International, Travel

Our Journey in: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

We just came back from Brazil for our summer vacation.  We had a 6-hour layover in Chile, and we would have tried to see some of the sites, but the reciprocity fee just didn’t seem worth it ($160 each!).  However, I digress.  The fee is worth it to see Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro was amazing — a culturally rich city with joy on every corner.  Okay, it was a little more rough and rugged than that, but it sure was a one-of-a-kind destination.  Imagine a hustling and bustling city part of an ever growing country with every moment of downtime invested in an “islander” lifestyle… and you got Rio.  Although most stories I’ve heard about people visiting Rio encountered things like mugging and pick-pocketing, we didn’t see or experience any of it.  I mean, as long as you travel smart (as you should with ANY place you go), you’re fine.  The only encounter of attempted pick-pocketing that we dealt with was with a toucan that kept pecking at the bronze details of my crossover bag in Foz do Iguacu.  What a cutie.

Anyhow, here’s our escapade in Rio.

We landed in Brazil in the evening, so once we were settled into our hotel room, we took a walk to find some grub.  Since we really weren’t familiar with anything yet, we stopped at a noodle spot of which we regretted terribly later.  It wasn’t bad; it just didn’t seem like a meal that was worthwhile for our first meal.  It was almost like we wish we were more adventurous.  Regardless, after dinner, we walked towards the beach where the friendly guy at the front desk told us to head out to for a drink.  Getting adjusted to taking in that slightly third world country smell mixed with ocean breeze, we looked in the distance and saw the crowds.  Ah, this is where Rio comes alive.  We were able to get ourselves a seat at a crowded bar, then ordered some cheeserolls and 2 caipirinhas — the signature drink of Brazil.  It’s lime (or your fruit of choice) and sugar muddled together topped with a sugarcane liqueur cachaca over ice.  Mix that around and you got yourself a potent yet delightfully refreshing drink.  Welcome to Brazil.

The next day, we had tours booked that took us to the big highlights of Rio.  We took the Trem de Corcovado up to see the iconic landmark Cristo Redentor statue (the feeling of being by this statue is almost overwhelming… amazing).  The tour then took us to the Maracana stadium where we got to take a few photos, and then lunch at a churrascuria – a Brazilian steakhouse.  We made a stop at the Metropolitan Cathedral, then headed to Pao de Acucar — also known as Sugar Loaf — where the view of the city is absolutely breathtaking.  This ended the tour, so we took a walk around the city from here to catch the sunset in Urca where we found it to be most ideal thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s Rio episode.  We spent the evening in Copacabana enjoying roasted chicken then walking it off at the local night market.

The next day was at our leisure. This is where we got to enjoy all the popular street foods (tapioca and corn on the cob!) and absorbed all of the energy that Rio’s culture gives off.  Stops included – Copacabana Beach where we got to relax and enjoy some fresh coconuts, Real Gabinete where you feel like you just stepped into Beauty and the Beast‘s phenomenal library, Downtown Rio where the hustle and bustle is constant and where the food is definitely first world (Confeitaria Colombo for Brazilian pastries was fun — passion fruit tarts!), Arcos de Lapa where history resides, Escadaria de Selaron where the rich spirit of the country comes together, then Ipanema where beach life is everything.  We had dinner at a local sushi restaurant (did you know the biggest population of Japanese people outside of Japan is in Brazil?) then had a smaller second meal on the beach in Copa.

The next day was even more relaxing as we had fit in most of our to-see list the day before.  Next stop was Jardim Botanico, a truly amazing garden.  So lively and full of color!  We saw fuzzy caterpillars, tropical birds, and monkeys running all over the place.  Once we were done seeing all there was to see, we headed towards the Lagoa/Lake to have lunch, then leisurely walked around the lake to look at the art that was displayed as well as to people watch to see how the locals do it.  In the afternoon, we enjoyed a bit of sun at Copacabana beach, which I might add, you never have to get up off your seat unless you want to go into the water.  Vendors walk around selling goodies (like grilled cheese! Oh, and towels and swimsuits).  They don’t pester you at all; if you’re interested you can call them over.  Anyhow, that evening we had dinner at another churrascaria then caught a show at Plataforma which was a performance full of all the different Brazilian forms of dance… including samba 🙂

Our final day in Rio, we headed out to the Hippie Fair which came recommended by Travel Channel.  We got to see lots of different trinkets and goodies to bring home as souvenirs.  Before we could wrap up, the weather was getting significantly colder, and the sky was getting covered in clouds.  The last thing we had to fit in was a meal at Casa de Fejoida.  Fejoida is a signature meal in Brazil, and we would not let ourselves leave without having a bite.

I can’t really explain what an amazing experience it was to visit a city like this.  Everything about this city just felt so warm and inviting.  Everyone felt positive and happy in their skin.  They were joyful; I’d go back in a heartbeat.

I’d highly advise learning as much Portuguese as you can if you decide to visit as most residents of Rio do not speak English (a good amount speak Spanish though, so if you got your Spanish basics, you should be able to get by comfortably — thankfully my husband knows his Espanol).  I do recall my husband saying a few words of Portuguese to several cab drivers, and they just get so excited they start to speak to you entirely in Portuguese.  We were flattered, but we made sure to make it clear that we only knew a little bit of their beautiful language.

We did a lot of research and watched every Travel Channel and Food Network show that featured Rio to get the low-down on all the must-eats.  I think it’s officially become one of our “things to do” before we travel to a new place because people like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern don’t fail.

Anyways, we were in Brazil for a week, but the entire time was not spent in Rio.  We also spent some time in Foz do Iguacu which will be highlighted in the next post

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