Inside the FIFA Fan Fest before the Belgium - Algeria match

Tuesday | June 17, 2014

Today was truly a free day for us in Rio, so we took the opportunity to sleep in, making it down to breakfast just ahead of the 10:00 AM cutoff.

Love these mini banaynays
Love these mini banaynays
Neither of us sampled this odd rendition of French Toast
Neither of us tried  this odd rendition of French Toast though

Freshly showered and properly nourished, we dropped off a small bag of laundry at a “by the kilo” place Marcos recommended, and then wandered around the main shopping streets by our hotel (Rua Visconde de Pirajá and Rua Anibal de Mendonça). Naturally, Carlie discovered a Nike store; I was against the idea, but we went in anyway. After perusing the team apparel from the various South American, European and Asian nations upstairs, we circled around again thinking we must have just missed the U.S.A. section. As it turns out there wasn’t one, and although I wasn’t offended I still filed it away as a “dis”. They did have a very cool Nike soccer cleat display though (see below).

Display of newest NIke Mercurials
In-store display of the newest NIke Mercurials

Needless to say we walked out empty-handed. After perusing a few more shops we hopped in a taxi for the short ride up to Copacabana Beach, the site of FIFA Fan Fest – Rio de Janeiro. For those of you eagerly anticipating a souvenir, the merchandise tent there was the mother lode. While we had previously patronized the souvenir stands at the various arenas for a few T-shirts, nothing compares to the sheer enormity of this World Cup “mall”.

The FIFA Fan Fest Megastore in Rio de Janeiro
The FIFA Fan Fest “megastore” in Rio de Janeiro
Carlie outside the FIFA Fan Fest entrance (Copacabana Beach)
Carlie outside the FIFA Fan Fest (Copacabana Beach, Rio)

The Fan Fest venue itself is right on the Copacabana Beach, and by that I mean right in the sand itself. Finding ourselves on the opposite end of the single entrance, we decided to walk around the venue on the beach side, where we noted that a couple of covered beach chairs set in the sand be an excellent way to take in a match, since you don’t need to be inside the fence-in area to get a good view of the video screen. 

Easily five football fields long and one wide—with a gigantic video screen at the far end showing every match in real time—FIFA Fan Fest Rio was like a mini-arena that could easily accommodate thousands. To ensure that spectators are properly nourished, both sides are lined with concession (i.e., beer stands), with the occasional tent promoting the products of the various sponsors.

Inside the FIFA Fan Fest before the Belgium - Algeria match
Inside the FIFA Fan Fest before the Belgium – Algeria match
Another view of the FIFA Fan Fest, facing the entrance
Another view of the FIFA Fan Fest, facing the entrance

We opted out of sticking around to watch the match between Belgium and Algeria that was about to kick off. Temps were in the low 90’s, and there was literally no cover from the hot sun to be found, plus which Carlie was hungry, again. We did get on the big screen for a few seconds though, and I think Carlie captured this moment with the GoPro while I was busy fumfering the camera.

Carlie outside the Balada MIx restaurant
Carlie outside the Balada MIx restaurant

After a nice lunch at Balada Mix (Avenida das Américas, 500) just a short walk from our hotel back in Ipanema Beach, we re-started the shopping excursion entering a few boutiques Carlie had spotted during our earlier tax rides to/from Copacabana Beach.

Unlike in the U.S., only one of each item is actually on display in these shops, with remaining inventory “in the back”. At least with this system you’ll never hear the “everything we have is out, there’s nothing in the back” refrain. At first I thought the rationale behind this approach was “space efficiency”, but later it occurred to me that it might have more to do with theft prevention. This is the “shoe store” approach, speaking of which, we did find such a shop, “Mr. Cat”, where we both found something nice to bring back.

A special thanks to Ivan Ferraz back in Phoenix, who in addition to providing numerous useful travel tips and insights before we left, pointed out how well-made and comparatively inexpensive shoes (and leather goods in general) are in Brazil, and how he always brings back a couple of pairs when he visits his homeland.

We then attempted to collect our laundry, which was promised within two hours of drop-off, but found the “lavenderia” closed. What were we thinking?  Brazil was playing Mexico in one hour.  As  we walked back to the hotel we couldn’t help but notice that, with teh exception of bars and restaurants, virtually every other place of business was closed. When they say “soccer is religion” in Brazil, they aren’t kidding. I had a date with the flat screen for this match-up anyway, and Carlie was due for a workout, so we retreated to the hotel.

Note to self: To avoid a travel tragedy, don’t forget to pick up the laundry on Wednesday before we leave Rio at oh-dark-thirty Thursday morning.

 The crowd in the hotel bar/restaurant just below us (we were on the 2nd floor) was surprisingly mixed for this one, given the intermittent chants of “MEH-HE-CO, MEH-HE-CO” that rang out on to the street below and up to our room. In the end it was fantastic result for Mexico, who really had no business being in the game were it not for several world class saves by Ochoa. We have a keeper capable of such feats too, and hope the same for Team U.S.A on Sunday in Manaus.

After the match Carlie and I enjoyed a nice, leisurely dinner at the Esplanada Grill (Rua Barão da Torre, 600), just a short walk from our hotel in Ipanema.  I decided to stay with the tried and true and ordered the Risoto de Camarão (shrimp risotto), while Carlie ventured out a bit with the steak tartare, one of her favorites.

Carlie's steak tartare at the Esplanade Grill
Carlie’s steak tartare at the Esplanade Grill

Both dishes were delicioso, as was the salad and array of Pão (breads, toast, crackers, etc.) we started out with. Realizing we had scheduled an early date with Marcos to make a 2nd attempt on Corcovado the next morning, we decided not to go clubbing (shocking, I know) and turned in reasonably early for some much-needed rest.

Special note: Seven days away from Casa Vino and not a drop of wine for yours truly, with no ill effects noted.

Final score: Brazil 0 – Mexico 0


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