So, Thursday was sunny and clear, and I booked a tour to Corcovado for the next day. Of course, Friday turned out to be cloudy. Moral: carpe diem. Since I had paid for the tour, I went anyway.
I am really not a fan of tours. I don’t like all the waiting around, and I make a poor herd animal, although when I opt for a tour I do try. This one wasn’t too bad, we didn’t waste too much time collecting the other people, and our tri-lingual guide was good. We had Brazilians, Argentinians, Chileans, one Norwegian and me, quite a mini United Nations. The Norwegian was scouting upcoming World Cup locations, and had just been to Switzerland and Cyprus.
I had opted to visit Corcovado mostly for the views, having decided against going up sugar loaf as soon as I saw the cable car route (my head for heights is not what it was). So, no views at the top, although we did get some glimpses on the way up (if you’re subject to motion sickness take the train) and the clouds cleared long enough for a quick photo of the statue itself.
Then we drove through some of the favelas on the way to the football stadium. I had already seen some on the way in from the airport – the airport bus took the city streets, stopping at the main bus station and the domestic airport, while the taxis take a faster and less gritty route. It seemed that a new stadium was being built, both for the World Cup and the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics, and looked to be pretty far along. I can’t help thinking they would do as well to build a new airport.
We were supposed to walk through the Sambodromo, built for the Carnaval parade, but it was closed. We had a pretty good view from the minibus, and it’s hardly exciting when empty. I had thought about attending one of the rehearsals, but they mostly seemed to be on Saturday nights, and I needed to get up early on Sunday.
Next up was the modern cathedral (de Sao Sebastiao), which I thought interesting, but rather brutalist. The St. Mary’s cathedral I saw in San Francisco earlier this year was similar in concept – basically a pyramid with stained glass at the cardinal points – but more delicate in execution. After driving by some of the buildings in Centro, the tour would finish at the sugar loaf. Since I didn’t want to visit sugar loaf, and I did want a better look at the buildings, I had the guide drop me at Cinelandia.
The National Library and the Municipal Theater were certainly worth a closer look, although I skipped the English language tour of the library in favor of lunch. Walking towards Praca XV de Novembro I found several passageways with cafes and restaurants, mostly buffets. I picked one at random, and had plenty of choice at a very reasonable price. Then I took a look at the rather plain Imperial Palace (not originally imperial), and what Frommers described as a “slice of old Rio”, a cobblestoned passageway, now entirely taken over by cafes, before fetching up at the very touristy, but photo-worthy (and much photographed) Cafe Colombo. Espresso and a walnut tartlet cost as much as lunch.
Having done my sightseeing duty for the day I retired to the J. W. Marriott, conveniently close to my hotel, for an expensive caipirinha, a good view, and some writing time. For dinner I abandoned Frommers’ restaurant recommendations in favor of Lonely Planet, and ate an excellent duck and brie crepe at Le Ble Noir.
My Saturday tour to Petropolis reminded me, if I needed reminding, why I generally avoid tours. It took an excessively long time to collect all the participants (Brazilian, Argentinian, Chilean and Peruvian), the guide’s English wasn’t great (nor, I was told, was his Spanish), and he started out grumpy, although he improved later. The lunch stop was an expensive, all-you-can eat, poor buffet, and there was an unnecessary shopping op at a chocolate “factory” (we only saw the shop).
On the good side, I really appreciated the scenery, and the old part of town. I quite enjoyed shuffling round the Imperial Palace (“slippers” are required to protect the floors), appreciating the furnishings, the chandeliers and the imperial crown, although the pictures were pretty bad. After lunch we were supposed to wait around while one couple toured the former house of Santos Dumont (Brazil’s claimant to having made the first flight), and then drive to the cathedral. Since I could see the cathedral, past a nice fountain and down a tree-lined avenue, I decided I’d rather walk. The guide was most insistent that I stay with the group, I was more insistent that I was walking. It was a good thing I chose to walk, as there was a series of bridges over a small river on the way, and I got much better photos from them than I would have done at the cathedral itself, plus I got a better look at some interesting buildings. The guide told me he was afraid I would get lost, which seems inconceivable given I could actually see where I was going!
Besides the scenery, the palace, and Petropolis itself, I enjoyed a lunch time chat with a couple from Buenos Aires (or at least with the female half). She did not seem too pleased with the current president, and certainly not with the new travel restrictions. Apparently you now have to fill in a form to get permission to go abroad, and you are only allotted a limited amount of foreign currency. I can vaguely remember currency restrictions in the UK back in the 70s, but they were considerably more generous and you didn’t need permission to leave the country!