With Arms Wide Open

Saturday 24th  March 2018

We were up bright and early this morning. We were still tired after all the travelling yesterday but the excitement of seeing the city got us leaping out of bed. I pulled back the tall doors that opened out onto the balcony to see stunning view over the city and across Guanabara Bay.

I didn’t really know what to expect. Photos of Rio tend to focus on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema with Sugar Loaf Mountain looming large. But here, we were high up in the hills of Santa Teresa overlooking the neighbourhoods of Gloria and Catete.

Our table had already been laid for breakfast on the balcony. Crisp white linen tablecloth, cutlery and coffee cups were waiting for us. Thiago popped his head around the corner, noticed we were up and came to take our order. A silver tray full of a buffet breakfast items was brought to our table. Slices of mango, watermelon, pineapple, jugs full of fresh grapefruit and orange juice, toast and jam, cereal and milk, vanilla yogurt and strong black coffee. If that wasn’t enough I also had some scrambled eggs.

It was lovely sat here munching our way through breakfast whilst admiring the view. It was so peaceful. Every now and again a car would roll down the cobbled street that wound around the hotel but other than that it was very quiet. It was a warm day. In fact it was almost too warm sat in the direct sun.

At 9am our guide for the day turned up. His name was Rayol but I didn’t quite catch how he pronounced it, despite asking him to repeat it, twice. He had a great sense of humour and had a certain Samuel L Jackson coolness about him.

First on our Top 5 places to see in Rio was Christ the Redeemer, the iconic statue that symbolises the city.

It was a short ten minute drive to the train station in Cosme Velho at the base of the Corcovado mountain. Rayol dropped us off and went to find somewhere to park his car, which wasn’t easy.

There were a couple of shops at the entrance to the station which occupied us for a few minutes. Rayol soon returned a little out of breath waving our tickets for the 10am train in his hands. We followed him up to the station and joined the queue.

We walked inside the station building to see it filled with flags from all over the world, literally from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The British flag was there, as well as Scotland but the Welsh flag was absent.

The Swiss built rack and pinion trains left every 20 minutes for the journey up through the Tijuca Forest to the summit. It was now only 9:30am so we had a while to wait. Rayol had other ideas however. He and a fellow travel guide with another group hovered around the turnstile hoping to get allowed through to fill any gaps. It wasn’t looking good, especially the other group got through and we were left waiting. Incidentally the husband was called Forrest, which we struggled to hide our amusement. We just wanted to shout “Run Forrest Run” as they rushed through the turnstiles to the train.

When filled to capacity it could carry 180 passengers and right at the very last moment they squeezed another three on board. We were on!

The carriage was packed and at first we sat apart as they were the only spaces available. Rayol stood at the back. We were in the middle of a large Iranian tour group and they very kindly shuffled their pack so Julie and I could sit together. It was very kind of them.

At 9:40am we set off on the 3.8km journey. Almost immediately we were up above the streets and houses and into the dense tropical forest.

We made a few scheduled stops. Either at specific passing points to allow the train coming down the hill to pass safely or at other stations, such as the one for the newly built Painerias visitors centre. 

It was interesting to discover that this railway up to the summit of Corcovada was here before the statue of Christ the Redeemer was built. The line was opened in 1884. It was another 38 years later when work began on the statue.

We got talking to the lady sat next to us. She explained that she was from Iran and we mentioned that in fact we were supposed to have been in Iran this very week. If it wasn’t for the tour operators cancelling the trip because of insufficient numbers, we would have been in Shiraz today celebrating the Iranian New Year!

She then produced her business card. Her name was Zara and was the Managing Director of a tour company based in Yazid. “We’ll be in touch” I said. (Unfortunately I lost the card and never did make contact.)

We made slow progress up through the woods. There wasn’t anything to see for the trees. Apart for one section where Rayol gave me ample warning to get my camera ready. In a clearing we saw a stunning view across the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, to the strip of land that was the famous Ipanema.  We could also see the Hipódromo da Gávea racecourse where horse racing takes place.

Five seconds later and we were back behind the trees.

Eventually we reached the terminal at the summit and made our way from the platform.

Rayol then said “Do you want to take the steps or the elevator Elevator Good choice” without pausing for breath. He was a funny guy!

Julie didn’t appreciate the glass elevator one bit, but it did save quite a lot of effort.

At the top the doors opened, we stepped out, turned left and there it was. Christ stood there, with his back to us, arms wide open. 

