Rio de Janeiro could be the most beautiful city on the planet: The ocean, the beaches, the hills, the vegetation, the views….I could go on and on.
Icons of Rio de Janeiro unite! The Sugar Loaf to the left, the Dois Irmãos all the way in the back at the end of the beaches, Christ the Redeemer and one of the many favelas. You can see all this going up by tram to the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa.
But then there is the poverty, the violence, the hopelessness, the corruption, the dirt….I could go on and on.
I don’t know how it is if you spend only a couple of days in Rio and keep mainly to the beach area in the south. I’ve stayed there for two weeks and Rio’s downsides got to me more day by day.
However, when visiting Brazil, a trip to Rio is inevitable: The country’s most important icons are not in Sao Paulo, they are neither in Recife nor in Salvador – whether it’s Christ the Redeemer, whether it’s the sugar loaf or world’s most famous beaches Copacabana and Ipanema: all these sights and signs are right here. So – bem vindos no Rio!
If you are just coming to Brazil, you’ll probably arrive at RIOgaleão – Tom Jobim International Airport north east of the city. As a newbie, you’ll probably spend far too much for a cab at a licensed taxi stand – they charge around 120 R$ to the city center.
A metered cab will cost about half of that, then there is a comfy shuttle bus for R$ 15 going to Ipanema, but making stops on the way.
That can be tricky if you’re not familiar with Rio since the drivers are not helpful at all. If you know where you are going and you tell them, they stop. If you don’t know it, they just go.
But I wouldn’t recommend it after a long, tiring flight, anyway. In Rio, you have to be on the alert, and you won’t be when you are exhausted from travelling. Hey, you’ve paid a lot of money for a ticket, just spend some more and get to your final destination safely.
Like most Brazilian cities, Rio has two airports to fly to.
If you are coming from a different place in Brazil or another Latin American country, chances are that you’ll arrive at the Santos Dumont airport which is basically in the city center. Here connection is no problem at all: If in doubt, get on the light rail to Cinelândia, there you have connection to the subway system which is really good, reliable and clean in Rio. And taking a cab won’t burn a hole in your pocket, neither.
Unfortunately, after dark, Rio is not only breathtakingly beautiful.
If you are coming by bus, you’ll arrive at the Terminal Rodoviário Novo Rio. While the bus terminal is pretty good with many services, the surroundings aren’t, so retain from lingering around especially after dark. If you don’t want to take a cab, you can take the light rail at Rodoviário towards Santos Dumont, get off at Cinelândia and continue on subway from there.
Most tourists and travellers stay in the Copacabana area which is understandable since you have the iconic beach in front of your nose. Yet it is the best place to learn nothing at all about Brazil.
Right behind the Copacabana is the Leme neighborhood which gives you a far better idea of what Brazil is really like.
However, I stayed in the Botafogo district which is great and I can only recommend it: It’s only one subway stop away from the beaches and really close to the – partly a bit too run down – center with all the museums and shopping opportunities. Talking ’bout shopping: There is a big mall right next to the beach in Botafogo.
Staying in Botafogo means having a great view of the Pão de Açûcar and…
…Cristo Redentor alike.
A beach? Yes, that’s right, there is also a beach, but unfortunately you can only go for a walk there and enjoy the incredible view of the Sugar Loaf since it’s far to dirty to bath or sunbath there.
Praia do Botafogo against the backdrop of the Pão de Açûcar.
A huge plus is Botafogo’s location: There is an incredible number of buses passing in front of the shopping mall, the ‘Metrô na Superficie’ – which is just a faster bus and no ‘Metrô’ at all – and two subway lines. It cannot get more convenient!
Very similar is the Neighborhood of Flamengo, only it’s not as centrally located as Botafogo, but only one subway stop away.
I would always prefer the las two neighborhoods for their closeness to Brazilian life.
I also love the neighborhood of Santa Teresa which is on one of the many ‘morros’, the hills typical for Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately it’s located amidst a couple of Favelas, one of theme being the notorious Morro dos Prazeres – Hill of Pleasures. This Favela was considered pacified until recently two tourists were shot there; accidentally, wrong moment – wrong place, but does that really matter?!
Great view from a dangerous place.
My Portuguese teacher was a bit shocked when I told her that I was walking down the Rua Santa Cristina by myself.
According to prudent Cariocas, as the people of Rio are called, even the once pacified Favelas are dangerous again. I personally would not go there – especially since I find it a bit weird to go to a neighborhood to see how poor people live. Just ask yourself if you are doing this in your city, too – and then ask yourself why you should do it in Rio.
However, Santa Teresa is beautiful and they have hostels there. I don’t know how people who stay there do – whether they are risking to get mugged on a daily basis or whether they are taking a cab as soon as they leave the premises.
Talking ’bout cabs: It’s very easy to move around in Rio. The public transport system covers the entire city – whether by ‘Metrô’, the subway, by light rail (tramway) or bus – and costs about one dollar per ride. For each of this means you can get a separate card that can be charged. But the only thing you safe this way is time, no money. There is no such thing like a day ticket or some other form of pass, you have to pay for every ticket individually and tickets from one mean of transport to another are not transferable. Hence, I wouldn’t really call it a ‘system’, but it takes you where you want to go easy and relatively fast.
Besides regular cabs, Uber is really big in Brazil, too.
Let’s just work our way around Rio starting in the west. The south-west, to be precise, and precise is key here since the northern parts of the city are the rough regions while the fartheꞔr south you get, the more sophisticated gets the neighborhood.
About four blocs north of the beach of Ipanema is the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a beautiful lagoon that the wealthy Cariocas enjoy for walking and jogging and hanging out at the posh Clube dos Caiꞔaras.
Morning work out on the lagoon.
If you walk westwards around the lagoon, enjoying great views of Rio, you’ll first get to the Hipódromo da Gávea, the Jockey Club. It’s worth to take a closer look at the club’s fence since it’s decorated with a fun mural of viewers of a horse race.
