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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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!

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.

 

 

 

 

Ilha de Faial – encounters in the middle of the Atlantic

Travel

This month I would like to look back at the island which attracts thousands of wandering sailors in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: Faial.

It’s located in the central archipelago of Azores and it takes roughly half an hour to get there from Madalena on the island of Pico. If you are lucky, you can see a disapperaing tip of the volcano as you cross to Faial. Or dolphins and whales alongside your boat!

I spent a couple of days on Faial, namely in its capital: Horta and on the North-Western tip of the island in the romantic bay of Valadouro, known for its natural lava pools, lonely lighthouses and dramatic coastline leading to the Capelinhos volcano.

Since this is an island of encounters, as a solo traveller I had so much luck meeting extraordinary people in various parts of the island, mostly while hitch-hiking. Digital nomads from Poland, refugees of the hi-fi civilization reconnecting with nature and living the life in accordance to minimalism/simplicity philosophy, sailors seeing the land for the first time in weeks or retired Azoreans returning from life-long migration in Canada or East Coast of the USA. I also had a chance to bump into some of my fellow travellers hopping the islands like me, only in a different order.

During the time I stayed in Horta, there was a local festival called Semana do Mar, one of the most attended festivities on the archipelago. There I witnessed the relativity of what’s exotic: one of the most surprising attraction was to watch Slovakian traditional dances, something I found pretty surreal to see in the middle of the Atlantic. Everyone else seemed pretty amused though.

Horta offers lively bar nightlife, with its famous gin & tonic at Peter’s Bar – a legendary sailor’s spot for encounters in the middle of the ocean. To be honest, its gin & tonic tasted exactly the same like anywhere else on Faial, the only difference was the spirit many sea life stories or adventures which are told on a daily basis at it’s counter.

However, the cruising ship’s marina is not to forget. Thousands of paintings on its piers, done by the sailing crews from all over the world tell stories of distant travels, sea adventures and their original destinations. It was very emotional to me to see Berliner, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish or Brazilian paintings being so far away from my ‘homes’.

Porto Pim in Horta offers a wide, white-sand beach and plenty of bars or restaurants, and is a great place to chill out after a whole day of (hitch)hiking and gin-tonic tasting.

Unfortunately, I haven’t made it to the great caldeira – a crater in the middle of the island, given that I lacked not only time, but also food and water necessary to complete this 20 kms hike. I went on alongside the Westernmost coastline to the Capelinhos where one can walk at the verge of the volcano remnants and go underneath an impressive and interactive museum dedicated to… volcanos, lighthouses and planets, alongside with the geothermal history of Azores. I found this combination interesting at the beginning, but later it all made sense to me. Maybe it should be called a Principezinho (port. ‘Little Prince”) museum.

At the end of my stay, I met various artists from the local Sociedade Filarmônica preparing for the annual parade in Horta. They all spent long days practicing their repertoire and choosing the clothes representing their local communities. I was very impressed during the whole journey, how important was to preserve local music, dances and craft on these remote and distant islands.

After spending a few days on Faial, my longest journey was about to set off: I was boarding a ship which goes only once in 2 weeks during the high season to the paradisiac island of Flores. It was delayed and the storm was kicking in. The last chapter of my Azorean journey in 2017 will be continued in 2018…

Tres dias na Terceira

Travel

After visiting São Miguel – the biggest island of Azores, I promised to myself I will return one day to discover the rest of this incredibly beautiful and remote archipelago. This year I had enough time off to plan a trip around five other islands: Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Flores. I took thousands of photos and collected unforgettable memories which I will hopefully share in the course of the forthcoming weeks. I will start with Terceira, which was the first (and not the Third – as its Portuguese name says!) island I visited this year.

How did I get there? Terceira, similarly to São Miguel, opened up its runway to cheap airlines and is one of the connecting airports if you want to go to the more remote parts of Azores with their local provider: SATA. It’s fairly well connected with mainland Portugal, as well as USA and Canada. Aviation is very well developed around Azores, since the sailing conditions may be too hazardous during the winter season.

