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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This Christmas season we decided to add another country to our passport stamp collection and visit Brazil. We have been to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls both times that we visited that incredible piece of the planet, but as most Brazilians will quickly inform you, "that is not really Brazil...". We have been talking about Brazil since we came to Argentina and there was never the right time. Until now. As long as we exit the country before Christmas Day when the prices triple - and it's not like they're all that low to begin with.

I always chuckle a little when people say that they love to travel. No one loves to travel. Everyone that says that really just means that they love to be in another place. The traveling part is no fun. With the exception of my brother Christ, no one loves the airport. No one loves lines or delays or taxiing on the runway, at least no one I've ever met. We are no exception, we dislike transit and love arrival. This is especially true in Argentina where it is a running joke that if you book through the national airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, you are gambling with your whole trip. Of the five Christmases that we've lived in Argentina, at least three of them have included some sort of strike in the airport sector. This year, we hit the travel jackpot and flew out of Aeroparque on the day of the air traffic controller strike, a group that can seriously muck up anyone's travel plans. We sat in an unbelievable line for a long time, mysteriously, flights were called at random and told to come to the front of the line. Our flight was called. We checked in. We were one step closer to Brazil. Once inside the terminal there was a mix of emotions - our luggage was gone, a good thing (right?), but our flight was still listed as on time even though it was 90 past our take of time. Peculiar. Then our flight disappeared from the departure board. Then a woman came through the terminal trying to stage a protest of passengers - we were supposed to all go to passport control in 5 minutes and start clapping - and then our flight was called. We were almost 4 hours delayed, though thankful that we somehow still got out that day. We were also hopeful that at least one person was working the air traffic control tower.
Luckily, the kids were great with the wait. As my dad put it, it looks like the best day of Alex's life:

Gretchen was just happy to have her "tickergiraffe". She was making friends withe everyone in line and being a little charmer while we waited.

And once we finally were on our way to Rio, Alex was a fantastic little flier. His first flight, beating his sister by a handful of days, one day before he turned 3-months old.

We arrived at our hotel in Ipanema late, tired and hungry. The hotel itself was great, the Promenade Visconti which has options for a 1 or 2 room suite with a mini-kitchen – perfect for keeping leftovers or warming up a bottle. Beyond the rooms, the location of the Visconti was ideal. One block from the beach, one block from the best juice bar in town (according to their signs and other people we talked to) pretty much everything we needed was within a two block radius.

Our first 24-hours in Brazil was a learning curve. We ate at the hotel restaurant (a poor choice considering the other amazing places close by), we got hustled by the beach equipment rental guys (most expensive French fries in town, supposedly) and we didn’t use enough sunscreen because it was a big cloudy (it’s true what they say, the sun is somehow actually stronger in Brazil). After that, I can proudly say that we figured things out.

The Beach:
I don’t know that there is an ugly beach in Brazil. We stayed in Ipanema because it was recommended as safer, more family friendly and less crowded. The sand is white, the water is clear and warm (-ish, it still takes a little getting used to…) and the beach was never very crowded. There are supplies for rent, umbrellas, chairs, etc – though the enterprising men who run these huts told us prices anywhere from $5 - $15 reais for each item.  Negotiate, offer less and be sure to always know the price of something before buying it – like French fries.

The water was rougher than I had expected. We were able to run in and out of the waves on shore, and Jon took a few opportunities to get all the way in the water, but neither of us were willing to let Gretchen in beyond her knees. The undertow was strong and the waves hit unexpectedly hard more than once.

Our little girl is loving the beach
While sitting on the beach, there are folks walking around selling anything you can imagine. Lemonade. Beer. Cheese. Kiddie swimming pools. Toys. Henna tattoos. Massages. Not to mention the cover-ups, bikinis and sarongs that you’ll find just about anywhere. Many of them accept credit cards. All prices are negotiable.

Hat & umbrella were no match for the Brazilian sun
We spent a few hours on the beach our first morning in Brazil, it was pretty overcast that day so we weren’t as diligent as necessary with the sunscreen and hats, and everyone (including little Alex) got a little toasted by the sun. Live and learn.

The afternoon retreat to our hotel for naptime began a great routine for the remainder of the trip. Kids nap, parents read/workout/shop, then we all go out for juice.

I don't know what it is, I don't know how to say it, but I love it
Juice bars are a signature of Brazil, there were at least 10 to choose from in Ipanema alone. We were a block away from Polis Sucos Ipanema, which was amazing and boasted as the best in the city – and therefore – the only one we tried. Combine that with another Brazilian signature, the açai berry, and you have my 4:00pm snack every day on our vacation. The açai is some sort of superfood native to Central and South America. Depending on which website you refer to, it is either a zillion calories or a weight-loss miracle. All I know is that it is delicious, especially when mixed with granola - my preferred method of consumption.

We ended the day at Zaza, which was one of the best meals I've had. The place had a cool, bohemian feel and though they were booked for reservations, they save some tables for walk ins each day. We went right at 7:30pm when they open for dinner, and we were (of course) one of the first tables there. They had a multi-page drink menu complete with fantastic caipirinhas, and the food was incredible - including the fish and potatoes that they prepared for Gretchen in lieu of a children's menu.

Great day in Rio, a bit more difficult to get by with Spanish than we had anticipated, but by 9:00pm we were all ready for a good night's sleep.

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