The flight into Rio was beautiful. As we descended we were treated with a taste of the views that Rio has to offer. The coastline is ridiculously beautiful, with large mountains rising straight up from the ocean. The city sprawls into every available semi flat piece of ground amongst lush green forest and rocky escarpments. We already understood the name "The Marvellous City".
After touching down, we took a taxi to our apartment we are staying in, only 2 blocks back from the beach in Copacabana, and met Malu and Roberto, the owners. They showed us in and made sure we had everything we needed. The apartment is fantastic! Nice comfy bed, TV, nice bathroom and enough of a kitchen to allow us to make some microwave meals and salads. The comfy apartment with a TV became very important over the coming days.
That evening the France Vs Ecuador game was on, so we made our way down to the beach front and found a nice bar to watch the game. The beach and the esplanade were a hive of activity, and we found it difficult to concentrate on the game outside of all the people watching! Fascinating characters were passing by, trying to sell us peanuts, keyrings, sarongs, and collecting our empty cans. We were in love with Rio already, and not only because of the breast, and butt implants!
As it happened, when we had arrived in the taxi from the airport, we straight away ran into Frank. We had stayed in the same accommodation in both Porto Alegre and Curitiba. We arranged to meet the next day to watch the USA Vs Germany game. So after a sleep in and some unpacking, we met up and found a restaurant bar to watch the game. Once we were settled Frank let his friends Non and Reggie know where we were and they joined us.
Aside from regretfully getting into conversation with an American guy at the table next to us who told us how good he was at lacrosse, it was a fun afternoon. We shared a few beers and had a bite to eat, then retired to our apartment to watch the next game.
The next day was a rest day in the Cup. We decided to venture more than a few blocks from our apartment and see what else was around. We had read about the Buddy Bear Exhibition on display at Leme beach, the north eastern end of Copacabana. It consists of 141 big bear statues that are painted by artists from 141 countries, which moves around the world. Other than the Australian one by Ken Done being fairly uninspiring, some of them were really clever, funny, pretty and interesting.
From there we continued to the end of the beach and visited Forte Duque do Caxais. This fort is on the top of Morro do Leme, a small hill at the end of the beach. To reach the fort on the hilltop, you walk up a cobblestone path through forest, along which we came across a bunch of Mico-Estrela monkeys. They were completely used to humans, and curiously looked at us while we curiously looked at them. Such tiny little monkeys with tiny little human-like faces! They let us get within a metre or two.
Once they were bored of us and moved away, we continued up the hill to the fort. First we watched the information video, which explained the history of the fort. From there, we headed to the top, checked out the large guns, and then checked out the view. And what a view! From the top you can see all the way along Copacabana beach, across to the Christ the Redeemer statue, over the bays and archipelago around Rio and Sugarloaf.
That afternoon we thought we would kick off what we intended to be an opportunity to get some fitness in whilst in Rio. It's been months since either of us did anything other than a lot of walking, so we went for our first jog in a long while. Along the esplanade of Copacabana beach isn't a bad place to jog either! We set off, and completed about 5kms up to the end of Leme beach and back, and we only walked half of it!
Turns out however, exercise is bad mmmkay. The next morning we woke up both feeling a bit fluey and horrible, most likely a result of exercise. We stayed in bed a while, but eventually had to get up to meet with Frank, Non and Reggie for the first game of the Round of 16, Brasil Vs Chile. They had found a spot front row at one of the beach side bars, we met them around 11. After some water, and once 12 o'clock hit we thought we would get into the spirit. Since we didn't feel 100% Caiparinhas seemed a logical germ killing choice.
The game was a cracker. Fireworks went off in the streets when Brazil scored. The score was drawn 1 all at full time, and with no more goals scored in extra time, the game was down to penalties. The air was tense with all the passionate Brazilian supporters surrounding us, and everyone went completely nuts when Brasil, thankfully, came out victors. Can you imagine if the host nation and favourites exited in the round of 16! What would happen to the party after that?
From there we wandered along the beach with the aim of going to Fan Fest, on the sands of Copacabana, to watch the next game, Columbia Vs Uruguay. It was completely packed, and it appeared we would be unlikely to get through the gates, so we found a restaurant that had a spare table and sat to watch there. After the biting scandal, Uruguay were without their striker Suarez, and thus Columbia took the game 2-0.
From there, we visited the FIFA Fan Shop, and though we didn't buy anything for ourselves, we helped Non pick out some souvenirs to take home to her nieces and nephews, before walking back and bidding farewell to Frank, Reggie and Non who were leaving the next day.
In the morning, we were wrecked. We woke snotty and with zero energy, and so stayed in bed sleeping until around 1. We had barely any energy, and the only outing for the day was to the supermarket for supplies. We read, watched a movie, and watched the two games for that day from our sickbed. Lindsay's premonition that once we reached Rio and had some time to relax a while we would get sick had well and truly come true.
