As I mentioned in my teaser post, Rio (pronounced He – Oh here, as the “r” is spoken so far back in the throat that it pretty much sounds like an “h” – somehow I missed this one in my post a few weeks back were I talked about language) was fantastic. We left work a bit early on Friday to catch early evening flights, mine was at 6:02 arriving in Rio  at 8:04. After claiming our luggage we grabbed a cab to our hotels and freshened up a bit before meeting up with others for dinner. Sarah and I were staying at the same place, the Copacabana Rio Hotel, which was pretty decent in my mind and nicely located at the end of Copacabana near Ipanema.

While freshening up, Sarah and I both independently grabbed the mini-bottle of sparkling from our mini-bars for a pre-dinner drink. It was awful (and came complete with a straw), neither of us was able to finish ours. Soon enough we hooked up with folks on other flights and arranged to meet in front of the Marriott across from Copacabana. Immediately it was obvious that we had changed climates, as it was around 10 PM and still 23 C outside, nice.

After getting the whole group in one place, we headed off trying to find Fagulha Pizza Bar and Grill. We wandered in a circle for a bit and eventually found our goal, and it was well worth it. Brazil seems to have a passion for buffets and variations on buffets. Anyone who has eaten at a Brazilian restaurant where waiters bring huge skewers of meat to you table should be able to picture this quite well. This night we found a new variation on this, a pizza buffet. Not the kind where pizzas stand for hours under warming lights waiting for the right consumer. Here, the pizza was fresh and brought to the tables just like the meat on the skewers. I think this is a concept that could catch on in the US. In addition to the pizza buffet they also had the standard walk up and fill you plate option which a couple of folks opted for. Being a pizza place they had a decent wine list, including a Malbec in the half bottle size and I was able to get the taste of the awful sparkling out of my mouth.

Before moving to our next destination had dessert, usually this is nothing special to think of, here again we ventured into something very Brazilian, dessert pizza. Basically take a thin pizza crust (think southern Italy and southern France thin) and add chocolate possible with some fruit as well, or frosting, or bananas coated in brown sugar or something similar and voila, you have dessert pizza. I think this is also something that could catch on in the US.

At this point the night was young, at least by Rio’s standards, as it was only a few minutes past midnight. So we grabbed a couple of cabs and headed to the Lapa neighborhood to one of the most famous night clubs in Rio, Scenarium, some people say that it has become so popular that it is not the best place to go any more, I must say that didn’t bother me, it was quite fun and we didn’t leave until a bit after 3, which is not normally my style, so score one for Scenarium.

After taking advantage of the included breakfast buffet, as late as possible given the time we ended the night before, Sarah and I headed out towards Ipanema beach figuring we would meet up with the others later. After walking a while in the gorgeous sunshine we actually ran into Jimmy. And he had already been in touch with Udit, so we headed towards the water to wait for Udit and just chill a bit. I hadn’t planned on swimming on this outing so had to accept just wading in a bit getting my feet wet, the water was quite nice.

As we were hanging out there, quite a commotion arose and we realized that there were some folks swimming who needed help and they were getting it. Quite quickly a number of members of the life saving team were paddling furiously towards those in need of help. It was hard to keep track of things as they developed so we had to patch pieces of the story together.

First one woman was brought to shore who looked quite tired and was immediately helped by what I assume were her friends.

A bit after that, someone was waving a red flag a bit off shore, and shortly thereafter we found out the reason. It was a member of the life saving team flagging in a rescue helicopter from which another team member jumped and then to which he escorted the man in trouble to be taken to the beach in the rescue basket (note in the photos below it is one of the rescuers alone in the basket, not the man who was in trouble). It as pretty amazing how close to people on the beach the helicopter was able to maneuver during the operation.

During the rescue, a boat came in a dropped a net, at first I thought it was a fishing boat, Udit suggested that it was a net to make sure folks didn’t get pushed further from shore, in the end I think he figured it out. Apparently, there can be up to 200 of these rescues on a busy weekend, so I guess they are well trained.

After a lot of debating, well more like indecision, the four of us (Jimmy, Sarah, Udit, and myself) decided to head to Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) and take the cable car for what promised to be some fantastic view of the area.

