Melissa's Travels

Rio on the Rise

When I recently arrived in São Paulo, I was struck by the locals’ feelings about the upcoming World Cup. I would not say they were expressing World Cup fatigue from the build up to the event but rather full-blown World Cup disgust. There were no flags or posters. The anger at how much is being spent on stadiums instead of desperately needed improvements in education seemed to have the whole population of close to 40 million fed up.

The spirit in Rio, however, is remarkably different. Not that they are cheering in the streets about the World Cup but there is a sense that the city is on the rise. There’s an energy and enthusiasm for the projects that are in the works like the transformation of the port area of Porto Marvilhas into a pedestrian leisure zone. (Okay it will take years to bury the existing roadway—let’s hope it is not Brazil’s ‘Big Dig’ like Boston’s fiasco—but when it is done, there will be starchitect Santiago Calatrava’s Museum of Tomorrow anchoring a new cultural zone.) Finally, locals don’t feel that they have to fly to Sao Paulo for a decent meal but are proud of their homegrown talents like Claude Troisgros, whose family empire continues to expand, and of acolytes of Michelin-star chefs like the one behind just-opened Stuzzi.

The Fasano still reigns as the “it” hotel of Ipanema but SoHo House group has announced that they are coming to town, which will finally bring another option for those who like luxury and cool in one address. Direct flights from New York make the city a feasible long weekend jaunt and even West Coasters can now fly direct from LA to Sao Paulo. Lots more improvements are in the works as the city prepares for the 2016 Olympics, but in the meantime buzz seekers are flocking to enjoy the city while it still feels like an emerging hot spot. (Rumors have it that TED Talks are on their way this fall, which will clearly up the chatter among global nomads.) Even with their arrival, Rio will probably never become a cultural mecca. Nor does the shopping or the art scene compare to those in Sao Paulo, but then this is the ultimate expression of a city as a playground. After all, where else can you ride your bike to your hotel from the airport (domestic flights only) or learn surfing and samba in the same day? Play volleyball on the beach in the morning and then mountain climb up Sugar Loaf for a sunset view? Or see a barefoot surfer carrying his board on a Monday afternoon in the middle of a busy street? Those things only happen in Rio and that is as it should be.

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