From the peace and tranquility of the Pantanal to the hustle and bustle of Rio – what a shock to the system – and yet somehow I feel quite at home here with the sounds of the city, familiar to me from my life in London.
I’m staying in the district of Santa Teresa. Known as the artistic heart of Rio, the cobbled streets are lined with rambling mansions that were once home to the city’s wealthy elite, and today function as artists’ studios, cafes, restaurants and guest houses. My home for the next few days is the Mama Ruisa Boutique Hotel and it’s fabulous!
“Put simply, Mama Ruisa is a gorgeous slice of late-19th century Brazilian architecture. The white mansion’s solid, ipê wood floors and high ceiling rooms are surrounded by lush tropical gardens with a simple, attractive swimming pool. The main lounge is a lesson in style, too, with pieces by classic Brazilian designers like Sergio Rodrigues updated with bold, modern fabrics”
After a wonderful night’s sleep, I am met at 9 am by my very talkative guide for the day, Sergio. He has the day planned out with military precision; Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Botafogo, Centro and back to Santa Teresa. He is helped along with his precise timings by the fact that there are hardly any tourists around – one of the joys of travelling out of season – and we swing through the entry gates to all the attractions, not a queue in sight. It’s a sunny 26 degrees, no humidity, very pleasant, and yet when we reach the top of the Corcovado mountain we find the statue of Christ almost completely shrouded in cloud and not one of the incredible vistas of Rio visible through the mist.
Sergio takes this as a personal insult and for a while he’s lost for words but after a more successful visit to Sugarloaf Mountain he is back to his chirpy self. The views from here are truly magnificent; everything I have imagined and more. Mountains rising from the sea, covered in lush, green vegetation, buildings clinging perilously to the hillsides, and mile after mile of glorious, white beaches fringing the shoreline of the natural bay. It really is breathtaking. From here it’s time for a quick lunch at Confeitaria Colombo, one of the city’s oldest and most ornate eateries, where we just have time for one of their famous meat croquettes and a beer, before we’re off again to Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro.
It’s a modern church, apparently based on the Mayan architectural style of pyramids, but to be honest, from the outside, I think it looks like an upside down, concrete pasta strainer! Once inside, however, it comes into its own and boasts the most beautiful stained glass windows and a calm and peaceful atmosphere.
There’s just time to visit Escadaria Selarón (Selarón’s Staircase) – a famous stairway made up of 250 steps and adorned in over 2,000 brightly coloured tiles from more than sixty different countries – a highlight of the day for me and a place I’ll visit again on my own when I have more time – before we’re back in Santa Teresa and in front of my hotel.
Weather permitting, tomorrow I’ll spend time exploring my local neighbourhood, but for now it’s feet up and a welcome caipirinha to end my first memorable day in this exciting city.