Beira Alta – my first time in Portugal

Personal, Travel

This month I have been enjoying hot and sunny weather in Berlin, but I travel in time and without moving to my very first time in Portugal. Since I started this blog over 4 years ago, many things have changed: the city I live in, the job, personal and interpersonal constellations too.

Moving back in time, my adventure with Portuguese language started with me being curious about the sound, structure and melody of it. Then, some cinematic and musical inspirations came up, and I started reading more about Portugal as a country itself. How distant it seemed to me, not to mention the other Portuguese-speaking countries that I wouldn’t dream to discover so soon in early 2000s.

In summer 2007 I saved some student pocket money for a 3-week-round train ticket around Europe: Interrail to reach the most far off country in Europe, Portugal. I didn’t really have much more money to spend on local transportation, accommodation or amusement, so I joined a voluntary service in the rural area of Beira Alta, dedicated to Roman-times archeology camp. In exchange for few hours of physical work in the early morning (the temperatures at noon could easily rise up to 40 degrees Celcius!), I stayed for 2 weeks in a picturesque village of Coriscada, located precisely in the middle of nowhere.

When after 2 days drive by >5 trains, I stepped out of the compartment in the town of Celorico da Beira, I did not really have any expectations. Everything was new to me, the language sounded very unfamiliar and exotic, and I had my first cultural shock already ticked (elderly ladies sniffing drugs in the compartment with some raving Portuguese and Spanish teens!).

I did not speak Portuguese at this point, and I didn’t really know how useful it will be to communicate with local volunteers and inhabitants. Fortunately, my French was very fluent at that time and since a lot of the local population either had families emigrating to France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, or have spent some time working there themselves, I had no problems in getting to know them.

I was extremely lucky that our team leader at a camp was an avid adventurer, polyglot and traveler himself, Luis, and he shared some good tips on how to discover the world at ease. During the stay in Beira Alta, I had a chance to discover the hidden and picturesque villages like Marialva, or Pocinho (where the scenic train to Porto is taking off) and bigger, historic cities like Guarda, bordering with Spain and welcoming the nearby Spanish neighbors by… horse’s tails. For some reasons all of the sculptures involving horses, were facing West and showing the Eastern border their back…

I was even luckier to have been invited to local festivities, cellars with delicious wine & cheese, probably some of the best on this planet (just think about Portuguese tinto and queijo da Serra da Estrela) and got first hand stories about aging donkeys, youth escaping to big cities or foreign countries, preserving the traditions and finding similarities between Portugal and Poland.

When I came back, I knew it’s just the start of my discovery series, and I hope to continue these for the years to come, through music, people, travel and literature.

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Mirando a la Palma

Personal, Travel

This a post about a short getaway to a beautiful island but most importantly about the friendship that never ends. Last month I was very lucky to meet with my crazy bunch of people I love.We stayed together throughout various great and tough times and it is important to celebrate that we have each other in our lives. Regardless of the distance that separate us nowadays as we live in different countries, we care about making our regular getaways happen.

I am glad that it looks like since last year we found another spot for our get togethers: Palma de Mallorca.

One of my best friends, Olga, relocated there last year and I already knew this will be a great place for her: for the love of the Spanish language, sunny days and plenty of opportunities to practice for her crazy sportive activities. There were also other changes that happened, not all that easy, but they turned out to be positive and made her grow a lot. As soon as I learned that she had settled down for good, I called our friend who currently lives and works in Dubai, to find a date for us to meet. Since I only started a new job, I didn’t have much time off, but with a regular 2-hour flight connection from Berlin, spending the last weekend of November felt like a bliss. Empty, but still warm and sunny spots and lots of laughter, and meaningful conversations and affirmations recharged my batteries for the long winter to come.

We repeated our get together in June and this time it was a full of chilling at a beach or small calas during the day, and enjoying the warm nights at delicious restaurants and rooftops in Palma. Wallowing in the warm sea for hours, and our insight jokes and simply living la vida loca, we had tremendous time together.

