Like the rest of the country, Larchmont will have survived a turbulent year, and here’s one spectacular way to put it all behind us: Plan ahead for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve.
Drinking champagne on a beach in Rio de Janeiro at midnight is a way to distract, celebrate, or drown our portfolio sorrows at an exotic destination. The December 31 party, Réveillon, is for the rich and the rest of us, tourists as well as the Rio locals, known as Cariocas. The excitement runs along the crescent stretch of the Copacabana and Ipanema strands at the Atlantic shoreline, with crowds dressed in snowy white as far as the eye can see.
It’s good luck to dress in white and also to give homage to Lemenjá, Goddess of the Sea. Offerings of candles, flowers, jewelry and rice are sent off to her in a boat in gratitude for past favors and the hope that she will shower her blessings in the year to come. Imagine fireworks, bright-lit cruise ships, candlelight and bonfires everywhere so bright that midnight here seems no darker than early dawn. No need to book a fancy dinner or wear a tuxedo, the celebration is free, so just put on a pair of sandals and join the two million people who find this an exciting way to ring in the new year.
And while you’re in Rio, check out the sights in this stunningly beautiful city, beginning with the iconic Christ the Redeemer (at left). The statue soars 124 feet into the sky and is the ubiquitous and proud symbol of the city. Its base is reachable by car or a quirky train, and at the foot of the statue, there are 360 degree views of the city from its observation deck.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, another high altitude marvel, involves a Swiss-type funicular ride between a duo of mountain peaks. From its highest peak, at an altitude of 1300 feet, the views are most impressive at sunset, when the sky shades into dusk and the waters below reflect the sparkle of the lights of the city.
The San Sebastian Cathedral provides a spiritual experience. Forget every other church you’ve visited–this one’s a modern skyscraper over 300 feet tall, which can seat 20,000 and requires loudspeakers for its sermons. It ‘s decorated with floor-to-sky-high stained glass windows that change the church’s interior light from yellow to red as the sun moves east to west.
Shopping? Bargains are found at the Hippie Market at the General Osório Square, where every Sunday, vendors display their abundant, miscellaneous stuff, especially leather goods, which are Rio’s best buy. For higher-end shopping there’s Visconde De Piraja and also Anibal De Mandonça, on an adjacent side street. Both are a two blocks from Ipanema Beach and are recommended retailers, but there are many more selling quality goods.
There is absolutely no imperative to buy a thing at H. Stern, the jewelry store that seems to have more outlets than Starbucks. The tour at the factory/store is an hour long. It’s fun to see the raw chunks made into faceted, glimmering sparklers, and to take home a little souvenir. (It’s possible to take home a teardrop topaz or other semi-precious charm, ready to hang from a necklace, for only $99.)
Rio’s Maracana Stadium is the largest soccer stadium in the world, and is open to visitors on days there is no game. This includes a tour of the locker room, a chance to buy jerseys at the gift shop, or to buy tickets to a weekend game.
Lunches are the big meal here; try Marius for typical Brazilian fare with its emphasis on meat carved at your table, the seafood at Azul Marinho, or the splendid buffet at the Caesar Park Ipanema Hotel. The historic, Confeitaria Colombo is a confectionary shop perfect for a coffee break. It pulls you back into nineteenth century Rio, with its ornate jacaranda-framed mirrors and art nouveau ambience.
A word of caution about Rio’s shadowy side: although the majority of visitors have a carefree time on its streets and beaches, occasional muggings are a problem. One look at the downtown area, with its marvelous buildings defaced by graffiti, another look at the favelas, Rio’s hillside slums, will remind you not to carry your expensive camera equipment or other tempting items in prominent view. Still, it’s comforting to know that police are everywhere, as ubiquitous as rubber flip-flops, which you’ll be wearing here around the clock. With your t-shirt and bathing suit, it’s about as formal as you’ll want to be, even on New Year’s Eve.
Contact: Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau:
Marlene Fanta Shyer writes for adults and children – and sometimes about Larchmont, where she lived for many years.