Give me a kiss... (from Portuguese "me dá um beijo") and let the party begin. These words are as commonly heard as "have a nice day". Welcome to Rio de Janeiro, the home of one of the most remarkable landscapes, the host of the seductive carnival parties and the owner of the most admirable sun-kissed beaches ever.
There is so much information out there about this magnificent city, but i believe that each one of us is creating a new story as soon as we step out of the plane. I always knew i will complete this trip with a person dear to me. And I would like to take the opportunity to thank my friend C for transforming an ordinary trip into extraordinary memories. Friendship was above it all and it's a perfect proof that having a great companion is the key element in having un unforgettable journey.
C on the left and me, foto by me
From my new home, Dubai, to Rio de Janeiro is only 13 hours flying. Usually i am very good with the jet lags but this time i felt it with every single cell of my body. Ideally, you should start planning for a trip like this, at least 6 months ahead knowing that february is the month when the economy of the country is booming. The prices for the hotels, food, tours and others are sky rocketing. But it's still quite affordable in comparison with other destinations. For such an unique experience it's worth turning your pockets inside out.
Accomodation. Traveling with someone is always more afordable. Even if you are the kind of person that likes their own private space, sharing a hotel room with two beds is not a big issue as most of the time you will be out partying, touring or sleeping like dead. For something more economical you can choose to stay in a hostel, that give very good deals ( check www.booking.com). Me and C stayed in Copa Sul Hotel situated in a prime location near the best restaurants and liveliest streets. It's just one block from Copacabana Beach and within walking distance from Ipanema Beach. It was a great choice as we used this walk as our daily workout.
Ipanema Beach Road, foto by me
Posto 12, foto by me
Eating out in Rio. Starting with the small cornered places called Sucos, where you will find not only delicious, fresh juices but also tasty snacks like tapiocas ( a starch extracted from cassava root), and açai bowls for breakfast, you can move on to churrascarias, which are the famous steak houses. The brasilian meat is unbelievably tender and flavoured. It seemed that if you don't know how to cook a piece of filet mignon you just simply can't be called Brasileiro. We had the chance to eat in great places located on Rua Prudente de Morais: Casa de Feijoada that has excellent steak dishes and a welcome black bean soup, Restaurante Rayz which is strong in fish selection that you can't miss out. Don't walk past the small food courts that you can see randomly on the streets, but make sure that the food is fresh.
Morning tapioca, foto by me
It's important to understand that food not only connects you with the locals and makes you transcend deeper into the culture of the country, it also represents the motor that will keep you radiant and healthy during your trip. So we had decided that it was time for us to spoil our souls in a 4* Restaurant called Skylab, located in Rio Othon Palace Hotel overlooking Copacabana beach. The panoramic view of the Atlantic ocean just helped creating a more unique experience. It was a little bit too romantic for two of us, but, hey... It's Rio. Accompanied by a red brasilian wine, the medium rare sirloin steak au jus and the potatoes au gratin placed carefully on the plate made me feel like I belong to this place.
Filet mignon au jus and potatoes au gratin, foto by me
Right at the corner of Ipanema and Copacabana, the international flags of Marius Degustare Restaurant are welcoming you to a real brasilian 3* buffet where you will need to borrow one more stomach in order to eat everything they have on display. During the whole trip I was literally crying like a baby because I wanted to experience the local buffet and the fear that I might leave without trying it was frightening me. The restaurant has a very interesting décor featuring maritime objects and antiques. The ambiance takes you back in time on a pirate ship. It seems like a wave flipped around the boat and everything is up side down now. They even have a carriage on the ceiling, how insane is that? After we enjoyed the vast buffet selection that included organic oysters, lobsters, salads and traditional brasilian dishes I have decided to indulge only the taste of the meat...a lot of meat. We also enjoyed the caipirinhas (Brazil's national cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime) that were rather helping the situation. It all works at a fixed price and the friendly stuff didn't stop approaching us with a different choice of delicacy over and over again. My advice to you, don't mix 7 types of fish with 11 kinds of meat, otherwise it can get very bad.
Me on the left and C, foto by the lovely waiter
Tours in Rio. Before the sun starts throwing balls of heat into the ground, tourists from all around the world wake up early in the morning to visit one of the 7 wonders of the world. Corcovado ( Christ Redeemer) became a symbol of the country that can be recognised and appreciated by millions. The 30 metres tall Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, but I want to make my people feel special as well because the face of the statue was created by the Romanian artist Gheorghe Leonida. Great job.
Sugarloaf Mountain ( Pão de Açúcar) is another suggestion if you want to admire the panoramic view of the city. The peak is situated at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Behind the Sheraton Rio Luxury Hotel you can witness a massive contradiction of two worlds. Vidigal favela is one of the many so called "dangerous neighbour hoods" that gives a different perspective about Rio. You can ask about the tour at the reception in your hotel or you can go the hard way, like me and C did...walking. It was tougher than I thought and the heat didn't help at all. The locals probably thought that we are just two crazy girls trying to achieve the impossible. I've read somewhere that this favela is one of the most friendly one and it opened up to the tourists in 2012, after locals made peace with the police. We rushed too quickly into making a decision and never made it to the top, but we will leave the mystery to linger until next time.
