Category Archives: How not to travel…

City Travel: Bus or Metro?

In London its fair to say I was one of those Londoners who knew where they were going and used the tube (or metro) as a way to get there quicker. Failing that I’d always walk, preferring a stroll to a bus journey that would inevitably crawl along on London’s roads. However when I’m travelling it’s a different story.

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In a new city I will nearly always advocate mastering the bus system. Of course this depends on whether the city has a competent bus system worth mastering but bus travel in a foreign city is part of the experience. Yes explore the metro too, but like the London tube I find most metro systems lack the charm of a bus and here’s why…

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You get to see the city – with time to spare it is always worth making a few journeys on the bus even if the traffic is bad. You get to see more of the city than you would buried deep underground and I find it allows you to build a mental map of the city to use later when strolling around.

You meet people – even in Rio where we could barely communicate with anyone bar nods, smiles and shoulder shrugs, we still found people on the bus were eager to help and talk to us, even if the conversation was one way! Any experience of an underground system will tell you that you’ll be lucky to make eye contact with another human being let alone get a word out of one.

They usually get you to the doorstep – you can ask the driver to shout when you reach your destination and unlike the metro they usually drop you within metres of where you are trying to get to. If you’re lucky they sometimes even become taxis, as we found at 3am in the morning when we were the only passengers on the bus and the driver insisted on dropping us to our door.

They are cheap – enough said really…

They run all night – most metro systems stop at night but you will nearly always be able to find a bus home in the early hours of the morning.

The expanse of the network – certainly on this continent the bus networks far outstrip the reach of metro systems.

Do our readers agree? Or have any other tips and stories about transport?

How safe is Rio?

It may just be an impression us Brits have obtained of Rio de Janeiro but we were led to believe that our visit would undoubtedly be tainted by crime. It seemed impossible to us that, during our 9 days there, we would escape unhindered by pickpockets or some sort of corruption.

Truth be told we experienced nothing to substantiate Rio’s terrible reputation for crime. Any new city is intimidating when you first arrive…you have no idea what is social acceptable, where’s safe at night or even how to cross the road – in Rio most people just seemed to make a dash for it in a gap in traffic! I would never advise any backpacker to loose their initial sense of caution when arriving in a new city…its saved us from a few scams before now…but certainly Rio its not as intimidating as people might fear. I honestly think if you use the same caution and common sense you would in any major city across the world you’d be very unlucky to experience crime in Rio.

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Keep your belongings in sight, do as others do, wear your backpack on your front on busy transport, don’t flash your cash, or walk around with your Digital SLR swinging from your neck. When you get to a place of interest get your camera out and put it away after. At all the major tourist spots in Rio there will be plenty of others with the latest technologies on show to make it unlikely that you’ll be the victim of a crime.

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So how safe is Rio at night? About as safe as any other major city…everywhere has crime and areas that are best avoided. If you are off on a night out, leave your valuables at home and carry as little as possible. Ladies avoid handbags and invest in a “Cash Stash” which allows you to keep a few rolled up notes secure somewhere – I find attaching it to my bra strap works quite well.

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We travelled after dark quite a few times and escaped unscathed using the above advice. Ok…so there was one time when we felt a bit intimidated late at night. Having been to the Sambadrome, backpacks and DSLRs in tow, we travelled back at 4am on public transport. As the roads close around the Sambadrome when the Carnival is in full swing, the Metro was the quickest way to make an exit. Once off the Metro we decided a bus/taxi would be safer than the 15min walk to our apartment. No taxis in sight…surprise surprise…we stood at the bus stop and waited patiently.

After a few minutes a group of young guys turned up, obviously on their way home from a night out. Anyone who has stood waiting for a night bus in London in the early hours of the morning will have experienced similar and I think our feeling intimidated was purely down to the language barrier. True to form the boys were larking about, chattering away and standing just a little bit too close…one guy was so close, I was sure he was either trying to pickpocket Iain or fall asleep on his shoulder. Turns out said guy had just had a few too many like his friends and was absentmindedly waiting for the bus like any other. When the next bus arrived (not ours inevitably) he asked us (twice so we understood) very politely in his best Portuguese if this was our bus or if he could go ahead and get on in front of us…

Moral of the story…don’t believe the worst, don’t judge a book by its cover, use common sense and always form an orderly queue for the bus…

Christ The Redeemer or Sugar Loaf?

It occurred to us that despite being on a strict budget we were fortunate enough to be able to afford to visit both Christ The Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain during our stay in Rio.

Being budget conscious we almost skipped visiting one in favour of having an extra bit of cash. If you find yourself thinking similar during your visit we would highly recommend choosing to visit the Sugar Loaf if forced to only visit one.

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The Sugar Loaf is best visited a few hours before sunset when you can see the city in all its glory. Like us, grab yourself a few (yes slightly overpriced) beers, relax and settle in to watch the sun set over the city. The city slowly begins to twinkle as the lights are switched on…yes we realise it’s the pollution that creates this effect but it is nevertheless rather pretty!

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Best of all, we think standing on Sugar Loaf Mountain gives you the best view of Christ poised high above the city, and at night lit up he is even more striking. We enjoyed a few more beers once the sun had set, and then when ready; we enjoyed another trip on the cable car. The cable car itself is worth the ticket up and gives you equally impressive views!

Elbows at the ready we had tackled Corcovado earlier that day. Christ the Redeemer itself can be appreciated from all over the city. Whilst it was impressive standing at his feet and appreciating him close up…we have to admit the thought did cross our minds that he was a lot smaller than we thought he’d be. Once at the top of Corcovado most feel obliged to elbow their way through the throngs of tourists, to try and get into a prime spot to take that all important classic tourist photo. We found a quick selfie sufficed.

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Like us you might instead amuse yourself by watching the families and couples straining on tiptoes to pull the classic pose, whilst perhaps the dad or perfect stranger photographer lies on the ground to try and get everyone in the shot. Photo obtained back on the train they go.

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It’s impressive and worth a visit if you have cash to burn but honestly for us Sugar Loaf stole the show and the view was breath taking…