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In Love with the Marvelous City (Rio)

Author: Ivana K.
Date of Trip: January 2010

I grew up hearing about Rio the Janeiro as the marvelous city. Everyone who had been there would tell my family how pretty it was. The daily news, however, would scare me enough to never think of going there. So I only ended up visiting Rio because my husband, who is Canadian, really wanted to go there.

I knew Rio was beautiful; I had seen it on TV a thousand times. Almost all Globo soap-operas took place there. Everything celebrity-related, in Brazil, took place in Rio. I really thought I wasn’t going to be that impressed. Nevertheless, when we were on top of Corcovado Mountain, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is, and I looked over the marvelous city, I fell in love. Rio’s nature is indeed marvelous. Pictures do not show all of its beauty. You have to be there to really appreciate it.

But there’s more. Rio has this laid-back atmosphere, this positive vibe in the air. We didn’t go much further than Copacabana beach in our first visit, but it didn’t matter. Rio de Janeiro had won my heart.

Recently, my husband and I spent nearly a week in the heat of Rio’s summer. This time, we visited other parts of the city, such as Barra da Tijuca, Leblon, and Ipanema, besides Copacabana — a must go — of course. None of these neighborhoods are dangerous. Actually, I was impressed with the way I felt safe there. I saw police stations every couple of miles with tents installed on the sand. I saw people pulling out their cameras and taking pictures normally; a girl walked down Nossa Senhora de Copacabana street handling her new pink iPod. I didn’t see any street children around world famous Avenida Atlantica, in Copacabana. We stayed late at night walking down Copacabana’s “orla” (the famous sidewalk that contours the beach). We caught buses to go back to Barra da Tijuca, where we were staying at a friend’s apartment. We bought street art and had drinks at the various “quiosques” along Avenida Atlantica.

We avoided tourist traps like The Sugar Loaf, mainly because neither my husband nor I like heights that much to go in the gondola. Most of all, we really enjoyed walking around like a regular “carioca” (native of the city of Rio de Janeiro). Rio’s heat during summer is almost unbearable.

For us, who were coming from winter in the northern hemisphere, getting used to the heat was specially challenging. Even I, used to hot humid weather, suffered in Rio. Temperatures stayed around 100 F, not going down too much during the evening. We couldn’t stand much under the sun during the day. Actually, everyone had an umbrella at the beach. As my husband pointed out, both Copacabana and Barra da Tijuca beaches were a sea of umbrellas.

The fact that we felt safe in Rio does not mean one can go out and about opening their wallets carelessly while there. We were careful. I didn’t carry a purse with me most of the time, preferring to store money in my front pockets. I didn’t carry more than one credit card and usually I didn’t have my ID with me. We also limited the amount of money we carried around the city. I didn’t wear expensive jewelry either, and my husband avoided wearing his watch. Since I speak Portuguese, it was pretty easy to get around and ask for information. Brazilians are friendly and will try to help you. English speakers are a rare species in Brazil. Fortunately, most of them are in Rio, so one more reason to visit this amazing beautiful place. Taxis. They will try to turn their meters off and arrange a fixed price to drive tourists around. It is important to always ask a taxi driver to use the meter. Buses are pretty frequent and pretty good, as long as you’re not going to dangerous neighborhoods. I would stay in the Copacabana-Ipanema-Leblon-Barra range. Downtown is dangerous, so it is better to hire a city tour group to go there.

Restaurants aren’t always the best, especially if you’re like my husband, who doesn’t appreciate buffets. They’re expensive and not always the greatest. Barbecue places are usually pretty good, having an all-you-can-eat policy. Street food, such as little barbecue skewers and tapioca, acai in the bowl and chicken wings are usually very tasty. Brazilian beer is very light, according to what foreigners say. It suits the climate, hot and humid. The famous “caipirinha”, drink made with lime, sugar and a sugar cane distiled spirit called “cachaca” is a must try, as well as the acai bowl. Rio de Janeiro is a place I will always feel like going back, especially now that the city is getting ready for the Summer Olympics in 2016.

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