Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Visiting the Imperial City

Just like the forecast said, there was plenty of rain for our visit to Petropolis, although it still proved to be a beautiful place to see.  Since we had to drive up through the clouds to reach Petropolis, I was hoping we might be ABOVE the rain, but apparently there must have been higher clouds, too.  Nevertheless, there were periods of less rain, so we took advantage of them to see some sights.
Our first venue was the Gothic cathedral, which is effectively sited - not only is it impressive to find such a labor of masonry in the mountains 800 meters above sea level, but then the spire of the cathedral is on axis with a canal that cuts through the center of town, giving great views from the other end.
Our second site was a visit to the Imperial Palace  - a summer retreat when the temperatures in Rio were too hot.  The gardens surrounding the palace are lush (especially with all the rain), and it was fun to visit the interior, because it has beautiful wood floors, and they give every visitor a pair of oversized slippers to glide around in.  One of the most interesting aspects of the interior was a series of art installations that are inserted in, on, and around the typical museum contents.  Some were interesting and thought-provoking, others were just perplexing.  They included:
a needleworking room that was "overtaken" by a salmon-pink silk cord that wrapped around furniture, etc. - might have been 50 feet long.
a spacious music room that probably normally has verdant views of the nearby mountains, but currently has the interior of the windows covered in views of mountainside favelas (the shantytown slums that creep up the mountainsides in Rio).
two rooms seemed otherwise normal, but had a small sandcastle mold placed on the floor - I don't think we ever figured those out.
After seeing the Palace, we went to check out the carriages next door in the Chariot House, when the skies really opened up.  We then shifted gears from sketching in the gardens to having lunch, then checking out the quirky house of Santos Dumont, an innovator who was a pioneer in aviation.  Clearly he wasn't afraid of heights, because his house is barely perched on the side of the mountain, and to move around the house are a series of small wooden steps with the treads shaped to prevent you from starting up a staircase with your left foot (apparently he was also superstitious).

A few notes on the architecture of Petropolis - other than the Imperial buildings - some of the mansions lining the central canal have a bright, whimsical old-world character than reminded some of us of part of New Orleans (with a lot of added topography).  Also, it was a little surprising to see how large the city is, considering it was simply a summer retreat (although I remember reading that the government was centered here for a decade, so perhaps that makes some sense).

We also found that Petropolis has some gems shops with a wide array of jewelry and crafts - here some shopped for a little bling, and a few found rings large enough to qualify as blang, I think.

Another venue to visit was the Crystal Palace - a glass conservatory that the country of France gave to Princess Isabela as a wedding present (those French are so generous - glasshouse here, statue there...) .  Today the Crystal Palace was empty, other than the chandeliers and a few chairs, but when Michelle visited Petropolis a few weeks ago with her family she had the treat of seeing it full of orchids in what must have been a special event.  Even though the Crystal Palace wasn't full of plants, it was neat to be able to stand inside it and see palm trees in the park outside - a bit of a role-reversal of our typical experiences with palm trees and conservatories from home. 

On our way out of town, we were delighted to come across a chocolate factory, where we found every kind of nut you can imagine, dipped in chocolate.  Yum.

Back in Rio, projects are coming along, with one last work day before the final presentations.
Rain, rain, go away...

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