I also must say, it’s the people that make a place, and the kindness of the people in Minho really knows no bounds. I knew the Portuguese were famous for their hospitality but honestly I was really not prepared to feel like I was visiting my family right at the onset. An average Portuguese salary is between 480 to 600 euros, so nearly three times less than the French or English salary. But they are so generous!! People we barely knew would pay for our meals in restaurants, welcome us into their homes, offer us food (the best food), homemade wine, let us have the best rooms with comfortable beds while they slept on the floor. We were so moved. It’s an amazing feeling to finally understand the meaning of a minha casa é a tua casa. I don’t think I could ever repay the hospitality and love that I felt in this fortnight. My biggest hope is that the entire Portuguese nation comes out of this damned economic crisis, because the Portuguese, they definitely deserve better!
|Dinner for 17 :)|
Other than the fantastic scenery, Cabeceiras also boasts of an amazing cathedral aka Mosteiro de S. Miguel de Refojos. Legend has it that Cabeceiras de Basto (Basto meaning *enough*) got it name from Hermigio Romarigues who protected the monastery and the town from the powerful Moors. After the fall of the Visigoth empire at the hands of the Moors, the invaders marched towards the monastery, however Romarigues vowed “Até ali, por S. Miguel, até ali, basto eu!” (Until now, Saint Miguel, until the next time, I am enough!). And sure enough, the Moors attacked the vulnerable monastery three times but fell miserably thanks to the mighty sword of Romarigues.
|Mosteiro de S. Miguel de Refojos|
Since 138 BC, Povoa de Varzim has remained an important fishing port in Northern Portugal. It’s also a well-known beach resort and even though it’s by the cool Atlantic ocean, there are many tourists who come by to enjoy the soft sands and sunny skies. I will never forget this place because here’s where I realized Sushi is not meant for me. Our friends and I went to a beachfront Sushi restaurant. The prices were amazing. All you can eat for ten euros! And sure enough, since we never find sushi at that price in France, we ate of sushi quota of the entire year in one meal. That night my body exploded. I never realized until that day that I could scare people off by just using their bathrooms but yeah, that happened. Lesson of the story: stick to local cuisine while travelling + don’t overeat even if the food is free.
|Cultural scenes depicted with traditional coloured tiles.|
Portuguese people are really gifted with ceramic tile work. I spoke more in detail about Azulejos here. The tile work on display in Povoa de Varzim was a real treat. The traditional blue and white colours of the tiles synced well with the colours of the sea and the sky. Honestly, it’s such a pleasure to find that associations still invest in their artists, who in turn create such amazing art and it’s free to admire of course!
|More Azulejos | Portuguese Tiles|
|Church of Senhor dos Passos, Guimarães.|
|Archer at the Ducal Palace|
The thing that strikes you at first is the the gigantic size and details of the tapestries in nearly every grand salon. And secondly, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan like me, you’ll immediately be transported to a Westeros-like world. You can find grand salons with low chandeliers, tables and plates for giants, warfare items like swords, lances, spears and pole arms. To be honest, the entire decor looked authentic to me. However, according to the Palace’s website, most of the interior decoration is a replica and not necessarily medieval either. Due to time constraints and financial burdens to find exclusive medieval furniture, the commission decided to use replicas of different time periods. According to them, the replicas have the same “artistic merit and documentary value”. Well to be honest, if you’re not a medieval art specialist, the visit will not disappoint you.
