Rio is one of those cities that you can never forget once you’ve been there. Its hard to describe the allure of the city – its natural beauty, greenery, the ocean, beaches, the bustle of activity around the city, the centuries old churches and monasteries, food, drinks … it pretty much has it all. And we didn’t even visit during the Carnival!
Quite a few of us left on the Tuesday of the week we spent in Brazil to reach Rio that night. We flew out of the Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo into the Santos Dumont in Rio. Someone forgot to tell me how short that runway was. One second we’re in the air .. the next my lunch is being dug out of my intestines at a few Gs. I guess it was long enough that we lived to tell the tale. We had rooms reserved for us in Windsor Atlantica on Copacabana beach. Of course most Bollywood fans worth their salt were well aware of Rio and the beach, thanks to Bipasha Basu doing her thing in Dhoom 2 some years ago, so it felt just like it did in the movies ;).
Given Rio’s rich history of churches, I decided to go churchhopping on Wednesday. Starting with Christ the Redeemer and the cathedral at the foot of the hill and the chapel at the top, the day provided several opportunities to marvel at the architecture, and peace and quiet at each of these monuments. In the chapel at the top of the Redeemer we were greeted by a beautiful hymn sung in Portuguese by two girls singing along with a guitar strumming the tune. The day culminated, after a long walk and some searching around and asking for directions in English+Spanish+sign language, at the Sao Bento monastery and the amazing church at the monastery. This Benedictine monastery was built in 1641 and commands your attention and awe while calming you down at the same time. They have Gregorian chants performed on Sundays. Sadly, it was a weekday so we had to miss that.
It was not all food for the soul that day. We took a long break in the middle of the day at Confeitaria Colombo, one of the most famous bakery/cafes in Rio that has been around since 1894. The dining area downstairs looks like they transplanted the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace in Versailles somehow into this distant location. The tea and pastries were just amazing and we hit the menu hard, sampling stuff from all sections, asking for menus in English and generally being touristy like the rest of the folks like us out there. Their collection of china was just mind-bogglingly impressive as well! Did I forget to mention that the first meal of the day was as impressive? The selection of tropical fruits and juices at breakfast was just incredible. Combine that with omelettes, pancakes, desserts of all sorts and all sorts of stuff with meat that I walked past – and one could easily consume enough calories for the day right in the morning before heading down to the beach.
On our last day in Rio, some of us headed out to see the Teatro Municipal after a nice long walk along the beach in the morning before we checked out from our hotel. Right across from the Opera House are the National Library and National Fine Arts Museum. We spent some time at the Museum admiring paintings and sculptures by Brazilian artists over the past few centuries. After that, we saw the Carioca Aqueduct which was built in the middle of the 18th century, we headed to the Santa Teresa neighborhood for some food and relaxation. Described as the bohemian side of Rio by Lonely Planet folks, Santa Teresa had amazing restaurants and arts and crafts stores that tourists milled in and out of. We had a great lunch preceded by several rounds of yucca fries, beer and coconut juice (not all in that order), and then headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the airport.
The trip description would not be complete without a mention of our visit to a Botafogo vs. Internacional game in Rio at the Engenhão stadium. It was an amazing experience to cheer along with the home team and try to sing along to their tunes with words of our own. We all also did the required touristy shopping trips to buy havaianas and other memorabilia of the trip for friends and family. And of course, the mother of all clubs, Rio Scenarium, where a good chunk of the class spent the most part of Friday night, if not all of it. Others would be more qualified to comment on the club scene in Rio, so will leave it to them, but Rio Scenarium was pretty darn impressive and could outshine most clubs I’ve been to in the Bay area any day.
Once again a big hats-off to the team that put this trip together for all their work, and for all the brave souls that brought young kids along on the trip! Many of us benefited from the latter without the travails of having to manage the kids when they were not in their best spirits..