Her name was Rio and she dances on the sand,
Just like that river twisting through a dusty land,
And when she shines she really shows you all she can,
Oh Rio Rio dance across the Rio Grande!
Has ever a song introduced a city better? Long, lazy stretches of sun-drenched sand, looked over by a sprawling city that at its peak has one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, Christ the Redeemer.
And stand down 80s music fans. I know that Duran Duran weren’t actually singing about Brazil (and their hit Rio was actually something of a ballad to the USA, with Rio Grande referring to the river in Colorado). But I’m going to ask for your support in allowing Simon Le Bon and company to introduce one city and one huge, rich and diverse country that is going to get a lot of attention this year. I’m talking about you Brazil!
Firstly, let’s get football fever out of the way, which is something most people won’t be saying this year – at least not until their team is knocked out anyway. Rio de Janeiro and eleven other cities will be the focus of all football fans when the World Cup kicks off in June. Brazil is getting ready to welcome the 32 competing teams and an estimated 600,000 fans from around the world in what is only the second time in 50 years that the competition has been hosted in South America. There is little doubt, therefore, that the streets, bars and beaches of all the cities and towns in Brazil will have a carnival atmosphere during the competition, not least because Brazil is the favourite to take the trophy (again… sigh).
Speaking of carnivals, if football’s not your thing but partying is, then get ready to don sequins and shake your money maker in early 2014 by visiting Brazil for Mardi Gras. Most of the country’s cities will host traffic-stopping carnival celebrations including street parades, live music and samba dancing. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo will have arguably the biggest parties, and festivities in the northeast will look very different with the Bahia-style of carnival drawing strong influence from Brazilian-African heritage and music. Celebrations begin on February 28th in 2014 and will go on until the following week, ending the night before Ash Wednesday.
Now let’s take a closer look at the lesser known but equally exciting and colourful World Cup host cities. The country’s capital – and now home to a newly refurbished sports stadium – Brasilia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its abundance of modernist architecture. It is of course also home to the Brazilian President, the federal government and the country’s Supreme Court, which is definitely one of the city’s architectural highlights as well as the famous Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge.
credit: Josa Jr
Heading towards the coast, Belo Horizonte promises a ‘beautiful horizon’, the meaning of its name, but the city is perhaps more famous in Brazil for being its ‘capital of pubs’. Every year, hungry visitors flock to the Comida di Buteco competition, which aims to find the very best pub grub being served by the city’s many neighbourhood bars, but don’t expect an English roast or hotdogs – this is a celebration of local flavours! Belo Horizonte is also the home of cachaça , a famous liquor made from sugarcane, essential for the most Brazilian of cocktails, a caipirinha.
Further up the coast is Salvador – or São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, as it used to be called – a city also referred to as Brazil’s ‘capital of happiness’. Salvador is the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture, the home of Capoeira and is also where you’ll find some of Brazil’s most-loved foods, strongly influenced by West African flavours, like acarajé or ‘akara’ as it is known in Nigeria, where it’s believed to originate. But I recommend you don’t get preoccupied with too much food and culture, because the city is home to an astonishing 50 miles of beaches and has some of the best surfing spots in Brazil.
credit: Danielle Pereira
One of the World Cup’s most northern host cities is Natal, which charmingly means Christmas in Portuguese. Often overlooked by tourists to Brazil, Natal is well worth taking a closer look at thanks to a reputation as one of the safest cities in Brazil and because of the Via Costeira, a scenic coastal highway that provides easy access to Natal’s beautiful urban beaches. Its location also means it has year long sunshine and warm tropical temperatures, with November to April being the hottest months.
And finally I want to highlight Manaus, or ‘the Heart of the Amazon’, the world’s second longest river runs right through this inland city, and it’s the most populous settlement in the Amazon. Despite its distance from the other host cities, I think Manaus is a very special destination because of its legacy as an established eco-tourist haven and a fascinating history from European colony in the seventeenth century to the centre of Brazil’s booming rubber industry in the late 1800s. Needless to say, you should head to Manaus if exploring the Amazon Rainforest is on your bucket list and even in the city you can see a wide range of varied plant and wildlife, including the endangered pied tamarind monkey.