Julie got quite emotional as it dawned on her that she was really here, looking at one of the most famous landmarks in the world. It was an overwhelming experience.

There was an escalator to transport us the final few steps to the base of the statue. As we zoomed up the moving stairs Rayol gave us some facts and figures.

In 1921 the church invited designs for a monument on top of Mount Corcovado and engineer Heitor da Silva Costa submitted the winning design. The original winning entry was a little different as it had Christ carrying a large cross and holding a globe in the other, but it was changed to the now familiar open arms.

Work began on constructing the statue in 1922. Firstly, a 4m scale model was made in Paris, by sculptor Paul Landowski, in addition to a full-size head and hands sculptured in clay. They were shipped over where it was then recreated to scale in reinforced concrete.

The pieces were then transported up to the summit on the trains and assembled at the summit with an internal structure of iron rods holding it together.

It certainly was a colossal statue, 30m tall and stood on a pedestal that added a further 8m to its height. The outstretched arms spanned 28 meters from fingertip to fingertip.

When you looked closely you realised that the outer layer was clad with triangular mosaic tiles, made from a pale grey almost silver material called soapstone.

It was busy up here at the foot of the statue. We even had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on people who were literally lying on the floor to get a photo. I have no idea why they were doing that? 

Having stared at the statue of Christ for long enough we turned around and walked to the end of the platform to take in the breath-taking view over the city.

Corcovado, which incidentally means hunchback in Portuguese, was 700m tall. The view was sensational. We were towering over Sugarloaf Mountain and the high-rise buildings of the Botafogo district below.

We could clearly see the cable cars gliding up to the summit of Sugarloaf which filled Julie with such dread. It was to be our next attraction.

We walked around, taking in the view from all angles. From up here we could appreciate how narrow was the strip of land on which Ipanema neighbourhood stood. It was less than 700m wide wide between Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and the Atlantic.

Then, further West clinging onto the slopes was the colourful favela of Rocinha looking more like a view of the Amalfi coast than some shanty town.

Over the years the area has become relatively safe to visit with plenty of companies offering guided tours but Rayol recommended against it. “If you don’t have a strong need to go then don’t go” he said. Only six months ago a Spanish tourist was tragically shot dead, caught in the cross-fire between a gang and the police.

We then crossed to the other side and looked down to towards possibly the most famous football stadium in the world, the Maracanã.  It looked like a spaceship had landed in the middle of the city. It was originally built for the 1950 World Cup but of course today’s stadium is a modern all-seater sports arena renovated for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Before leaving we made our way to the back of the statue where inside the pedestal there was a small church. There was a queue to get in, not particularly long but large enough to deter us from joining it.

We walked back down the steps to a small gift shop near the elevators where we picked up a little memento of our visit, a small Christ the Redeemer statue for our mantlepiece.

Rayol was waiting for us.

We waited for the next train down. They ran every twenty minutes, so it wasn’t long before it arrived. Sitting in almost the exact same seats we rolled back down through the Tijuca Forest.

At the bottom Rayol went off to fetch the car whilst we waited for him in a small market in the shade of some trees.

We had a good look around. The forecast for the rest of the vacation was sun, sun, sun so Julie bought a floppy straw hat to protect her bonce from burning. I didn’t think the etiquette was to barter so we paid the asking price of R$30 (about £6.50). We were so glad we didn’t haggle the price down because the seller’s reaction was priceless. When we handed over the cash she grasped it tightly and brought it into her chest with both hands clenched, then looked up to the heavens and said what I imagined was “Thank you God”.

From the marketplace we could see Christ the Redeemer looking over us all. From this distance it was difficult to appreciate how tall it stood!

Rayol arrived and we took one last look, well, from this close at least. The statue is visible from all over the city, so we were sure to see it again.

We drove from here down through the Flamengo district to the coast. “This is a wonderful neighbourhood” said Rayol “A great place to live. Everything you need is only a short walk away”

He pointed out the British Consulate building, then a few blocks away the apartment block where he lived with his wife. He talked a bit about his family. He has one granddaughter who lives here in Rio with his son. (He couldn’t believe that we had six grandchildren!) His daughter is currently studying Philosophy in the USA.

He used to work for Black and Decker, but they moved their business from Rio to near Sao Paolo. After a few months he couldn’t cope with the 10-hour commute, so he took the redundancy. He then fell into the tour guide job as he had great grasp of English.

From Flamengo we drove through Botafogo. It had a beach front with hardly anyone on it. I don’t know why? Perhaps it was because there was a yacht club nearby filling the bay with small boats.   

