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!

Advertisements

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.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.

Women Who Travel

Personal, Travel

This post is not dedicated to any particular journey I’ve made. This post is about women who travel: independently, in a creative and respectful way. Just the way they live their lives. They are no abstract protagonists, they are represented by women I know in my family (starting from my awesome Mother), my friends and colleagues, and finally: myself. However, the happenings from last week in Ecuador proved how fragile our freedom for travel is. I want to dedicate my own personal Women’s Day tribute for the memory of all the female travellers who lost their lives because of sexism, misogyny and fundamentalism.

There is so much anger in me, although initially there was simply immense sadness when I heard about the unbelievably brutal and pointless murder of two Argentinean women travelling in Ecuador. Sadness gave way to anger when I analysed the language of the press coverage: initially putting the blame on the travellers to be behave reckless, inappropriate, and visiting the dangerous places. Calling out to parents, why the hell they let them travel alone. In 2016, really?!

This could be me. I travelled alone (not even with the other friend!) thousands of miles in my life, simply because I like discovering things at my own pace. Other times, I travelled ‘only’ with my Mother, or my female friend(s), and I met so many great, like-minded women on my way! I always try to inform myself about the place I’m travelling to, the customs and things to take into consideration, and I never seek out the dangers for the sake of adrenaline rush. Still, I was mugged only once, the luggage that got lost, got back to me through the seven mountains and jungle, and I never had problems with unwanted sexual attention, as I knew how to handle such situations within clean communication and in a respectful way, if needed.

Still, I have to consider myself luck, as this shit is still happening, at a very creepy scale. Unnamed authorities calling us to cover our bodies, be accompanied by men or family or stay at home at night, as if we were an object to carry. I am very frightened to see this conservative trend taking over in many countries around the world and I want to voice my scream against the freedom of women around the world, the explorers, the curious, the mindful and the half of this beautiful world!

Don’t let us scare off, close at home, force into relationships for the only sake of protection (disclaimer: I don’t have anything against the great couples, I’m just putting a broader context!) which ultimately leads into manipulating us more easily. At no other times women had a better financial situation and travelling was considered easier than nowadays, in general. I would like to embrace all my experiences that made me a person that I am now: open for changes, diversity and uncertainty in life, able to risk and step out of my comfort zone to deep dive into something new. And I would like to thank to all the amazing people I met on my way that acknowledged the fact I love travelling alone, and making it an unforgettable story of its own.

RIP Maria José and Marina.

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.

 

Tarrafal, o paraíso remoto

Travel

After my first two days in Praia, I followed up with a short trip to the neighbouring island of Fogo (port. fire) and Cidade Velha, the first colonial settlement in West Africa, but the real treat was only waiting for me on the other side of the Santiago Island.

We boarded North on the Christmas Eve, hoping to get to the other tip of the island before the dusk – not only because we wanted to have a traditional feast, but to safely cross the picturesque, yet dangerous Serra Malagueta mountain range. Dangerous if you drive in the pick up together with some other, 20 people inside (and a duck, in this particular case).

So we made it to Tarrafal, a town on the Northwestern tip of the island, the destination for the hippie families, laid-back wanderers who love watching the sunsets (if the weather conditions are great, you get to see the sun setting over the Fogo volcano – I didn’t take my camera when it happened, oh well), drinking coconut water, or surfing. There are three beaches in the bay of Tarrafal, and all of them offering white sand: a rarity on this island.

Tarrafal is also a very popular holiday destination for the Cape Verdeans – there were many families, often travelling all the way from France (where the biggest diaspora of Cape Verde is currently based) that were spending time until the festivities of Santo Amaro (happening on 15th January).

Having spent over 5 days in Tarrafal, I got accustomed to the local community: having visited both the church, as the local festivities (in the cultural centre with the Anonymous logo :)) of batucadeiras and eating out in the local bars and restaurants and celebrating in the Mercado Central. Contrary to Praia, here the time passed slowly, peacefully in the shadow of the funny Monte Gordo (eng. Fat Mountain) and I reflected back on it, talking to the fishermen, surfers, or homeless dogs on the beach and simply enjoying to learn about life in this little, remote paradise on Earth.

 

 

Relaxa – how to get through the cold and dark days

Music, Personal

This very laid-back and relaxing post should help to wipe out all the Brazilian-homesickness feelings. Especially in the winter months in Europe.

I personally first escaped the Central European winter a few years ago with relocating to the South of the continent (with a short but life-changing period of living in Brazil), and last year came back to the same four-season pattern in Berlin. I find it physically challenging to get through until end of March or so, but have found my ways. German way of saying “it’s not cold, you’re only dressed inappropriately” helps to shift the focus too. I have to say that having survived summer in Arctic, helped me too.

So, having gathered warm clothes, bought 20 types of tea and mate, I can say I’m prepared. But the crucial thing to survive the dark and cold days is to… listen to Brazilian music!

So let me share you my top 3 tracks that have magically spelled out flu, sore throat, but also depression, loneliness and other side effects of the European winter:

“Relaxa” – the message is clear either if you want to chill out after a tough week, if you’re feeling weak, or contrary – in a party mood. Painel de controle will get you in this upbeat and alegre mood.

“Na Boca do Sol” – reminds me of my Cidade Interior, Brasilia, I used to live for a while. This place, apart from being an architectural and social phenomenon, has shown me the most beautiful and unforgettable sunrises and sunsets.

“Chegou de Bahia” – of course, who wouldn’t be happier if visiting Bahia

Here I’d like to mention that next month I’ll be travelling to Africa to relax, unwind on the Cape Verde, while listening to mornas. The featured picture comes from Azores though, where, enchanted by its remoteness and beauty, I decided to discover more of the Atlantic archipelagos.

