Rio de Janeiro

Friday 3rd February 2012

It was bitterly cold when we set off for Heathrow by taxi at 7.45am, but we had the comfort of knowing that we were flying into southern hemisphere summer.

A twelve hour flight isn't something you look forward to, but a decent airline makes it bearable. We were flying with BA, and things were pretty much OK, apart from there being a bit of a problem with their in-flight entertainment system, which meant that many of the advertised films wouldn't run.

We landed in Rio de Janeiro just before midnight UK time (10pm local) and it was about two and a half hours later that we arrived by taxi at our hotel, the Sheraton, exhausted and ready for a nice long sleep.

(click on photos to enlarge)

From our hotel room window
Hotel's beach
Hotel's pool

A quick look out of the window this morning showed the sort of day we could look forward to; clear blue skies and bright, warm sunshine. At 8.30 here were already people playing on the beach in front of the hotel on clean, bright, white sand.

Breakfast was self-service buffet, with enough exotic fresh fruit to keep Gill happy and enough cooked items to provide me with something approaching a Full English! And we were both very happy with the English Breakfast tea!

View from hotel's beach across to
Leblon and Ipanema

Carnival costume in hotel reception
Leblon and Ipanema in the background
Straight after breakfast we went to the excursions desk and booked trips – one for this afternoon and another for tomorrow morning. But to pass the morning we took the hotel's own shuttle into Rio itself. The destination was described simply as 'Shopping', which we assumed meant, 'city centre'. In the event it meant 'very large indoor shopping centre', which wasn't exactly what we were after. However, the bus trip there and back took us along the gorgeous beaches, and the trip was worth it for this alone.
Local birdlife
Statue towering over Rio
Ipanema beach

Running from west to each the beaches are Leblon, Ipanema and Copacobana, and there's nothing to choose between them, really – LONG expanses of clean white sand packed with skimpily dressed locals and with very little space for newcomers to settle in comfort. It was Saturday morning when we first saw them and they were already packed, which wasn't altogether surprising I suppose, but you'd have a sneaking suspicion that they're just as busy during the week!

Ipanema beach
Leblon and Ipanema beaches
From our hotel room window
We came back to the Sheraton ready for our afternoon excursion to the huge 'Christ the Redeemer' statue perched high over the city, looking across to Sugar Loaf Mountain. From a distance you simply can't imagine that it's remotely possible to get to it and yet there's a railway AND public roads that cars can use.
On our way to the statue
Statue with Sugar Loaf in the distance
On our way to the statue

We went up on the train, which was slightly scary at times due to the steep incline in places. When you get to the top there are two sets of escalators that take you right up the the platform on which the statue stands. The fairly small area around it was absolutely heaving with visitors, and it made me wonder whether access should be reserved for people using the train – in that way you could limit the numbers and more easily guarantee safety.

High above Rio
High above Rio
The statue

The statue itself is a bit of a lump. I suppose that, given that it's mainly to be viewed from a great distance, there's no point in fine sculpted details, though. The head and hands were, apparently, made in Paris and the rest was made locally. You can't really get great photos of it because you can stand back far enough. Also, in the afternoon, which was when we were there, the sun is directly behind it, which doesn't make for great photography.

High above Rio
Monkeys at 700+ metres!
Monkeys at 700+ metres!
In fact, the best shots of it are taken from helicopters. We've probably all seen the famous shot taken from high over its left shoulder (see above) looking down over the city and the sea, with Sugar Loaf in the mid-distance. It's certainly an impressive sight and one of those things to do at some point in your life. You have to marvel at the engineering skills that allowed such a huge structure to be erected on such an unpromising building site!
The train to/from the statue
Grounds of the hotel at night
Live music in the hotel grounds
By the time that the bus dropped us off back at the hotel we were desperate for food and drink. We went out into the hotel's ground and found a little restaurant where we sat quietly, enjoying our meal and going over our day as the sun went down. There are no two ways about it – Rio is a beautiful city as far as its location is concerned!

Sunday 5th February 2012

We had to set the alarm this morning, as our excursion departed at 8am. It took us a whole hour to go back along the beachfront hotels picking up other people who, like us, wanted to see Sugar Loaf up close.

I had my heart in my mouth when we got to the cable car. It's a two stage journey up to Sugar Loaf. The first stage itself involves a climb of over 200 metres – that's as high as the TV Tower restaurant in Berlin, for those of you who've done that! At the end of the first stage you walk through a section of canopied rain forest (really very attractive, and beautifully shady) and arrive at the departure point of the second cable car. Here you set off for ANOTHER 200 metre climb.

First cable car towards Sugar Loaf
Scary prospect!
Now the SECOND cable car!
I have a serious problem with heights and so does Gill, but we felt fairly safe in the large cable cars – capacity 65. I felt far more anxious in the six person cable cars in Funchal, Madeira - as they cross the supporting pylons on the journey they lurch about alarmingly! Once you get on to the top of Sugar Loaf you have the most unbelievably wonderful views in all directions.
Looking back down
Copacabana from Sugar Loaf
Rio from Sugar Loaf
Large commercial aircraft landing at the nearby airport pass you at your height as they bank and line up with the runway. Large birds hang in the air on the currents above you as you gawp down at one of the world's greatest panoramas. We got talking to a Scot and an English chap, both of whom have visited Sydney and love it and both of whom said that the sight we were all currently gazing at was even better. Wow!

I'm not sure that I'll ever again see anything quite as awe-inspiring. One's reaction to the view from the top is probably heightened by the journey you make in order to get up there. Even though as you look back across to the statue and you realise it's about twice as high as Sugar Loaf you can't help thinking that this view is superior. We were up there for about 90 minutes, and I was almost reluctant to come down as I know that I'll never see this view again - it was THAT good.
Rio from Sugar Loaf
Rio from Sugar Loaf
Statue from Sugar Loaf
The route back down to Rio
Overlooking Copacabana
Basking on Sugar Loaf
While we were up there the guide pointed out a conical building way away in the city centre. This was the cathedral, built in the 1970s, and it would be the second and last stop on our itinerary. When we got to it it was hard to know quite what to make of it at first. It was made of cast concrete with sort of louvred openings all around that let in air and a little light. The space inside was enormous – maximum capacity 20,000. There were four panels of coloured glass windows equally spaced around the inside of the cone, which itself was brutal 1970s concrete

Going back outside again you couldn't help noticing how very ugly exposed concrete can be when exposed to the elements for forty years – it just looks grubby and far from being appropriate for a cathedral. You can't help reflecting that it probably won't see its centenary as by them it'll have been pulled down and replaced.
Rio's bizarre cathedral - outside
Rio's bizarre cathedral - inside
Rio's bizarre cathedral, reflected

After this it was back through the centre of Rio and its traffic jams and back to a peaceful afternoon reading beside the pool. Before our evening meal we went to the bar to cash in some vouchers we'd been given for a complimentary drink. We'd neither of us heard before of a cocktail called a Caipirinha but we were both immediately smitten. It consists of fresh limes, lime juice, ice and a sugar cane-derived liqueur called, I think, Cachuça. Wow! It was VERY potent and completely wonderful. We've already decided we'll see if we can get the same cocktail on board our ship.

And then we spent a second contented evening, in a mild Caipirinha-induced haze, at the restaurant in the hotel grounds.

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