A rota da Felicidade – Costa Vicentina

Personal, Travel

If happiness is nature, ocean breeze on the cheeks and tranquility, I claim I have found it. Costa Vicentina is located in the South-Western part of Portugal and since many years it has been one of my favourite destinations in the world. It is still (!) not as popular and accessible as Algarve located in the south of the country and is a great destination for those who enjoy the nature, and powerful, jaw-dropping views while hiking. Not to mention surfing, which comes without saying as a consequence of such a landscape.

This year I’ve spent some time in Portugal, namely in Lisbon for work and life balance purposes in November. Weather around this time of the year can be surprising, if not hazardous and indeed, on the last day of my stay there were severe floodings and strong winds devastating almost all country including the capital. Staying connected to the weather warnings, I decided to travel to the south where the impact was not foreseen, at least for a day.

I took a national bus line from Lisbon to Lagos, calling at various sleepy towns of the Alentejo region. My first stop was in Porto Covo, a picturesque village south of Sines, known recently for a dispute against the petroleum investment, potentially destructive not only for the human but all the living species in the region. Porto Covo is the best example why such initiative should never happen – where the locals decorate the houses, palms and other vegetation and truly care for preserving their little paradise. I was very moved by the view of the colourful, winter sweaters embracing the plants, that may indeed feel cold during the Atlantic winter.

After a brief, 30 minutes stop the bus continued its journey further south, passing by vast, sandy beaches, and dramatic views of the National Park of Alentejo.

This region – famous for offering the out of this planet’s ocean landscape, but also fantastic wine, olives and cork. On the top of that, Alentejo can be discovered solely by foot. There are two hiking routes of approximately 250 kms each alongside the coast, or the interior. On the way one can discover natural and historic wonders, and encounter various animals (especially bird species, as I have spotted peregrine falcons, seagulls and jays struggling in the gust of ocean wind).

On that particular gloomy Sunday, I’ve taken a 12 km stroll around Zambujeira do Mar, another seaside town with breathtaking views. Contrary to the weather, while walking around Zambujeira, I noticed: a bunch of friendly people asking if I needed direction, street named for happiness and was welcomed and entertained by a very cheerful waitress in the local tasca. She was notably enjoying her work, unlike in the places where tourism is massive and overwhelming to everyone and offered be probably the best prato do dia I’ve had in a while.

Now, sitting next to the SAD lamp, my loyal companion during the winter months, I already fantasise about returning there, possibly planning a semi-active hiking trip from one winery to another in the upcoming year, combining physical activity with hedonistic pleasure. And I’d call it A Rota da Felicidade (The Happiness Route).

 

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Saudade at the tip of Europe

Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

I returned to Portugal for 9 days this month to reunite with my best friend at one of the biggest tech conferences, and for the change of air. Or even more metaphorically: to hear a wind of change. Nous voyageons pour chercher d’autres états, d’autres vies, d’autres âmes. So we travel to search for new states, new lives, new souls.

After a particularly busy week at the conference we took off to Cabo da Roca, about an hour away from Lisbon, to the Westernmost tip of continental Europe (and oh how I like the extremes, remoteness and ends of the world).

I returned there after many years: first time I had gone there when my adventures with studying in Portugal started off and ended up quite abruptly, and secondly after my father’s death, my break up and my return from Brazil effectively. From such experiences one could think it’s a place I would only contemplate finiteness, or profound sadness. Truth is, my last weeks have not been too easy at different wavelengths, at the same time.

Being around natural wonders, vast spaces and with people who are close to me is a one way I recover, music is the other solution. I guess this is why I am not tired of coming back to the sounds and landscapes which cure the soul, and constantly searching for the new ones as well. Hence I still curate Lusofonetica after over 4 years and return to the positive side of life eventually. Like in this beautiful song:

Não me deixe só
Eu tenho medo do escuro
Eu tenho medo do inseguro
Dos fantasmas da minha voz

Despite the darkness this season, various insecurities and ‘ghosts’ in my head, I still write up about the beauty of things in life I have seen and hope to see again, enlightened by the SAD lamp in my Berliner apartment.

