History in the English-speaking world records the Wright Brothers as having carried out the first flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft. Not so in Brazil! Here, the name “Alberto Santos-Dumont” adorns cities, airports, motorways, squares, streets, and much more. He is officially a national hero, with a place in the Pantheon, in Brasilía. Here, the Wright Brothers are the minor historical footnote.

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Santos Dumont, from Wikimedia

In Petrópolis, an hour north of Rio de Janeiro, we visited his home and museum, among other attractions in this old imperial city. The journey there alone is worth the trip:

Santos-Dumont worked at the same time as many other inventors, each incrementally improving on the work of the last. He began with balloons and dirigibles, eventually incorporating wings, and finally a fully functioning “airplane” in the modern sense of the word, the 14-bis. The 14-bis’ flight of over 100m at Bagatelle, in Paris, was the first recorded by the newly formed International Federation of Aeronautics.

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Flight of the 14-bis, from Wikipedia

(Today, the same “FAI” issues awards for feats like the longest time spent in space and for circumnavigating the earth – quite a change in just over 100 years.)

His exploits made him famous around the world, including copying his unique fashion sense, and his trend-setting use of wristwatches. You might have heard of his friend, watchmaker Louis Cartier! After years of fame and success in Europe, Santos-Dumont returned to Brazil to continue his research and his writing. This post’s title is taken from the name of his autobiography, “O que eu vi, O que nós veremos“. Sadly, his later life was marked by accidents, a tragic decline into illness, and his eventual suicide in 1932.

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His house, now the Santos Dumont museum in Petrópolis, is perched in an unlikely spot, on the side of a very steep hill. It’s said he deliberately chose this position to test his ingenuity, putting a comfortable house in such an awkward spot. It’s construction is spartan, but spacious and functional. Brazilians joke that he invented the “home-office” as well as the airplane. I’d encourage everyone to read this fantastic 2014 article about his life, it’s where I first heard of him.

But enough about history…

We just had a short weekend visit to the city, along with Marina’s sister and mum. We made the most of it though, by crashing a party on Saturday night and getting free drink at the expense of a local society.

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Pro tip: Visit the Casa Claudio De Sousa, and you too might dine for free.

We stayed at Hostel 148, a bit up the hill from the centre – although the cheapest we could find at the last minute.

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There’s plenty to see on a short visit, lots of mansions

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And of course the Bohemia brewery.

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Brazil isn’t famous for it’s beer, because it’s mostly terrible. But that seems to be changing, and now even the big brands are venturing slowly into the “craft” beer market. We got some samples of Bohemia’s offerings.

On the journey back to Rio we tried to drive to a mountaintop near town, but got the car stuck on a tiny road. We eventually got back down, after appreciating the view.

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Prices

  • Santos Dumont Museum: R$8 / €2
  • Bohemia Brewery: Free! (But you will certainly buy beer in the shop)
  • Crystal Palace: Free!
  • Free drink: Free!
  • Hostel 148: R$35 / €10 per night
  • Food & Drink: A bit more expensive here, as it’s a tourist town.
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