the idea.

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  5. "few hours to navigate customs"? oy vey! it takes that long to get out of the airport?

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  6. We will have a 9 hour layover returning from Iguassu Falls to Rio's Jobim airport before returning to the US that evening. Are taxis safe? Any suggestions on how to use the time? We will have already spent two days earlier in the itinerary in Rio. BB

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  7. Next time I visit South America, I definitely want to visit Brazil. About 5 years ago I took one of the Chile tours that covered Patagonia, and it was a trip of a lifetime. Being able to see 100 foot glaciers and see all the wildlife took my breathe away. Can't wait to get back down there again and see more.

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