Vidigal Favela, foto by me
The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden or Jardim Botânico is another chance to fill your cameras with distinguished pictures. We sweat out the caipirinhas from the previous night by climbing one of the hills that lead us to a great viewing point. I'm not surprised that Portuguese called Rio de Janeiro La Cidade Maravilhosa, it's totally worth the title.
Overlooking the city, foto by C
Yoga pose Ipanema Beach, foto by C
Sunset Ipanema Beach, foto by me
Sambódromo. Picture for a moment the most colourful and creative event and multiply that by 100, this would be the description for the Carnaval do Brasil ( Carnival of Brazil). It has been so far the most beautiful and delightful show i'be been to. Held for 4 consecutive nights, the samba parades don't stop to impress a vast number of locals and tourists from all over the Globe. This is the time when samba schools have the chance to impress the audience with its thousands of dancers, its drum section and really let their inner voice talk about their culture through the extravagant costumes and unique stands. If on the crowded streets of Rio you will be able to see the improvised outfits of brides, devils and zombies, at the carnival people put on casual clothes. Obviously, me and C didn't know about that, and we've spent a good hour for the transformation into a Hawaiian dancer( me) and a Giant Tooth Fairy (C). It was fun to watch the funky reactions of our neighbours from the section.
C from the left,and me, foto by me
The best way to get to the Sambódromo is taking the metro. In about 35 minutes from Copacabana, we were enjoying the loud and vibrant samba rhythms that made us stand up from our concrete seats. The tickets start up at a couple of hundreds reals ( brazilian currency) up to a couple of thousand. We paid around USD200 for a seat in section 8 out of 13 that is considered economy class hoping for an upgrade to first class that never happened. Starting from 8pm until around 6am the parade can be an enjoyable torture for your feet. So, make sure you take extra cash to buy the chilled cervejas ( beers) and forget about the pain, also it will help you stay awake and try to learn some samba moves from the experts.
Carnival outfits, Ipanema beach, foto by me
Old, young, parents, travellers, regardless of the gender and status everybody seemed infected by the intensity of the carnival. If you want to be a part of the team who represents the school, there is an opportunity to buy a costume and feel the spirit of the carnival from the inside of the show. Such a pleasure will cost you around USD500 at least and you have to book way before in advance. I was lucky enough to have a lovely gentleman and his wife next to me that walked us through the rules and qualification points of the competition. I think they observed the confusion that my face emanated when i heard the same song for 90 minutes. I found out later that each school has to compose an anthem the lyrics of which are given to the crowd in order to sing along. From one end of the Sambadrome to the other, schools present its best performance supported by thousands of samba lovers and through this song we all become one voice, one heart.
Even now i get goosebumps when i think about that parade, but Rio de Janeiro has so many more things to offer. If your stay will be longer than 6 days, experience the wonderful beaches and islands, or stay in the city and explore Downtown, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Imperial Museum and tell us all about it.
Carnival, Rio de Janeiro
Carnival, Rio de Janeiro
Going out in Rio. During Carnival Rio de Janeiro has a different system for the night life. The streets of the city become alive and the music doesn't stop until the sun is out. Those who want to have fun, don't have a problem blocking entire streets that usually divide restaurants and bars. Brasilians love to socialise and dance, that's the impression i got after spending 6 nights out. I liked that almost everyone knows the good spots and the best time to be in there. It's like a rotation process.
Boteco Belmonte in Leblon is a great place to start up your night by enjoying some lovely drinks. Such botequims ( traditional Brazilian bar) are very widespread along the streets and usually have great snacks. The caipirinhas and cervejas are served at light speed to the crowd interested in having a good time. Boys are looking at the girls and girls are admiring the Brazilian guys. The game continues until one of them decides to spend the accumulated adrenaline in some other place. Now it's time to dance. There is a vast selection of clubs that will help you forget about it all and lose yourself in the great beats. One of the first places we've been to was 00 (Zero Zero) in Gavea and we had a really good time. All clubs work at the same system, you pay a cosmic price for the entrance and then you spend even more for the drinks. Usually clubs have a nice atmosphere and the crowd is wide in age range, from students to old couples. If you prefer something outdoors than Jockey Club will be a better choice. I really liked the music in this one, the DJ knows how to make people sweat. One important moment is that you need to know at least one popular song, because it's going to be thrown out there and will make everybody go crazy (this time was Baile de Favela song by MC João). If you want to continue the party until sunrise, Emporio 37 will not disappoint you. Every time I passed by I saw a decent amount of people outside and inside the bar/ club. On the first floor you can enjoy the brasilian mix and on the second floor you can go more international with RNB music. It's all just a big, constant party. But nothing compares to the real street fun from Lapa. As we were making our way through the pacifist crowd, me and C saw a couple of chairs, some small tables and lovely locals creating their own bubble of fun. Those people opened up their arms and let us witness one of the most pure and natural street music. With their own improvised instruments they touched my heart forever. Now i want to learn how to dance samba.
Cheers to the guy on the left, hi to the guitarist, us girls, and the lovely man on the right.
I can go on and on about this truly fascinating experience but I will let you discover some of it on your own. It was a trip I dreamt of since I was a child and it couldn't happen at a better time and with a better companion. My heart sings of happiness and enthusiasm and for once in life I wish I didn't have to sleep, so I can enjoy everything this fascinating city has to offer. The world is not the same after this and I'm glad I had the chance to try the unforgettable taste of Rio the Janeiro.