My Travel Map

My Travel Map

05 October 2010

Rio de Janeiro, Brasil


Rio de Janeiro (pronounced heeo-dgee-janeiro in Brazillian Portuguese). This place totally rocked my expectations. Coming into Brazil, I didn't know what exactly to expect...I thought of Rio as a very dangerous city, and in many ways it is. In many ways, it's not at all though, and I found the majority of people I interacted with to be beyond friendly, nice, helpful, and proud. I thought of Brazil as a place of beauty, and my expectations were far exceeded in that aspect. This is the start of my month and a half journey through South America, and what a place to start: Rio...the opening picture here shows the world-famous, iconic Corcovado (topped by the Christ the Redeemer statue) and its jungle shrouded peak (really a massive state park in the middle of the city!). In the foreground is one of Rio's equally famous and notorious favelas, or slums. This past month, Rio became the center of the world media attention when the police cracked down on some of the drug lords and gangs that rule over the various favelas. What ensued was a small-scale war. It's really hard to believe that such brutal and horrible things go on in such a beautiful city, but it is a big city. To be honest, Missy and I were quite cautious not to venture outside of the "safe" areas. However, we did walk around and travel the city via public transport on our own. We went out at night and took taxis. We enjoyed ourselves and only followed our normal, common-sense approach to safety. All this and the entire time we kept remarking how familiar and comfortable we felt there. We had practically no problems. So, I guess Rio is a two-faced city, a place of dichotomy. There is the safe (and relatively wealthy) side of it, which we came to love and enjoy, and there is the dangerous (and mostly poor) side of it, which we really only glimpsed on our bus rides to/from the airport and the rodoviaria (city bus terminal) and from afar when we saw the favelas clinging to the mountainsides.


The view from Leblon beach, where we found a great little hostel to shack up in for the first few days. These mountains are incredible! They reminded me something of those bizarre peaks from the Li River area in China, but the scale was quite different. The mountains permeating the landscape of Rio are enormous and incredible steep. Yet, somewhat miraculously, the people of Rio have built all around and much of the way up them. They are truly a part of the city, surrounding you and never letting you forget where you are.


The people of Rio seem quite active. There are ongoing games of futbol on pitches (official and otherwise) all over the city (and the beach), and along the beaches, there are always people jogging, power-walking, working out, or playing volleyball. They have a great climate there, and they enjoy it. The ever-present and wonderfully unique Brazilian flag is most often visible somewhere too.


Each beach has a distinct tile pattern for the sidewalks. This is part of the pattern at Leblon. Every hundred meters or so there are also little food and drink stalls right on the beach, which is great for a fresh coconut drink, cold beer, or street food snack.


The view back on Ipanema from Arpoador (the rocky outcrop separating Ipanema and Copacabana beaches). The Corcovado is seen in the distance...it is incredible how it is visible from so many different parts of the city.


Surfers shredding it up at Arpoador. They didn't even need to paddle out...they would ride a wave in, then walk out on the rocks and jump back in beyond the break point...probably have no idea how lucky they are!


Looking towards Copacabana and the famous Guanabara Bay. Sugarloaf Mountain is the tallest in the background there. There is a cable car up to the top, which is supposed to be spectacular at sunset. Missy and I didn't make it up due to time and also because I've heard it is quite touristy, and we got our fill of that (the cost for the great views) at the Corcovado. We will be returning to Brazil, so maybe we'll catch a sunset from up there then...


Another view from Ipanema...this shows how the city just climbs up the mountainsides.


Up on the Corcovado looking at the backside of Christ the Redeemer...it's pretty big.


Looking down on Ipanema and Leblon from the Corcovado. Supposedly, Ipanema means dirty water in the old native language and is called so because of the bay seen in the picture here.


We were lucky to have some great weather up there...the clouds were coming and going, but at least we could see. Apparently it had rained almost non-stop for the week before we go there!


