Rio de Janeiro 1

Lots of mosaic paths everywhere…and dogs on leads!

4-6 January

Shaky start – no one to greet us at the airport. Inia (who runs the B&B) had no record of us being booked in. Fantastic! Our Rio ordeal began at the arrivals hall with us making numerous phone calls to Inia, trying to sort out a driver. During most of these calls, she actually thought Nic was someone else. First, she told us that the driver was there with our name on a sign, then she said that we had changed our flight, then again was adamant that the driver was there, then finally mentioned the name on the sign, AND IT WASN’T OURS! She told us to get a cab to the B&B, and that she would find us a room. Nic tried to tell her that we had corresponded, and she had already told us, via email, that we would staying in her ‘other’ room, but she had no recollection. She told us that her husband had taken the booking when she was “away” and that he didn’t tell her anything about it. What a load of old bollocks! There was an extended correspondence over a period of time with her answering questions about Rio (which we had printed out and carried with us). Our main concern at this point (with us standing in arrivals hall since 7:10pm, and it not being until 8:30pm that we left it!) was that Sam was waiting for us at a fantastic food place called ‘Zaza’ (and had been waiting since 8pm). We finally got to our digs in Rio (more of this anon), and hightailed it to our meeting with Sam. Of course, all was well with her and she was patiently sitting on a caipirinha or 2! ‘Zaza’ was a great choice for our first night – funky décor, really good food, and packed with happy locals and tourists. Sam did try to prepare us for the shadier side of the city, which made us a little uneasy, but we didn’t turn and run from Rio (even though we may have wanted to!).

Shower on Ipanema Beach

Both the vehicle road, and jogger/bicycle road, alongside Ipanema Beach

Body art and baby feet

What DID make us want to turn and run from Rio was our accommodation! We appeared to be staying in the small flat owned by our ‘host,’ which housed the maid; a tiny 3 bedroom flat, with us ensconced in the “mastersuite,” which basically meant we got an ensuite bathroom. The next morning, Adriana, who was ‘taking care of us’ (but spoke not a word of English), woke us at 6:15am – not deliberately, she was just taking a shower…directly opposite our bedroom door. Then we were kept awake by the cars starting up, one after the other, just outside the one window in this cupboard we were staying in (the window was frosted glass and couldn’t be opened, and appeared to face a lightwell). Then we heard the phone ringing, and doorbells going, so we thought, ‘stuff it,’ and got up. Breakfast was a gluten intolerant person’s nightmare – white bread festival in all manner of forms: rolls, cheese rolls, croissants…with some fresh fruit thrown in for fibre!

Dinner at ‘Bazzar’

John, waiting for his dinner

Inia had told us the night before that she would see us at breakfast at 9am, which came and went with no sign of her. We had arranged to meet Sam at H.Stern that morning at 10am, so we left and got on with our day. The H.Stern museum/workshop was an interesting place. There was a little step-by-step tour (guided through head phones) – great views of the ‘animals’ in the cages (gem stone cutters, designers, craftsmen) working away while tourists gawked at them in action. Then came the hard sell – sitting at a flash desk while a sales person enticed us with a variety of coloured trinkets in a range of shapes, sizes and value. Sam found something that was tempting enough to buy. Then the salesman focused all of his attention on Nic, determined to find something in her ‘price range.’ He was politely told that she wouldn’t be buying anything that day, as a thief in Peru had relieved her of all means to indulge in trinkets. The poor guy was very apologetic and kind of sweet and left her alone. We managed to escape the building (via another showroom), with only a couple more attempts to lure us to the dark side. But, honestly, it was incredibly easy to resist, because everything was so ridiculously expensive, and not much appealed in the way of design, anyway. Even if we had been Croesus, I doubt we would’ve spent any of our fortune in H.Stern.

Nic and John with the hoards at the Christo – purty, ain’t it?

