Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand…

“Moving on the floor now babe you’re a bird of paradise
Cherry ice-cream smile I suppose it’s very nice
With a step to your left and a flick to the right
You catch that mirror way out west
You know you’re something special and you look like you’re the best
Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand…”

For every great city in the world there’s always a song or two to accompany you on your travels. I was recently accompanying Frank Sinatra…“Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking..” a song definitely not describing me on the beach.
I  also couldn’t help but sing the Duran Duran song even it isn’t anything to do with the actual city of Rio!

It’s on! We started our South America tour in marvelous Rio de Janeiro, it’s an amazing place with a lot to do, we were all walked out after our 7 day city stay. Here’s a flavour of what we saw on our trip.

Walking through Centro, Lapa and Santa Teresa
As we visited Rio during low season, we knew to expect spring weather. So on a cloudy, cooler day we set off to explore the historic downtown attractions. From Metro stop Cinelandia we found a lot of this area under heavy construction ready for next summer’s Olympic Games. The impressive National Library building was wrapped up having a cosmetic makeover. Across Avenida Rio Branco is the beautiful Teatro Municipal it’s a fine copy of the famous Paris Opera House. Built in the same Belle Epoch turn of the century style, The Museu Nacional de Belas Artes provided a retreat for us from rain.

After a stroll up to Candelária Church it was time for cake and coffee in the elegant Confeitaria Colombo. Fully refreshed we wandered through the busy city centre, making a quick stop to purchase bargain Havaianas, I chose butterflies over Star Wars ones! Onwards past the crumbling colonial convents we took a look at the concrete conical shaped Rio de Janeiro Cathedral. I think the concept idea is that it’s ugly on the outside but that inside it’s beautiful and that’s what counts. I’ve become a colonial baroque style church snob so unfortunately this grey block Cathedral was dark and dull for me.

From the Cathedral we jumped on the historic tram to ride up over the Lapa arches to the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa.
I really enjoyed wandering through the narrow cobbled streets where the views from the top are fantastic over the city.

Once an upper class neighbourhood of Rio the huge mansions from the late 19th century now house hippie hostels and B&Bs. The area is full of art studios and funky street art graffiti adorns the flaky walls. I’m very glad we got the tram to the top and were walking down not up, as the streets were extremely steep!

On the way back to Lapa we spent time looking at the interesting tiles that adorn the Selaron Stairway. From the top it just looks like an ordinary staircase but as you walk down you see hundreds of shiny patterned tiles that have been placed onto the underside of all 215 steps and walls.

Eccentric Chilean artist Jorge Selarón started using mosaic tiles to cover flower planters on the stairs in the 1990’s and his art project spread through the stairway. People would send him tiles to install from all around the world which makes for fun viewing. Unfortunately Selarón was found dead, likely murdered on the steps in 2013, his colourful legacy is a very  popular arty tourists hang out spot.

A modern city with lots of tourist attractions, stunning scenery and then top it off with glorious wide sandy beaches, Rio has got it all going on! Skimpy bikinis and the tightest speedo pants are flaunted on stunning sexy Brazilian bronzed bodies. Runners, roller skaters, skateboarders and bikers whizz up and down the seafront on the iconic wavy patterned promenade.

On the busy public holiday we took time for a leisurely long walk from the Copacabana Palace Hotel past the volleyball players, beyond the surfers of Arpoador, onto classy Ipanema where dog walkers escort their well groomed Golden Retrievers, French bulldogs and Pugs and all the way down to swanky Leblon..stopping occasionally for a cerveja and time to watch these gorgeous people.

Maracaná Stadium
The beautiful game for Brazilians is their national pastime, their life and their passion. The stadium is iconic as pretty much every great footballer has played here oh and Wayne Rooney as well..

Former world class players such as Zico, Romario and Jairzinho are all from Rio. Kids in the nearby favelas, high above the famous Maracana Stadium play football in the streets with dreams of playing their way out of poverty to become the next Ronaldo.
Maracana Stadium was built to host the 1950 World Cup, but unfortunately Brazil lost in the final to Uruguay. After some serious renovations it was one of the host stadiums in the 2014 World Cup with Germany winning in the final at the stadium. We enjoyed being football manager while visiting.

Taking the gondola to the top of Pao de Acucar was one of the highlights of our trip even though it seemed the whole of Rio was in the lineup to visit also. 65 visitors are packed into the cable car where the first ascent is from Praia Vermelha to Urca Hill. At this level there are some fabulous lookout points over Rio, the long beaches, Christ statue, Guanabara Bay, the city of Niteroi and way out to the Atlantic Ocean.

We had to dodge a barricade of people waving selfie sticks before we could get a decent vantage point. The next cable car then goes up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for outstanding 360 degree views. By the time we reached the top, the sun was starting to set behind Christ the Redeemer, the views were a little hazy but were totally splendid.

After doing a bit of research I thought I was being a smarty pants for a cheap day out, by choosing to take an 80p ferry to the city of Niteroi where we could then jump on the ‘hop on hop off’ tourist bus that runs on weekends. Unfortunately we found out on arrival that the bus wasn’t running but the ferry ride gave us great views back over to the city and across Guanabara Bay.

While there we took a local bus to visit the futuristic MAC museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, which also turned out to be closed for repairs! Never mind as the vista was great. We couldn’t decide if the flying saucer building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer jutting out over the cliff side was home of the Thunderbirds or Tony Starks Ironman house.

Christ the Redeemer
If you think of Rio it’s inevitable you would immediately conjure up the image of the Christ statue, arms ever outstretched looking out from up high over the City.

When the World Cup was held in Rio last year there was that amazing photograph of the statue with a full golden moon almost in the palm of his hand. He is iconic and an incredible sight regardless of your faith. Where ever we were in the city we would look up ‘could we see Big Jesus?’ The statue, owned by the Catholic Church is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and it’s a worthy wonder as the views over the city, mountains and ocean are just stunning.

Lage Parc
After taking photos on top of cloudy Corcovado Mountain, we rode the train from Cristo down the mountain through the Tijuca National Park, where we could see Capuchin monkeys swinging in the tree tops. We then caught the local bus to tranquil Lage Parc. These tropical lush gardens are directly below Corcovado, the crumbly replica Roman Palazzo inside the park provides an impressive focal point looking up to the Christ statue and on a sunny day would be a photographers dream.

The palazzo was built in 1931 by Henrique Lage for his Italian opera singer wife. Within the park are towers, gazebos and luscious fern filled corners perfect for lovers to hang out in, it would make an fabulous setting for a wedding. The palazzo now houses an art institute and I’m sure provides lots of arty inspiration.

Rio was a great city to start our South American trip in. Due to its trading history resulting with Portuguese speaking locals, this cosmopolitan city felt more like a cross between a Carribean and European city. Only when you see the green & yellow flag, were we reminded we were in the vast diverse country of Brazil. We only experienced a sample of Rio, choosing just the main tourist sites to visit, rightly or wrongly avoided learning more about its social problems and about how half of the city live in poverty in the favelas. It’s going to be an amazing Olympic Games next year, we’ll certainly enjoy watching and inevitably say ‘ah we were right there! ‘

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