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April 25, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Rio de Janeiro (part 2)

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Boa tarde (Good evening) from Rio! Last week, we left off after checking out some cool accommodations to suit any budget and visiting the incredible Brazilian beaches (here's the link). This week, we conclude our trip to South America by taking in the culture. If you're up for hitting some amazing restaurants, nightclubs and of course, visiting Rio's most popular attractions (like the famous Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain) then you'd better leave your valuables at home (Rio has a reputation for having a lot of crime) -- we are in Rio de Janeiro, baby! If you're in a hurry or have ADD (it's okay, I have it too!), there's a 5-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story. Also, be sure to check out my brother Frank's story about his trip to Florida's forgotten coast. He makes a strong case for booking a ticket now and vacationing there.

To recap from last week's story, Brazilian currency is called Real (BRL) and 1 BRL = $0.49 USD. Essentially, that means that everything in Brazil is half the price of what you'd pay in the US, which makes it my kind of country! To find current exchange rates, log on to XE.

One of the most famous statues in the world is Rio's Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). It soars over Rio atop Corcovado Mountain (Corcovado means "the hunchback"). In fact, it has just been nominated as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Here's the link to vote for it and other world wonders. I have always wanted to see this famous statue up close and in-person, so when I spotted it from afar, I got goose bumps. Then, standing two feet away from Cristo Redentor, it was everything I had imagined … and more. To get up the mountain (situated 2,330 feet above sea level) requires either a one-hour drive up the winding roads or a 20-minute cog railway ride. An adult, return ticket will cost you 35 BRL ($17.50 USD). Both routes take you through the Tijuca Rain Forest, which just happens to be the world's largest urban forest. As its name suggests, an urban forest is a collection of trees that grow within city limits. I have a fear of heights and I contemplated driving instead, but when I saw all the kids boarding and caught sight of pictures of Pope John Paul II taking the ride back in 1997, I figured, "if it's safe enough for the Pope, it's safe enough for me." The cars can hold 160 passengers and depart every 30 minutes, making a few stops along the way to drop locals off in their neighborhoods. Fortunately, the ride wasn't scary at all; for the best views, sit on the right-hand side. Once the train reaches the top, visitors can get to the statue and viewing platform one of two ways. The first option is to take an elevator, followed by an escalator ride. The second option is to climb the 216 steps to the statue. I chose to hoof it. To say that the views along the way and from the top are impressive would be an enormous understatement. The statue was built in 1931, stands 98 feet tall (not including the pedestal it sits on, which is 26 feet high) and is not to be missed. I don't care how touristy it is – it's spectacular! FYI: On the way down, I took a Jeep tour ( ) so that I could stop and see some of the sights, but with all the hairpin turns, I would opt for the cog train round-trip if I visit again.

For more spectacular views, head over to Rio's second most popular attraction, Sugarloaf Mountain. Its name is believed to refer to its likeness in shape to a mound of concentrated refined loaf sugar, which has long been a popular Brazilian export. Reaching the summit of this 1,300-foot peak requires two 3-minute cable car rides (or a serious climb coming up the back of the mountain). The trams operate every 30 minutes unless there are large crowds, in which case they run more frequently. The modern trams can hold up to 75 passengers. Even with my fear of heights, I was fine. At least, I was fine on the first leg of the journey. The first tram takes visitors up to the top of Urca Hill, which is a separate, monolithic granite and quartz rock – and at 705 feet high, it's more than half the height of Sugarloaf Mountain. Here, you'll find a visitor's center, gift shop, restaurant and even a helipad (more on this shortly). It's a 100-yard walk or so to the next tram and to get visitors to spend some money here, they don't operate the tram to Sugarloaf all that efficiently. Instead, you have to wait around for about 30 minutes. Because of the wait, I had time to think about my fear of heights and in the end, I didn't make it to the top of Sugarloaf. What a wuss, I know. But hey, I was just fine with hanging out on Urca Hill (which was high enough for me!) I began to relax as I basked in the sun's rays and took in the city views. I also learned some Sugarloaf trivia. For instance, did you know that the original Sugarloaf cable car line was built in 1912? And if the views look familiar, it might be because of a famous scene in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker, which involves the trams here and shows off the mountaintop views. For more information on Sugarloaf, check out

