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.

 

 

 

 

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Warm sands of the Nordeste

Travel

On a grey day like today I like to time travel and re-discover the place where the warm sun, sand and water give shelter. The winter has not even started in Europe, but it’s been incredibly cold for over a month or so. Patience is key, and so are the winter time escapes. In one month I will be travelling to Hong-Kong, but before I need to find a way to deal with the dark and freezing reality.

To cheer myself up, I refrain to the memories of February 2013 when I travelled to Rio Grande do Norte, precisely Natal, Tibau do Sul and Praia da Pipa, the capital of the region and emblematic seaside towns in the North-Eastern part of Brazil.

Not only the warmth of the sun, sand and water, but also the cheerful and relaxed nature of the inhabitants made this location a perfect winter getaway destination.

I was lucky to live in a small condominio of the Atlantic forest between Praia da Pipa and Tibau de Sul where I was woken up by the birds chanting, and oh well, some insects.

The location is perfect for the surfers and wanderers. Wide beaches are perfect to walk around in between the high tides, and when it comes, it is amazing to simply jump on the prancha (surf board) and try your best fighting the powerful water element.

Years have passed and I remember the smell of the salty water, the taste of the local cuisine, the view of the bonfires burning at night at the beach and the songs of the local vendors. I definitely plan to come back, possibly visiting the beautiful archipelago of Fernando da Noronha islands. Stay tuned!

Tarrafal, o paraíso remoto

Travel

After my first two days in Praia, I followed up with a short trip to the neighbouring island of Fogo (port. fire) and Cidade Velha, the first colonial settlement in West Africa, but the real treat was only waiting for me on the other side of the Santiago Island.

We boarded North on the Christmas Eve, hoping to get to the other tip of the island before the dusk – not only because we wanted to have a traditional feast, but to safely cross the picturesque, yet dangerous Serra Malagueta mountain range. Dangerous if you drive in the pick up together with some other, 20 people inside (and a duck, in this particular case).

So we made it to Tarrafal, a town on the Northwestern tip of the island, the destination for the hippie families, laid-back wanderers who love watching the sunsets (if the weather conditions are great, you get to see the sun setting over the Fogo volcano – I didn’t take my camera when it happened, oh well), drinking coconut water, or surfing. There are three beaches in the bay of Tarrafal, and all of them offering white sand: a rarity on this island.

Tarrafal is also a very popular holiday destination for the Cape Verdeans – there were many families, often travelling all the way from France (where the biggest diaspora of Cape Verde is currently based) that were spending time until the festivities of Santo Amaro (happening on 15th January).

Having spent over 5 days in Tarrafal, I got accustomed to the local community: having visited both the church, as the local festivities (in the cultural centre with the Anonymous logo :)) of batucadeiras and eating out in the local bars and restaurants and celebrating in the Mercado Central. Contrary to Praia, here the time passed slowly, peacefully in the shadow of the funny Monte Gordo (eng. Fat Mountain) and I reflected back on it, talking to the fishermen, surfers, or homeless dogs on the beach and simply enjoying to learn about life in this little, remote paradise on Earth.

 

 

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!

Trojan Horse was a Unicorn and lived in Troia

Travel

What is the connection between a remote peninsula in Alentejo and a well-known digital art conference? Well, both relate to the Trojan Horse. The conference and collective are named after a Trojan Horse (who) was a Unicorn, and its anual venue takes place in this remote, peninsular location of Troia in Portugal.

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I was invited there last week to meet a bunch of concept artist, illustrators and animators from the film, entertainment and gaming world. It took me only two days to interview about 70 people and see their portfolios, some of them presenting pretty interesting (or at least: quirky) stuff.

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The place itself is also specific, to put it this way. Three years ago there was nothing more than a fishermen village on this enchanting peninsula South of Lisboa Metropolitan and Setubal anyway, surrounded by the Sado river estuary and Atlantic Ocean. Then, the luxury resort was built and although architectonically it’s not that much of a disaster, it has a strange feeling.

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This is what happens often in places that offer great climate and nature sights all year round: it attracts greedy real estate investors. Hopefully Troia was not entirely covered in concrete and glass, and the National Park of Sado River Estuary was preserved carefully.

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Being a complete sucker for Portuguese landscape, cuisine, language and what-not, I enjoyed my stay in the luxury village of Troia. Thanks to some tiny cafés and restaurants that remained there, as well as great companion of those who participated in the Trojan conference.

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On the other side of the Bridge: Costa Caparica

Music, Travel

The quantity of quality beaches nearby Lisbon, not to mention in Portugal, is overwhelming. You can have a glimpse of how it is like to wander around the country beach tasting/testing but the sites I will present here will maybe cover 1% of the total number.

Costa Caparica is probably the hippest beach in the Lisbon’s surrounding. The fact is, it is pretty much accessible, either by car, or by bus taken from the centre of Lisbon. Be aware if travelling during rush hours: the beach is situated on the other side of the Tejo river, and the famous Ponte de 25 de Abril at that times become rather a parking lot than an artery.

Once you get there, you will notice various beach bars and restaurants, varying from very posh to quite affordable ones. But what actually is my favourite remark of the Caparica beach is the quantity of surfing schools and little, wooden houses which endured wind, sun and high tides.

There is pretty much everything to be found on this wide beach: also a nudist and gay zone aka Praia 19. However, if you are looking for a rocky beach where to hide from the all-time present sun and humanity, Caparica may not be the best choice.

My personal fave is to sit nearby the wooden houses, listening to bossa nova classics overlooking the sunset and think about what memories I have left on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I think that what Principezinho meant by ‘looking at the sunsets’ while being melancholic, the Portuguese put nicely in one keyword: saudade.

Wiki:

Ponte de 25 de Abril – 25th of April Bridge, connecting the city of Lisbon with the municipality of Almada on the left (south) bank of the Tejo river. The name “25 de Abril” commemorates the Carnation Revolution.

Principezinho – The Little Prince of Saint-Exupery

Indian Summer on Praia do Guincho

Personal, Travel

Moving on with the Lisbon-related delights… I need to present you the beach I fell in love with at a first sight and which remains in my top 5 until now. Moreover, which is within 1 hour drive reach from the Portuguese capital’s centre!

I have to travel back to very difficult 2011 when Lisbon has been my departure and arrival point throughout the year. Eventually, when my first Brazilian/South American travel came to an end in the mid-September, Lisbon was my welcoming port in Europe after a few months of absence. I had a very emotional meeting with my Mom and my cousin Piotr who decided to fly over from Berlin to join me and spend a couple of days in the Cidade da Luz.

Tired after all-night travel, I proposed we should chill out at the most peaceful place I know by the Oceanside: Praia do Guincho. It was not so easy to get there, taking train to Cascais and then a bus, but impossible was nothing on that very special day for us, weary travelers.

And then, the path between the dunes and green Atlantic forest led us to a wide, sandy beach limited by the most-Western rocks within the continental Europe: Cabo da Roca tip. The air was so clear, the waves – high and long and the breeze was making wonders to my jet-lagged body and soul. We were so happy there, we could not even realize that the tide went up very quickly, gathering back to the ocean our camera, sunscreen and what not. No quality photos were left from this lovely Indian Summer get away, but the memories will definitely remain. And this Brazilian-origined song can tell how glorious can it be when you live by the sea.

Wiki:

Cidade da Luz – City of Light, Lisbon’s nickname

Cabo da Roca – ‘Rocky tip’, the most Western tip of the continental Europe

Praia – beach