Archive for the ‘subway’ Tag

A few Brazil basics

I visited Brazil for the first time a couple weeks ago, spending time in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia. I came between the Olympics and the Paralympics, and in the middle of the impeachment turmoil. The usual visa regulations were suspended between June 1 and September 18. This made traveling to Brazil quite convenient, as getting a visa is rather cumbersome, in addition to the $160 visa cost. So with that amount of money saved, I took a flight directly to Rio and shuttled back and forth between Rio, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia, before flying out of Sao Paulo.

So this post will cover a few of those typical questions for first-time visitors to the country. I had my share of concerns and honestly a bit of trepidation over the safety aspect of the large cities, since this tends to be the first question that potential visitors ask. I’ve also heard my share of horror stories, but hey, I heard the same sort of stuff about visiting Detroit.

Is it safe? That’s probably the first question, as sadly, it seems like the first association people make when one mentions Rio is crime, and not the beaches, or Sugarloaf, or Christ the Redeemer. That said, I had no problems. It’s worth considering that despite all one hears about the dangers in Rio and Sao Paulo, they are busy and very large cities where millions of people go about their daily lives without problems. That said, there is an edgy feel in central Rio and Sao Paulo that takes some time feeling comfortable in. It reminded me of New York in the  days of the 1990s, where I still felt quite safe, despite a surge of violent crime. Brasilia had a slightly creepy feel in the hotel zone, as it was a Sunday when I visited, and many of the businesses were closed and the streets deserted. While the warning about central Rio on weekends should be heeded, I found the main streets of Copacabana to be pretty safe day and night- I did drag around a bunch of luggage and laptop bag while I was searching for my hotel. There are also lots of people walking around, eating out, drinking, etc. Ipanema felt much more upscale, as did Av. Paulista in Sao Paulo.

Arriving in Brazil. The main international airports in Rio (Tom Jobim Galeao, GIG) and Sao Paulo (Guarulhos, GRU) are pretty far from the city centers, but they’re the main international points of entry into Brazil. It is often a better idea to arrive at the smaller domestic airports, Santos Dumont (SDU) in central Rio, or Congonhas (CGH) in Sao Paulo, these smaller airports are centrally located and well-linked to the international gateway airports. Getting into town, I took the airport bus from Galeao, which goes to the main hotel zones in Copacabana and Ipanema. It’s cheap compared to a taxi, but it will take you 90 minutes to get to Copacabana, and you will need to know roughly where to get off. A good point of reference is the large, fancy Copacabana Palace Hotel which is a few short blocks after the highway emerges at the beach following the last tunnel.

From Guarulhos, I opted for the official taxi when I had my luggage, (150 Reais, or around $46 USD one way to Paulista), but if you’re traveling light, the bus 257 / subway combo is a real bargain (around $3.50 round-trip) and takes about 45-60 minutes to get to downtown. Note that the bus only stops at Terminals 1 and 2, and not the new Terminal 3, which handles many of the foreign carriers. There is a free shuttle between the terminals. The bus goes as far as the Tatuape subway station, which is 5-7 stops from the city center region. Luggage storage is available at Terminal 2, located between the East and West sectors. Lockers are 40 Reais per 24 hours, manned storage is 30 Reais.

Getting around. The taxis are generally honest and go by the meter, or by fixed price from the airport. They are also the preferred way of transport after dark, there are tons of them, and it’s safe to hail them on the street. The subway systems in Rio and Sao Paulo are excellent, and will get you around the main areas frequented by visitors.

I took the city bus from Av. Paulista to Congonhas Airport, and I don’t recommend this option, even if it’s cheap. It takes more than an hour to go the five mile route, it’s often standing room only, and you need to really keep your eyes open to get off at the right place! Take a taxi instead.

Going further afield, domestic flights are relatively cheap, with very frequent flights between Rio and Sao Paulo (~120 flights a day!), and security procedures are rather lax. It’s a convenient, and in many ways, necessary way of getting around a very large country, and an enjoyable experience. You even get a decent snack on the short flights.

Photography. Now I was a bit paranoid about hauling around an SLR camera, so I stuck to cell phone pictures for the most part, and used the SLR when I was part of a group or a tour (the Free Walking Tour of Sao Paulo is recommended). I also used the SLR at places requiring admission (Sugarloaf, Sao Paulo Museum of Art, the Martinelli Building). I did pull out the SLR on a Sunday afternoon walking around Av. Paulista, as there were lots of photographers out and about documenting a protest against the President. Perhaps this was a bit too much precaution, but I still managed to get in plenty of photo opportunities. Carry your camera equipment in a backpack. If you’re on a favela tour, follow your guide’s instructions and tips on etiquette.