The ‘bonde’ (tram) that takes people to and from Santa Teresa

Christo in silhouette

Leaving H.Stern we headed to the nearest place to grab lunch before Sam had to leave, which also happened to be in our guidebook.’ Via Sete Grill’ had some inventive and tasty salads with our name on them! At least in the restaurant department, Rio was 2 for 2! The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Ipanema, trying to get a feel for the place. There are some nice parks, oodles of places to eat, and lots of flash shopping options. We got Adriana to ring Inia that afternoon when we went back for a nap, so that we could line up a meeting. She told us, via Adriana, that she would be there in an hour. Didn’t come, but rang us instead asking what we wanted. Such service! We told her that we were interested in a driver for the next day, to which she responded ‘ok,’ tells us to be at breakfast at 9am at the ‘real’ B&B the next morning, and hung up.

‘Espirito Santo’ in Santa Teresa – delightful food!

Mural in Santa Teresa

We walked along the shore (only a block from our flat) to Bar Astor for afternoon drinks – indulged in a caipirinha for Nic and a beer for John – and watched the world go by on a sweet, hot afternoon in Ipanema (…long and tanned and young and lovely…). This was followed by yet another delightful meal at ‘Bazzar,’ with absolutely PERFECTLY seared tuna. To die for!

Street sign and lamp post

Souvenirs – not sure of the relevance of fat chickens

So! The next morning we went, as instructed, to the Arpoador Bed and Breakfast to break our fast. We ate in a spacious, light, airy apartment, and met two lovely Italian women (who arrived the same night as us, and who Inia mistook for us!), and had a very nice chat over breakfast with plans to talk again in the future. But Inia was listening to our conversation, and told us that we would NOT be joining the lovely Italian women again – she just wanted “to introduce us!!” – to what end I have NO idea! – and that we would be having our daily breakfast under the care of sweet Adriana…in our tiny flat. Joy! She then admonished us for leaving our start to the day so late, as the driver was waiting (even though we were TOLD to come to breakfast at 9am!!) W…T…F???!!!

More body art

Parque das Ruinas, the ruins in Santa Teresa – once a beautiful mansion

This woman was a tad annoying, AND she did not get us a driver who spoke English (as promised in previous emails…which obviously did not exist, as far as she was concerned). We could’ve actually arranged our own driver with a reputable tour company for the same price who DID speak English, so we could’ve learnt a little more about Rio that what we read in our trusty Rough Guide, but, oh well. Inia ain’t the gold she’s been reported to be! Despite all of this, we actually had a great day! Our driver, Anderson, was a sweet guy, who didn’t mind our miming, and did his best to show us all that we wanted to see in Rio.

Cute little figurines at the museum at Santa Teresa

…And more

We began the day with Corcovado (against Inia’s recommendations, but following Anderson’s suggestions – so we knew we were doing the right thing!). Excellent choice! At the base of the Christo, it was so nice having someone who did speak Spanish and who knew the drill, who was able to tell us not to get in the line for the locals, and procured us free bottled water. The Christo was simply wonderful. The views were amazing, and the actual sculpture was truly beautiful – the face, stunning! Because this was our first port of call for the day, it also was not TOO overrun with crowds (it was bloody busy, but apparently, it gets a LOT worse later in the day).

Downtown Rio, including the cathedral (the cone in the centre of the shot)

The ceramic steps from Lapa to Santa Teresa

Charlie Chaplin tile

We then went to the National Park – another stop that we wouldn’t have been able to make without a personal driver – far too complicated and remote (and Anderson liked the opportunity to get out and walk with us so he could indulge in a cigarette!). He took us to this point in the park where the para-gliders and hang-gliders take off. Now, THAT was a sight to see – a big wooden ramp where the hang-gliders ran and jumped and squealed (well, the squealing was done by the tandem, girlie tourists!), and directly underneath the wooden ramp, the para-gliders waited as the wind filled their sails and threw them off the edge of the cliff. Magnificent! It was exhilarating enough just to watch – we didn’t need to join them (although, we WERE a little tempted!).

