If you’re abroad and if you desperately need to talk to a French person, don’t bother going to the French embassy—business hours are typically from 8:12 a.m. to 8:16 a.m. except from Monday to Sunday. Instead, for all your wine advice and conjugation needs, go to the nearest supermarket and stand by the cheese aisle or the bread selection. You may have to wait for a little while but I guarantee you that if there are French people around, they’ll show up to shop for bread and cheese.
And here I was, buying yogurt for Mark at the Pão de Açúcar—the supermarket chain, not the tourist attraction—when I heard the familiar sound of my mother tongue. A French family was buying bread and they were very excited because they had just found pão francês.
“Look how crusty it is!”
“Oh, freshly baked too!”
And they went on and on about the crust.
French take food seriously.
There’s nothing worse than buying or ordering food and being disappointed.
“Sorry,” I said in French, my Canadian side showing because no French starts a sentence with “sorry.” “I bought this bread yesterday and trust me, it’s so humid here that it will be soggy in an hour.”
“No crust. Gone. I guarantee it.”
They thanked me profusely and asked for bread advice, which, of course, I gave because I think I tried pretty much all breads available in Rio de Janeiro—go for pão australiano for a unique bread experience.
This is one of the things I like best about travelling—first-hand experience. You can read all the books you want, chat with people and browse pictures, you won’t truly understand a place until you’ve been here.
And you discover so many interesting, useful, funny or quirky facts in the process!
Here are 10 things your guidebook probably didn’t mention about Rio de Janeiro.
Marked noticed the TV remote comes with a “futebol” button. Guess which sport matters most in Brazil? Microwaves also come with a button for pop corn, a local favourite.
With tons of hotels and restaurants, Copacabana produces a lot of waste. Garbage bags are left on the sidewalk at the end of the day, and here come the cockroaches… the giant kind too.
When it rains a lot, Copacabana floods. Water will be pumped… eventually. Just wear your Havaianas for a few hours.
And talking about Havaianas, just buy a pair or two and learn how to walk with flip-flop sandals like a true local. Havaianas are awesome—sturdy, easy to wash, fashionable and cheap.
Apartments buildings and hotels in Copacabana are old. In a way, they remind me of these stylish hotels in Buenos Aires where the lobby is the only renovated area. Unless you splurge for the Copacabana Palace—no cheap rooms on Expedia, I checked…—expect old fixtures, dripping air-con units, bad plumbing, etc.
You’ll spend a lot of time underground, riding the subway or walking through tunnels. Many neighbourhoods are nested between mountains—for example, to go from Copacabana to Botafogo, you have to take the subway or walk through the Túnel Novo (it’s safe, just dirty and noisy).
Brazil seems to want to police Rio de Janeiro. At first glance, you’ll notice a big police presence with both Polícia Militar and Polícia Civil. If you’re lucky, you can even see choppers circling over Copacabana Beach. And then after a few days, you realize that: 1) police forces are mostly in Copacabana and Ipanema, the richer neighbourhoods 2) most police cars are unmanned and just parked there for show 3) police officers just do regular police things, like chatting with their mate, drinking juice, visiting restaurants and occasionally watching the crowd with a bored expression.
The favelas are closer than you think. For instance, the street to access Cantagalo—Pavão—Pavãozinho is just off Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. I only noticed it because there were 20 unmanned police cars parked there… I don’t mean to scare anyone, I just find it interesting that low-income communities are right there and most people don’t notice them.
Ever wondered how the tiny quiosques on Avenida Atlântica, along Copacabana Beach, can produce gourmet meals? Easy—the kitchens are concealed underground!
Need to pee? Go underground! There are clean bathrooms (2.60 reais) and showers (6 reais) all along the beach. Generally speaking, Copacabana has everything you need, from free showers on the beach to high-tech digital boards you can use to take pictures (and email them to yourself), check the weather, get directions and more.