Monday, June 23, 2014

Our World Cup Adventure Begins in Brasilia

In 2010, our family went to a World Cup abroad for the first time.  We had friends living in Pretoria, so we were able to establish a home base there, and we were lucky to get the “Team Specific Ticket” to follow the United States to all its games; this not only set our itinerary, but as it happen each of the games was within a hundred miles of each other, in Rustenberg, Johannesberg, Pretoria, and Rustenberg again.  And thanks to the Washington Post, which advertised for fans interested in reporting on their experiences in South Africa, I got a taste for travel blogging; this blog was the result.

This World Cup will be very different.  We did not succeed in getting the Team Specific Ticket for the United States in the first round of lottery selection; at that point, I was nervous that reservations at the inexpensive hotels and flights to key cities might be gone by the time I waited for the draw to determine where the US was going to play.  So, consulting guidebooks, I just selected places I thought we might most enjoy visiting, planned an itinerary among those venues, and then awoke promptly at 6 AM on the morning of the initial first-come, first-served ticket purchase period.  As a result, we have game tickets for Brasilia, Cuiab√°, Manaus, Salvador and the Salvador again.  We have arranged various tours in conjunction with those games; then, finally, we’ll visit Rio de Janeiro, even though we have no games to see there because, well, how could we go to Brazil and not see Rio?

On Tuesday afternoon June 17, we took an American Airlines flight from Washington National to Miami, where we switched to a TAM Airlines flight to Sao Paolo.  There were a few yellow Colombian jerseys on American, and many more on the flight from Miami to GRU in Sao Paolo.  And when we changed planes yet again to fly to Brasilia, the Colombians predominated on the flight – heading for the major confrontation of Group C between Colombia and Cote d’Ivoire. 

On arriving at Brasilia’s airport, I planned to try to pick up the undelivered tickets for the games we are to see in Salvador.  Remembering the long wait on a line in Pretoria to pick up our World Cup tickets in 2010, I was hoping that the rule limited ticket pickups at the airport ticket collection facilities to would make the lines a bit shorter, and I was in luck – there was onmly one person in front of me.  Ten minutes later, I had my tickets and we were headed for the “executive bus” that would take us to the hotel zone at a cost of 8 reais per person, roughly 11 for the three of us.  The bus actually provided us with an introductory tour of Brasilia, entering the center of town along one of the two main roads, with block after block of residential apartment buildings, each looking much like the other, then turning down the Eixo Monumental and driving by the striking buildings designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer that we would later visit, then past a row of ministerial buildings of Brasil’s federal government, and finally turning back up the Eixo Monumental to reach the hotel zones where the various passengers would be dropped off.

We arrived at the Bittar Inn, where we had made our reservations, only to learn after a ling wait in the check-in line that they has not saved two rooms for us, so they moved us over to their nearby and somewhat nicer affiliated hotel, the Plaza Bittar.  We each ended up with nice rooms, on the corner of the hotel with a balcony in front that wrapped around the corner and a reasonable view of the TV Tower fountains on the Eixo Monumental (more about that later).  



View of Eixo Monumental and TV Tower fountain from our Plaza Bittar room and balcony

I rate the hotel fairly low, though – it was advertised as having Internet accessibility but there was an extra charge for it, and the access itself was exceptionally unreliable – it kept fading in and out, so that remote access to my office system was impossible and even web mail was difficult, and the simple task of checking in for our flights out was impossible (there was a desktop available to guests, also for an extra charge, by which that task could be accomplished).  And when one of the two elevators went out of order during our stay, traffic on the second one became unbearably slow.  

We dropped our bags, got into some clean clothes, and headed out for lunch and an afternoon of touring.  I found the strict isolation of residential, commercial, and hotel zones off-putting and even antiseptic – it meant there was no convenient way to have a meal within easy walking distance of the hotel (other than at a hotel restaurant).  The restaurants and local stores are scattered in blocks adjacent to the various residential blocks we has seen on the way into town from the airport. A Brazilian man we met at the stadium the next day praised the other side of the coin – the city is safe, the water is drinkable, the schools are excellent;  a great place to live, he said .

We decided to go to a guide-book recommended restaurant – I had in mind to walk bout the hotel staff were aghast that we might go any way but by taxicab.  It would, actually have been walkable (we ended up walking much further coming back, by way of our afternoon walking tour, but the taxi was just as well, because we were hungry).  Don Durica had a nice patio where we sat and watched Australia play a credible game against the Netherlands, while eating from a fine and extensive buffet.

The game was tied 2-2 when we left the restaurant to see Brasilia.  First, we walked back along the Eixo Rodoviario toward the Eixo Monumental, enjoying views of the many office buildings at the intersection of these two main roads of downtown


We couldn’t figure out who owned this office building, but the design made us wonder whether it has something to do with the Bank of America


We visited a segment of the Niemeyer building collection.  First was the National Theatre, with this interestingly patterned side and what appeared from the outside to be a series of dark tiles on the gently slanted roof;


but when we got inside, we saw that the dark tiles were actually glass, allowing enough natural light into the interior to permit this rich garden


Then we crossed the Eixo Monumental walk around the National Library, seen here with a large reflecting pool in front,


as well as the strikingly designed National Museum

 and National Cathedral


Inside the main part of the National Museum  was an exhibition of contemporary art


in the basement space was a nice collection of photos of children playing soccer


The National Cathedral looked fairly small from the outside, but on walking inside, we proceeded down a ramp taking us below the surface of the ground – inside was an airy space again lit by the natural light admitted by glass tiles of the cathedral walls, with sculptures of angels suspended in mid-air



Then we walked past the central bus station, located at the intersection of  of the Eixo Monumental and Eixo Rodoviario, back toward our hotel.  Rather than going in right away, we decided to visit the television tower and its accompanying fountains



There was a free elevator ride to an observation deck, and the line was less than a half-hour long, so we enjoyed the view of Brasilia from on high, here east toward the fountains and the government buildings,

and here west toward the stadium where we would see our first game the following day

and here northeast toward the hotel district


As dusk fell, the fountain was lit.


For dinner, we were too tired to find a restaurant far from the hotel, so we accepted a recommendation of the desk clerk to walk to “Brasilia Shopping,” a large mall with a food court as a few restaurants.  We ate at Coco Bambu – a nice enough but portions were humongous; we couldn’t come close to eating even the two dishes that we had ordered.

We headed back to the hotel, fell asleep before 10, and caught up on the sleep we had missed on the overnight flight from Miami.

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