Viajeros romanticos de Ronda

Travel

I feel unbelievably lucky to live in the cradle of Mediterranean and Spanish culture, Andalusia. In the past weeks I’ve been quite busy discovering the Malaga region and I’d like to dedicate today’s entry to Ronda.

 

Located about one hour away from Malaga, Ronda is one of the most picturesque towns of Spain, and a known destination since 19th century. This is when, upon the raise of the industrial era, wealthy class representatives and intellectuals formed the group of ‘romantic travellers’, trying to find a way to the roots of the European culture, visiting the emblematic Spanish, Italian and Greek land- and cityscapes. The idea of travel was born and inspired generations of writers, painters and music makes, tired of the smoggy, dirty and dehumanized big cities of the industrial era.

Ronda remained its romantic charm until today, however, overtourism is again taking its toll here. Forget about a peaceful walk around the canyon, you will end up in one or the other organized tour, queuing to see the most picturesque spots. Instead, it is best to roam around much more quiet old town, or visit Casa del Rey Moro, a (literally) breathtaking castle-house of the Moorish kingdom, situated inside one of the giant rocks, all the way down to the canyon river level. As you go down twenty floors from atop, you can visit chambers that used to serve for keeping the slaves, armour and secrets.

Being located in the middle of the Cordillera Bética, one of the highest and youngest mountain ranges in Spain, Ronda is surrounded by incredibly romantic gradient of sharp edges, equally stunning at the dawn as at the sunset. Even though I have heard there is not much to do in Ronda for two days, I enjoyed myself simply staring at the horizon, dreaming, observing colours and reading about the useless, romantic travellers from the past and their crave for the great, classical beauty in this life. It is one of these places that words are needless to describe more, so I will let you simply look at my photos instead.

 

Asturias – Costa Verde

Travel

August is undoubtedly the hottest month on the Iberian Peninsula and I feared that at some point I won’t be able to bear with it. Apparently, Malaga was not as bad as the rest of the continent, especially thinking about how global warming has been affecting Europe in the past years. The most unpleasant days were around the second week of August where the famous Terral wind started to blow. I’ve never experienced a wind which is as hot as 40 Celcius degrees with the speed reaching 40 km p/hour – it really felt as if the air was coming out of a hairdryer.

August is also a month when the most (in)famous festivity of Malaga takes place: La Feria. It is about 10 days of celebration of the local folk tradition, including bull fighting, horse riding, and most importantly: flamenco dancing and Cartojal (sweet, strong wine) drinking. This attract millions (!) of national and international tourists every year, making Malaga allegedly unliveable. This also turned out a myth, since the festivities were distributed around the whole city, and not only the city centre, while the municipality of Malaga made a special effort to keep the whole area very clean and vigilant for common vandalism. Not knowing about these two happenings of the month were not as bad as the word of mouth, I decided to escape for five days into the North of Spain: the green coast of Asturias.

After visiting Basque Country many years ago, and Galicia last year, I was the most curious about the coastal hiking in this mostly rural and unspoilt region of Spain. Landing in Asturias, I already felt the change: it was probably 10 degrees less than in Andalucia, and I got almost dizzy with the fresh air coming from the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding woods. Quite a change after the hairdryer Terral just a few days before.  I was not too ambitious when it comes to the scope of discovering the region: since I only had 5 days, and no car, I focused on the western part of the region, leaving the higher mountain hike and the eastern routes for some other occasion.

On purpose, I stayed in a very small village nearby a more popular, touristy town of Cudillero when I only visited when in need (of food mostly). Due to its rough coastline, to visit the town, I had to descent about 700 m down with the slope of about 90%. Not to mention coming all the way back uphill. What helped to achieve this, is definitely the local food: Spaniards warned me about the size of the portions offered and they were indeed large and tasty. I’ve eaten probably the biggest and most impressive mariscada in my life in the restaurant called simply El Pescador in Cudillero, boasting a Michelin recommendation this year.

Another hiking highlight was the route called Senda Costera from the picturesque village called Muros de Nalon until the river port San Esteban de Pravia. It takes a few hours to walk through a path throughout the Atlantic forest, with a possibility to descent into the wild, Atlantic beaches.