A few minutes later we pulled up at the station for the Sugar Loaf cable car.

Julie is petrified of cable cars and had been fearing this moment since the day we booked the trip. Rayol was trying to jolly her along by singing in the style of James Brown made-up songs with lyrics like “oooh, you’re such a brave girl” and “yeah, yeah, you strong lady” but I don’t think it was helping!

Whilst Rayol went to park the car we looked up at the cable cars. We could see that it did the journey in two steps. The first one was up to a smaller hill called Morro da Urca. The second leg dramatically spanned the gap between it and the tower of rock known as Pão de Açucar or Sugarloaf.

Once seen, Julie couldn’t bring herself to look again. However, she was determined to get up there.

We followed Rayol up to the ticket booth and then joined the queue for the next cable car.

The moment of truth soon arrived, and it was our turn to get inside the glass and steel capsule. Being suspended from a cable meant there was some freedom to move and the cable car did swing a little as we got on.

Julie headed straight for the centre of the carriage where she could see a post she could grab hold of for dear life. Rayol jived around trying to make her smile but it wasn’t working. We filled to capacity and the doors shut, as did Julie’s eyes. She gasped out loud as the brakes were released and we swung into in motion.

We rose above the traffic below and glided gently up. Julie managed to open her eyes but couldn’t look anywhere. Every time she let go of the post her hands shook uncontrollably she simply had to grab the post again.

I was enjoying the view of Praia Vermelha, a hidden beach tucked away in a small bay.

Julie was slowly growing in confidence, and literally counting the seconds down as a diversionary tactic. Thankfully the ordeal didn’t last much more than a minute and when we docked at the midpoint station she couldn’t wait to get off.

Back on terra firma she regained her composure, allowed herself a little celebration but knew full well that the worst was yet to come.

Rayol pulled us to one side to allow the crowd to rush up towards the shops and the next station. We then followed him along a path through the woods around the back of the buildings.

It was nice and peaceful. We were the only people here. “This is a secret path” said Rayol.

We stopped briefly when we spotted a beautiful Brazilian Tanager, a little red and black bird. It was high up in the trees but stood out with its bright red feathers.

We also saw a large jackfruit which was interesting as one of my favourite dishes uses the fibrous fruit to make something resembling a vegan “pulled pork”. I call it a Sloppy Jacks.

We arrived at the next cable car station and waited our turn for the next carriage. Julie’s heart sank as she looked out at Sugarloaf. It wasn’t so much the distance but the sudden incline at the end that made her knees wobble.

She took a deep breath and stepped inside. We waited a while whilst the carriage filled up before setting off on the ride up. Counting the seconds to distract herself she remained focused on a fixed point, she didn’t dare look out the window at the view.

A minute later we docked at the station. The doors opened, and we were one of the first near the exit, but the carriage was still swinging. “Mind the gap” said Rayol. We looked down and at its highest swing it was quite a sizeable gap. It even had my heart racing.

We couldn’t delay, there were people behind us waiting to get off, so I held Julie’s hand and timed our move to when it swung back nearest the platform and we quickly stepped off.

Julie was elated! She had made it!

What absolute determination.

We followed Rayol up to a viewing platform with a great view over the bay to Niterói.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the view, a pair of vultures sat on a branch looking out. It looked like they were having a chat about their day, like a scene from Jungle Book.

Rayol then drew our attention to the high-rise buildings of downtown Rio. “Can you spot the cross?” he asked. We scoured the skyline and couldn’t see one anywhere. He then pointed out one of the highest skyscrapers, the Ventura Corporate Towers which had a strange design of a cross cut out of the building. I would argue it was more a letter T but Rayol was so chuffed he got one over on us I let him have it.

After that he left us to explore the 360 views on our own.

Looking back towards the city was a spectacular sight. We could see the entire sprawling metropolis from Copacabana Beach to the downtown Centro district and all the neighbourhoods in between.

You could appreciate how mountainous the region was, and how it gave natural boundaries to the various concrete neighbourhoods that filled the valleys in between.

Directly in front of us we could see the tower blocks of Botafogo. At its heart was a football pitch. It was once the home of Botafogo FC but is now just used as a training ground. The club relocated a few years ago to a modern 60,000 seat stadium in a district on the outskirts of the city.

Standing tall above all of it was Christ the Redeemer, perched on the highest peak, holding the city in its outstretched arms, still looking spectacular even from this distance.

