This was my first stop, and my first time out of the Minas-Rio area. I thought Recife had a much more European air about the buildings in the historic centre, which reminded me of a Lisbon-Venice crossover. Even though it was built by the Dutch, the historic centre seemed very Portuguese to me, the houses on the waterfront were like Porto, the grand buildings like Lisbon, but the number of bridges made me think of Venice. However, if you got randomly dropped here and told to guess the city, the citizens of Recife would make it clear you were in Brazil. Children sell peanuts and quails eggs all over the city, the adults are yelling about the fruit they have on offer, there are bars that are essentially just tables on the street all over the place. It felt much more rough and tumble than new Belo Horizonte, or even than Rio which seems to exude its superiority.
I arrived the day before my parents and stayed in the Cosmopolitan Hostel in Boa Viagem. The hostel was clean, colourful, had two rabbits and a good cooking space. My two complaints would be the slightly uncomfy bed which didn’t have a blanket, which wasn’t ideal when the aircon was on all night and that breakfast was pretty poor, the bread was stale for example, but there was a lot of food. All in all, it was a cheap hostel and it was good.
Boa Viagem is Recife’s beach area, so it has fancy apartment blocks and some upmarket supermarkets, as well as a mix of açai bars, tiny little grocers and garages. The beach is famous for shark attacks, so don’t go surfing. It’s a nice beach though, the water isn’t clear, but it’s clean.
From Boa Viagem it’s a quick bus ride away to the centre of Recife. I took the bus to near Marco Zero, which is a large square which used to house warehouses, they have now been transformed into a (crazy cheap) artisanal centre and restaurants and bars. From there I wandered up Rua do Bom Jesus, which has lovely coloured houses, a museum of the massive puppet things they have at carnival and the oldest synagogue in Latin America.
There were various other museums, including one about their traditional dance, Frevo which is meant to be good but was closed. Most things were closed which I thought was odd for a Saturday during high season.
After lunch I headed over the bridge to the other historic island, where I found out where everyone was on a Saturday afternoon. In the market that I think is permanently there, it certainly was when I went back on a Monday morning.
It’s concentrated around Recife’s central market, but seems to spread over most of that island. I clung on to my bag in a way that I swear marked me as a tourist and dived in, anything you could possibly want was sold on those rickety tables. Eventually, the crowds made me feel claustrophobic so I gave up trying to find the church or the actual market building and headed for the Fort das Cinco Pontas to recover. It’s a very small museum, only one room really, but it was quiet and had a bench where I could have some personal space after the market. The fort probably once had a view, but now you can see a small square on oneside and a flyover from the over, but still I sat there and imagined the Dutch handing over the city they built to the Portuguese.
Eventually I quit my historic daydream, and headed to my last port of call, the Casa da Cultura, which is an artisanal centre in an old prison. It’s next to the decadent old train station and it is an imposing, ominous looking building. When I popped in shops were starting to close and I was very creeped out. The shops are in the old cells, and there are the steepest stairs imaginable up to more cells. There are frevo umbrellas in the passageways, but it was very quiet and creepy. I ran out of there and decided to come back with parents. I did, and I loved it. It’s a really interesting place, they sell a mixture of tat and lovely stuff. It is 100% worth a trip to Recife just to see this ex-prison.