With Arms Wide Open

Monday 26th  March 2018

We woke up fairly early this morning and enjoyed another lazy start to the day. That’s two in a row. It felt such an indulgence!

Breakfast was served by the pool, which was again fresh and abundant with all the standard continental breakfast fayre we could possibly want and more. In addition Julie had asked for some ham and cheese because she wasn’t having an egg course, which they obliged.

Once we had eaten and had enough of stroking Mademoiselle who was making herself at home on my knee, we practiced some serious lounging.  

It was gone 12pm when we stepped out for the afternoon.

We walked up to Largo dos Guimaraes to catch a tram, or a Bondinho as they’re known, down the hill to the Centro neighbourhood. There was a tram stop right in the middle of the square where a few people were already gathered.

We joined them in waiting and shared some coconut water from a small plastic cup sold by this guy with a little cart.

It wasn’t long before a tram arrived. It was a faithful replica of the vintage trams that had rolled up and down these tracks since 1877. After a terrible accident in 2011 where one century old tram derailed and six people died they updated the entire fleet and carried out essential maintenance to the tracks. The tramline only reopened in 2015.

This tram had just arrived from travelling up the hill and was the end of the line so thankfully there wasn’t a rush to get onboard.

The seats were then flipped over in an ingenious design to allow the passenger to always sit facing forwards without having to turn the tram around.

Tickets cost 20R$ each and I tried to buy them from the conductor, but he directed me in the vague direction of “over there”.  I think it was to a shop where I could by them. It then became clear that it was only because he couldn’t take cash off me. He wasn’t authorised. However, I could pay by card. Problem solved.

We hopped on board. Standing on the “running boards” for a more exciting ride has been banned. In fact, the boards are now lifted up before the tram moves on.

We rolled down Rua Alm Alexandrio to a small square called Largo do Curvelo where we stopped to take on board more passengers. Then the tracks continued down Rua Joaqim Murtinho until we reached the bottom.

For the most part there were two tracks in the road allowing trams to pass each other as they travelled in opposite direction. However, there was one section where the tracks merged into one. This was when it crossed the Aqueduto do Cariocas.

We parked up and waited our turn to cross.

After what felt like ages we were given the green light and we moved onto the aqueduct. It was surprisingly long and took us a while to cross. With open sides to the carriage it got Julie’s heart rate racing. She was relieved when we reached the other side.

To our left was the city’s cathedral and the modern skyline of downtown Rio as the tram pulled into the Cariocas terminus.

Stepping out of the tram station we couldn’t see any of the landmarks, so we briefly got ourselves orientated. We got off to a good start by turning left passing the steel and glass sky scrapers of the Petrobras Building and the BDNES (National Bank for Economical and social Development) head office.

We then followed a pedestrian walkway into the car park of the BDNES and somehow came out the other side.  It didn’t feel right but we were heading in the right direction.      

We soon reached an area that was a bit more historical. The 19th century buildings had character and style and hinted back to the city’s glory days.

On the corner of Rua Ramalho Ortigão with Rua da Carioca we stopped for something to drink in a local café bar. At first I thought it was called Yakisoba and expected a Japanese ramen menu but I was mistaken.

It was a simple café. Fans whirred to keep the customers cool whilst they sat eating huge portions of food on stainless steel plates. They were all watching the news. The story that had grabbed their attention was about a coach that had been attacked somewhere in the Bahia state. They showed the bullet holes in its side. We were just glad it wasn’t in Rio.

(Although when we got home we did read about a politician who got assassinated in Rio a few days before we arrived.)

Trying to blend in with the locals we drank diet Pepsi and watched the news. 

Refreshed we continued down the side street to reach a large open square in front of Church of São Francisco de Paula.

In the centre stood a statue of José Bonifácio a statesman who played an instrumental role in Brazilian independence from Portugal.

A colony since the 16th century it all changed at the turn of the 19th century. With Napoleon running amok across Europe the Portuguese Royalty up sticks and relocated to Rio de Janeiro in 1807, establishing a new United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves.

Eventually when Napoleon’s threat was over King João VI was forced to return to Portugal leaving his son Pedro in charge of Brazil. An independence movement soon gathered momentum. José Bonifácio became Pedro’s chief advisor, and no doubt used his influence to persuade the young prince to seize the moment and side with those who considered themselves Brazilians not Portuguese.  

In 1822 Dom Pedro declared himself Emperor Pedro I of an independent Empire of Brazil and began a war of independence against his own country, his own family.