Your best bet: Watching the race without losing money.
The palm-fringed avenue even made it on the
At the end of the club turn left into the Rua General Garzon and you arrive at the north entrance of the Jardim Botânico, Rio’s botanic garden, mostly known for its glorious palm-fringed avenue. But there are definitely many attractions – 9,000 plants from about 1,500 different species beautifully arranged between walkways, on hills, around ponds and fountains.
If you want to spend a couple of hours in a tranquil environment, soothing for the eye and the soul alike, this is the place to go.
Of course you do not have to walk around the lagoon to get to the garden. There are many buses going there – just type your starting point in this map and you’re ready to go.
Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro
Rua Jardim Botânico 1008
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: + 55 – 21 – 38 74 18 08 and 38 74 12 14
Email: email@example.com Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a. m. to 5 p. m. and Monday from noon to 7 p. m.
Entrance fee is R$ 15 and they don’t accept credit cards (which is very unusual in Brazil)
The manicured cactus garden close to the main gate.
Well, besides the Cristo and the Sugar Loaf, the southern part of the city is what Rio stands for:
They are city beaches, yes, but for being city beaches, they are very nice and relatively clean.
It starts in the west with Praia do Leblon, leading into the Praia de Ipanema and Praia do Arpoador.
Beach with a western view: Morro Dois Irmãos, hill of two brothers, seen from Praia Ipanema.
Here you cannot continue, but have to cross the Parque Garota de Ipanema (that’s right – a park called after the girl of Ipanema) and walk down the Rua F Otaviano before you can get back to the beach – the world famous Praia de Copacabana.
Beach with a eastern view: Morro de Leme, seen from Praia da Copacabana
The Copacabana is hemmed with bars and restaurants, there is a market where you can buy souvenirs, there are public bathrooms – they really make sure that tourists have a good time.
This lady is selling sandwiches – ‘natural’ sandwiches.
Once you are in the Urca and Praia Vermelha neighborhood, make sure to stroll around a bit – from here you can even walk along Avenida Pasteur to Botafogo – passing the Yacht club and the soccer club house of the rather hapless team of Botafogo.
Cristo Redentor and Trem do Corcovado
To get to the next – and most important – attraction of Rio de Janeiro, you have to leave the coastline and take the subway at Botafogo station northbound to Largo do Machado – which is two stops. There you catch bus #583 that takes you straight to the Trem do Corcovado – the train taking you up to Jesus.
This Christ statue was created in the art deco style by French sculptor Paul Landowski. The sculpture – 30m (98 ft) tall – was constructed between 1922 and 1931. Christ is protecting the city of Rio with his arms opened over a stretch of 28 metres (92 ft).
With everybody posing around the Cristo, the ambience is not very contemplative up there,….
….yet the views through the clouds are breathtaking. Here you can spot the lagoon with the horse race court to the right.
You cannot buy a ticket for the same day at the trem station. You need to buy the ticket either online or from an authorized dealer. At the trem station’s booth you can only change your voucher against your ticket. Especially during high season I recommend to get your ticket well ahead.
Continue the coastline up north passing Praia do Flamengo and you’ll get the Parque do Flamengo where the quite interesting Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) is located.
Art and culture everywhere you look: A huge sculpture honoring toilet tissue in front of the museum building designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and built in 1948. The young people were performing some acrobatics and dancing.
This venue is located in a park designed by one of the most influential landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx (1909 – 1994), actually distantly related to German philosopher and politician Karl Marx, so already the gardens make a visit worthwhile.
A very creative form of selfies: Employees of the MAM composed self portraits from black squares within a defined space on white paper.
Here is a chart of who is who.
I love the idea that people working day by day at this place become part of the exhibition.
Original and respectful from the Italian artist Lucio Salvatore.
And since we are on it: I became part of a piece of art, too, by taking a selfie with Waltercio Caldas’ installation “Água/Cálice/Espelhos” (“Water/Chalice/Mirrors”)
Although the museums own a collection of 12,000 pieces, their temporary exhibitions are far more interesting.
Since at the time when I was in Rio, there was a huge exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s oeuvre in New York, I was very happy to have the chance to see at least some of her beautiful paintings in bold colors like “Os Anjos” (“Angels”)
Walk down the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique and turn right into Rua Teixeira de Freitas and follow Rua Teotônio Regadas – here you are, at one of the most intriguing pieces of Rio’s street art, the Escadaria do Selarón.
There are some pretty cool murals to be admired on Rua Teotônio Regadas before you get to the highlight – the Escadaria do Selarón.
These stairs leading to the neighborhood of Santa Teresa consist of 215 beautifully decorated steps.
Chile born Jorge Selarón decorated them with tiles from over 60 countries: First the artist used tiles from construction sites and waste dumps, but eventually visitors from around the world contributed.
The French sent cheese.
Of the over 2000 tiles, about 300 are handpainted by the artist depicting a pregnant African woman. Selarón claimed he financed his work by selling more than 25,000 portraits of this lady.
Jorge Selaron settled in Rio de Janeiro in 1983 and began to ‘renovate’ the stairs in 1990. Until his mysterious dead in 2013 he never considered his work done; as soon as he finished one section, he started to work on another one.
Selarón sorted the tiles according to topics – like musicians or flags.
Selarón was found dead on his famous steps on January 10, 2013. Until this day the circumstances of his death are unclear.
Don’t give up – you’re almost there! The is the upper part of the stairs leading to Santa Teresa.
Once you climb up the stairs – which might take a while not because of the height, but because there are millions of details to be admired – you can continue your walk to the Parque das Ruinas from where you have the best view of all that makes Rio grand.
Little tip: If you don’t have much time in Rio and can make it to only one observation platform, you might consider coming to this park instead of standing in line at the Trem do Corcovado or the Bonde Pão de Açûcar.