|Indo-Portuguese “artifacts” at the Palace.|
|Rua Santa Maria and Town Square|
|Bom Jésus de Monte Courtesy: Wikicommons|
|The Church, the gardens and the view of Braga = Spectacular!|
|Sanctuary of Sameiro|
|Locals devoted time and effort to create these religious floats with tiny grains and flower petals!|
|The Marina. Great for long walks on a sunny day.|
|Santuario de Santa Luzia|
|Madrid is an architectural delight and for lovers of different renaissance-baroque styles, like me, should definitely put Madrid on their agenda!|
|There are beautiful streets and parks and restaurants to wander into.|
|Churches are not few in Madrid and their intricate decorations on ceilings, walls and statues are to lust after. The interiors of the churches provide a well appreciated respite from the scorching July heat.|
|The most breathtaking monument according to me. The Royal Palace. Sadly you’re not allowed to photograph indoors. I recommend it for all people who love chandeliers, wallpaper with royal motifs, luxurious furniture and décor.|
|There are 2 colours that greet you everywhere in Madrid: Yellow :)|
|and a bright cherry Red :)|
Besides the above sights, Madrid has many things to offer, including world class museums, parks, restaurants and cultural activities. I wasn’t too happy with the admission system at the museums. I felt that there was a bias towards European students who had the same age as foreign (non-EU) students. I think art should be made free to admire. In spite of this little problem, my trip to Spain brings back nothing but great memories. I can’t wait to go back and discover some other colourful regions :)
Managed to finally organize my Ghent photos from the begininning of the year. Ghent was the last stop on my Belgium tour. This is a port town which also has a huge student community. I was there very briefly, I couchsurfed at the home of two lovely Belgian girls. I couldn’t see the city in depth because the weather was horrible, it was freezing and if it didn’t rain, there was fog. Thus not too many photos. Tip: Do not choose early spring to visit Belgium, unless you travel sans camera.
The first thing you notice about Ghent is the nouveau art structures all over the city. Sometimes right on the pavement, sometimes on buildings, sometimes in places you least expect to find art!
Excepting to wind up the sun and moon
Or curb a runaway young star or two.
Let’s rewind (again) to the beginning of the month when I was in Belgium for the winter holidays. Bruges is about an hour away from Brussels. The weather was terrible during the week A. Ruiz and I spent in Belgium. However there was one day when the sun came out and that was on the day we spent in Bruges. We stayed at St. Christopher Bauhaus which is a great (and reasonable) hotel situated very close to the centre.
Bruges is really my kind of place. It has really old architecture, great cafés, bookstores, antique stores and there is nothing disturbingly modern about it. We didn’t know much about the city and so we spent our one night and two days wandering about the quaint neighbourhoods and taking pictures of the Bruges’ treasures, big, small, edible, non edible, sensible, non sensible, etc.
Another striking monument in Antwerp is the Cathedral of Our Lady. The cathedral contains many works of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. The cathedral charges a very small fee to enter and then you are free to admire these chefs-d’oeuvre for as long as you want.
The St. Michel cathedral in Brussels is worth a quick visit. I loved how they had little oil lamps instead of candles here. Or were they candles which had melted? Still pretty.
My most favourite place is Brussels is the main town square or Grand Place. The square is surrounded by beautiful old buildings and even though the weather was gloomy/pathetic, there were just enough tourists and lights and noise to create a lively and welcoming atmosphere in the main square.
Holland is a nice country but when I’m here, I’m not really as adventurous as I would be in let’s say Italy or Spain, etc. I have an annoyingly large number of family members living here and somehow that downs the fun. Because I’m automatically drowned into the myriad of problems they have created for themselves (which personally I don’t give a sh*t about!)
This was my second visit to Holland and once again a major part of my stay was in Rotterdam. I tried to make the most of it.
Puma the lovely orange cat was a constant companion. He never sat still for a picture but he was always very friendly and liked cuddling up to me.
One is always thrilled to explore with camera in hand. And happy to see a few flowers that survived the bitter winter!
Winter in Holland is always a delight. Snow is literally everywhere. The entire place is so fresh and clean. You can actually taste the pure air!
I love how the snow fell on ground and created hundreds of white fluffy cushions!
The adorable winter birds! Holland is never short of ducks, geese, swans and strange black birds that swim in lakes. All the best thing of all they belong to everybody!
When one is in a foreign country, one must try the foods and try to make them as well. Hence one goes to the produce market in Rijnhaven.
