Saturday, March 29, 2014

Exploring Centro, Assessing Rio

My guess is that most who know me well enough to be reading this travel blog are aware of that I lived in California during the first three years of the 1990s.

I mention this from Rio because although I am having a good time and have had zero problems, I'm reminded of two things I used to say about living in Los Angeles.

One is that I enjoyed having the experience of living in L.A. more than I consistently experienced enjoyment while living in L.A.

The other was that most of the things man had nothing or little to do with--the weather, the mountains, the beaches, etc.--were fantastic, but much else was rather middling, mundane and/or mediocre at best, excepting a number of good friends I made and still cherish.

Today, Saturday, having knocked off the most quintessential Rio sights in my first two days--Sugar Loaf mountain, the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, Tijuca National Forest and walks along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches--I ventured to Centro, Rio's downtown area.

Although I had noted that a couple of my guidebooks suggested Centro be avoided on weekends as it is pretty deserted, the folks at the hotel's reception desk assured me I needn't worry.

I was actually looking forward to taking the subway--i.e. Metro--as it is something I find unifying among many of the world's great cities. Whether in Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Prague, St. Petersburg, etc., etc., I have found a comforting commonality in how the people get around.

I easily got to the Centro area via Metro and after a bit of confusion, found my way to the Colombo Cafe.

staple of Rio since the early 20th century, the Confeitaria Colombo is ornately appointed and feels like a Viennese café, perhaps the Demel, where I ate Sacher torte last summer.

I got to the Colombo around 9:30am and found it rather full; in fact , though Centro didn't feel workday crowded, neither did it feel desolate.

I partook of a breakfast buffet, which in truth wasn't much better than the free one at my hotel, but I enjoyed the experience.

While always warily trying to ensure me and my Digital Rebel weren't being eyeballed, I made my way to the relatively modern Metropolitan Cathedral, the Lapa Arches, the National Library and the Teatro Municipal, where I took a tour and was reminded of similarly stately opera houses in Madrid, Prague, Vienna and Budapest.

From there I went into the art museum across the street, whose collection seems to be comprised entirely of Brazilian artists. Entry was free and there were some works that caught my eye, and in the more modern galleries was interesting to note how (to me) unknown Brazilian painters had interpreted famed tropes of Abstract Expression.

Starting to feel leg weary I shlepped to the Paco Imperial, which isn't all that regal and though open didn't allow much access.

I took a cab back to the hotel, asking to stop for some photos at the Selaron Staircase, a funky collection of steps essentially created by a single artist who died last year.

I was back at the hotel by 3:30pm and took another afternoon nap. One place I had in mind for dinner--a much less pricy and fancy churrascaria called Carretao (at Lido)--happened to be recommended by a front desk clerk, so I opted to check it out.

It was disappointing, both in the quality of the meats and the service. Though about one-third the price of Marius Degustare, where I ate on Thursday night, it wasn't even one-third as good.

It was my way back from there--amidst one of the most touristy parts of Rio, yet one where I cannot find a sunglasses shop as my prescription set broke--that I started to think about how good a tourist city, or perhaps not, Rio is.

Mildly chagrined to be back in my hotel room at 7:30 on a Saturday night, I started to write this. But I then determined I should go out and find a Caipirinha--a famed local drink--so I started wandering the streets of Copacabana.

Off the beach it was interesting to note locals at outdoor bars watching soccer games, but I felt considerably more comfortable along the beachfront promenade, where I had a Caipirinha--nothing to write home about even though I am--and also found a delectable churro from a cart.

Tomorrow I am going to a 4pm soccer game at the famed Maracana stadium as part of a group tour. I had also booked an earlier Favela tour, but it was rescheduled and would've conflicted with the pick up time for the football game.

I imagine it would have been insightful but it seems somewhat strange to take guided tours to see how poor people live.

It dawned on me that when I think about having been to, say, Barcelona or Copenhagen, I don't have any remembrance of how much time I spent sightseeing each day, how comfortable I felt wandering around or whether my evenings were rather spartan. I just remember the great things I saw, and have lots of photographs I can peruse forever.

So I'm not saying Río de Janeiro isn't a great tourist city. As I have traveled most places on my own, and don't even drink much, anywhere other than theater meccas of New York and London has likely left me wanting for more to do at night. 

Yet while I am happy to be here and have not ever felt unsafe--though I haven't seen the type of police presence I anticipated given the upcoming World Cup and 2016 Olympics--between not being sure where I can safely explore, and what seems like a large number of the buildings graffitied or in some state of disrepair, I can't say I've consistently felt the ebullience I always do in New York, London or experienced last summer in Krakow.

I've been enjoying reading a book on my iPhone--see Sunday's Pithy Philosophy on maybe I'll just hang out by the hotel pool, read a bit, go to the soccer game and then get ready for Buenos Aires.

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