A story about (among others) an astronaut, a rabbit and a frog- Salamanca

My aunt and a friend of hers were due to come visit me and since she’s an architect (my aunt) I thought a trip to Salamanca would please her tastes. I haven’t seen the city before but knowing that it has (one of) the oldest universities in the world, I wanted to go there. So I booked accommodation, the closest possible to Plaza Mayor. Then my aunt canceled her visit but the accommodation was not refundable, I got some good advices from friends, managed to have Sara excited about the trip so Saturday morning, 7am we started our journey.

We stopped on the way for breakfast and reached the parking in Salamanca by 12. As it was too early for checking in, we started our tour of the city and what better start then Plaza Mayor. The architecture reminds me of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid: imposing, mirrored facades except the City Hall which was meant to be even more imposing. As we moved the eyes from the City Hall to the right, through a passage we could already see the market where even with masks on (thanks Covid!) we could smell the sausages… Around the corner and we started walking down the pedestrian street of San Pablo we stopped at Convento de San Esteban. Beautifully carved façade, calm courtyard and with expo of articles from South America, for a time when we really believed that we were civilizing the world. It was still too early for lunch when we got our so we continued our walking tour to the Cathedral but just as we got there we got a call back to go to the accommodation to get the keys. So we walked back up on Rua Mayor, got the keys and stopped for lunch at Lio. After lunch we went back to the Cathedral looking for the astronaut and the rabbit. Yes, right, when in 1992 the new Cathedral (built in the 16 century) got a major renovation, the astronaut was added to the decor element. I managed to find it, as well as the rabbit but learned that a dragon eating an ice-cream, a lynx, a bull, a stork and a crayfish are also to be found… Next time!

Some words about the Cathedral (s) because yes, there are two- the old one (from 12-13 century) and the new one (from the 16 century) united. One visiting can clearly see the difference between the two, with the old part being more minimalist, with a painted altar like the Orthodox ones (actually there were some notes that this is of eastern influence). If you visit the Cathedral (s) do go visit as well the towers. Apart from exercising a little one gets to see the roofs of the churches plus a really beautiful view over Salamanca.

Once the Cathedral was checked, we walked towards the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, that is a parc dedicated to the love of Calixto and Melibea- a kind of Romeo and Juliet in the Spanish version and with a little more freedom of spirit. By this time my mobile was without battery. Great! We started walking towards the Roman bridge. On the way we saw the entrance to the history museum of automotive and thought if we get some extra points if we go in but decided we can live without the points. The Roman bridge used to be the only access way to the old city (surrounded with walls, of course). Nowadays the river can hardly be seen but the bridge is in really good shape.

Next stop was for water. And a beer. And a tinto de verano. Afterwards we went to look for the second mistery- the frog sitting on a skull on the façade of the University of Salamanca.

The legend says that when students arrive for the very first time at the renowned University of Salamanca, they are greeted with a challenge: if they can spot the tiny frog carved into the intricate stone facade of the university’s main building, they will surely have great academic success and pass their exams without a problem. Anyone interested for a tip?

Since it was almost closing time, we did not visit the university. Instead we kept walking past the Casa de las Conchas (house of the seashells) and the Universidad Pontifica, Palacio de Monterrey and stopped for some impromptu shopping of second hand books. Before dinner we stopped for a cocktail. Oh yes, this is something funny, if it crosses your mind to order a Campari orange or a Lynchburg lemonade, better come with the recipe. We had a good dinner at Cuzco after waiting for about 30 min. The place is small but very sought after so we did not mind waiting for the meal that was really good! And with the first day ended, we went to bed.

Although we still had things un-checked in Salamanca we decided to get out of the city on Sunday and with some good recommendations and checking some “saved in want-to-go” places we decided to go south. Our first stop, for breakfast and a nice walk: Candelario. With its narrow streets, bikers and batipuertas this little place charmed us!