I can’t really complain at the summer in Berlin, probably the warmest and longest we’ve seen in years, however it’s not all about the place, it’s also about the people. Among them, fantastic women who travel and are not afraid of taking difficult decisions. I also need the sea, as Pablo Neruda once said, it teaches me. Looking back, I am so grateful for this time we have spent. In the meantime, my life will continue to be divided between various places on Earth where I left a piece of my mind, heart and soul together with my dearest friends. The price for that abundance of love in the world is occasional melancholia that tears you apart, but also drives you to continue to explore, learn and grow as a human.

This post was prompted today as my special thoughts go to Weronika who is staying at a hospital and I wish her a speedy recovery. Hope to soon spend some good time together, vecina from Poznan, Barcelona and these days, Berlin.

 

 

Meet me halfway, in Aveiro

Personal, Travel

I’ve been to Aveiro for the first time in 2007 during my very first trip to Portugal. It caught my attention as I was staying in Oporto and it was accessible by a regional train pretty easily. Worth mentioning that I was poor as a church mouse and the only reason I could afford it was due to saving my scholarship award money for months in order to buy the Eurail ticket. It would allow me to travel around Europe for 21 days using most of the train service. For the rest of the time, I was volunteering at an archeological site in the literal middle of nowhere, in the most rural (and authentic!( part of Portugal: Beira Alta, as I was craving for some manual, physical work in the sun, after spending a whole year studying clinical psychology and linguistics.

I recall a sunny, windy day; colourful houses and azulejos around canals and lagoons – thinking of a funny fusion of Portugal and the Netherlands. It was a day trip and I’ve enjoyed a beer in the sun with way too many tremosos – salty, marinated and thirst-inducing beans served often to create a drinking loop.

 

Fast forward 11 years later, I spontaneously found myself in Aveiro again. This time thanks to my partner’s sister who happened to be in Portugal around the same time we were. As she travelled to Oporto, and we were in Lisbon, we decided to meet halfway in Aveiro to enjoy a Sunday funday together. Not that Berlin and Warsaw are completely different and separated worlds, but why not meeting in Portugal for a change.

Contrary to 2007, it was the most rainy, springtime day and we couldn’t really explore the lagoons or take a gondola ride on the canals (although the obscene pictures on the boats were promising some great adventures!). Thankfully though we had a few indoor recommendations and bumped into a very friendly bistro, offering vegetarian treats, which is not a common standard in Portugal. As a foreign and exotic language speaking group and myself bringing a strange Portuguese Brazilian/mixed accent, we were getting some attention, and the locals were even showing us the mobile app on how to rate and match table wines. Despite the rain, it was definitely a Sunday funday family reunion in the middle of nowhere, and I would definitely repeat such an experience.

This month we’ll be traveling around Galicia in Spain, something I was looking forward to for a very long time, visiting Islas Cies, and Finisterre aka the medieval End of the World. I plan a few more extreme getaways this and next year too, so I hope to keep you posted regularly with some new content.

 

Lisboa does not love?

Personal, Travel

First of all: this post is all about love. My everlasting love for Lisbon.

Secondly, it is about sustainable tourism, gentrification and all the negative things that make me think if I should continue writing this blog ever more.

Lastly, it is about the sadness about losing the authentic touch for which I initially fell for when I decided to move to that city, and re-visit almost each year.

So what happen this month? I had a chance to travel to Oporto where not so much changed and then spend a couple of days in Lisbon for the Lisb:On festival and visiting my friends and favourite places.

While I’m very interested to see the rising number of people talking about Lisbon’s unique atmosphere, as well as observing the interest of the investors in the start up scene out there that make the city a living entity attracting expats and creative workforce, I am very worried about Lisbon’s entering solely commercial path.

