Trapped indoors as the rain buckets down in Rio we drew inspiration from Vicki Kellaway`s cracking piece entitled 101 reasons to love Bogota to come up with our own 101 reasons why we think Rio rocks…
1. You are never more than a few metres away from someone selling fresh coconuts. For about a quid the coconut seller will gouge a hole in it so you can drink the cold milk inside through a straw. When you`ve finished they`ll chop it into pieces and craft a natural ‘scooper’ so you can chisel out and eat the soft flesh. Yum!
2. There`s a juice bar on every corner. Cheap, tasty and means we have at least one instead of the usual none of our `five a day`.
3. Any excuse for a street party here. The cariocas are mad for it! Just found out that your wife`s been sleeping with the coconut man? Crack open the bubbly!
4. A party isn`t a party in Rio without fancy dress! Anything goes! So if you wanted that affair with the coconut man to go undetected, just pop on a mask, a hat and a bizarre outfit and you`re away!
5. Bored with the coconut seller? If you hook up with a sugar daddy, you can whip him into shape at one of the scores of outdoor Government-sponsored `gyms for the third age` which are provided free across the city.
6. These free workout parks aren`t just for oldies mind, everyone uses them from seven year olds to 70 year olds, all hours of the day (it`s not unusual to see a 10-year-old on a cross trainer type machine at 11pm), so no need to feel inhibited next to a team of beefcakes.
7. Nowhere else can sugar daddies, strapping young male models and old wrinkly men get away with parading around, even in the city centre, in nothing but a pair of Speedos! In Rio all budgie smugglers roam free.
8. Phones are used like walkie talkies. It looks kinda cool.
9. The sand on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches is like sugar, yet the beach is so huge you don`t have to pretend to be German and get down at 5am to reserve a spot with your towel… You can always find a space.
10. A day at Copacabana beach is so much more than catching rays or going for a swim. The beach is covered with dozens of football, volleyball and bat and ball courts. Everyone gets involved. Hard work in this heat mind.
11. The football skills are on another level – I saw two lads complete more than 200 keepy uppies using only their heads (surprisingly they weren`t impressed when I told them I once did 15 keepy uppies comprised of seven knee ups and eight off the right foot).
12. The waves on Copacabana and Ipanema are huge and break near the shore so even if you haven`t got a surf or boogie board you can `body surf` into shore.
13. The hawkers that stroll the length of the beach don`t hassle you… You wanna ice cream? fine. You don’t wanna ice cream? No problem.
14. Women have butt and breast implants. That`s all I’m saying.
15. If you are bored of the beach, Copacabana Fort is a great cultural escape and only a couple of quid to get in. Complete with massive canon (ooh err)
16. Sugar daddy – in need of somewhere to take your young lover? Head down to Aproador to see the sunset over the Two Brothers mountain. Bit lovey, dovey coupley, but beautiful.
17. Just when you think you`ve seen one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the world at Copacabana you stumble upon Ipanema which is just, if not more, breathtaking.
18. You can hanglide down to Ipanema. Awesome views.
19. Less than a kilometre from Ipanema is the enormous Lake Rodrigo De Freitas where you can pilot a swan pedalo and enjoy an awesome susnet (well Phil can pedal away furiously and Sophie can enjoy the sunset!)
20. The Metro is safe, regular, convenient and nowhere near as busy as the tube in London.
21. There`s one flat fee for both buses and the Metro. No matter how far you travel it’ll cost you about a pound – cheap and easy.
22. Taxis are easy to flag down, safe and in our experience the drivers are honest and work off a meter.
23. Academia de Cachaça. The sugar cane-based spirit cachaça is massive in Brazil and with more than 20 different types, the Academy de Cachaça restaurant is the place to sample it… Not that we remember much…
24. Caipirinhas – Our new favourite cocktail. Made from crushed limes, sugar, crushed ice and cachaça. It is the perfect way to relax and cool down on a hot Rio day.
25. Pão de queijo – cheese balls. Ok so they don`t sound particularly exciting, granted, but they`re a Brazilian speciality. Pretty much what they say they are on the tin – light, warm cheese bread balls. A delicious, cheap snack.
26. Feijoada – Like the Sunday Roast to the Brits or the curry to the Indians, this is the Brazilians’ national dish and it`s a cracker. Bits of pork and sausage in a rich, dark, black bean sauce, served with rice and manioc crumbs.