Some of the many, many tiles from all over the world that make up this amazing feature

Our trusty driver then took us to Santa Teresa for yet another fabulous view of the city and a little wander through the bohemian area of Rio. We didn’t do a trip on the yellow tram, which is apparently a must – maybe next time! We DID have lunch at ‘Espirito Santo,’ which had some amazingly inventive and exotic Brazilian food (the sweet curried plantain was a particular highlight). Thoroughly enjoyable! We wandered to the Largo do Guimarães, the central “square” of Santa Teresa, and did much window shopping at the various artesan stores along the way. Our driver, unlike our experience in Quito, refused to join us for lunch, and instead had a snooze in the car (we were a tad jealous), and was all refreshed after our meal to take us on the next leg of our journey. We went to Parque das Ruinas – an attractive public garden containing the ruins of a mansion that once belonged to a Brazilian heiress, and which now occasionally houses art exhibitions. Yet ANOTHER superb view of Rio! This was linked by a cute little bridge to the property next door – the Museu Chácara do Céu. This was once the home to a French aristocrat who was responsible for the reforestation of the National Park. He loved art, and designed this very impressive, if modest, mansion (1957), that now houses much of the art he loved. Quite an impressive collection, even minus the 4 paintings that were stolen in broad daylight during Carnival 2006 (Matisse, Picasso, Dali & Monet). What was most impressive, however, was the architecture of the building. We could SO easily live there (and it really wasn’t too oppressively grand!).

Close up of one of the hundreds of ceramics

From there we went through the bairro of Lapa, via the huge aqua duct (‘Arcos da Lapa’), which was built in 1724 to transfer drinking water from the Santa Teresa forest to the public drinking fountain below. Now it is used for the trams that run to and from Santa Teresa. We stopped at the ‘Ladeira do Selarón,’ garish, but beautiful ceramic steps that lead from Lapa to one of the many favelas. Their official name is ‘Ladeira de Santa Teresa’, but the locals have renamed them after the amazing artist who decorated them with colourful ceramic tiles from all over the world. We only explored the bottom of the steps, as going further was not ‘advisable.’

How’s this for eclectic? – Friar Tuck, Martin Luther King Jnr, the Kennedys, jazz musician and…the Simpsons?

Now there are some people (like Inia) who don’t think that Rio’s Cathedral is worth a visit. So, we decided to see for ourselves, and for a number of reasons, it was very impressive. Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião (or Nova Catedral Metropolitana) was built between 1964 and 1976, and looks very much a like an upside down ice cream cone crossed with a dalek, but inside is an engineering marvel. There are no support columns or beams, just the conical walls reaching their point together at the summit. There are 4 magnificent stained glass windows, in 4 different dominant colours, each nearly as high as the cathedral itself (each 20m x 60m) – saintly red, ecclesiastical green, Catholic blue and apostolic yellow. Naturally, the acoustics were perfect, which is handy when you have a congregation of 20,000 people! Quite extraordinary.

St Francis and the yellow stained glass window

We finished our long day with a drive through the Centro, with glimpses of many of the city’s important buildings, and a final stop at the Mosteiro de Sáo Bento (the monastery) – with every square centimetre of the interior of the church decorated in ornate gold leaf. The elaborately carved Baroque doors were also stunningly imposing. Nic received a reprimand for not removing her hat – she was too busy picking her chin off the floor!
After a swing by a prime viewing spot for Sugar Loaf Mountain and the bay, we were whisked home, sated, but exhausted. A quick nap ensued before staggering out to one of the best por kilo restaurants in Rio – ‘Frontera.’ Simple, but fantastic premise – you only pay for what you put on your plate. Brilliant! AND they had an abundance of vege and salad options. Perfect. Wandered past a bossa nova club afterwards, but were too damned tired to go in. Instead, went home, did washing and crashed. Had to be up early for exploration of Sugar Loaf the next morning.

Rio is, undeniably, a beautiful city – the sunsets are gorgeous!

About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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