About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

16 February 2008

Lapa, Santa Teresa and Rio De Janeiro Centro

The three suburbs more or less combine to form the old centre of Rio De Janeiro - which is a fairly old city (it is almost 500 years old). Most of the old colonial buildings have been destroyed, replaced with skyscrapers. It is still a fascinating place to walk around, and there are some surprises.

The New Cathedral, ugly on the outside, beautiful inside.

The old buildings have a distinct colonial style, while the modern replacements are usually pretty ordinary.

The aqueduct, otherwise known as the Arches of Lapa. Now carries the surviving tram line to Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa and Lapa are very much the hippie quarters - lots of artists stay around here, and thus, like Observatory in Cape Town, it is the center of music and art in Rio De Janeiro. There are loads of clubs and bars, many featuring live music every night. From Samba to trance, Friday nights are however the biggest, where Lapa basically becomes one big street party, with a few bands playing outside for free (though they are not that good). There is a big police presence, and everything works pretty smoothly.

15 February 2008

Rio Beaches

Copacabana. Ipanema. The names are just as famous as the beaches themselves. The actual beaches are rather disappointing - yes they have beautiful scenery, and the beaches are big - over 6 Km in combined length. But the water is a bit on the cold side (though not as cold as Cape Town) and quite dirty and polluted. Personally, sitting on the beach doing nothing has never been appealing to me, so on that bias, the beaches in Rio are nothing to sing and dance about ...

13 February 2008

Sugar Loaf Mountain

The other instantly recognisable feature of Rio De Janeiro, is the Sugar Loaf mountain. The view from the top is amazing, and Rio is a very beautiful city - and it is best seen from the top of Sugar Loaf, at sunset.


Across the bay from Rio De Janeiro, is the city of Niteroi, accessible by bus (over the bridge) or by a short ferry ride. There are really two reasons to visit Niteroi - one to see the view of Rio De Janeiro, and the second to see the Museum of Contemporary Art; well not the contents of the museum itself, but rather the building, considered to be one of the masterpieces of Oscar Niemeyer.

Niemeyer has a more recent creation, which is still under construction. It is a cultural centre, and will eventually be home of the Niemeyer Foundation. The functional efficiency of the theater is quite impressive - the theater stage can be used as part of the indoor complex or serve as a stage for outside.

12 February 2008

Christ the Redeemer

The statue of Christ the Redeemer, on the top of the Corcovado mountain, overlooking Rio De Janeiro is one of the most easily recognisable features of the city. There is definitely some great view of the city from the Corvocado - but a wonder of the world it is not. To put it on the same level as Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal? Anyone can put a giant statue on top of a hill - there is not much of a wonder to it.

11 February 2008

Reflections: Brasilia

Brasilia is a young city - created from scratch, literally in the middle of nowhere in the 1950s. Meticulously planned to be the capital of the country, it is quite an interesting city - mainly because the creators of the city - urban planner Lúcio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer are two of the best practitioners in their field.


Brasilia is famously laid out as an aeroplane or a bird. The monument axis runs East to West, with another two highways running North South. The wings have all the residential and local commercial areas, while the Eastern end of the axis is dominated by government buildings.

I have seen other planned cities - but Brasilia has something different. Firstly, there is the space - in no other city I have been to, does there seem to be this much space. While most of the residential blocks are apartment buildings, there is a lot of space in between (with small parks, and walks) as well as the roads between the main blocks being quite wide and lined with trees. And that is the second aspect of Brasilia - it is so green. There seems to be more trees than people in the city - and that is quite an achievement for such a large city. The amount of vegetation also means that there is an abundance of birds flying around, which is quite cool.

The great advantage of such wonderful planning - once you get used to it, navigating is very easy, and so logical. But there are some odd consequences. For example, one of the local commercial areas, close to where I am staying has more than 10 pharmacies, all next to each other! How do they all stay in business? And it is not as if there are no pharmacies elsewhere in the city either!

In a moment of madness, and then followed by stubbornness, I ended up doing a large amount of walking in Brasilia, and I estimate, I covered at least 10, probably 15 Km. It is not that there is no public transport - busses are quite regular, although the metro, which I did use, is largely useless - but many of the sights are fairly close to each other ... it is just that there is so much of it.


In many ways, it seems a bit like a city made in SimCity - there are the "Heavy Commercial" zones in the centre, with the "Heavy Residential" blocks on the wings punctuated by "Light Commercial" zones. On the outskirts there is some industry ... in fact I would be quite interested to see what SimCity makes of Brasilia's layout.

The Architecture

The highlight of Brasilia is its architecture - as the capital, it is also a bit of a monument to Brazil, and some of Oscar Niemeyer's finest works are on display here.

The National Congress, housing the houses of parliament.

The Cathedral, with some beautiful stained glass windows inside.

The Pantheon, not sure what the function is (it is mostly empty inside).

The Art Gallery, a recent addition to the city.


Before Brasilia was built, much of the area was jungle - but not Amazon type jungle, but rather something resembling the African Savannah, known as the Cerrado. With the construction of Brasila, the area was opened up, and is now the bread basket of Brazil. Much of the Cerrado is gone, but there are still a few parks in and around Brasilia that have maintained the fauna and flora. I went to the one that is easily accessible by public transport - Jardim Botanical - which is a small portion of a larger protected park (which cannot be accessed by the public).

I found it quite similar to parks I have been to in Durban - tropical, but not dense jungle like the Amazon. There is a tarred main trail, a few trails for cyclists and bikers and a hiking trail. All in all, I walked about 6 Km around the park, and apart from the vegetation, the only large fauna I came across was a troop of monkeys.

Broken Dreams?

While Brasilia seems sleek and modern, at times it also seems old, broken and badly maintained. Case in point - the Ayrton Senna Multisports Complex, which seems not to have been used for years. Also, the Memorial to the Indeginous People, seems abandoned, and the Buriti Plaza, originally designed as one of the main plazas of the city, is overgrown and badly maintained, as attested by the broken statues.

Final Thoughts

Brasilia is certainly an interesting city - and I think it was worth visiting. It does seem a bit lifeless though - I have been here over the weekend, and there does not seem to be anything happening. I flying to Rio De Janeiro from here - the cost of the airticket is actually less than the cost of the luxury bus; and takes 90 minutes instead of 20 hours.

10 February 2008

Foie Gras

I decided on the spur of the moment to treat myself to a meal in a "good" restaurant, and this particular restaurant, Carpe Diem, had Foie Gras as a pate in one of the main courses. Having read much about it (mostly the controversies) but never having had it, I decided to try it out. It is certainly no nectar of the gods, and although quite delicious when compared to other liver dishes, I frankly do not understand the fuss. Maybe I just don't have the refined palette required to enjoy such a delicacy ....