Saturday, September 19, 2015

14th - Santa Teresa

Since I came back from Rio work has been absolutely non-stop madness and I've hardly found any time to write. But things seem to be finally calming down just a tiny bit, so here's at long last the first real post on our unbelievably good trip to amazing Brazil.

We did a lot. Saw a lot. And I took tons of pics. So I've decided the easiest way to organize my memories will be to write about each different neighbourhood we visited. And the very first one we saw and got to know? Santa Teresa!

That gorgeous view in that pic above deserves special mention. When looking for places to stay at, I found this one, Casa 48. Frankly, all I could think about after looking at Casa 48's photos was that view! They were stunning, and people spoke great about the place. The only caveat: it sat at the entrance of a favela. Since the owner assured on the website this was a very peaceful favela, and since I couldn't envision an anniversary without those views, I went ahead and booked a small studio. 

Now, getting to Casa 48 had its own... charm? Santa Teresa is atop a hill, and Casa 48 was pretty much at the most remote part of the neighbourhood. The cab had to leave us on a main road nearby, and then we still had to walk up a narrow path. The area didn't look too bad, but it definitely didn't look remotely upscale. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. But then, we got there. And we were shown to our studio. And then I saw the terrace. Our own private terrace! And that the photos on the website were as true to reality as a picture can get - it was absolutely breathtaking! If there was a perfect way to begin a trip, this had to be it! I mean, even the bathroom wall had a window-like opening so you could see the view while showering! 

Ours was a private studio, but breakfast was at a common area in the upper floor, with a balcony and more extraordinary views. I was so surprised by Rio's incredible location: hills, jungle, lagoons, sea, beaches... And good coffee. Very appreciated by us, having arrived in an overnight flight.

Now that I'm done raving about the views from Casa 48, let's get back to Santa Teresa. This is an old neighbourhood, founded some 250 years ago and, at some point, it was one wealthy part of town. Then times changed and it stopped being an upper-class area, but it's been recently re-appropriated as an artistic neighbourhood. A very nice combination of old houses, art, a tram (called bonde, and doing just a very short stretch since an accident some years ago), restaurants...

In one of our walks we visited the Parque das Ruinas (the Ruins Park). Here stand the ruins of the house of a patron of Rio's Belle Époque. The house is interesting, but the views from there are much more! You can practically spot all of Rio's neighbourhoods from up here!

We also had to have a walk through the favela below us. On one hand, we were repeatedly assured this posed no danger at all. On the other hand, why not visit one? And finally, it provided a very good shortcut to get to another part of the city below. And I have to admit, this was a nice walk downhill through steps and vegetation, with friendly people around, more birds flying above us, and one excellent way of shaking off stereotypes about what favelas are.

By the way, and before I forget, this was the entrance to Casa 48. We had been instructed to walk straight until we hit the house with the graffiti. It sure was not hard to miss!

Fortunately, it was not all "seeing" here. There was also eating to be done! And so good! One of the best pizzas we had ever had. Super thin. Super tasty. And traditional Brazilian fare like moqueca, which is a stew with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander, palm oil... It's from the sate of Bahia, and though it's usually made with fish, this one was vegan, with plantain! Loved it! 

This was also the first time I got to try caipirinhas, a mix of cachaça (a Brazilian eau de vie), cane sugar and lime. Very tasty. Very strong. I had one and, as much as I liked it, one was more than enough!

And sure enough, there was also a samba night in the neighbourhood! At a very old building (a sort of mansion?), with a bookshop that apparently only opened at night or during parties, with more Brazilian food, more cachaça, sweets from the state of Bahia, and a number of songs I had heard many many years ago. What a perfect combination!  

I really liked this neighbourhood. But my best memories will undoubtedly be the views. We had them every morning, every night... Birds, kites, sunsets, sunrises, city lights, the sea... And a good cup of coffee the very last morning we spent at this magic place.

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