The adventure begins
Find out more about the unique city of Rio de Janeiro, its people, food, festivals and security. In advance – a visit will always be worth it!
“Ladies and Gentleman we are about to land in Rio de Janeiro! The weather is sunny with 25 degrees. The time is 6am in the morning. Enjoy your stay.” The 10 hour flight was surprisingly fast, because we flew over night and almost all passengers including us slept. The flight from FRA to GIG cost us about 500€ pP. Watching a small series about Brazil’s north, dinner, slumbering, not having breakfast (we were still so stuffed from the TAP dinner a few hours before) watching Bohemian Rhapsody halfway through and we’re there. The first view out of the airport building onto the hilly and indescribably green landscape wakes us up. That was no dream at all we are really here! So let’s get out of here. The entry went quite fast we waited about 30 minutes. You can change money directly at the baggage carousels 100€ are 380B$ so nice when money is increasing. Arrived outside everyone wants to be the chosen driver. Since we must be shortly at the AirBnB accommodation for the key handover we take the first taxi which is ready. Uber didn’t work yet as we didn’t have any mobile data. Best way is to take a yellow taxi with a taximeter, the rate is a little higher, as there is an airport surcharge, calculate with 100-140R$ even though you can get it cheaper with Uber. We prefer to take buses later on, without a turtle shell on our backs and a kangoroo pouch in the front.
We have arranged to meet with the nice woman, who handles the management of the more than 8 accommodations in Rio for friends and relatives. However, we first have to pass the barriers of the entrance. As it turns out you will be registered with your fingerprint and photo so that only the residents can take the elevator up to the rooms. At least two guards are available 24/7 at the entrance of the James Bond fingerprint sensors. Fancy way to get in – if it would always work as elegantly as you imagine it would, but that’s a different matter. Our security guard was rather the quiet one under the calm waters and had no great interest in confusing us with Portuguese words instead he chose the sign language while keeping a real straight face. His hand gestures reminded us a bit of the stewardess choreos in the airplanes. On the second day the dear security guard gave us a smile and then answered us again with a rigid expression to our broken Portuguese. Maybe we’ll ask him for his name over the next few days.
Our contact person for the room was the complete contrary. She gave us an ingenious summary about Rio so that we could get to know all the city districts and real local tips, for example from the BIPBIP bar whose owner unfortunately passed away 3 weeks ago and now all his friends and acquaintances have taken over the shop and will continue to run it until they decide which of them will take over the bar. In addition there are unwritten laws in the bar, which she explained to us. If you enter the bar you just take something from the fridge, tell the bartender your name and enjoy the live music and dance. Loud talking isn’t appreciated here so if you’re the talkative type you’re better off in the bar on the other side of the street. We will definitely visit the bar and see if the new barkeeper can remember all the names as well, really remarkable who masters that!
After a proper shower we head to the beach which is directly in front of the door, slowly the stomach rumbles and it is only 9 o’clock so we search for a nice place for snacks and a Cerveja. The first beach bar offers both, we probably do not go to eat here again because it is a little more expensive but for the first day perfectly fine. The check is 85R$ (divided by almost 4 for euros) for a solid pineapple sandwich, super tasty let’s call them “spoon french fries” and four beers with tips. We are very happy that we have some Portuguese vocabulary ready because so far only the AirBnB woman could speak English. Spanish also helps a little bit now and then. We have used the app Mosa Lingua for the training, from time to time there are promotions where you can get the app for free to train other languages. Especially the pronunciation has to be practised very well for Brazilian Portuguese!!!
Explore and Connect – SIM Card
Next we learn that you can buy mobile phone SIM cards “chip” at newspaper stands. A super IMPORTANT TIP for all those who want to travel in Brazil and would like to have mobile data or want to make a call with locals: Currently (March 2019) there are only two telecommunication providers in Brazil that can be used by “Extranjeros”: TIM and Claro. To activate the chip card, all other providers require a local RFP and a Brazilian identification number. Maybe you have relatives or friends who can “lend” you a number. We decided for TIM for one simple reason – we didn’t find Claro in the big shopping center “Rio Sul”. All of our data will be used for maps and other stuff. Bring a lot of time with you, if you end up with the nice TIM lady we had, the issuing and activation of the two maps took about 2 hours. Also bring some Portuguese because most employees don’t know English otherwise Google Translate if necessary, but certainly something will get lost in translation… her attempt to translate something into English ended in a question about a good restaurant maybe she had also simply made a spelling mistake ^^. A SIM card costs 15R$ which we prepaied with 20R$ each. Let’s see how long it lasts, we report. +++ Postscript: it has been enough for 2 weeks Uber and from time to time Google Maps. ^^ More instructions for the Brazilian SIM cards can be found in a separate article.
