I’ve been really lucky this year to visit loads of different countries – Lithuania, Latvia, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Denmark, but I’m off now for my big trip of the year, and thought I’d do what I usually do when I go off for a couple of weeks, and keep a bit of a blog. I use it to look back and remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done really, so if you’re reading this, no pressure to keep checking it out! And I literally list what I’ve done each day as a reminder, so it can be long.
I was so tempted to go back to Japan again this year, having been for the last two years, but I decided to go someplace a bit different – and after being dissuaded against visiting India, plumped for South America. My two and a half weeks will see me visit Rio in Brazil, then Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina, before heading to Buenos Aires with a quick stop in Patagonia.
So yesterday at 4am, after eventually falling asleep at about 1am, I got up and flew to Heathrow for my connecting flight to Rio de Janiero. The flight was about eleven hours, and actually pretty relaxing – until my entertainment screen broke an hour and a half before landing as I was getting in to “The Affair”. But apart from that it was good, and the food was decent too.
I’d done a bit of research on Rio, so I wasn’t surprised when coming through the arrival doors at the airport to be greeted by literally hoardes of taxi drivers all begging to take me in to the city. Instead, I headed to the local taxi co-operative desk and bought a pre-paid voucher to take me to my first stop – Santa Teresa. The taxi journey was a real eye opener. I arrived at 9pm at night, and the city was bustling – I flew past little all night supermarkets which literally looked like holes in walls. Crowds stood outside tiny bars as my taxi sped up into the hills.
I decided to splurge a bit for my first two nights in Rio, opting to stay at the Hotel Santa Teresa up in the hills of Rio. I wanted someplace I could (hopefully) switch off and just laze about a bit. After checking in I was shown to my room which was calming and lovely. A quick glass of vino in the hotel bar, and I was in bed.
After a coffee in the morning to get myself going, I headed out to explore the neighbourhood. Santa Teresa’s bordered by favelas, and it’s certainly got a bit of a rough and tumble feel. The hotel I’m staying at was apparently robbed at gunpoint in 2011, and it’s obvious they take security seriously. The hotel is ‘guarded’ by a huge metal door. So stepping onto the streets, I wasn’t quite sure what I was letting myself in for. It’s an area populated by Rio’s artists, and you can see evidence of that everywhere – there’s graffiti, and bits of art, as well as artists’ studios and shops dotted along every street. I walked for twenty minutes past the tram stop to my first sight seeing port of call.
En route I caught my first glimpse of Sugarloaf Mountain – and it’s pretty incredible looking. The sheer size and crowded nature of Rio was also apparent.
Escadaria Selarón’s 215 tiled steps were created by a Chilean-born artist, and were pretty amazing. There was a really friendly vibe amongst tourists stopping for their picture and stall holders who offered to get your photo printed on a tile in ten minutes (I declined).
After climbing all 215 stairs, I then walked to the next spot on my list. I say walked, but struggled would be more correct – while the stairs weren’t a problem, the hill you have to walk up to get back from them was. It was like vertical – and there’s lots of streets like that in Santa Teresa. I don’t mind saying I actually had to stop half way up and sit down for five minutes – maybe I’m getting old!
By the time I reached Parque Das Ruínas I was drenched. In sweat. It was very, very hot. The Parque itself is a bit of a weird attraction. It’s not really a park as much as home to a derelict building that used to belong to a Brazilian heiress. Now it’s really just a lot of walls with some art and new staircases placed inside, but the real prize is at the top – with again stunning views of Rio, Sugarloaf Mountain, and a favela.
After that I headed next door to the Museu Chácara Do Céu. It’s the former mansion of art collector Raymond Ottoni de Castro Maya apparently, and housed his collection of art along with some other pieces and period furniture. It was interesting, but really just took five minutes to walk around.
Then, I walked back into the centre of Santa Tereza…
…and stopped off for a spot of lunch in Cafe do Alto – I went traditional with black bean and shredded beef soup, and then had a sandwich which to be honest wouldn’t have looked out of place in Belfast.
After that, it was time for a bit of lazing around. I went to the pool back in the hotel and promptly fell fast asleep. I blame the hills!
After waking up and doing a bit of poolside reading, I had quick shower and headed out to dinner. Aprazível is situated a seven minute walk from the hotel, and it felt very lazy getting a car there, but I was glad I did, as even the car struggled to get up to its hillside location.
If you’re ever in Rio, I’d definitely recommend this restaurant. The atmosphere and location are just amazing. You get in a lift to go down to the venue which is literally built into the side of a cliff, then eat in a little wooden treehouse. The views are incredible, and the food is beautiful – if a bit on the expensive side.
To drink, I ordered a Caipirinha de Café Apravzível – Cachaça, lime, and cold-brewed coffee. I swear I took two sips and felt absolutely hammered. And the glass was massive, so I kind of sipped at it throughout the meal. It was strong stuff.
To eat, I had an Escondidinho – a little pie with parsnip puree, shredded sun dried beef and melted Parmesan. Next up was Galinhada Calpira – Free range chicken and Minas Gerais sausage rice with plantain and chilli jam. Feeling a bit squiffy I also decided to have brazil nut ice cream. The meal was really delicious – and the atmosphere truly special. If I had a girlfriend I’d be taking there all the time if I lived in Brazil!
After dinner, it was another car journey back to the hotel, where I’m now writing this over a glass of Sauvignon. Hopefully when I read it back in the morning it’ll all make sense! Tomorrow, I leave Santa Teresa, and move to Copacabana, which’ll be my base for the next five nights.