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The Other Side of Rio

The Other Side of Rio
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BY KATHLEEN HEINS

Its breathtaking views, welcoming people, and festive spirit shine through its many challenges

With all the bad press about Rio, especially now that the Olympics have arrived, I canai??i??t help but defend one of my favorite places. I recently made my third trip there to visit my lifelong friend; a Brazilian native who I met in high school. Rio is visually so glorious. The combination of mountains, seascapes dotted with boats, inviting cityscape and lush tropical foliage fill you with awe. This is especially true when you take it all in from a hotel rooftop or, better yet, one of several mountain vistas.

Rio 1

Accommodations: My hotel, the Miramar, in Copacabana, included a breakfast on steroids each morning. My focus at the breakfast bar was on the wide array of tropical fruits and the amazing pastries which served as my appetizer before going on to smoked salmon and eggs. I wish I could drink champagne in the morning because it was flowing but the Brazilian coffee was an even greater lure. The staff was friendly and inviting. I actually felt that I left behind a few new friends on checkout day. Thanks to last fallai??i??s exchange rate (still quite good), our five star hotel overlooking the mosaic sidewalks of Copacabana Beach, and ocean beyond, was a bargain. Our room was a little bit of heaven with luscious bedding and cloud soft pillows. It was also quite spacious.

Rio2

Service: The attention we received in restaurants was star quality across the board. The waiters at our hotel (come to think of it all the servers were male everywhere we went) had my coffee in front of me within seconds and by day two knew exactly how I took it. They even indulged and complimented my attempts to speak only in Portuguese. Granted, my vocabulary was limited but I made sure to get down some key phrases.

Food: Even fast food tastes wonderful here. Iai??i??m a big fan of the melted cheese (also comes with ham) sandwiches I enjoyed whenever possible. At restaurants there were an abundance of healthy offerings with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. An out of the way restaurant in Rio, Aprazivel, is located at the top of the bohemian, cobble-stoned neighborhood of Santa Teresa and is a must see. Dining there is as close as you will get to eating in a tree house. To enter, you take an elevator to reach the outdoor seating in the treetops! In Brazil, the big meal of the day is at lunch with a lighter meal served around eight at night. Donai??i??t leave Brazil without sampling Pao de Quesijo, round little rolls of bread that are baked with cheese inside (although light as air and chewy).

Rio5

Sweets: Brazilians are very fond of desserts. Among a favorite are Brigadeiros. These little chocolate fudge balls are made with condensed milk, butter and cocoa power and typically rolled in chocolate sprinkles. The mixture is also poured into little shot classes or used as a filling in cakes or pastries. Be sure to sample some passion fruit mousse and donai??i??t leave Rio without indulging in the coconut flan made with egg yolks, sugar and coconut. Guava paste wrapped in white cheese (known in Brazil as Romeo and Juliet) is another classic. Load up on Brazilian bonbons (Garotoa brand) and chocolate bars (Lacta dark and white chocolate in particular) which make great souvenirs.

Drinks: Draft beer known as Chopp (pronounced shoppe) is sold in small glasses to keep it cold! A cocktail you must try is the Caipirinha, considered Brazilai??i??s national drink. Itai??i??s made with CachaAi??a, a locally distilled alcohol beverage, sugar and lime.

People: Iai??i??ve always found the Brazilian people to be so engaging. There is a warmth and lightness to their spirit. I also love the language, Portuguese, which I find soothing to the ear. It sounds as if it’s spoken with a smile on the lips and a dance in the soul.

Rio 3

Shopping: Many great souvenirs can be found at an open air market along the ocean in Copacabana and at the Hippy Market in Ipanema where I purchased handmade leather wallets made of soft, colored and embroidered leather. I also bought a beach wrap (very popular and can also be used as an impromptu beach blanket) at a street fair, and an abundance of Rio 2016 Olympics hats for family members. Many visitors make sure to also stock up on the wildly popular Havaianas, Brazilai??i??s famous flip-flops known for their many colors and designs (art for your feet!). Theyai??i??re surprisingly light and comfortable and worn by the bulk of beach goers there.

 

A Few among Many Must Sees: A gondola will take you up to Sugar Loaf, known to natives at Pao de Acucar, where youai??i??ll take in gorgeous panoramic views of Rio and Guanabara Bay. You can even catch a helicopter ride on top. For authentic Brazilian food, plan to eat at the Cota 200 Restaurant perched atop Morra da Urca (you can hike up if you like); the first stop on your way to the top of Sugarloaf. On Saturdays they were offering a buffet serving perhaps Brazilai??i??s most famous dish, Feijoada, a black bean stew made with beef and sausage. As part of the buffet youai??i??re also invited to enjoy a variety of traditional desserts. Breathtaking views are included!

No visit to Rio is complete without a trip to the top of Christ the Redeemer, the famous giant statue with outstretched arms which stands on top of Corcovado Mountain. You can drive, or take a train to the top (even better) which is an experience in itself. After youai??i??ve taken in the views and gotten all your photographs, grab a coffee and some souvenirs at the top before heading back down.

Rio6

Also plan to visit the promenade of the former Fort Copacabana located at the end of Copacabana, next to the famous Ipanema Beach. It still belongs to the military but offers two cafes and outdoor seating plus a military museum. Jutting out into the ocean, it offers great city/beach views.

Rio4

Safety: I know there are many reports of violence on the streets of Rio, and I did find our fellow hotel guests expressing concern, but I didnai??i??t experience any problems. I did, however, make certain to keep my money and passport close at hand and I adopted my New York demeanor of looking like I knew where I was going. I also did not venture very far in unpopulated areas at night.

Rio is a city that has always called my name and this trip was no different. Although it was many years since my last trip to this beautiful city (donai??i??t forget to get a Visa!), I know it will not be my last.

 

 

 

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