Día de Andalucía en Córdoba

Travel
Today’s a very special day for all the women and human population anyway. Last week though it was the region of Andalucia that celebrated its Day. 28th February fell on Friday and thanks to that, I could getaway for a long weekend to one of my favorite cities nearby: Cordoba. 

Why Cordoba is so special? Dating back to Ancient Roman times, it was one of the most developed cities in the world: home to philosophers, scientists and artists. Till today one can really ‘breathe’ the air of this place.  

For centuries, it was a melting pot of Jewish, Arabic and Christian culture, until the history took drastic, turning points. Fortunately, the presence of all these is palpable in various parts of the city. This time I decided to indulge myself in the remnants of the Caliphate culture by staying in a stylized Arabic livelihood, visiting Hammam and even eating out at the restaurant inspired by Andalusian cuisine from 14th Century: Noor. 

The ingredients used for the creation of the menu at Noor consist of typical dishes from the region and 0 km food. Also, to pay tribute to the Andalusian Caliphate, the chef, Paco Morales decided not to use any of the ingredients coming from post-colonial times, e.g. tomatoes, potatoes, avocado or chocolate. Thanks to that he and his team achieved a recreation of the cuisine from the very special period of the Arabic reign in Cordoba. 

Cordoba’s monumental Cathedral: La Mezquita is probably one of the most beautiful and mystical religious sites I’ve ever been to. I remember visiting it in 2011 when there was still a place to contemplate the details and the big picture with its surroundings, nowadays it’s way too crowded to my taste. Apparently in 2019 the number of visitors surpassed 2 millions annually. 

This is why currently what stole my heart were the tiny streets in less crowded parts of the city. Some of them have rather peculiar names, such as ‘Where are we heading to’, ‘Images’ and other descriptive ones. The narrowest one, Calleja del Panuelo, is one of the cutest, although not recommended for people with claustrophobia. 

Cordoba boasts the tradition of houses with flowery patios, offering shade during crazily hot summers when the temperature rises up to 45 degrees Celcius. In May there is even a Festival of Patios when proud owners offer visiting their beautiful gardens. In February orange trees blossom and the smell around the city is simply magic.

I could not choose a better way to celebrate the Day of Andalucia, and I wouldn’t mind returning there time and again.

Asturias – Costa Verde

Travel

August is undoubtedly the hottest month on the Iberian Peninsula and I feared that at some point I won’t be able to bear with it. Apparently, Malaga was not as bad as the rest of the continent, especially thinking about how global warming has been affecting Europe in the past years. The most unpleasant days were around the second week of August where the famous Terral wind started to blow. I’ve never experienced a wind which is as hot as 40 Celcius degrees with the speed reaching 40 km p/hour – it really felt as if the air was coming out of a hairdryer.

August is also a month when the most (in)famous festivity of Malaga takes place: La Feria. It is about 10 days of celebration of the local folk tradition, including bull fighting, horse riding, and most importantly: flamenco dancing and Cartojal (sweet, strong wine) drinking. This attract millions (!) of national and international tourists every year, making Malaga allegedly unliveable. This also turned out a myth, since the festivities were distributed around the whole city, and not only the city centre, while the municipality of Malaga made a special effort to keep the whole area very clean and vigilant for common vandalism. Not knowing about these two happenings of the month were not as bad as the word of mouth, I decided to escape for five days into the North of Spain: the green coast of Asturias.

After visiting Basque Country many years ago, and Galicia last year, I was the most curious about the coastal hiking in this mostly rural and unspoilt region of Spain. Landing in Asturias, I already felt the change: it was probably 10 degrees less than in Andalucia, and I got almost dizzy with the fresh air coming from the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding woods. Quite a change after the hairdryer Terral just a few days before.  I was not too ambitious when it comes to the scope of discovering the region: since I only had 5 days, and no car, I focused on the western part of the region, leaving the higher mountain hike and the eastern routes for some other occasion.

On purpose, I stayed in a very small village nearby a more popular, touristy town of Cudillero when I only visited when in need (of food mostly). Due to its rough coastline, to visit the town, I had to descent about 700 m down with the slope of about 90%. Not to mention coming all the way back uphill. What helped to achieve this, is definitely the local food: Spaniards warned me about the size of the portions offered and they were indeed large and tasty. I’ve eaten probably the biggest and most impressive mariscada in my life in the restaurant called simply El Pescador in Cudillero, boasting a Michelin recommendation this year.

