Friday, July 29, 2016

Getting Around Rio On Day Two

Day two in the Olympic city provided an eye-opening look at new-to-me corners of Rio.

After sleeping in a bit and taste-testing fresh juices from the hotel kitchen (first time for honeydew, strawberry and fresh lychee breakfast juice blends), I made my way up the road to Ipanema's main Metro station, the southern-most subway stop in town. 

Before entering the Metro to begin wrestling with their ticketing machines, a small City of Rio tent caught my eye -- was that a microscope on view?

It was! Turns out the city deployed not only 80,000 security personnel (more noticeable today), but a mosquito-bourne illness awareness campaign -- including microscope slides through which to see, I don't know, mosquito larvae or other insect parts -- is underway to help people prevent all sorts of fun health issues. 

Though I speak no Portuguese and the municipal health volunteers had no English skills, we did manage to clear up one thing: It's winter in Rio and mosquitoes are not common when it's windy and in the 70s -- weather-wise, this town is like Miami Beach at Christmas (gorgeous, mild temps).

Rio's subway map is straightforward and easy to navigate, but the distances and travel times were longer than anticipated. I wish the same was true of the Metro ticket options, which offer the lesser of two evils: 1) use exact change only after enduring a line 20-passengers deep, or 2) endure a similar line to purchase a single ticket. 

This is to say that today provided a big reality check for getting to my volunteer shifts or ticketed events next month. I think it may take 2-3 hours just to get to Opening Ceremonies (let alone the jam-packed after-midnight ride home)!

Today's first stop was Rio Media Center, also known as the "unaccredited media" alternative to the official Rio 2016 Main Press Center or International Broadcast Center. Like its predecessors in Torino, Beijing, Vancouver, London and Sochi, the RMC should prove to be a helpful option for the Olympic Movement's handful of bloggers like me, as well as reporters from non-rights TV stations or other outlets who missed the accreditation deadlines (applications due two years ago). 

Inside the RMC I found three notable items:

-- Coca-Cola's display of an official Rio 2016 Olympic Torch, which is a real beauty (first time to one of the pearly-white torches in person)

-- Schedules for upcoming tours across the state of Rio de Janeiro, including some tempting day trips and excursions or even a hang-gliding experience

-- Outdoor backyard relaxation station provided by Havianas, which claims to be "Brazil's most famous brand." 

In the Havianas display area, I learned the company started making beach sandals during the 1960s. Based on a common Japanese shoe design, Brazil's used rubber soles as a new base for their footwear, initially selling pairs out of mobile VW vans from beach to beach. Tens of millions of flip-flops later, Havianas now offers rubber galoshes and eyewear to complete one's beach ensemble.   

Also key to the RMC: a media credential (well, the unofficial kind). Just like Dean Martin famously sang, at the Olympics "you're nobody till somebody credentials you" and it was a relief to pick up my first of three Rio creds. 

Bonus: RMC issued a Metro card valid for 20 free subway rides (whew, no more lines for fares). 

Before heading out to the day's second destination, it was fun to scope out lunch from one of the RMC's local food trucks. My selection: Curry wurst from a mother-daughter duo of Brazilian-born Germans who were not shy to share their life story with a Fox Sports anchor from Mexico and myself while we waited. 

"My grandmother was one German and she came to Brazil but she married one Italian and then we all became one German-Brazilian-Italians but I think of myself as one Brazilian who can cook," said our new chef friend, who had the best laugh of anyone met in Rio so far. 

That fraulein grills one fine curry wurst, about the most authentic I've tasted since a 2009 holiday in Munich. Wunderbar!

Their foot truck likeness of Homer Simpson morphed into a frankfurter cracks me up!

Walking from the RMC back to the Metro I stumbled upon the Rio 2016 Olympic headquarters and took a peek inside. The low-rise modern office building had the street address 2016 and featured a cool ceiling art display of hundreds of sports balls -- ranging from basketballs and footballs to volleyballs and baseballs -- suspended over the lobby. 

An hour later by subway then electric train, it was time to enter the Rio 2016 Accreditation and Uniform Distribution Center housed at Cidade do Samba or "Samba City." Walking into the warehouse district revealed numerous garages -- more like airplane hangars -- in which Rio's world-famous Carnivale floats are created and stored for the big event. 

So to the right was a queue for my "official" volunteer badge and to the left there were a half-dozen giant float components such as an oversized ant, a huge pink elephant, a crouching Iguazu native with a drawn bow and arrow, and far across the plaza an enormous eagle with talons spread in a manner reminiscent of "The Colbert Report" opening credits. 

Getting the Rio 2016 accreditation was a snap. Getting fitted for my volunteer uniform was a process, though a fun one. Let's just say Rio Olympic Yellow is not my favorite color, but I will proudly don the apparel when my first shift at Carioca 3 press row takes place on August 6.

Riding the electric train back to downtown Rio, which bustles like the blocks around Times Square in New York, the line shut down due to "technical issues" but it was OK as the one-mile walk afforded me time to see the wharf-side warehouses soon to house Coca-Cola, Nissan and other sponsor pavilions for Rio's main "live site" during the Games. 

I also gazed upon the most magnificent Santiago Calatrava building since ... ever: The newly opened Museu de Amanha is simply breathtaking. It may also be the largest Calatrava structure since the Spanish architect's Athens Olympic Stadium. The museum was closed for the evening, and I can hardly wait to get inside and explore. 

Dinner tonight was low-key in an Ipanema neighborhood Mexican restaurant. I'm anxious to visit the Olympic Store and Rio 2016 Ticketing Center tomorrow to pick up the last of my pre-Games purchases. 

So, through the chronological format of this post, I sort of buried the lede in that this evening at my hotel a big group of Team Australia Olympic officials -- yes, the ones with all the headaches at the Olympic Village (including a small fire in their building today) -- checked in for the week. Who knew the Aussies wanted to "Feel The Bern" at Brazil's Hotel Vermont? 

Looking forward to day three and beyond. 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver except the Metro station image via Rio 2016 and Rio Media Center.

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