Yay, hordes of inconsiderate tourists! Just what I absolutely love. These people pretended they were the only ones up there...absolutely ignoring the other 20 some-odd people within a 5 foot radius of them. Worst of all were the ones who decided to imitate the Christ statue and stood with their arms out while one of their idiot friends laid on the ground to get a picture of them in place of the statue...so basically, they took up about as much space as two people could in the crowd. Missy and I started out by being respectful of their ridiculous ways, but by after about a dozen of them stayed in position for much much more time than it takes to get the shot, we stopped caring. Like all the people seen here, I was definitely a guest star in many a "look I'm Christ the Redeemer" shots. Oh well.


Looking down on the city center, Sugarloaf, and the amazingly beautiful Gunabara bay.


Looking more north now...


Now more northwest...the enormous soccer stadium is seen in the lower center here. It is the biggest in the world, and will be one of the venues for the 2014 World Cup, which Missy and I WILL be returning for! Unfortunately, it is in a bit of a rough neighborhood, so it is best to arrange tickets and transport through the place you are staying (they all provide this service to enjoy the national sport).


Couldn't really get enough of it up there...that is til the other tourists drove you absolutely mad.


Centro...downtown Rio. Missy and I wandered around here a bit. It was a week day and it had the feel of many other major cities...very business oriented.


There are these awesome old colonial buildings sprinkled all around though, which I loved.


A nice, mixed skyline.


Teatro Municipal, the central theater. We didn't catch a show, but the cafe is pretty sweet.


The favela of Santa Teresa. Yes, I said favela, and yes, Missy and I went there on our own and just walked around. Santa Teresa is a middle-class favela and is quite safe. It's beautiful too, and there are some great little places to eat or enjoy a nice coffee, juice, or cocktail.


Looking at one of the neighboring favelas. The views out over the city from Santa Teresa were awesome.



As we found in Colombia...Rio (and the other big Brazilian cities) have some very, very talented street artists. Santa Teresa had some awesome murals and pieces, but true works of art are scattered throughout the city. Keep your eyes peeled on the buses, you'll see a ton. Our favorite was the modern-day Wizard of Oz mural (we were on a bus though and didn't snag a picture in time). It featured more modern takes on the main characters skipping down the yellow-brick road, with Dorothy jamming to her iPod and the Tin Man wielding a chainsaw...amazing stuff.



Notice the kids playing soccer through the gate...




Rowing in Ipanema.

02 October 2010

Finland


I had three days in Finland as a result of my trip to Russia. I requested a layover in Helsinki and I'm quite glad I did! Finland is Scandinavian, but it's history is not one of Viking conquest as much as continual invasion and control by its neighboring powers. I thoroughly enjoyed Finland. It has a certain pleasant feel to it that just permeates you while wandering around. Helsinki itself is really a pretty small city, even though it is the national capital and largest Finnish city. It is a great place to explore on foot. Upon arrival in the city center from the airport bus, I was greeted by this incredible train terminal. Finnish architecture is heavily influenced by its Scandinavian neighbors, but it is also quite unique. This is very much like the Finnish history itself. Finland's history was heavily influenced by the Swedes in particular, and there is a long history of fierce and proud Finnish nationalism. The architecture seems to be particularly keen on stone and statues, as you can see here with these awesome lamp-holders.


Helsinki is graced with many parks and open spaces, and the people really seem to enjoy them on the long summer days.


This is by far the most unique parliament building I've ever seen.


A statue of a bear outside of the national museum. I was quite disappointed that the museum was closed on Mondays, and unfortunately, I didn't swing by on Sunday when I first got there.


The architecture around the capital can often be described as modern and powerful.


Suomi is the country's name in Finnish...a fact of which any fan of international hockey should be well aware.


The Esplanadi: a couple of avenues with a nice park and pedestrian walk between them right in the heart of the city. The Esplanadi has an interesting history. When Finland was truly developing itself as an independent nation, apart from Sweden, those in support of the Finnish language would gather on one side of the Esplanadi, while those in favor of Swedish would congregate on the other. Finland today still has two official national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Nowadays, the Esplanadi is more popular as a great place to eat lunch or have a picnic or drink with friends.


Being located on the Baltic, the sea plays an important role in Helsinki. It is a regular port-destination on Baltic cruises, and the sea really plays an important part in the food.


