Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Free Walker Tours shows me Rio’s history

Part of my first day in Rio de Janeiro was spent with Free Walker Tours and I was impressed enough that I decided to spend my last full day in the city with the group, too, and was pleased to have Clara as my guide again.

This tour covered Rio's historic downtown section, and Clara told us about the development of Rio, how it became the capital of Brazil for more than 200 years, the Portuguese connection and the key players in the city's history.

We started just outside the Carioca Metro stop and took an early break so walkers could sample the wares at the very elegant Colombo Confeitaria. My free Discovery Hostel breakfast had me full enough that food wasn't on my mind.

We passed many charming old buildings, some dating back to the 1700s, and stopped at the childhood home of Brazilian entertainment legend Carmen Miranda.

The Imperial Palace was relatively spartan from the outside and time constraints didn't permit an interior visit. The legislative assembly of Rio building's exterior looked much more majestic.

The legislative assembly of Rio.
We stopped in front of the Municipal Theatre, where there was a protest of government funding cutbacks. The Swan Lake ballet was cancelled because of them, so dancers, musicians and singers showed their worth by performing on the theatre’s front steps to an appreciative crowd.

Artistic Municipal Theatre protesters.
On other sides of the theatre in Cinelandia Square were the National Library and city council headquarters. I took a brief look at the regal interior of the library after the tour.

The exterior of city council headquarters.
The interior of the National Library.
From there it was a short walk to Lapa, which is one of the hubs for Rio’s nightlife scene. But since we arrived before 1 p.m., none of that was to be had.

Instead, we took in the Lapa Arches, a former aqueduct built in the middle of the 18th century to bring water from the Carioca River to the centre of Rio. Since the end of the 19th century the arches have served as a tram bridge. 

The Lapa Arches.
The tour ended at the Selaron Steps, which lead from Lapa to Santa Teresa. They were created by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron, who worked on them from 1990 to 2013. He died on the steps in that last year under suspicious circumstances. The steps have become a tourist attraction in Rio because of the colourful and often whimsical use of the ceramic tiles that decorate them. Snoop Dogg shot a video here, which gained them more notoriety. 

The Selaron Steps.
I was pleased with the tour and again tipped Clara R$50 (about $20 Canadian).

My electrical converter was too heavy for the wall socket at the hostel and wouldn't stay plugged in, and I'd been in search of a lighter one for two days. I received a number of tips on where to find one, none of which paid off, and my last resort was walking to a street well off of the traditional tourist path that had several electronic shops. I finally found what I needed and was happy to pay R$19.50 (about $8 Canadian) for it.

I took the Metro back to the hostel to charge one of my camera batteries, and everything seemed to work fine. While that was a relief, the quest wiped out a few hours of my afternoon so I couldn’t see as much of the city as I had hoped to.

I had time, however, to climb up a steep street near my hostel to visit the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. It was a formerly wealthy enclave that these days is more of a bohemian artistic centre. A lot of places were closed so I didn’t get a good taste for it, although a $R7 (about $2.80 Canadian) bottle of Brahma Extra Weiss tasted good as I walked around the streets with it.

I was lucky to catch the Santa Teresa tram at the top of its journey in Largo Dos Guimaraes (with none of the usual lineups even) and take it down into the central part of Rio near the Carioca Metro station. The tram started running in 1877 and is one of the oldest street railway lines in the world. Its route has been cut back from six kilometres to two and it's now used more by tourists than locals. It costs R$20  (about $8 Canadian) to take it up the hill to Santa Teresa, but it’s free coming down, so I didn’t have to pay for my short but enjoyable trip that included passage across the aforementioned Lapa Arches.

The Santa Teresa tram.
I had about R$10 (about $4 Canadian) left on my transit card, enough for a return trip somewhere, so I elected to take the Metro and go back to where my Rio wandering began at Copacabana Beach. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail and it’s sold at beachside stands for $R10 a glass, and I had to have one while in the city. It’s made with Cachaca, which is somewhat similar to white rum, as well as limes and sugar. It’s delicious and made a nice accompaniment for my walk down the beach.

I traversed Ipanema Beach again and returned to the neighbourhood for more wandering and dinner at Gourmet Girasol. The very casual restaurant was hardly gourmet, but I got two veal cutlets, French fries, rice, black beans and a salad for $R19 (about $7.75 Canadian), well below my $10 daily food budget for Rio.

I'm not sure why, but I found these statues on the steps of an Ipanema church interesting, and a bit freaky.
I’d been walking for about 10 hours at that point and elected to return to the hostel, have three beers, write and prepare for my morning departure to Foz do Iguacu.

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