There are actually two cable cars, one to a mid-point landing where one can relax, shop, eat, etc. and even embark on a helicopter ride. While waiting to buy tickets and again on the ride to the plateau we heard from some other members of our group and decided to wait for them at this mid-point and proceed to the top together.

In addition to folks getting some food and water, Sarah and I each bought a pair of Havaianas, or Brazilian flip flops which seem to be for sale just about everywhere in Rio.

The views from the mid-point gave us a feel for just how big Rio is and how it is nestled among many hills with so many bays that it is no wonder it is famous for its beaches.

As with any coastal city, it has its share of harbors full of boats and what seemed to be a fairly activesailboat racing community as there was quite a large flotilla visible for most of the day which had all the indications of being boats on a race course. Of course this also served as a reminder that I will be missing the entire racing season this year, well, I might be able to pick up a race or two on my break in June/July.

The second is much higher and affords even better views. From the top you could get a view of both Copacabana (near beach) an Ipanema (in the distance). While I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact location of our hotel in the photo, suffice it to say we were 2 blocks from the Copacabana beach and about 10 blocks from the Ipanema beach, so essentially close to the end of the point that you see, a bit more towards the Copacabana side.

In addition to a more complete view of the entire area, there was a trail that ran down and around in a wooded area that afforded a bit of a break from the sun.

On the way back down, a few folks stopped for the helicopter ride which I passed on in order to save at least a little money towards Greece. We were also considering hang gliding the next day, so I was keeping my options open for that instead.

After a short rest in the hotel we met up for some drinks and snacks before checking out a concert we had seen them setting up for on the Copacabana beach. It wasn’t quite the size of the Rolling Stones appearance but it was quite popular with a reasonably sized spill over crowd in the street. It turns out that we had stumbled on a Concerto Especial – Praia de Copacabana by Orquestra Simphònica Brasileira. After much searching online upon returning to Porto Alegre, I was able to find the program to share with you.  There were printed versions floating around that evening, however we were unable to obtain any and that made the search that much more difficult.

29 de maio, sábado, 20h
Praia de Copacabana
Celebrando os 70 anos da Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira
EDINÉA DE OLIVEIRA, mezzo-soprano
Shostakovich Abertura Festiva
Haendel Aleluia (Messias)
Vivaldi Quatro Estações – Primavera – 1º movimento
Bach Aria (da Suíte Orquestral nº 3)
Jesus, Alegria dos Homens
Mozart Sinfonia nº 40 – 1º movimento
La ci darem la mano (de Don Giovanni)
Lacrimosa (Réquiem)
Berlioz Sinfonia Fantástica – O Baile – 2º movimento
Verdi La Donna è Mobile (de Rigoleto)
Bizet Abertura de Carmen
Puccini O Mio Babbino Caro
Wagner Cavalgada das Valquírias
C. Gomes Protofonia (de O Guarani)
Tchaikovsky Pas de deux (de O Quebra Nozes)
Villa-Lobos Melodia Sentimental
Trenzinho do Caipira
Stravinsky O Pássaro de Fogo – Final
Beethoven Sinfonia nº 9 – Ode à Alegria – Movimento Final

As the finale started, we decided to head out to find a place to eat given that it might be hard to keep track of each other as the crowd dispersed and nearby restaurants would likely get overwhelmed very soon. After walking a few blocks to again do our own version of crowd control we stumbled upon a Mediterranean restaurant which was a good find as the food was good and this is a good option when you have a vegetarian and a vegan with you.

After the late night the night before, Sarah and I headed back to our hotel leaving the guys to head out for some night life. Before parting though we made a plan for the next day, meet at Ipanema in the morning, starting at the separation between Copacabana and Ipanema, walk along the beach looking for the fist place renting chairs, grab some and text the others to let them know you are there.

It worked like a charm, Sarah and I arrived first after a short detour through the Hippie market (for Portuguese speakers) where I bought a beach bag to replace the hotel plastic laundry bag I had stuffed my beach stuff in. Upon arriving at the beach, a bit away from the junction we headed back towards Copacabana, we noticed things were getting more crowded the closer we got so we stopped a bit early and rented some chairs. Thankfully we also noticed that the chair vendors had numbers on their booths so it was quite easy to direct the rest of the folks to our location.

As the day progressed everyone eventually showed up and we took turns swimming and taking breaks to find food.

