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 pt.3: Barlavento

Travel

May is already here, summer is forthcoming soon (even in Berlin!), and I am still not done with describing one of the most charming locations in Europe: Algarve in Portugal, where I was lucky to travel and live for a while.

So far I have dedicated most of the entries to the Leeward, Eastern side of the Southern Portuguese coast, given my sympathy and know-how of Faro and Olhão regions as well as Formosa river’s natural wonders.

The other side of this wonderful 100-km coastline stripe: Barlavento (eng. Windward), on the West, has been traditionally recognised by the surfers, beach testers and festival-lovers (famous festival Sud Oeste, taking place: as the name says: in the South-West Portugal). Infamously, this part of Algarve has been also known as the land of the massive tourism and disappeared child called Maddie few years ago that made this region a pretty bad press. With or without the scandal’s impact, I would avoid places like Portimão or Albufeira which are huge beach resorts with soulless architecture for rather lazy, all-inclusive kind of tourism. Sad places to see in such an authentic country like Portugal.

Coming back to the wonders of Barlavento, I would name a few: coming there outside of the season would be probably the most beautiful experience, since massive rocks and strong winds, while few people around create altogether a very dramatic and picturesque atmosphere.

My to-do list would include wandering around little towns with rich history, such as Aljezur, Lagos or Sagres (famous also for being a name of one of two most popular Portuguese beers!). For the romantic spirits, I would absolutely recommend facing the sunset at the most South-Western tip of Europe: Cabo de São Vicente. Whereas villages like Raposeira or Porto das Barcas would be on my surfing paradise list.

Last but not least, even in the surroundings of Lagos, one can find very particular beaches – among the numberless and funnily-shaped rocks. Beware that Barlavento: as the name indicates is the land for wind-loving people, but if you do, you won’t be disappointed by the natural diversity of this coastline.

 

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.

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.

Ilha de saudade – the sad stories from Cabo Verde

Travel

I have written quite a lot about the cheerful, colourful and paradisiac side of Cabo Verde. I believe there are even more adjectives to describe the archipelago, given that there are 10 islands, each of them of a very special characteristics. Yet there is one thing they have in common: the remoteness, from the African continent, not to mention the other parts of the world.

I was always attracted to remote islands, and even more when I read the book from Judith Schalansky. As she said in one of the interviews “Islands, especially those that seem most remote, are perfect places. They capture your imagination. For people who feel stressed, the island is an ideal image of a place where you can find peace, and where you can finally concentrate on what is really important. Maybe that’s where the question originates: What would you bring to a desert island? Each utopia wishes for a new beginning, for a chance to do everything differently. All it takes is untrodden territory and an answer to the question: Is another, better life possible?”.

Is it always the case though? Cabo Verde was uninhabited until the discovery and colonization by the Portuguese explorers in 15th century. Since then, they became an important shipping and commercial route, also when it comes to the shameful slave trade. This shed light on many people of Cabo Verde asking for their actual origins.

During my stay on the Santiago island, I was also faced with rather unusual place to visit during holidays: a concentration camp. I never heard about the concentration camp on the beautiful location like this, and more about the camp that was running for over 40 years. It was build in Tarrafal in 1936 by the authoritarian government of Salazar and was torn down only with the independence of Cabo Verde in 1975. There is an interesting documentary (“Memories from the camp of the slow death” – due to severe and dry conditions) about the survivors of the camp, mostly political prisoners from the former Portuguese colonies, e.g. Guiné Bissau, São Tomé or Angola:

The feeling of saudade – longing, separation (knowing that the majority of the Cabo Verde inhabitants live in diasporas outside of the archipelago: mostly in Paris and in Lisbon) is also reflected in mornasthe musical style originated in Cabo Verde or in the look of homeless dogs, wandering around from the town centres to the beaches, and all you need to do is to carefully get acquainted with them as you go along.

Thinking about it a bit more in-depth, Cabo Verde lays nowhere and at the same time, at the crossing of the routes from East and West, North and South and the influences of other cultures and political issues were reflected on this very special islands.