Our first day in Rio started with an early rise so we could beat the cruise ship traffic to Corcovado – site of the iconic “Christ The Redeemer” (Cristo Redentor) statue. You get to the top of the mountain by taking a Swiss-made railroad car up a very steep track. I think this had to be the steepest railway I had ever been on that wasn’t pulled by a cable. Once we got to the top, we were rewarded with some spectacular views. This is one of those places you see on every travel show about Rio, but like most things, it is totally different when you see it in person.
We got some great pictures and the vantage point gives you a very clear idea of how the City is laid out. We could easily see Ipanema Beach, where our hotel is located, as well as Cocacabana Beach where we will come back to stay on our Brazil trip in a few weeks.
After the visit to Corcovado, we went to downtown Rio and saw the main cathedral. This is a very modern building made from reinforced concrete and shaped like a huge cone. Whether you like the architecture or not it is an impressive building.
For lunch, we went to Colombo’s Pasteleria, which is an institution in downtown Rio, having been built in the 1890s. They serve a fabulous buffet lunch, and killer pastries, but possibly the best part of the meal is the Art Noveau interior.
After lunch downtown, we headed to Samba City. We had never heard of Samba City, which looks a lot like a Hollywood movie studio backlot, and is where all the major samba clubs construct their floats and make their costumes.
The samba clubs also rehearse their Carnaval acts and the dances are practiced for the Carnaval celebration. Even though Carnaval was just the week before, planning is already underway for Carnaval 2016.
Our plucky tour group TOTALLY got into learning all about Carnaval, down to trying on costumes, learning to samba dance, and having a drumming lesson!
The main part of Carnival is centered around a competition between the 12 best samba clubs (or schools, as they are sometimes called) that goes on for 5 days. The Carnival parade lasts an hour and twenty minutes, and goes down a half-mile long corridor of viewing stands called the Samba-drome. It is a huge orchestrated, big-money, professional event. Totally different from what what we had imagined.
At Samba City, each of the clubs has a huge 4-story warehouse where they build their floats, which are every bit as elaborate (or more so) as Rose Parade floats. They also sew hundreds of costumes each year. Each club has something like 3-4,000 people in their parade, and every one of them has a big costume, tied into the samba club’s story theme for that year. Each club selects a theme in consultation with their corporate sponsor and the budget for each of the 12 clubs is $3-5 million per club!
We got a great tour of the facility along with a Samba lesson and a chance to try our hands at being an ad-hoc Samba drum band. I have to say though, giving a bunch of white people drums is not always a pretty thing!
Stacy and I finished off our day in Rio by going across the street and spending an hour or so on the famous Ipanema Beach, watching the sun slowly sink behind the mountains. Not a bad day at all!