At the tip of Portugal, the sun was shining, the sound of waves crushing magnificent rocks brought me to a state of meditation, tranquility and strength at the same time. There’s undoubtedly magic in places at the end of the world, causing our exploratory imagination to move further and remove the artificial obstacles.

After this trip I just hope this winter will be transformational to me. I see the sun.

 

To the South – Greek Macedonia & Chalkidiki

Travel

Last month I visited Thessaloniki, a capital of the Greek region Macedonia for the Polish-Greek wedding of my cousin, and took an opportunity to discover the peninsula of Chalkidiki.

Since I’ve already traveled to Thessaloniki two years ago, and did a very intense city sightseeing, I focused mostly on the earthly pleasures of this place: food and wine tasting all day; simply relaxing in the shadow, or observing the multicoloured sunsets from the cafés located on the Leorofos Nikis boulevard next to the city harbour.

The district I spent the most time was Ladadika – the heart of the nightlife, and the culinary heaven of the city.

After the festive celebration of the wedding, which was particularly interesting due to the multicultural mix of the guests and ceremony, I decided to opt for a few days of blissful rest at the peninsula of Chalkidiki, often recalled as the ‘three fingers/legs’: Kassandra, Sithonia and Agion Oros.

I initially wanted to discover the third ‘finger’: Agion Oros, an autonomous region with a magnificent Mt. Athos. Unfortunately, I was a victim of the tradition and my own gender, as till this date, women are not permitted to land on that particular peninsula due to strict beliefs of the monastery’s residents located there.

Kassandra was still fuelled by tourists but nevertheless, it was a perfect spot for chill out. I stayed in the town of Pefkochori known for one of the best beaches on the peninsula, and some of the best selection of seafood restaurants.

Towards the end of my stay, peaceful waters turned overnight into stormy waves and I could sense the season’s changing – it was already time to travel back to Berlin. The big blue painting of the sky and the sea stayed with me to survive the colder months of the year though.

L’usage du monde à Bordeaux

Travel

 

Last year, while visiting my friend Maria in Lisbon we had a chat about the usual topics we have on our minds: sustainable travel (not to mistake for tourism), languages and literature. She recommended me a book which I devoured with a great pleasure: ‘L’usage du monde‘ by Nicolas Bouvier.

It actually touched upon all these topics and provided a lot of guidance on how to discover the world with respect, quite contrary to the title meaning ‘Using the world’. I’d like to come back in time and describe briefly my last year’s stay in Bordeaux, and reconnect with my ‘French period’. I studied French literature for a few semesters and spent some time discovering the country and its language.

 

My first blog ever, after my summer stay as a intern in the South of France contains of quite a lot of travel, music and cinematic inspirations. Some of it I can’t recall very well these days or am ashamed of writing those days, but leave it up there for the sake of literary honesty and smoky traces.

After many years, I decided to travel to France again to visit the Aquitaine coastline and the city of Bordeaux, famous for its 18th century architecture, fantastic cuisine and wine. Some of the things that I enjoy the most in life (especially when it comes to red wines like Merlot, Malbec or Carmenère – all present in the region of Bordeaux).

The city, divided by the river Garonne has an entry basin to the ocean, so it is often visited by various cruisers – both those that came through the river (often as far as Switzerland or Germany) or Atlantic route. Along the river there are a plenty of cafés, restaurants, concert halls and sport spots. It feels very egalitarian for various age groups and classes: it’s neither too bourgeoise, not too rough.

The area of Chartrons neighbourhood is full of interesting street art. As for the museums, no one should miss the City of Wine, and the contemporary museum: CAPC. Aside from that, Bordeaux feels spacious and not overly crowded by tourists, even during the summer season.

Bordeaux is a perfect city to discover on foot, by bike or convenient and fairly cheap public transport: buses and trams. When speaking French, I felt very encouraged to chat at a pretty much any occasion, quite opposite to my first harsh experiences in Paris.

