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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Macau é legal!

Travel

Last year I set foot in East Asia for the first time in my life and after scratching the surface in pursuit of discovering Japan, quite spontaneously I decided to travel to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan during the New Year’s week.

Most people visit Macau for its fame of being an Asian equivalent of Las Vegas: with their copies of Eiffel Tower, Venice, casinos and its vibrant nightlife. I was attracted to it, naturally, by its history and second language: Portuguese. To make it even more interesting: I went there with my Brazilian friends. It was a pretty amazing experience to be in Chinese-controlled territory and read the names of the streets, menus and shops in Portuguese.

This exotic combination is a consequence of its complicated and paradox history: Macau belonged to Portugal as a part of their administration territory first, and then overseas colonies. Macau was the last remaining European colony in Asia and its sovereignity was transferred back under China’s in 1999. Until 2049 it remains a solid dose of authonomy from China and is one of the wealthiest states in the world.

Being the largest gambling centre in the world and somewhat overwhelming with its luxurious hotels, it is a land of contrasts, too. Together with my friends, we took an opportunity to walk around both the ovewhelming skyscrappers and the ruins to get a bit broader view on this place.

I think there are as many opinions about this place, as are the people. Literally one friend almost discouraged me from even going to Macau, and other claimed it was one of the most unexpectedly nice surprises when island hopping around Hong-Kong.

I have to admit, the visit was definitely unforgettable. Almost like lost in translation between Cantonese, Mandarin and Portuguese. I am always a fan of collages and diversity and I am pretty amazed by Macao’s story. It was equally worth to get lost in its small streets of the Old Town, and in the shadows of the Grande Lisboa Hotel.

My experience is probably incomplete, since I stayed there for less than 24 hours, but what travelling experience is anyway? Straight from Macau, I took a plane to Taipei, from its very modern yet small airport with the runway located on the sea, which added up a lot of adrenaline to the overall experience (after having a blissful breakfast of a typical Portuguese tosta mixta and pastel de nata).

Apart from quite particular art showing various depictions of rabbits, which can be the best closing note for this blog entry.

Special dedication to Cassiana & Paula who took this extravant journey full of champagne com cereja (e certanejo) around South-East coast of China with me. You’re the best and you know it.

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!

 

All…garve part one: far out Faro

Travel

It’s been over 5 years ago I made an experience of living almost literally by the Atlantic Ocean shore in Faro, where the South-Western European continent ends. It was a pretty stress-free life of an Erasmus student in what we used to call ‘Iberian California’, even though at the end most of us had to come back to some sort of adult life. I was lucky enough to host my parents and friends from Poland, Chile, UK and Spain during these months which made it even more special.

Lately some friends who are going to drive through South of Portugal asked me to describe my favourite places I collected and saved in my memories during these couple of months. I have to say that going through my photo collection evoked strong, beautiful freeling and  that even though time has passed, Algarve stays in an important place of my heart.

First of all,I’ll describe the major town of Algarve: Faro, principally known for the international airport where most of the tourist arrive and reach their resorts. Boring, distant from the sea and pretty catastrophically planned – this is how it seems at the first glance. Well, having lived and studied there for a good couple of months, I started to love it in a very special way.

It was definitely the smallest town I’ve ever lived in (around 100K inhabitants if you count in students of the University of Algarve), so this was an interesting experience itself. You could literally recognise everyone on the streets, and get to know local ‘characters’ very easily, which can be an interesting thing to live for a city person, like I am.

Good thing was that it was very convenient to discover inland, leeward and windward Algarve, taking EVA buses (yes, they are monopolists in Algarve with all of its characteristics, but they can get you pretty much everywhere), trains (if not on strike which was a thing to often do in 2011 at least) or the best way: your own car or bike. Portugal, especially in the South has still a very strong ‘driving culture’ , which may come as a shock to people used to commute by bike everyday (again: like I do). And the breathtaking views of the coast and neighbouring Alentejo simply calls for a bike ride!

Tiny, but picturesque city centre of Faro is full of cafeterias and bars, some of them back in a day were still pretty local, and inspired by the students culture. Remember that Thursdays are typical days for Portuguese students to go out and ‘sentir, viver, cantar a noite linda‘ (to ‘feel, live and sing the beautiful night’ – no other words could describe better the wit of it!).

If you are careful, among the typical Algarvian architecture you’ll notice places with patios and terraces with life music, jazz jams and poetry evenings, and world-class street art pieces. There is a beautiful park where you can chill from Algarvian heat, and if you are lucky, you will meet a peacock waving its tail, as if he wanted to cool down the air.

Last but not least: you should visit the Island of Faro, where the beach is, as well as take a chance to discover the Formosa river’s lagoon, with the plethora of fauna and flora (and flamingos!). Which leads us to the chapter no. 2: Leeward Algarve, to be continued soon.

Portuguese bairro in Hamburg

Travel

Spring equals travels to me – and this year I am very curious to explore different German cities. After my Easter trip to the East Baltic Sea (called ‘Ostsee’ = ‘East Sea’ in German), the next destination for the long weekend of May 1st was scheduled for Hamburg. I met people originating from Hamburg and some who just lived there for a while, but all of them were speaking very fondly about the city. I followed their great tips and during 3 days I explored the highlighted parts and much more. The major surprise was finding the ‘Portugiesenvirtel’ aka Portuguese bairro very closely to the city centre.

  Portuguese district is located very near Landungsbrücken – a bridge separating the centre and famous alternative St. Pauli. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the time for almoço (lunch). Even though I plan a trip to Lisbon in Azores in only one month, and I often eat out in a Portuguese restaurant in Berlin (which happens to be steps away from my workplace), I got myself into saudade-mode. Not only the taste of vinho verde and excellent carne alentejana, but the fact, that for a moment I could only talk and think in Portuguese, was just a precious surprise.

So what’s the story behind? Quite obviously, the Hanseatic city of Hamburg being Europe’s largest port since centuries, attracted also famous Portuguese sailors. First settlements of the Portuguese families date back to 16th Century, while the country was a growing colonial empire.

Just one afternoon, and my soul felt very contented. I also learnt a simple poem displayed among different Portuguese items in the restaurant, very relevant for the forthcoming Mother’s Day (quite different date in different countries: but happening tomorrow in Germany):
“Com três letrinhas apenas
Se escreve a Palavra Mãe
É das palavras mais pequenas
A maior que o Mundo tem”