A quick one before we head to the airport and get caught up in the next stage of our trip – Santiago. Another lovely day yesterday, so we headed across the harbour to Niteroi. We caught a ferry over, then a bus back. Really pleased we did both trips as they gave us great views of the enormous harbour and all the ships both in dock and just waiting in the water. There were also 3 huge cruise ships docked, so the queues at the popular sights would have been enormous!
Most shops are closed on Sundays, apart from a few supermarkets and souvenir shops near the ferry, but the bus trip back to Rio took us through some interesting side streets and then across the very long, very impressive Rio-Niteroi Bridge with great views over Rio. We saw some Carnaval preparations – workers erecting stadium seating along one of the main roads in Rio. Canaval starts on Feb 5th, ends on Feb 10th.
We caught a second bus back to Copacabana, rather than the train, so we could see more of the city, then a stroll down to the beach in the evening for another cocktail. We found a band playing in the street with a big crowd around them, dancing or just tapping their feet to the music. Hordes of people on the Promenade, great atmosphere.
Thanks Rio, it’s been a heap of fun and we’ll be back someday, I’m sure.
Gorgeous day yesterday, so we decided to take a short train trip to Ipanema, the next beach around from Copacabana, to have a look. There’s a Farmers’ Market in a little park a couple of blocks from the apartment, so we went there to see what was available – lots of bananas, vegetables and a couple of stalls selling packets of organic ingredients – dried beans, flours, other staples. Very small packets, most looked like they weighed 500g or less, which makes sense when everyone lives in apartments with little kitchens and limited storage. If I lived here, there would be no going to Costco for 12kg bags of bakers’ flour! In supermarkets here the shopping trolleys are tiny, really just the size of a basket, but on wheels.
We caught the train 2 stops to the end of the line, then walked a few blocks to the beach at Ipanema. Lots of people enjoying the sun, a few swimming, a few guys wandering around with surfboards that we thought were just props as there wasn’t anywhere to surf … but then we found the surfers just around the corner where the waves were pretty good. We walked back to Copacabana – totally different beach to the one we’d seen in rainy weather. People in swimsuits everywhere, stalls renting out beach chairs and umbrellas, cafes full of customers, little stalls selling drinks and ice creams. We stopped at a cafe for a drink – coconut water in a coconut! – and to watch the world go by. We decided to have a crack at going up Sugarloaf Mtn, but thought the queues might be shorter if we left it until later in the afternoon.
Er, that would be a resounding no! We got a taxi from the apartment to the Cable Car station near SugarLoaf, noticing all the parked tour buses along the way, most of them with their drivers sleeping on mats in the luggage compartment. The queue of people waiting looked enormous, so we went and sat by the little beach nearby for a while. We had a great view of the 2 cable cars that take tourists up and back from SugarLoaf – one to Morro da Urca, then the next one to SugarLoaf. We waited half an hour or so then went back to find that the queue was as long as ever, and the tour buses just kept on coming, so we decided that we didn’t really need to get to the top and caught a cab back to the apartment.
In the evening just before sunset we strolled back down to the beach for a drink. So many people work hard to keep Copacabana clean. There are garbage bins everywhere, guys sweeping the sand, emptying the bins, doing a great job. The stalls on the beach were packing up their umbrellas, chairs, drinks, food, so we found a spare table in a cafe on the promenade and ordered caipirinhas, which is Brazil’s national cocktail made with lime, sugar, cachaca & ice. It’s made by muddling lime quarters and sugar together, adding crushed ice and pouring over the cachaca. Even in our minimally-equipped kitchen, there’s a muddling stick! Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice and it is Brazil’s most popular booze. We sipped our drinks and watched the full moon rise. A nice way to end a nice day.
Greg spent yesterday morning trying to organise a prepaid mobile SIM card. A couple of train trips, 5 different mobile phone shops and several conversations later, he discovered that it is absolutely not possible for a foreigner to obtain a prepaid SIM in Brazil. Unless something changes between now and the Olympics, there are going to be a lot of unhappy tourists here, unable to share their experiences on social media. Which may seem like a ‘first world problem’, or possibly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s how life is now for many people – instant, online, over-shared, over-exposed. Anyway, we’ll be interested to see what happens here during the Olympics.
Not a great day, weather-wise, but we decided to go to Corcovado and see the Christ the Redeemer statue. There’s no train station close by, although when we got there, we realised there are plenty of buses, but it’s always a bit trickier than trains, trying to find out where buses go to and from. There are loads of taxis around, but we decided to take a Uber car, partly as research for getting to the airport on Monday. While it worked out well for us getting to Corcovado Hill, we’ll probably just get an ordinary taxi on Monday. With Uber, it’s not possible to specify how many passengers, or how much luggage! Everything is done via a mobile phone app, and not having internet access outside the apartment – due to not being able to obtain a prepaid SIM – means that any changes to the Uber booking can’t be communicated to us. Anyway, it all worked out okay, although we realised that in addition to the Cosme Velho train station that we wanted to go to, there is a suburb by the same name further up the hill, which is where our Uber driver took us. He very bravely drove his lovely clean Fiat Siena up slippery steep cobbled streets, and dropped us off where we thought we wanted to be.
We walked back down the hill in the rain and found the station, then took the train (I think we would call it either a tram or a funicular) up to Christ the Redeemer at the top of Corcovado Hill. It was misty and the hill was covered in cloud, it felt like we were floating above the cloud, and in a way it might even have been better that way. We were there to see that statue, and that’s what we saw … not the view from the top, or the beaches, or the rest of the city, just the incredible, imposing, magnificent statue. At one point on the way back down in the train, the rainforest cleared and so had the cloud, so we could see what was down the hill and to the coast at Ipanema. Stunning view over Lake Rodrigo de Freitas and the nearby racecourse to all the high-rise apartment buildings around Ipanema and Leblon beaches.
