Edinburgh and Rio de Janeiro — a tale of two international film festivals

So, being in Edinburgh on vacation was really not something I would have had planned about a year ago. I had a somewhat professionally related matter that would take me there, and from that incentive resulted a very, very nice time off.

While in Paris a few days before reaching Scotland, I had dinner with a chatty couple from the UK who kindly informed me the correct – native, say – way of pronouncing Edinburgh is actually Edinbourough, with a very strong “r”. And so it is indeed, and that´s how I think of this word´s pronounciation when I´m writing it.

I stayed at a great spot — the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket area were really close by — and could enjoy a lot of the city during my time off, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The Royal Mile

I don´t remember having seen any red carpet appearences from celebrities attending this festival, although I saw a large bunch of very exquisitely dressed people leaving the exclusive Opening Gala session for what would probably be a cool party. I myself attended the  public Opening Gala session — Killer Joe — which was very organized (specially when Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, which is still going on as I write, springs to mind in all it´s chaos), but did not feature any real gala item (such as booze and food) except for candid opening speeches by the artistic director of the Festival Chris Fujiwara, the main star Gina Gershon and the director of the movie, William Friedkin. People were randomly dressed — from black leather pants, gray silk tank, Stella open toe translucid sandals and a olive green wool blazer (me) to, you know, Converse, ugly jeans and t-shirt, to actual party wear.

I couldn´t buy my ticket for the premiere online, which sort of upset me — the online box office simply did not work — but it was possible to do it over the phone. I didn´t enjoy sharing my credit card information on such old fashioned basis, but alas — I could make a seat reservation in advance and that´s the most important thing, I believe. Had to grab my ticket on the ticket office over Lothian Road, which was a little far (not a lot, though — nothing is very far if we are talking of Edinburgh´s city center) from where I was staying and from where the film would show — the Festival Theater, a beautiful glass building equipped with state of the art screening equipment and an amazing, vintage showroom that takes you back to the early 20th century.

The Festival took place by the end of June, so, supposedly, the weather in Edinburgh should have been warm(er), but it was actually rather… weird — cold and then not and mostly windy and rainy. Well, I believe weather has been weird almost anywhere on Earth, throughout the whole year (in Edinburgh´s defense). I must say it mattered little: the fact is that medieval-turned-contemporary-and-friendly vibe of the city even gains in scenic appeal when the day is foggy and Carlton Hill is partially covered in mist. The camera never finds a reason to stop working in there — beautiful images can be produced from every corner, from magnificent ruin-like monuments on top of the green mountains to the amazing Edinburgh Castle and the thrilling Holyroodhouse Palace, to the lovely stone buildings from many centuries ago and the beautiful contrast between the gray walls and the wooden doors painted red.

visit – you should not, in any circumstance, not walk the entire Royal Mile up and down, and enter the domains both of the mighty Edinburgh Castle and the fantastically charged with history Holyroodhouse Palace. While you´re at it, just forget where your patriotic allegiances lie and allow the scottish pride to take over your heart. Let the unstopable bagpipes under your skin and allow the Stone of Scone enthrance you with its amazing story that runs back almost for a millenia — it was stolen by the English in the 11th century and placed under the cerimonial throne where all the Kings and Queens of England and later of the UK were coronated — UNTIL OUR DAYS. After years being kept at Westminster Abbey — by years, I mean, until 1950, that is, around six centuries  — the Stone was finally returned to the Scotts, and is kept at the Castle with the scottish Jewels of the Crown, with one condition: it must be temporarily returned to London when the next King or Queen is coronated, maintaining the centuries old tradition of having it under the ceremonial throne.

The green hills, the castle and the mist

Unusual view of Edinburgh, from the Castle

On your way down the Royal Mile, heading for the Holyroodhouse Palace, do visit the lovely Saint Giles Cathedral, with its beautiful blue ceilings, vitrals, stone halls, flags, and the Chapel of the Order of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s great order of chivalry.