From the Parque das Ruinas it’s only a short walk – along cute little specialty shops, you might consider doing your souvenir shopping right here – to the Largo dos Guimarães. From here you can take the old Bonde, the tram, back down to Lapa.
Largo do Lapa – most of the time occupied by homeless people – becomes a party zone during carnival season.
It is better to do it this way for two reasons: Climbing the Selarón stairs up gives you a much better view at all the details than taking them down; and while they charge you R$ 20 for the tram when coming up, taking it downhill from Santa Teresa is actually free.
Coming back from Santa Teresa to Lapa, you’ll find yourself in city’s old, historic neighborhoods – and busies business and shopping streets.
Catedral de São Sebastião: As if Saint Sebastian hadn’t suffered enough, now they had to name the ugliest cathedral on earth after him.
This nuclear power plant-like house of God is also very close to the Largo da Lapa.
Walk down the Rua Evaristo da Veiga to the Praça Floriano dominated on its northern end by the Teatro Municipal, built from 1904 to 1909 in an Eclectic and Art Nouveau style – inspired by the opera house in Paris.
Next to it, you’ll find the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, housing fine international and Brazilian art such as sculpture, painting, drawings, and photography.
Avenida Rio Branco, 199 – Centro (Cinelândia) Rio de Janeiro RJ – CEP: 20040-008 – Telefone: (21) 3299-0600
Terça a sexta-feira das 10 às 18hs; Sábados, domingos e feriados das 13 às 18 horas. Ingressos: R$ 8,00 Sunday free
As you continue on the Avenida Rio Branco, don’t miss the lovely colonial church Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitência to your left right before Rua da Carioca.
Don Pedro I has been riding across the Praça Tiradentes since 1862.
Rua da Carioca ends at the Praça Tiradentes, a rather unspectacular square, but turning right, you’ll see the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, a beautiful library founded in 1837 by Portuguese immigrants in order to maintain the Portuguese language.
Real Gabinete Português de Leitura – cultivating the Portuguese language.
I cannot make up my mind what’s better at Cafeteira Colombo in the old center of Rio de Janeiro, the pastry or the decor.
Check yourself from 9 a. m. to 7 p. m. at Rua Gonçalves Dias 32
Walking from Praça Tiradentes towards the Guanabara Bay, you’ll get to the majestic Assembleia Legislativa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, the Seat of the State Assembly.
The Parliament of Rio de Janeiro.
Turn left and walk up north, passing three ladies. What – three ladies? Yes, first to your left is Nossa Senhora – which means ‘our lady’ – do Carino. One blog further to your right Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores and finally at the Praça Pio X the baroque Nossa Senhora da Candelária.
When I write north, I’m talking about the northern part of the center. I would never dare to send you to the north of Rio and I cannot recommend to venture there by yourself.
Museu do Amanha, seen from the Museu de Arte do Rio.
In front of it the Praca Mauá, behind it the bridge connecting Rio and Niterói (see last section of this post).
So the most northern area for us is the Praça Mauá where you’ll find the spectacular Museu do Amanha – the museum of tomorrow, dealing with all different aspects of planet earth and its inhabitants. Interesting facts and fun hands-on exhibitions – but also the unusual appearance of the building, designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2015, make this museum a must-see when in Rio.
The globe explaining many important facts regarding planet earth is one of the coolest features – at the same time decorating the gorgeous entrance hall.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m., entrance fee are R$ 20
Across the Mauá square is another museum, the Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR), housing different exhibitions on Rio-related topics.
Museum with a view.
May I present my favorite piece – a man helping another escaping through a….tabletop.
Gustavo Rezende “Qual é a matéria do sonho?” (What’s the material of the dream?)
To be honest, the most impressive thing about this venue that was opened in 2013, is the building itself – designed by Paulo Jacobsen, Bernardo Jacobsen e Thiago Bernardes – and the fantastic view of the adjacent Museu do Amanha and the Baía de Guanabara, the Guanabara bay.
Much better art can be seen along the adjacent Avenida Rodrigues Alves where not only graffiti super star Eduardo Kobra painted his epic mural “Ethnicity” on the occasion of the Olympic Games in 2016, but also other muralists perpetuated themselves.
“Ethnicity” – five portraits by Eduardo Kobra
The Avenida Rodrigues Alves is also the perfect place to grab a bite – or a souvenir – and watch people strolling by between old structures of the former store houses – the global gentrification you find in basically every bigger city.
The last northern stop was not for me, but it will be for you, you soccer aficionados: If you walk back to the Praça Pio X and take the subway at the Uruguaiana station, it will take you right to the soccer mecca, Estádio Mário Filho, better known as Maracanã.
Soccer on the beach – good enough for me.
The stadium can be visited, The tours last an average of 40 minutes, but on days when a match is taking place, the last tour finishes three hours before the game.
Estádio Mário Filho
Avenida Presidente Castelo Branco
Rio de Janeiro
Phone: + 55 – 21 – 983 41 19 49
Can be visited daily from 9 a. m. to 4 p. m.
A guided tour costs R$ 60, a non-guided tour costs R$ 50
The last place I’d like to introduce is located on the other side of the Baía de Guanabara – it’s the town of Niterói. It’s worth the visit for three reasons:
A) You cross the Baía de Guanabara on a comfortable, relatively cheap ferry.
B) You have a great view of Rio de Janeiro looking across the bay.
C) You get to visit one of the most important buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói.
Taking the ferry to Niterói, you’ll also have a good view of the beautiful palace on the Ilha Fiscal.
There are two ways how to get to Niterói: You can go by bus crossing the Ponte Rio – Niterói, which is completely pointless and deprives you from above mentioned reason number one. You should take the ferry that leaves Rio at the Estação das Barcas at Praça Quinze de Novembro behind the State Assembly (see above). The ferry operates daily from 6h às 23h30 and costs 6 R$ one way. It takes you to the Praça Arariboia in Niterói in about 20 minutes.