Another hiking highlight was the route called Senda Costera from the picturesque village called Muros de Nalon until the river port San Esteban de Pravia. It takes a few hours to walk through a path throughout the Atlantic forest, with a possibility to descent into the wild, Atlantic beaches.

Asturias is not only nature though, it’s also a maritime and industrial patrimony, visible in the cities like Aviles or Gijon. Although the focus of this trip was mostly on hiking (and eating out!), I managed to visit both cities – the most interesting is probably the cultural centre of Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia and simply admiring the difficult charm of the long, post-industrial sites. To finalize the visit, on a last, rainy day in Gijon, I tried the Michelin start restaurant situated in the green Asturian park: La Salgar, run by the chefs Esther and Nacho, offering amazing experience for relatively reasonable price. Overviewing a typical, Asturian horreo, tasting the local food with the creative touch, I decided I will return to this mysterious, strangely beautiful part of Spain one day again. Who knows if not to retire.

 

Málaga, olé!

Travel

Similarly like a year ago, I’ve travelled to Spain in January to take part in the annual Berklee College of Music Career Days. This year I decided to extend my stay to travel along the South-East coast of Spain aka Costa del Sol to appreciate the beauty of the spring-like winter in this part of Europe. Clear, deep-blue coloured skies made my body react with shock due to the vitamin D overdose at first.

Interestingly enough, upon the arrival in Málaga, I have heard it’s been quite cold this year, and I remember how much the perspective is different when you live in the South or North of Europe. To me the getaway to Spain was nothing but a bliss.

Nevertheless, it’s been my third time in Málaga already, having previously visited during the acclaimed Semana Santa (Easter Week) in 2012 and Navidad (Christmas) in 2016. It’s not that I’m religious, quite the opposite, however the decorations and festivities are very impressive and would recommend anyone to experience. This time I’ve discovered how much the city has developed in terms of the infrastructure (it’s all under construction though!) and how many opportunities for tech companies have emerged in the meantime.

Málaga, apart from being the City of Light given its sunny location, leaves and breathes the beauty: both culturally and naturally. I spent some time hiking around multiple parks and botanic gardens, Gibralfaro Hill and Paseo de Reding, amazed by the variety of plants and bird species. Such a retreat in the centre of the vibrant city!

I also discovered a few culinary highlights: plenty of Moroccan-origin and vegetarian restaurants and brunch options have populated in the city landscape. To top it up, I’ve managed to book a table at a renowned, Michelin-star restaurant of José Carlos García in the beautiful port: Muelle Uno which was not surprisingly an exquisite, white-glove experience.

Without a doubt, I revisited El Pimpi, the most famous, quirky and spacious bar/restaurant in the city centre, with a rich cultural and culinary heritage including the most popular wine and food selection of the region (croquetas!).

I am pretty sure that the history, art and climate shape the environment. For sure, Málaga with its fantastic location, historical and contemporary music and art scene, ever-tempting hedonistic earthly pleasures (food and wine in particular!) and international visitors is a great place to visit, and re-visit every time.

With that, I have nothing more to say than hasta luego! 

Saudade at the tip of Europe

Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

I returned to Portugal for 9 days this month to reunite with my best friend at one of the biggest tech conferences, and for the change of air. Or even more metaphorically: to hear a wind of change. Nous voyageons pour chercher d’autres états, d’autres vies, d’autres âmes. So we travel to search for new states, new lives, new souls.

After a particularly busy week at the conference we took off to Cabo da Roca, about an hour away from Lisbon, to the Westernmost tip of continental Europe (and oh how I like the extremes, remoteness and ends of the world).

I returned there after many years: first time I had gone there when my adventures with studying in Portugal started off and ended up quite abruptly, and secondly after my father’s death, my break up and my return from Brazil effectively. From such experiences one could think it’s a place I would only contemplate finiteness, or profound sadness. Truth is, my last weeks have not been too easy at different wavelengths, at the same time.

Being around natural wonders, vast spaces and with people who are close to me is a one way I recover, music is the other solution. I guess this is why I am not tired of coming back to the sounds and landscapes which cure the soul, and constantly searching for the new ones as well. Hence I still curate Lusofonetica after over 4 years and return to the positive side of life eventually. Like in this beautiful song:

Não me deixe só
Eu tenho medo do escuro
Eu tenho medo do inseguro
Dos fantasmas da minha voz

Despite the darkness this season, various insecurities and ‘ghosts’ in my head, I still write up about the beauty of things in life I have seen and hope to see again, enlightened by the SAD lamp in my Berliner apartment.

