Beira Alta – my first time in Portugal

Personal, Travel

This month I have been enjoying hot and sunny weather in Berlin, but I travel in time and without moving to my very first time in Portugal. Since I started this blog over 4 years ago, many things have changed: the city I live in, the job, personal and interpersonal constellations too.

Moving back in time, my adventure with Portuguese language started with me being curious about the sound, structure and melody of it. Then, some cinematic and musical inspirations came up, and I started reading more about Portugal as a country itself. How distant it seemed to me, not to mention the other Portuguese-speaking countries that I wouldn’t dream to discover so soon in early 2000s.

In summer 2007 I saved some student pocket money for a 3-week-round train ticket around Europe: Interrail to reach the most far off country in Europe, Portugal. I didn’t really have much more money to spend on local transportation, accommodation or amusement, so I joined a voluntary service in the rural area of Beira Alta, dedicated to Roman-times archeology camp. In exchange for few hours of physical work in the early morning (the temperatures at noon could easily rise up to 40 degrees Celcius!), I stayed for 2 weeks in a picturesque village of Coriscada, located precisely in the middle of nowhere.

When after 2 days drive by >5 trains, I stepped out of the compartment in the town of Celorico da Beira, I did not really have any expectations. Everything was new to me, the language sounded very unfamiliar and exotic, and I had my first cultural shock already ticked (elderly ladies sniffing drugs in the compartment with some raving Portuguese and Spanish teens!).

I did not speak Portuguese at this point, and I didn’t really know how useful it will be to communicate with local volunteers and inhabitants. Fortunately, my French was very fluent at that time and since a lot of the local population either had families emigrating to France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, or have spent some time working there themselves, I had no problems in getting to know them.

I was extremely lucky that our team leader at a camp was an avid adventurer, polyglot and traveler himself, Luis, and he shared some good tips on how to discover the world at ease. During the stay in Beira Alta, I had a chance to discover the hidden and picturesque villages like Marialva, or Pocinho (where the scenic train to Porto is taking off) and bigger, historic cities like Guarda, bordering with Spain and welcoming the nearby Spanish neighbors by… horse’s tails. For some reasons all of the sculptures involving horses, were facing West and showing the Eastern border their back…

I was even luckier to have been invited to local festivities, cellars with delicious wine & cheese, probably some of the best on this planet (just think about Portuguese tinto and queijo da Serra da Estrela) and got first hand stories about aging donkeys, youth escaping to big cities or foreign countries, preserving the traditions and finding similarities between Portugal and Poland.

When I came back, I knew it’s just the start of my discovery series, and I hope to continue these for the years to come, through music, people, travel and literature.

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Mirando a la Palma

Personal, Travel

This a post about a short getaway to a beautiful island but most importantly about the friendship that never ends. Last month I was very lucky to meet with my crazy bunch of people I love.We stayed together throughout various great and tough times and it is important to celebrate that we have each other in our lives. Regardless of the distance that separate us nowadays as we live in different countries, we care about making our regular getaways happen.

I am glad that it looks like since last year we found another spot for our get togethers: Palma de Mallorca.

One of my best friends, Olga, relocated there last year and I already knew this will be a great place for her: for the love of the Spanish language, sunny days and plenty of opportunities to practice for her crazy sportive activities. There were also other changes that happened, not all that easy, but they turned out to be positive and made her grow a lot. As soon as I learned that she had settled down for good, I called our friend who currently lives and works in Dubai, to find a date for us to meet. Since I only started a new job, I didn’t have much time off, but with a regular 2-hour flight connection from Berlin, spending the last weekend of November felt like a bliss. Empty, but still warm and sunny spots and lots of laughter, and meaningful conversations and affirmations recharged my batteries for the long winter to come.

We repeated our get together in June and this time it was a full of chilling at a beach or small calas during the day, and enjoying the warm nights at delicious restaurants and rooftops in Palma. Wallowing in the warm sea for hours, and our insight jokes and simply living la vida loca, we had tremendous time together.

I can’t really complain at the summer in Berlin, probably the warmest and longest we’ve seen in years, however it’s not all about the place, it’s also about the people. Among them, fantastic women who travel and are not afraid of taking difficult decisions. I also need the sea, as Pablo Neruda once said, it teaches me. Looking back, I am so grateful for this time we have spent. In the meantime, my life will continue to be divided between various places on Earth where I left a piece of my mind, heart and soul together with my dearest friends. The price for that abundance of love in the world is occasional melancholia that tears you apart, but also drives you to continue to explore, learn and grow as a human.

This post was prompted today as my special thoughts go to Weronika who is staying at a hospital and I wish her a speedy recovery. Hope to soon spend some good time together, vecina from Poznan, Barcelona and these days, Berlin.

