And so to Rio...where to start? Looking back on it now, I'm not even going to attempt the impossible task of including all that I like about this city.
But probably the most obvious place to start is the beach. Although we weren't blessed with perfect weather start to finish we had a few days to see the beach in all it's glory - beautiful people everywhere, serious futebol skills on show (from both the boys and the girls), super competitive beach volleyball games, skin boarding on the big beach breaks, tightrope walking between the palm trees....all washed down with some surprisingly refreshing milk straight from a freshly (machete) carved coconut.
It was pretty surreal to witness the huge beach crowd stand up, clap and cheer at the end of the day as the sun set came down directly behind the 2 mountain peaks (The 2 Brothers) at the end of Ipanema Beach to provide us with the chance for that postcard perfect photo of this iconic setting.
Another day, a college student called Orlando, took us on a tour of 2 of the coolest sights in the city - Christ the Redeemer statue and The Lapas Steps. The tour was made a little more cool when he rocked up in an old-school white VW Van and proceeded to blast Jimmy Hendrix for the whole of the steep uphill drive to the top of the mountain upon which Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) sits.
The statue itself was awesomely huge. Perched at the highest point on the Corcovado Mountain, it provided unrivalled panoramic views of the entire city - the coastline, Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf) and Maracana (Flamengo's futebol stadium - currently under refurbishment for the 2014 World Cup). I was also honoured to note that it shared the same birthday as me, inaugurated on 12th October 1931 (yes, I'm 80 years old!).
From there, we took a drive to The Lapas Steps - I know these best from the Snoop Dog & Pharell song 'Beautiful'. That probably highlights a lack of culture on my part but I'm ok with that!
Basically, they are a pretty sizeable stretch of steps that have been painstakingly decorated in small, colourful tiles by a single artist. When you see the sheer scale of the area that has been decorated, you start to appreciate how crazy a proposition it was to take on this mammoth job. And then, if you are lucky enough to meet the Chilean artist who dreamt up this outlandish plan and completed the work 3 times over (he smashed the first 2 attempts up with a sledge hammer in order to redo it all!), as we were, you are left in no doubt as to how much of a basket-case he is!
The once struggling artist originally decided to construct the unique artwork in order to attract interest to his wider body of work. So, to his credit, he has certainly achieved his initial goal. But, having seen the steps, one can be in no doubt that this project alone has become his obsession.
As the steps grew in popularity, the artist had little difficulty in amassing the large volume of relatively tiny tiles needed to complete this work 3 times over - tourists who visited the steps would post him fresh new tiles from all over the world when they returned home. Indeed, we easily managed to spend over an hour pottering around all the steps checking out the vast array of interesting images and messages on the individual tiles.
A few days later, we walked through the massive favela (slum/shantytown) of Rochina and saw a very different side to that portrayed by the mass media. Whilst there was a fair degree of poverty to be seen and the influence of the drug gang who police the settlement was omnipresent, Rochina offered up a lot more positives than negatives - handcrafted artwork, vivid graffiti, all genres of music, friendly, welcoming faces and a great sense of community within the various community centres and youth clubs.
As I said at the start, I could go on all day about the things I like about Rio - crazy street parties, live open air jazz and drumming groups, the street vendors, sneaking into clubs through the kitchen on the busiest nights....But I won't. Rio rocks and I God I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see it for myself.