Ilha de Formosa – Taiwan

Travel

During my latest journey to Asia, I took a chance to visit Taiwan, mostly its Northern part and its charming capital: Taipei. By reading more about this beautiful country, I realized that it is heavily influenced by Aboriginal culture and when Portuguese set foot in Taiwan for the first time, they named it ‘Ilha de Formosa’.

In this post I would like to focus on the town of Keelung, Yehliu Geopark, Pinglin and the Thousand Island Lake, as these are the short getaways I made within the Northern part of Taiwan.

On the way to Keelung, I stopped at the Da Fo Buddhist Temple which amazed me by its authenticity and colours. As well as some quirky, almost ‘kawaii’ elements, which were remarkable along the town. However, I learned from the local guide that Keelung has lost its prosperity. In the past, it was one of the main port entrances to Taiwan and in the times of airplanes, it has lost its strategic meaning.

Another wonderful and tranquile place to visit is the Thousand Island Lake. Obviously, I could not name all of the islands, but it has quite a winding and challenging trail where chances are, you will not meet any visitors (if you go early enough), except from the birds, or the dogs. In the surrounding villages the locals can offer a tasty breakfast options containing eggs boiled in tea with mushrooms (and that turned out to be one of the best culinary surprises for me!).

Further up North there is Yehliu Geopark where erosion and sea tides have shaped an amazing, almost Martian landscape on the coastline. If you look closely enough, you will notice fossils aged millions of years or junctions, since Taiwan lays on a quite active spot on one of the  Mother Earth’s tectonic plates.

I was particularly amazed by the flowers looking like shrimps or other sea animals I can’t name, as if the shape of the nature was inspired by the surrounding ocean. Who knows?

Last but not least, the Oolong Tea. And a few more types, including the ‘Grasshopper’ Tea which I was lucky to try during the traditional Taiwanese tea ceremony in Pinglin, a picturesque town laying in heart of the evergreen plantations. I can’t get out of my smell memory the first cup of ‘testing tea’ – it’s like a perfume. Enough saying that since I brought a lot of tea from Taiwan, I cut my daily coffee intake by half. And that means a lot!

I am already missing this place and look forward to discovering more of this part of the world, maybe later this year. This part of Taiwan reminded me a lot of peaceful islands of Azores which I may revisit soon, again.

Seven wonders in Sete Cidades

Travel

This is my last post (for now!) about the paradisiac island São Miguel, the most accessible one from the Azores archipelago. I have already written about its very special capital, and about the inland treasures. There is probably much more to write about, but I deliberately would like to leave the pictures taken in Sete Cidades (“Seven Cities” in English) and on the shores of the island to speak for themselves.Panoramic view over Sete Cidades and its Green and Blue Lake (Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul). The name of the town comes from the times of building a sustainable, democratic power in this part of the island, taking the votes of São Miguel’s seven cities representatives.
Sete Cidades is located in the westernmost part of the island, in the picturesque setting of the crater lakes. The difference in colours comes from the fact that one is more affected by the algae. However, the effect is indeed magic, and could probably be a great Portuguese candidate for the Seven Wonders of the World.


On the northernmost shores of São Miguel one can experience equally breathtaking views and try tea or pineapple from the local plantations. Actually, Azorean tea is the only one remaining old-fashioned producer in Europe. The delicate taste of Cha (eng. tea) Gorreana reminds me of this wonderful trip anytime I drink it back at home…To finish off this chapter, I would like to share my last moments on the Northern tip of the Island, where the peninsula is funnily shaped like a tartaruga (eng. turtle). I did not say ‘adeus‘, only ‘ate logo’. Next time I’ll visit Azores, I’ll try to sail or fly to the smaller, less accessible islands, I’m sure it’s worth to touch again this piece of paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

São Miguel – the sheer beauty of simplicity

Travel

São Miguel is not an island for lazy bones. The island has its unique microclimate, varying from tropical, to moderate and windy at the coastline. While visiting the inland of São Miguel, make sure you go prepared for 7 seasons! But most importantly, prepare for breathtaking views and picturesque landscape, which is still not empoverished by the massive tourism presence and is ideal for a day-long hiking.

Given its volcanic origin, one can find various crater lakes which can be reached by winding roads from lovely and so unpretensciously named towns such as: Ponta Delgada (“Thin Tip”), Rabo de Peixe (“Fish Tail”), Ribeira Grande (“Great River”) or Furnas (“Heater”).
  The truth is, it can get very warm and humid when you enter the green forests on the sleepery hills. When the rain caught me on the trail to Caldeira Velha (definitely my fave name “Old Boiler”), I did not think twice to jump in the hot spring. 

Hot springs, full of iron and other minerals are a free retreat offered by Mother Nature on this heavenly island. Another interesting fact is that in Furnas, the typical dish called cozido (“Cooked Meal” – another brilliant and self-descriptive name!) is prepared… below the ground. It takes about 8 hours to prepare a dish consisting of various types of meat and vegetable stew buried in a huge metal pot.

Yes, exactly like this one. Inside, the geothermal temperature goes up to 90 degrees Celcius, offering fantastic conditions to cook a very delicious stew.

The inland hills and roads are also very mystical. Almost all the roads are naturally decorated by hortensia (eng. hydrangea). The reason for it is also pretty simple: once upon a time, man discovered that cattle somewhat hates the smell of it. By planting it by the road, he made himself sure that the cows won’t be passing it. By now, these beautiful flowers grow almost everywhere the roads of the island, making São Miguel a particularly picturesque place to wander around and never come back.

The thin tip or the capital of Azores

Travel

Ponta Delgada means literally ‘Thin tip’, and is a capital of the enchanting archipelago of Azores I was lucky enough to visit a few weeks ago. But don’t be mislead by the name: its airport is definitely not such a thin stripe as the one on the Madeira Island and is already pretty busy. Ponta Delgada can be reached with the direct flights from Oporto, Lisbon, London and Amsterdam, and also from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Since it’s the first year of having the low fare airlines operating to Azores, the question is: for how long will the islands stay so peaceful and conserve its remote charm? It is true that there are three times more cows than inhabitants of the São Miguel Island, still being the biggest one of the Azorean archipelago. There are not too many hotels, or pensions (I stayed at the Azorean Urban Lodge, and recommend this experience very much!). However, it already looks pretty welcoming and offering a great deal of the infrastructure, including organized trips, hikes and excellent cuisine to the visitors.

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Some parts of the city look pretty abandoned, given the historical emigration rate, mostly to the East Coast of the US and Canada. Some buildings revive its ‘2nd life’ though, given the art-friendly policy of the city. Don’t be surprised if you notice some popular mural painters’ art on a random backyard street. Or if you see the endemite trees imported from the New Zealand during the colonial times. Expect the unexpected!

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Nature and art, in a peaceful cohabitance, make Ponta Delgada a very special place. Be it Rainha das Bifanas (‘The queen of the beef sandwiches’ – very popular Portuguese dish), the ‘Lion King of Football’ (very popular house decoration) or a fancy mural. This coexistence of different styles, climate (be prepared for weather changing few times per day) and cultures makes this town very special, and hope that this will stay so charming regardless of the massive tourism knocking at its door.

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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.