26 December, 2010

Saying goodbye to 2010 in Rio de Janeiro

In Rio de Janeiro, the New Years Eve celebrations are grandiose. Let’s take a look at the who, what, where, and hows of this major party, second in Brazil only to Carnival.

The party: The main center of action is the beaches of Copacabana, where over two million people congregate to ring in the New Year. It's officially the largest NYE party in the world! This year's party theme is "The Golden Decade," in recognition of the international events which will be hosted in Brazil in the coming years. Entertainment begins around 8pm, with a variety of musical genres. Whether you desire traditional samba or DJs spinning beats, you will find it at one of the four stages lining Copacabana. At midnight partygoers will experience a short blackout, followed by intense illumination; fireworks will splash the skies over the ocean, the colourful show will last for twenty minutes.

Preparation and tradition: Dressing in white is a New Year’s tradition across Brazil, a practiced rooted in Afro-Brazilian religion. Wear comfortable shoes, keeping in mind you will most likely be on your feet most of the night, and there may be broken glass on the streets following the celebrations. Bringing a bottle of champagne is also appropriate. Often the bottle is shaken and sprayed over the heads of fellow partiers. Do not be disgruntled if you end up wet and messy as a result of this New Year’s ritual, this is an auspicious blessing. On that theme, another traditional practice of the Brazilian Reveillion (New Year’s Eve) is offering gifts to the goddess of the sea, Iemanja. You may see little boats decked with presents or flowers being floated into the ocean, all offerings to the deity. Devotees of Candomble, Umbanda, and other Afro-Brazilian religions refer to the entire event as Festa de Iemanja- Iemanja’s Party, and begin preparations days before. Priestesses lead ceremonies and offer consultations on the sands of the beach, and groups surround alters laden with candles and cachaca while drums beat out rhythms appeasing to the gods.

Transportation: The best way to get to and from the festivities is the metro. Tickets are available for purchase at selected metro stations (Largo do Machado and Carioca are the most convenient to Casa 579). Get your tickets in advance. After midnight, linger on the beach or head to a nearby club and continue your celebrations for awhile, allowing the traffic to calm before heading back to bed and breakfast.

03 December, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, Big Brazilian Christmas Tree...

On Saturday beginning at 8pm in the baseball field of Canterbury Park the people of Rio will celebrate the 15th annual Christmas tree in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The supersized Christmas tree is the largest in the world. Construction of the spectacle began in September, and twelve hundred people have participated in the creation of this year’s edition.

2009's Lagoa Christmas Tree

The inauguration of the tree is the third largest event in Rio, following behind Carnival and New Year’s Eve. This year’s theme for the celebration is “A History of Reunion.” Artists participating in Saturday’s event include musicians Milton Nascimento, Simone, and Ivan Lins, and dancers Carlinhos de Jesus and Ana Botafogo. Actor Edson Celulari will be returning to serve once again as the master of ceremonies. If you can’t make it to Saturday’s celebrations, you still have a chance to bask in the glory of the grandiose Christmas display. The tree will be accessible up until the day of the kings, January sixth.

Milton Nascimento

Ana Botafogo

How to get there: Buy a special pass at the Metro station allowing you to ride the Metro Na Superficie. The ticket will cost R$2.80 and you will receive two transit cards: one covering the Metro line, and another for the bus (called the Metro Na Superficie) from the metro station Praca General Osorio to Lagoa. Take the Metro towards Zona Sul (southbound) to Praca General Osorio, and from there take the Metro Na Superficie bus to Lagoa.

To return: catch the Metro Na Superficie in Lagoa. You can buy the pass on the bus to cover both the bus and the Metro. Get off the bus at the Metro station, and transfer to a train towards Zona Norte (north).

13 November, 2010

What to do with 1, 2, 3 or more days in Rio

One Day

Morning: Rise with Cristo. Take the kombi down to Rua Laranjeiras, and walk 10-15 minutes to the cog train station. Take the train up to meet the Christ Redeemer and gain a spectacular view of the city. Or, walk from the house to the Christ Redeemer monument. Experience a bit of the Tijuca National Forest on the way up, and take the train back down the hill.


Afternoon: Head downtown to explore museums or take a walk in the old city. Journey over to Lapa, adjacent to downtown, to see the Arches and Selaron Steps. Take the Bonde from the station downtown up to Santa Tereza.

Dutch volunteers on Bonde

Evening: Relax in the bohemian vibe of Santa Tereza. If you arrive in the early evening, take the time to check out Parque das Ruinas. Then head to the center of Santa and peruse the artisan shops, eat dinner, and have a Caipirinha or Cerveja (beer) at one of the oldest and dearest bars in the city: Bar do Gomez.

Bar de Gomez

Night time options: Lapa (Friday night is best- with the party overflowing the streets!), the bar scenes in Ipanema, and Botafogo are also all great Rio experiences.

