Monday, 18 January 2010

DIARY 8-14 January BRAZIL Rio de Janeiro

Trivia Question - How many countries have borders with the Mediterranean (answer at end of blog)

FRIDAY 8 JANAURY – After breakfast in the Rotterdam we partake in the departure meeting which includes some of the questions raised by guests such as, is the water in the ships toilet sea water or fresh – why do they need to know. Do the crew sleep on board? Is there an elevator to take you from the front of the ship to the back? Do we have to leave the ship to do the shore excursions? After partaking in a few games we sit by the pool learning the card game of hand and foot with Michael & Sally and Pat & Beth, very much like Canasta. Steve comes 3rd in the Olympics and wins a picture frame, mug, key ring and luggage tag. The evening show is excellent, Live Wire, and act from England with Claire on the electric violin and Mike on the guitar. The final quiz of “Are you smarter than the Explorations Team” is really funny and our group of 10 come out winners but no prize.


SATURDAY 9 JANUARY – My little sisters 50th birthday, boy if life flying by quickly. This morning we arrive in Rio and the Captain has said it is a spectacular approach. I wake at 5am, put the TV on to the bridge camera and wait. It is still dark and Rio is lit up in the distance so I will linger in bed until it is worth getting dressed and going out on deck. I keep glancing up at the TV but there is little to see, until I wake again at 8.30am to see all the containers in the port! Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL, is somewhere we have always wanted to visit, having seen so many pictures of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain. We can actually see the statue on the hill from the dining room but it looks smaller and less impressive than we expected. Exchange rate is around Reals 3 = £1 and we need to get off the ship to get come currency. Stern Jewellery Company offers a free shuttle bus, the catch being that you must do a tour of their factory. This works out well as the factory is near Ipanema beach so we have a long ride through the city to get there. We are amazed by the amount of graffiti everywhere, most of it black symbols but some is really nice art work. The gem tour is not bad as you go at your own pace with a headset. As soon as we get to the salesroom we explain to our personal shopper that we have no interest in buying any of their beautiful pieces and she soon lets us pass through. Walking down to Ipanema we are amazed to see so many people walking the streets in their swimwear. Far too many fat men in Speedo’s for my liking but Steve is pretty happy to see the girls with their bum floss bikinis. The beach is heaving with people, wall to wall umbrellas so you could not get a tan even if you wanted to! Of course it is weekend during the school holidays but even so you would have to pay us to visit this kind of beach. We walk along and Steve checks out the water which is very warm. We pick up some money from an ATM, taking extra care to normal, and return to Sterns store. This time we are put into a car with another couple from our ship and the journey back is along the back of Ipanema and Copacabana Beach with a stop for photos of Sugarloaf Mountain. First impression of Rio is that there are some very nice tourist attractions but the sooner we can get them done and get out of the busy city the better. Back on board we have our final cruise weigh in, I have gained 7lbs and Steve 8lb which is not too bad over 20 days but we I suspect it will take longer to lose it! In the evening we have the free bar from 5pm – 8pm and get a chance to have a last drink with many of our new ship friends. We have time for a last game of cards with Vic, Gwen & Louise with Neal making up the 6th. Round off the evening by watching Julia & Julia film in the showroom whilst poking Steve to stop him snoring.


