Reflections in Rio

The sun had set on our final night in Brazil.  Kooks took a quick nap after an exhausting day exploring the city.  I opted for a Skol beer while watching the Russia vs. Algeria match at our Hostel.  After the end of the first half, Kooks woke up from her nap and we decided to head towards Copacabana Beach for dinner.

Copacabana Sandcastle

Copacabana Sandcastle

Ultimately, we ended up stopping at Potenza Pizza & Grill – the same all-you-can-eat pizzeria that we ate with the rest of our group the night before, only this time; we were by ourselves as the group trip had officially ended that morning.  Potenza is about a 2 blocks away from the main intersection of Rua Santa Clara and Avenida Atlântica.  The official address is 18 Rua Santa Clara, and it is open daily from 11am – 12am Midnight.

Partying with Japanese & Mexican Fans

Partying with Japanese & Mexican Fans

I really wanted to head to the Rio Fanfest as we had missed it at the beginning of our trip to a flight debacle by Air Canada, so we rushed to pay for our dinner and tried to catch the celebrations on the beach as I did not realize this was the final match of the Opening Round.

Team USA Fans

Team USA Fans

 

Walking up along Copacabana, I was distracted by street vendors, sand castles, locals playing soccer and volleyball on the beach, the sights and sounds of the car zooming up and down Avenida Atlântica, fellow World Cup fans, and the official FIFA World Cup store.

Algerian & Mexican Fans

Algerian & Mexican Fans

 

In the end, we did not end up making it in time for the Rio Fanfest.  But, it was okay.  It was somewhere past 8pm at this points, and poor Kooks and I were getting a bit tired after two adventurous weeks in Brazil.  Rather than push our luck, we decided to head back to the hostel to get ready for the long flight home in the morning.

German Fans

German Fans

It finally settled in at that point that we accomplished our ultimate travel goal – watch the World Cup in Brazil.  Was it worth it, though?  You bet it was!

The Closest We Got to Rio Fanfest

The Closest We Got to Rio Fanfest

Whether it was watching the Persian fans cheering for Team Iran in front of their hotel or riding the speed boat at the bottom of Iguaçu Falls; swimming with beautiful tropical fish just outside of Bonito or fishing for piranha in the Pantanal; getting to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World up close and in person or embracing the chaos of Paraguay’s shopping Mecca, the time we spent in and around Brazil was well worth the cost and effort.

Copacabana Hotel - Our Final Look at Rio

Copacabana Hotel – Our Final Look at Rio

Most people came to Brazil with the sole purpose of watching a soccer tournament, and that’s all they did while they were here.  However, there is more to life than sports, so not only did Kooks and I actually get to watch a World Cup match in person, but we also got to visit the real Brazil along the way.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and one I would recommend to others considering going to a future World Cup.  Hopefully, this won’t be the last World Cup we go to, either, but only time will tell.

If you are interested in exploring Brazil the way we did, then check out G Adventures’ website here.

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Sugarloaf Mountain

A visit to Rio de Janeiro is not complete without a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain.  Sugarloaf Mountain – or Pão de Açúcar – is a peak situated at the mouth of Guanabara Bay just shy of 1300 feet (396 meters).

The name of this peak originated in the 16th century by the Portuguese during the peak of the sugar cane trade in Brazil.  Before transporting sugar cane on the ships bounded for Europe, the sugar was placed in blocks of mold that gave it a shape similar to Pão de Açúcar, hence the name “Sugarloaf Mountain.”

The Teleférico

The Teleférico

There are two ways to reach the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain – rock climbing and cable car.  While it is possible to book a rock climbing excursion through several tour operators to climb any one of the pitches up the granite slab, this can cost you easily a couple hundred dollars and can range anywhere from a few hours to a full day of climbing.  Given those factors, plus the fact that neither Kooks nor I are rock climbers, we obviously gave this method a pass.

The common way of getting up to the peak is by cable car – or teleférico – and takes up to 20 minutes and two cable cars to complete the trip one way.  The first teleférico was installed in 1912.  Today, cable cars hold up to 65 passengers and give you a 360 degree view of Rio de Janeiro.  The cost of a ticket (as of June 2014) is 62 Reais ($31 US).  However, Kooks and I paid $100 US (World Cup price) for a half day trip of Rio de Janeiro with Be a Local Tours, which saw us visit Christ the Redeemer, the Lana Steps, and the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral before Sugarloaf Mountain.  The regular price for this day tour of Rio is usually around $65 US, so you might also want to consider using them if short on time like we were.  Transportation is included in the price, of course.

Ascending to Morro da Urca

Ascending to Morro da Urca

The first cable car ascends to Morro da Urca, where you can find souvenir shops, restaurants, washrooms, and the infamous Marmoset – the world’s smallest monkey species – who make for great photographic opportunities if you bribe them with some food.

The second cable car ascends to Sugarloaf Mountain.  Just like Morro da Urca, you can find washrooms, souvenir shops, food vendors, and more Marmosets.  One noteworthy observation about Sugarloaf Mountain is that once you get off the cable car, there is a wall of graffiti where tourists are encouraged to sign their names to record their visit to this famous attraction.

