By Sarah Bultema Freeman, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Life in Rio de Janeiro may seem like nonstop action, which can leave even the most die-hard Carioca craving a slower pace. Yet those looking for some R&R need look no farther than across the bay to Niterói. Notably quieter than its raucous neighbor, Niterói has a laid back culture all its own. And there’s no better way to get a taste of the easy-going “Smile City” than by spending a day strolling through its street markets.
After a 20 minute ferry ride from Rio, plus five minutes or so in a taxi, visitors will find themselves emerged in a seemingly locals-only produce market or a craft fair among the trees.
To catch the best of Niterói’s weekend street markets, begin at the food and produce fair on Rua Lopes Trovão, starting at the corner of Rua Presidente João Pessoa and heading southwest down the street.
Open from 9AM until about 1PM every Saturday, rain or shine, the market sits on a narrow street lined by the back of a stadium’s bleachers and apartment buildings. But this otherwise drab road is brought to life with the vibrant fruits and vegetables piled neatly on tables set up along the way.
Pineapples, kiwis, melons, papayas, passion fruit, mangos and pinhas make up some of the rainbow of produce, each piece of which is hand-selected to sell. If the sweet smell and bright colors aren’t enough to tempt a sale, many of the vendors are eager to slice a piece of their product into bite-size samples. Meats, nuts, candies, sweets and spices are some of the other foods offered by the dozens of vendors at the fair.
Although the market stretches for three city blocks, it would be hard to find a gringo among the crowd. The street is instead packed with locals, each with their arms full of bags of food, hands picking and squeezing the produce and voices joking and haggling with the vendors.
Weaving through the crowd down Rua Lopes Trovão, across Avenida Governador Roberto Silveira, brings visitors to the Parque Prefeito Ferraz, also known as Campo de São Bento. Here, from 9AM to 2PM every Saturday and Sunday, the Feira de Artesanato de Niterói (Craft Fair of Niterói) sprouts up among the natural greenery of the park.
On a sunny day, the booths stretch across the two-block area, offering handcrafted goods including jewelry, clothing, artwork and home décor. Even more impressive than the crafts is the natural beauty blooming around the vendors.
Minnesota’s Aaron Cavanaugh, who visited the fair Saturday, said he was impressed by the park. “It’s a cool little circle here,” he said. “It’s pretty enough to come to even without any vendors.”
Giant trees stretch long and twisted branches overhead, trickling down vines nearly to the ground. Geese and ducks swim in a statue-clad pond, with a large children’s playground just a few steps away.
The park also includes some permanent amusement park rides, including bumper cars and a carousel, as well as a concrete court that children and adults somehow all share to play multiple games of soccer at once.
Grab a park bench under the shade of a palm tree, take a bite into the goiba bought from the produce market, and relax with the rest of Niterói.