We spent a lot of time on the beach that day, so much in fact that we had to ponder the question of where to find a public bathroom more than once. It is truly bizarre, miles and miles of beach and not a restroom or port-a-potty in site. It turns out that there are facilities at each life guard station where one can pay R$1, a price worth paying. However, even this seems inadequate as each station only had one stall, so there was a bit of a line, and we were there during off-season.

Other than for the aforementioned bathroom, once you are on the beach there is really no reason to go anywhere, other than maybe for a swim. Vendors walk passed regularly selling anything from sunblock to various food items and beverages. And if you don’t like what they have you can venture up to the carts right next to the street to find a few more options.

My favorite was the toasted cheese, no this was not a grilled cheese sandwich, it was a piece of white cheese sprinkled with oregano that the vendor had on a stick and toasted on a little grill that he propped in the sand while we worked. We also walked to the stands for some caipirinhas, a local drink of fame.

Before the day ended I also bought a new swim suit from one of the vendors walking passed. Kind of a bizarre thing to buy without trying it on, yet it seemed like one of those when in Brazil do as the Brazilians do sort of times, though in actuality they probably don’t buy the suits on the beach.

After hours of sun and a bit of sunburn we decided to venture on as the sun was starting to dip below the buildings. Our plan to head up to the Christo Redempter statue was foiled since not only was it covered in scaffolding (we knew this ahead of time) the tram to get to the top was also closed. So we changed direction and headed to yet another beach to catch the sunset, some drinks, and dinner.

After a dinner of Sushi and other Japanese fare we planned to meet again in the Ipanema neighborhood for drinks. There we found a nice outside table where we sat for a couple of hours simply relaxing. Again Sarah and I headed to the hotel as the guys headed on for what turned out to be an all nighter culminating in watching the sunrise. Though I don’t think it could have been that great of a sunrise as the next day dawned windy and wet with a temperature more than 5 C less than the day before.

At breakfast Sarah and I decided to head to the Cathedral. When we pulled up we were both wondering why we had decided on this as neither of us had envisioned the modern site that greeted us, and then we wandered inside. It was quite amazing to see the light that had broken through the overcast sky steam through the plethora of stained glass windows.

Given that we still had a bit of time before we needed to head back to our hotel and eventually to the airport we looked in our guide book for something else in the neighborhood and discovered a tram that left from near the Cathedral and wound it’s way through the hills of the neighboring area. It turned out to be pretty cool, starting off by crossing the roads below on an 18th century aquaduct. It was a bit of a rickety ride across yet pretty cool. Come to think of it the entire tram ride was a bit rickety, it just adds to the excitement.

After crossing we wound through streets, up and down hills, and saw some interesting architecture and art.

On the people side we had some interesting passengers. Shortly after we started out we were joined by a young man you was quite the acrobat. He started out just skating the rails as show in the picture and by the end was doing hand stands holding on to the hand rails on the outside of the car. At the midpoint of the trip we were joined by many children apparently on their way home from school as the tram becomes a school bus when there is room.

There were also just some views of life in the town and a view of a castle off in the distance.

We had wanted to tour a favela that morning and were not able to since the tour was sold out before we tried to sign up. It might have been a good thing in the end given how the weather turned out and we can always come back another time, it is only a 2 hour flight from Porto Alegre. We did have a view of one from the top of our hotel.

So that was Rio. All in all a great weekend with two lovely days of temps around 30 with lots of sun and lots of good food. There are many places to see in Brazil, yet I can see going back again, it’s kind of like Goa in India, not somewhere that you only go once.

Of course I can’t complete this post without some notes on my thoughts of the Olympics being hosted in Rio, and no this is not me being a sore loser since Chicago didn’t get them, I had mixed feelings about that happening.

In general I think it is great that 2016 will be the first Olympics in South America. That said, Rio might disappoint some Olympic viewers who are used to more western accommodations when attending the games. And if folks are not used to being approached continuously with people selling their wares that may also lead to some discomfort as can the views of poverty that are not hidden away. First and foremost, as with just about any Olympic city there is going to be a traffic issue. We were there during off season and sat at times in traffic that was moving quite slowly. There is a subway but it is not extensive and I don’t know what the plans are for expanding it before the games begin. I wish them well, and I am almost interested in trying to attend the games to see what they do, yet I might have to rely on TV coverage and hope that it is close to accurate.