What a phenomenal day! We began with a visit to Sugar Loaf. Off bright and early to beat the crowds. So glad we did. We arrived at Sugar Loaf, just after they opened at 8am, and pretty much had the place to ourselves – there were only a couple of cable cars of people on the hill, and we all revelled in the beautiful view minus the smog that sets in later in the day (and without the press of hundreds of others at our shoulders). We caught the car to the first lower level and strolled and sat and looked for quite a while. Checked out the prices of the helicopter rides and then headed up the next leg to the top of Sugar Loaf. Of course, the vista was even more compelling from there, so we had a cool drink and just enjoyed the moment. Back on the lower level, the helicopter office was open, so we took the plunge and were the first ride of the day. We selected the 8-9 minute ride, which took us around the Christo (twice!), over Ipanema and Copacabana beaches and past Sugar Loaf before landing on the very cool helipad. Absolutely fantastic! We both loved every single millisecond; the adrenaline and exhilaration had us on a huge high, and the buzz lasted well after we had left the place.
We left Sugar Loaf and caught a cab to the Centro. This area presented us with some lovely surprises and a couple of disappointments. The first disappointment was the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes. This was talked up a bit in the guide books, so we were looking forward to it. The problem was that only half of the museum was opened, and what was there, was so poorly lit, we really shouldn’t have bothered. What kind of gallery lights their art works with weak, non-directional fluorescents? These people need to do the NSW VET Entertainment course! From there we had a positive experience – lunch! ‘Beduino’ had some of the best falafels we’ve ever eaten – not at all dry, but nice and moist and tasty. And such a great deal! The place was filled with busy and happy locals who knew a bargain when they saw it – Arabic food at its best!
From there we retraced our steps to have a closer look at the National Library and the Teatro Municipal, and got sidetracked by the Centro Cultural Justiça Federal. This was an incredibly lovely old building that served as the Brazilian Supreme Court 1909 to 1960. The classical French style façade housed a graceful Art Nouveau wrought iron staircase, and gothic and Renaissance designs on the walls, doorways and ceilings. It now houses small exhibitions, but we were too enamoured with its architecture that we really didn’t mind what was ‘on show.’ The National Library was another lovely building, but we didn’t really spend any time there – just wandered around the huge entry hall, took some pics, and then left. Our next, “oh, bugger” of the day was finding the Theatre closed. It wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to be open AND offer tours, but it was as tight as a drum. Even the café was behind locked doors. Only reason we could think of for this deliberate effort to thwart our enjoyment of the day, was that there had been a big closing night the previous evening, and maybe they were all sleeping it off somewhere.
From there we basically ambled along Avenida Presidente António Carlos until we came over all tired all of a sudden, and decided to catch the metro home. This was the first time we had used it in Brazil, and it was kind of efficient – the only problem was that our first time of using it meant lining up for a damned long time to get our tokens (and we happened to be at one of the busiest stations in the city). If we had’ve caught it in the morning and prepared ourselves by buying tokens at our little station at Ipanema, it would’ve taken much less time (always made worse when one is hot and tired). When we got back to our digs, we were going to have our usual nap, but our room had not been done (it was the third day, so the towels and bird-poop stained sheets were supposed to have been changed – we’d completely given up any hope of the bathroom actually being cleaned, I mean, come on! – we were only staying a week!!!). So, we pointed out that the room needed the maid’s attention and went and had a drink at a really average bar along Copacabana Beach. THEN we came back to the room and slept.
The next morning we hit the gigantic Rio Sul Shopping Centre, went there by way of a rip-off cabbie (not intentional!). Knob! Afterwards, had the thought we should’ve refused to pay and let him call the police – he would’ve soon backed down. But we didn’t think of it till it was too late. Oh well. Live and learn. We bought some Havianas for ourselves (much cheaper than home) as well as a couple of other things, before we went to Copacabana Palace for lunch. Well, that was our intention, but we hadn’t made a booking and there was no room. Found instead a really good por kilo restaurant not too far away called ‘Siqueira Grill.’ Headed back to room, dumped shopping, and had nap. And because Nic couldn’t bear to be in the room unless she was asleep (it was far too depressing!), we headed to the Sofitel for arvo drinks and work time on the computer and reading…which turned into evening drinks (with a bit of wine and cheese tasting thrown in) and we left at about 10pm!
