It was our first morning in Rio de Janeiro and the heavens had opened. Go figure! Apart from our honeymoon, every single holiday Mo and I have been on has included at least one day of rain. So this downpour was no real surprise to us, but as we received notice that our first pre-booked activity, a favela tour, had been cancelled, Mo was anxious that the wet weather might affect the rest of our plans.
Luckily, it had stopped by the afternoon and we were on track to hop into a car with our guide Ederson, to head across Guanabara Bay to Niteroi.
Being it’s own city, it doesn’t come under any ‘top things to do in Rio’ lists and it’s obviously not ranked as a must-see place if you are visiting the city.
Why did we want to go? Well Niteroi is the home of one of Oscar Niemeyer’s most famous buildings, the Contemporary Art Museum. So it was a given that Mo and I would want to explore and see more.
First of all, you need to get there and the best way to do that is by car over the Rio-Niteroi bridge (aka President Costa e Silva Bridge). An 8.25 mile long road suspended high up above the sea, took me back to my childhood when we used to drive over the King Fahd Causeway to Bahrain.
Actually lets rewind.
Before we joined onto this spectacular bridge, there were a few mini stops along the way. We stopped to look at secluded churches, popular swimmers spots and fishermen parked up enjoying the warm breeze. We also saw the famous Sambadrome, another one of Niemeyers creations. A place dedicated to that famous Carnival parade that takes place every year, with tall bleachers running along each side. Ederson even drove us past some of the storage units where floats were parked, ready to be glitzed and glamoured up for dancing on in Feb (all of this was enough to make me want to return for Carnival one day!).
Ok, now back to crossing the bridge and continuing on to our first stop in Niteroi: the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC).
One of his later works, this UFO looking building teeters above a pool on the edge of a cliff and celebrates Niemeyers trademark design traits. Concrete and curves. The building is meant to signify ‘forming from the ground’, like a flower protruding from the Earth and growing organically rather than an intergalactic spaceship. Although funnily enough, in the Intro to his film, he is seen flying over Rio in the MAC so it’s easy to see how a UFO is mistakenly marked as his inspiration.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside as the air conditioning unit was broken, but I’ve heard the panoramic views from the circular promenade inside is pretty spectacular.
We could still walk up the cleverly formed red-carpet ramp, a simple but genius idea if you ask me (might try and convince Mo to let us paint a red carpet driveway).
After admiring the museum, Ederson took us for a quick stop to one of his favourite view points in Niteroi. We drove up to the summit of Parque da Cidade, a space popular with locals as well as tourists for the spectacular scenery that lies below. The sunsets here are meant to be magical and its the kind of place you could imagine bringing a small picnic and making camp for a few hours. As this was the first (of what would be many) viewpoints we had seen in Rio, it really took our breath away.
From here we moved on to see one of the most beautiful fortresses in Brazil, the Fortaleza de Santa Cruz. The drive to reach here is quite exciting, our car literally had to hug the side of the road and there were a lot of sharp intakes of breath as we sped round certain corners (Mr Oliveira obviously knew this route like the back of his hand). It was late in the day so we decided not to pay the entrance to go in and see the inside, we were happy wandering round the outskirts (well the parts that were on land) listening to the waves crash against the shore as we sized up the canons and other artefacts that were dotted around.
Our last stop of the night was for dinner before driving back over to Rio. Ederson took us to a restaurant by the coast and introduced us to some great local seafood dishes as he knew we weren’t (non-halal) meat eaters.
It was a lovely evening. The sun set beautifully over the water just as we sat down and the conversation flowed throughout the meal as we all got to know each other. We cooed over family pictures, discussed life in Rio, life back home in England, and much more.
By the time dinner was over the long day had started to take its toll and it was time to call it a night. It had been the perfect start to our stay in Brazil, the only sad thing was that due to timings we wouldn’t be able to catch up with Ederson again.
Not to worry, we still had five glorious exploration days ahead of us… this was shaping up to be a pretty damn good birthday!!