So there you have it, my quick overview of why the World Cup is going to make 2014 Brazil’s year, along with just a snapshot – actually a torn off, teensy little corner of a snapshot – of what there is to enjoy in this vibrant and diverse country. I’ve not even touched the sides of how much Brazil can offer, so perhaps you’d like to share your best Brazil travel tips and suggestions?
Turns out I can’t not wade in with some predictions for 2014. I’m a bit of a list lover and New Year’s the perfect opportunity to add mine to the myriad floating around (everything from ‘Best Put Down’ to ‘Worst Selfie’). Stick to what you know I say, so here’s where I predict you should be travelling to in 2014.
If you live in the great city of Glasgow, you’ll probably have completely forgotten that from July 23rd to August 3rd 2014 it’s playing host to The Commonwealth Games. The preparations seem to have gone on forever. But, as a visitor, I predict the results will be something quite spectacular. Apart from the games themselves, the architecture that’s been born off the back of them is stunning. Plus you get to stay in one of the most hospitable cities in the UK, and since the games finish on the 3rd of August there’s hardly any good reason I can see, why you wouldn’t just head off to Edinburgh for The Edinburgh International Festival (first two weeks in August).
Sticking with sport and Scotland, The Ryder Cup is being held at Gleneagles in Perth from September 25th to 28th 2014. This is the first time Scotland has hosted this internationally renowned golfing challenge since 1973, so it’s a bit of a thing. ‘Bit of a thing’ barely begins to describe Perthshire, so even if you’re a Golf Widow (or widower) there’s lots to keep you interested. Perthshire’s home to Glamis Castle and the lovely city of Perth itself. It’s also for children who don’t want to hang around working out the difference between a Birdie and an Eagle. And for foodies, it’s arguably the best place in Scotland to be.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A slightly more exotic sporting location than Scotland (not if you’re Brazilian, obviously), Rio de Janeiro is just one of Brazil’s cities hosting FIFA World Cup 2014 matches between June 12th and July 14th 2014. But I’m giving it a shout out, because not only is it lovely and huge and sometimes very strange, it’s also where I like to think I’ll spend New Year 2015. With upwards of 2 million people on Copacabana Beach. Watching an outstanding firework display. Setting sail my small, white paper boat filled with offerings to the Goddess of Water. And then partying until I can party no more – don’t worry you’ll have got over your recent New Year fatigue by then.
There’s only one constant about Iceland’s landscape: it will be inconsistent with anything you ever expected. It’s made ‘mythical land’ appearances in movies like Thor and Prometheus and features heavily in Game of Thrones (visit and you’ll see why), but Ben Stiller’s 2013 ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, Iceland is itself – as well as Afghanistan, The Himalayas and Greenland. This gives you an idea of the diversity of a country where even the capital Reykjavik is more charming, imagined, Nordic fishing port than major city. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ might not have been wholly loved by the critics but no one failed to say how gorgeous it looked.
Sometimes rugged, often challenging and unfailingly charming, Yorkshire is the Grand Depart for 2014’s Tour de France. Leeds is where it all starts and this lively, beautiful restored Northern England city couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to another lovely part of the UK.
The Seychelles, South West Indian Ocean
One of the most special and breath taking places to visit, The Seychelles are known for beautiful beaches and the type of sea people can’t resist calling ‘azure’. They’re also a truly unspoiled environment. And since 2014 is The Year of Small Island Developing States, I’m hinting it might be the time to go see before everyone else does.
In 2014, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is up for a slew of design awards and it’s a worthy contender. But, stunning as the museum is, it’s not all that’s happening designwise in Amsterdam this year. The Centraal Station construction is on-going and avant-garde cafes and bars are all over and Noord-District is home to really exciting and brave development. But, if you hanker after a touch of the traditional with your design, I think this is the year you should visit before the city’s Red Light District is completely consumed by the new.