The Holyroodhouse Palace, on the other hand, is just really thrilling with the fact the Queen still lives there for a part of the year and that so much palatial intrigue — culminating of course with the story of Mary Stuart, to whom the Scotts are more gentle than others usually are — was lived in that same environment. I guess the most fantastic of the place are the ruins of the Holyroodhouse Abbey — it is just so amazing to be faced with such a powerfully old structure, even if it has fallen apart.

Holyroodhouse Abbey

eat – go to pubs and have fish and chips. Fish and chips at a good pub with good beer is a must in the UK. Oh, just go anywhere it´s not crazy full, and that´s basically it. The place that stuck to my heart was not about fish and chips, though, but mussels and steak instead. Literally, it is called the Mussels and Steak Bar, and it´s in Grassmarket, a corner away from the Royal Mile. I stayed true to the mussels everytime I went there. Absolutely delicious. A three course meal (including half a kilo of delicious mussels and fries) will set you back in around 21 USDs (13 pounds).

art galleries – do hot dismiss Edinburgh´s fine art collections at the National Museum on the Mound — live music session among Italian Renaissance Masters included in the free visit, in my case, a very good jazz singer accompanied by violin, piano and harp — or at the Galleries of Modern Art. Good temporary exhibitions pair with great permanent ones and aside the great samples of representative European works, this is a chance at exploring the good art produced in Scotland.

glasgow – if you have enough time, just stop by Glasgow for a day — it´s about one hour by train from Edinburgh, and it´s a much larger city. Go visit the GoMA – Gallery of Modern Art: it´s really close to Queens Station (where you arrive from Edinburgh) and it´s both a beautiful building and a fine collection. Next, head for architecture, lunch, tea and some delicious dessert at the Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street, designed by the great (and most beloved) Charles Mackintosh. The art decó interiors speak much more loudly than the exteriors (a little too battered perhaps) and are definitely worth the visit. And have dessert. Indulge.

Second floor @ The Willow Tea Room

Especially if you have kids with you, try the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It´s not very far and its very oriented towards bringing art and history to your child´s attention (adults will enjoy it too). There´s more Mackintosh there as well, by the way.

Moving on across the pond and the Ecuator, Rio de Janeiro´s International Film Festival is still happening as I publish this. It’s spring in there and an unusually warm one, although temperatures are still delighful — just a tad warmer then they should be at this time of the year, enough for a beach in the morning (stay in Copacabana or Ipanema; Leblon is very nice but a bit too far from the rest) without having your skin melting in sweat as you work in actual clothes as the sun peaks up during the day. As usual, I was working, but again I find time for leisure (I swear I don´t run from my professional commitments to play the tourist).

About the festival — good selection of movies, but truly disorganized and upsetting. I gave a try at Moonrise Kingdom (later learned it was already available online and watched it: very candid and lovely) just to find myself not being able to purchase a ticket and choosing sort of impromptu the next available movie showing nearby: Quelques Heures de Printemps, a vastly different sort of experience (although I did enjoy the movie — a study on how our family relations are about what our own maturity make of them, and will only change by means of our wills to change them, and not due to external dramatic events that should supposedly bind all together in chants of love and joy in being in each other´s company). Seats could not be purchased in advance, nor were marked, which implied in huge lines at the ticket offices and then, at the showing room´s door (that if seating with your friends and with a comfortable view of the screen are listed among your cinematographic concerns). Sessions were often late and I had to get my money back for Monty Python: A Liar´s Autobiography  because there were no seats available anymore when I made my way to the room (they were overbooking the theater!). I then fled to try to catch Argo, the new Ben Affleck spionage venture in the early 1980s Middle East with a kitschy spin and the plus of being a true story — a very nice choice, I might add. Go watch it too. The movie theaters at the Botafogo neighborhood were by far the most chaotic and crowded, and the restaurants in the area (not many) were coping sufferably with the long hours of work due to the unusual masses of hungry people around (do try however the café at Livraria Prefácio, nearby the theater at Voluntários da Pátria street — nice food, cheap but interesting choices, the fried fish fillets with mustard sauce is honestly delicious and serves up to two very hungry people. Dessert is also nice, and their cacao cake is extremely relevant. Be patient with their service though).

