Last Bits and Bobs of Rio Sightseeing Accomplished!
I awoke on my last full day in Rio and took stock of my fridge—I needed to finish all my food supplies before I left my apartment at 6 pm for the taxi ride to the airport for my flight home. Yes, Siree Bob –all good things must come to an end and I had made use of every available moment in the Marvelous City and felt ready to get back home. Brekkie was all the bits and bobs I could rustle up including muesli with milk, croissant sandwiches (some of which I packed up for lunch and then early dinner as I would not be airborne till 10.00 pm).
I spent the next hour packing, cleaning up my apartment and getting the garbage ready for disposal. I wanted to leave the place as pristine as it had been given me. Only when I felt all set to return to my apartment and leave immediately for the airport, did I shower, change and get out for the last time to see those parts of the city that I had not yet covered.
Off to the Metropolitan Cathedral:
The first item on my agenda was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio, an unmistakable conical building that I could see from a distance every time I walked through the neighborhood. When I did get there, about 15 minutes later, I found a lot of people sprinkled around the pews in prayer. The Cathedral is a magnificent modern prayerful space that has no supporting pillars within. Four huge stained glass windows run from floor to the ceiling. They sport contemporary designs in keeping with the general design of the church. Each is in a dominant color: red, yellow, blue, green. The overall design is quite ingenious as it seats 5,000 people with standing room for 20,000! The catehdra or Cardinal’s Chair is very prominent in the front. Although I am not usually fond of modern churches, I thought this one was pretty special.
The Presbyterian Church of Rio:
On my way towards Cinelandia Square, which was the next item on my agenda—all within easy walking distance from where I lived—I passed by another striking Gothic-style church. It turned out to the Presbyterian Church of Rio and it had a wonderful sculpture in the front featuring the Brazilian priest who introduced the Presbyterian denomination to the country. I stepped inside briefly to take in the interior design which reminded me of most American Congregational churches. It is wonderful how in these spiritual places one can really turn off the bustle of the city and find quiet solace.
Circumnavigating Cinelandia Square:
Within five minutes of leaving the church, I was in the lovely environs of Cinelandia Square—so-called because it is surrounded by cinema houses and in the 1930s became the center of movie-going in Rio. A few of the theaters that encircle the square still screen films. Dominated by the equestrian statue of Dom Pedro I, the monument in the center of the square reminded me very much of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London, especially because it was flanked by four sculptures each of which represented a different South American river. Those sculptures are spectacular being surrounded, as they are, by native indigenous people of the rain forest. Other than taking pictures, however, there was not much to do. Besides the square was filled with Rio’s homeless and other dodgy sorts and I did not feel like lingering too long in those surroundings.
Inside the Real Gabinete Portugual de Leiture:
My next port of call, also just five minutes away, up Avenida Passos, was the original Portuguese colonial library that was built in the ornate Manueline style in 1837. But en route to finding it, I passed by yet another church—by this time, I have to say that although I visited each of them, I found it hard to remember their names and the features that made them distinctive. In downtown Rio, there is literally a church every two blocks. Indeed each starts merging into the other but for anyone looking for places to pause in prayer, there is no dearth in Rio.
The library which was just one street away on Rua Luis Camoes is grand from the outside and quite simply spectacular within. I noticed several other foreign visitors making a beeline for the space for indeed it is one of Rio’s hidden gems and I was mighty glad I had read several guidebooks that recommended a visit. Inside, I found myself entering a vast Gothic-style hall that reminded me immediately of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. In this cavernous room, there are over 150,000 antique, leather-bound books, paintings, sculpture and quite the largest wrought-iron chandelier I have ever seen. This can dip down all the way to the floor so that candles could be fitted into it and lighted and then the entire contraption is raised up to the ceiling to illuminate the space. Needless to say, in this day and age, fire of any sort is not allowed in the building which is fully electrified. Just to walk around the space and take in the two-tiered splendor of the library made my morning seem well spent. I would heartily urge every visitor to Rio not to miss this architectural gem. As it is still a working library for scholars doing historic study, it was nice to see readers pouring over manuscripts. Among its many treasures is a first edition of Portuguese poet Luis Camoes’ O Lusidas—which I had also seen in Portugal.
The Church of St. Francis of Paula:
My next visit was to yet another church—the Church of St. Francis of Paula which wears its age quite visibly on its sleeve—it is old and grey and faded, both inside and out. I was pleased to find it open as on another morning I had passed by and found its doors firmly shut. Here too the square surrounding the church is filled with seedy characters whiling away their time. In many ways, I was reminded of Bombay as I passed through these rubbish-lined streets.
