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A rude awakening, and a day trip to Petropolis

Day 7: Rio de Janeiro

I sat and stared at the computer screen, completely stunned.  Unable to believe the figure in front of me, I blinked hard and looked again, secretly hoping that maybe my contact lenses were playing games with me.

They weren't.

"Shit!" I exclaimed to no one in particular.  "What's the matter?" the Israeli girl idly surfing Facebook on the PC to my right turned to see what had prompted my outburst.  She studied the online banking account balances summary on my screen for a few seconds.

"Ahh," she nodded with knowing sympathy.  "Expensive Rio, huh?"

Just a week in Rio and I had been subject to financial rape.  I had no idea how I'd manage to spend so much money.  Even worse, I had absolutely nothing to show for it.  No souvenirs for friends and family, no cool t-shirts.  Just a throbbing hangover-induced headache from last night's clubbing in Lapa.

Before setting off on my trip, I had vaguely read about how expensive Rio had become recently.  I dismissed it as rubbish.  "C'mon,' I reasoned with myself.  "It's South America.  I live in Europe.  How expensive can it really be?"

Rio was effectively just as expensive as - if not more than - London.  A bit alarmed now, I decided it was time to start thinking of leaving for less wallet-draining destinations in the country.  I had ideas of places I wanted to go to, but deliberately decided not to plot and plan a dedicated itinerary, so I could have the freedom to just go with the flow.  Besides, life in the UK tends to be so hideously organised, so regimented, so full of regulation requiring you to buy insurance to practically breathe, that I found it refreshing to have absolutely nothing planned.  Either way,  I decided I would leave Rio by Tuesday at the very latest, leaving me with today and the day after to decide on my next port of call.

I logged off online banking, left the computer room and surveyed the Sunday morning weather outside one of the hostel windows.  The ominous looking clouds I had seen earlier in the day, hugging the mountains surrounding Rio, had slowly rolled across the city, and now there was a torrential downpour.  The beach was off limits, and I was hit with the realisation that without good weather, there wasn't much else to do here.

And so I decided to go on a quick day trip to a small town up in the mountains called Petropolis.  My guide book informed me that it was a charming, mountain top retreat, popular with those from Rio de Janeiro.  Besides, it would be nice to go somewhere a bit different for a change.  I got a public bus to the Rio Bus Terminal (Novo Rio Rodoviaria), and once there, switched to a comfy, long distance coach with reclining seats, for the one and a half hour journey snaking up the mountains to Petropolis.

After pulling into Petropolis Bus Station, which was located on the outskirts of the town, I took a small local bus, which unceremoniously dumped me outside a massive park, after much gesturing and pointing at the tourist information office sign in my guide book's map to the bus driver.  The weather in Petropolis was even wetter than Rio.  This, I hadn't prepared for.  Clutching my guide book underneath my thin t-shirt, I started sprinting towards the tourist office kiosk in the middle of the park.  I was forced to slow my determined sprint into a brisk walk/jog combo when I realised the backs of my flip flops were flicking mud onto the rear of my jeans and white t-shirt.

I arrived into the tourist office panting and drenched, while the amused lady behind the desk waited for me to catch my breath.  I was the only person there.  Evidently, no one else was foolish enough to want to take in the sights and attractions of Petropolis in the midst of a tropical downpour.

After handing me a map and a bunch of detailed, verbal directions, the tour guide sent me on my way.  I darted down a mile-long street, with cars zipping past and the occasional horse-drawn carriage trotting along, turned left at the end of it, crossed the road, and took shelter underneath the entrance to an impressive cathedral.