I’m tired about being bothered by street selling, exactly the same like in Rome, Barcelona or Venice, being approached by tuk-tuk drivers (what does it have to do with Lisbon anyway?!) or being treated like a tourist anywhere I go. Even if I know the city well and speak Portuguese. And don’t act out like a prototype tourist. Website Lisboa-Does-Not-Love.com lists the reasons why massive tourism is destroying the city and its morale and acts as the code of conduct while in Lisbon, but will it stop the massive tourism craziness?
I had to spit out my frustrations about the changing landscape of one of my beloved cities, and pose an open question: should we advertise for places we think are unique? Of course the sole act of visiting will not destroy the well-kept secret, but the scale of reach out via travel/lifestyle blogs may actually lead to it.
That’s why with mixed feelings, I’d like to leave you thinking about which direction can Lisbon take to prevent from becoming another tourist-fuelled city like London, Barcelona or Venice? I care too much about Lisbon to simply never visit again, as this replicates the scheme for which I moved out from Barcelona and hope never be forced to relocate from Berlin.
I love all Lisbon, much as I do love Barcelona and can’t keep falling in love with Berlin. What I’m just pretty sure about is that they don’t love massive tourism.

Women Who Travel

Personal, Travel

This post is not dedicated to any particular journey I’ve made. This post is about women who travel: independently, in a creative and respectful way. Just the way they live their lives. They are no abstract protagonists, they are represented by women I know in my family (starting from my awesome Mother), my friends and colleagues, and finally: myself. However, the happenings from last week in Ecuador proved how fragile our freedom for travel is. I want to dedicate my own personal Women’s Day tribute for the memory of all the female travellers who lost their lives because of sexism, misogyny and fundamentalism.

There is so much anger in me, although initially there was simply immense sadness when I heard about the unbelievably brutal and pointless murder of two Argentinean women travelling in Ecuador. Sadness gave way to anger when I analysed the language of the press coverage: initially putting the blame on the travellers to be behave reckless, inappropriate, and visiting the dangerous places. Calling out to parents, why the hell they let them travel alone. In 2016, really?!

This could be me. I travelled alone (not even with the other friend!) thousands of miles in my life, simply because I like discovering things at my own pace. Other times, I travelled ‘only’ with my Mother, or my female friend(s), and I met so many great, like-minded women on my way! I always try to inform myself about the place I’m travelling to, the customs and things to take into consideration, and I never seek out the dangers for the sake of adrenaline rush. Still, I was mugged only once, the luggage that got lost, got back to me through the seven mountains and jungle, and I never had problems with unwanted sexual attention, as I knew how to handle such situations within clean communication and in a respectful way, if needed.

Still, I have to consider myself luck, as this shit is still happening, at a very creepy scale. Unnamed authorities calling us to cover our bodies, be accompanied by men or family or stay at home at night, as if we were an object to carry. I am very frightened to see this conservative trend taking over in many countries around the world and I want to voice my scream against the freedom of women around the world, the explorers, the curious, the mindful and the half of this beautiful world!

Don’t let us scare off, close at home, force into relationships for the only sake of protection (disclaimer: I don’t have anything against the great couples, I’m just putting a broader context!) which ultimately leads into manipulating us more easily. At no other times women had a better financial situation and travelling was considered easier than nowadays, in general. I would like to embrace all my experiences that made me a person that I am now: open for changes, diversity and uncertainty in life, able to risk and step out of my comfort zone to deep dive into something new. And I would like to thank to all the amazing people I met on my way that acknowledged the fact I love travelling alone, and making it an unforgettable story of its own.

RIP Maria José and Marina.

Relaxa – how to get through the cold and dark days

Music, Personal

This very laid-back and relaxing post should help to wipe out all the Brazilian-homesickness feelings. Especially in the winter months in Europe.

I personally first escaped the Central European winter a few years ago with relocating to the South of the continent (with a short but life-changing period of living in Brazil), and last year came back to the same four-season pattern in Berlin. I find it physically challenging to get through until end of March or so, but have found my ways. German way of saying “it’s not cold, you’re only dressed inappropriately” helps to shift the focus too. I have to say that having survived summer in Arctic, helped me too.