To the South of the city we could see the whole length of Copacabana, probably the most famous beach in the world. The bay arced beautifully between two forts built on rocky outcrops jutting out to sea. Fort do Leme nearest us and Forte do Copacabana on the peninsula at the far end.

Looking back towards the Centro district we could see Santos Dumont Airport, the local domestic airport. It serviced mainly the neighbouring states of Minas Gerais and Sao Paolo as well as the capital Brasillia and some smaller cities up and down the coast.

It certainly wasn’t the one we landed on last night.

It was quite exciting to watch the planes take-off. We were high enough that we were the same level as a TAM flight leaving the airport. Not quite close enough to wave at the pilot but almost.

Before leaving the summit of Sugarloaf we found the graffiti wall. It seemed strange to encourage vandalism, but I guess it’s going to happen regardless so it’s better to have it contained to just one wall.

Of course, we couldn’t go without also leaving our mark. We didn’t have anything to write with but that wasn’t a problem as permanent markers hung on strings for those who weren’t prepared. There wasn’t any clear space to write anything, so I scribbled our names over the top of what was already there then we made our way to the cable car station.

Julie seemed calmer for the return leg. She seemed much more confident that there wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.

Once inside the carriage she even kept her eyes open and let go of the pole. That’s how confident she was!

We got off on Mount Urca and walked to the shops and restaurants. At the far end they had three examples of older cable cars. The oldest was the original cable car built in 1912. At the time it was only the third place in the world operating a cable car system. It looked like a converted tram, just minus the wheels. It was a surprise to learn that these antique carriages operated until 1972.

Julie was relieved that the weren’t still being used today!

Standing next to it was the bronze statue of Augusto Ferreira Ramos the engineer responsible for installing the Sugarloaf cable car.

The other two carriages on display were more like the modern ones we have today.

We left Mount Urca on the next steel and glass pod and glided gently back down to earth. By now Julie was perfectly comfortable with it and could have gone up and down all day.

After five minutes of trying to find Rayol’s car (he had properly forgotten where he had parked and at one point seriously thought it had been stolen or towed away!) we drove through the Marquês Pôrto - Humaitá tunnel cutting its way through the rock of Morro da Babilonia and through to Copacabana.

We passed the Copacabana Palace. “This is the hotel where old rock stars stay” said Rayol “like Mick Jagger or Madonna”

The bay stretched out for over 3km of sand. At the end of which we turned right and came to an even longer stretch that was Ipanema and Leblon. “This is the hotel the young stars like Justin Bieber like to stay” he said pointing the modern steel and glass structure of the Fasano hotel. We had originally booked here as it did look the best in the city but we were happy with our choice of Santa Teresa.  

We soon parked up next to Praça General Osório, a square and park where every Sunday since 1968 they’ve held a crafts fair. It’s known as the Hippie Market.

It was time for lunch and Rayol was taking us to Carretão, a typical Brazilian buffet restaurant. It’s a carnivore’s dream as it’s a never-ending stream of various chargrilled meats. We’ve been to something similar back in the UK, so I knew that I would have plenty of salad choices to fill me up.

“Enjoy your lettuce and tomato” joked Rayol. We arranged to meet up in two hours’ time.

We were sat at a table near the back of the restaurant. Then a waiter arrived with a tray full of drinks, all the beverages they had available. We pointed to the ones we wanted, and he scurried back to the kitchen to fetch our cold beer and glass of wine.

Next two plates arrived and we were instructed to head for the salad bar.

Julie knew from experience not to overeat on the salad because when the meat come around you’re too full! I didn’t have such restriction so I went for it.

I filled my plate three times over. All the salads were fresh and delicious. The heart of palm was an interesting, if rather bland, choice. The tastiest thing on the plate believe it or not were the tomato crostini. Seasoned chopped tomato, garlic infused bread drizzled with peppery olive oil. I wouldn’t have had a tastier crostini in Rome.

The meat came out slowly, which wasn’t a bad thing as it gave Julie time to pace herself. The first piece of meat was a large rib of beef, still on the bone, and impaled on a long skewer. The waiter began to carve, then waited for Julie to hold the flap with a pair of tongs, before finishing.

It was a decent chunk and Julie said it tasted amazing. Many more meats on skewers came out of the kitchen. Some of them Julie turned away, like the rolled-up sausage rings. She was hoping for another piece of beef, but it never came.

Feeling full I handed in my plate. Then a waiter came around with a tray of desserts. I pointed to the Griddled Bananas drizzled with honey.