A bit about Petropolis.  In the mid to late 1800s, the son of Emperor Dom Pedro built a palace, cathedral, and several mansions, then immigrants mainly from Germany followed in his footsteps and settled in the region.  Today, the place is home to 300,000 inhabitants.  You can definitely see the Germanic influence.  Whether it is the architecture, the canals, or the pedestrian-friendly design.  Some of it, I felt was a little over the top.  Like the European-style carriages drawn by horses that are no doubt a hit with tourists and possibly, even Brazilians from other parts of the country who may find it a bit of a novelty.
German-influenced architecture

My guide book nominated the cathedral in front of me as a top attraction.  Catedral de São Pedro de Alcântara houses the tomb of Dom Pedro and his family.  As luck would have it (or as common sense should have informed me, it being a Sunday) a service was taking place inside, which meant I couldn't wonder inside, decked in t-shirt, jeans and flip flops.

Cathedral of St. Peter

Looking at the map given to me earlier, I picked my next stop.  It was the emperor's former residence, and had been converted into a museum to preserve and showcase his and his family's life.  The rain had eased, so I spotted my window of opportunity and set off for this place.

I arrived at Museu Imperial, paid the entrance fee - more out of relief that I was now finally indoors and sheltered from the crap weather outside than a burning desire to see the layout of the emperor's reception room - stretched out as much time as possible exploring this former palatial home.

After an hour I had had enough, and jogged back to the tourist information office.  The torrential rain had subsided, replaced by a steady drizzle.

The lady I met earlier had evidently finished her shift.  There was now a guy in her place.  Late twenties, with frameless glasses, he looked like he might be a university grad that was possibly doing this as a part-time job to earn some extra cash.

"So, I've just been to the Cathedral and the Imperial Museum," I began.  "Is there anything really interesting that I could go to?"

"Well," he replied, "those are two of our biggest attractions.  You could go to Casa de Santos Dumont, which isn't too far from here".

"Is it interesting?"

"Well, it's the former house of the Brazilian inventor, Santos Dumont.  Unless you are interested in his personal belongings, it could be underwhelming".

"I see," pausing, as I studied him for a second.  "Do you like Petropolis?" I asked.

"Oh, I love Petropolis!" he replied.

I looked at him earnestly, expecting him to punctuate the end of his declaration with a sarcastic snort.

It never came.  I then realised he was being serious.  And that in the silence that engulfed us, it now looked like I was just staring.

"Yeah, it is quite nice I suppose," I hastily and insincerely offered.  "Erm, so how can I get back to the bus station?"

As the coach meandered its way back down to Rio, I thumbed through my guide book, stopping at the entry for Petropolis.  It spoke of a 'charming' hill-top city, gushed over the horses trotting around the cobblestone streets, and raved about the tree-lined canals.  

Personally, I felt the travel writer was afflicted with a serious fetish for all things German.  Don't get me wrong, it was a nice enough place, but I definitely didn't feel as though, when I arrived, that I'd stepped off the coach and had been transported into some mystic, German winter wonderland.  I could see the Germanic influences, but it felt like a Brazilian town with a German theme, rather than a model Bavarian outpost smack in the middle of tropical South America.

Still, it was nice to go somewhere a bit different, even if it was a let down.  The ride itself up there was worth it alone.  The coach wound its way through roads snaking up higher and higher in altitude.  Many times, just metres from the coach was a sheer drop that seemed to plunge downwards for as far as the eyes could see.

Scenery on the way up to Petropolis

My friends from Sao Paulo had left much earlier in the day, so after a late dinner back at the hostel, I looked outside at the dismal weather, picked up a book from my backpack, and went to sit in the common room.  I figured I would just while away time for the rest of the evening, call it an early night, and leave for Salvador some time tomorrow.  Hopefully there, I would stop haemorrhaging cash.


KiKi said...

Crazy! I can't believe Rio is as expensive as London. I guess one of the qualities you need as a backpacker is to find all of the money-saving outlets you can. Especially concerning food. Ok, cant wait to see where you go next...Be safe, take care.

Ms Beauty Soul said...

Cant wait to hear about your time in Salvador! The pound has really bombed... When I first when to Brazil in 2005 it was 5 to 1 and not its 2.5 to 1... sorry state of affairs!!!

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