So, having gathered warm clothes, bought 20 types of tea and mate, I can say I’m prepared. But the crucial thing to survive the dark and cold days is to… listen to Brazilian music!

So let me share you my top 3 tracks that have magically spelled out flu, sore throat, but also depression, loneliness and other side effects of the European winter:

“Relaxa” – the message is clear either if you want to chill out after a tough week, if you’re feeling weak, or contrary – in a party mood. Painel de controle will get you in this upbeat and alegre mood.

“Na Boca do Sol” – reminds me of my Cidade Interior, Brasilia, I used to live for a while. This place, apart from being an architectural and social phenomenon, has shown me the most beautiful and unforgettable sunrises and sunsets.

“Chegou de Bahia” – of course, who wouldn’t be happier if visiting Bahia

Here I’d like to mention that next month I’ll be travelling to Africa to relax, unwind on the Cape Verde, while listening to mornas. The featured picture comes from Azores though, where, enchanted by its remoteness and beauty, I decided to discover more of the Atlantic archipelagos.

Morna – “Ocean blues”, Cape Verdian emblematic dance and music genre, recognised worldwide mostly by Cesaria Evora’s and Maria Andrade’s works

Que bandeira

Music, Personal

“Faz um ano, faz, que eu tenho muita paz
Quase um ano tem, e tudo muito bem
E se eu não voltar, não vá se preocupar
Todo mundo tem direito de mudar

Que bandeira que você deu
Que bandeira, não me entendeu
Caretice tua chorar
De maneira aqui pra brigar (…)”

These lyrics, coming from Marcos Valle’s ‘Que bandeira’ classic tune are one of my all-time favourites. The essence for non-Portuguese speakers boils down to being free to live wherever you want, being the owner of your destiny, choosing your future regardless of your origin.

“(…) Eu não voltei
E eu não voltei porque agora eu sei
Naquele papel eu ia pro pinel
E se alguém disser que eu me desmontei
Sou dono de mim e faço o que quiser

Que bandeira que você deu
Que bandeira, não me entendeu
Caretice tua chorar
Caretice tua brigar (…)”

So it’s been almost one year in Berlin. It’s good to make a retrospective of what I planned to accomplish, and what I actually did. The most important thing is that I feel happy, although the fact is that I am very free to travel and re-visit my beloved places. I have also started gathering my learnings and thoughts on my paralel blog: Berlinering, where I describe my current experiences and soon will publish some sort of essence of my first year in Germany.

‘(…) Sigo te querendo, te cantando, procurando uma desculpa,
Te querendo mais.
Vou te cantando, te querendo, procurando uma desculpa,
Te cantando mais.
Sigo procurando uma desculpa, te querendo, te cantando,
Te querendo mais
Vou procurando uma cantada, te querendo, me desculpe,
Te cantando mais

Tou sabendo de você
Tou sabendo, podes crer!’

I still love the places I lived or been to (like this heavenly beach of Joaquina in Brazil pictured above), but I don’t long for them. I know that if I want to come back, I would, anytime. This is probably why I am so happy here, about the choice and opportunity, and not the necessity. Because everyone should be free to live wherever he/she wants to. I would love this to be valid for everyone, in this crazy world we live in…

Uruguay: Paz e Tranquilidade no Cabo Polonio

Personal, Travel

Two years ago I was on the road in the Southern Brazil. This was when, by default, I decided to visit some parts of Uruguay and Argentina. I always wanted to visit the ‘Southern Cone’ as they call the region of the southernmost countries of America, given the magical realism literature I was into, people I met in Barcelona coming from there and simply: curiosity to discover the most distant and remote places of this continent. This post gathers some memories full of sun, ocean breeze and laughter of a few days I spent with my friend Jimena in the Eastern Uruguay.

