Rio de Janeiro – for the non-footballist

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©FIFA

Rio de Janiero. Famous for may things; the beaches, Christ the Redeemer, The Girl from Ipanema, and right now, the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With blanket TV coverage it’s hard to miss! I’m not really that much of a sports fan, although I do enjoy watching cricket and I’m not averse to golf, and I’m quite happy watching less common sports (in the UK at least), such as ice hockey, or skiing. But I’ve always struggled with footie as I’m just not that bothered about it. Perhaps this stems from a complete lack of interest in it by my parents, but also I have only unpleasant memories of playing it at school on freezing cold days – the pain of the smack of a ball on cold legs is something I remember clearly! I have tried over the years to get enthusiastic about it, but have come to the conclusion that it’s just not my cup of tea. Actually, I find it quite boring to watch and in a world where 95% of small talk in a business environment starts with a chat about the latest scores, I’m at an immediate disadvantage.

I have, in my life been to 3 football matches. These were:

  • Aston Villa vs. Charlton (1998-ish at The Valley – I don’t recall the score)
  • FC Barcelona vs. Real Majorca (2009 at Camp Nou – 4-2 to FCB)
  • Crystal Palace vs. Watford (2012 at Selhurst Park – 4-0 to Palace)

FCB and Real Majorca players mixing it up.

In honesty, I thoroughly enjoyed each of these games. I was amazed at the speed at which the players run and the sheer effort that is expended in chasing the ball around. These were pretty visceral experiences and I can certainly see the attraction. I particularly enjoyed watching Barca play for even I, as a non-fan can appreciate watching the likes of Messi and Ibrahimović (for example) in action. It was incredible to watch Messi and see his control of the ball, how fast he really is, and to witness his 2 goals! But as good as these experiences were, I didn’t come away any more interested in following football than I was before. That said, I would go to FC Barcelona again to repeat the experience. It’s something everyone should do.

Camp Nou

Camp Nou – FC Barcelona’s enormous stadium. One can’t fail to be impressed by it!

So the World Cup upon us and I’m in that (for me) tricky phase where I feel the need to keep half an eye on the action, just in case I find myself in a conversation about it and occasionally I’ll read some back pages so that I can join in with my mates.

The World Cup is more interesting to me than league games – but I’ll usually only watch it whilst doing something else. If invited – and bless them, my friends still sometimes invite me, I’ll join them to watch a big match, although I may be wearing a fairly nonplussed expression throughout.

However, when I’m with them, I also harbour a sense that if I watch England play, I somehow jinx the whole thing and therefore spoil it for them. It’s probably not true, but it seems to me that England usually lose when I watch them. Alas, at the time of writing, England just lost to Uruguay – perhaps that’s just the way of things! (It wasn’t my fault – I was at the cinema for the first half, then walking the dog!)

A short stay in Rio!

For this World Cup however, I’m a little more interested in the location, rather than the tournament as I had the opportunity to visit Rio for a few days in 2013, so it’s interesting to see it on the telly. In fact, every time I see the sports guys on BBC News, I spend most of the time trying to figure out which hotel roof they’re on (is it the one I stayed in?).

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Copacabana Beach

Rio is an interesting place, if a little disconcerting. I was only there for 4 days (it should have been 5, but it was so rainy I decided to come home – like Brighton, it’s not so much fun in the rain!), but I got a sense of the place even in that short time. It feels quite European to look at and listen to, with a European language, European looking cars with lots of Renault’s, Peugeot’s and Zafira’s (badged as Chevy’s as opposed to Opel or Vauxhall) and Fords.

But looking beyond that, to the favelas, the mountains, the currency or the tropical weather it’s very different. On the taxi ride in from the airport, I remember seeing favela kids on the 3 lane motorway, standing in between the lanes selling cold drinks. The traffic was heavy, and not going that quick, but that’s a bit like primary school children selling drinks between the lanes of the M25 near the Clacket Lane services (traffic always seems to be heavy there). Quite an eyeopener! Rio is disconcerting also because for someone used to living in London, and comfortable visiting and moving around other cities, such as New York or Amsterdam for example, to find a ‘world’ city such as Rio with such a massive list of things not to do is a little off putting.

I flew down over night from a very chilly New York City after spending a couple of days with friends, to find that the temperature had increased (for me at least) by about 35ºC. I arrived to a glorious, hot sunny day, and Rio looked stunning, in a ramshackle sort of way.

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Copacabana Beach – on the one sunny day I had. As hotel views go, a pretty good one!

I met up with my father in law, Dave who had already been there for a night, at the hotel, Porto Bay Rio Internacional, (which I’d recommend) on Avenida Atlântida, which overlooks Copacabana beach. We had a 12th floor room with an amazing view over the bay. After checking in we took the opportunity to wander along the beach for a bit, and visit a couple of the bars and decided that we could get used to that for a few days.

We were advised not to stray too far in from the front, so only 1 block back; Avenida Atlântida is a wide, open street by the beach, but go back a block and it all looks very much less welcoming. Copacabana beach itself is magnificent, but apparently dangerous at all times other than during the main part of the day…

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Christo Redentor (Christ The Redeemer)

Clearly no trip to Rio would be complete without a trip to Christ The Redeemer. We didn’t really want to be ‘poverty tourists’ so decided against visiting a favela. The tour we did covered the main sights all in one go. We booked it via the hotel reception on the day I arrived and it was to take in that famous statue, a city tour and finish off with a visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain. We were picked up the following morning, although the weather was no longer what I expected of Rio, with cloud and a hint of rain, but still very warm.

