This summer has easily been the most exciting and fulfilling summer of my life thus far. I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. On June 19th, my boyfriend and I set out for São Paulo, Brazil on a red-eye flight, and arrived in the city the morning of the 20th. We were picked up by our hosts, who we had never met before the trip, and they instantly made us feel welcome. São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, so there was plenty to see and do in between games.
We spent time exploring some museums while we were in São Paulo. The MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), had an impressive collection of work by artists that I was familiar with, such as my favorite artist Claude Monet, as well as some work by local artists who were incredibly talented. Even the building itself was a work of art. We also ventured to the Museu do Futebol in the Estádio do Pacaembu. The museum covered the rich history of Brazilian football, and went beyond just cases filled with old jerseys and memorabilia by discussing the cultural and political implications that the game has had on the nation. There were also lots of interactive portions that kept the museum engaging.
We also greatly enjoyed visiting Parque Ibirapuera. Its importance to São Paulo is equivalent to that of the Central Park to New York City. The park was gorgeous and was the perfect way to enjoy the “mild” weather of Brazilian winter. We also loved the Mercado Municipal do São Paulo where we got to sample some of the local cuisine. Everything was incredibly fresh, like the ceviche we had for lunch, and we loved trying all sorts of exotic fruits from the Amazon. We also got to try some other amazing Brazilian staples, like pao de quiejo, which is like a warm-cheesy pastry, and caipirinhas, which are like the official cocktail of Brazil. They are made with muddled limes, sugar and cachaça, which is a Brazilian alcohol. However, our best culinary experience had to be at the Churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse. I have never had a better steak in my life, and the food seemed to flow endlessly!
While we were in São Paulo, we saw two games at Arena de Corinthians. We took local trains to get to the stadium, and they were always packed with singing fans all decked out for their respective teams. When we would arrive at the station, it would be completely packed with people all heading to the stadium for the match. We walked for about a half hour to the stadium through the streets of a small neighborhood. Brazilians stood along the sides cheering and asking to take pictures with fans. It felt like we were marching in a parade! I have never been more excited than when we finally entered the stadium for the first time to watch the Netherlands versus Chile match. The energy in the stadium was electrifying, and we had amazing seats. I couldn’t stop smiling! The Belgium versus South Korea game was equally unbelievable. It was particularly special because my boyfriend is from Belgium, and cheering on his home team at a World Cup match was thrilling.
After we had seen the two games in São Paulo, we hopped on a plane to Rio de Janeiro! This was the portion of the trip that I had been most excited for. I have always been struck by the beauty of the city, so I was especially moved when we finally arrived. It was just as stunning as every picture I had ever seen. We stayed in a hotel that had views of the Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado Mountain, which is home to Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer. We were fortunate enough to be able to take the train up Corcovado to see the statue. The statue was just as awe-inspiring as I thought it would be. There were also panoramic views from the viewing deck from which we could see downtown Rio, the Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and Estádio do Maracanã.
That same day, we traveled to Estádio do Maracanã to see a round of 16 game between Colombia and Uruguay. Earlier in that day, Brazil was playing their round of 16 game against Chile, and we were traveling to the stadium during that time. There were maybe two other cars that we saw on the road during that time. In Brazil, when the national team is playing, everything stops and the country holds its breath. Never before had I experienced such passion for a sport, and I was really moved by it. When we reached the stadium, the game was going into penalty kicks. There were TVs set up in the stadium for people to watch the game. Concession workers left their stands to sit on the floor with the fans and watch the drama unfold. It was incredibly tense, but when Chile missed their final penalty kick, the entire stadium erupted into cheers. I was so swept up in the moment that I was moved to tears. Strangers were hugging us and jumping up and down. It was a moment that I will never forget.
After all of that excitement, it was time to watch the match that we had come for! The Maracanã was a massive stadium. It was overwhelming to be in a place with such a rich football history. It was the perfect place to view our final game of the trip. The Colombia versus Uruguay match did not disappoint! Both sets of fans were so lively and passionate. The teams were equally incredible, with one standout in particular: James Rodriguez, the Golden Boot Winner of the World Cup. He was so fun to watch, and we were lucky enough to witness James’ goal that many consider to be the goal of the World Cup. It was a delightful match all around.
After the match, we went to Copacabana beach to celebrate with the natives. Along the beach, there are little stands that sell food and drinks and play music. It was impossible to tell where one ended and another began due to the sheer volume of people rejoicing. Brazilians and Colombians chanted, sang and danced the night away after the big victories of the day. It was like one giant party! It was so special to be a part of such an incredible moment.
When the time finally came for us to return to the United States, I was not ready to leave at all. We had become fast friends with our hosts, and it was hard to say goodbye, not knowing when we would see them again. Brazil had easily been the most amazing trip of my life, and I wanted to stay and witness the passion and energy of World Cup forever. Though I am glad to be back now, I often find myself daydreaming about warm sunny beaches, friendly Brazilians, and a passion for football unlike anything else in the world. I am already planning my return to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. So for now, I say to Brazil “até mais tarde e obrigada” or “Until later and thank you”.