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Gainesville couple visits Rio de Janeiro 11 days before Olympics
Rob and Dale Jaeger cruise around Brazillian city to see the sights
The Olympic beach volleyball arena was being constructed when Rob and Dale Jaeger visited Leme Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

“Rio (de Janeiro) is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” Rob Jaeger said.

And he should know. He and his wife, Dale, have visited the city 10 times since their first voyage in 1989. In fact, the couple departed the second largest city in Brazil just 11 days shy of the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Gainesville residents since 1980, the Jaegers landed in the city in the southeastern corner of Brazil on July 20. Then they spent the first four days of their trip at the Sofitel off the coast of the Copacabana beach.

From their vantage point, they could see the expanse of the city, which is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and large mountaintops.

“It’s really pretty mountainous,” Rob said. “So much of the population is on the coast.”

And during their travels throughout the city, the Jaegers got an up close and personal view of the Brazilians’ preparations for the Olympics.

“They were working on the whole city,” Dale said. “It was fun to see (the developments).”

Down the road at the Barra da Tijuca beach, the Olympic buildings and venues were near completion. The couple saw the beach volleyball arena, the Olympics merchandise store and the aquatics center, among others.

“It was so impressive,” Dale said. “But we couldn’t get into the Olympic village.”

However, a cab driver got them close enough to the buildings to get photos from the window.

A science education museum, called the Museum of Tomorrow, was also constructed. Rob estimated the building’s cantilever, which is a type of building that juts out over the main frame, is 300 feet above the water. It also has solar panels that mirror the sun’s movements.

“We’ve always appreciated their aesthetics,” Dale said.

Flamingo Park, which was used for the women’s cross country races, was set up especially for the Olympics.

“The city has cleaned up,” Dale said.

She mentioned seeing workers everywhere they went, patching tiles or doing other maintenance work before the big games began.

“You could feel it coming together,” she said, describing the city as bustling, but nice before the big crowds rolled into town.

The couple noted the beach was less populated than usual before the Olympics. And it only had recently had some suburban development, Dale said.

From what they could tell from their previous visits, the city’s transformation was a positive one.

“They did a lot of public improvements,” said Dale, a landscape architect with The Jaeger Co.

Among other things, the city paved new sidewalks and added an electric bus route system.

“There will be a lot of mass transit after the Olympics leave for the people to use,” she said.

The one area untouched by the improvements were the residential houses in the area. Most homes within the city are built with ceramic blocks, are windowless and do not have heating units or air conditioners.

“They’ve got million-dollar views, though,” said Rob, a real-estate appraiser.

The rest of the buildings in the city, in his opinion, are “amazingly beautiful” and mostly constructed with yellow and white blocks.

A lot of controversy has surrounded this year’s Olympics. Before the events started, rumors were buzzing the city wouldn’t be ready in time.

“We heard ‘Oh, it’s going to be a trainwreck,’” Rob said.

But the city, which he had visited so many times before, was always ready to accommodate the Olympics in his eyes.

“There’s already so much there,” Rob said. “It’s already such a special place.”

Another concern among athletes was the Zika virus, but the Jaegers weren’t worried.

“It’s winter in Rio,” Dale said, explaining the cool temperatures kept mosquitoes at bay while they were there for four days.

Since they had been so many times before, they also knew how to conduct themselves in dangerous areas.

“I never bring any jewelry,” Dale said.

The pair also don’t go out late at night and use common sense when needed.

“(Safety is) no joke,” Rob said. “But it’s no joke anywhere.”

Knowing how to keep themselves safe made their trip more pleasant. It also helped they learned to speak some Portuguese this time.

“They really appreciate it when you try and speak the language,” Dale said.

Rob said he learned using CDs while traveling. But Dale met with an instructor and took lessons two times a week to prepare.

“It’s really a melodic language,” she said.

Not only have they tried to learn the language, but they try to eat like the locals, too.

“Their diet is rich in rice and beans,” Dale said.

One menu item called feijoada adds meat into the mix and is served in huge portion sizes.

“It’s very filling,” she said.

And buying food and souvenirs was an improvement this year since the exchange rate was on their side. One dollar of U.S. currency was worth $3.3 Brazillian real.

“They’ve had extreme inflation … It’s more stable now,” Dale said.

On a past trip, the currency became “virtually worthless” while they were staying in the county.

“They brought it back down for the Olympics,” Rob said.

The Jaegers trip ended Aug. 8 after spending time in the Brazilian state of Bahia’s capital, Salvador.

Back in the 1990s, the Jaegers hosted three foreign exchange students from Bahia.

“They were wonderful role models (for our daughter),” Dale said.

Two of them still live there, while one lives in Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest city.

That’s partly why they decided to visit Rio for this trip, since one of the girls is now grown and planned her son’s baptism for when the Jaegers could be there.

 “The church was beautiful and the setting on the town square with a view of the Atlantic Ocean made it even more special,” Dale said.

She mentioned the service was similar to one in the United States, so they were able to follow along in the Portuguese-only ceremony.

The Jaegers plan to visit the country again, “hopefully multiple times” in the future, Dale said.