Rio is still a chaotic city if compared to other large European or American metropolitan centers, but is has definitely improved both in matters of public transportation and overal citizen safety throughout the years. Do not expect time tables on subway stations or bus stops — when it comes to the latter, it may be actually quite hard to even find out which bus you´re supposed to take to get to where you need to go. The streets are still too dirty for my liking (but passable on most of the interesting spots), and so can the beaches be by the end of the day, which might be rather frustrating. These are the city downsides — from here, we only go up now.

Rio de Janeiro is probably the most beautiful large city in the world when it comes to the interaction between human intervention and nature. The location of the city is blessed, between green hills and a lovely shore, with an amazing park — the Aterro do Flamengo — and a lovely Lagoon to raise the bar even higher.

If this is your first time in Rio de Janeiro, you might be both curious about the local gastronomy and afraid of choosing “touristic” (meaning “poor quality, ostensively priced”) places out of your own lack of knowledge. Here goes a list for all sorts of foodie moods: from unforgettable (though drammatically expensive) experiences to some smart and more casual choices, here is a list of places where you will get a nice taste of Brazil in this wonderfully chaotic city:

where to spend heavily – I would say your first choice must be Le Pré Catelan, the finest French choice in Rio, I dare say. French? Do not be fooled by this title — this is Brazilian-French, my mate, specially if you get what you should: one of the special menus the chef Rolland Villard prepares based upon local ingredients, such as the unforgettable Amazonian menu or the more recent Rice and Beans menu (an entire 10 course meal prepared with dishes containing both ingredients presented in a variety of forms). Brief introduction to Brazilian food so you will understand this menu´s brilliance: rice and beans are a must on a daily basis and will go with mostly anything in a dish, but preferrably fries and a nice steak. Chef Villard, however, turns the combination into snacks, entrées and even desserts, entirely different among themselves in flavor and texture, by combining the local combination of ingredients with techniques and traditions from around the world to create a complete dining experience. You might spend at least 300 USD per person if you choose such menu, so be prepared. Le Pré Catelan is also furnished with an unfair trick under its sleeve, or, more specifically, outside its windows: a breathtaking view of Copacabana beach.

Deconstructed, mollecular feijoada @ Oro.

One option second to Le Pré Catelan should be the restaurant Oro, by chef Felipe Bronze. A five-course menu including the exquisite wine pairing by attentive argentinian sommelière Cecilia Aldaz should cost you around 150 USD per guest and will also not disappoint. Ask for the crayfish with pistacchio cream, hearts of palm and artichokes paired with the most dreamy Gewursträminer from Alsace — tears of happiness may burst from your eyes. On our right, check out their deconstructed, and even poetic approach to the classic feijoada (sort of a Brazilian version of French cassoulet, but with black beans instead of the lighter variety and sometimes enriched with some of the obscurest cuts of pork, such as the ear, as well as the most popular ones). Decoration and attention to detail are at very high levels at the Oro.

Rua Dias Ferreira: you will find many cool (and crowded) restaurants in this lovely street at the Leblon neighborhood (the most upscale in Rio). Head for Sushi Leblon for great japanese, Sawasdee or Mekong for a blend of Asian flavors or Quadrucci for nice italian food. If you are into a very heavily crowded environment and a typical carioca bar experience, head for Chico and Adelaide on the corner of Bartolomeu Mitre and indulge in fried manioc and shrimp dumplings with cold beer.

where to eat downtown – weather your visit is business or leisure, you should come accross the difficult issue of eating downtown Rio de Janeiro. The majority of the most important companies in Rio have their headquarters there, and most of the city´s greatest museums are there as well.