The temperature difference makes you crush at first, so you long for a cool bath in the sea. The waves are really good here, you get washed through and Bodyborder get their money’s worth. To us, the sand seems to be like sugar, a little coarser but still soft under the feet, quite fitting to the sugar loaf. On the beach, everything is sold from drinks, snacks, whole Coco Verdes green coconuts, bikinis, hammocks or you order a shrimps plate freshly prepared in front of your eyes on a portable mini grill. Anyway, there are probably only meat-eater here. Your beef gets accompanied by chicken and fish. The Carioca’s (inhabitants of Rio) gather in large groups in a cluster with a hundred parasols and at the edge the grill master prepares half and whole animals.
Corcovado – Cristo Redentor
Two of the probably most famous attractions in Rio – the Christ statue, Cristo Redentor Corcovado and the sugar loaf, Pão Açuar translated ” sugar bread ” were recommended to us several times also by local friends, therefore we did not want to miss it.
Afterwards we would only recommend the Sugar Loaf, because the Corcovado was so overcrowded, and the way up to the top was quite complex. With an Uber you can reach the Paineiras Corcovado in 30 minutes from Copacabana. In most cities Uber offers Juntos, with this tariff you can share an Uber, it works wonderfully and costs a few Reais less. A 20-minute trip in Brazil cost us between 3€ in big cities and 5€ in smaller towns. Arrived at Paineiras Corcovado, you buy a ticket, for adults 49R$ approx. 24€ and get a time for admission. There is no student discount. In the meantime we enjoyed the view and our sandwich. Afterwards, you queue in the sun for another 20-30 minutes to be loaded into the buses. Then the bus drives up the mountain. Once arrived you can decide if you want to take the last part with a small train (at least that’s how we understood it) or the elevator. After a short cooling down in the elevator you go out again into the blazing sun in which Cristo Redentor already spreads his arms. The statue is incredibly high, the arms threaten in the sky. The moment is definitely special, whether religious or not you can’t really enjoy this sight because a thousand pilgrims walk around you, babble around, take photos and besides there is no mercy from the sun except for the shadow of Cristo. After 10 minutes we escape down.
The sugar loaf, on the other hand, is much more beautiful to “climb”. You can decide between a hiking trail up to the first lift or you can purchase a ticket for both cable cars. Students have to take their student card with them, the international ISIC is also recognized and so the trip costs only half 49R$ approx. 12€ for a normal card you pay 98R$ accordingly. The ride alone is already worth its money, the first great shots can be taken from the gondolas or you can simply enjoy the ascent. The first platform offers a shady and great view to the surrounding beach sections and city districts, furthermore there are small food stalls and a chic restaurant in which the music system is being prepared. Arrived shortly before the second ascent, the Pão Açuar is already in front of us. The hilly landscape in Rio is simply indescribable, as also the variety of the fauna and flora in such a huge metropolis. Here, you could simply sit down on the steps and absorb the view. The second gondola ride also lasts only 3 minutes and takes you to the top of the hat. The almost 360° view on Rio is brilliant thanks to Google Maps we can then also find the individual city districts and also discover the Copacabana. A perfect start to get an overview and an idea of this size, 6.3 million inhabitants on an area of 1,255 km². Our biggest city in Germany is Berlin with 891.12 km² and nowadays only 3.5 million inhabitants. You can imagine how this city overflows with people, so a lot of work is done with skyscrapers.
Carnaval – Cariocas – Cerveja
The carnival in Rio, was up to now an attraction we only knew from television. Tonight we should be able to take part in this huge international carnival spectacle. In Germany we have already bought the tickets for the final. Many Brazilians find it a pity that dance schools compete “against each other” and only the best is rewarded with prize money and financing. Nevertheless we feel that the streets of Rio around the carnival season have a very special atmosphere. The different gigantic dance schools are moving through the city in their school jerseys and make a lot of noise and even dance in the street sometimes.
To pick up the tickets we drive to one of the indicated offices and after 2 hours in line we finally get our tickets. We get the tip that it’s worth it to be there early in our area because otherwise all seats are taken – whoever comes first sits first and believe us you’ll want to stand up. Since a dance school performs up to 60 minutes and there are 6 dance schools and some breaks in-between, so your legs can look forward to a break. We head to the next train station and take the metro. Our hostess thinks that just at carnival time you can calmly take the metro at night. We feel like in any other big city in the subway. A long queue stands before the automatic pay stations in front of which we also have to queue, because we still have to buy a card that you need to top up with money. Better you get the card in advance and charge it then you can walk past the lines. The card costs about 5 Reais and the trip around 4 Reais.
Freshly roasted chicken lies in the air, there are small shops all over the place where you can buy everything you may have forgotten for the big Fiesta including feather ornaments and co. On our way to the Sambadrom we walk past many houses in front of which people also sell things like homemade costumes or simply have their front doors open to watch the masses passing by. An older woman sits in a bare flat on a chair and falls asleep in front of the TV – the contrasts we encounter here are sometimes hard to cope with. But this is another longer story, so we keep on going to the biggest commercial event in Brazil, with a somewhat uncomfortable feeling.