27. Churros – Ok so it`s technically a Spanish food, but they sell them everywhere here and they are bloody lovely. If you haven`t heard of churros they are hot strips of dough with a warm cinamon/toffee sauce squirted in. Bootiful Bernhard.
28. Meat skewers on the street – sticking with the food theme, they are cheaper and a lot tastier than a Big Mac and fries (not that a Big Mac and fries doesn’t have its place!)
29. The huge modern cathedral in the city centre – Like nothing we`ve ever seen before. It looks like a dalek, and it`s not everyone`s cup of tea. Perhaps not surprisingly wasn`t popular when it was first built, but now the locals love it (apparently) and it`s a real spectacle when changing colour at night.
30. The fact that the statue of Christ (Corcovado) pops into view through gaps in high rise buildings at hundreds of different points around the city. Like a calming, ethereal presence watching over the bedlam below.
31. The fact there`s a ‘Christ Cam’ at the station where you catch the tram up to see Christ on the hill that shows what the view is like at the top.
32. The impressive sand art at Copacabana beach. Creations are made using sand, water and glue to survive strong winds and torrential rain.
33. The reassuring fact that it would take the weight of 27 buses to snap the cable that carries you up to the summit of Sugarloaf mountain.
34. The incredible 360 degree panoramic views from the top of Sugarloaf mountain that take in Copacabana, Ipanema, Flamengo, Niteroi, Botafogo and the city centre.
35. The wondefully relaxed, Bohemian atmosphere of Santa Teresa.
36. Porcão Rios Restaurant in Flamengo. Described as one of the best five eateries in Rio it`s incredible on every level. As you take in sweeping views across Flamengo bay, friendly waiters carve a dozen different cuts of beef onto your plate. There`s an incredible buffet and you can also try ostrich and chicken heart!
37. The Rio Scenarium nightclub. It has only been open for five years, but already it`s a city institution. Spanning three levels it`s full of film-related artefacts. There`s incredible live music and some truly impressive samba dancing on the floor!
38. Lapa on a Friday night. Literally thousands come to hang out here at the weekend. It`s fun and lively and it`s where you can see a three foot midget punch a 6ft 3 in transvestite square in the face!
39. The theme park roller coaster-esque trip on the tram to Santa Teresa. It`s an experience adrenaline junkies won`t forget.
40. There is a little cafe in Santa Teresa which serves the best chocolate and nut brownie style cake we`ve ever tasted… warm, crumbly and lovely, complete with dollop of creamy ice cream. We`ll have four please waiter.
41. The amazing multi-coloured tiled steps between Lapa and Santa Teresa. Started by a Chilean artist four years ago, they incorporates tiles from around the world and are are still a work in progress.
42. The fact that a guy can walk around the streets of Rio in a vest and not look out of place (many Cariocas take it to the next level and roll their vests up to expose their bellies…)
43. Per kilo restaurants. These things are everywhere. Effectively an all you can eat buffet, but the amount you pay is based on the weight of food on your plate. ie the heavier your plate the more you pay. A great idea that encourages you not to pig out in contrast to when you pay a flat fee for a traditional all you can eat buffet.
44. Flamengo Park – complete with palm trees, football pitches, running / cycle track and scores of cats!
45. Flamengo Beach – None of the hullaballo of Copacabana and Ipanema but still beautiful and with smaller waves.
46. That people dress their dogs up in garlands for carnaval.
47. The Hippie Market in Ipanema on Sunday mornings. None of your usual market tat, only ornate, intricate handicrafts on show here.
48. The fact that streets are named after a person or an event and their signs give little descriptions of who or what the name refers to.
49. Walkways feature beautiful mosaic patterns – much more interesting than dirty concrete slabs.
50. Centro de Cultura Banco do Brasil – a wonderful free cultural centre in the heart of the city that was hosting a fantastic Escher exhibition when we visited.
51. The Engineers Club where, if you hook up with a local in the know, you can enjoy some fantastic free Portugeuse guitar-based music throughout March.
52. The turtles pond at the botanical gardens. Any animal that spends 90 per cent of its day doing nothing has got to be admired… no, just me?
53. All the flora and fauna in the botanical gardens, especially the Japanese garden and the avenue of palms – it`s the world`s biggest urban forest, apparently.
54. That to make friends with someone from Rio all you have to do is name a Premiership football team and you are buds for life.
