Sights and Sounds of Rio

The tropical city of Rio de Janeiro is surrounded by soft, sandy beaches and is lined with palm trees, lush greenery and flaming hibiscus. As I traveled by taxi to my hotel on a weekday afternoon, I saw thousands of the city's inhabitants, called cariocas enjoying the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

The ocean plays a dominant role in the recreational life of the people. This Brazilian Riviera pulses with the spirit of the people and the sea.

Copacabana beach
Copacabana beach | Larger

Unlike South Florida beaches which tend to quiet down in the evenings, the beaches in Rio seem to go nonstop with the people playing volleyball under the lights at the water's edge long past sunset.

I stayed at the plush Copacabana Palace Hotel across the street from the Copacabana Beach where the sounds of music in additional to volleyball could be heard throughout the evening. This is the address for presidents and statesman. Former President Clinton was one its recent guests. The marble lobby was graced by glistening chandeliers and marble floors.

Copacabana Palace Hotel
Copacabana Palace Hotel

The city of 10 million people is bounded on the South by the Atlantic Ocean; to the east by Guanabara Bay; on the west by Sepetiba Bay and the north by mountains. The skyline of the city is dramatic with the mountains jutting high above the seas and there are several tourist attractions which take visitors to the highest points for a look at the bustling city below.

Sugarloaf mountain
Sugar loaf mountain

One of the most popular mountains is the Sugar Loaf. The name is presumed to have been given to the mountain because of its shape which resembles an old cone of sugar. Visitors travel to the top of the mountain by cable car.

There are very few orchestras that have not played "The Girl From Ipanema," written and recorded in Rio in the 60s and still played by musicians around the world. The Brazilians are quite proud of their beaches and the Garota de Ipanema Bar in Rio where the song was composed by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Morais. The bar still has a copy of the lyrics on the wall.

Brazilians love music, whether for listening or dancing and there are more than 82 dance clubs. I visited the Arco da Velha Club which featured a Brazilian review with dancers wearing lavish costumes similar to those worn at Carnival time. Carnival in Rio, usually takes place in late February or early March and features masked balls, flamboyant vying bands, colorful costumes, samba concerts and samba schools dancing the beat of blaring bands.

Steak on the grill
Steak on the grilll | Larger

The serving of a variety of meats at the table is a popular concept in Brazil. The country is the world's largest meat producer. Many restaurants in Rio served more than 10 different varieties of meat along with numerous side dishes, salads, beans, manioc flour and rice. Many Brazilian steakhouses in America have adopted this tradition.

The Jewish community of Rio numbers approximately 40,000. There is a Jewish Museum which has an interesting collection of Jewish artifacts from Eastern European and Sephardic communities. It is located at Rua Tenete Passola 8 (at the corner of Henrique Valladares) in the historic synagogue, Grande Templo Israelita.

Grand Templo Israelita Synagogue
Grand Templo Israelita
| Larger

The Grande Templo Israelita Synagogue was one of the first synagogues in Rio, but when the Jewish community became more prosperous, it left the old neighborhood where the synagogue was located and moved to Copacabana. Completed in 1935 and renovated in 1985, the Grande Templo Israelita Synagogue boasts a grand archway topped by five smaller arches with a mosaic depiction of Jewish life at the apex of the structure.

For those who would like to attend religious services, members will welcome guests at Shabbat services. Most of the service is in Hebrew and the balance is in Portuguese. There are several synagogues in Rio, but visitors may have a difficult time finding someone who speaks English. Check with the concierge at your hotel for the closest synagogue in the area.

Christ the Redeemer statue
Christ the Redeemer statue

The largest concentration of Jewish institutions are located in the Copacabana area. Botofango is another important Jewish neighborhood.

Watching over the city atop of the Corcovado Mountain is a massive statue of Christ, called "Christ the Redeemer."

It is said to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the most popular tourist attractions.

Varig Brazilian Airlines has daily flights to Rio from Miami. The flight attendants were friendly and the airplane was clean and comfortable.

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