The best thing about leaving Rio on Friday was the fact I no longer constantly sing “her name was Rio and she dances in the saaands” or “her name was Lola, she was a showgirl” in my head.

I sort of wish I knew more words to the songs.

The worst thing about leaving Rio?

Leaving Rio.

It’s an incredible city, with everything you could possibly want from a city.

Beautiful 5km beaches, palm lined avenida’s, jungle covered mountains, an all night party scene, favelas that are more safe than downtown, a whole 2 (!) metro lines, more museums than you can shake a stick at, and the ‘best caipirinha in Brazil’ all carefully watched over by Christ himself.

The only downside to Rio is that is has one of the ugliest Cathedrals I’ve ever seen. Catedral Metropolitana looks almost like a Mayan Temple. Yet doesn’t quite manage the look properly. We first saw it in the dark, after a long rainy day looking around the Brazilian National History museum and the Museum of “beautiful art”, home to so many Untitled Compositions its unbelievable. After getting lost next to a church I will now never forget. Santa Luiz.

So as you can imagine I was in a great mood to look at a cathedral.

At first sight, it’s looming. Once inside its almost apocalyptic. Without sunlight it’s eerily creepy as organ music continues to play and the entire space is dark save for a spotlight on a during-crucifiction Jesus. After this we had a Subway 15cm (metric system at work) sandwich.

We saw it second time around during a night out in Lapa, Rio’s famous party town. I could compare it to Soho in London … almost. Plonked behind the Arcos do Lapa, a dirty white set of disused arches for an old tram system that cut through the district, it doesnt look much better. But it did light up purple.

There in Lapa, we discovered the largest and cheapest caipirinha in brazil (unconfirmed), half a litre for R$5 (£1.60?). Essentially they were being sold out of someone’s front room but still. We found a cute little bar, with our 2 new German friends and Sophia, a Haitian who worked at reception in or hostel. Muito cerveja followed.

Another damp day followed, not as damp as our culture day in Rio but still wet. To match less damp, but still damp, we did less culture but still culture and visited the Jardim Botanico. Again, sunshine does make everything better but we tried to make the most of the trees.

Brazilian late autumn is not the best time to visit a botanic garden.

Althought slightly more impressive than Curitiba’s gardens, it was still essentially just plants. A cactus garden, an orchid house, a rose garden (roses don’t flower in autumn) and a Japanese garden where we all tried to be Frankie. Even though she’s Chinese. Or Filipino. Or Spanish or something.

Once it dried up a bit, we left the gardens in search of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoa. A huge salt water lagoon that sits behind Ipanema beach. After being real tourists, consulting a bad map, we asked for help. The gender defining issue of asking directions was evident. Me and Matthias shied away whenever Klara approached someone.

Eventually we found it. The it rained and was cold so we left.

On the hunt for food, we accidentally stumbled into Leblon, the 2nd most expensive district in Rio. Naturally headed straight for a shopping mall that turned out to be quite upmarket and not somewhere for sodden tourists in flip flops and shorts.

I saw my Brazilian Zara. Remarkably, exactly the same as the Bluewater Zara at home. In the food court, I was tempted with a “Real British Jacket Potato” but ultimately decided that while in in brazil, I should eat like a Brazilian.

So I had sushi instead.

We emerged somewhere along Ipanema beach. After being awake all day, Matthias was tired and caught a bus back to the hostel, while me and mum (Klara) walked the entire length of Ipanema beach.

Really just to say that I’ve walked he entire length of Ipanema beach. And CopaCabana by the way as well.

A second night out in Lapa and a 3rd view of the cathedral. This time we tagged along with 5 Brazilians having a weekend break from Uni in Campinas, São Paulo. We ended the night in MoFo’s, a cheeky little funk club where we whacked out some favourite actions learned in Maringá.

Finally a dry day! Not sunny, but dry. Our expectations had been lowered enough that this was good. We (Matthias) decided he wanted to see the centre again and not in the rain. So we hopped on a R$3.50 metro to Carioca station. It’s a good system, just not very expansive. Reminds me of the Madrid metro. Very smooth.

