From Brazil with love

In the summer of 2015 I went with a friend to Brazil. First we visited the north: Recife, Olinda and Porto de Galinhas. Then, we flew to the most beautiful city ever, Rio de Janeiro.

RECIFE

Facts about the city:

In Recife they dance Frevo, not Samba. Frevo is a rhythm born in Recife, and that’s what you’ll see people dancing during Carnival. Frevo was included on the UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage.

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First we visited Recife, in the Northeast of Brazil. Me and Rita went there to visit Claudia, a former college classmate. Claudia went to Brazil to study there and ended up staying there for good, because her family is from Recife. Her house is super nice, we felt like we were right in the middle of the jungle, with that abundant vegetation, with monkeys roaming the electric cables and with that tropical climate, super humid and hot. We hated that weather, it seems we can’t even breathe.

Recife is a city that is below the sea level and thank God we didn’t witness a terrible flood that stroke the city a few days before our trip. It is a city full of canals and therefore is easily flooded. The sea there is not very good there because you are not allowed to swim since there are some sharks. We went out for drinks twice in a bar near Claudia’s house.

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What shocked me and Rita the most is the way they go out in Brazil at night. The boys are really confident and the girls are really sluts. We also went out in a bar and in a nightclub with Cláudia’s friends. In the nightclub I drank a lot and let some boys pull me to dance, but Rita helped me to send them away when they got annoying. By the end of the night we were the only ones who were not kissing anyone.

Claudia’s brother already took hundreds of girls to motels, disgusting! Even Claudia was there kissing a random boy. Another thing that is different there is the fact that the music is almost only sertanejo, and that they play it live in clubs with covers bands, which does not happen in Portugal.

In one of the days we stayed there Claudia showed us Recife. We went to the Marco Zero square and to a museum there called Caixa Cultural Recife and then we went to see the Recife Antigo (old Recife). Recife Antigo consists of the initial Portuguese settlement in the 16th century around the port.

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We were also in a rock bar, Rock & Ribs, and went to have dinner at Cláudia’s cousin’s place. I loved Abel, he is very nice.

We went to the Cais do Sertão museum. Inaugurated in 2014, this bold new museum highlights the culture of the sertão, especially as it relates to the godfather of forró music, Luiz Gonzaga, who was a major player not only in bringing the music of the region to national prominence but the culture as well. This museum also talks about the history of Recife, the Portuguese occupation, frevo music, etc.

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We went to the two main shopping malls in the city, both with panoramic views of the canals and bridges of the city. The best part was when we did a catamaran boat tour around the city, it was beautiful.

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We took this opportunity to eat different things: graviola, cajá, mamão, tapioca (prepared by Cláudia’s mom), castanha de caju, bolinhos de goma, açaí, etc. We were addicted to Paçoquita, which is a peanut butter candy.


PORTO DE GALINHAS

Facts about the city:

The town was called Porto Rico (Rich Port) until 1850 when it became a place where people traded slaves to work in the plantations of sugar cane. To evade the control of the illegal transaction, slaves were transported together with guineafowl and passwords were created by traffickers (Portuguese: “Tem galinha nova no porto” – “There are new chickens in the port”), hence the origin of the name.

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In one of the days we were in Recife, we went with Claudia and her mother to visit Porto de Galinhas. The beach of Porto de Galinhas, 60 kilometers south of Recife has been repeatedly awarded the title of best beach in Brazil and has drawn many tourists.

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That place is heavenly! Porto de Galinhas beach is a major tourist destination and it is famous for its bright-water beaches and the natural pools.

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The water there is hot even in winter, but in summer it reaches 28 degrees! Claudia and I took a swim and it felt amazing. The city center is also nice, with craft shops and souvenirs, with chickens statues and images everywhere. I liked it!


OLINDA

Facts about the city:

Pernambuco was a Portuguese colony. While Recife had port functions, Olinda was the capital. However, in 1630 the Dutch invaded this area and set Olinda partially on fire. Recife became the seat of the Dutch government and Olinda lost his importance. Olinda is still one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil and its historic town center considered a world heritage site by UNESCO.

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Still during our stay in Recife, we went with Cláudia and her cousin, Abel, to visit the city of Olinda. Olinda has a great connection to Portugal, with the azulejos (tiles) and the cute churches. We visited some of them: Igreja da Se, Convento de S. Francisco, etc.

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We also used a lift to go up to a lookout point where we could enjoy a beautiful view of Recife on the other side.

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We visited street markets and more craft shops. I ate a delicious tapioca there. Too bad we did not go there for the Carnival, it is super famous there.


RIO DE JANEIRO

Facts about the city:

According to tradition, Rio de Janeiro was first visited in January 1502 by Portuguese explorers, who believed the bay they encountered (now called Guanabara Bay) was the mouth of a river. They named the area named Rio de Janeiro, “River of January.”

There are more than 1,000 favelas (slums) in Rio and almost one fourth of Cariocas (nickname of the locals) live in them. Rio’s residents have been living in favelas since the end of the 19th century, being the most affordable housing option. It was there, in the favelas, that former African slaves first created the music style we now know as samba. Nowadays, most of the city’s renowned samba schools that compete in the world’s most famous Carnival parade are located in favelas.

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After all this, we went to visit Rio de Janeiro, the famous cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city). Well, loveeeed it! Rita’s cousin, who lives in Rio and is a taxi driver, picked us up at the airport and then showed us around the city. First, we visited the favela where he lives and we met Rita’s family. Afterwards, we went to Maracanã stadium. The stadium was opened in 1950 to host the FIFA World Cup.