 

 

Meet me halfway, in Aveiro

Personal, Travel

I’ve been to Aveiro for the first time in 2007 during my very first trip to Portugal. It caught my attention as I was staying in Oporto and it was accessible by a regional train pretty easily. Worth mentioning that I was poor as a church mouse and the only reason I could afford it was due to saving my scholarship award money for months in order to buy the Eurail ticket. It would allow me to travel around Europe for 21 days using most of the train service. For the rest of the time, I was volunteering at an archeological site in the literal middle of nowhere, in the most rural (and authentic!( part of Portugal: Beira Alta, as I was craving for some manual, physical work in the sun, after spending a whole year studying clinical psychology and linguistics.

I recall a sunny, windy day; colourful houses and azulejos around canals and lagoons – thinking of a funny fusion of Portugal and the Netherlands. It was a day trip and I’ve enjoyed a beer in the sun with way too many tremosos – salty, marinated and thirst-inducing beans served often to create a drinking loop.

 

Fast forward 11 years later, I spontaneously found myself in Aveiro again. This time thanks to my partner’s sister who happened to be in Portugal around the same time we were. As she travelled to Oporto, and we were in Lisbon, we decided to meet halfway in Aveiro to enjoy a Sunday funday together. Not that Berlin and Warsaw are completely different and separated worlds, but why not meeting in Portugal for a change.

Contrary to 2007, it was the most rainy, springtime day and we couldn’t really explore the lagoons or take a gondola ride on the canals (although the obscene pictures on the boats were promising some great adventures!). Thankfully though we had a few indoor recommendations and bumped into a very friendly bistro, offering vegetarian treats, which is not a common standard in Portugal. As a foreign and exotic language speaking group and myself bringing a strange Portuguese Brazilian/mixed accent, we were getting some attention, and the locals were even showing us the mobile app on how to rate and match table wines. Despite the rain, it was definitely a Sunday funday family reunion in the middle of nowhere, and I would definitely repeat such an experience.

This month we’ll be traveling around Galicia in Spain, something I was looking forward to for a very long time, visiting Islas Cies, and Finisterre aka the medieval End of the World. I plan a few more extreme getaways this and next year too, so I hope to keep you posted regularly with some new content.

 

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…

It snows in Brazil sometimes

Music, Travel

I don’t go chasing waterfalls only, I deliberately look for paradox in life too. I got sunburnt in the Northernmost places of our planet, but I also managed to see a monkey covered in snow in Brazil. So while I am enjoying a balmy 20 degrees Celcius evening in Berlin, I do sympathise with the other hemisphere where it gets rather gloomy and cold these days.

So the photos above don’t come from Spreepark in Berlin, they come from MARGS – Museu de Arte do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre where I stayed for a couple of wintery days in September 2013.  This post is about breaking some stereotypes or attributions, and not the weather forecast though. Much as I love listening to MPB, drinking coconut water, or wearing Brazilian bikini, there’s more than that in the discourse about the complex, multicultural and huge country like Brazil. I am a sucker for its literature, architecture, art and fashion, and recently: techno music.

My daily Upload feature on SoundCloud suggest me more and more Brazilian artists who are producing really deep, industrial and groovy sounds. Last summer was definitely heavily influenced by the produced CoastDream whose dreamy house kick was constantly on my rewind.

On that note, the Brazilian community of producers and DJs is also abundant. I am very lucky to have met a very ambitious, open-minded and talented producer Pedro Passoni. Although he came back to São Paulo early this year, he continues to amaze me with his new productions, currently experimenting the darker side of the EDM.

Fortunately, I believe that the darker side of techno and house in Brazil is not as rare as the view of the aforementioned monkey in the snow. Electronic music represents the progressive, diverse, free space and rhythm – something that not only Brazil, but the whole world needs now more than ever. I stay connected and sending only the most positive vibes to all my Brazilian friends who make a positive change in their country. Against all odds, I plan my next trip to their amazing country within the next couple of months, when the snow will be back in Berlin. Stay tuned and vibe!

São Paulo: abstraction and society

Music

One of my highlights last month was a business trip to London where I had a chance to learn a lot and meet a lot of new inspirational people. Apart from that, there is no visit in London for me without checking the Art Cathedral: Tate Modern, so during the weekend I spent endless hours binge-eating modern art.

Among various exhibitions, I was particularly happy to see the corner dedicated to Tropicália movement and abstract art coming from São Paulo Biennale. It was founded in 1951, during a moment of very rapid economic growth and urban development in Brazil.

