Day 96: A Rainy Saturday In Rio

Sat. 17th November 2012

Lapa Arches with Cathedral in backgoundWhilst definitely better than a wet Wednesday in Bognor, the weather in Rio is not turning out to be like the mental images that we have of Rio. It is another grey, overcast day with low cloud and it is raining as we get up. Once again, we are grateful that we picked the two best days for the city and favela tours – it would have been disappointing to be up in the hills in the cloud and the favela in the rain would have been more slippery and smelly.

Central Bank buildingHaving been based in Copacabana for the past few days and particularly having walked along both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches yesterday, we thought that we would spend a morning exploring the Centro district before heading off to the airport for our flight to Buenos Aires this afternoon. As we headed out, it was threatening rain and it seemed as if everyone had decided to stay at home. As with the City of London, it seems that everyone leaves for the weekend and the streets are quiet and the shops and offices all closed. Passing the building for the Central Bank of Brazil reinforces the similarities with the City of London.

Theatro Municipal - Opera houseWe get as far as the Teatro Municipal opera house before the rain starts again. Unfortunately, we can’t get in – the interior, like the exterior, is supposedly very ornate, but you are only allowed in for performances. We have to make do with a couple of photos whilst trying not to get either ourselves or the camera wet before diving in to a street side cafe for a coffee. (Its and ill wind and all that!). Also close by is the Biblioteca Nacional, supposedly the seventh largest library in the world. Although not as ornate as the opera house, you can at least get inside the foyer.

Biblioteca Nacional - LibraryThe rain eases up, and so we head off once again towards the Lapa district to see the Lapa arches which we saw from a distance on our city tour. This whitewashed, former aqueduct, runs high above the streets. It was later converted into a tramway – from the tram depot to the start point of the tram up the hill to the Christ the Redeemer statue, but after the fatal accident (see Day 93) is no longer used. The scale of the aqueduct is impressive, but they definitely need a fresh coat of paint and there isn’t much else to see nearby.

Rio Metro stationWe still have a good 3 or more hours before we need to head off to the airport and we seem to have exhausted the nearby possibilities. I’m sure there are worthwhile things that we are missing, but I had expected there to be more to do in Rio. We have heard about the Rio Sul shopping centre (and seen the shuttle buses) and we haven’t yet experienced the Rio Metro, so we head off to the nearest Metro station to kill two birds with one stone.

As advertised, the Metro is easy to use – less busy than London, less intimidating than Moscow (no barriers that try to bite your ankles!) and with only two lines scope for getting on the wrong train was limited. At R$3.20 (£1) per ticket, it was cheaper than the Tube too. When we got back above ground in Botafogo, however, things were less simple. We had about 1km to walk and there was a distinct lack of signposts. Fortunately, Janet’s Trip Advisor app for Rio (on her phone) had offline maps and so we were able to navigate our way there.

Yes, they have Christmas here too!Once there, Rio Sul turned out (unsurprisingly) to be very much like every other shopping mall you’ve ever been to. Big, bright & full of shops selling stuff that we really don’t want. Perhaps we were just tired after all of our walking but we didn’t appreciate Rio Sul – and the lack of a store guide of any sort made the whole experience quite frustrating. I even turned down the opportunity for a vanilla cappuccino at Starbucks.  There was, however, WiFi available and so we were able to call up a proper maps app and so the walk back to the metro was simpler than the walk there.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was time to collect our bags from storage and get a taxi up to the airport. The taxi ride and check-in process were both uneventful though we were glad that we had checked in online last night as that significantly shortened the queue. Sadly, no lounge access for us today – it is only the flights on our RTW ticket that are business class. Once through security, the airport was  quiet enough though, unlike the zoo that is Heathrow.

Buenos Aires is some 1,200m (2,200km) south of Rio and one hour behind. When we got off the plane though, it felt like it was a century ahead of Rio (and don’t even start with La Paz!) – a modern airport that felt efficient and easy to find transport into the city (Taxi Ezeiza). Even better, we are back in the Spanish speaking world and I can understand (better) what people are saying. Janet accused me of showing off when I had a (simple) conversation with the immigration officer.

We had been warned that drivers in BA were mad and that impression was reinforced on our drive from the airport. We clocked the taxi as doing over 140km/h at times – the fastest we have been on ground transport since leaving the UK. Our hotel seems to be reasonably centrally located, so after having checked in, we went for a short walk round (and a beer). The cafes with packed pavement tables and the occasional street musician were a good sign for what we hope is going to be a great stay in BA.

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