2023, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Brazil Day 14: Rio Friday September 8, 2023

After two nights of sleeping okay – one of which I actually did mostly sleep – I did not sleep much at all. I spent a rather long time trying to structure a bed and half’s worth of pillows to prevent myself from coughing and I have no idea how late I was up doing that before I eventually fell asleep. But the good news is that I did feel better overall despite the poor sleep.

Today we headed over to Centro (downtown) to see a few sites. The first was the Escadaria Selarón, a stairway that was transformed by an artist. This was the busiest placed we’d been in a long time, in part due to the sheer number of people taking selfies and posing. I know I sound old when I say this, but digital photography – and instragram in particular – has utterly transformed tourism, as when you get to a place where people like to pose, it’s just an absolute zoo and a true pain in the ass to navigate.

So we walked up the entirety and found that, the higher we went, the fewer the people, until you get to the top, where some people arrive by cab. They’re worth visiting but even on a weekday it was hard to navigate. It’s a place that’s this busy where you can understand how pickpockets are a problem. We basically hadn’t been anywhere else yet on our trip where it was crowded enough to worry about pickpockets. But here I could see how they could get you.

We then headed towards the Cripta da Catedral Metropolitana. On the way, we walked by the old aqueduct. It currently serves as a part of the path of the one tram left in the city. We didn’t take it, but we saw it going over the aqueduct. It did look like it would be a neat trip, but we (thought we) had a bit of a time crunch, due to a booking later in the day.

The Cripta da Catedral Metropolitana is one of the great modern churches. It is an aggressively modern (for its time) building that is a real wonder inside, due to the size of it, due to how it handles air and light, and due to the size of its stained glass windows, which are immense.

I’m not normally a fan of these types of buildings but this one is incredible and highly worth the trip into Centro (if you are staying in a more touristy area). Rarely have I felt the sense of awe that I feel in a large building that is a multiple hundreds of years old in such a modern building.

So, supposedly you need to book your ticket to Cristo Redentor ahead of time, and you book a particular time, which is why we had a limited time in Centro. So we headed to the Cosme Velho, the first stop on the train that goes up to the statue. We got there 20 minutes before boarding time to find absolute chaos, multiple lines and all sorts of employees directing people into different lines. We had to line up to get our tickets, even though we bought them already. At our boarding time, we were still in line to pickup our tickets. We had to give our information to an employee, who writes it on a piece of paper, who then hands it to the ticket booth person, who then prints off new tickets for you. It also turns out you can buy the tickets there instead of buying them online and then standing inline to swap them for new tickets. It’s notable we didn’t have to go through this stupid procedure for anything else we did. And it’s mystifying as to why they can’t use the barcodes on people’s phones (or ask them to print them). Why they can only use barcodes printed there, I don’t know. But it necessitates all these other people, directing us into different lines and literally writing down our ticket information on slips of paper.

So then we got in a different line and watched as multiple people got shuffled in ahead of us for reasons we could not understand. We did eventually get on a train 40 minutes (two trains) after our booked train.

What a shitshow. Just have people buy the tickets at the gate – like at Pão de Açúcar – or get them to book their tickets ahead and only allow them to get on booked trains. Pick one. It’s not difficult. Everyone else seems to have figured out how to sell tickets to tourist attractions.

Though people will say the train doens’t have great views – and it certainly doesn’t compared to the cable cars at Pão de Açúcar – it’s still an interesting trip, past various roads and houses of people living on the side of the mountain. There are also two other stations on the way up, but the train is so full I wouldn’t recommend getting on at either unless you are comfortable standing. when it does finally clear the rainforest canopy, the view is incredible and the entire trained gasped.

When we got off at the top, we saw an interminable line waiting to go back down. At least in the moment it looked like it might take hours to get back down. We saw the vans and how much shorter the line was to get them and realized that the vans might be less insane. If you go, look into taking a van instead of the train, if only for your own sanity.

There are tons of steps from the train/vans to the top but there are also elevators and escalators. Yes, it’s so popular they built escalators on the top of a mountain.

The place was so crowded we decided to eat to see if it would get less crowded. (Also, I had become convinced late lunches were not helping my energy level so I wanted to eat “earlier” even though it was getting kind of late.) We waited in line for a while and then tried to get a seat. There was a sign limiting people to 25 minutes at the table and nobody was respecting it, as the restaurant had incredible views. Jenn managed to grab a table as it was abandoned and we shared it with two Americans. (This place had more foreigners than any other place we visited on our trip, for good reason.) I could barely eat my burger due to my nausea, but talking to the Americans distracted me enough that I got it down. The view likely helped too.

In front of the statue was absolute mayhem. So many people, almost all of them doing the poses at the same angles in the same spot. If you walked to the back of the statue – as Jenn said, to take a picture with Jesus’ butt – there were way, way fewer people.

Jenn somehow managed to find an empty space to take a picture from the front

The view was worth it.

Rio with Pão de Açúcar in the top left and Copacabana in the middle

But the whole thing is one of the worst tourist experiences I think either of us have had. (We do tend to avoid places like this, though.) It’s so disorganized and so busy. This was a weekday and it was just a madhouse. You could barely move on the front side of the statue. I really don’t know how Jenn was able to get pictures without heads and limbs in them.

We dreaded the trip down but the lineup looked worse than it was. I think we only waited two trains, as we luckily got onto the second when there was a little more room than they thought.

But it really is one of those places where you have to decide whether the views are worth it for the sheer number of people and sheer disorganization of the people running the place. (Specifically, the train, as the vans might function fine.) Pão de Açúcar was so much more pleasant as an experience.

The whole experience took forever and killed our afternoon. So that’s the other thing you need to think about.

For dinner, we went to a brewery in Botafogo. We knew the good breweries were all in SP but we decided to try this one. They do flights! So we had flights. The beer was mostly better than we had tried elsewhere – outside of the beer bar in São Luís – but it was also pretty middling compared to here. And the barley wine was pretty awful, one of those ones that tastes like candy. Though I was excited to try Brazilian beer, I only found a little that was good. Maybe the experience would have been different in SP or Porto Alegre.

As for the food, after accidentally eating some of Jenn’s dinner, I had a “Thai” wrap that once again contained overcooked, dried out chicken. Why did I keep ordering chicken? I have no idea.

Regardless, it was nice to go to a proper brewery, and have the experience of being in a brewery trying beer.

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