We took the bus at midnight from Belo Horizonte to Rio (which I would reccommend, the bus was so comfy, but bring a blanket). This meant we arrived at the bus station at 7am, and walked out into your average city, nothing stunning, just a slightly rubbish part of town near the bus station. We were near a motorway, with an open sewage/ stinking canal along the middle, which we had to walk along because Google Maps is not reliable to get the bus to where we were staying.
We were staying with friends of a friend in Tijuca, which is out of the centre. It would be an unremarkable neighbourhood except for the hills rising above the houses that are part of the Floresta Nacional da Tijuca.
Over our five days in Rio, we had a car journey through the Floresta, which I wish we could have explored more. We went to Centro, which is quite ugly but has some good museums (such as Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil), and some nice old buildings (Teatro Municipal, Palacio Tiradentes), and some great food (per kilo restaurants are an amazing invention), and to Copacabana (food is cheap and really good a few streets away from the seafront, and the beach is crowded but lovely). We went back there to a bar called Pavão Azul which had a great atmosphere, cheap drinks and amazing food.We quickly walked to Ipanema through the parque Garota de Ipanema, I would have liked to spend more time there, it had a different feel (and view) than Copacabana. We also wandered around Santa Teresa, from the famous Escaderia Selaron up to the Parque das Ruinas (where the view was stunning, and so was the old house, I really loved how they had made it into a free, open cultural space with a cafe). Lapa is nothing special during the day, but it is well worth going at night, the bars were really fun and there are plenty of clubs (that we didn’t go to), and the Circo Voador (just under the arches, hard to miss) is meant to be a great night out.
On our last two days we went to Barra da Tijuca, and Pão de Açucar. After a death defying bus ride through the Floresta Nacional, where the bus driver drove way too fast for the winding roads, we ended up in one of Rio’s richest neighbourhoods, Barra. It has lovely beaches, great for kitesurfing and surfing, which on a slightly cloudy Saturday were almost deserted. Whoever built the tower blocks in Barra should be ashamed of ruining such an amazing beach, but when we went off the beach into the town it was lively and much nicer. It also has Latin America’s largest shopping centre if you like that sort of thing. The last thing we did before going home was go up the Sugarloaf mountain. I hate cable cars so I was dreading having take two, one up to Urca, then the next to Sugarloaf, but it was absolutely worth it for the stunning views of Rio at sunset. As well as for the really good pizza and pão de queijo we bought from the bar at the top.
I had an amazing time in Rio, but it wasn’t what I expected. When I thought of Rio, I thought of bright favelas, fancy tower blocks facing the sea and Christ the Redeemer looking down on you wherever you are. In reality, the favelas don’t look that nice (I shoudl really have anticipated that), tower blocks are ugly and Rio is way too big to be able to see Christ from everywhere, the first time I saw him was when we were heading to the Sugarloaf. And Rio is like any other city, except that it’s surrounded by beautiful hills, and stunning beaches, with some wonderful colonial buildings, and every neighbourhood has it’s own vibe. Above all, I feel like I barely scratched the surface on this diverse city, I want to go back and explore it some more, climb some hills, and visit different parts of the city. Luckily, I have a whole year to do that!