A Jew and a Muslim Spend Christmas in Brazil...

We started in Rio, then headed to Minas Gerais to explore the colonial mining towns, and finished by soaking up the Afro-Brazilian culture in Bahia.

A Jew and a Muslim Spend Christmas in Brazil...

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by nas on June 26, 2006

Whether you are the casual tourist looking for the standard postcard attractions, or the adventure traveller looking to get lost in a new foreign culture, you'll find it in this beautiful Amazonian paradise.

The trip I undertook with a good friend at the end of '05 (start of Brazilian summer) began in the familiar tourist mecca of Rio, where one can spend days visiting the mandatory attractions (Christo Redentor, Pao de Acucar, Copacabana, Ipanema). After Rio, we proceeded away from the throngs of other vacationers into the state of Minas Gerais, which is known for its colonial mining towns whose gold and other precious gems provided most of Brazil's early wealth. While the third largest city in Brazil (Belo Horizonte) is located in Minas, the rest of the state is mostly rural and small towns. As such, it is the perfect setting to meet Brazilians and spend time getting to know the local culture. Our third leg was spent in the coastal state of Bahia, which is heavily influenced by the African culture of the slaves that populated it when it was a Portuguese colony. Bahia offers a very different vibe from the other states, as the people are very diverse and open to travellers. The people consisted of expats bumming around Brazil, locals working in the service industry (supported by tourism), and even families staying at the resorts.${QuickSuggestions} Learn some Portuguese. It will come in extremely handy, as almost no one who lives in Brazil speaks English. Especially outside Rio. I used the Lonely Planet pocket book, and it was perfect.

Make sure you always have reserve cash. You never know when you will find the next ATM machine that accepts your card.

If you like meat, definitely try the Pecanha where you go. It's to die for.

Try as many different kinds of caiprinhas as you can, and find which you like the best.

Don't be afraid to haggle with taxi drivers who don't have a meter. Their prices are always negotiable, and if you don't understand this you will always pay the "tourist" price. (See "Learn some Portuguese" above)

${BestWay} Yellow taxis in Rio are an affordable and convenient way to get around the city. If you are going to stick around a specific beach (e.g. Ipanema, Copacabana), you can easily get around by foot. But if you are a girl, don't walk alone at night. There are dangerous places everywhere in Brazil.

Once you leave Rio, you'll find that any decently long distances are travelled by plane or by bus. We flew from Rio to Belo Horizonte, then to Salvador, then Porto Seguro, then back to Rio. From Belo Horizonte, we set off to Ouro Preto, Sao Joao del Rei, and Tiradentes by bus.

Irish Pub

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by nas on June 26, 2006

Looking to meet other English speaking people? Want to catch up on your favorite football (soccer) team? Has it been a while since your last Guinness and you could use a pint? Then this is the place for you.

The Irish Pub is just what it sounds like. This watering hole is a block from beautiful Ipanema beach and is packed with out-of-towners, mostly American/European travellers. You can shoot pool, people-watch, snack on bar food, or just have a couple brews with some new friends. The vibe is very friendly, and the crowd is a smorgasbord, from Bohemian hostel-goers to rowdy football hooligans to well-dressed couples (the latter seemed a little out of place, but who am I to judge?).

This is a good place to go on your first night in Rio if you'd like to get the lowdown on current local attractions, because inevitably you'll meet someone who has been there for a week and can steer you toward the right places for each day and night of your stay.

The Guinness, having come a long way, certainly reflects this in the price ($R16 per pint, or about $7 US). But that's the price of the comforts of home. Alternatively, you can indulge in Heineken chopp, which is only $R6 per pint.

They have a website here: http://www.theirishpubrio.com/ Your pics could end up on the site if they're taking pictures the night(s) you are there.

Definitely consider checking this place out.
The Irish Pub
Rua Jangadeiros 14a, Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jardim Botânico

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by nas on June 28, 2006

Need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and the packed beach? Head to the Jardim Botanico, or Botanical Gardens, for some breathtaking flowers, great photo-taking opportunities, and solitude. We went in the middle of the day and found it to be surprisingly un-crowded.

You can easily spend a few hours walking the grounds, taking in the flowers and the beautiful landscaping. The highlights of our visit were the small waterfalls that led to babbling brooks, an exquisite rose garden, and an orchid house. There are maps located at most major corners, so you can find your way around.