View of Rio de Janeiro from Niterói.
As you leave the terminal, you will spot a little mobile tourist information where you can obtain a map for free. Hence, you don’t really need it: Just turn right and walk along the road as it’s turning along the shore. It’s a scenic walk of about 3 km / 2 mi.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói, form beats content big time.
I will not lie to you: When I visited the museum, there were two completely pointless exhibitions and I’ve heard from others that the venue cannot exactly pride itself on showing breathtaking art. The visit is still worth it – for the building and for the views.
And another thing: You don’t have to walk there, there is a bus circling between the port and the Mirante, the observation point the museum was built on. Actually I’d recommend to walk there – which will take about 30 minutes – and take the bus on your way back.
The change of cities – a couple of days ago I came from Rio to São Paulo – gave me a new perspective on things. I was thinking a lot: about travelling, about blogging…about travel-blogging. Why do I travel? Why am I blogging? What is my intention? What is your expectation? Are they always compatible? Do they have to be?
A son of Brazil – a mural dedicated to Brazil and its youth.
So after two weeks at Marcie’s language boot camp in Rio, last Saturday I finally hit the road to get to know more of Brazil. As you know from Lesson #3, I’ve actually been to other places on my first weekend and regarding Belo Horizonte it was a huge disappointment; fair enough, Brumadinho and most of all the artsy botanic garden Inhotim had made up for it big time.
After that experience, I was a bit sceptical if São Paulo will not disappoint me, too. I knew that it’s ironically being called Germany’s largest industrial city since approximately 1000 (!) German companies are operating and producing in São Paulo – Volkswagen being probably the largest and most famous. Therefore I didn’t expect to much glamour. Man, was I wrong. Whereby, São Paulo is not exactly glamorous, it isn’t even particularly pretty. But it’s cool; so cool!
Bird’s view of São Paulo – the city consists mostly of skyscrapers.
I’m staying at a great place in a great neighborhood: It’s a hotel, but it’s not rooms, but apartments. Small yet homey flats with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and of course a bedroom. Fully equipped and furnished – ready to move in and feel like a São Paulian from day one. On the roof there is a small pool and a gym and a sauna – very convenient, yet at a reasonable price (don’t worry, you’ll get all the info middle of March in the roundup of my Brazil trip – and this hotel will be included, too).
The neighborhood is a hip place with lots of bars and restaurants and shops and a crazy crowd parading up and down the street. Many gay couples. More gays than hets, actually.
At Rua Augusta even C&A becomes C&GAY…
My place is about six blocs from the Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s arterial road. Avenida Paulista is a bit like Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, only not so richie rich, but the people are much more laid back, so they make up of the shortcoming of glitz – since many of them are very glittering themselves.
The Paulista is getting ready for the great Sunday brouhaha.
On Sundays, a big part of the Paulista – you see, by now I’m one of them, so I skip the Avenida and call it only Paulista; how cool am I?!? – is closed for traffic so that all the street hawkers can put up their little stands and sell all sort of original jewelry and accessories and nick nacks. And there are bands playing, mostly rock bands, at every corner. So halfway between corners there is a wild cacophony of smashing drums and weeping guitars and the crowds are cheering. At some spots people get together in flash mobs – hilarious. At the next corner, there is suddenly a checkered dancefloor on the road and traditional Rock’n’Roll is blearing from the speakers while couples just boogie away like coming straight from the 60s. It’s a zoo – and it’s great. Pure joy and fun and music and dance and peace and love. Far better than the hysterical carnaval.
São Paulo versus Rio de Janeiro
It’s amazing how different these two cities are. I like them both in their own way. I think they are both not to be missed, whereby Rio has far more important tourist sights – the Cristo, the Sugar Loaf, the beaches….as a matter of fact São Paulo doesn’t have any of these.
Brazil’s great ambassador.
And still it’s a good place to visit if you want to have a glance at a different kind of Brazilian life.
A side alley at Vila Madalena, one of São Paulo’s most bohemian and artistic neighborhoods.
At first sight, it might deem less ‘Brazilian’. But what is ‘Brazilian’? Dirt, poverty, violence, deliquency? Yes, Rio has far more of that, it deems more South American. São Paulo has parts that remind me very much of San Francisco – it’s very hilly; and it’s very hip and trendy.
In São Paulo even the Havaianas-stores are more exclusive,….
….you can even relax in a giant flip flop and enjoy the screening of a serene beach scene.
The old center is rather like other South American cities such as Lima or Medellín. Since it’s in Brazil, it is Brazilian, I guess. Not stereotype Brazilian, but Brazilian just the same.
São Paulo – that’s where giants become gnomes: The building in the very middle used to be the city’s highest skyscraper; look where it go him.
I personally like getting a glance on every day life when I travel and that’s what I got. If you need ‘typical’, then São Paulo might not be for you – little Brazilian cliché here.
São Paulo’s Art Scene
But São Paulo is not only a hip and very energetic place, it is also artsy, hence just right for me. Only that I had far too little time to get to see all of their great art museums plus all the murals – many of them by superstar Eduardo Kobra.
A very political mural by Eduardo Kobra – raising awareness for indigenous people being threatened by a factory being built in the city of Altamira in Belo Monte.
His work is spread all over town so I did a lot of walking – and still didn’t get to see all of them. Anyway, there is still so much left to come back for: The Pinacoteca, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, the Prefeitura de São Paulo with a botanic garden with over 400 species and an artificial lake on the roof top and much more. I’ll be back, that’s for sure.
When I first saw this sculpture by local artist Carlito Carvalhosa, I thought it looks like a grumpy person. Then I read the title: “Malacara” which means long face; Carlito also tells it like he sees them.
It can be found in the wonderful sculpture garden surrounding the Pinacoteca at Parque Tiradentes. Since my guide book quoted a wrong schedule, I wasn’t able to visit inside, but had enough time to enjoy all the impressive sculptures.