A decade later, Tropicália movement emerged in theatre, poetry, cinema, music and art as a critical response to the political crisis, Brazilian stereotypes and disparate influences. In the music world, Gal Costa, Elis Regina, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are the most famous artists to name. Here’s one of my fave songs by Elis Regina:

A tua falta somada
A minha vida tão diminuída
Com esta dor multiplicada
Pelo fator despedida

Deixou minh’alma muito dividida
Em frações tão desiguais
E desde a hora em que você foi embora
Eu sou um zero e nada mais

In poetry, Roberta Camila Salgado published her works during the times of political repression and censorship:

céu escuro por que não limpas e iluminas o meu mundo?

So thanks to this exhibition I travelled back in time to Brazil where not only I’ve spent some time living in Brasilia, but also have been travelling around the country between 2011-2013. Nowadays I am no longer up to date following up on social and political crises, but prefer to focus on discovering progressive and bold artists which emerge a new movement 50 years later.

Having said that, I’d like to acknowledge my São Paulo-based friends producing quality techno and house which is already influencing dancefloors beyond Brazil, as well as fighting for the parity for women in the electronic music scene.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

Nôs Terra

Travel

Lisbon is especially interesting place for those who would like to discover not only Portuguese, but also Afrolusobrazilian culture.

It is a perfect place if you go to different Portuguese-speaking destinations, either as a stopover location or a final destination. To me Lisbon served as both for the past couple of years. After a brief episode of living in Portugal, I always felt certain nostalgia (cliche term of saudade is definitely relevant here) after this place and longing to travel to Portuguese-speaking destinations.

So last Christmas I gave my heart to the archipelago of Cabo Verde and of course, made a stopover in Lisbon. Apart from some very interesting animation show at the Praca de Comercio, there were some other highlights of that short stay, such as joining capoeiristas by the sunset.
This is where a friend of mine, who is very influenced by afrolusobrasilian culture, introduced me to some cultural associations and places where typically descendants of Portuguese-speaking African countries organize their concerts, events or festas.
I was also lucky to try the typical food from Cabo Verde: cachupa, before actually reaching my final destination. Be it Cabo Verde, Sao Tome e Principe, Moçambique, Angola or Guiné-Bissau, or even further in the world: Timor Leste, Goa or Macau – you will find all the places inside Lisbon, like travelling without moving.
Obviously, this has to do a lot with the history, and multiculturalism of Lisbon is an effect of post-colonialism processes. Upon my arrival from Cabo Verde I started digging deeper the topic of the descendants of the African countries living in Lisbon. ‘Nôs Terra’ shows the day-to-day specificities and also struggles of the Caboverdean community in Lisbon. It shows processes familiar to everyone who ever relocated, the in-between state of not belonging anywhere (the country of origin and current location).
I hope though that the unique multiculturality of Lisbon will stay a value itself. Music industry has already spotted Lisbon as one of the most interesting places in the world and so is becoming with art in general. There is no place like Lisbon, colourful, diverse and full of inspiration.

All…garve pt.2: Sotavento

Travel

Following up on my post about Far Out Faro, I would love to focus on the Leeward (port. Sotavento) side of the Algarvian coast. This part of the region includes Faro itself, but also picturesque towns like Tavira, Loulé, Olhão or Vila Real do Santo António, bordering with Spain by the Guadiana river.

Leeward coast is particularly close to me, as during the time I lived in Faro, I was often visiting the neighbouring towns, as well as inland points of interest. Worth mentioning that I stayed for a couple of weeks in the village called Pechão on a volunteering service for the local communities, preparing the international part of the anual Festa. If you visit this region between spring-autumn, you will be amazed by the quantity of festas, local festivities, for different reasons: fishing season, cattle growing, and much more (and even more abstract – as there is always a good way to celebrate good times!). Many of these festivities are closely linked with the Catholic festivities (like name days of various Santos, patrons) but they incorporate a lot of ludic elements.

During my stay in Faro and Pechão, I was exposed to some very forward-thinking manifestos of the left wing activists, promoting well-being and equality on different levels. Worth mentioning that this part of Algarve is interesting for various, often borderline awkward reasons. The traditions of building bone chapels in small villages, the architecture showing years of different impact of various cultures and religions as well as food are very recommendable.

Moreover, Algarve is not only, as majority may think, the picturesque coast. Bordering with Alentejo you may find gems like Pego do Inferno, crystal clear waters waterfalls on the hilly trekking path. If you have time, I would recommend cycling around the region, as my Portugal-loving friend does it actually quite regularly!

Last but not least, you might consider taking a local ferry to several islands around Faro and Olhão where you can watch birds (including storks and flamingos!) and enjoy the remoteness. And, oh well, the sunsets… Or this dog, selling cigarettes in the local loja (port. grocery store).

If you are still not done with the beauty of the South of Portugal soon I will take you on the trip to the West side of the coast: Barlavento.