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Suddenly it happens


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Woke up before the cell phone alarm sounded. The hotel staff had not called me during the night, so my bag had not arrived yet. What now? Tiptoed away to the reception and asked yet again asked about my bag. But no. The hotel staff tried their best to get in contact with TAM Airlines by phone, but without result. It was morning and also Saturday. What were the odds of get in contact with that small airport a day like this? Aaah!! Now I was ready to give up. If I didn’t receive my bag today, they could just as well send it straight back to Sweden, so I didn’t have to worry for the rest of my trip. I miserably walked back to my hotel room and packed my things. Checked out from Hotel Viale Cataratas and had a few hours now to kill before Joe came and drove me to Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport.

Sat down on a soft and comfortable couch in the hotel lobby and had just sunk into my own little world when one of the hotel staff calls for me. Barely made it up from the couch and walked up to her. Finally, great news! Suddenly it happened! TAM Airlines themselves had called the hotel and announce that they now had my bag delivered by courier. For real? With careful optimism I returned to the couch and it felt really good now – almost too good. Time wise, it felt like 3 weeks from the great news until the man stepped into the hotel with my bag. A total happiness arose the very second I spotted my bag – like a child waiting for presents on Christmas Day.

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There it was. My bag! Weird you can be so happy about getting your bag back. But hey? No ID inspection??? Seriously? In other words, he could have delivered my bag to the very next person?! But right then I could care less.

Joe arrived at 12.45pm to drive me to Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport. The transfer took about 20 minutes and just inside the departure terminal it hit me – I must check in my luggage again after just hours in my possession again. Walked up to the check-in counter, took a deep breath and handed over the bag. Oh well. Dear bag. See you in Rio then? As mentioned earlier, Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport is a rather small airport – despite the international status. There weren’t many gates to choose from, even fewer restaurants to eat at. The airplane departed just before 4pm and it took about 1 ½ hours to reach Galeão International Airport in northern Rio de Janeiro. The rain pattered against the aircraft and it was a gray and overcast weather. Got pretty fast from the gate to the baggage belt to pick up my bag. Bag after bag came on out the belt, but my bag never seemed to show up. Minutes ticked away and also my pulse, that after a while most surely was at 160 bpm. What the hell! I had time for many thoughts and felt the devil’s horn started to grow out on my forehead. But eventually my bag showed up, as one of the very last bags out on the belt! Whew!

In the arrival hall, I met up with my local guide Renato. We left the rain over the airport and the slum districts (favelas) in the northern Rio de Janeiro and traveled through one of all car tunnels towards the southern and wealthier part of Rio. The weather somewhat eased up the more south we got and caught a glimpse of both Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer. The vast contrast between the favelas as we passed in the north to the luxury hotels that lined up along Copacabana Beach in the south was overwhelming. Renato drove an extra turn in the neighborhood and pointed out great restaurants and local stores so I could easily orient myself before dropping me off at my hotel, Hotel Windsor Martinique Copacabana. Definitely the most elegant hotel so far during this trip. I had barely gotten out of the care before a bell boy grabbed my bags and took them inside the hotel lobby. Check-in went fast and then a bell boy followed me up to my room with my bags. Perhaps not the biggest room in the world, but I wasn’t here for the hotel.

A local store was situated just around the corner from the hotel where you could buy both water and snacks to a much cheaper price than from the hotel room mini bar. Close to eight o’clock in the evening I went to a Steak House that Renato had recommended. There was a buffet, just as several other restaurants I had visited here in Brazil. Take whatever you want, how much you want and pay the weight at the counter. Super smooth! Typical Brazilian food is meat, fish, chicken, rice and pasta in all cooked forms. Stews, fried, steamed, grilled – you name it.

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Then had time to visit a local market along Copacabana Beach, organized during weekends. Here you could buy typical souvenirs, clothes, snacks etcetera.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro traveling copacabana_beach Comments (0)

Sugar Loaf Mountain


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I got up early in the morning in time for breakfast at 7am and being in time for pick-up at 8.25am. Hasn’t had a working air-conditioner during the entire night so I made a report at the hotel reception while I was down there for breakfast anyway. They called for the janitor who came to my room within 3 minutes. The first thing he checked was if the window was closed. I had the window opened yesterday evening but I then closed it… or well, at least I thought so. But obviously I must have missed a millimeter or two, since the air-conditioner was linked to the window and apparently didn’t work if it was opened. He opened the window and closed it again and then the air-conditioner started again. Ha ha, was it that simple, really? Well then.