When in São Paulo do like the São Paulians do: I spent Sunday at Parque do Ibirapuera where everybody moves – from strolling to running, young to old – single to large family.
Of course the park is lush – it’s Brazil, after all.
And what did I do? I walked – from sculpture to mural, from gallery to museum!
I wonder whom Eduardo Kobra depicted here as his help. However, whenever he’s in need of an elderly woman proceeding his art work, I’d volunteer in a blink of an eye!
When you are such a recognized star like Eduardo Kobra, you even get away with painting public bathrooms – this is the ladies’ room, the picture above is the gents.
Besides a planetarium, a Japanese garden house, one of Kobra’s best murals, there are actually three of the best museums of São Paulo located on these 2 square kilometers / approx. 0.8 square miles: There is the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, housed in a building by Brazilian star architect Oscar Niemeyer, who i. a. designed the country’s capital city Brasilia – and many, many buildings and complexes all around the country. The facade is painted by urban artists OSGEMEOS (actually Gustavo and Otávio Pandolfo, born 1974 in São Paulo) who regular and attentive readers of my blog already know from my post on Milan where they painted one wall of the Hangar Biccoca.
Obviously the other street art stars’ style differs a lot from Kobra’s: OSGEMEOS (= the twins) are much more lyric, tender and ingenious. The MAM commissioned their mural in 2010.
There is also the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo where also the São Paulo Bienal takes place, so that it’s stuffed with the leftovers from past exhibitions – art aficionado’s paradise!
A very modern interpretation of martyr Saint Sebastian:
Sérgio Ferro: “São Sebastião”
The venue that exceeded my expectations was the Museu Afro Brasil housing an exquisite and very complete permanent exhibition on painting and sculptures by Afro-Brazilian artists. I awed and photographed until my camera’s battery died!
There is a wide range of M.C.M.’s (short for María Cãndido Monteiiro) sculptured Brazilian scenarios on display like “Processão”…
To honor Sidney Amaral, who sadly passed away in 2017, the museum has a special exhibition of his best works on display.
Here I’d like to throw in that although Brazil, too, was built by Africans stolen by Portuguese from their homeland, first ‘broken’ on the islands of Cape Verde (actually, Cape Verde was populated on the occasion of slave trade!) and then forwarded to South America to do slave labor, I’ve never been to a less racist country than Brazil.
Obviously the Brazilian society hasn’t always been prone
to equality: This is one of the old photographs on display
depicting black maids and nannies and their white little
There seems to be no tension at all between people of different skin color, there is an incredible number of mixed couples everywhere, even poverty and misery do not seem to have a color.
You think it’s like this where you come from, too? Well, then you better take a closer look… Of course I didn’t do any research, I don’t know any statistics – I can only judge from what I see and that’s far more relaxed than in other countries I’ve been to – whether the US, England, France…you name it. Nowhere did the color of skin play a minor role than here in Brazil.
Travel-blogging: From Whom? For Whom?
The visit to the Afro museum made me reconsider why I am travelling and why I am writing about it; and also how I’m doing it. Another reason why I took a closer look at my readers and myself was a certain critique I got for posts that don’t deal with a clearly tourist side of travelling but do focus on the country itself and my encounters with reality.
I’m travelling to see and experience as much as I can of a country. I’m not travelling for the beaches and for tourist attractions; at least not exclusively. I do enjoy a lazy day or two reading a nice book – that of course has to be by a local author and possible in the country’s language – on the beach.
Being a conscious, observing traveller doesn’t hold me back from spending a lazy day on the beach….
There is definitely nothing wrong with tourist attractions – I do visit many of them.
….or visiting some standard tourist attractions.
But that’s by far not everything I want to see. I’m keen on getting an insight of how people live, where and what they shop. I love going to local supermarkets and drugstores. I’m not necessarily buying something, I’m just looking what they have in store and what people are getting and how much they are paying for it. I love getting a haircut at a local hairdresser since this is the most daring and un-touristy thing I can imagine; maybe a dentist would be even more to the core, but I leave that for another time…. I read local newspaper, watch a little local TV, talk to people, get to know what they are doing and even how much they are making. I like to leave the surface.
Fruit stand in São Paulo
And that’s not always pretty and pleasant and when it comes to the history of many, many countries, it’s even horrible and atrocious and casts a poor light on some European countries and the United States. But this is why I am travelling: To see a country’s presence with my own eyes, to hear the people’s history with my own ears.
Eventually I share my thoughts – and sometimes my feelings – in my posts. And I call them like I see them: The lovely sides, but also the dark ones.
I will never go to Florida without mentioning how amusement parks threatened and partly destroyed the region’s flaura and fauna. I will not go to South Carolina without noticing and putting in writing the racism that I’m witnessing. I will not go to Viet Nam without pointing out the French’s and American’s verbrechen. I will point out many Thai’s poverty – it’s a nation, not a beach – and the censorship in Turkey. You cannot seriously expect me to be amazed by Cristo Redentor and the Sugar Loaf and ignore the incredible amount of homeless people squatting in Rio’s streets. Their misery is simply heart breaking – especially next to the easy, good life along the Copacabana or Ipanema.
I came to this country to enjoy its beauty, yes, but I cannot just close my eyes before it’s very ugly sides. And since I’m a travel blogger, I write about it. It makes me angry. When I’m angry, I tend to swear. Suck it up: I don’t think that my swear words are a bigger crime than what they are describing.
I do write for myself, too, but mainly I do write for readers. And I believe I owe them: I owe them thorougly researched background info, I owe them precise details on museums, restaurants, hotels when sharing touristy information. I also owe them a good style, correct spelling and pictures with descriptive captions. You do get all this from me: e. g. I’ve never ever posted a picture from an exhibitions not quoting the exact title and artist. Never ever. I owe you that.