Asturias is not only nature though, it’s also a maritime and industrial patrimony, visible in the cities like Aviles or Gijon. Although the focus of this trip was mostly on hiking (and eating out!), I managed to visit both cities – the most interesting is probably the cultural centre of Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia and simply admiring the difficult charm of the long, post-industrial sites. To finalize the visit, on a last, rainy day in Gijon, I tried the Michelin start restaurant situated in the green Asturian park: La Salgar, run by the chefs Esther and Nacho, offering amazing experience for relatively reasonable price. Overviewing a typical, Asturian horreo, tasting the local food with the creative touch, I decided I will return to this mysterious, strangely beautiful part of Spain one day again. Who knows if not to retire.

 

Sylt – the Northern Star of Germany

Travel

As my time in Germany is limited, I am trying to make the most of it. In between wrapping up things, I decided to do a few getaways to incredible places around the country using only train and public transportation. In April, I’ve visited Weimar and I still have Dresden on my list. This post is about a two-day trip I made to Sylt, the Northernmost island of Germany on the North Sea.

You can clearly see me wearing the winter clothes and sunglasses at the same time – I think it’s the best metaphor of the weather in Schleswig-Holstein all year round. Beginning of May I had quite a lot of luck not to get too much rainfall, but the freezing 50 kmph winds that almost blew me away from the dunes.

It is fairly easy to get to Sylt from the capital: 6 hours of train drive (29,90 EUR if you’re early enough to book) with a connection in Hamburg, and you can reach the capital of the island: Westerland. To prepare you for the dramatic weather, you are welcomed by four sculptures facing the wind. Germans are pretty serious about warning you about the dangers I guess.

While Westerland is the biggest town and has some life going on (at least off season Sylt seems to be mostly a destination visited by the schoolchildren groups and the elderly), it is the nature what is the most breathtaking and worth exploring while on the island. On the Southern, ‘the sunshine’ tip of Sylt one can hike around on truly beautiful beaches, or take a boat trip to see the varied sea life of both North and Wadden Sea (Wattenmeer).

The phenomenon of the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea is the biggest in the world and Sylt is one of the places on the North Sea when one can experience the mythical ‘walking on the water’ at least once per day when the current is receding.

My favourite part of the island was the North: around the List harbour. Watching abundant and rare bird wilderness, walking through the hiking paths alongside free range sheep and cows was a bliss.

In this part of the island you can also experience the most unusual lagoon and bay formations between the Wadden and North Sea.

Even though I was one of the very few visitors at this time of the year, I loved the solitary experience – probably the island turns into a completely different place in the summer. On the way back, I could not help but looking into the rural, flat landscape of the Northernmost region of Germany – including the endless dunes, Wadden Sea flats and North-Baltic sea canals.

Deep blue at the Lisbon Oceanarium

Travel

My life tends to get intense at times, for good reasons and by choice. I am a high energy person usually which like to explore and be in the centre of various happenings. However, as I age, I find it extremely important to recharge from all the hustle and bustle of everyday. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than: music, travel and nature, not necessarily always in such order.

So while I was visiting Lisbon in November for a conference located in Parque das Nacões, I could not help but escape for a few hours to the Oceanarium, the largest and probably one of the most impressive in Europe.

Home to various species coming from all of the oceans on planet Earth, it is divided into various geographical lands, featuring both typical and rare representatives of the particular locations.

I could spend hours watching Arctic and Antarctic species, including penguins, terns, fulmars and puffins – knowing some of them from their natural habitats, such as Svalbard, Iceland or Faroe Islands. Travelling in time without moving brought me a lot of memories and peace of mind.

I have never done snorkelling or diving yet, and would love to explore the breadths and depths of the sea starting this year, by visiting more locations for discovering the water kingdom in a respectful way.

The fish which impressed me the most was definitely Ocean Sunfish (aka Mola Mola or Peixe Lua in Portuguese) with its interestingly flattened body and particular fins allowing them to move in a specific way. I could look at this natural wonder for hours not getting bored, while finding out the details of this lovely creature.