Continued to get ready and later on went down to the hotel lobby in time for my pick-up at 8.25am. I waited and waited and ogled the watch more and more irritated. All other hotel guests waiting in the hotel lobby had been picked-up by now except from me. During that time, I had built up anger inside at the same time I started to get nervous they had forgotten me. Then I suddenly remembered something that Peter, my first transfer driver in Manaus, had said; “it’s more of a rule that Brazilians are late to an appointment or meeting and that by 30 minutes or more”. So, I convinced myself not to worry and that they hadn’t forgotten me. Eventually a short-grown lady by the name Maria picked me up. We walked outside to a full-sized bus and she told me we would be 44 people in the group today. The bus driver drove along Copacabana’s beach towards Sugar Loaf Mountain. Most of the streets in the Copacabana district are one-ways. They can be one-way in one direction in the morning, switch to the other direction during the day and get back to the other one-way direction in the afternoon. So confusing! But it has to do with traffic and ease the traffic flow during rush-hours in Rio de Janeiro.

Copacabana Palace is a *****-star hotel built in 1923. It was the first and only hotel on Copacabana Beach until 1945. The hotel is easily recognized by its magnificent facade and distinguishes from surrounding hotels. Even Princess Isabella, who freed the slaves, has gotten a street with her name – Isabella Avenue. The bus made several stops by hotels along Copacabana’s beach and I got a nice surprise when a group of people also from Sweden embarked the bus. So nice to talk Swedish again.

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The heat hit us when we disembarked the bus at Praia Vermelha to collect our cable car tickets. After being on a comfortable bus and a well working air conditioner you almost got shocked. The sun burned and the short matter of time we had to wait outside in the sun almost became a hassle. We rode the cable car up to the first top, Morro da Urca at 220 altitude meters. Maria had clearly told us that we wouldn’t have time to stop for pictures here now during our ride up, but continuing on with the next cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Said and done.

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We walked through the woods where trees with Jackfruit grew. Every fruit weight about 15-40 kg and smelled very weird. You really don’t want that kind of big fruit hitting in your head. We disembarked the cable car up at Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúgar) at the impressive altitude of 396 meters. Sugar Loaf Mountain consists of granite and quarts like many other surrounding hills and mountains nearby.

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The view from up here was pretty impressive, partly over Copacabana beach but also the Guanabara Bay, where several water events during the Summer Olympic Games will be held in 2016. We got half an hour to walk around for photos.

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Up here were also a souvenir shop, an exclusive glass figure shop with soaring prizes (even though the figures were very well done it was pure rubbery) and minor snack bar with hotdogs, candy and of course bottled water for sale. When we were about to gather again Maria had a busy time gathering us all 44 people but managed to get us all down back to Morro de Urca again. Now we got some time for photos. Here they displayed the very first cable car.

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Right next to it was another cable car that had been used by Roger Moore in one of the Bond movies. When Maria gathered us all again 2 people in the group wanted to stay longer. But since Maria had a time schedule to follow the rest of us had to leave Morro de Urca without these two people.

How Rio de Janeiro did have its name? In year 1500 the first Portuguese arrived in Brazil and started to conquer. Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1502 and its name came up due to heavy fog so they thought they had arrived at a river (Rio), and not an ocean. That was in January (Janeiro) 1502, as the name of Rio de Janeiro occurred. One of the first things you think about when hearing Rio de Janeiro, is the annual carnival that is always being held 40 days prior to Easter Sunday. To participate you need to be older than 8 years old and the original purpose was for the Samba schools to compete against each other. The parade has been held since 1984 at the Sambodrome to gather audience and to sell tickets. Some Samba schools take their carnival train out to Rio’s street festivals to spread their message in the whole town.

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On the way back the bus stopped at the Sambodrome, but we weren’t allowed to disembark the bus due to the troubled neighborhood. But we managed to take some photos from inside the bus.

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The bus continued to drive back towards Copacabana and made a quick stop at a catholic cathedral, Metropolitan Cathedral, which is shaped like a pyramid. It was beautiful inside with big colored glass windows that literarily reached from the floor all the way up to the top of the pyramid. The cathedral is dedicated to Sankt Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro and the seat of the Archbishop.

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Each Sunday a Hippie Market is being held at Praça General Osório and has been so since 1968. Over 700 market stalls are set up and people sell souvenirs, food, jewelries, handy craft and clothes among other things. A fun element in a vibrant city, which attracts many tourists. I can tell you that it wasn’t just regular cigarettes that were smoked there.