55. The incredible carnaval floats at the sambadrome, some of which are basically small theme park rides.
56. The incredible carnaval costumes at the sambadrome. Big, bold and brash.
57. The incredible carnaval dancing at the sambadroma. Off the scale.
58. The amazing energy of the locals at the sambadrome and throughout carnaval. They will happily dance all night.
59. That they tried to get us involved in the non-stop singathon during carnaval by playing Beatles songs – if only we knew all the words to Eleanor Rigby we`d have been heroes.
60. Bloca parties – there are hundreds of these street parties during carnaval where people form a giant train behind a truck blasting out samba music.
61. That no one really gives a monkeys when it rains.
62. That you can buy a can of ice cold beer on the street for 80p and they`ll even give you a couple of plastic cups so you can share it between a couple of people. Very civilised.
63. That during carnaval the party literally doesn’t stop for a week. There is always something going on somewhere.
64. Take the tube during carnaval time and you`ll be surrounded by nothing but people wearing outrageous costumes.
65. If they speak a few words of English the locals are only too keen to give it a go.
66. The helpfulness of cariocas. At least half a dozen times when we got lost we were helped immensely by kind locals.
67. The ferry across to Niterói. A lovely trip that gives beautiful views of the bay.
68. The fort at Niterói. At nearly 500 years old it is the oldest fort in the country, now used as an army training base.
69. That Sophie and I never felt intimidated or threatened and weren`t robbed.
70. That people take to the streets to protest about inequalities in society. We saw at least three protests in Rio.
71. That the press is free and reports things openly and graphically.
72. The former Presidential Palace in Flamengo – See the room where President Vargas shot himself, featuring the shirt he was wearing at the time, complete with bullet hole and blood stain.
73. That to reach Rocinha favela you have to cling on to a dodgy looking fat guy who rides a motorbike like he has a deathwish… scary, but lots of fun!
74. That all the people we met in Rocinha were friendly and welcoming.
75. That the Football World Cup and Olympic Games are coming here in the next five years.
76. The weekly Couchsurfers gathering on Copacabana beach that attracts hundreds of interesting people from around the globe.
77. Rio’s art. From street market displays, cool graffiti and galleries to a scheme where young favela kids are given free classes if they attend school – the city is buzzing with talent.
78. The architecture, combining cutting-edge modern high-rise blocks with charming, ornate, colourful colonial buildings nestled in between.
79. The gigantic draft beer towers which diners leisurely help themselves from over a lazy lunch (we saw two grannies get through three litres by the time we`d finished our pizza)
80. There is ripe, juicy fruit available everywhere – the mango here is the sweetest we’ve ever tasted.
81. Samba dancing, which we’ve yet to get close to mastering. But the locals love trying to teach you!
82. Men are respectful towards women – none of the wolf-whistling and loud caterwauling in the street that can happen elsewhere.
83. Women on the beaches aren’t all bronzed, toned goddesses. In Rio it’s not the bikini you wear, it’s how you wear it.
84. That the pedestrian crossings have a helpful ‘countdown’ facility!
85. The custom-made stone tables and chairs in the parks where little old men shelter from the sun while enjoying a game of chess or cards. There’s a lovely sense of community here, even in such a sprawling city.
86. The double-take-worthy street statues at pedestrian level everywhere – they love these!
87. That in Sao Salvador square, in Flamengo, families chat, play and dance together until the wee small hours, kids and all.
88. The tiny watch shop in Flamengo that fixed Phil’s watch. Expertly run by two friendly brothers from an impossibly small studio.
89. That women getting their hair highlighted pop out of the salon, foils intact, to have a chat to their friends on the street.
90. That flower shops in the squares stay open until gone 11pm.
91. Havaiana flip flops. Endless colour and pattern possibilities of this comfy, laid-back footwear that adorns the feet of people from all walks of life.
Plus they’re cheaper than in England – bonus!
92. The little dude that goes parasailing over your heads on Copacabana beach now and again.
93. The amount of little street stores that sell toilet seats. Bizarre but funny!
94. The amazing-looking and tasting cakes adorning the window displays of every bakery.
95. That avenues are tree-lined.
96. That a samba school had a tribute to Chicken Run in this year’s parade.
97. Any city that’s been immortalised in song by Duran Duran, Barry Manilow and Astrud Gilberto has got to be cool.
98. Globos – tasty cheap corn snacks that give Monster Munch a run for their money.
99. That popcorn out here comes in THREE flavours – caramel, bacon or cheese. For all your culinary palates.
100. The Maracana stadium.
101. Tania Prada. The loveliest, most inspiring host we may have all trip.