Christmas in Brazil – beaches, coconuts, rainbows, cocktails and Modernism – these are a few of Jen’s favorite things

When Christmas came around, we were in Brazil – more specifically Rio for Christmas eve and then Brasilia for Christmas.  Sounds great, right?  Hmmmm, yea, to begin with we weren’t really in the Christmas-y, festive mood and if you read our previous post of being mugged less than a week earlier, you’d understand why.

We had big plans for Rio, but all of that fell away, as we just needed to rest, recover and deal with errands (like calling insurance) following the incident.  We left the city for a couple of days to Ilha Grande, which did rejuvenate us a bit (future post pending), however, our plans brought us back to Rio just before Christmas and we weren’t feeling it.

When planning this part of the trip back in London, we originally thought Christmas on a remote island wouldn’t be fun, so let’s go back to the big city.  Yet, when we returned to Rio, we so, so wanted to be on the secluded beaches of Ilha Grande.  It particularly didn’t help that when we arrived on the 23rd, our Airbnb host wasn’t there (as thought) and we had to wait for over an hour in the arcade of his building (open to the street) with all our stuff until his son came and let us in.

Earlier in the week, we also learned that a lot of the city was going to be closed for Christmas eve (being a Catholic country).  Thus, we had to have the nice dinner we planned for the 24th on the 23rd – at the Veuve Clicquot restaurant (a cashed in birthday present of Jen from Erwan’s family).  Mmmmmm, Veuve Clicquot. . .

So with our special ‘Christmas dinner’ already behind us and in a city that still put us on edge, how were we going to celebrate Christmas Eve?  We decided, to buck up, and do like the locals.  We went to the beach.  Ipanema Beach first and then a little walk to Copacabana in the late afternoon.

Both beaches were packed!  They weren’t as lovely as our Ilha Grande.  Yet with the fresh air, the warm weather, the dramatic backdrops, the fresh coconut water, and all the fun going on around us, we too began to lighten up a bit.  It was Christmas and we were on the beach in hot, hot weather, drinking straight from coconuts!

Then came the next issue – where would we eat dinner.  Every place we investigated before was closed, so we would just have to try our luck in the area.  In the neighbourhood (we were staying in Ipanema this time around), there was one place open.  From the outside and the menu, it looked like a lively cocktail bar that also served pub food – ok, let’s try it.  When we went in, we realised that it was full of mostly good looking men and we soon realised that it was a gay bar.

Now the fact that this place was the only one open, gives us somewhat mixed feelings – firstly happy feelings, because it turned out to be great.  It had fantastic cocktails (Jen had the ‘Praia Santa’ or Santa Beach), good food, good music and a lively and fun atmosphere.

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However, it also gave us slightly sad feelings, because we realised that this bar was open on Christmas Eve because many of its patrons had nowhere else to go on a night when the average Brazilian was spending time with their family (put frankly they weren’t welcomed by their ‘loved ones’).  It is disheartening to us that in 2016, even during the holidays, people are not accepting of those they are supposed to love the most.  Yet, on the plus side, once people arrived in the bar, they seemed to have a good time – this was now their family.

After eating and of course enjoying the tasty cocktails, we headed back for a somewhat early night due to our flight the next morning.

Most people wouldn’t want to fly on Christmas Day.  We’ve done it before to fly back to the States and it’s actually a great idea to do so.  The flights are often as much as half the price and the plane is empty.  This was the case this time around too, so despite the early wake up, we got some shut eye enroute.

And unlike our host in Rio, our Airbnb host in Brasilia was there to happily greet us, despite us arriving on her doorstep at 11am on Christmas Day.  In fact, Rachel, was one of the best hosts we’ve had – super friendly and helpful (for instance researching and telling us the best hospital to go to get Erwan’s stitches out the following day) and she even cooked us a large breakfast two days later, simply because it was her birthday.

Anyway, back to Christmas Day – we’re in Brasilia and it’s time to explore!  Now for those of you who don’t know, Brasilia is a planned city designed by Lucia Costa and Oscar Niemeyer.  The city itself and the key buildings within it are considered Modernist masterpieces and they are!  Jen has wanted to visit the city since learning about it in her first year at architecture school.  The thing is Jen is an architecture dork – particularly for 20th century buildings.  However, many other people aren’t – including Erwan.  But Erwan likes to see his wife happy, so here we were. . .

After a brief time planning our route, Rachel dropped us off at the National Congress Building on her way to visit her family (again, how great is she).

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We were here!  Jen was so happy she attempted cartwheels outside the building on the esplanade.  From the photos, you’ll see that she was actually mastering the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. . .

Niemeyer’s National Congress Building!  And then his Ministry of Justice building!  And then the Palacio do Planalto (President’s office), Praca dos Tres Poderes (Three Powers Square), Panteao de Patria (a museum), Espaco Lucia Costa (a city museum), Palacio do Itamarty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Court)!  All Niemeyer!  Yay!

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We then walked up the esplanade (monumental axis), past all the original governmental department buildings to the Cathedral!

Oh the Cathedral!  One of Jen’s favorite churches in the whole wide world!

Then the science museum, the library and the theatre!

Jen went photo happy, while Erwan watched from the shade of the closest nearby tree.  Jen was elated and Erwan was happy for her.  After walking for hours in the 97 (36 celsius) degree heat, we treated ourselves to ice cream from a vendor outside the Cathedral and headed back to rest before dinner.

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There was still more to do tomorrow – including the Don Bosco Santuary (another of Jen’s favorite churches – two in one city!), the JK memorial, the Garrincha Stadium, the Ermida Dom Bosco chapel (great for sunsets) and the TV tower.  Basically while we ticked very little off our Rio to-do list, we got it all in Brasilia – much to Jen’s pleasure.

Finally, at dinner was when Erwan got his Christmas treat – a traditional Brazilian buffet dinner (they charge by the weight of your plate), with meat, meat and more meat – oh did we mention the meat?  There were options for Jen too – and she also got another fresh coconut. . .

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By the end of Christmas day, we were full, happy and content – just as it should be.  We started out the holiday feeling bad for ourselves and being a bit scared, but we ended by enjoying the beach, having good food and experiencing Modernism marvels – some of our favorite things.

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In a way, just like when Julia Andrew sang before – when the dog bites; when the bee stings; when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things – and then I don’t feel so bad.  Merry Christmas and Eu ❤ Brasilia!

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