SUNDAY10 JANAURY – Disembarkation is very swift and we get off a little early. Our Couchsurfing host is waiting for us Sergio with his wife Lisette and son Gabriel. Straight away off they take us off on a tour and up towards Christ the Redeemer. We chat a lot en route and see many areas off the city. There is another mountain near to the statue and although it is hazy we get superb views of the city and across to the statue. Driving up to the statue the road is clogged with cars and parking impossible. Sergio thinks we will be better returning to visit during the week. He suggests we head south of the city to some of the quieter beaches, Recreio Dos Banderirandes and Barra Da Tijuca. Unfortunately although we enjoy the drive down there the beaches are still very busy and parking impossible. It is clear to see that Brazilians love to visit the beach even if they have little elbow room once they are there. Sergio manages to find a parking spot near Sao Conrado beach where we can look up to the “Two Brothers” mountains and see hang gliders jumping off. We have already realised that in Brazil lots of youths act as parking attendants and wave you into a space for a tip but here we also see them putting cardboard on your windshield to protect against the sun. Nearer the city Sergio drives us up another mountain for excellent views over Ipanema Beach. Rio has a superb setting with lots of small round top mountains, miles of beautiful beaches and lots of bays. One thing that has surprised us is how much “jungle like” green vegetation there is everywhere. In the same area we see a new memorial to the Air France flight that went down last year as many passengers were from here. Back in the city we drive into the Rio carnival area. Today the floats and parade no longer go around the city but all gather in a long street lined with terraced seats. It is an amazing area and lots of work is being done. One of the workers tells us tonight there is going to be a rehearsal and it is free so maybe we will get chance to see the poor man’s version. We drive past a sign showing the temperature to be 40C but with the humidity it feels even higher. Rio Maracana Stadium is our next stop. This is the place that holds the record for the largest crowd, just short of 200,000. It is being renovated for the Olympics and the World Cup Football. There is a walk of fame with many famous players’ footprints. There is a huge bridge linking the city with Niteroi and from it we get fine views of the port with the Veendam and other ships. We see oil rigs in dock for maintenance and lots of ships being built. It is a nice drive on the other side past lots of attractive beaches but Sergio says the water is polluted. We stop for a meal at a busy restaurant and have our first chance to try the Brazilian buffet system. Once you are seated you are each give a ticket on which they mark your drinks order. You then take the ticket to the buffet and at the end have your plate weighed and a price sticker based on the weight is added to your ticket. At around 3.30pm we arrive at the family home. It is in a gated community on a hill with glimpses of the beach. We have our own room with bathroom and are very happy to be here. In the afternoon Steve has a nap whilst I sit out by the pool. Their daughter Beatriz, 12 going on 17, is there along with her friend Beatriz. The pool water is like a warm bath but it is still very nice to take a nap. I sit out in the shade and Lisette brings out drinks and snacks whilst Sergio helps me with our onward trip. Just after 7pm we head back towards Rio. En route we see many cars broken down having over heated on the hills. We are surprised to see the Veendam still in port. The area around Carnival Street is crazy, traffic is backed up and parking is impossible. Sergio tries down lots of side streets and it is lucky he knows the city as we often veer into bad areas where he knows not to linger. Eventually we give up but we can already see that we would not like to be anywhere near here for the real thing. It looks worse than a major football final. We’ve caught up with Sergio’s sister’s family and together decide to return to Niteroi. Again parking is difficult but in the end people take a risk and park in the outside lane of the dual carriageway. It is a balmy evening and very pleasant walking along the promenade behind the beach and people watching. Sergio’s sister Leah has a toddler Maria Clare who loves to check out all the other children and dogs. Her husband Raymon has brought along some beers so Steve is very happy to partake and amazed that you can stroll along drinking alcohol. Reckon we could get used to that side of Brazil very easily. It is a really hot night, probably the hottest we have had since our summer in Florida. We lie on the beds with the fan going and just sweat it out.


MONDAY 11 JANUARY – Sergio and Lisette are out at work and Beatriz has had a sleepover so when we wake up only Gabriel is home. He introduces us to the home help “Des” who prepares our breakfast. Gabriel drives us down to the nearest beach, Camboinhas, and drops us there for a couple of hours. It is fairly quiet and we settle under an umbrella. In Brazil you can use the umbrella table and chairs so long as you buy a drink when they come round. The water is warm but not so hot that it doesn’t cool you down. We take a stroll along the beach then lots of dips to cool off. Gabriel picks us up and we spend the afternoon chilling at home with occasional warming dips in the pool! First to arrive home is their younger son Leonardo who also speaks good English. When the rest of the family arrive home we eat some toasted sandwiches before heading out to their other house. En route we pass a motel advertising rooms, 3 hours for R$25 (£8), apparently used by prostitutes. Now wouldn’t you have thought that a guy who could afford 3-hours with a prostitute could afford a better room than that? Sergio’s’ second house is rented out for parties., People arrive to use the swimming pool, outdoor fireplace and kitchen area then leave with no need to clean up. Although the house has many bedrooms and bathrooms it is normally just booked for day use. Of course the down side is that Sergio and family have to clear up all the rubbish afterwards. Once we have finished the cleaning that Gabriel started earlier we head to Itacoatiara beach, a much quieter one with a huge rock at the end separating it from a smaller, child safe beach. I try to take a picture with the flash and then realise that the rocks are covered in loving couples who are somewhat surprised to be in the spot light! It is another very hot evening and to our embarrassment Sergio insists we take Beatriz’s room as it has air conditioning whilst she will sleep with them.