As a next step, I will be revisiting Valencia this month, famous for an impressive scientific park and oceanarium so I may take some time to learn about its species more in depth.

 

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).

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Flores, Azores – a Ilha e o Mundo

Travel

The title of my last blog entry (for now!) about the Azorean archipelago comes from Pedro da Silveira poem’s title ‘The Island and the World’, picturing perfectly the remoteness of the island of Flores.

Só isto:

O céu fechado, uma ganhoa
pairando. Mar. E um barco na distância:
olhos de fome a adivinhar-lhe, à proa,
Califórnias perdidas de abundância.

 

Flores is one of two islands in the Westernmost part of Azores, and it was the last stop in my last year’s journey around the archipelago. To go there, I chose to sail on a cruise ship, operating every two weeks from the main island: São Miguel.

It stops at all of the islands of the archipelago and it’s prone to late arrivals, due to sudden, tricky weather conditions. When I boarded the ship in Horta (Faial Island) it was ‘only’ a few hours late and it took all night to arrive in Flores. The sea ride was rather shaky, but the inconvenience was well rewarded by arriving on the island exactly when the sun was rising! I can’t pick any words how beautiful was the view and the feeling of the remoteness of the island that appeared out of blue, in front of the ship.

 

Those who arrive by ship usually land in the coastal town of Lajes, which is the main industrial port of the island. Lajes is also the Westernmost county of Europe, the next land at this latitude is Canada.

 

I stayed at Residencia Matheus in the picturesque village of Fajã Grande, again the Westernmost spot of the island, infamous for difficult sailing conditions (for instance, RMS Slavonia is still wrecked close to the rocky peninsula nearby). It was close to various trail paths, within a walking distance from the lava beach, surrounded by the waterfalls and thousands of bird species which not surprisingly choose Flores for their nesting period.

 

I was discovering the village in awe and was offered a very complex tour around the island with the local guide, Armando Rodrigues from Experience OC, who gave me some extra tips about not only natural wonders, but also places to eat out and enjoy the sunsets at the tip of the European continent.

 

Flores is famous for its lakes, situated at the top of the mountain ranges, and is one of a few places on the planet Earth where there’s an excess of potable water. I managed to see all of the lagoas and admire the remote landscape from above, as the only other island spotted on the horizon is Corvo.

 

And this was also the only failure of my stay on Flores; I planned poorly and did not manage to visit the neighbouring island of Corvo. The boats operating between Flores and Corvo offer very limited seats and can be sold out easily, especially if there are any festivities taking place (and it’s usually a case during the summer season).

 

Instead, I took some time to discover the island on foot, and walk to the ancient and currently uninhabited village of Cuada, where there is a restaurant with a descriptive name: Por do Sol (Sunset). It offers the dishes typical of Flores, such as erva patinha – something I’d describe as algae ‘falafel’.

 

After dinner, I contemplated sunset in a bar Maresia looking at the Atlantic depth with a glass of local wine, listening to great music played live from vinyls at the end of the world.

 

In the night though, the only sound that one can hear are the chants of the Azorean squeeky bird: cagarros. Some like it, some freak out for the first days.

 

Apart from the wilderness, the capital of Flores is Santa Cruz and it’s divided by a landing stripe, bordering the old town from the French quartier, established by the military stationing on the island since the 60s. The landing stripe is in use for the local SATA airlines, connecting Flores with Corvo, Terceira and São Miguel.

 

I took some time to explore the local museums and was very impressed by their content and how many facts I’ve learned about the history of Flores and Corvo.

 

On my last day, I was wandering around the town, waiting for the plane and looking at the depth of the Atlantic. I realized, many other travelers do the same, as the airport’s check-in area is accessible within 5 minutes walk from the beach. I was wondering about my fellow travelers where are they coming from, what they are, where are they going – quoting Gaugin, only that set in the Atlantic, and not Polynesian paradise.

 

During the take off returning to Terceira, I had a chance to look back at most of the islands I’ve visited during my trip, and eventually managing to see the peak of Pico. I promised to myself to return, for much longer and I’m convinced I will keep my promise. Obrigada, Azores!

 

 

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…