Rio Baby!

Rio Baby!

» Featured Columnists | By Steve Winston | November 5, 2012 8:31 AM ET

The actual name, of course, is Rio de Janeiro (River of January). But, throughout the world, it's known, simply, as Rio. And it just may be the wildest, most colorful, most sensuous, most exciting, most delicious, most scenic swirl of urban culture and fun and food and music in the world. 
You can't speak of Rio as you'd speak of other terms of "attractions" or "museums" or "restaurants." Instead, you have to speak of Rio as its opens itself up before you...a multi-colored splash of sights, sounds, tastes, impressions, and feelings.
Rio is a collage...
There's Ipanema, for example, which first found worldwide fame in 1962, when two Brazilian musicians composed a song in honor of a beautiful young woman who used to walk by the bar at which they were drinking beer. Fifty years later, "The Girl From Ipanema" still symbolizes everything about this beach-side area...the natural beauty, the beautiful people, and the international cache.
Then there's the awesome statue of Christ the Redeemer - 125 feet tall - overseeing this metropolis of 6,000,000 from its perch atop 2,300-foot Corcovado Mountain. In a recent poll by the New 7 Wonders Foundation, based in Switzerland, this was named one of the seven modern wonders of the world. You can access it by car, elevator, escalator, or electric locomotive over the forest. And you'll never - ever - forget the view from the top.
Corcovado is not the only dramatic mountain around here, though. Sugar Loaf Mountain has been adorning technicolored postcards for nearly a century, and the ride up in the cable-car affords spectacular views of the city and boat-filled Guanabara Bay.
For green space in the middle of the city, there's gigantic Tijuca Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world, filled with waterfalls and forest.
The city itself is filled with every conceivable type of architecture, from shiny skyscraper to Victorian to Neo-Classical to Mediterranean, painted in every conceivable color of the rainbow, and characterized by distinctive neighborhoods, each with their own flavors - both culturally and culinary-ly.
To Rio residents - Cariocas - the biggest shrine in their city is probably Maracana. In the most soccer-crazed (futbol!) nation on earth, this enormous stadium is mesmerizing. Now being modernized, the Maracana is the largest stadium in the world, with a capacity of some 120,000 people. And on its hallowed pitch, Brazil has laid the foundation for the futbol glory - and passion - the nation enjoys.
Food and drink? Who among travelers doesn't know the words feijoada (a spicy mix of beans with beef or pork), caipirinhas (a strong alcoholic beverage that's more or less the national drink), or churrasco (spicy-hot meats barbecued in an open pit, and smothered by sauces that may put hair on your chest!)?
Then, of course, there's Rio's street life, best exemplified by the two big city-wide parties, at New Year's and for Carnaval (six weeks before Easter). On New Year's Eve, a few million people come out to party at the water's edge. At Carnaval, the predominant sound is that of the samba drums, and the cheers of millions of people as their favorite samba school's dancers (more than400 schools participate) pass by. This is one event where there's no invitation required - anyone, resident or guest, can just jump in and samba to their heart's (or their hips') delight. 
It's these special events, and this street life, that best characterize "The Marvelous City." It's a place where your senses come alive...and where you'll discover senses you never even knew you had. It's a place with a sub-tropical siren song all its own. 

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