The closest town next to the airport (‘aerogare‘ in Azorean dialect) is Praia da Vitória, a lively and probably the most touristic municipality, with a wide, white sand beach. I was lucky enough to take part of the Festas da Praia, famous festivity around the month of August. Some of the highlights were traditional touradas, gourmet food fair offering tastes of the Atlantic cuisine and folk dances from all over the world (for some reason Eastern European bands were very popular this year!). I later learned that I could spot similar kind of parties on each and every island I visited. This one is pretty big though, apparently!

I drove around the coastline of Terceira and stayed in the lovely town next to the capital: Angra do Heroismo (‘The Bay of the Heroism’). As the UNESCO World Heritage site, Angra is full of history, nature and culture (and stunning street art too!). One can easily spend two days just walking around sites like Monte Brasil, the largest crater mountain with the green caldeira transformed into an open air amphitheatre these days, or winding, colourful streets, botanic gardens and drink cafezinhos (tasty and famous Portuguese espresso) in the local pastelerias.

I stayed at one of the Portuguese youth hostels branch: Pousada da Juventude which is one of the best accommodation options around the country. The quality/price ratio is amazing, and the best thing is that if you travel alone – as I often do, you can meet like-minded travellers and exchange tips/share transportation/simply meet interesting souls. Since it’s not the most crowded place on Earth though often, you can find yourself alone with your thoughts (if you don’t count in the cows which are all over the place!), looking at the most stunning sunsets, listening to the waves and the sounds of the marine birds: cagarros. 

On the northern coast of Terceira, there is a natural lava pool site, Biscoitos. It was one of the first ones I visited and I loved the natural sustainability concept: high waves enter the basins where everyone can peacefully swim and enjoy the fresh Atlantic waters.

It was here where I tried one of the Azorean treats for the palate too: lapas grelhadas, a species of grilled oysters, and enjoyed some fresh kiwi/avocados/maracujã desserts. I have a guilty pleasure of visiting the bars at the end of the world, so I also made friends at a local motorcycle club. Guess, if it turned out we have some friends in common in a small town of Algarve!

Since Azores are made for the travellers who are not afraid of constant weather changes, including very strong winds, the following day I experienced mist/rain/sun change spells every couple of minutes and it was actually an amazing weather for the hike around the natural park of Serreta.

Serreta offers hiking trails around the dense Atlantic forest, hidden lakes and panoramic views (when the mist is gone), as well as some hidden treasures like duck fountains in the middle of nowhere.

Even though I heard that Terceira is becoming increasingly touristic and is not as ‘wild’ as the other islands, it impressed me greatly. I stayed there for three days in August and there were days I met no one at the hiking trail. Elsewhere, the people I met were incredibly respectful for the nature, and the local community. Let’s preserve it this way!

During my last hours waiting for the boat to take me to São Jorge, I hang around Angra, tried local specialty: alcatra (try it only if you love meat… and meat only) and found a book that marked the rest of my journey: Homer’s Odyssey.

Then I boarded Gilberto Mariano boat and sailed through the windy Atlantic Ocean for the first time, which was quite an experience itself. Soon to be continued.

Islands of the eternal spring: Ilhas Canárias

Travel, Uncategorized

On the very first day of Spring edition 2017 I would like to dedicate some space of Lusofonetica to a place where spring lasts 24/7, 365/6 days per year.

It is not a secret that for people based in the Central/Northern Europe the winter seems to last forever and that one of the most popular getaway destinations are the Canary Islands. Since I have moved to Berlin in 2014, I have already visited  Fuerteventura and Lanzarote and would like to share some of my best photo shots and memories.


Canary Islands are the Norternmost islands out of the archipelago, which makes them accessible within less than 5 hours of flight from mainland Europe. They are located in between the other Macaronesia islands: Northernmost Madeira and Porto Santo, Westernmost Azores and Southernmost Cabo Verde. They are the only one where Spanish is spoken though! While Fuerteventura is more flat, offering vast white-sand beaches, Lanzarote is a smaller yet more diverse island in terms of its volcanic landscape.