2014 is the centenary of the start of WW1, the war they said would end all wars, but sadly didn’t. With its chaos and vast loss of life WW1 is seen as an end to innocence. The experience of visiting the battlefield sites at Ypres, Passchendaele and Tyne-Cot are often mistaken as exclusively adult, but in France and Belgium a visit is regularly included in the school year. This year, Belgium commemorates the centenary everywhere and events range from small and personal to international. If you haven’t visited the WW1 battlefield sites, you’ll be moved and fascinated.
credit: Martin Kauffman
If you’ve ever heard or seen René Redzepi, founder of Noma, interviewed you won’t have failed to be charmed by his humour, passion and generosity. So this year I predict Copenhagen is worth a visit to eat at ‘Amass’, former Noma’ Head Chef, Matthew Orlando’s new restaurant. It’s already a design hot ticket and the food holds true to a style that’s distinctly contemporary Danish.
It might seem as if Louvre Galleries are springing up everywhere at the moment, but the one I think is hottest is almost on home territory in Lens, Pas-de Calais (you could almost twin with my Belgium prediction). The Louvre, Lens is an incredible exhibition space extending the Louvre, Paris’ programme of allowing works to be seen (often for the first time) by wider audiences. The building’s superb glass and metal structure is very fluid and light and includes a unique underground area where the public can see work in storage and watch restoration projects.
I could go on and on, but 10’s traditional for New Year lists. Hopefully it’s more inspirational than some you’ve seen so far.
If you have a penchant for rocking around the Christmas tree in a beautiful city lit up with festive glow and Christmas lights, this is the post for you. We’ve gathered ten of the best urban Christmas trees already shining brightly as this festive season begins. Which one would you like to go to first?
Rockerfeller Center, New York City, USA
Let’s kick off with a king of Christmas trees. Already up before Thanksgiving turkeys were on the table, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is almost as much of an institution as Christmas itself. With an ice skating rink at its foot and accompanying decorations as far as the eye can see, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller is a must see if you find yourself in New York at this time of year.
Trafalgar Square, London, UK
Creeping up behind NYC with its Christmas tree traditions, is London, a city full of beautiful trees. However, the Norwegian spruce that is donated to London by Norway in a tradition that began in 1947 is considered the city’s centrepiece. It will be revealed on 5th December and you can head there to enjoy carols being sung under the tree every evening from 9th – 22nd December 2013.
Galleries Lafayette, Paris, France
Arguably Paris‘s most famous Christmas tree is housed in the centre of the glamorous Galleries Lafayette department store. It has already been on show since early November and this year’s tree was a collaboration with watch brand Swatch, with time being the main theme. Suspended from the store’s famous art deco dome, the animated tree is decorated with pink flowers and a fairy tale village scene at its base. Stay for long enough to see the characters and tree come alive on the hour, every hour.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
Stood in front of the symbolic Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s Christmas tree is uncomplicatedly decorated but still beautifully drenched in light. While the city is flooded with Christmas trees standing along the many miles of the city’s Christmas markets, the Christmas tree at Brandenburg Gate is where most people gather for quiet reflection during the holiday season, oh and for the not so quiet fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
One of Europe’s most popular spots for gothic winter wonderland scenes, the Christmas tree that stands in Prague‘s Old Town Square comes from the Krkonose Mountains in the north of the country and can be admired every night while you eat and drink treats from the Christmas market also held here.
Terreiro do Paço, Lisbon, Portugal
There’s not a pine needle in sight with Lisbon’s giant Christmas tree, a structure made out of metal and lights. Fireworks were set off as the tree was lit for the first time last weekend, but with giant red baubles and the sparkle of hundreds of fairy lights bouncing off the marble mosaic floor, Lisbon’s main town square will be lit up for the remainder of the festive season.