Caipirinha, Brazilian cocktail


Afternoon/Evening: View the city from the other side-head over to Urca neighbourhood and scale to the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. For a magical experience, arrive before sunset and watch the colors change from above the clouds. Urca is also a great spot to enjoy dinner, or you can head over to the nearby Praia Vermelho and enjoy an evening walk on the beach.

Sugar Loaf at Sunset

Night options: Lapa, Ipanema, Botafogo.

Two Days

Day One (as per itinerary in above section)

Morning: Rise with Cristo. Take the kombi down to Rua Laranjeiras, and walk 10-15 minutes to the cog train station. Take the train up to meet the Christ Redeemer and gain a spectacular view of the city. Or, walk from the house to the Christ Redeemer monument. Experience a bit of the Tijuca National Forest on the way up, and take the train back down the hill.

Dutch Volunteers at Christ Redeemer statue

Afternoon: Head downtown to explore museums or take a walk in the old city. Journey over to Lapa, adjacent to downtown, to see the Arches and Selaron Steps. Take the Bonde from the station downtown up to Santa Tereza.

Casa Guests at Selaron Stairs

Evening: Relax in the bohemian vibe of Santa Tereza. If you arrive in the early evening, take the time to check out Parque das Ruinas. Then head to the center of Santa and peruse the artisan shops, eat dinner, and have a Caipirinha or Cerveja (beer) at one of the oldest and dearest bars in the city: Bar do Gomez.

Bonde, Santa Tereza

Night time options: Lapa (Friday night is best- with the party overflowing the streets!), the bar scenes in Ipanema, and Botafogo are also all great Rio experiences.

Day Two

Morning: Be a beach bum! Head to Copacabana, Ipanema, or Leblon to soak in the sun, feel the sand on your feet, and do some excellent people watching. Be sure to drink some fresh agua de coco (coconut water) and find a juice shop where you can drink up a serving of fresh fruit. For a uniquely Brazilian experience, order something exotic like Acai, Acerola, Graviola (local fruits), or even Abacaxi com Hortela (Pineapple with mint)!

Ipanema Beach

*For those early risers, or those who don’t fancy the beach, another morning option is Jardim Botanico. It’s a lovely space, with many themed gardens. Find omnipresent beauty in everything from Cacti to Orchids.

Jardim Botanico

Afternoon: When the sun has your skin turning colors and your tummy is rumbling for lunch, it’s time to head inland. Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon all provide excellent dining opportunities. After your meal, stroll down the street and do some shopping. Stay on the main avenues (Ipanema: Visconde de Piraja, Copacabana: Santa Clara 33 outlet market, Leblon: shopping Leblon-nice but pricey), and follow the flow of people to find where to locals go for their fashion wants and needs.

Evening: Experience a spectacular sunset at the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Take a walk around Urca neighborhood; or a stroll down the adjacent Praia Vermelha beach.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

*Sugar Loaf Mountain and Urca neighbourhood can also be lovely morning activities, done before the beaches or Jardim Botanico.

Three Days

Days One and Two

See above section Two Days for activities for these days. Also, if you are staying more than two days, we recommend taking the time to visit one of Rio’s famous Samba schools. If you can’t be in Rio during Carnival, a visit to a samba school is the next best bet! Have a Saturday night in Rio? Head to Salguerio around midnight for an unparalleled event...see our previous blog post on our group trip to Salgueiro school’s samba practice for more details! http://therealriodejaneiro.blogspot.com/2010/10/carnival-in-october.html

Samba at Salgueiro

Day Three

Option 1: Take bonde into Centro (downtown) and explore the old buildings and museums. Points of interest include: Cinelandia- once the site of a convent, then a square, and eventually an area with a high concentration of cinemas, thus, Cinelandia. Today a cultural center with offering an abundance of restraints and bars. Praca XV- this is the epicenter of old town Rio de Janeiro. Here you will find the Imperial Palace where the Portuguese family lived upon arrival in Rio, the Naval Museum, and a large square, also known as Praca XV. There are also always free exhibits at museums downtown, such as Caixa Cultural and Centro Cultural Banco Brasil. Both are cultural exhibition halls owned by Brazilian banking companies, unfortunately their online information is all in Portuguese...but if you let our front desk staff know you are interested in visiting, we will be happy to get you all the information you need to take in the art at these fabulous establishments. Do some shopping in Saara, the largest open-air market in South America, and best place to buy Havaianas. Finish the day at Confetaria Colombo- a beautiful coffeehouse cerca 1894 offering high quality beverages, decadent desserts and more in ornate surroundings.


Opton 2: Take a trip over to Niteroi. Catch a ferry from downtown and cross the Guanabara bay to Niteroi. Visit Museu de Arte Contemporanea (The Museum of Contemporary Art, also known as M.A.C.) where the structure itself and the view of Rio are as impressive as the art within. The beaches of Niteroi are also spectacular.


