Brasília against time

Brasília, capital city of Brazil since April 21st 1960. It’s a completly newly-built city, and it was supposed to symbolize the renewal of Brazil that president Kubitschek wanted. He promised 50 years of progress in only 5 years, and the large scale works he launched, helped the economical development of Brazil. But it also lead the country to bankrupcy, which will utimately lead the country to one of its darkest period in history. We visited this museum-like city at a very fast pace between 10am and 5pm on March 15th 2012, as a short stop on our way to the West.

We left Lençóis under a shiny sun, at 2pm instead of 1:15pm, after having drunk a nice fresh fruit juice. Our first destination is Seabra, a top on the Salvador – Goíana bus line. It took us an hour and a half, and we didn’t really care about being late at the bus terminal, as we had another hour and a quarter until the next bus to Brasília. Moreover, the bus would also be late and came at 5:15 pm instead of 4pm. We really regretted the Argentine punctuality.

It’s freezing cold in the Brazilian buses, especially at night. It’s all the more frustrating that you see the exterior temperatures rising 30°C, while you suffer under the 18°C breeze of the AC. We didn’t sleep well that night, but it would be enough for our day trek in Brasília. We arrived late, two hours late.

We arrived in one the best bus terminal we have ever seen in our trip ! We bought our bus tickets for Cuiaba, leaving Brasilia at 6pm the same day, with the Ecatur company. Then we went to the luggage storage, that looked trusty enough to compensate my fears about leaving our bags. It was 12 reais for storing our 2 large backpacks during 8 hours. Afterwards, we went to the metro station, a few hundreds meters away from the terminal.

The metro car seemed wide, maybe 20 or 30% wider than the Paris métro. Our train was built by Alstom. The bus terminal is not very far from the city center, at the extremity of the wings of Brasília ; it took us maybe 20 to arrive at the central station, last stop on our line.
We left the central station to find a shopping center so that we could eat a bit. We went to a big shopping mall, but the food offered in the restaurants of the food court were not really mouth-watering, so we opted for Burger King instead, because we don’t have them anymore in France. We began our city tour at 11:30am, and went to the TV tower at the very center of the city. The entrance is free and its 40-meter high platform gives a nice panoramic view on the city.

The initial plan of Brasília has a plane shape. There a large path that forms the body, a bit like the Washington Mall in the U.S. with many parks and monuments. It starts with a statue of president Kubitschek, in the middle you’ll find the central transportation station, and at the end the majority of the political buildings. The wings spread on either side of this Mall and are composed of identical symmetrical blocks. There are hotel blocks, shopping center blocks and residential blocks, that are all build following the same model.

The city is spectacular in its homogeneity, and though many aspects were very innovative, they didn’t clearly foresee the future of transportation. They believed in a strong development of individual mobility due to automobiles, so the city did not include any  underground mean of transportation, because cars were kings. But today the reality is different from the 60’s and in Brasilia, pedestrians or bicycles are nowhere to be seen on these great huge avenues, up to 6 lines of cars, with no pedestrian crossing whatsoever, no bike path. Even today the subway, opened in 2001, only provides partial access to the city, it serves mainly to adjacent town going to the city center.

The metropolitan cathedral, symbol of Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture, offers a stunning interior view. The large curved ceiling bathes in light and colors and it feels almost magical, yet simple.

We slowly made our way along the central mall from the TV tower to the parliament building. The original architectures are sometimes amazing beautiful, sometimes weird, but always spectacular. The order of these buildings along this central alley gives it a futuristic feel, but it remains simple. And then the rain joined the party at 3pm.

We hop on a bus for the central station, and found our way to another impressive church, with large stained-glass windows, all in blue or purple hues. Time goes on, and we hurry a little to get something to eat, then jump on the subway car and return to the bus terminal. We ate our calzones while waiting for our bus to Cuiabá.

It was a small day in this strange capital city, but we enjouyed catching a glimpse of the challenges the architectes had to face to build this city in such a short amount of time, the only modern city to be on the UNESCO World Heritage list, by the way.

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