 

First stop, Corcovado, and a drive up the winding road to the transfer area where you are moved onto National Park minibuses which take you to the top. Well nearly; there are then some escalators to ride which take you to the statue and look out it self. It’s hard to put into words quite how impressive Christo Redentor is up close; on its own, it’s pretty much worth the cost of the air fare just to see it! The statue itself is enormous when one stands at it’s foot; on the day we were there, Jesus’ head was in the clouds at times. Once up the mountain, as well as the amazing statue, there is a spectacular view to be had, looking out over all of Rio.

You get very nearly the full 360º view and the panorama stretches from Maracana Stadium and beyond, on the left right round, taking in Sugar Loaf Mountain, Ipanema and round to the race course and beyond.  As you can see, we had a low cloud base on the day we were there, but over the following days, the mountain was completely shrouded in cloud, so our timing was pretty good.

Panoramic view of Rio from the foot of "Cristo Redentor" at the summit of Corcovado.

Panoramic view of Rio from the foot of “Cristo Redentor” at the summit of Corcovado.

Once we’d spent a good deal of time on the mountain taking in the view, it was time to move on. The next part of the tour took us through the edge of one of the favelas, which was so established that it looked pretty much like any other street and then down into the city it self. The route took us past the famous Maracanã stadium, venue for many of the 2014 World Cup matches, as well as being a main venue for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Having been to Camp Nou, I was rather hoping we would be able to go into the Maracanã, but because of the preparations for the world cup (I think a fair bit of renovation was taking place) we couldn’t go in. Seeing it up close had to do.

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Maracanã from Corcorvado

From there the tour took us into the heart of the business district, where we were to stop off and see the cathedral. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian (Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião) is a monstrosity of a concrete pyramid, or so I thought until we went inside. It was magnificent! Hard to capture in the pictures although I’ve tried to do so here. It’s a vast space! Some detail, borrowed from Wikipedia:

The New Cathedral, as it is sometimes called, is located in the center of the city. Conical in form and with a 96 metres (315 ft) internal diameter — 106 metres of external diameter — and an overall height of 75 metres (246 ft), it has a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people.

The cathedral’s four rectilinear stained glass windows soar 64 metres (210 ft) from floor to ceiling.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian

From there, we headed over to the final destination of the trip, Sugarloaf Mountain. I’d been looking forward to this, because as a kid I remember seeing the James Bond film, Moonraker, (which wasn’t a patch on The Spy Who Loved Me), and the fight between James Bond (Roger Moore) and Jaws (Richard Kiel) on the Sugarloaf cable car always stayed with me, so I was looking forward to riding on it (although I would be staying inside and not climbing onto the roof for a scrap!).

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Sugar Loaf Mountain seen from Corcorvdo

Sugarloaf  gets its name because at the height of the sugar cane trade in Brazil, blocks of sugar were placed in conical clay molds to be transported on ships, and the shape created by these molds was similar to the shape of the peak, hence the name! The peak reaches 1,299 feet (396m) and has an amazing view of the city and the harbour.

To get to the top we took cable car, which is in two stages. The first ascends to Morro da Urca, and the second car takes you to the top – Pão de Açúcar. The ride up is smooth and the car’s (which are huge) are very stable. It does’t take long and you’re up to the first stage, where there are some marvellous views to be seen. The city looks great, the sea calm and serene, the beaches white against the blue sea.

And helicopters! There is a helipad on Morro da Urca for the tourist flights that are available. In the last couple of years, the authorities have replaced the cable cars, and they keep one of the old ones here to see, and yep, there it is…the one from Moonraker!

After a look at the view, it’s onto the cable car for the next stage, and we’re quickly rising to the peak. If the view from Morro da Urca was great, the views from the top of Sugarloaf exceed them in pretty much every way. Superb views are on offer for more or less the whole 360º. Really fantastic. There is also a cafe there where you can get a drink and snack. Not top quality, but decent enough.

We spent an hour or so up there watching the boats, watching the aeroplanes take off and land at the domestic airport, Santos Dumont, helicopters coming and going. You can also see the Rio-Niteroi bridge (the longest prestressed concrete bridge in the Southern Hemisphere – I have a thing for bridges! Don’t get me started on the Millau Viaduct!). Sugarloaf is a fantastic place to spend time watching the world go by.

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The ride down was as uneventful as the ride up (a good thing on a cable car) and the views sensational and once back down, the minibus returned us all to our hotels. A great day out and well worth the money. If you’re ever in Rio…

After that one day, it rained steadily for the next few days, and the weather forecast was for more of the same. Dave was due to fly home the day before me, but with the weather so dreadful I took the decision to head home a day early. I was heading back via JFK unlike Dave who was flying direct to Heathrow.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the food. The Brazilians love their meat, which is good because so do I! It was recommended to me by my friends in New York, to visit a churrascaria restaurant, and I’m so glad I did! We went twice! All you can eat, perfectly grilled and amazingly succulent meats, plus loads of fantastic salads, seafood, cold cuts, chips/french fries (obviously). I could hardly walk after it, but wow! it was worth it!

All good things come to an end and I’ve gone on long enough…Despite the soggy end to the trip, it was a great experience and I’d love to go again someday – if I can ever coax my wife onto the requisite long-haul flights!

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Copacabana Beach from Sugarloaf cable car station

 

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Corcorvado and ‘Christ the Redeemer’ seen from Sugarloaf Mountain

 

All photographs taken by me, unless otherwise stated. © Richard Debonnaire

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Rio de Janeiro – for the non-footballist

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