We hoped that with sleep, lots of water and some vitamins we would manage to kick it fairly quickly but this was not the case. The next day was much the same. We felt so horrible overnight we had trouble sleeping, but then couldn't get up in the morning. Again, a trip to the supermarket was all the energy we could muster. More reading, watching games on TV from bed and movies. We are in the most amazing city we ever imagined and we were stuck in our room!
Day 3 of being sick. We felt marginally better, maybe. Again broken sleep made it hard to get up, but in between games we forced ourselves to go for a walk. We made it as far as the south western end of Copacabana before we felt completely stuffed and had to turn around.
On the way we were stopped by a TV crew who wanted to interview us about the Argentina game we had just watched, and who we thought would be in the final at the end. We struggled to even think of answers to their questions let alone respond in our usual witty manner. Our snotty nasally voices must have put us straight on the bottom of the cutting pile, but if we did make it on TV we have no idea in what country as we completely forgot to ask.
Day 4 of being sick. Same same. But we decided we had to get out in the afternoon, and we felt we had a little more energy than the day prior. Plus it was a rest day so no games to watch from bed. We wanted to check out Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, so we chose a path to walk around part of that, then meet up with the beach at Ipanema, then back along the beach to Copacabana. As there looked to be a few spots of rain as we were leaving we left the camera at home. The lake looked nice though the day was overcast. We would like to go back another day and maybe jog around it when we're better.
The beach front of Ipanema looks a lot like Copacabana, perhaps with fewer street hawkers though not many. We aimed to reach Pedra do Arpoador, a rocky headland that separates Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, for sunset. We got there in time, and checked out the views from the rocks. Despite a gap in the clouds above the horizon it was clear the sunset wouldn't be much to look at. Feeling exhausted by that stage we decided to head home.
The next morning we felt quite a bit better, though still not 100%. We decided to head into the city to look at the Salvador Dali exhibition at the Cultural Centre. We were still a bit slow out in the morning, so we didn't reach the city until early afternoon.
When we got to the cultural centre, there was a huge line out one of the doors and around the corner, which of course turned out to be the line for the exhibition. We watched the line for a bit, and it didn't move an inch. The thought of standing there for what would likely be upwards of an hour didn't appeal to us at all, so we gave up on that idea.
After wandering around marvelling the narrow city streets with cool stores and little street side bars, we noticed our tourist map had a place called Confeitaria Columbo. Knowing little else except that confeitaria meant yummy things, we wandered by. It's a huge, double storey bakery/cafe/restaurant/place of naughty food. There seemed to be a few sections, one that looked like an eat standing up and run kind of place, a slightly more formal sit down and eat kind of place, and a more formal dining area upstairs.
The walls were stacked with old plates and paraphernalia on display, and towards the back with enormous wooden framed mirrors. It was old, historic and delightfully original aside from a few minor things like fans on the walls.
We chose to be seated and salivated over the menu for quite some time before making our selections. It was hot, so we had iced lattes. Lindsay had a choc hazelnut tartlet, and Fergus had a chocolate brownie, that came served with a huge scoop of chocolate choc chip ice-cream, cream, fairy floss and was swimming in a pool of chocolate sauce. Seriously, swimming. And there were a million other things on the menu we wanted to try. Next time.
After that we walked around a bit more then decided to call it a day, as our energy levels were fading fast. Or perhaps we were having a sugar comedown.
Quarter finals time. We chose a beach side bar that was setting up their large screen TV's to watch. The first game was France Vs Germany, and half an hour out from kickoff, there seemed to be an issue with the TV reception. We could see a staff member making phone calls, obviously to get someone to come and fix it. By the time the game kicked off, no one had showed up, but they had managed to get the game playing on some smaller screen TV's. This was fine for us as not many people had crowded into the venue as a result of their TV issues.
A British man with teenage son were there watching also. He had been a nuisance to the staff who had asked him to sit at a table, instead of planting his chair right in front of the TV. He yabbered on about spending 50 Reais on drinks and the TV not even working. Finally the TV tech turned up, and while the TV was off for a minute or two while they sorted out the signal he complained about how f-ing useless they were, and then complained because they moved the small TV out of the way to move the big TV back in. Fergus told him to pull his head in.
Having a bit of patience paid off, as we had the best seats in the house for that game, as well as for the Brazil Vs Colombia game when it came on. The venue packed out quite a bit more for that game, and squeezed in behind us was a group of middle aged women who were having an absolute ball, screaming and yelling in our ears. Brazil took the game out 2-1, which created a much less tense viewing atmosphere than going to penalty shoot-out had done against Chile. We jumped around and were hugged by all the women behind us when the whistle blew and Brazil were through to the semis!
The next day was two more quarter finals. The first game was Argentina Vs Belgium. As there are a lot of Argentinians in Rio we thought it would be a good one to watch from FIFA Fan Fest. Unfortunately we left it a bit too late to arrive. While we made it into the venue for kickoff, we weren't able to get close enough for a decent view of the screen, and tall people kept deciding to come and stand in front of us. Combining that with it being a really hot day, we decided we would be better off watching it elsewhere, so we left and walked back to our apartment at half time watching the rest in air conditioned comfort.