They were amazing. A perfect sweet and stodgy end to the meal.

We paid for our drinks, (our meals were prepaid), and left the restaurant. With a bit of time on our hands we headed to the beach a short walk away.

We crossed the road, distracted slightly by the impressive twin peaks of Morro Dois Irmãos  (Two Brothers) dominating the skyline as we looked down towards Leblon.

We eventually managed to cross Avenue Viera Souta and reach the black and white mosaic paved promenade with its funky seventies design which stretches the entire length of Ipanema and Leblon.

It reminded me of a brown and orange pattern on a lampshade my mother used to have. This and the similar wavy pattern along Copacabana boardwalk were designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.


We strolled up the promenade for a while until we sat down at a small kiosk overlooking the beach and a volleyball game. We enjoyed an Antartica beer each and people watched.

It was interesting to see how all the women had their bottoms proudly on display. Beach etiquette dictated it. No matter your age, shape or size, bum cheeks were on parade. 100%.

This phenomenon hasn’t really caught on in Europe or at least certainly not the beaches to which we’ve been. Conversely whilst going topless is common in the Mediterranean, here it’s a total no-no. 

In the distance, out in the bay were the Cagarras Islands, a string of six uninhabited rocks in the sea. I imagined there would have been a leper colony out there once upon a time!

It wasn’t long before we had to make our way back down the beach and to Rayol who was waiting for us at Praça General Osório.

We drove back along Ipanema and down Copacabana.

Along the way we passed several sand sculptors. They all had one thing in common, a plastic statue of Christ the Redeemer. Some had shaped Corocovada which wasn’t difficult, and placed the Rio icon on top. One of the ones getting some attention was of five bikini clad women lying down on their front, bare bottoms on display, as they do around these parts. It was a little pervy.

Whilst we were waiting at the lights this motorbike weaved its way past. “Did you see that?” asked Rayol. I had seen it. But I couldn’t quite believe it. “Was that a ginger cat on the handlebars of that motorbike?”

“Yes, that’s Chiquinho. He’s a very famous cat here in Rio” They whizzed by too fast for me to take its photo but there are plenty of images of this Garfield like celebrity cat on its own Instagram page!  https://www.instagram.com/chiquinhothecat/?hl=en

Rayol said he was a member of a Bikers Club, Rayol not the cat. Although the cat is probably an honorary member!

Rayol goes out on his Harley Davidson regularly. “All the guys have tattoos” he said pointing out mine “but I’m the only one who hasn’t. I hate needles!”

We retraced our steps, back through the tunnel, across Botofago and Flamengo to the neighbouhood of Lapa, at the bottom of the hill from Santa Teresa.

Rayol began to talk about the next attraction we were going to visit. “Have you heard of the Selarón Steps?” he asked.

“I knew him well” said Rayol “I would take tourists to see his work and he would ask me why? All he wanted to do was to brighten up the place.”


Jorge Selarón was a Chilean artist who lived in a house on the steps leading up to the Convent of Santa Teresa. In 1990 he started placing ceramic tiles on some of the 215 steps. It took him 20 years to clad the entire place. Although it was never finished as it would be constantly evolving with tiles being replaced regularly.

Sadly he died in 2013, his burnt body soaked in paint thinner was found lying on the steps, suicide or murder the cirumstances have never been proven, although Rayol’s version of events was definitely suicide. “He drove down to a local petrol station, filled a cannister with fuel, then returned home to dous himself in it.”

We were dropped us off at the bottom of the steps and Rayol went off to find somewhere to park.

It was crowded at the entrance. It had become one of Rio’s most popular attractions. Even before his death it had reached a worldwide audience. People would send him tiles from all over the globe for them to be incorpartated into the steps.

Rayol returned and challenged us to find tiles from the UK. Julie looked at the climb to the top and decided to sit this one out.  We walked up a few flights to escape the melee then she found a spot to settle. “I can see it all from here” she said.

I set off alone on my ascent to the summit, scouring every tile for some British connection. I’m sure I saw every other country except for the UK.

Rayol’s challenge may have been pointless however it did make me look, really look at steps. There was a beauty to its randomness.

It wasn’t only the steps that were covered in ceramic tiles but also the lower parts of the walls that flanked the psychedelic stairs.

A little industry had developed along the way, a small theatre, a hostel, a few souvenir shops, all to service the crowds who visit this wonderful expression of someone's heart.