Kooks Enjoying the View From Sugarloaf

Kooks Enjoying the View From Sugarloaf

It is said that you can get the best view of the Rio sunset from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.  However, we arrived around mid-afternoon and much of our “view” was clouded with a haze of smog.  Be a Local Tours gave our group about 30 minutes to snap some photos and shop for souvenirs.

Overall, 30 minutes was plenty of time to snap a few photos from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, especially during mid-afternoon when it is the busiest.  The souvenir shops were grossly overpriced, as were the food and drink vendors, so there is no need to linger too long in there.

View of Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain

View of Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain

On the way down, we spent an extra 30 minutes (although it was only supposed to be 15) for a washroom break at Morro da Urca.  I kept myself occupied by snapping photos of the Marmosets roaming around.

The park is open between 8am – 8pm, so if you plan to visit Sugarloaf Mountain on your own, then I suggested arriving early in the morning or early evening where the crowds may be smaller and your photo opportunities great.

Marmoset - World's Smallest Monkey

Marmoset – World’s Smallest Monkey

For more information about Sugarloaf Mountain, please check out their official website here.

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Rio de Janeiro Cathedral

While I am not religious by any means, I do tend to visit places of worship now and then.  Surprisingly, Brazil holds the largest amount of practicing Roman Catholics.  As such, I wanted to visit at least one Cathedral in the country.  What I had not anticipated, though, was a visit to one of the strangest places I have ever seen.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian

Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian – or Rio de Janeiro Cathedral – is in the Centro District of Rio de Janeiro.  It serves as the current seat of the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.  While the Archdiocese dates back to the mid-17th century, the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is a relatively new place of worship built over a 15 year period (1964 – 1979).

The Pulpit

The Pulpit

As we approached the Cathedral, I was caught off guard by the cone-shaped design of the building.  I am used to seeing massive Gothic-like Cathedrals with a steeple and large Cross at the front entrance.  Rio de Janeiro Cathedral looked nothing like this! The interior was even more shocking to me as the pulpit was located right in the center of the Cathedral while bench seats surrounded in a massive circular formation.  This layout was far from the traditional design of the pulpit at front and bench rows laid side by side from the back entrance all the way to the front.

Cone-Shaped Ceiling

Cone-Shaped Ceiling

Entrance to the Cathedral is “free,” but there are cash boxes at the various entrances where donations are accepted.  Kooks and I had 15 minutes here before we were to head off to Sugar Loaf Mountain, so while I walked around taking pictures she sat on one of the benches to pray and reflect.  Overall, it was a pleasant experience, but with no Mass going on, 15 minutes seemed to be more time than was really needed here.  For more information on the history, design or events going on at the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral, feel free to check out their official website here.

Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi

Do you ever visit religious shrines on your travels?  If so, then which ones stood out for you?

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The Lapa Steps – Selarón’s Legacy

It’s not often that a set of steps would draw hordes of tourists from around the world.  But, the moment I learned of Escadaria Selarón (aka the Lapa Steps) by watching my favourite travel show a few years ago, it was something that I really wanted to see once I got to Rio de Janeiro!

Escadaria Selarón

Escadaria Selarón

Escadaria Selarón is a quirky attraction found between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro.  The stairs are located on Rua Manuel Carneiro – between Rua Joaquim Silva and Ladeira de Santa Teresa – and contain 250 steps that measure 125 meters in length.

Sample Tiles  Along Escadaria Selarón

Sample Tiles Along Escadaria Selarón

It started off as a renovation project in 1990 by Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selarón, when he fixed some of the dilapidated steps in front of his house with blue, green, and yellow tiles in honour of the Brazilian flag.  Since then, tiles have been donated from all over the world to help in this never-ending art project.  Once every step has been tiled, the process starts from the top again with new tiles and works its way to the bottom as per Selarón’s wishes.  Sadly, Selaron’s body was found on his beloved artwork on January 10, 2013.  His death remains a question of debate.  Was it the result of a homicide from some of local drug gangs in the area?  Or was it an act of suicide?

Oh, Canada!

Oh, Canada!

The steps have been featured in numerous music videos, commercials, films, and travel shows over the years.  It was also filmed for a promo video that helped Rio secure it’s winning bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well.

Rio de Janerio Mura

Rio de Janeiro Mura

You have several options to get to the Lapa Steps – public transit, taxis or walking tours/city tours.  As you aware from my review of Christ the Redeemer, Kooks and I booked a 6 hour city tour with Be a Local, which include a stop here at the Lapa Steps.  Quite honestly, I wouldn’t recommend using them at all for this tour.  Our tour guide gave us a mere 15 minutes to explore the steps, so the opportunity to take photos and interact with the vendors selling trinkets up along the steps was extremely limited.

The Lapa Steps

The Lapa Steps

Furthermore, I was the only one in the group who actually had any previous knowledge about these steps.  Rather than engage and educate our group on the history and significance of these steps, she just stood to the side while we took photos.  It was only after we had left the steps for our next destination that she started briefing us on Escadaria Selarón.  It just irked me that she wasn’t doing anything on this tour, yet we had to pay 100 Reais (World Cup prices) for this Rio tour instead of the regular 60 Reais.