Not wanting to miss out completely on the atmosphere of the day, we went to a bar nearby to watch the next game, Netherlands Vs Costa Rica. Under the hope that someone from our group would make it through we were cheering on The Netherlands. We were lucky to get a front row table again, and waited until the start of the game nibbling on some corn chips and guacamole. It would have been rude to sit there for the game and not eat anything.
15 minutes out the bar turned the TV on, but alas, no signal. Was it us? Has the Fergus and Lindsay effect extended from closed museums to poor TV coverage? We could see other bars around had it on, and people all around us were frantically asking for their bills so they could go elsewhere, but 2 minutes into the game they managed to get it working. Another game that went to a penalty shoot-out, with The Netherlands taking it out.
Saturday was another Cup rest day, and fortunately we were now feeling back to normal so we thought we should start ticking off some of the bigger sights of Rio. We decided to visit Sugarloaf Mountain, and what a day we picked! Something went our way! The sky was blue and the usual haze was considerably less than every other day we've been here, making for spectacular views.
We caught the bus to the bottom of the first cable car, that takes you up to the first peak, Morro do Urca. We had been warned that the queues can be quite long, and we could tell this was the case by the zig zagging ropes and signs saying "40 minutes wait from this point". Luckily, we somehow managed to miss the crowds, and only had to wait about 5-10 minutes before we could buy our tickets and we were on our way!
At the top of Morro do Urca we were greeting with a view we hadn't even expected, over Enseada de Botofogo, a lovely bay, and the Santos Dumont Airport. The planes coming in to land was quite a sight. They descend over the centre of Rio, banking left over the bay before coming in to land. It's amazing watching them descend to lower than the level you are standing at, and so close in front of you!
We decided not to stop here for too long though, and instead continue on the second cable car to the top of Pāo de Açúcar (Sugarloaf). Packed in like sardines and not being near the outside windows, we weren't able to see much of the view on the way up, though the ride is only a couple of minutes. Then we stepped out at the top, and made our way to the viewing areas. WOW! We were in awe. The view from the other hill was good, but wow. This view was phenomenal.
First we looked out again over Botofogo, the airport, Presidente Costa e Silva Bridge and Guanabara Bay. The water literally sparked in the sunlight, taking our breaths away. Moving around we could see across to Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana beach and Vermaina Beach directly below.
From the other side, we had even better views over Copacabana beach and the islands around Rio, and of the Atlantic Ocean as it disappeared into the haze on the horizon. We found a vacant park bench and ate our pre-packed sandwiches, staring speechlessly at the view and watching other tourists file through to take their happy snaps.
Unlike most beautiful landscapes in beautiful places, the city of Rio actually seems to enhance the view. Whether by design or not, it perfectly shows off the contours of the landscape. Its hard to properly describe the view from atop Sugarloaf without sounding even more cliché, and our photos probably don't even do it justice, so we will just say that everyone should go there!
After admiring every aspect and vantage point possible, we made our way back down to the first peak of Morro do Urca to look again at what we had breezed past on the way up. We watched some more planes make their way in to land, and watched a few helicopters take off, ferrying tourists over the beaches and around Christ the Redeemer, a luxury option we unfortunately couldn't afford.
Wanting to make sure we saw everything we could, we ventured around a bit more and found a trail leading off into the forest. We followed it for a way, and came across a few rather puffed and sweaty looking people heading in the opposite direction. We discovered that they had walked up a trail from Vermelna beach below. We followed a separate trail that lead us across the ridge right back to the rock face of Sugarloaf, then decided to take the trail back down to the bottom instead of taking the return cable car ride.
Going down this trail was definitely better than going up it! It was steep and winding, and quite full of people wearing impractical shoes that we weren't sure would be able to make it all the way up! We popped out at the bottom on a paved walkway, that we followed first away from the beach, just to explore. There were walkers and joggers along the way, and also quite a lot of people rock climbing, abseiling and bouldering on some of the rocks around the bottom of the mountain. Rio really is one giant playground with every activity you could imagine!
We hit a dead end and turned back, deciding to head around to the other side of the hill to the area of Urca. Fergus had read about watching sunsets from one of the bars there, so we thought we would try and find it.
While we were a little late for sunset, we walked around the foreshore which was still completely packed with people who had been settled there for quite some time, sitting on the sea wall, sharing beers and eating food purchased from small but busy stores/bars across the road. Even if we had wanted to join them, we probably would have struggled to find some available space on the wall!
Eventually we reached the other end, where the road became blocked by military at the entrance to another fort. We also spotted the bus that would take us home, so we decided to jump on and we bumped along for the hour long loop that got us back to Copacabana.
We have just over a week left in Rio, and so many things left to do! The time we spent sick made a bit of a dent in our plans to take the sightseeing slowly, in between world cup games, but we think we still have time for all the major things. Our next blog should hopefully include more stories about inspiring views and exciting adventures rather than the inside of our apartment!