The empire was shortlived. It lasted only 67 years before the monarchy was overthrown and Brazil became a republic.

We left the square walking towards the library down Rua de Luís de Camões. Before reaching it we came across a book shop. We both love a good book shop despite not being avid readers. We went inside to have a good browse and ended up buying a DVD of the Sound of Music dubbed into Portuguese to watch later in our room.  “Why read a book when you can watch the film” is our motto!

As we paid for the DVD the guy behind the counter suggested I put my camera in my bag. “It is safe here but it’s probably better “ he said, trying his best not to scare us.

We left the bookstore, then a few steps later I had to take the camera back out of the bag as we had reached the library. It was a wonderful neo-gothic building.

It may seem an odd place to visit but this was no ordinary book repository.  The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, (the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading) was a cathedral of literature. 

Built in 1887, in the final years of the monarchy, it houses the largest collection of Portuguese books outside of Portugal. Not much of a surprise really that the library in the largest Portuguese speaking city with the oldest history has the most books but still it’s worth a mention.  

We walked inside and entered the reading room. It was incredible. It actually took the breath away. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Wooden bookcases rose three stories high literary filled to the rafters. Ornate balconies wrapped around on each floor to access the books.

Everywhere we looked was a wall of books.

It was crowned by a beautiful stained-glass skylight to allow in the sunshine and a large chandelier dangling below.

Determined to take it all in, we sat down at a table so we could absorb the unique atmosphere of this amazing reading room. Apparently, it’s listed no.4 in Time Magazine’s Top 20 most beautiful libraries of the world, but I can’t imagine a more stunning one.

Before leaving we had a look in the glass display cabinets where they had some of the oldest and most rare books in the country. One called Os Lusiadas was an epic poem written by Luís de Camões first published in 1572. The one on display was 19th century edition complete with a library stamp on the first page.

It was time to leave so I popped my camera back in the bag and went in search of the oldest café in Rio.

We came to a pedestrianised street, a shopping area, which had a large C&A department store, a brand that has disappeared from the British high street. We wanted to buy the grandkids some sweets or snacks with funny names, so we went inside a supermarket called Lojas Americanas.

It was very busy inside, almost frantic. I don’t know if they had a sale on, but the were drawing in the crowds.  

We walked into a forest of green cellophane wrapped objects hanging above our heads. With Easter not far away, we assumed they were chocolate eggs.

We picked up a few sweets and snacks but the queues at the tills were horrendous, so we dumped them and left.

Just around the corner we came across Confeitaria Colombo, the “oldest café in Rio”. It was established here in 1894 and still serves its pastries from the same antique restaurant.

We weren’t hungry, but we popped inside to have a look at the lavish decorated interior. Mirrors, marble, dark wooden panels, gave it a very elegant old-fashioned charm. We weren’t the only ones only here to marvel at the restaurant. There were many just taking photographs or selfies then walking out.

Before we left, we had a good look at the pastries, taking notes for later. The Ricotta, Spinach and Banana quiche sounded really intriguing!

From the high-end pastries of Confeitaria Colombo we came across the opposite end of the scale with this food vendor selling his Tapiocas on the street from a little glass stall.

I wanted to try something, just for the experience but Julie suggested that the only thing I would be experiencing if I ate one would be several hours of sitting on the toilet.

Moving on, we followed the tramlines down Rua Sete de Septembro towards Praça XV de Novembro square. All significant dates in Brazilian history I’m sure.

On the corner we came to Rio’s former cathedral, now known as the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Ancient See. It lost its status as the city’s principle church in 1976 to the concrete pyramidal Metropolitan Cathedral. 

Inside the old cathedral was incredibly ornate in a style known as rococo. The white and gold interior was very theatrical. Up on the first floor balcony it even had (what appeared to be) Royal boxes with thick red velvet curtains for Rio royalty and other dignitaries to worship in comfort and style.

Next door, in a completely separate building yet connected via a short hallway was another extremely decorative church. This was full on drama with exceptional plasterwork.

It was odd to have two large churches built side by side. The first was built in 1770 by the Caramelites, an order of the Roman Catholic Church, then this adjacent church was later built by the Caramelite Third Order, a separate branch of the order. Was it a case of anything you can do we can do better?

Anyway, we moved on, following the road to another square, , where we came across yet another church.

This was the Candelária Church. Built on the site of a 16th century church paid for by survivors of a shipwreck of a boat called the Candelária.

It was situated like an island in the middle of the Praça Barão de Drumond square. We crossed several lanes of traffic to reach it. 