|At the magnificent Piazza Navona!|
I know I already posted about my trip to Geneva, Switzerland here. I just had some spare photos left and I couldn’t bear the thought of never sharing them. Like I said Geneva is a very peaceful charming place but it is also very expensive and chic! The people are quite friendly and the city boasts of a multi-cultural atmosphere! There aren’t too many attractions in the town. However one of the really impressive things in Geneva is the Jet d’eau, which is the name for the largest water fountain in Europe. If you love nature and swans in particular, you should go to Geneva. You’ll be blown away! :)
After the really sober Renaissance architecture of Florence, I was eager to experience Rome. Rome with it’s sheer Baroque magnificence is undoubtedly one of the most stunning cities in the world. Baroque comes from the Portuguese word “barocco” which means “irregular pearl”. In Italian it means “grotesque”. This is a very dynamic, detailed and complex architecture. Primarily, it was funded by the Roman Catholic church who wanted to show their religious superiority and also win back the masses who had joined the Protestant movement. The main goal of Baroque art and architecture is to dazzle the spectator and boy was I dazzled! I am also such a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn and after watching my favourite film Roman Holiday (over hundred times), I have always hoped for that special moment in my life when I would be in Rome and run into my Gregory Peck on the Spanish Steps. Ya, so that did not happen. I was at the Spanish Steps of course and all I ran into was hordes of tourists and Indian con artists. Yes, Indian salesmen who bugger the hell out of you to buy their little souvenirs. That story comes later. I’m going to put up my pictures from 2 trips to Italy (May and July) together (Well because it just makes sense to not repeat the similar post).
While in Rome, I stayed at Camping Tiber which is a beautiful place and really cheap. The downside is that it’s really far away from the city (an hour minimum). However they do organise a shuttle every half an hour to get you to the local metrostop and then it takes you 20 minutes to get to the city. I would recommend the place since it was so much cleaner and inexpensive as compared to the hotels right in the centre!
So Roma, beautiful Roma! You have had the strangest impact on me! I have never been to a place which has never made me want to leave! (My dad always said I’m the cat on a hot tin roof, I have to keep moving). But Rome was different, I guess it’s because there is so much to the city! It’s full of magical chaos. Everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, everyone you talk to is so unique and full of life! I had planned to stay here just 4 days but I decided I should make it a week, in order to really nurture my electrifying Roman affair :)
|I love the red hues everywhere in Rome.|
The ruins of Pompey’s Theater can be found at the square of Torre Argentina. But that’s not what draws me here every time. The ruins are home to the homeless cats of Rome and I looooooooove cats. There is a cat shelter called Roman Cats at the square and the felines here are so beautiful and friendly, it makes your heart melt. It if forbidden to feed the cats. They have specific meal times, they have been vaccinated, bathed and all they want is a little attention. I lost track of the time I spent here. My favorite was this magnificent but very feeble black cat whose ear was bitten off and fur was falling out but I didn’t mind cuddling him. I could see he was old and with great difficulty he crawled up to me. Some French tourists kept telling me he was “malade” and I shouldn’t touch him. I have known cats all my life and I know when one is ill. (Silly, paranoid, ridiculous) French tourists! Have they not heard what Charles Dickens said? “What greater gift is there, than the love of a cat?” The black cat and me sat together on the steps and together we admired the impressive Pompey’s theater laid out before us. This was his regal playground which he didn’t mind sharing with me. I sat with him till the red sun went down on Rome that day. He had sat on my lap all the while and for once during my entire trip I felt as if I had a friend, someone who would just let me be. Two months later, I was in Rome again and with a heavy heart, I went in search of him. I looked for a long time among the ruins and all his furry friends. I knew he wouldn’t be there. I teared up a little. But soon with all the purrs and mewing around, I could sense a wild spirit at play in his old kingdom. That “malade” yet magnificent black cat owned this beautiful theater where we, the humans were nothing but silly comedians trying to impress a cat audience!
Once you’re in Siena, you’re in another world entirely! I spent an entire day here and had such an amazing time exploring this hill station and appreciating it’s sky high Renaissance buildings. Again! I wish I had more time to explore the place entirely but I could only fit in the main sites.
Restaurants in Siena weren’t so expensive and I given tried some of that famous Chianti wine which I warn you is as strong as Prosaic! :D I later relished my Tiramisu and Biscotte gelato in the drizzle. I did not use a map in Siena and I wouldn’t recommend buying one. Just wandering around those quiet unfamiliar streets was pleasurable to the senses! At every turn, something phenomenal awaited me.
The Duomo/Church of Siena, has the most beautiful façade of any church I have ever seen in Italy! I stayed there for a long time with my arms folded and my head taking in the miniature carvings and intricate details of the monument! One should also visit the Church of Saint Catherine which has a lot of importance for Catholics since it holds the actual head of Saint Catherina of Siena!