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Rainy-Day Rio, Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro
Brazil's insider take:

Rio's lushness is no accident. Low-pressure weather troughs can linger for days, particularly in the southern winter, which lasts (roughly) from July through September. Staying inside is never going to provide the same buzz as beach life, but there's enough stuff to do indoors in Rio, mostly in the Centro district, to occupy at least a few dreary days.

If you're just caught in a downpour on the beach, wait for the clouds to clear at Livraria da Travessa, Ipanema's coolest bookstore, which sells everything from Asterix the Gaul to Noam Chomsky in several languages; you can also listen to CDs or chill out in the café (572 Rua Visconde Pirajá; 55-21-3205-9002). If the rain doesn't look like stopping, hop a cab downtown to the 17th-century Mosteiro de São Bento, where a single organ note heralds evensong, prompting 16 black-robed monks to file into the darkened nave and bow before the altar, a row of spotlights finally illuminating the church's Baroque interior of carved angels, waves, feathers, twists, and curls, all entirely covered in gold (60 Rua Dom Gerardo; 55-21-2206-8100). The city's modernist Metropolitan Cathedral, completed in 1979, lies at the other architectural extreme. Its exterior resembles a Mayan pyramid constructed of faded, rain-streaked concrete; step inside, however, and it's like walking into a kaleidoscope, thanks to four floor-to-cupola stained-glass windows, each more than 200 feet in height, that radiate brilliant color into the darkened interior (245 Avenida República do Chile; 55-21-2240-2669).

There's enough old culture downtown to interest keen historians or bibliophiles, such as the nine-million-volume National Library, the largest library in Latin America (219 Avenida Rio Branco; 55-21-3095-3879), or the Imperial Palace (48 Praça XV de Novembro; 55-21-2533-4491), upgraded from viceroy's residence to royal palace in 1808 when Napoleon chased the emperor of Portugal from Lisbon to the New World. Or there's new culture, best exemplified by the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, or CCBB (66 Rua Primeiro de Março; 55-21-3808-2020). Housed in the bank's former headquarters, the ornamented interior of Ionic columns, Art Deco lamps, and wooden galleries provides an elegant center for exhibitions, cinema festivals, and theater productions. Worth checking out, too, are similar exhibition spaces in the neighboring Casa França-Brasil (78 Rua Visconde de Itaboraí; 55-21-2332-5120). And in true Carioca style, even Rio's museums can be fun: The Carmen Miranda Museum (Avenida Rui Barbosa; 55-21-2299-5586), bizarrely located in a concrete bunker in a Flamengo park, displays the iconic Brazilian singer's bejeweled dresses, extravagant tiaras, and tumultuously fruity hats.

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