It's been a bit quiet here for a few days. I just got back from a few days in Rio - a great place to visit...
I went with a good friend of mine; both of us had some BA Miles to spare, so got our flights with them. We stayed at the Caesar Park Hotel, Ipanema. It's a five star hotel, well presented and has excellent service. For example, one day we came outside to find it was pouring with rain; the hotel has guest umbrellas which the doorman will give you if you want them.
We didn't use the hotel restaurant, but made use of the bar. It's a decent bar, with good staff. Even though it's a bit more expensive than some of the bars, it's not bad at all. I'm not sure about this, but I'm pretty sure I got a dicky tummy from the burger we got at the bar (we both had one, only I was affected, so it's hard to tell). Oh, and while I was sleeping that off, my buddy overheard a group of people in the bar discussing the porn film they'd just made. (so much for "dictators and mafia bosses" that the Lonely Planet promised us).
Anyway, Rio... It's a good place. There's some pretty extreme poverty, and also some extreme wealth. Ipenema is a pretty rich district, and home to lots of expensive boutiques and jewelers. Copacobana, just down the road, is a larger and less exclusive area, and from what we saw of it, very nice.
Of course, where you have a situation like this, then you get enterprising people scrounging for cash. It's amazing - just in the cab from the airport, something like a dozen people were walking up and down slow traffic on the motorway selling bags of nuts. Other things are kids juggling as you stop at lights, or people selling all kinds of tat, such as tee-shirts, sunglasses, "craft" etc etc. It gets to be a pain when you're sitting somewhere having a beer or what ever.
Besides all that, the places we went were really friendly (all the more so for our disjointed attempts Portuguese). The food we had was generally good, although I wouldn't say it was fantastic or extraordinarily unusual or anything. It's all pretty cheap, as is the booze. Where the Lonely Planet to Rio (or the Footprint book to South America) say "this place is excellent", then it's worth trying, and you'll probably find it good. The "world famous" Garota de Ipenema, for example, is good, but I wouldn't say it was really exceptional or anything.
We found a really nice cafe for breakfast (Cafeina, on Rua Farme de Amoedo) - really nice stuff, good coffee and nice service. Frequented by locals, particularly on the weekend, and a good spot to watch things go by.
Oh, and the Lonely Planet says to use US dollars everywhere (the Footprint implies the same). This is absolute rubbish. The only thing dollars were good for was the taxi from the airport (and the departure tax, which we didn't seem to need to pay, so probably included in our ticket). Besides those things, local Reals are far better for everything.
Everyone knows that Rio's beaches are pretty interesting places. Of course, all the locals are all well bronzed, and somehow always manage to look very good. What they may lack in raw good looks, they make up for in style and attitude. Get ready for lots of sexy people ;-)
Someone described the women in Rio - he said "some of them arn't women, but a lot of the guys don't seem to care". We did see a few people we wern't sure about, so I guess if you're on the pull, then "check the undercarriage".
As for other sightseeing, we went to see Jesus (Cristo Redemptur) - for more than two people, take a taxi up, and possibly back down (although we took the train down). If God didn't give you the mobility to go up steps, don't worry, Cristo has a lift and escalators. It's a good spot to see the city, although a little bit cloudy the way we went up. There is, as you might expect, an enormous amount of tourist tat available from Cristo, so enjoy youself looking around it all.
We also went up the Sugar Loaf on the cable car. It was really cloudy, and I wasn't feeling too good (but we'd run out of time, so didn't have much choice!). The cable car disappeared into the clouds, and we pretty much couldn't see anything at all. From what we could see, it's also a good place to see the city. The queueing and ticketing for the cable cars is a bit annoying, but actually not too much of an inconvenience. Pretty expensive, but nice.
The Jardim Botanico (Botanical Gardens) are worth a visit - it wasn't the best weather when we went, but it's a good place and very relaxing. I'm sure it's all the better if you're into your 'herbacious borders', otherwise it's a good walk around.
Besides that, cruise up and down the beaches, perhaps have a wander around town (Centro), but be careful where - some side streets didn't feel quite as comfortable as other areas. I dunno if they really were dodgy, but blokes hanging around on corners arn't normally a good sign.
I'll get my photos sorted and put some up or something. Meanwhile, Rio's worth a visit if you're looking for a fun place that got some style. All in all, it's pretty cheap, once you're flight and accommodation's sorted.