Is the Girl From Ipanema on this postcard?

In Quest of the
Girl From Ipanema

Text and Photos by Tim Boxer

HILE spending a wonderful weeklong vacation in Rio de Janeiro, I searched high and low for the Girl from Ipanema. For a high, I hopped on the cable car for a ride in the sky up to the heights of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The tram carried 75 people (at $10 a head) to the top of the city, affording a breathtaking view of a gorgeous city below.

They say the name of the mountain comes from the fact it resembles an old cone of sugar. I say it looks more like a finger of a mountain. But to call it Mountain Finger just doesn’t hit it, does it?

Sugar Loaf Mountain

My search took me all over the city, including Santa Teresa. This is a charming district, much like our Greenwich Village, home to artists and intellectuals in hundred-year-old houses.

Up the street you’ll find Parque das Ruinas, a museum that originally was the grand domicile of a stately socialite, Laurinda Santos Lobo. She used to host elaborate parties for world famed celebrities and artists, including Isadora Duncan.

For years after her death in 1946, the house lay in ruins. (Hence the name.) It was finally restored and opened as a museum in 1972. Well worth a look.

Instead of going back to the heart of the city, you may want to stay in this charming residential Bohemian neighborhood for dinner. Ingrid Heins, quite a knowledgeable marketing assistant from Riotur, the city’s tourism authority, guided us as we descended to the depths of the Restaurante Aprazivel.

Mike Quane at Copacabana Palace

Yes, you walk carefully down steep steps into a courtyard for outdoor dining, or you can go inside. The prix fixe meal, at $30, offered a choice of filet mignon with port wine sauce, or grilled piscada (fish of the South Atlantic) with spinach and sautéed bananas, or grilled lamb.

When the trio is entertaining, the bill includes a $5 music charge. The rustic restaurant is open for dinner on weekdays, lunch and dinner on weekends. (Rua Aprazivel 62, phone 508-9174.)

The next day found us on Corcovado Hill in Tijuca National Park. You drive up to a promenade, and then walk the rest of the way to the top where you are greeted by Christ the Redeemer. This imposing statue with outstretched arms, the most significant landmark, is illuminated at night so that it is visible from almost anywhere in the city.

The monument, inaugurated in 1931, is 116 feet tall. It attracts 770,000 visitors every year.

My friend, Mike Quane, a world-seasoned travel writer from Long Island, was very impressed with the Copacabana Palace, a world famous hotel. A truly imposing structure, it has been home to such notables as Princess Diana, Gina Lollobrigida, Tyrone Power, Tony Curtis, Noel Coward, Ursula Andress and Leonard Bernstein among others. I know that judging from the celebrity photo wall on the second floor.

Paulo Marcos at Excelsior

Remember Flying Down to Rio? No? This was the most famous movie of all time to use Rio as a backdrop. It was the first screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (RKO produced it in 1933. So how could you know? But look what you can learn at Copacabana Palace.)

While I was out looking for the Girl From Ipanema, Mike was having dinner with Paulo Marcos, marketing manager of the Excelsior, part of the Windsor Hotels. A very congenial person, Marcos has worked in hotels all his life. Mike found Marcos to be a fount of fascinating information about the hotel business in the city.

There are so many cultural sites to see. Take the Royal Portuguese Reading Room.  I didn’t expect to find any girl from Ipanema there, so I was surprised to see many young people reading books, looking up references, perusing periodicals.

Founded in 1837, this is a repository of everything published in Portuguese everywhere in the world. It’s a fascinating library, holding more than 350,000 volumes, many dating back to the 16th century. Every day additional books and magazines are added to this vast collection.

NEXT: Searching for the Girl From Ipanema in Rio’s museums.


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