The cathedral during the day was slightly more special. Not from the outside. Although its reflections in the adjacent Petobras building was quite cool. Something we hadn’t noticed in the multiple previous viewings due to the dark, is that on each side there is a humongous stain glass window. From inside, on a nice day, these 4 windows make it much mess creepy, and a lot more holy.

Suddenly the sun came out and it was almost quite hot. We quickly changed out minds about seeing the centre in the dry and hot-footed it back to Copacabana for some tanning. Lying on any beach is nice when its sunny, but lying on Copacabana with a coco (a coconut they hack the top off of and stick a straw in) when it’s sunny is really something special.

I didn’t tan.

To celebrate Denmark winning the Eurovision (called the Grand Prix in most of Europe it seems) we headed straight for the best caipirinhas in Rio. We had our own little euro fest with a Brit, a Czech, 2 Danes, a Fin, a Turk (Europe?) and a Germ(an).

Read anything about Rio beaches and it will tell you people will try and sell you stuff all day. Cola, water, earrings, hats, beer, T-shirts, peanuts, BBQ’d cheese on a stick and magic boxes.

Yes you read those last two right.

So this guy, waltz’s up to us Europeans, (we didn’t exclude other nationalities, that’s just how it happened) and tells us,

“Nobody has opened this box in 7 years, if you manage it, I’ll buy you 10 caipirinha’s”

Cue everybody frustrated over a small wooden box. Eventually the Turk gave in and paid R$15 for him to show Us how to open it, she got a box to keep thrown in for ‘free’ aswell.

We saved up for Monday. A reliable weather forecast had told us it would be sunny and clear all day. On Matthias’ last day we took a tour from the hostel to see all the important stuff we hadn’t seen because the views would have been crap. It was a perfect day though.

The views from Cristo Redentor and Pao de Açúcar were breathtaking. Despite the crowds beneath Christ, it was stunning. It has lasted really well, being about 70 years old now, it’s outer soapstone layer clearly ages well. I did the typical tourist pose with my arms out. I didn’t even get funny looks because everyone else had already done the same thing. Unlike some other tourist sites, cough *Taj Mahal* cough, it was actually bigger than I thought. Up close it towers 38m skywards, but you can still clearly see the emotion carved into his face. It doesn’t feel like just a statue.

We had lunch at the famous Lapa Steps. You’ve heard of them right? No me neither until last week. Some artist decided one day to make a pretty mosaic on a step which quickly became a pretty big mosaic on a lot of steps.

The artist, who is still alive, then began to use tiles people gave him from their home counties so now people spend time walking up and down (mainly down) looking for particular tiles from home.

I saw Diana, a red phone box and a couple from Sheffield who got engaged on the steps. Lots of Germany though.

It’s an overused saying but the view on the sunset from Pão de Açúcar is the best view in Rio. We arrived at the bottom about 4 and made the 2 cable car journey to the top. You can literally see everything.

From the President Costa E Silva bridge, Rio’s national airport with its (quite short) floating runways, around past the Maracanã stadium, still very much a building site. I know because we went there to have a look at it. Your eyes pass over a mountain, past Corcovado and Christ, hanging out with a bunch if pylons that I think are the ones which provide free wifi to Rocinha, the biggest favela in South America. Down through Copacabana and Ipanema beaches up to Leblon and Gávea.

From here its also the first time I realised Rio is built around a huge bay. With the bridge spanning the mouth of the bay, you can see across but as far as im aware there’s nothing to go there for. Nobody has told me otherwise either.

We stood for nearly 2 hours while the sun set over Rio and the city twinkled in the night sky. It’s a truly breathtaking city in all three stages and I could stay up there all day just watching it. Our tour guide said she never gets tired of the Corcovado view on good days but as far as I believe, it’s better to look to the city, than down on it.

