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.

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Far Out Faroe Islands

Travel

Various times I have mentioned about my primary inspiration when it comes to travels: one of my favourite books of Judith Schalansky ‘Atlas of Remote Islands’. The extended title of the book says ‘Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will’.

I don’t care too much about the extended title though. Since I like challenges, this book marked some of the destinations, including Svalbard, Cabo Verde, or Azores. Faroe Islands makes the next landmark in my Atlantic wanderlust, and is in a way the antonym of Faro where I used to live. It’s also home to Sheepview 360 – the only European archipelago without the Google Street View whose struggle to creative solutions of mapping the territory let to amazing results with the help of sheep and iPhone cameras.

Even though Schalansky did not list any of the 18 particularly shaped Faroe Islands in her guide to remoteness, I knew I wanted to visit them for various reasons: my passion for the Northern and polar landscapes, their isolation, their particular culture and last but not least: their breathtaking nature.

I also needed to get away badly from the known and predictable: even in terms of the weather. So I was not disappointed: it did not stay the same for 10 minutes long. Hail/torrential rain/mist/scorching sun was all included.

In order to get there, I flew over to Copenhagen and then boarded the national airways of Faroe Islands, Atlantic Airways. Currently, as of 2017, they have a fleet of two Airbus 319/320 planes and two helicopters and definitely know their game. It was probably one of the most scary landings in the mist I’ve experienced, but I had a full trust in the pilots trained on the misty islands’ approaches to runways.

Since I only had a budget to stay during a few days, I wanted to make the most of it. During the first day I spent in the lovely town of Midvagur on the Vágar island I discovered my first hiking trails and saw a lot of people riding little, white horses, like in the fairytales. Later I learnt that horses not necessarily bring luck in the local legends – some of them are believed to be connecting the world of the living and the dead, through the most emblematic lake of Leitisvatn.

The next day did not promise spectacular views either: I was planning to sail to the Westernmost island of Mykines and underestimated how difficult the weather conditions may be. Again, I was lucky. We did not crush our boat shattered by the Atlantic currents on one of the volcanic ridges.


I immediately fell in love with the village of Mykines: with all the houses covered with the grass rooftops (and mowed naturally by the ever-present sheep), connected with the rest of the world by bi-weekly boat and helicopter connections (should the weather permit).

If I were to retire from life and find my boredom/creative peace, that would be the place. To the point that there are no shops, roads, only the green, sheep and bird chants.

Mykines is known as the home to thousands of birds, including puffins, fulmars and gannets. I noticed that their behaviour is not interrupted (yet!) by the human presence that much. At one point one have to be very careful not to step into puffins’ nests, as they don’t run away as quickly as e.g. on Iceland or in Norway. Wise enough, the tourism on this island is strictly regulated and is due to decrease, since the local authorities have been concerned about the peace of mind of the species.

I have to admit I had to spend some level of energy not to fall from the cliff trail, following the sheep, equally not bothered by the human presence. It’s a good practice to collect the remaining wool from the trail and hand it over to the sheep farms – I guess if I was attentive enough and focused, I’d have a material for a few great quality sweaters (let alone I am not a fan of sweaters).

Around the afternoon the weather cleared and I was able to enjoy the stunning views of the island, the cliffs and surrounding nature. The way back on the boat was incomparably picturesque, passing by various islets and I was amazed how much has been covered in the mist. It was almost like the weather playing with one’s expectations!

The next day I took the bus to the largest island of the archipelago: Streymoy, to the islands’ capital: Torshavn. Not surprisingly, the town offered amazing caffeine heaven with the locally roasted coffee (I experienced the same in Iceland, Norway and Denmark already), and great local record labels.

At the same time, it was perfectly normal to spot a sheep mowing a grass rooftop in the centre of it, or geese walking freely with their chicks, or the horse herds roaming around next to the hostel/five-star hotel.

I would absolutely recommend a relaxing hike between Torshavn and Kirkjobour, a village with a 12th century church ruins, and a Michelin-star restaurant: Koks. Which I could not afford anyway.

Funnily enough, Faroe Islands’ status is fairly autonomous. It’s not a part of the EU and remains a lot of freedom, including a different currency (Foroyar Krona, 1:1 to Danish Krona). It has no prison though, so as an effect Faroe Islands are sending all of the troublemakers back to Denmark.

Since I spent a Saturday night in Torshavn, I was amazed by the richness of its musical culture and how lively it was (let alone it was barely getting dark). I also learned about a pretty amazing electronic music band, Orka and local attempts to bring the freedom for the LGBT movements.

The next day, I visited the second biggest island: Eysturoy with its capital Klaksvik where I took my first helicopter ride back to Vágar, having a chance to see the panoramic view of all of the 18 islands I was not able to visit during this four-day stay. What a thrill!

On the way to Klaksvik I passed through the only bridge on the Atlantic Ocean, amazed by how strong the Gulf Stream is: the water seemed like a river, not a sea.


The helicopter airport was quite something itself. A sole house with a crew of a pilot and traffic controller and a cheerful dog that welcomed me and a few other romantic travellers at the end of this world, including a Finnish man who run throughout the archipelago (~250 km) during 5 days, with a sole luggage of 9 kg. Fun fact: he also went to work on a Monday morning after all that, just as I did.

Before leaving from Vágar back to Copenhagen I had a chance to hike around the picturesque waterfalls and lakes of the island, making a promise of coming back at some point of my life. Takk fyri, Foroyar!

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!

 

 

 

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.