So Tom and I met our guide, Ederson, at 7:30 a.m. for our tour of some of the highlights of Rio. First up was Christ the Redeemer, the massive statue of Jesus Christ that sits high on a hill overlooking Rio. Now Tom and I had no idea why we were leaving so early for our tour until Ederson told us he was trying to beat the crowds. So off we set along Copacabana Beach and then through the Lago (Lagoon) neighborhood where the 2014 Olympic rowing completion was held and then up, up, up Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park to the top where we would see the statute.
Tom and I were among the first in line to buy tickets and then Ederson rushed us towards the mini-van that takes tourists to the top. At this point, there were very few people around, and Ederson was convinced we were going to be among the first at the top so we could get pictures with the statute without the crowds (a VERY rare thing).
Now as we travelled in the mini-van to the top, Ederson gave us a brief overview of the construction of one of the new seven wonders of the world. The statute is a an Art Deco statute made of soapstone that was constructed between 1922 and 1931 by Heitor da Silva Costa. The statue is 30 metres high and the outstretched arms reach 28 metres wide.
When we reached the top, we raced up the remaining steps to find that there were only three other people there, all of whom were taking pictures of the view. (More about that later.) I yelled at Tom to hurry, handed my camera over to Ederson and BAM, we had our money shots of me and Tom with Christ the Redeemer and not another rperson in sight. Tom and I then took a couple of pictures of the statute without anyone around and then relaxed for the next half hour wandering from viewpoint to viewpoint taking pictures of the magnificent views while the hordes arrived and began jostling for pictures. Score one for Ederson.
And when I say the views were magnificent, it may have been an understatement. We could see Ipanema Beach, Copacabana Beach, the city center, the port, the various neighborhoods, and boats floating in the bay all framed by glorious blue skies, a bit of haze on the horizon and beautiful green spaces everywhere. We could even see a horse race track towards one side of the bay. (Hey Bull. Buy another horse and have it race in Rio. Great road trip!)
Anyway, Tom and I soaked up the views until we figured it was time to move on, however difficult that may have been. I could have stayed up there all day just taking it all in. And we really lucked out with the weather. One couple, who were on the food tour with us yesterday, told us that when they visited on Saturday the cloud cover was so low they literally saw nothing, including the statute. When we mentioned the story to Ederson he said that in the past week there had only been two or three days as clear as today, so we were very, very fortunate.
We walked down some stairs and found Ederson, grabbed some water and then took the mini-van back down to the entrance where we drove to the downtown area of Cidade Nova in Rio to see the Sambadrome, which is the permanent parade grounds for the parade of samba dancers which are the center piece of Carnivale. The parades run for four consecutive nights during Carnivale with “samba schools” competing for the coveted honour of best samba school. Each samba school has 75 minutes to parade from one end of the Sambadrome to the other during Carnivale with their thousands of dancers, drum groups and floats. Now I doubt I will ever go to Carnivale, but I really wanted to visit the Sambadrome to see where all the action takes place. And I can now tell you this place was massive. It is 700 metres long, has grandstands that can seat 90,000 people and at the end of the of the parade route is a massive square where everyone parties once they are finished in the parade.
Tom and I wandered around the Sambadrome and watched a T.V. that was set up showing highlights of Carnivale in 2016 and 2017. In addition, we were able to look at a number of costumes that had been previously used in Carnivale by the various Samba schools.
So after the Sambadrome visit we moved on to the city center. Unfortunately, as we were leaving the Sambadrome, which is near the Lapa/Gloria area of Santa Teresa, we had to detour around “police operation”. Rio continues to be plagued by violence from drug cartels, and since we have arrived we have heard a LOT of sirens and seen a lot of police and military presence on the roads here. In fact, I was specifically warned not to carry a bag and not to wear jewelry. I have gone so far as to leave my good camera in the hotel safe in my room and have been using the crappy camera once again in an abundance of caution.
Anyway, as I mentioned, we moved on to the city center. Our destination was the Catedral Metropolitana. Now I knew this was going to be part of our tour, but was not sure why we were visiting THIS church since there are far, far older churches in Rio. However, once we arrived, I quickly realized the answer. This church was without a doubt the most unusual looking church I had ever seen. The church was based on Mayan architectural style of pyramids, built between 1964 and 1979 and had a standing room capacity of 20,000 people. It was, in other words, one huge pyramid.
