Although I did try to read up about what to do in Rio de Janeiro before I arrived last Sunday, common sense advice seemed to be in short supply, and there are several things I would have liked to have known before I got here. So, I am generously telling you of my aggregated mistakes, — the things you won’t read in any of the guidebooks — so that you can not be me:
Christo Redentor/Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. Don’t be me: don’t even attempt to go at weekends, just don’t. I got there at 1115am on Saturday morning. There were lines. Long, long lines. The first available tram up the mountain was at 1320 and there’s bugger all else to do in the vicinity. (Of course you cld go first thing, buy a ticket and return later, but that means you will be spending more on cabs.)
I would have done exactly that but the Christ was wreathed in fog, with no expectation of it clearing all day. Do yourself a favour, look up at it from wherever you are in the city. If you can’t see it, then don’t go. Not much point spending all that money to get up there if you can’t see a thing. Given the wait and the dense fog up the mountain, I gave up and hopped it to the cable car station for Sugar Loaf instead, which was basking in bright sunshine.
My self-crossness wasn’t helped by the knowledge that my friend Mark went up on Thursday afternoon (when I was free but being sucked into email instead. FOOL) and was on the tram within five minutes of buying his ticket.
Talking of hopping it to Sugar Loaf: the yellow cabs in the rank by the Corcovado Tram Station will attempt to charge you eye watering fixed sums (in Rio terms) to go anywhere. The solution is simple, move 5 metres into the street and flag down another yellow cab, which will be using its meter.
So onto TAXIS. Obviously only take the official yellow taxis. Large hotels do occasionally have black cars at their disposal, which the doormen will be very keen to usher you into (they get a cut), but they on average cost twice the price of a yellow cab. And they don’t always know where they are going — I did take one in a hurry, which had GPS, which was handy, as he didn’t seem to have a clue how to get from Copa to Ipanema — they are next door to each other — and tried twice to drive down one way streets.
For that I was charged 35 reals — the next day I did the same journey in a yellow cab and it was 15 reals. Of course, if you like a bit of luxe, don’t want to run the gauntlet of the non-English speaking cabbies, or are my mother, then the shiny black town cars are a much nicer way to travel then the bone shaking yellow cabs, and are a bargain compared to their relative cost in London or New York — 35 reals is just over a tenner.
Also: some yellow cab drivers will try to charge you a set fare — 30 reals seems to be their usual offer. This will always be about double what the actual meter charge will be. Insist on the meter, (it’s illegal not to use it), or hop it into another cab. (Some tourists at our corporate hotel started their journeys by sticking their heads into cabs and asking how much. They might as well have had ‘MUG’ stamped on their foreheads.)
Always write down your destination in clear capitals on a piece of paper to show the driver. If you are a non-Portuguese speaker, you have zero to 10% chance of getting to your destination otherwise if it’s anything other than Sugar Loaf or Corcovado. Each morning I prepared a separate piece of paper for each place I was planning to go to, as the drivers didn’t always give them back.
FOOD. I have gorged all week on absolutely glorious fruit; the perfect breakfast. For everything else, if you are an omnivore, knock yourself out, the food in Rio looks and is apparently amazing. If you are a vegetarian, pack some emergency biscuits and an open mind. You WILL find ham lurking in at least half of your ordered meals. Chicken is also a vegetable, apparently. As in: What vegetarian sandwiches do you have? Ah, I have a lovely cheese and chicken sandwich… That being said, most restaurants do seem to have at least one option, but get used to eating a lot of mozzarella, salad and omelettes. (I even found cold slices of mozzarella lurking under a disc of gratin Dauphinoise at Restaurant Tereze one night. Bizarre. Maybe they thought I needed the calcium.)
Concierges here in Rio have a lot in common with the crap ones at the tired old Bayerischer Hof in Munich (my least favourite hotel in the world). That means when you ask them to recommend a place to eat that has something vegetarian on the menu you can eat, they become utterly paralysed and incapable of cogent thought. The fact that there will be at least five suitable restaurants within a ten minute walk escapes them, as they recommend a wholly vegetarian place thirty minutes away on the other side of town. You need to explain in words of one syllable that you just want a place with ONE dish you can eat. And that it doesn’t have to be a shiny, expense account restaurant.
And, finally: the WEATHER in Rio in July. Again, don’t be me. Sure, I checked the weather forecast carefully — it predicted low 20Cs all week, and so I packed accordingly. In went my swimsuits, suncream, & sundresses as all the while I hummed The Girl from Ipanema and did a little shimmy around my suitcases.
This is the Southern Hemisphere. It is WINTER, innit. The temperature may be mild, but the sun is in short supply. Bring a lightweight jacket, your cardi (if you are English, cardigans are part of your DNA), trousers, a brolly and closed toe shoes. Because, Jesus, when it rains here, you may as well tip a bucket of water over your head and be done with it. That being said, there have been some lovely afternoons, comparable to an English sunny summer day, so you will need a sunhat and some sunblock. But, really, it’s perfect Vitamin D topping up weather: warm enough to bare your skin, but not scorchio melanoma inducing.
(A deserted Copacabana Beach at 1630hrs)
And don’t go expecting lovely long light evenings, sipping caipirinhas as you watch the languid setting sun on the terrace at some hip bar. It is pitch black by 1830hrs. You know, cos it’s WINTER here. (There is a reason why World Class has their sundowner Tanqueray cocktail hour starting at 4pm each afternoon last week.)