Morna – “Ocean blues”, Cape Verdian emblematic dance and music genre, recognised worldwide mostly by Cesaria Evora’s and Maria Andrade’s works

Que bandeira

Music, Personal

“Faz um ano, faz, que eu tenho muita paz
Quase um ano tem, e tudo muito bem
E se eu não voltar, não vá se preocupar
Todo mundo tem direito de mudar

Que bandeira que você deu
Que bandeira, não me entendeu
Caretice tua chorar
De maneira aqui pra brigar (…)”

These lyrics, coming from Marcos Valle’s ‘Que bandeira’ classic tune are one of my all-time favourites. The essence for non-Portuguese speakers boils down to being free to live wherever you want, being the owner of your destiny, choosing your future regardless of your origin.

“(…) Eu não voltei
E eu não voltei porque agora eu sei
Naquele papel eu ia pro pinel
E se alguém disser que eu me desmontei
Sou dono de mim e faço o que quiser

Que bandeira que você deu
Que bandeira, não me entendeu
Caretice tua chorar
Caretice tua brigar (…)”

So it’s been almost one year in Berlin. It’s good to make a retrospective of what I planned to accomplish, and what I actually did. The most important thing is that I feel happy, although the fact is that I am very free to travel and re-visit my beloved places. I have also started gathering my learnings and thoughts on my paralel blog: Berlinering, where I describe my current experiences and soon will publish some sort of essence of my first year in Germany.

‘(…) Sigo te querendo, te cantando, procurando uma desculpa,
Te querendo mais.
Vou te cantando, te querendo, procurando uma desculpa,
Te cantando mais.
Sigo procurando uma desculpa, te querendo, te cantando,
Te querendo mais
Vou procurando uma cantada, te querendo, me desculpe,
Te cantando mais

Tou sabendo de você
Tou sabendo, podes crer!’

I still love the places I lived or been to (like this heavenly beach of Joaquina in Brazil pictured above), but I don’t long for them. I know that if I want to come back, I would, anytime. This is probably why I am so happy here, about the choice and opportunity, and not the necessity. Because everyone should be free to live wherever he/she wants to. I would love this to be valid for everyone, in this crazy world we live in…

Nostalgia de la Luz

Personal, Travel

This is one of the guest posts dedicated to the thinest, yet the longest country on our planet – Chile. A fascinating and remote country which is surrounded with natural frontiers: be it Cordillera de los Andes from the East, Pacific Ocean from the West, the driest desert on Earth – Atacama from the North or the most hostile sailing route from the South – Drake’s Passage separating the South American mainland from the Antarctica. Oh, and the Easter Island, the most secluded place on Earth.

I was lucky enough to travel around the Mid- and Northern part of Chile during a couple of weeks in 2011, thanks to my very close friend who is currently dedicating a great deal of his time to the community project in Patagonia.

My memories and the necessity to put my experience in writing were triggered though by assisting lately in the world’s premiere of the Chilean movie – ‘El Botón de Nácar’, a second part of the documentary covering the geographic and historic complexities and ambiguities of this country. I was not surprised when the movie won the Silver Bear prize at the Berlinale for the script, as I was amazed by the sheer beauty of its poetic narrative.

Since then, I followed up with the first documentary called ‘Nostalgia de la Luz’, picturing the Atacama desert from two perspectives. One of them is a search for discovering the past of the galaxies through the astronomic observatories located on the Atacama Desert due to its clarity of the sky. The second one is seen through the lense of the group of elderly women still looking for remaining human body parts of their relatives, who were imprisoned, tortured and ultimately killed and thrown all over the desert during the military regime in the 70s.

I remember my amazement by the clarity of the starry constellations, the light of the desert sun, but also the inexplicable melancholy that could be read in people’s faces. I reconnected with this familiar feeling which I often got when had lived in Poland, surprisingly in the most far-off country in the world. And I still keep the grains of Atacama’s salt and soil with me wherever I live, to keep this moment present.

Last Monday in the sunshine or the Saudade Week

Personal

Still a little bit offtopic, I just want to let know that I am alive and kicking, even though I am running against the clock with my relocation-related issues. My flat is the most depressive place with no furniture and everything packed. This is why meanwhile I went for a short getaway to Aragón and was surprised about how picturesque Zaragoza and the Pre-Pyrenees region is both for urban break and hiking. Apart from that October in Barcelona seems to be pampering me – balmy 25-ish Celcius degrees, clear sky and just a little bit chillier nights.

So do my nearest and dearest, on the other hand supporting me and being really happy about my new life chapter just about to start. Still, we are all weeping secretly from time to time! And many amazing people I met here throughout those couple of years. My friend got me even a bag with ‘Amor e saudade’ written on it. She could not catch my state of mind better!

The truth is that Barcelona is a place of constant migrations, coming and going just like ebbs and flows (oh, again the sea-related metaphor, can’t help it). This time I feel there is no turning back once I leave because I just feel strongly that world is bigger than Catalonia and very interesting indeed and has much more to offer for a curious and high-energy person like me (or at least how people describe me). Never say never though.

Not sure if Berlin is my final destination, but I am equally excited about the new job (yes!), new people I will meet on my way, new places I will discover in this ‘a place to be’ capital and the new language (ja!). I have even started an online German basics, but my mashed up accent, i.e. put altogether British English + rough Polish + Brazilian Portuguese + Spanish with a touch of Catalan (again, can’t help it) and you will get more or less the sound I produce.

Well, going back to the beach with Zuco103 in the speakers and German language app on my phone then. Even though this is the last Monday in the sunshine (titletaken from a famous Spanish movie Los Lunes Al Sol), I am going to seize the moment!