There are some buildings which just take your breath away. The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading in Rio is one of them. Not on the outside at least: coming up to the building on Rua Luis de Camoes you might think it is an old government building, or perhaps a rather modest church. Walk inside the entrance hall and you might still think this, until you spot up ahead a sight which is rather magical and wondrous and totally unexpected: a room that stretches up to a blue, white and red stained glass ceiling, covered entirely on all sides by old books.
It is magical indeed. And then you notice that there are tables with people sitting at them, reading books. This isn't a museum: any of those books on the shelves, yes, really, you can take them down and start reading.
Since 1887 when it was opened, the Cabinet of Reading has been Rio's repository for Portuguese literature, and culture in general (the collection houses art works). Speak to a librarian and they'll find a book for you. They are all really nice people, except one grumpy one who works in a corner and doesn't like people invading her space. At all. (I imagine she'd be much happier if the place was a museum where people could look but not touch.)
I was lucky enough to not only get to see this amazing place, but to poke around by myself in the back rooms where they were doing book repairs. And I also went up onto the top mezzanine level. AND CLIMBED ONE OF THE LADDERS! I've climbed snowy mountain peaks before, but never before have I scaled a South American literary peak.
A beautiful place. Made more so by being unexpected.