The helipad on Urca Hill is there to entice visitors to take a ride to get an even better view of Rio. You can take either a 6-minute helicopter tour around the statue of Christ (150 BRL) or a 12-minute flight around the city (300 BRL). To do this, there's a minimum requirement of two people per flight and no reservations are required. You can also catch the chopper from the shore of Lagoa, near Leblon. HeliSight, tel. 021/2511-2141, on weekends 021/2542-7895;

Last week I mentioned that we had a local tour guide to show us around. One of the advantages of hiring a guide is that they can take you to safe, non-tourist areas. In fact, few of the locals that I spoke to even knew that there was a trail around the base of Sugarloaf Mountain called Claudio Coutinho Trail. It goes almost completely around the mountain, hugging the Atlantic Ocean and the forest. If you go, be sure to peer closely in the trees above to spot the Mico monkeys hanging around. Open 6am to 6pm.

In a small park, close to the bottom of the road to Corcovado, is the Carmen Miranda Museum. This place is definitely not worth a visit unless you're a huge Carmen Miranda fan. My non-movie-watching old self had never even heard of her, so maybe that's why I didn't enjoy it very much. However, I learned that she's one of Rio's most famous celebrities. Born in 1909 in Portugal, Carmen moved to Rio at the age of one and went on to become a famous Hollywood star. She died in Beverly Hills at the age of 44 and was buried in Rio. The museum highlights all of this information, as well as many of her original movie gowns, bikinis, trademark hats and platform shoes (some are almost a foot high). For me, the best part about the museum is that there's no entrance fee. Open: Tuesday to Friday - 11AM to 5PM; Saturday, Sunday and holidays - 2PM to 5PM. Carmen Miranda Museum, Av. Rua Barbosa 560, Flamengo; Tel.: 55-21-2299-5586.

About a 45 minute drive from downtown Rio (but still in the city proper) is the Burle Marx Estate in Barra de Guaratiba. Roberto Burle Marx was born in São Paulo and moved to Rio at the age of four. He became internationally known as one of the most important landscape architects of the 20th century. In 1949, he bought a 365,000 square-meter banana plantation and built his home. Although it's a long drive from Rio, the estate is truly something to see. He collected plants from all over the world. There are now 3,500 different species on his property. At times, strolling the well-kept grounds, I felt as if I was on the set of Jurassic Park; it all looked so prehistoric. Some of the highlights include: a chapel built in 1681 that Roberto restored, a petrified log dating back 200 million years (almost unfathomable!), and a spooky-looking fichus tree. The property also shows off Roberto's multiple artistic qualities; he was a fine painter, sculptor, opera singer and jewelry designer. In 1985, nine years before he died, he donated his estate to a federal government cultural organization called the National Institute for Cultural Heritage. It's been open to the public ever since and the entrance fee is just 5 BRL ($2.45 USD). Reservations are required. NOTE: English-speaking guides are only available on Wednesdays and Fridays. Burle Marx Estate; Tel.: 55 21 2558-3235.

A short drive from the Burle Marx Estate is the unique Museu Casa do Pontal. It's the only folk art museum in Brazil and the two-storey building showcases more than 8,000 works. You'll find sculptures, woodcarvings and mechanized pieces. The pieces are all made from a variety of materials; aluminum, bread dough, clay, cloth, iron, sand, straw, wire and wood. A Frenchman named Jacques Van de Beuque started the collection. Van de Beuque moved to Brazil in 1944. He loved the art made by local artisans so much that he traveled around Brazil to acquire works and interview artists. Today, the works of nearly 200 folk artists from every region of Brazil are on display. The entrance fee is 20 BRL ($9.80 USD). NOTE: There's no air conditioning so you may want to avoid visiting on very hot days. Museu Casa do Pontal, Estrada do Pontal, 3295 - Recreio dos Bandeirantes ; Tel.: (21) 2490-3278.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip




Cristo From Afar




Inside Train


View From Top




Sugarloaf & Urca Hill


Getting On Tram


View From Urca Hill


Tram To Sugarloaf


Helicopter Tour


Claudio Coutinho Trail


Carmen Miranda Museum


Roberto Burle Marx


Spooky-Looking Fichus Tree




Museu Casa do Pontal


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