Our Sunday was spent in a most leisurely fashion. We slept in a bit and then went to the Jardim Botanico. They’re very lovely little botanic gardens, with outstanding orchid and bromeliad houses. The only problem with Rio and its gardens (which thwarted out plans a bit) is that they don’t allow laying about on the grass (unlike Argentina and Chile). Bugger that! After quiche and salad for lunch, we kept moving (since there was to be no lazing about on the verdant lawns!), and headed to another public garden, Parque Lage. This was once a privately owned mansion, which now houses a school of visual arts. The grounds were designed by a British landscape gardener, so there are many meandering paths and follies, including a refreshingly cool group of grottos.
Afterwards, headed for some airconditioning, and found ourselves at the Caesar Park Hotel on Ipanema Beach for some VERY expensive French Champagne which we sipped, rather than guzzled (!), while reading…although Nic DID have TWO glasses! The evening meal was had at ‘Zuka’ – rated the top restaurant in Rio (by DK Top 10). And we DID eat some pretty spectacular food. The whole dining experience was pretty cool – along one side of the restaurant was an open section of the kitchen with a huge grill, copper panelled trim and sparks from the open fire flaring spectacularly. Our choice was, once again, the most beautifully prepared fish, that simply melted in our mouths.
We took a favela tour the next morning (Favela Tour). It was an excellent eye-opener for what this city is REALLY like. The media paints favelas as being melting pots of crime and depravity, not just internationally, but to the people of Brazil. There is no room in their picture for the ordinary, everyday people trying to survive with hardly any money – these people have a very strong sense of community. In fact, their sense of community is such an integral part of who they are, that there are more and more of them who achieve success (as defined by those with money), who choose to remain in the favelas instead of moving to a “respectable” part of town – they have no desire to leave their families and friends, and so instead, they set up businesses in the favelas, and help their communities. It was particularly touching seeing the school that has been sponsored by the tour company. They basically have a couple of tiny dark rooms, with some old books on shelves, a kitchen and toilets. In Brazil, the children only have to go to school for half a day, either morning or afternoon (or they are SUPPOSED to!), and they then get up to no good for the other half of the day. This school supplies them with lessons for the time they are not in government schools, even in school holidays, to help give these kids an education and give them options in life (apart from working for the drug lords and dying before the age of 25!). It’s also hard to get teachers in the public schools. They only get paid 700 reals a MONTH (which is about $100 AUD a week). Yet an American private school has annual fees of $33,000 USD. And this private school was across the road from the favela. We certainly learnt a lot today. If you are ever in Rio, take a favela tour, we highly recommend it.
For lunch we went to ‘Expand Wine Store.’ This was a unique experience – after selecting our meals, we then had to go the wine room to make our selection, rather than using a wine menu. It was quite overwhelming trying to choose, so we decided on a grape variety, a price range, a country, and took their suggestions. So we had a rather nice chardonnay from Mendoza. This was a fine accompaniment to the lobster and squash gnocchi in a garlic, cream sauce, followed by a crème brulee. However, the real highlight for us was the cassis cheesecake – to DIE FOR! More walking was in order after such indulgence, always a nice way to spend an afternoon.
We went to ‘Fasano’ for dinner – the newest (and most expensive!) hotel in Rio. The food was absolutely lovely, but it was hideously expensive – too overpriced, actually. But we coped with the luxury!
Our last morning in Rio was spent packing. We had arranged for Inia to meet us at 11:40am to settle our account. Of course, she arrived an hour early, didn’t check that we were actually there, took off again, and arrived back late. She really was some piece of work! We had friendly Anderson for our ride to the airport. That was nice. Rio airport really needs to get their shit together before the Olympics. It’s rubbish. There are hardly any facilities in the departure lounges – a token duty free place, and a small food joint where you can get a toasted cheese sandwich and a drink. Pathetic really.