And when we went inside, we were amazed by the four floor to ceiling stained glass windows. The place was an architectural and artistic wonder. Absolutely amazing. There were even statutes outside of Pope John Paul I (who had visited the church) and Mother Theresa.
After walking around the building and marveling at some of the art work, we moved on to another area of the city center know as the Cinelândia Neighborhood where we parked the car and began to walk. Our destination was the Confeiteria Columbo, a world famous coffee and tea house founded in 1894. Even Queen Elizabeth has visited.
Tom and I found an table and ordered some tea and two desserts, a chocolate éclair and a brigadeiro, (a chocolate fudge like ball rolled in chocolate sprinkles that is a traditional Brazilian desert). Once the tea and deserts came, Tom and I sat and soaked up the atmosphere and took our time enjoying our tea break. (By the way, both desserts were fantastic.)
We then wandered around the shopping area nearby and checked out a “small shops” mall that had little booths set up for vendors to sell their wares. The jewelry was especially nice, although I passed on buying anything. (Maybe a first on my trip.)
Anyway, our last stop of the day was to Sugarloaf Mountain. Now Sugarloaf Mountain is a mountain mostly made up of granite and quartz stone situated at the mouth of Guanabara Bay by the Atlantic Ocean. The mountain was named Sugarloaf in the 16th century during the sugar cane trading days because of the mountain’s resemblance to the traditional shape of refined loaf sugar. The mountain is a popular tourist destination because a cable car system takes passengers up the mountain for fabulous panoramic views of Rio and the surrounding areas.
So Ederson drove through the heavy traffic, managed to find a parking spot and then took us to the ticket booth to buy our cable car tickets for the ride to the top of the mountain. We would take two different cable cars commencing at the ground station and travelling to Morro da Urca and then from there to the summit.
Now, the original cable car line was built in 1912, rebuilt between 1972 and 1973 and again in 2008. The original cable car could only take 22 passengers and after 60 years in operation was “retired” in 1972. Today, the present cable car can accommodate 65 people and reach each station in 3 minutes.
So once we had our tickets, Tom, Ederson and I stood in line, boarded the next cable car and minutes later we were walking around a beautiful park like viewing area with massive 360 degree views of Rio and the surrounding islands. In addition, we were able to see the original and second cable cars used on the line to move people up the mountain.
We walked around to all of the scenic viewpoints before boarding the second tram to the summit. And what was particularly surprising when we reached the summit was the lack of people at the top. We wandered around and took picture after picture with no one in our way to block our pictures or impair our view.
And the really interesting part of the views from the top of Sugarloaf is that we were now looking directly across to Christ the Redeemer statute. In other words, we looked out from Christ the Redeemer in the morning directly across to Sugarloaf and now we were on the opposite side of Rio looking back to Christ the Redeemer. And I have to say that no matter which side of the city you were on, the views were absolutely stunning.
Tom and I ended up buying some small pastries and a couple drinks from a little restaurant, which we took outside to enjoy. We found a nice table on the patio, enjoyed our food and drink and soaked up the sunshine. And I have to say, sitting in the sunshine enjoying a beverage and spectacular views is a hard combination to beat. (Although I will mention that as Tom and I were relaxing, we heard a massive volley of gun fire coming from the direction of where the “operation” was taking place near the Sambadrome. Yikes.)
Anyway, we spent almost an hour just soaking it all in before we finally decided that we needed to let Ederson go home. We tracked our lovely guide down, took the cable cars back down to the ground station and then drove through fairly light traffic arriving back at our hotel just after 3:30. We would meet Ederson again tomorrow for our last day in Rio.
After a brief rest, Tom and I wandered down Copacabana Beach and back to the restaurant where we had dinner last night. We ended up having a few drinks and ordering a pizza (the restaurant specialty), and the pizza turned out to be pretty darned good. We then walked back along the beach, took in a few of the massive sand castle carvings, walked in the sand and called it a night. We are spending one more day in Rio before flying to Iguazu Falls tomorrow night. Yay! One of of the sites I have been dying to see!