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Manaus

Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Snapshot: Along with Cuiaba, Manaus is most often appointed the "white elephant" of the 2014 World Cup. It is easy to see why. The best local club, Nacional, plays in Serie D and is watched by hundreds (on a good day) rather than thousands of fans, making the long-term prospects of the Arena Amazonia somewhat doubtful. But Manaus has a population of almost 2 million people, and the region represents almost 43 percent of the land mass of the country. Manaus is located in the middle of the rain forest, better served by river than road. The bustling docks area is always good fun, and the famed Teatro Amazonas (opera house), built at the height of the rubber boom, is unmissable. Boat trips up the river and into the jungle start from Manaus too.

Getting there: Manaus is around 2,700 miles by road from Rio de Janeiro -- and it would not be advised to travel by car as the roads in the surrounding area are not well developed. Instead, a flight to Manaus' Eduardo Gomes International Airport is the most practical option; the journey takes four hours from Rio de Janeiro.

With its location on the main avenue (Av. Constantino Nery) of the city and less than 3 miles from the old city centre, getting to the stadium should not be a problem, although beware the heat if you want to walk from your hotel as the average high temperature is 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius) with the humidity at times overwhelming.

Where/what to eat: Forget barbecues and feijoada, the bean stew so famously associated to Brazil. Amazonian gastronomy will impress thanks to its access to unique ingredients. Fish (peixe) dishes are a must, given that more than 2,000 species inhabit the Amazon River (tambaqui and pacu are the most renowned varieties), but a lot of cassava-based stews are also popular. Exotic fruits like cupuacu, which tastes similar to a combination of pear and pineapple, are a treat for the untrained taste buds, while the now-mainstream superfood acai can be a refreshing alternative for the warmer times of the day.

Banzeiro (Rua Teresina, 102) has a glowing reputation among locals, with the setting simple but the food and service top class. The Portuguese Alentejo (Rua Para, 555) excels with its cod dishes. Shin Surazan (Joao Valerio, 762) offers fantastic sushi with an eclectic mix of river food.

Where/what to drink: Soak up the atmosphere at O Chefao (Rua Ferreira Pena, 50), where the decor is inspired by "The Godfather." Boasting a decent beer list, O Chefao also offers excellent sharing platters of such things as cheese and beef that make for a social evening out.

At Bar do Armando (Rua 10 de Julho, 593), you can drink caipirinha lime with rum while observing passers-by on the seats outside. Fresh, cold beer is also in good supply, as are the cheese and ham sandwiches. Bar do Armando, in the centre of the city, guarantees cold beer, great appetisers and a full house every night.

Where to stay: The majority of the city's accommodations is located in the urban sprawl rather than in the rain forest itself -- although it is certainly possible to sleep amid the trees in one of the many lodges or pricier and plusher eco resorts. If you are feeling less adventurous, the Adrianopolis neighbourhood would be a wise bet as it is close to most of the sights.

Area trivia: The now-retired Francisco Lima was born in Manaus and went on to represent a number of clubs across the globe. The defensive midfielder's clubs included FC Zurich, Lecce, Bologna, Roma, Lokomotiv Moscow and the San Jose Earthquakes before he returned to his hometown to feature for Nacional, Rio Negro and Sao Raimundo.

Sightseeing: The Arena Amazonia is located in arguably the most important city in Brazil's Amazon region. Manaus is steeped in history, given its tales of pomp and doom following its role in the frenzy for rubber at the end of the 19th century. While the world's biggest rain forest is undoubtedly a tourist magnet, the capital of the Amazonas state has been eager to boost its image as a modern urban centre.

The Amazonas Theatre is an impressive sight, dating from Manaus' golden age. If a concert coincides with your visit, do consider attending. If not, then perhaps take a guided tour. Meanwhile, the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market) boasts a fine array of produce, food and souvenirs displayed in an impressive setting that has plenty of character.

Adolpho Ducke's Botanical Garden, the small but interesting Tropical Zoo and the Natural History Museum will give you a great overview regarding the biodiversity of Amazonia. Definitely put time aside for at least a one-day trip to the rain forest, while the meeting of the waters, where the Rio Negro and Amazon River combine, is a captivating phenomenon. Consult your hotel about guided tours to these attractions.

Arena Amazonia is to be opened: 2013

Matches to be played at Arena Amazonia: England vs. Italy (June 14), Cameroon vs. Croatia (June 18), USA vs. Portugal (June 22), Honduras vs. Switzerland (June 25).

Capacity: 42,374

Cost: Estimates range from 500 million to 600 million reals ($230-275 million, 140-170 million pounds).

Stadium history: The Arena Amazonia is situated in the place of the Vivaldao stadium, which after opening in 1970 was demolished in 2011 to make way for its more futuristic successor. The biggest local side is Nacional, who were founded in 1913.

Stadium trivia: The ground is located in the Amazon rain forest, making for a stunning and unique setting. Being so close to nature, consideration for the environment has been at the forefront of the stadium's build, with a system in place so that rainwater is captured and reused to water the pitch or supply the restrooms.

After the tournament has finished, the venue will, according to FIFA, host concerts and cultural events. However, reports in September claimed the venue could be used as a detention centre.

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