I spent a full afternoon downtown checking out a few museums and the main cultural centre, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil. My favorite museum was the Museu Historic Nacional (National History Museum), which provided an engaging picture of Brazil’s history and its Portugese colonial roots (tickets R8,00).
I also visited Paço Imperial, the former home of the Brazilian Mint, which has now been converted into a library, theatre, and art gallery. There were no English descriptions so I had no idea what I was looking at… but it was free entrance!
I also took my Brazilian Cooking Class downtown. We made moqueca (traditional Bahian seafood stew), farofa (toasted manioc flour mixture) with bananas, and caprinhas.
The Lapa neighborhood boasts a thriving nightlife with many bars playing samba music and partying patrons spilling out into the streets until the wee hours of the morning.
Lapa also has a couple famous landmarks, including the Arcos da Lapa (Arches of Lapa), which used to serve as an aqueduct in the 18th century to transport water to the neighboring Santa Teresa. It now operates as a bridge crossing for the famous yellow Santa Teresa trolley; however, it was under renovation when I was there. It should be back in operation by 2014.
The colorful Escadaria Selarón (Selarón’s Steps), known informally as the “Lapa Steps,” are also a popular attraction. The project began in 1990 when Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón began renovating the dilapidated steps in front of his home on whim. The work consists of 250 steps covered in 2000+ tiles collected from countries all over the world.
Santa Teresa offers some of the best views of Rio de Janeiro, and I just loved the bohemian vibe of this neighborhood. The winding cobblestone streets are lined with craft workshops, boutique stores, and beautiful 19th century manors with colorful murals adorning the walls. Many artists have made this charming neighborhood their home.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I went to Santa Teresa with some local friends for a traditional feijoada lunch at Bar do Mineiro. Feijoada is a black bean, pork and beef stew of Portugese origins. It is considered Brazil’s national dish and a popular weekend brunch meal for locals.
We ended up waiting for over 2 hours for a table, but the time was well spent drinking cold beers and snacking on pastels (empanada-like fried pastries with various fillings).
There was also plenty of free entertainment for all the waiting patrons sprawled over the streets. Musicians were playing samba as locals sang with beers in hand. We also saw some funky performance artists dancing through the streets and blocking traffic, but even the stopped taxi drivers didn’t seem to mind all that much.
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