Postcards From Around The World: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Article Published: Sunday, January 26, 2020

"Rio makes me happy," one of our fellow passengers confided to her companion as our ship arrived in Rio de Janeiro for a two-day stay during Holland America's Amsterdam's  2020 Grand World Voyage. And no wonder: the "Cidade Marvilhosa" (Marvelous City, as Cariocas – Rio residents – call their city) makes anyone happy with all of its marvels and its energetic, joyful music. Its fabled beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and its Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountains are any traveler's dream. The entrance to its harbor with blue waters surrounded by green hills and mountains that seem to be doing a samba around Guanabara Bay is considered one of the three most scenic in the world – along with Sydney's and Hong Kong's. Many passengers, including us, were in the ship's bow and open decks to watch the entrance into Rio as the sun was rising behind the ship.

Georgina Cruz and husband Humberto. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

We had visited Rio during a South America voyage and a previous world cruise, and both times had headed for Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca National Forest, with the city's most beloved icon, its most famous "marvel," the Christ the Redeemer Statue, crowning the summit of the mount. Ships offer a variety of tours, including some that feature points of interest of the city and getting to the statue via a 115-year-old cogwheel tram. After the tram, there are 200 steps to negotiate to get to the statue or visitors can opt for elevators or escalators.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons // User Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz

"Cristo Redentor," as locals call the Christ the Redeemer Statue, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (along with the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan, the Roman Colosseum, the Taj Mahal in India, and the "Rose City" of Petra in Jordan). In Art Deco style, the statue depicts Jesus Christ with outstretched arms as if to embrace and protect the city below. Christ's arms stretch 92 feet wide, with the statue measuring 98 feet high not counting its 26-foot-high pedestal that houses a chapel in honor of the Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil.

Created by French sculptor Landowski, the Christ the Redeemer Statue was built by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa along with French engineer Albert Caquot. A Romanian sculptor, Gheorghe Leonida, sculpted its face. Built of reinforced concrete and soapstone, the statue weighs 635 metric tons and it was constructed between 1922 and 1931.

It is a symbol of Christianity, but whether one is religious or not, the 360-degree view of Rio on a clear day from the statue's platform, from a height of 2,310 feet, is simply out of this world: Sugarloaf Mountain, beaches, the amazing city with high-rises and both upscale neighborhoods and favelas (shantytowns) are all spread out below. This time we did not visit the statue but caught a glimpse of it with binoculars as we entered the port.

Other Rio highlights we have visited in the past include the Sambodromo, designed by Oscar Niemeyer (of Brasilia fame) and home to the city's Carnaval; the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu de Amanha in Portuguese) an applied-sciences museum with futuristic architecture by Santiago Calatrava in the port area; and the Cathedral of St. Sebastian, Avenida Republica do Chile 245,  in downtown Rio, in Modernist style, inspired in Mayan pyramids and with impressive stained glass. On this visit to Rio, we dedicated time to a must-see, which is right up there with the Christ the Redeemer Statue: the beaches.

Rio Copacabana Beach sand and surf on a Sunday afternoon. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

Taxis and car services are available from the pier to the beaches. Since we had an overnight stay, we booked a room at the Hilton Copacabana Beach, about a half hour from the cruise terminal, and we made it our convenient base (we have done this also through the years during other overnights in ports including at the Moorea Intercontinental, Bora Bora Four Seasons and other resorts in beautiful locations). The Hilton Copacabana is across the street from the beach with its wide golden sands in an arc and wonderful views of mountains and hills. Ipanema, where there do seem to be lots of good-looking people – "tall and tan and young and lovely..." like the girl of the song, is a 15-minute walk away.

We spent part of one day on the beach's sands sharing them with visitors and locals alike – a volleyball game was on – and enjoyed some time promenading on Copacabana's famous black-and-white-tiled sidewalks that sport wave-like forms and other patterns and are frequented by walkers. Joggers, cyclists and people on scooters, of whom there are a lot, have their own lane parallel to the tiled promenade. The promenade and the sands are host to numerous vendors offering everything from acai juice to churros (a fried sweet treat) to swimsuits.

A churro vendor at Copacabana Beach. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

We tasted caipirinhas (Brazil's national cocktail made with cachaca, lime and sugar), empada (a small baked treat with various fillings like queijo (white cheese or camarao, shrimp), feijoada (a bean stew with beef and pork) and feijoada ball appetizers at restaurants on the beach. And it was great to watch the golden sunset over Ipanema from the Copacabana Hilton's rooftop bar and pool on the hotel's 39th floor, and the sunrise the next morning.

For breakfast we went to The View restaurant at the Hilton with panoramas of Copacabana Beach and found, in addition to the expected offerings like bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, cereals, muffins, breads, yogurts, and an omelet station, several exotic items like acai juice, rice with condensed milk, coconut water, tapioca and some fruits we did not recognize. There was also a make-your-own-juice bar will apples, lemons, cucumbers, kale and several other items to choose from. Nothing like travel to broaden your culinary horizons.

Brazilian Samba Show performer on Amsterdam. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

On board the Amsterdam, many activities and enrichment programs led by our four Brazilian "ambassadors" added to the happiness of Rio: there were samba dance lessons; Brazilian drum playing classes; the Brazilian art of Capoeira (combining coordination, rhythm, strength and self-defense); songs like "Brazil," "The Girl From Ipanema," "Copacabana" and other Brazilian hit tunes played in the lounges; feijoada (perhaps Brazil's most famous culinary creation), bacalhau (cod) and other typical dishes on the menu in the dining room (one dinner had a "Samba Brazil Night" theme with special lighting and feather boas for the ladies and such delights as churrasco marinated mixed grill with chimichurri salsa). And there were lectures on the Mainstage about the "Marvelous City."

It was sad to leave Rio, but other South American delights are on the horizon for us including a visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina!

Some quick superlatives:

  • Most spectacular: Watching the entrance into Rio at sunrise from the Amsterdam's bow – the bay, the hills, the city are amazing, and the bow is bedecked with a 2020 Grand World Voyage banner.
  • Most lovely: Sunrise...sunset...Watching the sun set from the Hilton's rooftop terrace.
  • Most delicious: the feijoada black bean soup and other Brazilian specialties.
  • Most fun: Trying Rio's street food at kiosks and from strolling beach vendors, including sweet or salty Globo cookies (crispy treats that make a crunch noise with each bite) and wash them down with a coconut full of cool, sweet water.
  • Most insistent: Numerous warnings by ship's staff to beware of pick pockets – like on any major city, we take precautions such as not flashing wads of cash and expensive jewelry and we have not had any problems in Rio.

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