Once we went to Rio…

It is Olympic fever at our house, much like everywhere else I suspect. Even though I am not a sporty person, there is something compelling to be able to watch the best in the world and it doesn’t matter which sport, I am happy to sit and see athletes on top of their games: swimming, rugby, basketball, diving even horse riding…we’ve been glued to the TV screen in the past week!
Of course, the fact that the games are held in Rio makes it especially interesting for us, bringing back memories of our trip there so long ago. We had a fantastic time, though my kids were too young to remember, and I can honestly say Rio de Janeiro was one of my favourite cities.
Wondering why? Let me share the post I wrote after our visit in 2008.
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
January 4-10, 2008

What best way to start 2008 than spending a week in Rio. This had been a long dream of mine since I was 10 years old, and now that we were so close ( well, sort of) I could not resist pack and drag the family in a midnight flight down south!
We decided to stay by the ocean in Copacabana for 5 nights, and while the hotel was a little dated, the staff was very friendly and the location was superb: to open your shutters to a full view of Copacabana beach was priceless!!! Brazilians call Rio de Janeiro a cidade maravilhosa (the marvelous city), and for good reasons: the setting is stunning, flanked by the large bay of Guanabara to the east, and the Atlantic ocean to the south, white sandy beaches and granite peaks. Terry ranks it as the most beautifully situated city in the world, after Sydney of course!

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Copacabana beach from our hotel window

There was talk (mostly from me) of visiting the Centro (downtown Rio) and walk thru the historical quarters, take a look at a samba school, even doing a favela tour (they are the hillside shantytowns or slums, where hundreds of thousands of people live in precarious circumstances) but democracy ruled (a rare event Marc says) and I was outvoted 3 to 1, in favor of spending time at the beach! While I managed to sneak in a tour bus to the Corcovado Mountain (at the top of which Christ the Redeemer gazes over Rio), we spent most of our time taking in Rio life, as the cariocas (Rio dwellers) do. And it turned out to be a lot of fun. We caught up with the kids new friend, Taina (the Amazon from NYE), who, with her mother Maria, drove us to Sugarloaf Mountain and around town, giving us an insight of cariocas daily life. When not working, the people seem to spend their time shopping, eating, drinking, and going to the beach with boundless energy, pretty much like Australians! Add to the picture, the sounds of bossa nova and samba music flowing out of open-air bars and restaurants, and we were very happy to fit in, exploring Rio’s 3 world famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

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Cable car ride up Sugarloaf mountain 

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Overlooking Botafogo Bay

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We took our first walk along Ipanema and Leblon beach on a Sunday, not a good day for shopping but great for people watching, as the 6-lane road running along the beach was closed to vehicle traffic. While Marc and Anne spent hours in the surf, Terry and I sat at one of the dozens of refreshment shacks, sipping agua de coco for me, Skol beer for Terry, watching the constant traffic of joggers, cyclists, walkers. I marveled at the variety of the people (black, brown, blue eyed blonde, red hair), and Terry kept a sharp look out for the beautiful bodies in the briefest bikinis he’d heard Ipanema was famous for! Let me tell you, that there are a lot of bodies in brief bikinis out here, but they’re not all beautiful. It doesn’t matter though if you’re not gorgeous, most cariocas seem uninhibited, and go by the motto “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”. For the ones who haven’t got it, some stop at the plastic surgeon first, and the ones who can’t afford “reshaping” display their front and rear bumpers in a “who cares anyway” attitude. It provided us with endless entertainment, along with the impromptu street parties and beach football and volleyball.

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Young cariocas on the beach

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Looking down Leblon and Ipanema beach

We loved the beach scene so much that we ended up spending the rest of the week there. Terry and I took it in turns going on beach walks, as the kids didn’t want to leave their favorite spot opposite the hotel. Where else could you walk around in your bikini, passing fellow walkers, fishermen, streets hustlers, 5 star hotels, 1960’s high rise apartments, designer jewellery shops? And how strange to reach exclusive Leblon, with its fancy restaurants, yet a favela on its hillside. The poor have a million dollar view down the beach!

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Not our hotel, unfortunately

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One of the many favelas

Back to Copacabana, unlike the upmarket suburb of Ipanema, it is more densely populated, traditional and lively. Since Terry and the kids were not interested in walking around the neighborhood, I’d leave them at the beach, browse thru the numerous music shops, bikini boutiques, and markets, and then meet them later at the local beach bar (which happened to be a favorite with the local girls too!) Now you would ask how one can stay all day at a city beach. The water itself is not very clean, in fact it is dirty with plastic bags and other rubbish, however as the waters inside the bay are even more polluted with sewerage, most people are happy to swim on the ocean surf. Our first reaction was “thank goodness for our tetanus and hepatitis shots!”. The main attraction though is the fact that you can rent a deck chair and umbrella for 7 reals a day (less than 3 euros), watch the world go by and the kids play safely, while dozens of vendors ply the beach offering icy cold beer for 2 reals (80 cents), camaroes (bbq prawns), fruit salads, ice creams, hats, sarongs, …you name it, you don’t even have to get up and worry about rubbish, someone comes along and takes it off you! If only we had that service on Australian (or French) beaches. No wonder no one wanted to leave the beach.

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Beach vendors on a break

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Life is better at the beach, they say

Even the gastronomic outings came out as second best, yet we ate like kings. From a simple “kilo place (you fill your plate from a buffet, then pay by the kilo), to a neighborhood churrascaria, a Thai restaurant in Leblon, and the extravagant Marius Meat and Seafood Buffet (where we all proclaimed to have the best meat in the whole of Brasil), we sampled more food than we could imagine (let alone eat)!

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Chill and spices at the Copa market

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Fresh Chicken anyone?

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Picanha at one of the Churrascaria

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Salad bar at Marius meat and Seafood buffet

Picanha and Farofa

This is typical Brasilian Churrasco (BBQ) fare. Picanha is a very popular beef cut in Brasil, here referred to as rump cap. Where I live in Sydney, we are very lucky to have a butcher nearby who prepares these rump cap skewers in a spicy marinade, all ready to grill. Then, a 5 mn drive away, there is my favourite green grocer in Miranda who sells a whole range of brasilian foodstuff like black beans, guava paste, and farofa. The latter is coarse manioc flour, which resembles dry breadcrumbs and has the texture of sand. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? Actually it tastes better than it sounds, and the dish is served in every churrasco as a side to grilled meat or rice and beans. The secret is to use lots of fat (butter or bacon or both!), herbs and spices to flavour and moisten this otherwise tasteless and dry flour, it then turns into a delicious accompaniment. I like to cook mine with eggs and spring onions, but any vegetables and herbs is fine too!

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Serves 4 as a side

Ingredients

50g unsalted butter
275g manioc flour
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
4 spring onions, sliced
5 eggs
Salt and pepper

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the manioc flour and toast it to a golden colour, stirring often for about 10 minutes. make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside.
  2. In a non stick fry pan, heat the olive oil and cook the spring onions until just soft.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and pour into the spring onions, scrambling them slightly and keeping them a little moist. Add the manioc flour and stir until well combined. Season to taste.
  4. Serve with sautéed spinach (or collard greens, as the brasilians do) and grilled steak.

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