At the tip of Portugal, the sun was shining, the sound of waves crushing magnificent rocks brought me to a state of meditation, tranquility and strength at the same time. There’s undoubtedly magic in places at the end of the world, causing our exploratory imagination to move further and remove the artificial obstacles.

After this trip I just hope this winter will be transformational to me. I see the sun.

 

To the South – Greek Macedonia & Chalkidiki

Travel

Last month I visited Thessaloniki, a capital of the Greek region Macedonia for the Polish-Greek wedding of my cousin, and took an opportunity to discover the peninsula of Chalkidiki.

Since I’ve already traveled to Thessaloniki two years ago, and did a very intense city sightseeing, I focused mostly on the earthly pleasures of this place: food and wine tasting all day; simply relaxing in the shadow, or observing the multicoloured sunsets from the cafés located on the Leorofos Nikis boulevard next to the city harbour.

The district I spent the most time was Ladadika – the heart of the nightlife, and the culinary heaven of the city.

After the festive celebration of the wedding, which was particularly interesting due to the multicultural mix of the guests and ceremony, I decided to opt for a few days of blissful rest at the peninsula of Chalkidiki, often recalled as the ‘three fingers/legs’: Kassandra, Sithonia and Agion Oros.

I initially wanted to discover the third ‘finger’: Agion Oros, an autonomous region with a magnificent Mt. Athos. Unfortunately, I was a victim of the tradition and my own gender, as till this date, women are not permitted to land on that particular peninsula due to strict beliefs of the monastery’s residents located there.

Kassandra was still fuelled by tourists but nevertheless, it was a perfect spot for chill out. I stayed in the town of Pefkochori known for one of the best beaches on the peninsula, and some of the best selection of seafood restaurants.

Towards the end of my stay, peaceful waters turned overnight into stormy waves and I could sense the season’s changing – it was already time to travel back to Berlin. The big blue painting of the sky and the sea stayed with me to survive the colder months of the year though.

L’usage du monde à Bordeaux

Travel

 

Last year, while visiting my friend Maria in Lisbon we had a chat about the usual topics we have on our minds: sustainable travel (not to mistake for tourism), languages and literature. She recommended me a book which I devoured with a great pleasure: ‘L’usage du monde‘ by Nicolas Bouvier.

It actually touched upon all these topics and provided a lot of guidance on how to discover the world with respect, quite contrary to the title meaning ‘Using the world’. I’d like to come back in time and describe briefly my last year’s stay in Bordeaux, and reconnect with my ‘French period’. I studied French literature for a few semesters and spent some time discovering the country and its language.

 

My first blog ever, after my summer stay as a intern in the South of France contains of quite a lot of travel, music and cinematic inspirations. Some of it I can’t recall very well these days or am ashamed of writing those days, but leave it up there for the sake of literary honesty and smoky traces.

After many years, I decided to travel to France again to visit the Aquitaine coastline and the city of Bordeaux, famous for its 18th century architecture, fantastic cuisine and wine. Some of the things that I enjoy the most in life (especially when it comes to red wines like Merlot, Malbec or Carmenère – all present in the region of Bordeaux).

The city, divided by the river Garonne has an entry basin to the ocean, so it is often visited by various cruisers – both those that came through the river (often as far as Switzerland or Germany) or Atlantic route. Along the river there are a plenty of cafés, restaurants, concert halls and sport spots. It feels very egalitarian for various age groups and classes: it’s neither too bourgeoise, not too rough.

The area of Chartrons neighbourhood is full of interesting street art. As for the museums, no one should miss the City of Wine, and the contemporary museum: CAPC. Aside from that, Bordeaux feels spacious and not overly crowded by tourists, even during the summer season.

Bordeaux is a perfect city to discover on foot, by bike or convenient and fairly cheap public transport: buses and trams. When speaking French, I felt very encouraged to chat at a pretty much any occasion, quite opposite to my first harsh experiences in Paris.

When tired of the cityscape, within an 1-2 hours train drive’s reach, there are also natural spots like the highest European dune: Dune du Pilat, breathtaking Atlantic coast beaches and cute seaside towns.

Having spent four days only, I could only touch upon the beauty of Bordeaux, the palate of its wine, but already promised myself to return to France soon. Coming back to speaking has been easier for me than learning German, although I have to admit the relative difficulty among these two languages stays similar to me. À bientôt!

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.