Take bus number 38 or a taxi to beautiful Itacoatiara, a surfer’s paradise or journey a bit further to Itaipu beach- a fisherman’s colony surrounded by sand dunes, a lagoon, and colonial era ruins. Stay for the sunset, and watch the city turn scarlet from afar before heading back home to the Casa.

Itaipu Beach

Also, you could do Centro in the morning and then Niteroi in the afternoon for just the MAC too as an alternative option.

Options for day four, five, six, seven...

Take a hike in Tijuca National Park- The park offers many trails for hiking, biking, running, or strolling along through the forest. Along the way, spot monkeys, Toucans, butterflies, waterfalls and impressive views of the city below. Popular points within the park include: Vista Chinesa- a pagoda at the high point of a road connecting below to Jardim Botanico, Pico da Tijuca- a viewpoint at an altitude of 1,022m (3,352ft), and Cascatinha waterfall.

Waterfall, Tijuca National Park

Visit a favela- We have connections with two varying programmes for this option. One is run by a favela resident, and takes you through the largest of these communities in the city: Rocinha. The other is a married couple-tour guide team who offer a visit to the twin communities of Babilonia and Chapeu Mangueira, who are participants in the project UPP wherein the police have entered into the favela, and community members are working with authorities to revitalize their district and eradicate illegal activities. Both options are superb experiences and offer safe guidance throughout. Both are also run in collaboration with people from the local community, and are therefore very authentic and interactive, as opposed to voyeuristic.


Barra de Tijuca- Extended beach neighborhood offering all sorts of fun activities: surfing, jet skiing, shopping, or simply sunbathing. Brazilians joke that this area is more like Miami than Rio, because of its big streets, SUVs and oversized shopping malls.

Barra Beach

Petropolis- Take a day trip into colonial town in the mountains. Visit an imperial palace, the summer home of Dom Pedro II (now a museum-Museu Imperial), marvel at the Palacio de Cristal (crystal palace, a stained-glass and iron building made in France and assembled in Brazil as a wedding gift to Princess Isabel in 1888), and explore Casa de Santos Domont (the house of Santos Dumont, an aviation pioneer, filled with quirky inventions).

Crystal Palace

22 October, 2010

Carnival, in October?!

Earlier this month, the Casa crew visited our favorite Samba school, Salgueiro, to participate in the festivities as they narrowed in on choosing their enredo- theme song- for Carnival 2011. Saturday night’s semi-finals featured four songs.

The night kicked off with revisiting the choices from the past couple of years, to everyone’s excitement and booty shaking delight. President Regina Celi Fernandes Duran gave a short speech before hitting the dance floor to commence the celebration.

Then in came the flag bearers, Mestre-Sala and Porta Bandeira, performing a beautiful ceremonious dance full of spins and flourish. A parade of Salgueiristas dressed in the school colors of red and white made their way singing and swinging through the crowd. With the opening ceremony complete, attention turned to the main stage.

Out bounced samba dancers, in full carnival costume: sparkling little bits, high high heels, and massive feathery crowns. Jiggling their curves in that uniquely Brazilian manner, these ladies moved the audience towards full throttle excitement.

The heart of the action rotated from stage to main floor and soon the first two songs had passed and we were all in need of a bathroom and some fresh air. Upon returning to the hub, our crew encountered a group of future carnival stars getting an early start (on a late night) practicing their Samba skills. These girls had the proper moves, the costumes, and the attitude…and all between the ages of five and eleven. We were mesmerized, and also bewildered as to when they study-and sleep!

On the following Monday, Salgueiro held the finals between the last two songs in the competition. A few dedicated fans from the Casa returned to the Quadra- Salgueiro’s event hall- and were treated to a night of Samba-entertainment. The night followed Salgueiro’s theme for the coming carnival: Rio in Cinema. Featured acts included ladies in itty bitty bikinis showing themselves off in the way they do on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, a tribute to Carmen Miranda, a scene in which the Rainha da Bateria (queen of the drums), Viviane Araújo, was abducted by King Kong, and a somewhat disturbing excerpt from the recent cinematic hit Tropa da Elite 2. (Check our youtube page, www.youtube.com/casa579, for upcoming postings of video clips!)

Salgueiro’s enredo for 2011 has since been announced: “Salgueiro Apresenta: o Rio no Cinema,” written by Dudu Botelho, Miudinho, Anderson Benson and Luiz Pião. To listen to the song and learn the lyrics, visit Rio’s main Samba website: www.sambariocarnaval.com and scroll down to the link for Salgueiro para 2011, and continue to Salgueiro Samba campeão. Interested in experiencing all the fun of Samba rehearsals yourself? They run through February at all of Rio’s fabulous Samba schools, and it is best to arrive around midnight. Check the Samba website (above) or Salgueiro’s site www.salgueiro.com.br, for more details!