Even though there are not many people around, remember that you are still in Rio and that there is always the possibility of petty crime. If you bring a nice camera (I did), don't keep it in plain view unless you're using it.

Entrance cost: R$4
The website is here (Portuguese only, but it's pretty intuitive): http://www.jbrj.gov.br/
Jardim Botânico (Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden)
Rua Jardim Botânico, 1008 (jardim Botânico)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 22470-180
55 21 22946947

Christ the Redeemer

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by nas on July 8, 2006

If you've seen the Simpsons episode where Bart and family go to Rio, you might remember a scene where they look up at a huge statue of Christ and Homer says, "It looks like he's on the dashboard of the whole world..." He's talking about the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue, a 98 feet bohemoth situated at the top of Corcovado mountain, which is one of the most recognized images from Rio.

When we drove from the international airport to our apartment, you could see the statue prominently overlooking the entire city. It really is quite a sight, and also a constant reminder that you are indeed in a country of Catholics. As you could probably tell from the title of this journal that neither of us prescribe to the religion this statue honors, we still made a point to see it for two reasons: a) its location offers some of the best views of the city, and b) the sheer size of the statue is something that you need to see up close in person; the postcards never do it justice.

To get there, take a cab or bus to the base of Corcovado Mountain. Once there, you will have two options for seeing the statue: the Corcovado Railroad or hire a taxi driver. The railroad takes you through the Tijuca Forest and then to the statue, and costs R$30 per person. We opted for the taxi option, where a driver takes you to Santa Teresa and to the statue and waits for you at each stop. I highly recommend seeing Santa Teresa because while there you can take some of the best photos of the whole city. I stood at the top and took 5 photos spanning 180 degrees and then stitched them together to make a beautiful panorama that beats any postcard you can buy (see the attached pano photo). The taxi option is also cheaper (R$20/person) and you will not have to wait like you do with the train. The bonus during our trip was that the driver put on some really funky Brazilian music on the radio on the way up (the song was called "Boladona" and it was one of the hottest songs in the clubs in Brazil that summer).
Christ the Redeemer Statue (O Cristo Redentor)
Corcovado Mountain
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Ouro Preto

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by nas on July 8, 2006

After leaving Rio, my friend and I took a short flight to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the neighboring state of Minas Gerais. From there, we spent a few days touring the colonial mining towns of Minas, the hub of which is Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto, which translates to "Black Gold", was known as the wealthiest city in Brazil at the time that the country was colonized by the Portuguese. The oldest gold mine in Brazil is just a short bus ride from the center of the city and is a must-see for anyone who is willing to venture to this area. For a small entrance fee (R$8/person), you can take a rickety mining cart deep into the mine and walk to a subterranean pool (see pics attached to this review). It's quite a site to behold.

Also, I would recommend renting a driver at the tourist office for a few hours (we partnered up with another pair of travellers to make it cheap) to take you to the waterfalls at Lavras Novas. There you can do some hiking and take in some great natural sites, and even go for a dip in the waterfalls.

The city itself contains some beautiful Baroque churches, with extremely ornate interior gold work by famed local legend Aleijaidinho in the 17th century. You can walk to all of the churches if you get a hostel or hotel in the city, and if you only get to see one make sure it's Saint Francis of Assisi, which is the most ornate of the local churches.

Ouro Preto is also the best place to buy Brazilian jewelry. You will see H. Stern shops all over the country that sell Imperial topaz, which is mined only in Brazil, but their prices will all be higher than what you can pay in Ouro Preto, where the proximity of the mines keep the prices low. Also, the jewelers are all on the same road, so a smart shopper can do a good bit of haggling to drive the prices further down. Make sure you buy from a reputed dealer, and ask to see a Certificate of Authenticity (Certificao do Autenticidade) for anything you are considering purchasing.

Finally, before leaving definitely check out the outdoor soapstone market in the corner of the city. Here you will find many vendors hawking their very intricately handcrafted soapstone goods, from chess boards to vases to furniture. The prices are dirt-cheap and the work would easily sell for 10-100x the price if you were to buy it in a handcrafts store abroad.

There are two main cafe/bars in town where the locals and tourists hang out in at night. Both offer a divey, young atmosphere. If you enjoy cachaca (sugar-cane liqueur) or caipirinhas (the Brazilian national drink made from the same), definitely go to the Cachaca bar, where you can sample from about 100 brands of cachaca and take in some live music.


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