Calling them like seeing – or even only perceiving – them is an important part of my writing.
Painting by Sidney Amaral “Estudo para gargalheira ou quem falará por nós?” (Study of a gargalheira* or who will be speaking for us?) * a gargalheira is the iron choker that was used on slaves
But I don’t owe you the sunny side of life. You’ll get sun when it’s sunny, and rain when it’s pouring. If you don’t like it: There are so, so many bloggers introducing the glitzy hotel entrance not bothering you with the hotel’s backdoor where the exhausted maids are having their cigarette between cleaning two rooms for less than minimum wages.
I am not travelling to dreamy destinations. I am travelling the real world.
Wanna know what happened before? Here are the previous lessons:
Class of Brazil – 4th Lesson: I Am What I Am Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me. If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:
…and what I am needs no excuses – the beginning of Gloria Gaynor’s evergreen is the perfect intro to this post, which deals with my perspective on the Carnival in Rio, an extremely gay event – gay in every sense of the word.
Bar on the Copacabana beach
Carnival in Brazil – yay or nay? Spoiler alert: I am what I am, and what I am is not a person who likes carnival; anywhere in the world.
Brazilian carnival is world famous, on many travellers’ bucket lists, so you probably have to be a major grouch not to have a great time and enjoy yourself like crazy.
However, I don’t like carnival.
You might think I’m just a pathetic loser with no sense of humor whatsoever.
But that’s not true, you can ask anybody who has known me for five minutes that I am great fun and ready to say the darndest things. I’m just not the dropping pants-falling water buckets-smashing cream cake-red nose-funny hat-kind of humorous.
Party crowd at the otherwise rather idyllic Largo dos Guimarães in the Santa Teresa district.
And I detest crowds. Even if I would participate in a freedom march, I’d prefer to march by myself than in a crowd. But especially vinous party crowds give me the creeps.
This pretty lady – a street vendor in Belo Horizonte – came closest to the image I had of the carnival in Brazil.
I do like the carnival-ladies in the micro sequin bikinis shaking there not so micro behinds. I like the drummers drumming with vigor. But this takes place only at the Sambadrome where the Samba schools compete.
The real carnival is a bender at every corner in the city.
I’m actually not that crazy about ridiculously accessorized drunks. Nowhere in the world.
There is a carnival in Germany, too. Fortunately, it’s outsourced to the Rhine-Main-area so you can give it a wide berth. Surprisingly the German carnival is pretty much the same thing like the one in Rio: Hordes of disguised drunks are stumbling and staggering through the streets, their make up slowly dissolving, bumping into each other, blocking roads. Since in Germany it’s cold at carnival season, they mostly cover up (big thumb up!). In Rio, it’s 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) at 9 p. m., so people walk around basically naked.
It’s only February and I’ve had my share of bare chests for the rest of the year.
Bare chests – unadorned version…
….bare chests – glittering version.
The latino macho’s favorite costume is a skirt. Skirts seem to be the most hilarious – or maybe coolest – thing a man can wear. I wonder whether the Scots are aware of that.
….group tutu – and of course bare chests.
You might think at least the music is rhythmic and latino and hot so you cannot stand still.
Well, it’s not, take it from me.
Some tacky techno-merengue-mix-songs are blaring from boom boxes and the crowds are blaring along. My Portuguese is sufficient to understand that some of the lyrics must be quite X-rated.
Makes me wonder whatever happened to Barry Manilow’s Lola, the showgirl, with yellow feathers in her hair.
Nope, no yellow feathers.
The worst thing is that as people drink a lot, nature calls; and as soon as they hear it calling, they open the door naked; metaphorically and unfortunately literally.
The sharp stench of ammonia is everywhere; sometimes mixed with the stink of vomit.
#CoisaBOA is a campaign by Antarctica beer dealing in a fun way with different issues that might occur during the carnival. Here it says that it’s a good thing (= coisa boa) to make xixi – I presume that you don’t need a translation for this one… – only in a bathroom. The bad thing (which for the record would be coisa ruim) is that obviously, not many people took notice of this billboard.
This makes me think of another song, the first big success of one of the earliest hip hop bands, namely Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: “….people pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care” (from “The Message”)
Furious Five – that sounds pleasantly grumpy. I think I would spend a great carnival in the company of the Furious Five: We would drink just a bit, maybe get a hit or two from a spliff and roll our eyes on all these self-proclaimed clowns.
We would use the mobile toilets that are everywhere at people’s disposal – and I bet the Furious Five would keep their shirts on.
Wanna know what happened before? Here are the previous lessons:
Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me.
If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures:
At the beginning of this post stands a confession: the confession that the closer the departure date for Brazil got, the more I got nervous; by the day before my departure I was a wreck.
A gentleman selling Cangas, typical Brazilian beach scarves, on the beach of Ipanema.
I wonder how many people miss out on great travel opportunities only because danger looks bigger, closer and more probable from afar. Maybe God is tricking us that way so that not every destination derogates to a horrific spring break feast.
Being Trapped in the Big Picture
Do you know this effect when you’re travelling and people ask you where you ‘re from, that you first tell them the country; and if they are from there, too, you quote the city – if it’s very small so that you cannot expect them to know it, you quote the federal state or the region and then narrow it down to the next bigger city and so on. And if they happen to be from your city, you tell them in which neighborhood or street you live. Where I’m going with this? The farther you’re away, the more you are looking at the big picture respectively the big region. All of a sudden your entire country becomes your home – which never happens while you are walking the streets of your neighborhood.