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Back in Copacabana and its beach later that afternoon. At 5pm a joyful carnival-dressed-up crowd of people gathered and formed a small parade. They danced to the grand and loud music along the entire Copacabana Beach. Nice finish for the day.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro sugar_loaf_mountain copacabana_beach Comments (0)

A foggy Corcovado and Evening Samba Show


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I had woken up during the night due to thunderstorm that hit Rio de Janeiro with rainstorm and lightning which lighted up the entire hotel room, even though the curtain covered the whole window. When it was time to get out of bed and eat breakfast the thunderstorm had passed. When I stepped outside the hotel, I could feel the air was cooler now and that drizzle was still in the air. I ogled up towards Corcovado and noticed the entire peak was embedded in fog. Damn. I’m having a trip up there to see Christ the Redeemer in the afternoon. Well, the fog has all morning to ease up so it should be a problem. Walked via Copacabana Beach towards Ipanema Beach. The sun made a few brave attempts to pierce through the heavy clouds but in vain. The clouds were so heavy and low today. Not many souls were swimming today, only a few surfers looking for the perfect wave.

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There is a small foreland between Ipanema and Copacabana, Pedra do Arpoador, with cliffs breaking the ocean waves. Apparently, that place was ideal for cactuses since a lot of cactuses were growing there and I think it was some kind of Prickly Pear.
Then I walked back to Copacabana and found a lunch buffet place. So practically and smart that you take how much you want and then pay in weight.

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At 2.20pm I had the pick-up for my afternoon tour to Corcovado and Tijuca Forest. The guide Jaolber “Joe” picked me up in the hotel lobby and we embarked a full-sized buss, even though we weren’t that many people, I would say totally 25 people. Unfortunately, the fog had decided to stay and Joe informed us during the bus ride that we probably wouldn’t be able to see that much of the statue itself, nevertheless the amazing view. Such shame! The bus parked down at the train station wherefrom the mountain train departed from every 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can drive up on a narrow lingering road. We embarked the train and thanks to non-existing queues we all rode in the same train. During high season the queues are long and the waiting time could be several hours due to the limited number of passengers (540) transported each hour. The train steeply ascended the almost 4 kilometers up to the top station. The first locomotive was steam-powered and started operating in 1884, but today they are electrically driven and it’s not unusual that the trains are out of service. Joe had told us that the trains had been out of service just yesterday and that his tourist group had to cancel the tour since the bus cannot drive the narrow road up the end station for the trains.
From the end station you had to make a choice. Either walk the 223 stair steps up to the observation deck or ride the elevator combined with escalators. Since it wasn’t too many people up here today the obvious choice fell on the elevator + escalator. When up there on the absolute height of 710 meters above sea level the fog was so dens, you couldn’t even see the foot of Christ the Redeemer. A huge disappointment since I had paid for the tour and wanted to see the statue or at least the magnificent view. But no! The weather God’s wanted neither of that for me.

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Occasionally you could imagine a silhouette of a statue through the fog, I never got to see more than that before we had to gather again for the downhill ride to the bus again. Even though we had gotten small notes to attach to our clothes with Joes name on it, 2 people actually managed to get lost and never rode the train down with us. Joe just shrugged and said they had themselves to blame. He had been very clear about when and where we would meet again. Down by the bus we embarked and started our ride back to our hotels. On the way back we passed through some of Rio de Janeiro’s over 30 car tunnels that had been built due to the mountainous area.

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We passed Guanabara Palace where Princess Isabell once lived and nowadays houses the town’s governor. Along the way we passed many street arts/tags on houses, buildings and walls. Some were just scrawls, while others were like true art. Eventually, we arrived in Copacabana, which by the way means “Shiny Horizon” in Bolivian. The Bolivians brought that name when visiting Brazil, a long time ago. One after another disembarked the bus and so even I, when the bus finally stopped outside my hotel.

Next pick-up was at 7.20pm for BBQ dinner and later Samba Show. I was well in time in the hotel lobby and waited. I waited and waited and remembered Peter’s words: “It’s common that people are late, sometimes up to 30 minutes”. But when time was close to 8pm I contacted my local guide Renato and asked if they had forgotten me. It didn’t take him long to reach back to me and told me that a misunderstanding had occurred and I needed to take a taxi to Shenanigan where the BBQ dinner was held. It took about 15 minutes with taxi and when I stepped inside through the doors into the restaurant it was practically crowded. I got a seat with people from America that was also going to the Samba Show later. Very nice people! It was a little tricky to understand how it worked there, but my friends at the table told me. I had to get vegetables, potatoes, rice and pasta at the pre-heated tables further away and then the staff came at the table serving newly grilled beef, meat, chicken or whatever and cut it up on your plate. If you didn’t pay attention and said no if you didn’t want any, you got a slice. A lot of great meat and chicken were served in all its shapes and tastes. When the dinner ended with ice cream you were full. But you can always make room for some ice cream ;)

Then we walked out to the bus and got driven to Plataformas Samba Show. We were entertained with a spectacular show with live music, rhythms and dances with lurid colors and glitz and glamour. Totally amazing! The show went on for about 1 ½ hour and arrived back at the hotel just before midnight.