The church was considerably larger than the other two put together. I don’t know why this wasn’t the former cathedral. It seemed worthy.

Whilst it may not have been on the same decorative level as the other two, it was built on a much larger scale.

We walked inside and what immediately caught the eye were the ceiling frescoes, especially the cupola.

It was built in 1775, however it took over 100 years to complete. Once finished the dome was the tallest structure in the city and the equal of the finest in Europe.

We took a pew and relaxed for a while. A moment of quiet contemplation. We’re not religious types but we do find the tranquillity and beauty of a church the perfect spot to contemplate.

With all our thoughts gathered into one place we left the church and headed back towards the centre of the Centro district.

There were some whopping skyscrapers along the way. Hardly any of the old colonial city remained. Every now and again there was an old building of character dwarfed by tall concrete structures around it.

I often say that to get to know a city you have to walk its streets. You get a greater sense of its heart. Daily life takes place around you.

It didn’t take us long to return to Confeiteria Colombo. By now we had worked up a considerable appetite. We were taken through into the dining area and seated at a table for four. Perhaps they knew we were going to “go large” on our choices.

When the waiter came to take our order we had to ask him to give us a few more minutes. We had been so distracted by the ornate mirrors we hadn’t begun to check the menu out.

I was quite happy with my choices as they had brought together all the vegetarian pastries into one section. I decided to go for a cheese puff pastry and the intriguing spinach, ricotta and banana quiche. Julie had proper meals to choose not just pastries and went for the rare beef salad.

My pastries were fine, although the banana quiche failed to live up to my expectation. I couldn’t taste much in the way of banana. At least Julie absolutely adored her lunch. “It’s probably the best thing I’ve eaten all trip” she said, High praise indeed. It was the first time she had beef that wasn’t cooked to the point of leather.

We shared a pot of tea for two and ended our lovely relaxing lunch with a few chocolates called Brigadeiro, small dense chocolate fudge truffles covered with chocolate strands. Perfect.

Our walk back towards the tram station took us past some lovely old buildings on the corner of Rua de Sete Setembre and Rua Uruguaiana where there was a small flea market in and around the small square.

We didn’t stop to buy anything. We just wanted to get back up the hill to Santa Teresa.

We couldn’t have timed our arrival at the train station any better as one had just arrived. As soon as they flipped the seats over to point in the other direction we climbed on board.

There were two or three destinations to choose from, but they all went through Largo dos Guimaraes, so we were safe in the knowledge we were weren’t on the wrong tram.

They waited a few minutes for any more passengers to turn up and then we set off, gradually chugging our way up and out of the concrete, steel and glass of downtown Rio, reaching the old aqueduct, bridging between the new and the old.

As the tram rattled its way over the wide-open space of Praça Cardeal Câmara, we could see our shadow cast onto the square below.

We got off one stop before Largo dos Guimaraes. It was a request stop, and thankfully someone else also wanted to get off, removing the need for us to pull the cord. The stop was opposite a big bright mural of a yellow tram with a splendid view of Rio behind it. Street artist, Marcos Jambeiro, had used his imagination to incorporate Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf and a favela into the scene.  After taking a closer look we continued walking up the hill.

Several of the gift shops were open this afternoon so we had a little mooch around. One we went inside was Galeria Camayoc-Huasi, the shop front of local artist Domingos Cardoso. He himself was there and he came up to us to say hello and said “you were in Café do Alto last night”

I also remembered seeing him in there, sat in the corner deep in conversation with someone. He had a unique look with his long curly dark hair and beard.

His artwork was very colourful and many themed around the image of a favela, celebrating the beauty in their chaos. They were all quite expensive, so we looked but didn’t touch. 

We did eventually buy one of his prints, but in the form of a greeting card, from another gift shop a little further up the street.

We returned to the hotel and sat on our balcony to watch the sun set over Rio. It was an amazing and unique sight.  


Sugarloaf caught the last of the sun’s rays and looked magnificent basking in the warm glow when all around had already slipped into darkness.


Soon the moon came out and we were still sat on the balcony. We felt so relaxed. A bottle of wine was opened and instead of going out to find something to eat we ordered some room service.


Apparently, we were told, many of the restaurants in Santa Teresa didn’t open on a Monday evening so we were faced with either a longer trek to find supper or have a basic snack on our balcony.

There was no competition really. Staying on the balcony won hands down. I had an omelette and Julie had a ham sandwich which filled the hunger hole.

We retired to our room and fell asleep watching an awful TV movie in English with Portuguese subtitles.

 Next Day >>>  

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