Then we went to Copacabana beach. There, at the Copacabana Palace, Rita was hoping to see some of the Globo’s famous actors, but nothing (btw, we also saw Globo and Projac, where they shoot the famous Brazilian soap operas). Back in Copacabana, we went to a street market and bought some souvenirs. The people of Rio are very friendly and cheerful, gave me the urge to go and live there!

Next we went to our hotel which is the best hotel I have stayed at in my entire life! Right on the calçadão, on the Ipanema Beach line! It is called Best Western Sol Ipanema Hotel and is located on Avenida Vieira Souto. What a luxury!! We had gym and hotel at the top of the hotel, overlooking the beach and Morro dos Dois Irmaos (two mountains that rise at the western end of the beach). We paid x for x nights.

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The people at the hotel were also super friendly. Our hotel was super comfortable and with a magnificent view, like a postcard. We always fell asleep with the sound of the waves. The next day we had a luxury breakfast at the hotel and spent the morning strolling down the promenade from Leblon beach to Ipanema beach.

The Leblon beach is known for its elegant development and its social life. Two mountains called the Dois Irmãos rise at the western end of the beach, which is divided into segments delineated by postos, or lifeguard towers. In Ipanema beach there’s usually a lot of people playing football, volleyball and footvolley. Beer is sold everywhere, along with the traditional cachaça.

We finished our walk in Pedra do Arpoador. This is a rock located between Ipanema and Copacabana. During some time around midsummer it is possible to see the sun setting over the sea from Arpoador, a rare event on the generally eastward-facing Brazilian coast. On these occasions crowds gather around the place and cheer when the sun disappears.

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This place is a natural viewpoint with giant rocks and a beautiful sunset view to Morro dos Dois Irmãos and Favela do Vidigal. Beautiful! Then we went for a walk to see the shops in the center of Rio de Janeiro. We went to Girl from Ipanema bar, to Vinicius de Moraes Bar, we went to McDonalds (they use names like McLanche Feliz or the slogan Amo tudo Isso). At the end of the day we went for a swim in our hotel’s pool.

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The next day was awesome. Rita’s cousin came to pick us up in the taxi and took us to Cristo Rei. Before Cristo Rei, we went up to Mirante Dona Marta, with the best possible view possible for Pão de Açúcar! This lookout offers a spectacular view of the city. On one side you can see the Guanabara Bay, Niterói and the mountains of the Serrana region in the background. On the other side, next to the heliport, one can see the Lagoa and the South Zone, besides the Christ statue. This viewpoint has one of the most perfect angles of the city to take photos. I took some of my favorite photos of the trip there.

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This day was very hot, which was great. After that, we climbed up 700 metres to reach the top of Monte Corcovado, in the Tijuca Forest National Park, in some vans. Finally, we reached the Cristo Rei (Christ the Redeemer) statue! 😀 Well, what an amazing place!! There are no words to describe it… It was the most beautiful place I have ever visited in my life.

Constructed between 1922 and 1931, the statue is 30m tall, excluding its 8m pedestal. A symbol of Christianity across the world, the statue has also become a cultural icon of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, and is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. What a breathtaking view! Even the crowd of tourists like us, trying to take a thousand photos, did not take away the charm. I’m glad I went there with Rita, I really like her. After the photos we stayed there for a while trying to absorb the landscape.

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Rita’s cousin took us through Floresta da Tijuca and Barra da Tijuca. We had lunch at a restaurant and in the afternoon we went to the Botanical Gardens and Praia da Barra. Barra da Tijuca is believed to be the safest of Rio’s upper-class neighborhoods because of its lack of favelas and plentiful private and public security. Barra da Tijuca neighborhood is well known for being the home of celebrities and soccer stars.

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Then we passed the house of Roberto Carlos in Urca, we went to Morro da Urca, Praia Vermelha and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf mountain). Pão de Açúcar is amazing! Rising 396m above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. It is terrifying to get on its cableway (bondinho) because it shakes a lot, but the sight from the two or three places where we stopped is almost as perfect as the view from the Christ. It’s amazing! It was a fantastic day.

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The next day was amazing too. We booked a guided tour with a private guide, to show us the historic center of Rio, because we were afraid to go there alone. The guide was a super friendly African guy. First he took us by car to the neighborhood and favela of Santa Teresa.

Then we went to Escadaria de Selaron (Selaron Steps), which is a set of world-famous steps create by the Cilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, with donated tiles from all over the world. I’ve been looking for tiles from Portugal and Porto and found a lot! I had no idea. There are over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.

In 1990, Selarón began renovating dilapidated steps that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbors mocked him for his choice of colors as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colors of the Brazilian flag. It started out as a side-project to his main passion, painting, but soon became an obsession. He found he was constantly out of money, so Selarón sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhausting work but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of steps in tiles, ceramics and mirrors.

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Then we went to the historical center, with some trace elements of the Portuguese influence, in a museum that spoke about the Portuguese and our empire there, in the House of Carmen Miranda, in the Candelaria Church, in the cultural center, in Arcos da Lapa (the aqueduct serves as a bridge for a popular tram that connects the city center with the Santa Teresa favela uphill), in the cylindrical Cathedral, etc.

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At the end of the tour we went to eat açaí and the guide brought us back to the hotel by metro. In the afternoon we went to say goodbye to the Calçadão, we went to the beach, drank coconut water, took photos with the statue of Tom Jobim and enjoyed the wonderful view of those beaches for the last time.

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We were sitting on a bench that had the quote: Pare aqui. Aprecie a vida por um minuto e SORRIA – Stop here. Appreciate life for one minute and smile. Isn’t it beautiful? 🙂

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