Some of my Fuerteventura’s favourites include the beaches close to the town of Corralejo and it’s Dunes Park, and more remote village of El Cotillo with cosy, white houses by the portline.

On the Southern shore there is a vast coast of surfers’ paradise Playa Jandia. One can easily test the beaches for longer than a week, or drive inland to enjoy the Martian landscape of the deserts and volcanic hills.

Lanzarote offer similarly stunning beaches, and surfer spots like Caleta de Famara yet it’s worth mentioning that it’s more of a dramatic landscape with stronger winds and waves’ impact.

Some of my top picks of the Southern part of Lanzarote include the rocky Playa El Golfo and the volcanic Parque Nacional de Timanfaya.

The biggest town of Lanzarote – Arrecife is very pleasant and beautifully designed, inspited by various artists that influenced the island.

To the North of Arrecife, some interesting spots include Jardin de Cactus, or a surprisingly secluded community of El Charco de la Feliz.

The art pieces one cannot miss is the Monumento al Campesino or expositions of the Fundación Cesar Manrique or the inland town of Teguise. From the architectural point of view it’s worth visiting Omar Shariff’s house and enjoy the 360 degree view of the island (if you are a nervous driver like I am and can’t climb up the Mirador del Rio!).

Escaping the winter means also trying the local cuisine – some of my highlighted restaurants include ‘Sol y luna’ in the romantic town of Punta Mujeres and ‘La Tabla’ in downtown Arrecife, offering modern tapas and great selections of local wines.

Similarly like in Fuerteventura, the Southern part of Lanzarote offers endless beaches of Costa de Papagayo nearby a very pleasant town of Playa Blanca.

And like Madeira, Canary Islands are an interesting location to visit around the carnival, where local festivities take place.

Both Fuerteventura and Lanzarote can be visited during one stay, as there as various ferries connecting these two islands, but I enjoyed greatly coming back to Canary Islands and escaping the winter. I hope soon I will have an occasion to discover the remaining islands!

 

 

 

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!

After the rain comes sun in Porto

Travel

It’s definitely high time to re-visit the city of Oporto, or o Porto in Portuguese (and hence the English name, I guess). My Lusofonetica project has been running for over 2 years now (can’t believe it flies so fast!) and I simply can’t believe that I haven’t found time to share my impressions about this beautiful place.

I’ve first visited it in 2007 during my Inter Rail trip around Europe combined with taking two weeks off in the Beira Alta region to sample a live of a volunteer-archeologist in the tiny and extremely hot village of Coriscada which I guess this deserves a separate post itself. I traveled to Porto via very spectacular train ride alongside the Douro Valley which I’d recommend everyone to take. Since then I paid three more visits in Porto, but unfortunately they were mostly related to connecting flights so literally ‘flying visits’.

During these short stays I managed to soak only a sample of the city’s atmosphere and indeed, to feel the glorious difference between the North of Portugal and the South. Contrary to the famously changing weather, I always got a very warm welcome from the bar or restaurant owners, and I made very good experience with the people from Porto whom I’ve met all over the world.

So almost in one week from now I’ll be in Porto again, this time for 2 (!) days, hoping to compare my impressions from the previous stays, eat delicious francezinha, wander around the wine cellars, and potentially hit one of their clubs in search of the electronic music originated from ‘the London’ of Portugal.

Why is it so? As I mentioned, it rains here much more often than in the other parts of Portugal, and the light/style of the city somewhat reminds England. It’s also due to the historical presence of the British entrepreneurs which were involved in setting up the most famous port wine companies in this region, that the city has this vibe.  It has long history of influence by the industrial architecture (like Tour Eiffel of Paris), and been a centre for economical development of Portugal. It’s also been an important cultural centre – and a good example of it could be an impressive Casa da Música.

So I hope to come back with a fresh set of thoughts and observations, hopefully on the sunny side this time: até logo o Porto!

 

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.