Downtown Rio de Janeiro is filled with OK-but-overpriced choices (this is of course a personal opinion) such as the Eça, charmingly (and meaningfully) situated underground below (and inside) an H. Stern jewelry shop at Avenida Rio Branco, next to Rua da Assembléia, or the Giuseppe Grill — look for it at Rua da Quitanda, near the corner from 7 de Setembro. Those are fine if someone is paying your bill, but if you are on your own, perhaps you will prefer some other ideas:

Firstly, there is the Ateliê Culinário @ Odeon Cinema. This is your go-to place if you are attending the Film Festival, as the Odeon is where most of the gala events are held. This is a fully preserved early 20th century movie theater, façade and all. A few international celebrity shots were taken on the red carpet there, such as this one of Kylie Minogue published on the Red Carpet Fashion Awards blog. The tigelinha de moqueca — a bowl of light white fish stew cooked with local spices, bananas, ground coconut and a choice of whole or white rice — is quite heavenly, and so are all the salads (fresh greens, gorgonzola, pears and walnuts with balsamic vinegar or shrimp, sweet tomatoes, lettuce and mango with guacamole are my favorites) and the deserts (please do order the warm dulce de leche with cheese ice cream, freshly ground parmesan cheese and smashed peanuts).

Bistrot The Line @ Maison France-Brésil: this is a great choice if you are visiting the museums on the other side of Rio Branco Avenue: the Paço Imperial, the CCBB and the gallery at the Maison France-Brésil itself. There is also an antiques fair held nearby on saturdays (at Praça XV). It´s not expensive and the food is varied and honest. A nice feijoada (again, the feijoada) is served on fridays, saturdays and sundays for about 13 USDs (25 Reais).

do not miss – a nice stroll at the Aterro do Flamengo park, ending in a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), a beautiful building with an amazing garden by Brazilian architect Burle Marx, great views from Guanabara Bay and an interesting permanent collection of local artists, plus great temporary exhibitions such as a recent one of Giacometti;

Burle Marx’s garden @ MAM Rio

…the CCBB, on the other end of the downtown area, might also be having a nice temporary exhibition — it is worth checking before dismissing, and also checking out the other previously mentioned art galleries in the Candelária area: the Paço Imperial, the Casa dos Correios and the Maison France-Brésil (really nearby, mere two to five minutes away from each other by foot); a walk in the early morning from Leme all the way to the Fort at Copacabana, where you should arrive about a quarter to 10 AM in order to get a table for breakfast with an amazing view of the beach and the cityscape surrounding it;

Breakfast is only commencing at the Forte de Copacabana

…a walk at Pista Claudio Coutinho at the Urca neighborhood, where you should definitely try (if you have an able guide — could be a local friend) climbing the trail that gets you to the top of the first, lower hill that comprises the Sugar Loaf — you can get the bondinho from there to the higher hilltop and then back all the way down, or just take in the view from righ there and descend through the same trail for free; delicious caipirinhas made of intriguing fruits and combinations (try cocoa and rosemary) at the Palaphita Kitsch, a bar with breathtaking views of the Lagoon.

Palaphita Kitsch – didn´t have any good picture of mine, so click to find the source of this one

Robert Morris and the Theatro Municipal

So there it is, a tale of two very distinct cities — the misty Avalon Edinburgh Edinbourough and the sunny chaotic lovely Rio de Janeiro, bound by my own very personal experiences of not so red carpet popular but locally relevant international film festivals. I could have thrown in this post a third city by narrating my experience of Sundance Film Festival as well (and that would be it, in what international film festivals are concerned), but that was too long ago, when I was still a poor student working at the chairlifts of a ski resort in Park City in order to ski for free in my days off (eventually, on workdays as well) while at a long winter break. Well, aside from holding a chair for Robert Redford, there was not much more to it, really. Also, a third city would spoil the Dickens reference, and how cool IS a Dickens reference, ahn? A lot, right? A lot.

P.S.: A few more pictures of Rio are on the way. Stay tuned.

P.P.S.: Kept my promise — nice Rio de Janeiro pictures were added to this post. Hope you enjoy.

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