Brazil: From the beautiful game, to a beautiful view

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Rio’s carnival is a must-see for foreign visitors, especially for first-timers arriving from the Middle East.
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Olafur Eliasson’s kaleidoscope is a popular attraction.
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Mineirão football stadium was the venue for World Cup qualifying matches and the scene of a few heartbreaking losses.
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The celebrated Rio de Janerio Carnival can be an exercise in sensory overload.
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The view from Mirante das Mangabeiras.
Updated 09 March 2017

Brazil: From the beautiful game, to a beautiful view

BELO HORIZONTE: The music and mayhem of last month’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro will help paper over the cracks, but the sight of the city’s Maracanã Stadium, deserted, derelict and shorn of its contents following a recent looting, might just be the perfect symbol for how Brazil has been left in economic ruins since its hosting of the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games.
In 2014, the governing body for world football flew in, inflated its swollen coffers, and jetted out again without as much as an “até logo” (see you later). Last September, the International Olympic Committee did likewise, departing before the ticker-tape from the Maracanã’s closing ceremony had even been swept up. It will be some time before either sporting organization returns — although not because of a lack of flights.
Emirates airline, celebrating 10 years of operations in Brazil, is in no such mood to disappear from the country. In 2007, when the Dubai-based carrier launched a direct flight to São Paulo, it was the Middle East’s first non-stop flight into South America. Now Etihad and Qatar fly here too, while Emirates, as well as having added a direct route to Rio, is preparing to dispatch its first Airbus A380 to the continent.
The landmark flight, which will land in São Paulo, comes just a few months after a codeshare agreement with local carrier Gol opened up five more cities in Brazil, including Belo Horizonte, the third-largest metropolis in this vast and varied country.
Located 200km northwest of Rio in the Brazilian heartlands, Belo Horizonte is a city of around 4 million set among rolling green hills and pastoral farmlands. The best piece of advice available as you sit aboard any plane bound for either of the city’s two airports is to go easy on the inflight eating — Rio might offer beautiful beaches and São Paulo may boast shopping, but no place does food quite like BH, or, as the locals like to call it in Portuguese, Beagá.
Capital of the interior state of Minas Gerais, BH basks in its culinary superiority. Ask any Brazilian about food and they will inevitably speak of the steaks of the south and the spicy fried snacks of the Afrocentric northeast. They will also surely speak of pão de queijo, the little doughy balls of cheese-bread omnipresent across the country but created in Minas. Everybody agrees, however, that when it comes to food, comida mineira is Brazil’s most impressive offering.
Think heaped and hearty plates of cooked meats, plentiful rice and beans, myriad root vegetables, eggs, bananas and kale. Now add a natural juice made from some exotic fruit you have likely never heard of, such as acerola or jabuticaba or graviola. It is a meal as flavorsome as it is filling; the type a traveler can only feel guilt-free eating after a day of tiring sightseeing.
Fortunately, BH has plenty to offer in that regard too. For an alternative way of seeing the city, hire a rickshaw and driver and set off for Mercado Central, a labyrinthine market in which you can easily lose a day in the warren of stalls selling everything from clothes and carnival costumes to fish, furniture and fluffy white dogs. If you can pass through without buying a jar of doce de leite — an extremely sweet milk-based confectionary — or a wheel of the local cheese you are of stronger will than me.
In the north of the city sits Pampulha Modern Ensemble, a leisure and culture center built around an artificial lake and including the São Francisco de Assis church, which was designed by one of South America’s most famous architects, Oscar Niemeyer. It says everything about Brazil’s relationship with football that a site recently given UNESCO World Heritage status is only the second most popular place of worship in the nearby area.
The Estadio Mineirão attracted a record crowd of 132,834 during a derby match between local sides Cruzeiro and Villa Nova in 1997, but by the time the World Cup arrived in 2014, the capacity had regrettably been reduced to a mere 60,000. On hindsight, it might have been a good thing given what occurred in the semifinal: Brazil, competing for a place in the final of a World Cup they were hoping to win on home soil, experienced their most humbling and humiliating defeat in sporting history. The shocking 7-1 loss to Germany was felt around the world, but Belo Horizonte was the epicenter.
The national team has since returned to the Mineirão, beating Argentina in a recent World Cup 2018 qualifying match, while local sides often use it to play their home matches. Inside also exists a museum, showcasing the history of both the stadium and famous players. Fun fact: Brazil’s most iconic footballer, Pelé, was born 250km southwest of BH in the town of Três Corações.
For a slightly shorter — and far more rewarding — road trip, make the 60km journey to Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea, an incredible 275-acre open-air museum constructed amid lush tropical plants and tranquil waters. The museum is loaded with installations that attack all five senses, including a car-size kaleidoscope, an adult soft-play room, and a melting Eiffel Tower, which was made of candle wax and burns in a dark room alongside many other famous international buildings. And don’t forget your bathing suit because Inhotim also has two swimmable artworks.
Back in BH, as the sun makes its daily descent, take an early-evening pilgrimage to the top of Mirante das Mangabeiras. A free lookout point that affords panoramic views across the city, bask in a sunset that appears as perfect as an impressionist painting. It is here where you will best understand how the city earned its name. Belo Horizonte: beautiful horizon.
Cities in a sentence
As well as Belo Horizonte, Emirates’ codeshare agreement with the airline Gol has opened up four other Brazilian cities to Middle East travelers.
Brazil built a city from scratch decades before Dubai and Abu Dhabi had the idea, yet the country’s capital — designed in the shape of a bird’s wings and now a UNESCO Heritage site — attracts compliments and criticism almost in equal measure.
Once labeled “The Greenest City on Earth” by The Ecologist, it is often cited as the gold standard in terms of sustainable urban development, with 52 square meters of grass ... per capita.
Porto Alegre
The German capital of Brazil has neighborhoods with names such as Novo Hamburgo and people that look (and speak) like they have just stepped off a plane from Munich or Berlin.
Not only the African epicenter of South America, but also the home of Islam in Brazil, Salvador is renowned for its role in the country’s history — as well as “The Three Cs”: capoeira, carnival and candomblé.
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Safe Eid staycations in the UAE