TUESDAY 12 JANAURY – Today there is only Beatriz home when we get up but the maid Dee has prepared our breakfast, how spoilt are we. I still have lots to do on the Internet and it is nice just to potter round by the pool and catch up on some reading as I didn’t even read a page on the cruise. In the evening we go out with Sergio and Lisete, first to buy some groceries so I can cook a meal tomorrow. Next we visit Piratininga beach opposite Copacabana and walk for 2 ½ km each way along it. There are a couple of oil rigs out at sea waiting to be towed in for repairs; they look very attractive with all their lights on. We return via a lookout on the hill passing even more beaches. It sure is an amazing area for beaches here but unfortunately they are still all too busy or commercialised for our liking.


WEDNESDAY 13 JANUARY – Sergio runs his own insurance company and Lisete and Gabriel both work with him. Gabriel is left holding the fort whilst Sergio and Lisete take the day off to show us a bit more of Rio. First they stop at the petrol station where we are asked if we would like water or coffee, apparently complimentary, both served with biscuits. The coffee is in a tiny cup and very sweet but I do enjoy the biscuits. We begin the tour at Corcovado topped by Christ the Redeemer, this time parking is not such a problem and they drop us off to take the bus to the top. R$24.20 (£8.80) for the bus, lift and visit package. It is not too crowded but today the city is covered in a haze so we are pleased to have got the view photos on Sunday. The statue is incredible, the face is so serene and it looks huge close up. Back in the city it is time for lunch and we are in the Flamengo area. We want to take Sergio & Lisete out to lunch and Rough Guide recommended Lamas. It is a 130 year old restaurant with white jacketed waiters with dickie bows. When the menu arrives we hardly recognise anything but are relieved when Sergio is the same, it seems they are using pretentious rather than common names for their dishes. Unfortunately the food is not as good as the price would suggest but we still enjoy the experience. Next stop is Sugarloaf Mountain; we arrange to meet after we have taken the cable car tour. R$44 (£16). The cars are huge and panoramic with glass walls all around. The first car takes you up to 220m Morro da Urca with some great views but these are surpassed when we reach the 396m peak of Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf). The views from here are very different to Corcovado. We are looking back in towards the city and can see many of the beaches and across the Niteroi. After our first day of not really liking Rio we are rapidly being converted. The stunning setting, urban jungle, mountains, amazing panoramic views, hundreds of beaches and friendly people are winning us over. Sergio meets us at the bottom and we set out on a walk around the bottom of Morro da Urca. This is a pedestrian way through the jungle on a path above the ocean, very tranquil and with lots of natural attractions, banana and jackfruit trees, monkeys and pretty birds (the feathered variety this time). Returning home we pause in Niteroi to photograph the Oscar Niemeyer designed Museum of Contemporary Art housed in a spaceship like building. We call in to a big supermarket to do some shopping and I note that almost everything is either the same price as England or more expensive, funnily enough the potatoes come from England. In the evening I cook a large cottage pie, lucky I did as there are 8 of us for dinner when Leonardo’s girlfriend Carly join us.


THURSDAY 14 JANUARY – Steve is feeling weary all the time, think it is a combination of him not sleeping from pain in his hand (the skin is now raw and the nerves are growing back) and the general heat and humidity. So I spend the day doing more Internet whilst he festers. The family return in the evening and shortly after that we get a thunderstorm and heavy rain which clears the air. For supper they have order pizza but not the type we are used to. They are all small individual ones with either cheese on or chocolate spread and chopped nuts – yes that’s right chocolate pizza. Worse still Leonardo eats them both together! I have now got Couchsurfers lined up in our next 4 ports of call and must sort out transport. Sergio is a great help finding buses on line but we are a bit shocked to find the fare from here to Sao Paulo, about 6 hours journey, is R84 (£30). Things are even more expensive as we have just found out that the exchange rate is down to R2.75 = £1. A big contrast to approx £1 per hour that we were paying in other South American countries.


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Trivia answer 22 - (if you are like us you would have forgotton all the islands such as Malta!


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