When tired of the cityscape, within an 1-2 hours train drive’s reach, there are also natural spots like the highest European dune: Dune du Pilat, breathtaking Atlantic coast beaches and cute seaside towns.

Having spent four days only, I could only touch upon the beauty of Bordeaux, the palate of its wine, but already promised myself to return to France soon. Coming back to speaking has been easier for me than learning German, although I have to admit the relative difficulty among these two languages stays similar to me. À bientôt!

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.

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.

 

 

Gone with the wind in Galicia

Travel

Last month I travelled to the North-West of Spain, Galicia, to disconnect with the hustle and bustle of the city. On the way, I have stopped in my beloved Barcelona to spend some time in the city with my friends, and eventually I was speaking at a conference there. That’s why I needed to reconnect with nature and inner peace of mind so much. It was the second time around that area for me, and this time I visited Vigo, Islas Cíes and Finisterre (Fisterra in Galego).

Vigo was initially meant to be only a stopover location on the way to Cíes Islands, but I decided to stay longer. Partly because it is an absolutely non-touristic location, partly because it offers extraordinary foodie experience and last but not least, its industrial history fascinated me.

As a city of slightly over 300 thousand inhabitants, it offers e.g. four gourmet star restaurants. Besides such a luxury, one can afford a very decent quality of life, however, the problem is that well-educated youth is leaving the city quite soon. Nowadays it seems empty and derelict at times, even though it has some good technical universities. Located only about 100 km North from Porto, a rising star of the European innovation scene, I bet it may become an interesting hub in a few years as well.

After visiting Vigo, I was anxious about the ferry trip to Cíes Islands. It offers only seasonal connection by ferry (from May till September) and as it is a natural park, one have to apply for the permit to land from the Galician Government in advance.

I was told about these mysterious Atlantic Islands close to the Spanish coast by a friend who used to live in Portugal and summarized it as a truly paradisiac destination (cielo in Spanish means ‘heaven’, hence Cíes Islands means ‘Heavenly Islands’). Since I’m craving for remote places, it was quite high on my priority list of destinations to visit.

I’ve chosen to spend a whole day hiking around the island – in between climbing up the rocks, I also rested at the empty Caribbean-like beaches. I have to admit though that at times, this was far from a remote place. Even though May is only a start of the season to visit and I can imagine the peak of the tourism happens later in the summer.

Still, the government does its best to limit the number of visitors and prevents from destroying the natural habitat of the island. I was reminded many times, by squeaking seagulls, that these islands are primarily their home, not humans’.

In the pictures above, it is made quite clear, how many of them are nesting on the Heavenly Islands and how easily it is to destroy their homes. I always travel being respectful for the others earthly creatures, and try to limit my impact on their development.

After visiting this heavenly place, I took the road alongside the Western shores of Galicia aka Costa da Morte, towards ‘The end of the World’, Fisterra in Galego language, or Finisterre in Spanish.

The end of the world is the Westernmost Peninsula that attracts plenty of pilgrims and reflects on the Medieval symbolics of the end of the earthly lives. Back in a day, they believed that behind the dreadful waves of the Atlantic Ocean, there is a place that devilish creatures live.

Avoiding the brutally commercialized town centre, I focused on exploring the particular architecture and romantically derelict villages. I discovered the meaning of hórreo – a popular granary raised above the ground on mushroom-looking pillars that prevented rodents from stealing the crops, typical for North of Spain and Portugal. They prevailed till now and are often kept in the gardens, not only as a decoration.

Another peculiar thing observed at this relative end of the world is the cemetery, designed by a famous modernist architect César Portela. Taking into consideration a location: not without reason named as Costa da Morte (Death Coast), its resemblance of the final destination, between the light of the sea and the sun, it inspired to place a project of a communal cemetery.

It is currently abandoned, even though it won a prize in 2003. I was very moved by the philosophy of the light and location of the project and hope it will come to life one day.

