Five years ago, I arrived in Kathmandu during a garbage strike in monsoon season. Walking through rivers of garbage was not a great start to my time away. Looking back, I’d probably take that compared to this time.
It all started with being turned away from check in. Whilst I was correct in not needing a visa to enter Brazil, I hadn’t noticed that you are required to have a ticket to leave. So I soon found myself at the back of the queue trying to book the cheapest flight out of Brazil on my phone with the time ticking down rapidly before it would be too late to get through security. Flight booked to Argentina (now cancelled), I passed through security to find that rather than narrowly sneaking in just before boarding, the flight had been delayed.
When it eventually arrived in Rome, I was treated to an airline escort through the airport, fast tracking me through the various stages of transferring flights. It was all in vain; the flight had departed and a night in in Rome it was. To be honest, I was quite happy with that eventuality. That was until the following morning, when I remembered that Italy is in the middle of a heat wave. Considering that England has been struggling to get out of the teens, thirty seven degrees felt a little hot. I managed though to break away from the air con and get to the Colosseum, which despite the two hour queue, was well worth it. Walking out of the metro station and seeing the sheer size of it was an incredible sight and will rank pretty highly on the end of year list.
Fast forward fifteen or so hours and I arrived in Rio. Unfortunately my bag did not. I’m used to it now though. That was the third time in three flights that my bag has not arrived with me. The difference this time was that when they scanned the bar code, there was no location for my bag; It was officially missing. I spent the rest of the day on the beach weighing up how much of a problem it would be if my bag was not found. And what a beach it was. Copacabana beach stretches for 4.5km, flanked by multi story hotels. Even at 7 in the morning, the beach was alive with people exercising or relaxing. Beach hawkers in their droves attempted to sell everything and anything. As time went by, it became filled with thousands of people and the atmosphere was great. Twenty four hours later and with the bag still missing, I was starting to give up hope. I had met with Nick and Annie the previous evening, both from England and we were preparing to go and see the Christ the Redeemer statue. Just as we were walking out the door, the phone call arrived with good news. The bag had been found. Phew. With a huge weight off my shoulders, we made the arduous journey by bus through the Rio traffic. You really don’t get very far, very quickly on four wheels. Then we hopped on and off a total of three mini-busses before making it to Rio’s most famous landmark.
Before going up, I was a little disappointed. In Tbilisi, Georgia, Mother Georgia sits proudly on top of the hill behind it. Everywhere you go you see her.However due to the height of all of the buildings in Rio,you can barely see Christ and when you do, he is a tiny spec in the distance. When you get close, however, you realise that the beauty is not in its dominance over the city, but in the sheer arrogance of its location. They’ve built it on top of the highest point with absolutely nothing around it but thick jungle, except for the road of course that now leads up there. The fact that it was built at all is what makes it so impressive. A live band greeted the crowds at the top and the view over Rio was fabulous. It really is a very beautiful city, with endless hills, lined with favelas, set apart money spinning buildings which hug the coast.
The following day, I awoke with a spring in my step. I was going to the Maracana, which is arguably the most famous football stadium in the world. As well as Nick and Annie, we were joined by Ushgar from Turkey. We firstly made a stop off at some steps in a pretty ropey area safety wise, where some Chilean artist had created an art installation out of murals he had created. The legend goes that he died at the bottom of the steps after its completion.
From there we caught the overly spacious and air conditioned metro to the stadium. Buying tickets wasn’t a huge problem and for eight pounds, we got good seats behind the goal. The game was between Fluminense and Figueirense. That meant getting to see Ronaldhinio and Fred. The stadium was just over a quarter full, with most packed in behind the goal with us; however the atmosphere was incredible. From the moment the referee and assistants came out onto the pitch for their warm-up, the atmosphere went through the roof with boos and hisses. Not the best way to get them on your side. Then come kick-off the chanting started and did not stop until we got off the metro back in Copacabana. The stadium was bouncing and only stopped at half-time when more booing and hissing was required after the referee had awarded a dubious penalty for the away team. In the end Fluminense came back to win 2-1 with Fred scoring the winner, which was a surprise considering how useless he was during the World Cup.
On the final day, i visited Ipanema, which is Rio’s most famous beach. To be honest, I think I preferred Copacabana, purely because it was a little quieter. I also walked the 7.5km around the lagoon, which was rather nice. It capped off a great few days in a city which is quickly working its way up my list of favourite cities. Despite, its sometimes poor reputation for safety, i never once felt in danger and loved the laid back nature and vibrancy that fills the streets at all hours. It’s going to be one amazing Olympic host city!