More on Brasilia, Rio, and Sao Paulo later.


Art and architecture of the Montreal Metro

It’s mostly good stuff, with some great pieces as well. I haven’t been through all the stations, but managed to get a look at 55 of them (out of 68 stations) over the course of a few days. I would say that this is best when you don’t want to be outside, i.e. when the weather is bad, and for the most part, it’s also a nice tour to do during the evening. I bought a $8 CDN 24 hour pass, and rode the rails, mixing it with walking around the neighborhoods.

Some of the stations are best seen in the daytime, especially the Champ-de-Mars station with its stained glass. This provides a colorful, ever-changing pattern of color in the entryway, and at certain times of day, even onto the platform itself. The remainder of the station is a clean 1960s design with a swept roof and streamlined columns. Like many of the stations built in the 1960s, the tones are neutral to bright, with plenty of tiling.

Champ-de-Mars station (1966), orange line

Down the orange line, the Bonaventure station is another one of my favorites. The interior is mostly exposed concrete with brick on the floors, the lighting scheme brings out the numerous arches throughout the entire station. Also, the signs are integrated into the pyramidal lamps. It’s more of an exception to the 1960s stations, this one looks forward to the predominant tone of the 1970s stations, which are mostly exposed concrete, but without the textures.

Bonaventure station (1967), orange line

Peel deserves a special mention, the colored circles are a unifying theme of this station, and of the Metro in general. The station, all the way down to the floor tiles, is decked out in circles. One can see the colored circles everywhere throughout the system (see below). The design of the beams is also interesting in Peel station, resting on small steel bases.

Peel station (1966), green line

The major expansion of the system took place in the 1970s and 1980s, with the extensions of the green and orange lines, and the construction of the blue line in the mid-1980s. For the most part, I found the blue line stations rather unappealing, they look outdated already in their color schemes and artwork. But the 1970s stations are excellent and memorable. Georges Vanier station is a standout. The monchromatic gray is offset by a variety of textures, and a nice splash of polished blue tiles. The circle also continues a theme throughout the Metro.

Georges Vanier station (1980), orange line

Monk station is a wonderful synthesis of vertical and horizontal curves, complete with a very tall sculpture at the foot of the bridge. The curves continue on the platform walls, in the form of a subtle horizontal wave of bricks.

Monk station (1978), green line

LaSalle, just a couple stops away, is a standout, with daring asymmetry suggesting crystals and glass. The curves have been replaced by bold lines and sharp corners.

La Salle station (1978), green line

There are also a few duds thrown in there, the busy Guy-Concordia station looks worn out and blank, and well, it is. Atwater station and some of the orange line stations on the Plateau aren’t that much better, but even in these stations, the 1960s flair comes through. The blue line stations seem to be forgettable, with color schemes like this one:

Jean Talon station (1966, 1986), orange / blue lines

Now that’s just a small selection of the stations. By all means, take the tour, the subway is integral to Montreal, and a real treat to experience.

Montreal’s Metro

I think it’s one of the great subway systems in the world, especially in the design of the stations, each of them different, many of them distinguished period pieces.

The system was inaugurated in 1966-67 in time for Expo 67, expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, and expanded again to Laval in 2007. There are now 68 stations in the subway system on four lines, with four transfer stations. It’s a rather expensive fare for single rides, at a prohibitive $3 CDN, but to make up for that, a day pass is $8 CDN, and there’s a new evening fare for $4 CDN. The access points are equipped to handle magnetic cards that you slide through the slot, as well as proximity cards. Overall, it’s painless and easy to use.

Access for the disabled is still an issue, rather few stations have elevators, although this is changing. The platforms are color-coded with the terminal station as the marker showing which direction the train is headed, this requires a bit of familiarity, and the maps are sometimes difficult to find. As with most subway systems in the world, there are no express stops or limited runs, and the system shuts down at night, despite Montreal’s penchant for late weekend partying and dining. The stations are relatively clean, although lacking in garbage bins, so there tends to be plenty of papers and drink cups left throughout the busier downtown stations.

Trains are a standard sky blue in color, apparently not air conditioned, and run quietly on rubber tires. One nifty feature is the Copland chime as the train pulls out of the station, echoing the first notes of Fanfare for the Common Man.

The best part are the artworks and architecture of the stations, so in the next post, coming soon, I’ll present a tour of the best, notable, and the awful stuff.

The official site has an excellent history of the metro system: