28 April 2014

Rio Lite

Niemeyer's lasting mark on Niterói
Back in the days when we still lived in New York and my husband, Mark, used to write from time to time for a travel magazine, he got it into his head one day to do an article touting the city of Niterói, a 20-minute ferry ride across Guanabara Bay from downtown Rio. He spoke of Niterói as a glittering mirror image of Rio — but much easier for a stranger to manage and negotiate than the big, bad city of Rio. He might have been just bluffing for the article, but he really wasn’t far off. Before moving to Brazil, we had once or twice taken the ferry across ourselves. The views, needless to say, are stupendous. There’s a breeze that you don’t get on city streets. It’s a way to pass a couple of hours when you’re still a tourist but you don’t want to go to the beach, you don’t want to go to another museum, you’ve already had lunch and it’s too soon for cocktails, let along dinner.

Refuge in the center of Icaraí, "our" neighborhood
There was probably not even a decent hotel in Niterói at the time that we first started to take the ferry there, if there was any hotel at all. By the time the two of us slept in Niterói we were already living in Brazil. We were going to pick someone up at the international airport in the early morning, and we thought it would probably be more efficient to sleep in Niterói after the two-hour drive in from Búzios and then just cross the bridge at first light. We believed that we had even located a proper hotel. But, despite its appearance and its discreet name (something like the Queen Victoria or the Prince of Wales), it turned out to be what the Brazilians call a motel, merely disguised as a hotel. Motel in Brazil means a place with round beds, mirrored walls and ceilings, entrance via the garage rather than a lobby in which you might run into someone you know, and rates by the hour. This motel/hotel was the only place we could find in Niterói. What did we know?

Da Carmine, our favorite DOC-pizzaria
But over the years we’ve had fun getting to know Niterói. Back in the days when we were still struggling with visa issues, it was to Niterói that we went to see our immigration lawyer. We also have friends who live in Niterói, in a big house in a vast walled condominium. When they throw a gala birthday party with endless barbecue and beer and whiskey, live music and genial company and, in addition, offer to put us up, it’s hard to say no. Most recently we’ve made Niterói our launching pad for a next day in Rio. If you live out in the sticks, as we do, there’s no way to escape the occasional foray into Rio for supply and resupply (I’ve written about that in the past), to pick guests up at the airport, to catch a plane yourself, to see an occasional medical specialist, or to plead your case with this or that bureaucracy. Niterói, with its now large supply of luxury hotels and cute pousadas is a perfect place to stay if you have to be in Rio at an early hour of the morning but you don’t want to have to get up in Búzios before the cocks have started to crow.

You can lay out a lot of money and live on Sutton Place and look out across the East River at Queens. Pleasant enough view. Or you can pay a lot less money and live in Queens and look out across the river at Manhattan, one of the world’s most coveted views. Well, the same goes for Rio. Although the view from Rio in the direction of Niterói is quite spectacular, the view from Niterói in the direction of Rio is super-spectacular. Niterói has become our Rio Lite, with plenty of places to stay at much lower rates, with less-crowded restaurants, with way fewer parking challenges, with sidewalks you can stroll on without getting bowled over, and with no see-and-be-seen pressures. A person could even live there — that is, if we didn’t have Búzios.

Back atcha, Rio!

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