Brasilia, as the name suggests, is the capital of Brazil, a city built in the centre of the country in order to unite the 26 states and take some of the emphasis away from the coastal power cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. An idea borne in the late nineteenth century, but only put into practice by President Juscelino Kubitschek in 1956, who along with the architect Oscar Niemeyer, put the wheels in motion for the city to be constructed in the middle of Goiás state in 1956. It was completed in 1960 and conceived as a futuristic city which would meet the needs of an ever-growing population bound to be reliant on cars.
I arrived just in time at the bus station in Goiânia and jumped on a bus to Brasilia with Viação Goiana for 60 Reais, a touch more expensive than other bus companies, but given the ride with them was just two and a half hours, it was worth paying a little extra so as not to spend double the amount of time on the bus.
I’d read online that Brasilia was not a very walkable city and that due to long distances between touristy spots and wide avenues impossible to cross, you’d have to rent a car. Add to this that public transport was rumoured to be terrible and I almost considered skipping the capital.
But I knew better than to trust the internauts.
The bus terminal in Brasilia is relatively new and right next to it is a metro stop called Shopping. I asked one of the attendants whether it would take me to the centre of the city, near the Eixo Monumental, the road on which the majority of the touristy places are located, and he said I’d be better off taking the bus from around the corner, but he wasn’t sure which one. After asking several people who didn’t know and changing bus stop three times, I ended up on a crammed bus with a destination composed of numbers and letters that allegedly went in the direction I was headed. I consulted Google Maps just in case, and ended up getting off about 20 minutes later near the TV Tower (Torre da TV).
As I learned later, the above is not the best way to get to the centre. One should simply take the metro from Shopping to the end of the line at Central, as it leaves you right next to the top end of the Eixo Monumental with many famous buildings within reach.
Yet as it happened, getting off at the TV Tower was a good idea, as it gives you an opportunity to get a panoramic view of the city and understand how Brasilia is laid out. It’s merely a 10-minute walk from the Central Metro station, so isn’t really out of your way either. From the TV tower and via a very useful large map, I could see all the way down the main road and observe how perfectly the city was designed, what with all roads being completely symmetrical, and each sector of the city, such as ministries, hotels, banks and embassies, are all grouped according to their purpose.
The roads were quite full, both with moving traffic (note that the screech /skid of tyres is constant in Brasilia) and cars parked in the spaces provided between, over and under overpasses. One can only imagine how oddly empty the city must have looked back in the 1960s, when cars weren’t so prevalent and the city was in its infancy. No wonder Yuri Gagarin, the Russian who became the first astronaut in outer space, compared the city to his extra-terrestrial experience. Out the back of the viewpoint you can also see the national football stadium, where teams from Rio and São Paulo often play, as Brasilia doesn’t have a big club. At the back of the tower, I got lunch for a tidy 10 Reais, a mix of meat, rice, beans, salad and potatoes from one of the restaurants serving out of the food court , but I couldn’t tell you how many days the food they had had been sitting in their shacks.
Lunched up, I embarked on a walking tour of the Eixo Monumental, which I’d estimate takes no more than an hour of your time. You have to be extremely unfit or lazy not to manage it on foot. Unfortunately, the National Museum was closed, but I did manage to go into the cathedral and have a sit down in the subterranean chapel for a moment of reflection and rest. I passed all of the futuristic buildings, which must be an absolute dream for the scholar of architecture, yet as it was a Thursday afternoon, many of them were also closed to the public. Among these were the Palace of Justice and National Congress. The Eixo Monumental terminates just after the Praça dos Três Poderes, home to the Warriors Statue and various other monuments.
I had the option to walk back to the metro station and wait a few hours for my bus, but I decided instead to take a walk to the Centro Cultural do Banco Brasil, which ended up being a rather long walk of about 40 minutes, including a 5-minute wait to cross an extremely busy carriageway. There were a few interesting exhibits, including a Latin American art collection and an exhibit focusing on underground Berlin, which contained an unexpected amount of videos showcasing nudity bordering on soft porn. Too many penises for my liking meant a swift exit.
German penises were to be the last attraction on my whistle-stop tour of Brasilia on this day, and given I’d walked an absurd amount, I opted to catch a bus back to the metro station.
I would return to Brasilia a few days later on the way out of Alto Paraíso with a couple of girls I met and we took some photos by the artificial lake, terra of the rich yachters, then went for lunch at a restaurant called Beirut, where the very Juscelino Kubitschek was rumoured to have dined on several occasions. As is often the case in Brazil, I had to strongly insist on paying my part of the bill. I next went to one of the girl’s houses, met her family and chilled with them until it was time for me to get my bus. Her daughter gave me a very strong hug upon meeting me, which reinforced how welcoming Brazilians are outside of Rio (no slight on Cariocas).
Thus, in summary, a day was plenty enough to spend in Brasilia, and though I wasn’t able to go in many of the attractions, I guess the buildings are more spectacular from the outside, and certainly a paradise for architects and professional photographers. The city is in actual fact very easy to navigate with the metro system and a bit of walking, and though it is definitely a city made for cars, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a pedestrian. Although there is nothing much to see away from the Eixo Monumental, it’s worth a visit just for its quirkiness and to see how a city can be planned to the most minuscule detail.