Rio de Janeiro - Marvellous City
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"Young and tanned the girl from Ipanema goes walking". Well, I am an old girl, not that tanned and did walk on the beach in Ipanema, that is the only similarity! But I did walk on that very same beach, that inspired the song, a wonderful experience, even though I am 40 years too late, to get a whistle or a sigh!
We flew down to Rio - doesn't that sound good? - for a few days before the start of our cruise back to Italy, it was a transition cruise and one I can definitely recommend. Our starting point was Rio, a place I have always wanted to visit to see the iconic and instantly recognisable Statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) on the top of Corcovado mountain. We flew BA from Heathrow a long flight 11 hours, a tiring flight but well worth the inconvenience. We arrived in the evening and had arranged transport, which I feel is a must. We stayed at the Sheraton Towers Hotel situated on its own beach, a well positioned hotel near to Leblon Beach and within reach of many tourist attractions accessed by taxi or tour bus. The hotel is modern and clean with good restaurants, it is used by business professionals which is a good sign, there is a small beach and a large swimming pool, but you don't want to spend precious time at the hotel, there is so much to see.
One major point - the majority of the population of Brazil do not speak anything but Portuguese and many of the reception staff, taxi drivers and restaurants do not speak English, this can be and is a big problem for English speaking people. Our experience was that the reception staff speak a little English, the taxi driver gave us his mobile phone to speak to another person in English then we passed the phone back so that the driver could speak to his friend to find out where we were going! We asked one driver to take us to the Port - yes, the ship area and he didn't understand, so be aware this could be a problem, if you are going it alone, but if you speak Portuguese then you won't have a problem.
Our first stop was to Corcovado to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, but you can see the statue from almost anywhere in Rio, it towers over the city, it has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the World situated in the second largest city of Brazil looking over 6.3 million people and is a World Heritage Site - its nickname is the 'Marvellous City'. Our journey started at the tram station, where you buy tickets for 46 reals (the currency in Brazil), the train is an experience alone as you drive through the rain forest spotting monkeys and toucans as the train climbs its way slowly to the top. We were warned of the mist, yes, mist, Rio can have sunshine but on the top of the mountain it can be misty and it was for our visit, but it was wonderful too. Firstly less people around, it is very busy when it is a clearer day. Secondly, as the clouds part and you stand there looking up at the amazing statue, it is eerie and takes on a surreal effect, just wonderful. The mist did clear for us to see the sights of the city below us and views across the bay to Sugar Loaf Mountain, which was our next stop. As you walk around the Christ Redeemer statue don't miss the back, a little chapel is hidden away and many people miss this because they are all taking pictures at the front, so just go and look at this lovely place. Enjoy the mist you are on the top of a rain forest and it is quite spectacular.
As our time in Rio was short we had to fill each moment and we did from the statue, we got a taxi to Sugar Loaf Mountain, it was lunch time and we needed a break, so we ventured into the resturant right at the side of the cable car station and had an excellent 'all you can eat' buffet, it was quite an experience and it seemed as if all the locals loved this place too. Sugar Loaf Mountain is reached by two cable cars, one to the first mountain station then another to the top of Sugar Loaf. It cost 53 reals but is worth every penny, a little scary as it is so high up off the ground and it can be rather windy so the car does rock a little but it is fine - just don't look down! Once at the top, the views of Rio are thrilling, you can see for miles: the port, the airport, the beaches, and of course the Christ the Redeemer statue. The best time to see the city of Rio is sunset from the Sugar Loaf Mountain and it is free to come down the mountain, no return fare charged.
Crime: Yes, there is a lot of crime in Rio, but like any major city in the world Rio is no different, the rich and the very poor overlap. The luxury hotels stand high overlooking the poor favella areas, muggings etc. do go on. So don't flash the cash or wear the expensive gold chain or jewelry, this is what the criminals want, and will risk a lot to get it, so use common sence and don't get "hustled" in a crowd and stay together.
Then to the beaches, well what can you say about Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon? All are wonderful teaming with life and people having a good time, the restaurants are plentiful and the food and drink are also a treat but remember the language problem. We had to order food and drink from pointing and gesticulating that we wanted food, like the people at the next table and drinks, difficult but we really enjoyed the meal and the Brazilian beer.
The transport in Rio is very good, but the roads are very busy and please expect long queues any time of the day not just the rush hour. So be prepared and add extra time to your journey to allow for the traffic. There are plenty of taxis, the underground is free for pensioners and the tramway is the oldest electric tramway in Brazil; it is the Santa Teresa Tram or Bondinho a quick way to visit the quirky parts of the city - known locally as the 'bonde'. There is also the Hop on Hop off bus that stops right outside the Sheraton Towers Hotel. You can pay on the bus, be aware the hotel staff are not up to speed with this new bus, they did send people to another hotel to get tickets for the bus but just ask the driver as tickets can be purchased on the bus instead.
Well, the girl from Ipanema must now be older and wiser, and still walks down to the wonderful beach - join her if you can.
Glynis talked to the Silver Travel Show about her Brazilian experience.
If the soundplayer doesn't display properly, please click here to listen.
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