A Brief Visit to Casa Cave:
A walk down one of the nearby lanes called Rue de Ouvidor then brought me, quite by chance, to another confectionary and coffee shop that had been written up in my guidebook: the Casa Cave. This chic French patisserie has been a Rio institution for centuries and after a recent thorough refurbishment looks spanking new. Inside, there were patrons flush with cash, sipping their coffee and savoring pastries and cakes. I would, no doubt, have enjoyed one such treat had I not been so stuffed after my fairly recent breakfast. So I regretfully toured the inside casually and moved on.
The Convent of St. Anthony and St. Francis of Penetencia:
My very last bits of sightseeing included two old and very beautiful churches perched high on a high overlooking the Carioca Metro station and it was there that I next headed. The Convent of St. Anthony is one of the oldest churches in Rio—it dates from the 1500s and the present church was built between 1506-1511. You take an elevator to the top if you do not wish to climb the winding hillside route that gets you to the church entrance. Inside, I found that Mass was in progress and that the church was fairly full. I did not linger long inside the church but did take the elevator to get down to the floor level again. Outside, I made a sharp left turn with the intention of seeing the Church of St. Francis, but als, it is closed on Mondays and I could not get inside.
Off to Ipanema for the Last Time:
It was about this time that the first drops of rain hit my head. I was grateful, therefore, to escape into the Underground train and ride it all the way to Ipanema with the idea of going in search of souvenir flipflops for a few close folks. But in the half hour that it took me to reach there, the heavens had opened big time and the drizzle had developed into a steady downpour. The temperature also fell dramatically and it turned quite chilly.
Not having an umbrella with me, I had little choice but to brave the raindrops and off I went determinedly looking for the shop called Hawaianas. It was not long before I selected several pairs of slipflops which are mandatory beach gear on the sands of Rio—those together with the skimpiest bikinis and sarongs are the customary wear and I was happy to pick up some really colorful pairs for only a few dollars.
With my goodies tucked in a bag, I passed by the snazzy stores of Ipanema and made my way to the metro station for the return ride home. I might have stayed longer but the rain put all such plans at bay. Half an hour later, I was home, eating a sandwich lunch, almost finishing up the last of my ice-cream and getting my bags organized for departure. I managed to do a good bit of reading while waiting for Rosana who was scheduled to arrive at 6.00 pm to put me in a cab, take ahold of her keys and say goodbye to me.
Leaving Rio de Janeiro:
Promptly at 6.00 pm, my doorbell rang and despite the rain (which would have made the finding of a cab challenging), Rosana arrived and put me into a waiting vehicle. Our goodbye was swift as the rain put paid to any lingering. I handed over the key to the place that had been my home for about a week and in the pouring rain, I thanked her for her enormous hospitality and left the city of Rio behind me to take the highway to the Galeao airport.
Traffic was awful since it was rush hour, but in a little more than an hour, I was safely deposited at the airport and went in search of my flight. There is little of interest to tell about another routine flight. Dinner was served, I watched a truly fabulous film called The Changeling featuring Angelina Jolie and began another—but then I fell asleep for a good four hours and by the time we were hovering over US soil, it was time for breakfast and disembarkation.
Concluding Remarks about Rio:
Rio de Janeiro was every bit as pretty as I had been led to expect. It was predictable—a BRIC nation, like India, poised for progress—but it was also full of surprises. I felt that I did get to know it intimately if briefly and my living like the local Cariocas had a lot to do with it. In commuting like they do, in buses and on the Metro, in frequenting the locales that they do (the beaches, the busy commercial streets, the historic coffee shops and bakeries), I had experienced their daily routine. In poking into their churches, museums, restaurants and gardens, I received a very good idea of how they lived. I had tasted traditional Brazilian food and cocktails, lived in a typical Rio apartment building with local residents (instead of in an antiseptic hotel), I had rustled up simple meals in my own little space (which made me feel quite like a resident). I had spent time with local friends who enlightened me constantly on their lifestyle, customs and ways of life. In using every second as productively as possible, I notched up dozens of miles on my pedometer—yes, I walked an average of 6 and a half miles every day with my record on a single day being 7 and a half miles! Yes, in the final analysis, I came away from Rio as much more than a visitor.
For a little while at least I did feel truly like a Carioca. And for that opportunity I am truly grateful.
Many thanks for following me on this journey as an armchair traveler. It is because you have always been a faithful follower of my blog posts that I feel motivated to continue to write them. For the moment, I say Ciao…
May the road always rise up to meet you…