Floating Christmas Tree, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro got into the Guinness Book of Records with their giant floating Christmas tree, and every year in Brazil Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Currently found floating on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the huge tree is lit up with over 3 million light bulbs and this year will also be moved to different locations in the city so as many people as possible can gawk at it.
Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Thousands of Catholics descend on the Vatican City in Rome for Christmas and the tree that stands in the centre of St Peter’s Square is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Traditionally the Vatican’s Christmas tree is donated by a region or city in Europe and this year, it’s – delightfully drolly – the turn of Bavaria, homeland of ex-Pope Benedict XVI. Decorations will feature both a Bavarian and a Neapolitan theme, as Naples has donated the Vatican’s nativity scene this year.
Martin Place, Sydney, Australia
Image from kidsizeliving
Despite soaring temperatures and bright blue skies, Australia doesn’t hold back with the Christmas decorations and Christmas has already arrived in the Central Business District in Sydney. This year’s tree in Martin Place is already shining brightly surrounded by Christmas lights and decorations. Just don’t expect anyone to be standing underneath it on Christmas Day, they’re all at the beach, including Santa.
West Palm Beach, Florida
Made with more than 650 tons of sand and standing at over 36 feet, in Florida, West Palm Beach’s sand Christmas tree is one of the area’s most popular attractions and while it may not see any snow it isn’t without lights or sparkle. A lighting ceremony will take place on the beach this evening, the 5th of December 2013. Click here to learn more.
Prince Bishop’s Shopping Centre, Durham, UK
credit: The Crystal Gazer
Every year Christmas prompts people to discuss how commercial and consumer-focused the festive season has become. Durham – an historic north English city – has erected a tree designed to highlight this issue as part of its recent Lumiere Festival. This 9 metre tall tree is made of discarded plastic shopping bags donated by members of the public and is the work of Spanish art collective Lutzinterruptus.
Which other cities have great Christmas trees or decorations? Feel free to share your recommendations and maybe your photos in the comments.
A popular idiom, when people are talking about when an event will begin, is to talk about ‘kick-off’. Well we can say with utmost surety and completely literally that the FIFA World Cup 2014 will be kicking off in just over a year, the 12th of June 2014 to be exact.
All the glory, excitement, screaming and crying of one of the world’s most popular sporting events combined with the zeal, enthusiasm and sheer beauty of Brazil and the stunning, warm, cosmopolitan and animated capital of Rio de Janeiro. The 20th Football World Cup is going to be one to remember.
Will the Hosts keep the trophy at home? The last time they hosted the world cup in 1950, Brazil lost out to Uruguay in the final in a shocking 2-1 defeat. The home crowds were completely devastated as Brazil needed only to draw to be lifting the coveted trophy for a victory lap in front of a 200,000 strong crowd. But it was not to be. With 11 minutes left to play, Uruguay snuck a goal passed Barbosa and the Brazilians were left devastated.
Who do you want to be lifting the World Cup? Do you think vuvuzelas will make it across the Atlantic from South Africa?
Here’s a collection of images from Rio and the locals’ passion for football. They make it look so easy.
Have a great weekend everyone.
Featured image by Nicolas Nojarof
In this week’s Flickr Friday, we’re taking a look at Christmas trees in cities across the world. Many urban centres try to outdo each another with the biggest, brightest and most cleverly designed Christmas trees that their top creative minds can come up with. A lot of the time there’s also a story behind them; like the tree in London’s Trafalgar Square which has been donated to the city by Norway every year since 1947, for services rendered in the Second World War.
Please enjoy this collection of festive and arboreal images, and have a joyful weekend.
Rio de Janeiro © alobos Life
Berlin © fotoeins
Tokyo © toooooool
Prague © hdc.
New York © Luke Redmond
Madrid © alvarezperea
Strasbourg © hoosadork
Warsaw © Daniel*1977
Vienna © rabasz
London © micamica