I’ve been in Brazil now for over four weeks and I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. The first half of my trip was amazing, but when we hit the three-week halfway point, I resolved to step up my game as far as seeing the sights. Armed with my underused guide book and a list of recommendations from my professors, I decided to plan out activities for the week and just embrace my inner tourist.
I love my adopted neighborhood of Copacabana but seeing more of Rio meant that I would have to go beyond my preferred method of transportation – walking – and actually figure out how to use the metrô. Rio currently has only two subway lines so it ended up being pretty easy to figure out. My first metrô ride was to Rio’s historic Centro, the old downtown. This part of the city is home to several art museums, beautiful old cathedrals, the national library, the national archives, and the beautiful Teatro Municipal (municipal theater).
One of the best parts of this day trip was the Salvador Dalí exhibit at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, a free art museum. A group of us also returned to Centro the following night to attend a free ballet that the Teatro Municipal hosted to celebrate the building’s 105th anniversary.
Another day, we got off at the same metro stop but instead headed towards the famous “barrio” (“neighborhood”) of Santa Teresa. Tourists are advised to avoid this area at night as it can be a little rough around the edges, but during the day, visitors flock to the area to see the famous Escaderia Selaron. This colorful set of stairs is made up of thousands of tiny tiles, which create a climbable mosaic – and a great photo op.
Summer, or winter as it happens in Brazil, is the time of year for Festa Junina – an annual celebration for São João, or Saint John the Baptist. The festival, which is typically associated with the Northeastern region of Brazil, showcases traditional foods, typical dances, and colorful decorations and clothing. Rio has a large community of “nordestinos” who have migrated here looking for work in recent years so as a result, this Southeastern city has its own robust version of Festa Junina. For an entrance fee of $R3 (about $1.50 USD), you can spend hours at the Feria de São Cristóvão, a small fairground space that is entirely covered in the typical colored “bandeirinhas” (“little flags”) of the holiday.
There, we tried carne seca (dried meat), pastels (savory fried pastries stuffed with crab and shrimp), aipim frito (fried yucca), baião-de-dois (a yummy rice dish), feijão tropeiro (amazing bean dish), and lingüiça (grilled sausage). For dessert, we stopped at a stand that looked like it offered candy made from every fruit, nut, or root that grows in Brazil and bought a bunch of different ones to try.
Every Sunday in the neighboring barrio of Ipanema, a central “praça” (“square”) hosts the famous Feira Hippie. Dozens of vendors set up stalls and sell handicrafts and souvenirs, ranging from leather plates to shot glasses to jewelry. In the center of the plaza, the artists display their paintings and other work. I did almost all of my souvenir shopping here and was able to find something special for everyone on my list – plus I got a bracelet and a hand-painted sea scape of Rio for myself!
One of my top three must-dos in Rio was to visit a churrascaria. A churrascaria is a Brazilian BBQ restaurant, but that description doesn’t do the concept any justice. Basically, you pay a fixed entrance fee which grants you unlimited access to a buffet, some small plates that are brought to the table, and the various slabs of meat that waiters circle the room with and carve right in front of you. I came to this outing prepared. I skipped lunch and impressed and amazed my friends with my ability to finish off three plates of food. Yes, I felt ill afterwards, but I definitely got my money’s worth.
And of course, no trip to Rio is complete without going to Corcovado and Cristo Redentor. I got my obligatory arms-out picture with Jesus and took in the incredible views. When I got back home to my host mom, she proclaimed “Você já tomou um banho no Rio!” The expression literally translates to “Now, you have bathed in Rio,” and she meant that I had finally done the most “Rio” thing possible.
She has a point and I’m proud of the list of tourist spots that I’ve been checking off. However, I really feel like I’m “bathing in Rio” when I do things that even the locals never tire of. For my last few days in the city, my mission will be to ask around, seek advice from my Brazilian friends, and be a little less American and a little more “carioca.”