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I met Jimena years ago in Barcelona and she was one of these people I instantly felt that I can get along with easily, so I was very sad when I learnt she was leaving town. I promised her the visit in her home country Uruguay though and – sooner than expected: I kept it. I was lucky enough to visit Jimena in a very remote, and charming location some 300 km east from Montevideo: Paloma, near Cabo Polonio.

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Cabo Polonio is a peninsula where the colourful, wooden architecture is preserved, and you can’t get there by the land road, only via natural park and beach, where access is limited. People live there in peaceful surrounding of the Atlantic Ocean, endless remote beaches famous for spotting whales passing by this latitude regularly. In the wintertime sea lions and seals are also quite often seen guests.

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I would like to dedicate this post to Jimena thanks to whom I could live the perfect ‘local authentic’ experience of a few days so close to the nature, living in a settlement which looked like a moon valley (see above), eat delicious fresh & sea food, and most importantly share precious moments together. As Jimena loves Portuguese much as I do, I’ll only say: muito obrigada, amiga!

Bem-vindas em Lisboa

Personal, Travel

In June I re-visited Lisbon on my way to Azores and spend there two weekends. I was lucky enough to live the last days of the Santo Antonio festivities and visit my favourite beaches: Guincho and Caparica. The city shined in the light of the sun, or yellow lanterns during the night.

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It changed greatly as well. The infrastructure is much better since the airport connects the city centre with a metro line. The Tagus river bank has now a boulevard to enjoy the sunsets while listening to the urban beat (often: Brazilian, Angolan combo of sounds – so good…). There are, however, more tourists than before. Lisbon became one of the ‘hottest European destinations’, and it is perfectly understandable. Fascinating history, quirky architecture, sunny weather, best beaches in Europe within 1 hour drive reach, great cuisine, English-speaking services and affordable prices. Sounds great, but too familiar for someone who lived 4 years in Barcelona, where ‘normal life’ has become unbearable due to the massive tourism.

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That’s why I am worried that the authenticity of Lisbon is at risk. My Lisbon friends no longer visit Alfama, as it is mostly invaded by tourists on segways, or worse: tuk-tuks creating serious traffic jams (!) on the little cobblestone streets.

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I don’t want to rant about tourism in general. This is what we all do if we want to discover new places, don’t we? But then let’s call it travelling. Lisbon is one of its kind, special location and I always love to come back there, but when I do, I try to respect the locals, and their everyday lives and customs.

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I always feel so welcome on the tiny streets, bars and pastelerias where time stopped years ago. I look at the faces that have seen different times, and now staring at the unconscious or intoxicated tourists passing by with the same indifference. Yet if you try to live the spirit of the traveller living the night and day of Lisbon, you will notice the difference.

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Bem-vinda seja, Lisbon seems to tell me anytime I land there. And soon I’ll be there again, on a my way to a very interesting art conference!

Portugalove

Personal, Travel
Just a quick heads up: I will be back again in Lisbon already this Saturday. I am more than happy to re-visit one of the cities that made great impact on my life and stayed always very close to my heart and soul. I am even happier that I will be able to participate in the Santo António celebrations which take place in the month of June all around different neighbourhoods.
I always enjoy the landing in Lisbon, as the plane normally takes a round around the Tejo river, the massive port entrance and flies just above the picturesque city centre. It wasn’t so much fun when I was living in Entrecampos neighbourhood for a while, as the air traffic is quite heavy and every couple of minutes a plane lands or takes off.
But that’s not the end of this year’s adventure. I am heading to the mid-Atlantic located Sao Miguel, the island from the Azores Archipelago. It was one of the dreams I had, to visit this remote, and still not too touristic place, full of natural wonders and amazing heritage. I will keep you posted about my stay there sometime in July, when I am back.
I dedicate this, perhaps a little bit naive, but how lovely, summery track to my long-awaited holidays, and to my beloved Portugal.