We got an ordinary taxi back to the apartment and that all went smoothly too.
This morning – Saturday – was fine, our first fine day since we got here. We took a train to Ipanema, then walked back via Copacabana. More on that later
Another rainy morning, so not a great time for us to go to see Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain. Greg dragged out his raincoat and went to check out a few local shops, then went for a wet trudge along Copacabana Beach with his new toy – a not-GoPro camera and a ‘selfie stick’.
We decided to have a go at navigating the public transport system to go into central Rio and see what we could find. There’s a metro station just a block away from the apartment and we managed to buy rechargable cards without any hassles. The trains are frequent, most are airconditioned, they are clean and give good information on where they are going … even down to a green light above whichever door will be opening at the next platform. We wandered along a mall with an open-air market and reached the magnificent Municipal Theatre, with shiny gold trim and lovely stonework. We found lunch at a Brazilian/Kuwaiti restaurant nearby … huge serves, friendly waiter, out of the rain. It’s funny how many things here remind us of our time in Portugal. Cultural similarities, I guess … and bloody cobblestones everywhere here, just like in Portugal!
The National Library is currently shrouded in scaffolding and most of it is fenced off for renovations and an extension, but we found the main entrance and popped inside for a quick look. Magnificent! A tramline is being built just outside, for moving hordes of people around during the Olympics. It looks like it has a long way to go to completion, but I guess they know what they’re doing and it will all be good to go by August.
We found the Metropolican Cathedral of San Sebastian, which looks a lot like a modern-day Mayan Pyramid, with 4 stunning full-length stained glass panels around the interior. Built in the 1960s and ’70s, I noticed a few commemorative plaques near the main entrance mentioning Pope John Paul II, and one which also mentioned Mother Theresa.
No idea what they said, my Brazilian really only extends to telling shop assistants that I don’t have their supermarket’s reward card and saying ‘Thank you’, and even then I get it wrong half the time because it’s gender-based. A smile always helps. We’ve noticed that everyone here is friendly, helpful and seems happy.
The weather had cleared by mid-afternoon, but we are still not quite in the local time zone … okay, we’re extremely jet-lagged, so we opted for a short nap over trying to get to either Sugarloaf Mtn or Christ the Redeemer …and woke up 5 hours later! I’m sure we’ll be in the right time zone within a few days, probably around the time we head to Chile and have to adjust to being another hour behind.
It’s raining again this morning, but hopefully it will clear again this afternoon.
It feels like we’ve been travelling for days! Probably because we have been travelling for days! Flying to Brazil via Dubai was not the most direct route, but we saved so much in airfares, it was worthwhile. We broke the 2 long flights up with a day in Dubai in between … thank heavens. When we got off the flight from Adelaide, it was a huge relief that we weren’t facing a 14-hour flight to Rio until the next day. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport and that worked very well – shuttle bus between the airport and hotel every 30 minutes, the hotel’s reception staff are used to dealing with arrivals and departures at odd hours and let us check in at 9am instead of the usual 2pm. They also gave us our breakfast vouchers to use prior to check in, which gave us something to do and somewhere to sit until 9am. We’ll probably stay there on the way home too.
We got a few hours sleep, then hopped on a train to the Dubai Mall in the afternoon to have a wander around and get some dinner. Lots of building around the Mall and near Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in Dubai. Now they’re building apartment blocks with names like ‘Burj Kalifa Vista’ … because, um, having an apartment with views of that needle-like building is something to aspire to? We noticed prices had increased a lot since we were there 2 years ago, mostly because the AUD has dropped, but it also seems overpriced according to the Big Mac Index. A Big Mac Meal in Dubai costs around AUD $11.
Early start the next morning, to be on the 7am flight. Checking in was easy, then some waiting around, then the flight. There are a couple of seats that we really like on 777-300 planes and were able to choose them on 3 out of the 4 Emirates flights we’re doing. Right up the back of the plane there are several rows of window seats with only 2 seats rather than the usual 3.
After the rather fraught process of obtaining a Brazilian visa – which will be another whole post of its own – actually getting through Immigration in Rio de Janeiro was very straightforward. We had to fill in a customs form which has been stamped and (most important!) we have to not lose it between now and when we leave the country early next week. We got a taxi from the airport to the apartment we’re staying in – there’s a taxi booth in the arrivals hall which organises payment and accepts credit cards, and the companies that use the service charge a flat rate according to distance. A great system because most foreign arrivals don’t have cash to pay the driver, and the taxis don’t charge extra ‘waiting time’ for getting stuck in traffic jams. It seemed to take us a long time to get to the apartment, but we weren’t stuck in traffic much, and our driver was very … er … pushy when negotiating intersections. Lane markings seem to be mere suggestions here, a bit like in Africa.
Finding the Airbnb apartment was pretty easy, thanks to our host’s good directions. We’re on the 4th floor of a 15-floor building, and the entrance is inside a shopping arcade, right opposite a supermarket. You can see some photos of the apartment here. We are 5 or 6 blocks from Copacabana Beach and have already walked down there twice. Not much action there today as it’s overcast and raining intermittently. Hardly anyone on the beach this morning, a few more people this afternoon but not many swimmers. We dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean – the last time we did that was in Namibia.
Today is San Sebastian Day and lots of places are closed, or they were open this morning, and then closed early in the afternoon. San Sebastian is the patron saint of Rio and it’s a public holiday, but only in Rio. I guess everywhere will be open tomorrow and we’ll get to see what it’s like. We’re planning on visiting Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado Hill to see Christ the Redeemer, so hopefully the weather will improve, preferably before the weekend as both attractions get very busy on weekends.