Friday, 15 May 2009

Rio de Janeiro (Part 3)

Back in Rio for the last three days of our trip, we made our way to the Selaron Steps, named after the artist who created them. Over a 19-year period, Señor Selaron has transformed this backstreet staircase into a tiled work of art. It's featured in numerous music videos (U2, Snoop Dog), films and magazine shoots, and it is now a major tourist pull. Selaron was on hand when we visited and gave us the opportunity to pose with him, and purchase one of his paintings – which we were more than happy to do.

Next, we travelled to Santa Teresa on the tram which crosses over the large Lapa Arches. If you hold onto the outside of the tram, you don't have to pay anything for the ride. However, you might smack into a parked car or a lamp post on the way up. Santa Teresa was very quaint, and we found a very atmospheric bar for lunch.

Yesterday, we went straight to Ipanema beach - one of the most affluent parts of Rio and one of the best beaches in the world. Lunch was at a local bakery where we gouged on more salgados and drank açai juice. The juice is the colour of red kidney beans and tastes like Actifed cough mixture (but in a good way and with none of the drowsiness). Around the city, we saw lots of shops selling nothing but Havaianas.

We headed into Lapa last night to celebrate the last evening of our travels. From the bus, we saw thong-wearing “ladies of the night” lining one street. In a tiny street-side bar, a Brazilian 'samba jazz' group put on a very enjoyable show with a number of 'standards'. Nice. The beer and caipirinhas flowed into the early morning, so we were feeling a bit worse for wear today.

For our last few hours of sightseeing, we visited the cathedral. Although it's a controversial building from the outside, the stained glass windows inside were formidable. Hearing a classical version of Cat Stevens' “Morning has broken” inside was an unexpected treat, at least for Andy. Next door to the cathedral, the Petrobas building has been compared to a rubix cube.

We leave Rio tonight (Thursday 14 June 2009 2300) and arrive at Heathrow tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Angra dos Reis to Paraty

There were no cash machines on Ilha Grande and by the time we got to Angra dos Reis, we were completely out of money. We frantically started searching for a cash machine which would work. The queues for cash machines are phenomenal here and, just because it has the Visa sign, it doesn't mean that it will take your Visa card. The machines are also the slowest we've used in the world. After a stressful 30 minutes and four banks later, we finally struck gold.

Needing an energy boost before catching the bus to Paraty, we tucked into our lanchonete snack of pasties and cheesy croissants. We watched old gents sitting and chatting away on a bench across the street. Everyone was very relaxed and not in a hurry.

As we arrived in beautiful town of Paraty, we got a bit confused while trying to find our hostel in the historic centre. The old town is a laid out in a grid of streets, each lined with almost identical looking stone houses. The streets are known by a couple of different names, so none of the names on the map matched the ones on the street corners. So we thought we knew where we were, but we couldn't match anything with the map. Useless. Luckily we were right about our location, and the hostel appeared round the next corner. Phew. Walking around is also fun when the tide comes in. It covers some of the streets with water, blocking your way.

Luckily the barbecue in the evening sorted everything out. It was cooked by William Wallace, an ex-Brazilian special forces guy with a penchant for putting guests who didn't believe his name in a head lock. Regardless, it was one of the best places we've stayed in, with an atmospheric courtyard and rustic feel.

Paraty has the best-named ice cream bar in the world - Sorve Terapia or Ice Cream Therapy. It's a pick and mix shop where you load up your cone/bucket with ice cream, toppings, wafers and sprinkles then pay by the kilo. Makes you feel good about yourself after a 20 minute session.