Our Summer in Rio

A trip to the Marvelous City and the Summer Olympics

For our 20th wedding anniversary, I decided to surprise my husband with an epic trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I made all the reservations myself, only to find out with a few weeks to spare that we needed travel visas to go there. What?!? It can take months to get a visa, so in the end, the closest we got to Brazil was a closed Brazilian kiosk at the Showcase Plaza at Epcot, on a depressingly cliche last minute trip to Florida. I didn’t think we would get to go for a long time, but our fortunes changed quickly when the summer came around. The visa requirements were waived for the Summer Olympics and we knew it was our chance to go, this time with a couple of our kids tagging along.

We stayed at a beachfront hotel at Copacabana and it did not disappoint. Copacabana lives up to all the hype. The beach is gorgeous and the water there is clean. Rio citizens, known as Cariocas, love to stay active and Copacabana is everyones’ backyard. There are several miles of sugary sand with lots of volleyball and soccer nets. We would go sightseeing during the day, enjoy a Brazilian meal at night, and then hit the beach. Copacabana is teeming with night life, the best time to go out and play. The entire beach is lit up, which makes it very safe, as long as you pay attention to your surroundings. There are street performers, intricate sand sculptures, and a myriad of pick-up soccer and volleyball games to join. My boys would beg us every night to go out there so that they could play. My husband, Rinar, is fluent in Portuguese, which is helpful, but soccer really is a universal language. The median of Avenida Atlantica, which skirts Copacabana, is a prime shopping location, open nightly, with the best prices and lots of local art and tchotchkes to choose from.

Rio hit the geographical jackpot. The beaches are numerous and glorious, there are mountains minutes away with stunning views, and jungle greenery to beautify the entire landscape. As for poignant travel moments, there were so many: arriving with the Olympic athletes at the airport, the Corcovado (the famed Christ statue) on a blustery, crispy cold evening, the Lapa Arches and a rickety trolley ride, a walking tour of historic Santa Teresa, seeing famed street artist Getulio do his thing, ascending the Esadaria Selarón with its exuberant color explosion, strolling up and down Copacabana eating ice cream and soaking it all in, and watching my eight year-old, Eli, eat a chocolatey brigadiero the size of my fist.

We also took a bike tour of Copacabana, Ipanema, and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where Olympic rowing took place. As I was riding my bike down Ipanema, I just breathed in the air and let the incredible moment wash over me, inculcating the very fiber of my soul.

Uber is an absolute must in Brazil. We befriended Uber driver Rafael the first day and he practically became our personal driver. It was an acute advantage to have a husband fluent in the language, although Google Translate is an effective tool. He took us on a day trip to Petrópolis, about 90 minutes from Rio for a little mountain getaway. On the way back we stopped at the Igreja de Penha, a small Catholic cathedral that has an impressive location atop one of the many mountain pinnacles in the city. There are 365 steps to the top and the views are astounding.

For four days, we braved the third largest city in the world, São Paulo. This place is not for the timid. For some insane reason, we rented a car where Brazilians drive an inch away from crazy. The roads are mangled and practically non-sensical, but we came to visit friends and somehow made it out of there unscathed, including a day trip to a Dutch town 80 miles inland called Holambra, where there is a lucrative flower harvesting business.

Before we departed for home, we were able to witness the Olympic torch relay, which was a frenetic and unforgettable affair, the Opening Ceremony, and men’s gymnastics. Since we arrived nine days before the Olympics, the city was very safe, with a strong military presence. But the Brazilians clearly didn’t understand how to truly maximize the commercial opportunities the games provided, which was unfortunate. Still, the people were lovely and the trip unforgettable.