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Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro corcovado samba christ_the_redeemer samba_show Comments (0)

Shopping and history


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I could afford another sleep-in today since I didn’t have any day tour but a tour in the evening with dinner and entertainment in Lapa. The clouds were really low and it was grey and cloudy but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. During the bus ride back to my hotel yesterday I had scouted a few places worth paying a visit. Partly a shopping center called Shopping Leblon and had by a coincident I spotted a street with my name. I knew there was a street out in the World with my name – and now I had found it! :)

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The clouds were lifting during the walk over to Ipanema Beach and the intense sunshine warmed up Rio de Janeiro. I crossed the street to, wherever it was possible, walk in the shadow and not overheat. It felt like forever before I got to “my” street. Then walked a few streets towards the city center to get to Shopping Leblon - a large shopping center with multiple floors with clothes, shoes, stuff, perfume among other things. They had really embraced the tradition of Christmas.

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The entire shopping center was wrapped with big gift strings with a big bow over the entrance. And just aside from the entrance was a gigantic teddy bear in fabric, which was about 10 meters high while seated. Inside the center was 2-meter-high peppermint canes, Christmas trees (plastic) that reached 10 meters high for sure and in the middle by the escalators were 3- to 4-meter-high teddy bears hanging down from the ceiling. It was glitz and Christmas tree orbs and the Christmas music were played everywhere. Really cozy though a bit exaggerated. Even though the large contrast between the +30 °C heat outside and the extreme Christmas spirit inside, Brazilians know how to celebrate Christmas – no doubt. And there were a whole lot of branded clothes too.

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Among other stores… Calvin Klein! My favorite! There is a heaven in Rio de Janeiro after all ;) Unfortunately I was anything but fit for shopping after that warm and long sweaty walk. So, I really had to get back here later today, after a shower and change of clothes.

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Walked back to Ipanema Beach and found a bench and sat down. The sun had come to stay now and really broiled.

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Since it was Tuesday the Forte de Copacabana was open, which is a military base at the south end of Copacabana and opened for public and display a Museum of Army History and the coastguard’s actual fort.

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The fortress was an important part of Rio de Janeiro’s history and defense against enemies at sea due to its location.

During the way back to my hotel I bought a warm Chicken sandwich. It tasted really good with that warm sandwich even though it was really warm outside. Back at the hotel for a well-needed shower. Changed into new fresh clothes and went down to the hotel lobby and asked for a cab. A bellboy walked straight away out to the busy street behind the hotel and waved in a taxi for me. I asked the driver to get me to Shopping Leblon, which took about 10 minutes and cost R$15. Now finally time for shopping! Calvin Klein of course ;) Later on when it was time to go back to my hotel, there was a taxi place just outside the entrance where the taxi cars waited to pick up costumers. Perfect! You just took the very first taxi back to your hotel. I must say it felt totally safe to use taxi in Rio. You will have an advantage knowing Portuguese since the taxi drivers most certainly doesn’t speak any English. But you will get to your destination by having the address written down on a piece of paper as well.

In the evening it was time for my Private Tour in Lapa. Met Renato down by the hotel reception at 7.30pm. I received the money I had spent on that taxi ride to the BBQ dinner yesterday, when they forgot to pick me up. Renato apologized once again for the inconvenience and he was sure that his information was right, while the organizer claimed I had the BBQ dinner and Samba Show tonight. Oh well. Then Renato drove towards Lapa and made a short tour in the neighborhood.

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Lapa is a financial district and a wealthier neighborhood with very popular pubs and bars. The house facades have been restored and are from 19th Century with much influence from the Portuguese conquering. Renato parked the car and we went to Rio Scenarium – Pavilhão Cultural. It was a nice building and the interior had been kept in an elderly style.

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The staff dressed like they did 200 years ago and a live band – Edu Krieger e Convidados – performed on stage and was great. A professional dance couple danced around in the room and they were the best of the best and danced perfectly together. If you only had a scrap of what they showed off, you would be happy. They were awesome! We had a reserved table close to the stage, which Renato had booked in advance. If you want a table here you must reserve in advance due to its popularity – but so well worth it! During the evening I ordered the national drink of Brazil – Caipirinha, it was pretty strong, but okay.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro lapa copacabana_beach Comments (0)

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