Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Happy Sundays

Just before we moved here, Forbes reported that Rio ranked as the number one happiest city in the world. I wouldn't say that our cheeks exactly ache from all that smiling, but it is true that when it comes to simple pleasures Rio has plenty. Today was a typical Sunday, so I thought I'd share it:

Up at the crack of dawn as usual and we thought we'd be the early birds at Rio's Botanical Gardens. The children love exploring there, taunting the turtles, clambering rocks, creeping through tunnels of foliage, poking the cacti spikes and eating ice-lollies in the walled playground. Meanwhile, I try but fail to absorb the shapes and names of Brazil's diverse plants.

Brazilians are not generally early risers, so we were surprised at the queue for the car-park at 9am. Turns out today was an orchid festival, which meant crowds at the orchid house, but also a great little outdoor market. We picked up some orchid samples, including one with little wiggly, chocolate-scented flowers (pictured) and another that will, in the unlikely event that it survives being in my care, grow big hairy yellow blooms.

For lunch we met friends at Rio Brasa, Leblon. It's a churrascaria, which means you can gorge on as much melt-in-your-mouth Brazilian meat and trimmings as you can stomach. I'll talk more about this Brazilian institution another time, but the reason we are so especially wild about the place is that it has a kids' room upstairs, with a climbing-frame, ball-pit and smiley child minders. We actually ate in total peace which, given that we were with 5 young children, was something of a miracle. Oh yes, and the kids don't pay. Happy.

After an aimless wander around the chic Rio Design mall, just to digest, we headed home to collect the kids' buckets and spades. We live right opposite Flamengo beach, separated from the sand by a busy road and Aterro, a Burle-Marx landscaped park. In the last hour of daylight, my husband took the kids to build sandcastles and play football while I ran the 7km circuit of the park.

Aterro sweeps along the seafront from the domestic airport to the monument Estácio da opposite the Sugar Loaf. The park incorporates the Modern Art Museum, the Monument to World War 2 soldiers and the Marina de Gloria. I wouldn't go there after dark. The airport end is apparently a notorious transexuals' hang-out, and a young street kid was murdered there during carnaval. But during the daylight, especially at dawn and dusk, it is magical.

This evening the park smelled of Sunday barbecues. Groups of families and friends sat around under the trees, laughing, drinking. By the Museum a brass band was warming up. At the other end of the park a maracatu group (traditional Brazilian music) was winding down. At the Marina, couples of all colours and persuasions watched the fish jump between the sail boats. A guy in a blindfold practised the trapeze. A man flew his remote-controlled airplane in the dedicated circular area reserved for the 'sport'. Groups of old ladies sat gossiping, sitting on their folding chairs on the promenade watching the Sugar Loaf glow like a burning ember until the light faded.

When the park flood lights came on, the reluctant migration away from the beach and towards another happy Monday began.


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