After the heart wrenching moment when Matthias got on a bus to São Paulo making our threesome a twosome, we ambled down to Copacabana for caipirinha. It’s as normal part of my routine as breakfast is now.

I had planned to go hang gliding the next morning. However too much wind put a stop to that so we took a tour of Rochina. The aforementioned favela. I will write a whole other blog just for this because its worth it. Stay tuned.

The prospect of 2 hours of free caipirinha lured us to 00, a club that has a live samba band until half 12 and free caipirinha until midnight. A snazzy little half inside, half outside, half terrace, half bar place with a great atmosphere both chilled before the party and during.

Defying all odds, we met the Aussies boys from Florianoplis at the bar and had a little catch up. Nice boys. The real party started after the, actually quite good, samba band and I felt like I was back in Leeds. Got stung at the end of the night when I had to pay my tab but still.

On Wednesday 22nd May 2013 I went hang gliding over Rio. I have a video of the entire flight and you may see snippets, but it was fantastic! My heart did race for a bit before the run off, I looked petrified on the video. Thats more because my tandem professional told me to run hard or crash land in a tree. Don’t look down, look straight ahead. Hold this strap and don’t let go. Put your hand here and don’t move it. Get your feet into the strap as soon as we’re airborne. Etc etc. it was daunting but exhilarating at the same time and the view down (yes I looked down) was amazing.

I’m a happy Ciaran after ticking hang gliding off my list.

Later that day was the Maracanã visit. If Rio isn’t ready for the World Cup or 2016, at least I know they tried dam hard. There’s construction everywhere in the city. The stadium looked pretty close to completion, from outside most of the work was aesthetic, pavements and painting and stuff. There were lots of coloured lights on when we were leaving so must be nearly done?

On our final full day, still without real beach weather we struggled a bit figuring out what to do. We ended up getting a bus that took us quite far out of the ‘centre’ (tourist areas) to Sao Cristóvão Market. An enclosed permanent market space that supposedly sells traditional food, tourist goodies among other bit and bobs (AKA bits of useless shit). It must be an evening/weekend market because many of the stalks were either not open, or just opening when we got there around 12.30.

I finally got my miniature Christ statue, half the price it would have been if I’d bought it at christ’s feet. We wondered around looking at Gay Cachaca and weird sweets for a while before stopping for lunch. It was very Southern European style with waiters trying to get you into their restaurants first. Speaking little English and with us almost the only ones around, it did take a while before we understood what one of them was telling us about they’re amazing food and special offers.

I experienced more fan club, when a bunch of Brazilian school girls listening to the live music at the market ran up behind us and started speaking basic English. Clearly not understanding out responses, asking the same questions over and over and being unable to pronounce my name. But excitable all the same.

We returned to Lapa with the intention of exploring Santa Theresa, the oldest district of Rio where the foreigners live apparently. At the top of the Lapa steps, I can’t say I saw anything of foreigners but plenty of old. When we asked for a bus to Lapa in the middle of the day, the guy had said, “oh it’s dangerous at day, lots of drug dealers. It’s better at night” … But being fearless and probably stupid, we went ahead. No such drug dealers on show.

On our final night, the lovely Aussie girls on reception, Tina and Bex convinced us that we should make the most of it and go to a street party in Gávea. A not-so-close district beyond Ipanema beach. After a long bus ride, of course it started to rain.

They had conveniently not given us a specific street to go and I expected we’d get off a bus and follow the music. This did not happen. We did get lost. Asking at a restaurant, a waitress that had no idea about a street party. So we got back on a bus and went to Lapa.

Where I proceeded to spill a caipirinha all over my shorts. #FailNight

Leaving Rio was tough. On the one hand, it’s Rio. Despite the weather it is an amazing city and place to experience. If the weather had been nice, we would not have even considered leaving to visit Paraty.

I will 100% be back in Rio, in January for summer (that still sounds so weird to say). I hope it doesn’t change too much, because I had the best time. Even with all the chaos and confusion, the rain and strangely high number of Danes, Aussies and Israeli’s …


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