Unfortunately this effect works also in other situations, e. g. the nervousness or even fear before you head for another trip, another adventure: The entire destination becomes one big spot: If a country is infamous for delinquency, you expect it to be everywhere you go, you don’t localize. Lamentably I do that every time I travel: Before I go to South America, I’m freaked out because I might get mugged. Asia is better in this respect, but there I’m freaked to become a bus crash fatality. Then there are diseases like Dengue, Yellow Fever and many more waiting for me; and I’m even not getting to wildlife such as poisonous spiders, snakes and scorpions. Ok, let’s relax and take a dip in the Ocean. The Ocean?! What sort of suicide freak are you?! Never heard of box jelly fish?! You can imagine that my anticipation gets a bit curbed….
And then I get to where I am supposed to get and nobody tries to rob let alone mug me, the bus drivers are smooth, conscious guys, no mosquito bothers to bite and I manage to swim around the box jelly fish. I’m having a great time and I’m not anguished a bit although realistically speaking I am much closer to the danger than I was while I was worrying at home.
The danger lives next door, but it’s a decent neighbor, keeping pretty much to himself.
This is where I live: Rua São Clemente. When you look East, you see the sugarloaf. when you look west you might spot Cristo Redentor, but it’s not easy to see Thee since he’s often with his head in the clouds.
After I gave you a little idea what makes me tick – can you imagine how I felt before going to Brazil?
To Rio de Janeiro?
I interviewed everybody who has ever been there – all I wanted to hear was that it’s totally harmless and I have nothing to be scared of.
My friends aren’t idiots, of course they didn’t say that.
They told me to be careful and promised me at the same time I’d have a great time.
That was by far not good enough for me, I wanted them to tell me that every story about Rio is exaggerated.
Actually I freaked until the cab from the airport – of course a prepaid, registred cab, do you think I’m suicidal?! – turned into the Rua Nelson Mandela in Rio’s neighborhood of Botafogo.
It was eight at night. It was dark.
There were various nice, terraced bars and cafes packed with people, none of them dressed in something bullet-proved (by the way, while writing this, I am sitting at one of the nice bars having – what a cliché! – a Caipirinha).
Across the street from the bars was a playground where little kids were running around – it was such a relaxed atmosphere.
It was dark yet people didn’t have to duck – good enough for me.
You can imagine my joy when the cab turn left at the next corner of this vivid, pleasant street and stopped in front of a building.
Here we were – I was home; in an animated, but absolutely lovely neighborhood.
Expat for two weeks
When you stay in a city because you are doing a language course there, it’s a whole different story than just being on a vacation: You immediately have a life there, chores and errands, schedules and duties. It’s a bit less fun since you cannot enjoy the attractions the place has to offer 24/7. But for me it’s almost even more fun because I feel like being an expat, not a tourist, from day one; and I love it!
Unexpectedly, feeling like an expat worked extremely fast and well in Rio, I even cannot tell you why: yes, it’s a bit like Lima, yes, it’s a bit like some US Latino neighborhood – and it’s even a bit French, but all this doesn’t explain why Rio and I have immediately clicked.
Teatro Municipal – built after the Opera in Paris. One of several French influenced buildings.
Rio is actually a bit of a rat race for me: Being here on ‘Bildungsurlaub’ (this is for you, Eric!) I have to take an intensive course which is six hours per day; that’s a lot – almost a workday. So I have to build my sight seeing around this schedule.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know by now that I’m an art aficionado, crazy for exhibitions and museums.
When I have to spend six hours in class, I can do one exhibition per day; max. Or any other activity, for that matter.
Remember: It’s not a vacation.
In Rome and Milan, I did join a group with a steady schedule so I was able to divide my days regularly. Here in Rio, I have to take individual classes since there are no other students.
Advantage: this cuts the amount in half – I have to do only 15 hours per week since this one on one situation is far more intensive than learning in a group.
Disadvantage: I’m learning with a top teacher, the star of Portuguese language who works for all the embassies and international companies and what not. I have to build my 15 hours around Marcie’s schedule; which is super tight, especially since this week we have to skip Friday because I’m going to Belo Horizonte for the weekend (guys, that will be a great post on a great place, don’t you miss it!), so Friday is off the table. Therefore this week we did four hours every day. Can you imagine how tiring it is to express yourself for four hours in a row in a foreign language you’re not fluent in?! And every time I make the smallest, cutest, most charming mistake, Marcie jumps in and corrects me. It’s great, she’s an excellent teacher. It’s horrible, it ruins the wit of my stories.
So for four hours we are talking and I’m filling fill-in-the-blank texts with prepositions that are a bitch in Portuguese. Then I’m telling her all these funny little stories – and she makes me understand how big the difference between Spanish, that I’m fluent in and do rely on a great deal, and Portuguese actually is. While knowing Spanish and Italian helps a lot with the passive vocabulary, it’s actually kind of an obstacle when it comes to the active part.
After class – feeling like my head is exploding – I can finally stop thinking and go mindlessly to a mall or hit the beach.
Soccer practice on the Copacabana Beach
When I have class in the afternoon, I do some sightseeing in the morning and come home running, hoping to be on time before Marcie gets there (since I’m taking individual lessons, the class takes place at my landlady’s apartment). On the way, I’m buying a quick bite and a coffee to go; anyway, she’s always there before me because the cashiers in Rio are extremely relaxed people and do expect the same from their customers.
Tuesday I came running from my visit to the Jardim Botanico….
….and Wednesday from the wonderful Museu do Amanha – the Museum of Tomorrow.
It’s hard. It’s even a bit stressful. It’s great: I have a real life her. Having a life means to live, right? I’m…sort of….a local.
Like I’ve mentioned, Marcie is my teacher. And Marcie is great.
I’m staying at Dona I’s place in Botafogo, a middle class to upper middle class neighborhood. As a European, you feel comfortable here, not out of place because you seem to be much richer than the poor, not like a bum because you are much poorer than the rich. It’s your scene.
So when Marcie gets to the flat, she’s ready. No unnecessary pleasantries, no usual class chitchat like ‘so, what did you do after class yesterday’.
I tell her what I did, I make her listen. While she’s listening, she doesn’t miss one opportunity to correct me. She doesn’t let me go away with the slightest error.