05 October, 2010

Political Play: Brazil’s Elections 2010

A sensory overload of fliers, posters, television adverts, and slogans blaring sing-song from vans and carts culminated on Sunday when Brazilians nationwide casted their votes for the 2010 elections. Over the past month, the innocent pedestrian has been accosted on a daily basis by peopl

e standing on the street, or in the square, forcing fliers into the hands of passersby. These fliers almost never contain more than a picture of the candidate and their four digit voting number. On the positive side, this advertising technique created numerous jobs for needy citizens. The posters, which are plastered to most any available outdoor wall space around town, or propped up on stands to sit on street corners, are simply larger versions of the same thing.Television adverts tend to be a bit more informative, if only in a low budget and comedic manner. The slogans blasted from vehicles which drive up and down the street are memorable and entertaining…but contain little to no education concerning the potential politician. Election season in Brazil was truly a unique experience for the visitor. Brazilian citizens are required to vote, and fined if they fail to complete that duty. Now that poles have closed, let’s take a look at who has been chosen in the race for President, Governor, Senator, and Federal and State Deputies.

Largo da Carioca, Wednesday before elections:

The race for President had three forerunners: Dilma, Serra, and Silva. Current President Lula’s Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff, of the Democratic Socialist Worker’s Party (PT), received 46.9% nationwide with 47.5 million votes, and also came in first in the polls in Rio with 3.7 million votes (43.76%). São Paulo Governor José Serra, representing a right-center opposition coalition (PSDB), came in second nationwide with 33.1 million votes (32.6%). Marina Silva, Lula’s former Minister of the Environment, and a member of the Green Party, came in third nationwide with19.3% of the overall vote (19.6 million). The rankings of Serra and Silva were inverted here in Rio, however, with 2.7 million Cariocas casting their vote for Silva, awarding her 31.52%, and 1.9 million local voters siding with Serra, giving him only 22.53% of the vote. As expected, Dilma did not receive a high enough majority (over 50%) to win the race in the first round. She and Serra will compete in a run-off vote next month. If she wins, she will become the seventh woman President in South America, and the first for Brazil.

Dilma, Serra, and Silva:

Rio’s current Governor Sergio Cabral (PMDB) was reelected with 66.1% of the vote. His campaign focused around the idea of strengthening the city. Proposals of action, to realize this dream, include expanding the number of police stations around Rio to match the number of favelas, establishing more family health clinics, and constructing two new Metro lines: one connecting Niteroi to Itaborai, and another reaching Barra da Tijuca.

Brazilian Federal Senate is composed of 81 seats, 3 representatives from each of Brazil’s 26 states; one third of which are elected every four years, and the other two thirds every eight years. This year was one of the “two thirds” years; therefore the state of Rio de Janeiro elected Senators: Lindberg Farias (PT), and Marcelo Crivella (PBS). Lindberg topped the race of 11 candidates with 4.2 million votes (28.65%) and Crivella was reelected to office, coming in second with 3.3 million votes (22.7%).

The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members, who are elected every four years. Each state has between eight and seventy representative in the Chamber of Deputies, depending upon the population of the state. Some interesting Carioca candidates this year included two soccer players: Romario de Souza Faria and Jose Roberto Gama de Oliveira (Bebeto). Romario ran for Federal Deputy under the Brazilian Socialist party and Bebeto for Deputy of State as a part of the Democratic Labor Party. Neither have any political experience, but both hope to use their celebrity (members of the successful 1994 World Cup team) to bring light to issues of education and distribution of resources within Brazilian society. Focuses include improving the quality of life within Rio’s favelas, introducing sports programs in schools, and training programs to prepare athletes for the Olympic Games.



In São Paulo, a clown by the name of Tiririca (a colloquial term meaning “Grumpy”) won, as expected, a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. With over 1.3 million votes, he came in first out of 70 elected candidates. His humorous advertisements included the slogans: “What does a Deputy do? I don’t know…but elect me and I will tell you!” and “It can’t get any worse!” However, current doubts concerning his ability to read and write may jeopardize his political career. Judgment of that sort seems a bit cruel, considering that one in ten Brazilians are illiterate.

Trumping Tiririca’s eccentrics is a political figure from Brazil’s past: Macaco Tião. Born in 1963, Macaco Tião was a beloved Chimpanzee, residing in Rio de Janeiro’s Zoo. He was known for throwing fruit and excrement at his adoring visitors. In 1988, a newspaper jokingly announced Tião’s candidacy for Mayor. He came in third, with over 400,000 votes. The public continued to vote for him as a write-in candidate until 1996, when the voting procedure switched to a computer system. He died the same year, of diabetes…or perhaps a broken heart resulting from unfulfilled political ambition.