Getting to know you…exploring Rio de Janeiro

Statue from the Museum of Belle Artes

RIO DE JANEIRO-Today we got a little more up close and personal with Rio de Janeiro. It is a sprawling metropolis of about 11 million people.

We fully intended to visit the Carmen Miranda museum along with a few other cultural sites because so many are closed on Monday. After a chat with the concierge – and the fact we board the ship before noon on Tuesday – we hired a guide and driver for the afternoon, opting instead to do a tour of downtown Rio, several interesting neighborhoods and a visit that topped them all — to Corcavado, the iconic statue of Christ that has been a symbol of Rio since before I was born. More about that later.

Prior to meeting our guide, Marco Blansford, we did visit the Museum of Belle Artes, a collection of exhibits featuring wonderful examples of Brazilian art. Most portray bloody patriotic or battle themes, some are religious (and also graphic) and others feature nudes

A temporary exhibit offers reproductions of famed sculptures. Aphrodite is lovely, one of few women on display in two galleries of sculptures of men.

But the Brazilian art, dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, presents a very graphic history of battles, the first mass held in Brazil and some interesting family scenes of those days. There is Romanticism, Realism, applications of Impressionism and Symbolism.

After an hour or so, our driver picked us up and we began a tour of Rio’s many and varied neighborhoods.

We took a closer look at the favelas, neighborhoods where Rio’s poor have long lived. Part of the city’s clean up, fix up and build up for the 2014 World Cup Games and the 2016 Olympics has resulted in making the favelas a more presentable part of the cityscape. The homes dot the hillsides, seemingly hundreds of thousands of them, and are where the samba began and where popular samba schools take place. Still slums, it will be interesting to see what the result is like when the games begin.

Altar at Our Lady of Monserrat

Then we were off to see one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever visited. The Benedictine order’s Our Lady of Monserrat combines baroque, rococo and 19th century touches. Many exquisite small chapels, an amazing altar and detailed architectural work would take weeks to examine closely. This gem took 300 years to complete. It first opened in 1641

Back in the car we toured the trendy Santa Teresa area with bars and cafes and then headed up through the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, the beautiful national park where it appears ANYTHING grows. We parked and then were shuttled up to the top. An elevator ride, two escalators and wow! The Corcovado, the statue of Christ that we’ve all seen in films, books and magazines, was just feet away.

The mist often keeps people away. We were lucky, it was amazingly clear when we arrived, but as we left, the window slammed shut.  Mist had set in that covered the area and visibility dropped almost completely. But we got to see the wondrous site and it really felt like mission accomplished.

Photos by Marcia Levin

December 16, 2012

And tomorrow we board the ship.

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