I ask her questions – which she first corrects, then answers.
What really enriches my stay is that I can ask her everything without crossing lines or hurting her feelings. I can be amazed by Rio – which I am – and I can criticize thing that I notice – which I do – and she either explains or agrees or disagrees and we are talking. I’m learning a lot; not only Portuguese.
Thanks to Marcie’s language boot camp, I was able to answer the Martian’s question why humans destroy their planet in understandable Portuguese. Yes, I’m aware that this attraction at the Museu de Amanha is for a different age group.
However, obviously she’s an highly intelligent and educated person so it’s a joy to talk about everything with her. It was her – and here we get back to the beginning of this post – who told me the first day I should not go out wearing a necklace. I’d like to emphasize that my necklace is a good, hence not flashy, golden chain with a small pendant of a crossed Jesus. Extremely demure. Every gangster rapper would tease me for having something that modest. Marcie urged me to take it off that very moment and made me promise that I put it on again the day I leave Brazil. Otherwise I risk to be strangled with my own necklace when thieves try to rip it off. She might be right: Very few women are wearing necklaces on the street. Earrings, bangles – but no necklaces.
Every time when I finally leave home after class, I run into Marcie downstairs in the entrance hall, quickly munching on a small sandwich or smoking a cigarette or chatting on the phone. That’s her only break: quickly indulging or arranging something at the entrance of an apartment building.
Every day she races from some embassy to our place and after four hours of listening to my jibber jabber she has like half an hour to arrive at her next student’s place.
To me, Marcie is like a Brazilian superhero – always on her way to where ever her help is needed.
Wanna know what happened before? Here is my first lesson learned:
Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me. If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:
Since I came to Rio de Janeiro two days ago, it’s been cloudy and rainy. It’s still a great, beautiful and very impressive city, though, even in the rain. However, I must admit that the purpose of my stay makes it easy for me to cope with any kind of weather, since I’m not on a regular vacation.
This is what ‘Bildungsurlaub’ also stands for: Getting inspired by seeing things from a new perspective!
Here at Rio’s Jardim Botanico, an beautiful, serene oasis not far from the beach of Ipanema.
There is not only an eclectic mix of untamed nature growing next to manicured lawns and flowerbeds, decorated with old, weathered statues and fountains. There is also an exhibition of modern art taking place.
My favorite piece is an installation by Gustavo Prado called “Caminho Inverso”/”Reversed Path”. It consists of about thirty mirrors facing the top of the palm tree alley which shows you the plants from many, many….different perspectives!
Let me finally explain why I came to Brazil and what I’m doing here:
When it comes to Germany, everybody is raving about cars, soccer, and beer. Three things I could easily do without.
‘Bildungsurlaub’, loosely translated ‘educational leave’, is an incredible invention that seems to exist only in Germany: Every employee is entitled to take one extra week of paid vacation per year to learn or practice something, i. e. to take a class or do a course. There is also the option to do it every other year, so that you can take two weeks in a row.
That’s it. You get a paid vacation – in addition to your holidays – if you take a class. This class doesn’t even have to be related to your job or the field your working in. However, there are some strings attached, so that this option is not necessarily attractive to everybody: The institution where you’re taking your class has to be officially approved for ‘Bildungsurlaub’ and you have to do at least 30 hours per week. So you cannot say, hey, I will sit next to my grandmother and learn how to knit or I’ll visit my cousin in France and learn French talking to the neighbors. You have to find a knitting school that’s certified or an appropriate language school and they have to grant you 30 hours class per week. And you have to pay for it – you, not your employer; and the intensive courses abroad are pricey, take it from me.
Anyway, I don’t mind paying for an extra vacation where in addition I learn another language; because that’s what I did every time I took my ‘Bildungsurlaub’: first I went for two weeks to Rome and learned Italian. Two years later I spent two weeks in Izmir and did Turkish.
On the third one – and here is where we are slowly getting to my present stay in Rio de Janeiro – I intended to learn Portuguese in Lisbon. I searched the internet and found only courses that were neck-cuttingly expensive. While searching for a reasonable Portuguese class, I came across language schools in Brazil that were qualified for German Bildungsurlaub. My eyes got all dreamy: Learning Portuguese in Brazil – how cool would that be?! Unfortunately by then I already wasted too much time searching for something appropriate so that Brazil, which needs a bit more planning, was off the table; but only for then, I’ve never forgot about it.
That year I went to Milan and brushed up my Italian.
But two years later – it was ‘Bildungsurlaub’-time again – I still remembered Brazil. So I looked for a course, found a good deal, asked my boss for two weeks of ‘Bildungsurlaub’ – and, since Brazil is so far away, for another two weeks of my regular holidays to make it worth the long journey…and here I am, learning Portuguese – and much, much more! – in Rio de Janeiro.
Despite cars, soccer, and beer: We have it good; so good!
Who Brought Me Here
We have it good – and I have it particularly good since I was lucky enough to find a travel operator who shares my values: “lernen & helfen Sprachreisen” (learning & helping language travel) located in Cologne/Germany.
As I pointed out, to qualify for ‘Bildungsurlaub’, the course has to be certified by the Federal ministry of education – which only certain classes abroad are. “lernen & helfen Sprachreisen” not only offers a good number of certified classes in ‘exotic’ places such as Jamaica, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and many more, but also makes sure that you are well integrated by staying with a local family and introduced to regional traditions, customs and everyday life. They want you to learn culture and not just the language. Booking a language course at one of their dream destinations does not have to be ‘Bildungsurlaub’-related. You can book a class on your regular vacation. Or you can do a combined trip – travelling and learning.
“lernen & helfen Sprachreisen” is certified by various organisations for their ethic, social, and ecological awareness.
In a world where travelling becomes more and more affordable, hence common, I find that this awareness has to be raised accordingly.
More travelling – less tourism.
Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me.
If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:
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