The UAE extended the curfew to start at 8 p.m. as of May 20. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 May 2020

Safe Eid staycations in the UAE

DUBAI: If you have been repeatedly pinching yourself to wake up from a bad dream, you are not alone. In the midst of the all-consuming coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the world has been forced to reconcile with a new order.

After several stages of grief for what was, and disbelief for what lies ahead, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and realized that summer is just around the corner, the same corner I had been walking to and from to stretch my legs since the UAE announced in March new measures to implement social distancing.

With this in mind, I decided not to stifle the ever-potent wanderlust that has powered me throughout the years. After all, there are places in the world with safe enough infrastructures to navigate the aggressive motorways of intercity traveling. So, I pumped my car with enough gas and hit the road.

Here are some tried and true (safe and in line with the directives of the Ministry of Health and Prevention) day trips and staycation destinations to keep you hanging in there:

Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach

The UAE Residents Key package starts from 1,100 Emirati dirhams ($300). (

If you want to lose yourself in a micro-universe of (US filmmaker) Wes Anderson-esque opulence, look no further than the Four Seasons Resort on Dubai’s Jumeirah Road.

The UAE Residents Key package starts from 1,100 Emirati dirhams ($300) and is inclusive of a 20 percent discount on all in-house food and beverage outlets with early check-in and late check-out.

Upon arrival, guests are instantly beckoned by the tantalizing waters of the Arabian Gulf glistening through the panoramic windows of the lobby like a Henri Matisse painting.

Before heading out though, visit the Shai Salon near the check-in counter and bask underneath the lattice ceiling which resembles a starlit sky. While the kitchen is currently closed for dine-in, you may order from a selection of aromatic teas and nibble on finger foods on the terrace of your room.

After ample relaxation, it is time to soak up the sun. All beach beds are 2 meters apart, and if you forget sunscreen, worry not, as staff will come to the rescue.

The soft waves of this beachfront oasis, coupled with the tranquil, grainy white sand make for a dreamscape. Interspersing your cheeky dips in the water is a friendly ecosystem of shoals of bream, shellfish, and exotic birds.

Now that you are properly sun-kissed, head over to the SeaWake counter for some watersport playtime. Guaranteed to awaken the child within, you may choose a 45-minute wakeboarding session, a boat cruise to the canal, or a simple donut or banana ride into the sunset.

To answer the growling call of hunger, do not forget to claim the meal that comes with the UAE Residents Key package which offers a signature dish and dessert at Nammos by the sea.

Al-Qudra Lake, Al-Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve

It is the perfect spot to read that book you have been putting off all year. (Shutterstock)

A pleasant 30-minute drive takes you to this man-made wonder on the southern outskirts of Dubai as you bid farewell to the city’s skyline through the rearview mirror.

It is a habitat for flora and fauna, jaw-dropping migratory birds as well as local wildlife. You can spot deer, swans, flamingos, and some 200 bird species that have taken up refuge by the lake, some of which are endangered such as the Asian Houbara.

Catch the sunrise with a flask of hot tea as the birds announce the day or let the night sweep in as you stargaze under the silky skies. It is the perfect spot to read that book you have been putting off all year.

There are no on-site facilities at Al-Qudra, so be sure to stock up on food and drink. If you find yourself in a bind, head to nearby Bab Al Shams.

Ras Al-Khaimah Public Beach

The beach is on the same stretch as the famed Hilton Ras Al-Khaimah Resort and Spa. (Shutterstock)

This is not a de facto public beach but rather a serene strip of water that I stumbled upon while searching for a gas station.

On the same stretch as the famed Hilton Ras Al-Khaimah Resort and Spa and opposite the ADNOC station by the fish market, it is a little off the beaten track, which only adds to the mysticism.

The barren land surrounding it juxtaposed against the turquoise waves is a sight to behold. The boulders lined up on the side make for a nice little hiking challenge or a seat to prop you up for a sunset-tinted journaling session.

Just when you think you have the place to yourself, jellyfish swim up the shore. Do not forget to head back to the city before the curfew and grab an invigorating fresh pomegranate juice from Eat & Drink.