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…

Ilha do Pico – around the peak of Portugal on a bike

Travel

After having visited Terceira, and São Jorge islands I departed on a shorter, 45-minutes passage to Pico, an island named, not surprisingly, after the highest Portuguese peak.

Spoiler alert: I will not describe any hiking adventures in this post, as my feet were too damaged after hiking during the whole week and the weather conditions to approach Pico were unfortunately not good enough to risk it, even if it was early in August.

Instead, I will focus on another way of discovering this island: on a bike. Pico is actually quite flat on the coastline, offering hundreds of kilometres of bike paths around the wineyards of the famous lava wine.

Even though the days were very warm and humid at the coastline, the weather in the interior remained cloudy to the point I could only sneak peek the famous peak, and not the gorgeous mountain. I was much more lucky when returning on a small plane from Flores island over a week after though, where I could admire Pico from the bird view perspective.

I stayed overnight around the major town of Pico: Madalena, rich in great restaurants and bars, some of them traditional and the others, with a fancy modern touch. Cella Bar located on the South-Western tip of the island, overlooking another island: Faial is definitely worth recommending for a romantic sunset with a glass of local wine. To be followed by laying in the hammock surrounded by the sound of nightingales that would never stop their love songs till the early morning.

Wineries of Pico are listed on the UNESCO Heritage Site and there are two museums dedicated to the art of wine making. Another interesting fact is that the stray between the islands: Pico and Faial is very rich in whale and dolphin population, so one quite easily spot them while passing on the local ferry line.

There various small villages and towns worth visiting on Pico: the biggest one of them are Lajes and São Roque. They are definitely more rural and sleepy, but have dedicated spaces for the local craftship and whalers. On the way from Madalena to São Roque one can pass by the formation of rocks called: cachorros (‘dogs’), due to their resemblance to a poodle.

With wind in my hair, blue skies, ocean and endless green wineries in my eyes and wine in my head (only in tasting quantities though), I spent two days riding around the island on bike and would never forget this experience of careless freedom of discovery.

 

 

São Jorge – walking on the dragon’s back

Travel

It’s high time to describe the next chapter of my Azorean adventure this summer, after my initial stay on Terceira, which is the Spartan-like hike around São Jorge.

It’s one of the least visited, and challenging islands to discover among the Azores, yet I would definitely say: one with the most stunning wildlife and views. It is only possible to get there by a regular boat service during the summer season, given the roughness of the ocean tides, but there’s also a connection with the major airports of Azores by SATA airlines.

São Jorge’s shape reminds of a dragon laying in the middle of the Ocean, as its steep volcanic mountain ranges create a landscape very similar to the one I described earlier this year in a totally different place on Earth: Dragon’s Back in Hong Kong.

To see and experience the most of the island, I chose to hitchhike and hike anyway, often up to 1000 m up and down on the slippery, yet very picturesque slopes.

What is very special about São Jorge is fajã – a lava-origined coastal structure, on the tip of the volcanic mountains, where natural pools (poços), lakes and little villages are located. The structure of fajã exists all over Azores, yet it differs a lot from island to island. That’s why visiting all of them can be such a great adventure!

I chose to walk the Northern trail between Poços Simão Dias, Norte Grande, Fajã dos Cubres and Fajã de Santo Cristo, rich in the natural species like noisy bird-musicians: cagarros, sparkling waterfalls and flowers like conteira, brought to the island from Himalaya (!), among the more endemic ones like cubres or hortensias. The weather changed every 10 minutes and so the visibility.

I was often alone for many hours on the trail, making notes to self about the impossible to describe beauty I see, listening to the birds, wind and the ocean. It was a very transcendent experience to me, appreciating the time, space and surroundings that still exists very remotely on our planet.

It took me some time to make a decision if to describe and publish the photos from São Jorge, as a part of me doesn’t want this place to be visited by anyone else, anymore. I know how unrealistic, and partly selfish this wish is though. So, take your time, enjoy, and smile to yourself.

Again, I can only appeal to discover places like these in a respectful way for the nature and local culture, and for now it looks like the visitors comply with it. I left São Jorge with tears of joy and instant saudade feeling, promising to myself to return, possibly for longer, to lose the track of time, space and simply indulge in the natural beauty. Não adianta chorar. On the board of Gilberto Mariano boat (again!) I could see the peak of the island Pico (which, not surprisingly, means ‘the peak’ in Portuguese and its volcano is indeed the highest mountain of Portugal!), where I spent the next couple of days.