We push our way through the crowds through various controls until we reach our sector. Once there we fetch some beer and look for seats – the show starts in 1 1/2 hours. Three Brazilian ladies sit next to us who can hardly stand still as they are so excited and really infect us with their good mood. But what do we see there, the ladies have beer with them – such a crap you can really bring all the food and drinks from home with you. If we had only known that, so we had to buy the beer in the Sambadrom which costs about 8 Reais. The women next to us really use their fingers to get the last drop out of the beer can and enjoy their olives. Clever!
The grand opening begins, the music, the costumes, the crowds of people we are totally flooded with charm. Every dance school has 60 minutes to convince the jury. They prepare a whole year for that moment. Each school selects a theme with suitable costumes and music. The school that meets the various criteria best wins. Super exciting but just have a look for yourself – if you haven’t already seen it on TV.
Hilly House Landscapes
On the way back home we cross a small part of a hilly area covered with small colorful houses. Small fact on the edge – Favela comes from the Brazilian word for the climbing plant Favela, as the houses in many Brazilian cities are towering over the mountains and hills. There are favelas that are already well developed and connected to electricity and water lines, in many of them there are already own schools, police and also public transport. These favelas, for example, also offer hostels, of which people have reported positively. Nevertheless, you should probably avoid most favelas as a tourist as long as you have no acquaintances from Brazil who can assure you that you can visit this area. We find tourist tours through such residential areas extremely unnecessary and superficial. As big as the curiosity might be, we would not appreciate it the other way around, if some rich strangers would go around our houses and take pictures of us e.g. in the garden, but of course everybody has to decide for themselves. Also all Brazilians with whom we came across that topic think most of the tours are disrespectful and would not recommend them.
Sights of the city – Security – Sympatic Cariocas
We can recommend the district Flamengo for the most part, we spent two nights there over the weekend. We spent the night in the Rua Corrêa Dutra which is surrounded by cool bars, bookshops, record stores and supermarkets. In general we felt much safer than expected in Rio. Since we were warned by many friends, we were extra careful and always carried our bum bags like almost every Carioca. We only had our mobile phones with us when we visited bigger attractions or when we used Uber. For the visit at the beach or the way to the supermarket, for example, you do not need your cell phone and so you can walk much more relaxed through the city. The people were always super nice and helpful, such a warm-hearted and kind crowd. If we couldn’t get any further with the three chunks of Portuguese, the people immediately called others who then translated our Spanish or English. In short, we felt super comfortable and simply avoided walking at night through any shady streets with jewellery and mobile phones in our hands. The Cariocas themselves take their mobile phones into their hands and sometimes count the money in their wallets on the street. Of course we have to say that we only visited Copacabana, Leme, Ipanema, Flamengo, the bus station and the Centro. Only once our heart slipped into our pants when the drugstore ATM was refilled with new cash and the policeman ran towards us armed with shotguns. We saw a little street fight, the police was there in no more than two breaths, but the fight ended more easily than the one we last saw at home in Frankfurt in front of our bakery, where the police arrived after the fight and bloody noses. So just saying…
Food and Drinks
If you want to see what the brothers and sisters of the normal type of mango we know in Germany look like and want fresh vegetables, the supermarket Horti Fruti is the perfect shop, but a bit more expensive. A restaurant visit costs about 80R$ there are also much cheaper places where we ate if we didn’t cook. Typically, you eat a beef dish with beans, rice and breadcrumbs, so you can determine the thickness of the sauce yourself. Vegetarians please skip the following sentence: the probably very best grilled chicken costs e.g. 26R$ and falls off the bone – our favourite places are Crack dos Galetos, a small “rustic” restaurant with barflair and Copa Avícola a butcher’s shop that offers grilled chicken to take away.
The city is practically paved with drugstores and pharmacies, where you can get the most necessary everyday items to freshen up and products to relieve aches and pains. We also came into contact with a doctor with our host, as one of us had an annoying problem which was not easily translated and the pharmacy seemed to have nothing to offer. It concerns the Ojo de Frango, the callosity that we call “Chicken eye” in Germany ^^ you can imagine – not so easy to translate. Even the medical term unfortunately did not help us. So our AirBnB hostess wanted to help and drove with us to the UPA 24. These medical centers are located in all poorer districts of Rio, because they do not charge for the examination. Of course it feels really stupid to run there with a stupid Clavus, but the doctor takes the matter seriously and unfortunately interprets it wrong. A bacterial infection of a small micro animal, which is waiting in the sand at the sea only for the attack. “Hmm not quite, it’s something else that is caused by a lot of pressure and cornea…” No way we’re leaving the house with the prescription for antibiotics. Luckily we have friends who also speak Portuguese and so we got the right medicine later on. We thanked our lovely hostess for her time and help with some fresh flowers on the next day.