Rio de Janeiro Reinvents for the Future

Rio de Janeiro is transforming for two major world events By: Norman Sklarewitz
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro

While Cariocas, as natives of Rio de Janeiro are known, admittedly may be more easy-going than other Brazilians, these days they are spending less time on the beach and more time working hard to ensure that Rio lives up to its reputation as Cidade Maravilhousa --“The Marvelous City.”

Evidence of their hard work is seen from one end of the sprawling metropolis to the other. Part of this burst of energy is related to the upcoming FIFA World Cup Games in 2014 when the finals will be played in Rio. Two years later the city will also host the Summer Olympic Games. The city’s public and private sectors are anxious to make sure that the tens of thousands of foreign visitors who will converge on Rio for the games will enjoy world-class facilities and its dynamic lifestyle.

Safety, something that couldn’t be taken for granted in the past, has also been improved upon. Now, it is no longer a major concern, thanks to some recent, aggressive action by local, state and national authorities.

"People can go almost anywhere they want now," said one resident.

Andre Ferreira, manager of the Bar Hotel, noted that there is a different feeling in the city these days as he frantically tried to seat another group of hip young Cariocas as they poured in for dinner even though it was close to midnight.

Referring to the city’s improved security situation, Ferreira added, “People are not afraid to go out anymore. The city has changed. As you can see, restaurants like ours are jammed.”

Reinventing Rio
Civic action, however, also extends beyond the World Cup Games and, farther down the road, the 2016 Summer Olympics. In fact, anyone who has visited Rio as recently as four or five years ago will discover plenty that’s entirely new to the local scene, including new restaurants, upgraded hotels and new attractions.

Attractions for which Rio has long been known are also getting upgrades, including the cable car that takes visitors up to Urca Hill and then continues on to the peak of the iconic Pao de Acucar -- Sugarloaf -- mountain for breathtaking views of the Guanabara Bay, the city and the Atlantic Ocean from 1,300 feet high. New Swiss-made gondolas were installed just three years ago.

The Theatro Municipal, also known as the Opera House, was closed for two years for a sweeping renovation and has now been reopened. Moving toward an opening next year (2012) is the new Museum of Sound and Image. It’s located above the Copacapana beach and is distinguished architecturally by its unique “fold-up” design.

Directly related to the coming World Cup is a massive renovation of the Maracana, the city’s major stadium. Originally built in 1950, the stadium hosted that year’s World Cup as well as the Pan American Games in 2007 and many other events in the years in-between. Now, for the 2014 World Cup, the stadium’s interior has been gutted to make way for a complete renovation that will meet international seating standards and provide special facilities for officials, VIPs and the media. When the job is done, the stadium, which held 100,000 people, will hold 85,000.

Because much of Rio is squeezed between the mountains and the ocean, land for new developments is extremely scarce. As one result, the renovation and upgrading of existing properties is the only way new rooms can be added to the city’s otherwise limited room inventory.

One example is the recently opened Hotel Santa Teresa in the artsy Santa Teresa District along with its exclusive Tereze Restaurant, which are world-class in every respect. The physical building that the property occupies was built more than a century ago as a coffee plantation. Over the years, it was converted into something of a transient hotel but deteriorated and was closed.

Two developers -- one French, the other Brazilian -- saw in the run-down property and its distinctive hillside location, the potential to make it something truly world class. Over a period of four years, the developers turned the three-story structure into a 40-room and suite, five-star hotel.

According to Nelly Pager, the young, French sales and marketing manager, the property’s bar is, by local accounts, “the most romantic bar in Rio.” Cuisine in the restaurant is the work of French chef Damien Montecer.
Shop ’till You Drop

When it comes to shopping, it can’t be said that Rio offers too many bargains. Local taxes are high, which makes imported goods more costly. Still, many visitors do head over to the World Headquarters of H. Stern, the international jeweler. Along with a chance to buy, the company offers a free guided tour of its workshop, a museum, an arts-and-crafts collection and a boutique.

Perhaps one of the most fun shopping experiences for cruise passengers is the Hippie Market in the Ipanema District. It got its name some years ago when local hippie artists hung out at a neighborhood bar and propped their paintings and handmade jewelry out on the sidewalk.

In time, the city arranged to rent them open-air booths in the adjoining park where they could display their works more attractively. That effort has expanded and, despite its name, works by some of the city’s most prominent artists, artisans and designers are sold here. The market is open each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The beaches at Copacapana and Ipanema in particular are seeing the addition of what are generally just called kiosks but are really full-service centers to accommodate visitors.  To avoid marring the view, facilities are being built underground and provide such accommodations as changing rooms, lockers, showers, restrooms and kitchens that provide fare for the beach level restaurants. In addition to food and drink, some of these little open air restaurants feature live music, more than likely, a bossa nova beat.

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