When I left the Edificio Jucati, in search of a very late lunch, I was too focussed to properly appreciate the park in front of the building. Later, I would notice the black and white wave mosaic on the circling pavement, just like those in Lisbon, albeit dustier and less even, the game court, the children’s playground, the chess tables (more used for card games) and the big concrete fountain. I would see other, similar, parks scattered round Copacabana.
Instead, I located the three places recommended by the young woman who had checked me in. One sandwich/hamburger joint and two small buffet places. I am no fan of buffets, but starvation was setting in. Even though Copacabana is surely prime tourist territory, the cafe I picked seemed more of a local place. Unlike the all-you-can-eat buffets helping fuel the obesity epidemic in the US, here I paid by weight. Although the food was merely edible, it was remarkably cheap. Afterwards I walked down to the beach.
As I have written before, I am not a beach person. I no longer want to sun bathe, but nor do I want to slather on sunscreen. I prefer to swim in a pool, and I hate getting sand everywhere. Happily, Rio’s beaches come with promenades – more black and white mosaics – and I could watch the waves and the action without hitting the sand. Actually, there wasn’t much action. On a cool, overcast afternoon I saw more dog-walkers than bikini-wearers.
Eventually I picked a kiosk, one with a bigger buffer against traffic noise than some, and ordered a caipirinha. Now I rarely drink cocktails, being a confirmed wine aficionado, but I was surprised to really enjoy this one. I would learn that not all caipirinhas are created equal. The first, at Praia Skol, was great. The second, at Praia Skol 360, was too strong. The third, which I am drinking as I write this, at the J. W. Marriott, is too weak, despite costing about twice as much. (It’s even cooler, and windier, this afternoon: I opted to enjoy the drink, and the view, indoors.)
Given the weather the day I arrived, I was surprised to wake up to brilliant sunshine. Brilliant, HOT, sunshine – I could feel the heat through the window. Of course, I should have headed up Corcovado, but access seemed a bit involved and I signed up for a tour the next day. In hopes of shade I set off instead for the Jardim Botanico. I took the metro – clean and easy – two stops to Botafogo, where I switched to “above ground metro bus” (with AC, unlike the regular city buses).
I am fond of botanical gardens, despite having a black, not green, thumb and this one did not disappoint (although the one I saw in Kandy last year was even better, and I have yet to find one to equal Kew) but it didn’t take long before I had to break out the umbrella/sunshade. I admired the signature palm avenues, the lakes, the bamboo (always love bamboo) but it seemed too early in the year for orchids and roses.
I had met a helpful local lady outside the garden, and after walking me to the nearest entrance, she recommended a place called Bibi for lunch – very healthy food, she said. So, after taking a look at the pretty Lagao Rodrigo de Freitas, I followed her directions, only to find Bibi to be both very full, and open to the decidedly hot weather. I passed, and eventually tracked down a Frommer’s recommendation: the Atelier Culinario, inside a bookshop. The night before I had been disappointed by another Frommer’s pick, Arab (the fairly new Babylon, in Raleigh, does infinitely better Middle Eastern food) and again, the food was nothing special, although the ambience was fine and the AC divine. (OK, so I should stick to Fodors!)
Then I did the metro and bus combo in reverse to take a look at Ipanema. Everything I had read said that Ipanema was more upmarket than Copacabana, but I really didn’t find it so, aside from a number of newish apartment blocks, barricaded behind metal fences. I visited the Museu Amsterdam Sauer, inside a jewelry shop, as I always enjoy looking at gems and minerals, and had a nice chat with the sales lady (after she realized I wasn’t buying).
This night was churrascaria – more than you can eat meat – night, and I abandoned Frommers to follow my hotel’s recommendation of Carretao. The result was cheaper, and much better, than Arab. The beef and sausages were excellent. and I discovered a taste for manioc. I even found sushi on the salad bar.
Safety note: After reading the paranoid American guidebooks (the British Foreign Office website was less alarmist), I set out the first day with just a small shoulder bag, with the strap worn across my body. The next morning I went back to my usual small(ish) backpack – I needed my umbrella/sunshade, a water bottle, my camera, one if not two guidebooks, a map, an energy bar…. That lot just won’t fit in a small handbag! I did wear it in front on the metro, but I’ve done that on a number of metros.