At the end of the old world, Europe’s lunge into an immense sea of freedom, I felt very alive. Pensive, thrilled by the views, sounds and tastes I discovered in this one week, I am fully recharged and ready for the summer madness to come.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Abril, aguas mil – Lisbon in the rain

Personal, Travel

Iberian peninsula during springtime is wet, dramatic and unforeseeable. Unless you expect the unexpected, or something which would discourage many tourists (and leaving these beautiful lands at peace!), i.e. torrential rains, strong winds and only short spells of the sun. There’s even a saying about it both in Spanish and Portuguese ‘Abril, aguas mil!‘. I’ve experienced it very well living in Lisbon, Faro and Barcelona, still this kind of weather did not scare me off from visiting my beloved Lisbon for a city break, hungry for something different after a long and bleak Berliner winter. And knowing there will be less crowds than usual, to enjoy the springtime rain smells and spells.

I decided to picture these days with my new camera, Nikon D5100, and although I don’t pretend to be a professional in this area either, it was quite some fun to explore its different effects. Still, Lisbon looks pretty even in the eye of the worst photographers!

Bad weather was also a great occasion to explore Lisbon’s tech hub: I have connected with various professionals working in the industry, including FarFetch, Uniplaces and Zalando. It was great to see how the city is growing its potential and economy, and I asked a lot of uncomfortable questions, including the responsibility over the gentrification, lower remuneration and taxation than in other parts in Europe.

Getting the current insiders’ perspective was refreshing and I am looking forward to connect with more people during this year’s WebSummit where I’ll definitely show up. I was delighted by the experience and offers that this city gives after years I’ve got to know it, but I still think about how the fast tech growth could take into consideration the city’s history, pace, specificity and not leave the less privileged inhabitants behind and push outside of the city limits.

I do believe that tech can make a positive impact, much more than mass tourism model, but needs to be tackled early enough. I hope for the social responsibility actions to be taken in Lisbon and other cities in Portugal and Spain, flourishing years after of financial crisis such as Porto, or Valencia. Even though I can honestly admit that I’m a part of the problem, I still remember living there on a shoe string, as a student and being able to make it a valuable experience.

Final words go to my partner, an author of some of the tram photos. Visiting Lisbon for the first time, I benefited a lot from his sharp and new perspective on things, and he was lucky enough to experience an empty Tram #28 at night, something which is a hard to find, very special setting in this city.

Oranges in the winter – a short trip to Valencia

Music, Travel

I’ve been to Valencia for the first time over winter holidays, when I still used to live in Barcelona. This year I came back to this beautiful place, as I was invited to participate in the Berklee College of Music panel for re-envisioning careers in the entertainment industry.

Since winters in the part of Europe I’m living in can be particularly bleak, dark and long, an escape in January to the Mediterranean city was a bliss.

Valencia is a vibrant, yet smaller and less tourism-fueled city 300 km South from Barcelona, bridging a historical part with a modern architecture and initiatives.

In the 80’s it was an important place for the birth of rave and techno scene in Spain, following La Movida art movement. (In)famous for the Ruta Destroy, or Ruta del Bakalao, Valencia set the tone for the future of Spanish scene alongside Ibiza, Barcelona or Madrid.

Berklee College of Music shares its location with the Opera House of Valencia, and it’s quite common to spot people like Placido Domingo on its monumental corridors.

I was lucky enough to be shown Berklee’s interior and DJing and recording studios, as well as participated in the cultural programme including concerts, jam sessions with artists like Patrice Rushen.

Although it was a pretty intense business trip, I took some time to stroll around the streets of Valencia, enjoy the intense blue of the sky and the rays of sun, while the oranges were blossoming and the spring was in the air at the beginning of January.

While writing this now, it’s -11 degrees Celcius in Berlin, I’m living my dream working for the music tech industry and enjoy the occasional travel to exciting places like this.

Having an opportunity to connect with exciting composers, founders of Sonar Festival and Live Nation, chatting in Spanish I do realise though how fertile is the ground for creativity in places like Valencia.