I reached the top, well, the walls of the Convent of Santa Teresa. The steps continued a little further around the corner, but I didn’t bother to carry on. I didn’t care, even if there was a huge Union Jack waiting for me. (Which there isn’t).

The convent wall was emblazoned with a huge mosaic of the Brazilian flag, scattered with a few rogue tiles dropped into the mix.

On my way back down, I stumbled across a couple of musical themed tiles, one of Bob Marley but also Iron Maiden and The Rolling Stones, two British bands! Result! Challenge met!

It didn’t impress Rayol much. They weren’t British enough. The ones he was expecting were right at the start, embedded into the stack of large blocks at the entrance. They were three unquestionably British tiles. One was from Scotland, this we knew only because it had the word “Scotland” on it, another was of Princess Diana, and the other a red telephone box.

“Well done” I said whilst thinking “… whatever”.

Back in the car we returned down to Lapa. Rayol explained to us where the best bars and nightclubs were for the best nightlife in the entire city. Stay in this area and you’ll be safe. “Don’t go where it’s quiet” was his advice.

We turned a few corners and pulled up outside this huge concrete pyramid. It had a Mayan look to it whilst at the same time having that 1960s idea of being modern.

“Can you tell me what it is?”  asked Rayol “and don’t look at the signs!”

Too late, we’d already seen “Welcome to the Cathedral”.

In 1960 Rio lost its status as the country’s capital when they moved it to the purpose-built modern city of Brasilia to encourage the population of the interior. I’m guessing this space ship disguised as a Mayan temple was Rio’s response to rival anything they came up with in Brasilia.

Work began on Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião in 1964. It took fifteen years to complete, although it still didn’t look finished.

“You have a similar one in Liverpool” said Rayol and he was right.  That was an ugly looking thing as well.

We walked inside the concrete cathedral where it transformed itself to a stunning place of worship. It could have been a big empty soulless space, but it wasn’t. There was a cathedral like reverence to it.

The inside was circular and broken into segments where one in every three was a brightly coloured stained-glass window rising the whole 75 metres up to a cross shaped skylight. It was such an impressive sight.

I even found the plain segments with its uniformed squares to be quite striking. They let in a little light. It needed some as there wasn’t much in the way of lighting.

Julie took a pew whilst her eyes adjusted to the dark. I walked down towards the altar for a closer look. There wasn’t much to see. I joined Julie and sat in quiet contemplation, thinking about where to have our supper tonight and other important stuff.

After some five minutes we were ready to leave.

It was the end of tour with Rayol so he drove us back to our hotel.

We thanked him not only for being a good tour guide but also such a great guy.

Back at Mama Ruisa we returned to the oasis of our swimming pool with a nice bottle of wine. Following the hustle and bustle of the day it was the perfect place to return to and relax. Julie swam, I lounged, we both chilled.

As it began to get dark we retired to our room to get ready for the evening out.  

One of the nearest and fortunately one that came highly recommended was the Explorer Bar. It was very popular. Most of the tables were taken but luckily for us they had one table for two available.

They had an extensive menu influenced by cuisine from around the world.

I ordered a dish described as Pastelitos served with a siracha mayo and zhug sauce and Julie went for some croquettas. Both were labelled as being suitable for vegetarians which was nice to see.

The portions were large. I had six little pasties on my plate and Julie’s croquettes were massive. They were very tasty albeit a little greasy.

We had a caipirinha each which were perfect to cut through the grease.

I then ordered another dish, not that I was hungry but so I could try it.  It was a Persian sandwich called Sabich, sliced boiled egg and aubergine wrapped in a flatbread. I’ve made it myself at home and really enjoyed it.

When it was time to pay my card didn’t work yet again. It was so embarrassing. I hadn’t brought any alternatives with me either, so I had to run down to the hotel to get enough cash to pay the bill.

(I noticed it was a similar card reader as the other times it has failed. It must have something to do with the service provider.)

We left the Explorer Bar and walked towards Largo dos Guimaraes, more of a meeting of several streets than a square but still the centre of it all.

There was some loud music thumping away just off the square and we went to have a closer look. Security on the door patted us down, and we walked up to a makeshift ticket office set up in a gazebo. We had to pay to get in, but I only had a little cash on me. Our plans to samba the night away were scuppered. To be honest we were feeling a little too old for the scene anyway, so we left.

Instead we sat in a bar on the corner called Portella and listened to some guy with a guitar play some chill out tunes. Much more our style.  Two songs in he finished for the night and we decided to follow suit.

We headed back to the hotel, tired but still buzzing from an immense first day in Rio.

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