The Simpsons

The Simpsons

If you decide to come here on your own, then definitely come during the day when it is a bit safer.  The Arches of Lapa are also nearby, and I would recommend spending about 30 – 45 minutes here checking out the various tiles and hand-made souvenirs available.

2014 World Cup Mural

2014 World Cup Mural

Despite the short amount of time that I got to spend here, I was happy to visit Escadaria Selarón.  The quirkiness of it all is what made me want to visit it in the first place.  It was the second-most important attraction I wanted to see in Rio after Christ the Redeemer.

Busy Day at Lapa Steps

Busy Day at Lapa Steps

What are some of the unusual attractions you have visited on your travels?  Any you recommend?

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Christ the Redeemer – A Visit to One of the Seven Wonders of the World

No visit to Rio de Janeiro is complete without visiting Christ the Redeemer.  This attraction was a “must do” for me given that it was recently named one of the new 7 Wonders of the World.  I have previously been to Machu Picchu in Peru, so visiting Christ the Redeemer would make it 2/7 Wonders of the World that I have visited in my lifetime.

Christ the Redeemer is an art deco statue of Jesus Christ that sits atop Corcovado Mountain standing at impressive 30 meters tall by 28 meters wide (98 feet x 26 feet).  Created by French sculptor Paul Landowski, the statue took 9 years to complete (1922 – 1931), and cost $250,000 US ($3.3 Million in 2014 dollars).  Much of the funding came from donations as Brazil has the largest Roman Catholic community in the world.

First View of Christ the Redeemer

First View of Christ the Redeemer

The statue is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and can withstand winds of up to 250 km/h.  To put this in perspective, Christ the Redeemer can withstand the winds of a Category 5 hurricane, like Hurricane Katrina.

Christ the Redeemer is open seven days a week from 8am – 7pm.  Ticket prices range from 32 Reais – 50 Reais ($16 – $20 US) depending the method of transportation you use to get to the top and whether you are visiting during peak tourist season or low tourist season.

Heading Up to the Peak

Heading Up to the Peak

As far as ways to get to the top of Corcovado Mountain go, there are three main ways:  hiking, tram, and car or van.  Hiking trails are abundant throughout Rio de Janeiro, and here at Tijuaca Forest, where Corcovado Mountain is located, is no different.  You are probably looking at a hike that can take anywhere from 2 – 3 hours depending on your level of fitness and the number of stops you make to take in the views along the way.

Trams are the most popular way, and can take you about 20 minutes to get to the top.  The final way is by van or car.  Since Kooks and I only had one day left in Brazil, we booked a half-day tour of Rio with Be a Local, the same tour company I used for the Rocinha Favela tour.  Be a Local drove us as far we could go until we got to the main entrance.  Once you arrive at the main entrance, you must check in your bags and use the shuttles provided.

The vans will drop you off at the bottom of the peak where you can continue to walk up a flight of steps until you get to the base of the statue.  The walk itself takes about 10 minutes, but times will vary as there are various bathrooms, restaurants, souvenir shops, and various vantage points along the way to take photos.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

As we arrived in the middle of the World Cup tournament, the line-ups at the base of Christ the Redeemer were much busier than usual to take photos.  In the time span of about 1 hour, I managed to only snap about 5 – 6 decent photos.  I didn’t even get a chance to get to the end of the viewing platform to get a nice panoramic photo of Sugar Loaf Mountain across the city as Kooks and I had were running out of time and had to meet with the rest of our group in less than 20 minutes.  I also missed out on a photo opportunity of a man who had proposed to his Girlfriend.  Apparently, marriage proposals are the only way you can make the large swaths of people to move out-of-the-way to capture the greatest photo of Christ the Redeemer.

Posing in Front of Christ the Redeemer

Posing in Front of Christ the Redeemer

Truth be told, I found Christ the Redeemer to be very underwhelming.  When I was at Machu Picchu three years earlier, my mind was blown away by the sheer beauty of this abandoned Inca city in the middle of the mountains.  Add that with the Incas had very primitive tools at their disposal to create this majestic city, I really don’t know how anyone can place Christ the Redeemer at the same level as Machu Picchu.  Even Iguazu Falls was far more interesting than Christ the Redeemer.  On the plus side, Corcovado Mountain does have some impressive views of the natural harbour of Rio de Janeiro.  Perhaps that is why Christ the Redeemer made the list?

View of Sugarloaf Mountain

View of Sugarloaf Mountain

Although my experience was not what I had expected to be, I was glad to have had the opportunity to visit another World Wonder.  My advice is if you have a few days in Rio, then go either early in the morning before the huge crowds of tourists arrive or in the early evening when the sun is setting and the flood lights illuminate the face of Jesus.  You can check out when special events, like vigil and light shows, are happening at Christ the Redeemer here on the official website.

Have you been to any of the World Wonders?  What was that experience like?

Categories: Brazil, South America | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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