This meal was AWESOME. Along the waterfront, there were these market stalls set up selling all sorts of things. As with any good market, there was a large food section. I first stopped for the berries at the top. The raspberries were grown locally in Finland, while the cherries were produce from Belgium. The main dish however was straight Finnish. It consisted of these small bait-fish, vendace, fried up whole in hot oil in large skillets and served with fried potatoes, vegetables (carrots and cauliflower) with this incredible creamy garlic sauce. So delicious. I love little bait fish that can be eaten whole, especially when accompanied by tasty sauces.


This is apparently the oldest stone building in central Helsinki, the Sederholm House. It is named after an old industrialist and now houses a museum.


There is obviously a strong Finnish pride, but it is in no way offensive! That is one of the things I really like there, the Finns are very proud of their culture and country.


The buildings around the massive Senate Square are done up in the grandiose neo-classical style. The gentle and warm pastel colors are straight Scandinavian.


The Tuomiokirkko, which is the Lutheran Cathedral that dominates Senate Square. This cathedral is beautiful, particularly in its symmetry and solid white facade. Helsinki was a planned city, the result of the vision of Johan Ehrenstrom and architect Carl Engel, and the entire city itself is a testament of Finnish identity.


Inside the cathedral, the architecture is simple and straightforward. This is the massive and beautiful pipe-organ, but far the most ornate piece I noticed inside the building.


I would highly recommend checking out the cafe in the crypt underneath the cathedral. You need to go around the back to find the entrance. Underneath, you can enjoy a coffee or tea and some treats while wandering around and enjoying some local artwork, which is displayed throughout.



I found Helsinki to be a pleasant and quiet city, and it was a very relaxing place overall. I found the Finns to be very friendly and relaxed in their own way. I had no problem getting around and asking for help or directions as it was very easy to find people with excellent English. It was very evident that the average person was well educated, which I really appreciated. Finland is of course the nation with the best overall education system in the world.



I took a day to check out Porvoo, a small, historic city along the coast east of Helsinki. Porvoo is old and its old city has been fantastically well-preserved. I'm not going to talk too much about the various pictures; this will be a picture-heavy portion of the post.


Porvoo exemplifies pleasant. I was lucky to have such a nice, warm summer day to enjoy the town.


The colors are mostly these deep reds and pastel blue, orange, and yellow. Apparently this homeowner couldn't decide between blue or red.


If you haven't already noticed from previous posts...I love pictures of doors.


The old town is just a maze of these meandering lanes and cobbled streets. I wandered around for half a day just enjoying it all. I was lucky to get there early in the morning too as later on in the day the place filled up for a couple hours with the expeditions from the cruise ships. I was happy to have taken the bus which allowed me to show up and leave on my own and just wander aimlessly taking as much time as I wanted. Those on the cruise seemed rushed and totally unable to really enjoy the place. By nature, they totally took away from its most amazing quality too, the pleasant peace and quiet that just envelopes the town.


I loved the colors...especially with the beautiful clear blue sky.





Attention to detail: these are some finely decorated utilities boxes.


Inside the main old church, which sits atop the hill in the center of the old town.


Unusual to have a statue of a Russian czar inside a historic Finnish church, but it is Czar Alexander I that is Porvoo's claim to historic fame. Porvoo, and this church in particular, is the place where the Czar declared Finland to be part of the Russian Empire. If you really want, you can stay in a guest house in the same building that Alexander stayed in when he arrived in Finland, and you can also follow his route he followed from the guest house to the church where he declared Finland's new imperial role. This is just another example of how Finland was passed around, mostly between Russia and Sweden, throughout the more recent centuries in history and why Finland and the Finns have had to continually struggle to keep their own distinct identity, language, and culture.


The BEST blueberry pie I have ever eaten, and pretty good Earl Grey too too! The pie was smothered in this amazing vanilla creme sauce, and the cafe had this great location in one of the town's main squares. I relaxed there for quite some time just taking it all in.



1346...that's pretty old.


The famous red houses along the river.


I am looking forward to getting back to Finland some day in the future and exploring more of the country. I'm particularly interested in heading north and inland and enjoying some of the rugged beauty of this incredible country. I think it will be a great place to visit in the summer as an older man.