Next stop: Mirador de la Memoria. A while ago, talking with my galician friends, I got to see a documentary about some of the victims of Franco’s dictatorship. The documentary really moved me. Like any atrocity- call it Holocaust, communism, dictatorship power was misused and we forgot being human. I was hoping we have the place just for us. We had the drive to there just for us (luckily!) through a windy and narrow road but the place was not crowded but let’s say not just for us. The four statues are impressive. Set on cliffs looking out to a valley they almost speak “where are we?” I left the place with a clear target: learn more about Franco’s time.

We then headed back north, passed by Salamanca and stopped for lunch in El Perdigón. But before explaining why we choose this place, let me ask you if you can imagine yourself having to declare that you were born/lived in El Cubo de Tierra del Vino- if I am right with my translation: the earthen bucket of wine 🤔😁. That’s not a challenge, this place really exists and one day you might come across some people living there. Back to Perdigón- at the end of an almost deserted road to nowhere lays this place famous for its underground restaurants. We did not get to eat underground- you know, thank you Covid!- but did get the chance to visit one and eat upstairs and check out the 100m male Olympic finals.

with our stomachs full we debated weather to stop in Zamora or go for Allariz. In the end we hit the road to Allariz. To the galician lands and back to the moody weather- and right now I discovered another reason why I like this land- because it’s like me!

Allariz was greyish and rainy when we arrived but we still did our small tour with a promise to come back. Beautiful small town with stone streets a newly redesigned river area. This shows money good invested!

And since we’re both pretty but not rich, we had to go back home and prepare for another Monday at work. But it was good to get back to traveling, sightseeing, exploring and wondering at the beauty around us…

Hope you will enjoy the photos!

Unnecessary living

More than one year since the pandemic started, since restrictions are imposed everywhere, countries still not coordinated, this damn face mask preventing us to share a thank you and a nice greeting, no hugs, no travel, restricted getting together and then as I took the highway last Sunday a sign was showing “avoid unnecessary travel”. I really got pissed off. I am not the type to complain a lot and think I can tolerate quite a lot (although patience is not my strong point) but….really? 14 months and counting and authorities still pretend that we avoid unnecessary travel? For how long? Living for working, necessary shopping and maybe restricted social contact??? You know what? I rather risk but live the way I want to.

And since I let it out, let me tell you what I did lately. Apart from working on the house and getting a cat. I went to Romania to see my family- 9 months, the longest time ever for staying away… This was an adventure, of course… Flight 2 was cancelled, first time 2 weeks prior to scheduled departure, rebooked just so that replacement flight was cancelled as well four days later and hey, lucky me, replacement of replacement did not get cancelled! Nevermind that cancellations were provided with no reason or that I had to fly to an airport 300km away from my initial destination. I mean in times of pandemic, we should all, sorry not all, only some, the stupid consumers show understanding. Ok so when I thought that the replacement of the replacement is safe, I wanted to change my flight 1. Surprise: sure I can change it (I god-damn paid for this flexibility) only that changing my ticket would have cost me more than buying a new one. So understanding required second time and of course I do it- I mean they really do me a service taking me home… Airports like everywhere- full of signs to respect social distance. We board a full plane and even during a one hour flight we’re served drinks and food. I mean nobody wants to faint from not drinking/eating one hour! I land in Romania and go for the rented car. Now this is one point I can (finally) not complain about. But when I reach my destination city the guy that took over the car asks me if I changed a wheel… Because the car has three alikes and one different. No comment. I hope he was joking.

While home we took two day trips- one to Cetatea Soimos and the second one to the Cheile Nerei nature park. What I loved- being out in the green in a country that still has soooo much to show! And the fact that both my nephews liked the “adventure”. Ah, and the last day before coming back to Spain we visited the Turda Salt mine and had a walk in Cluj- nice city!

the last understanding requested was at the airport. I weighed my luggage at home and left a 10% security but arrived at the airport the lady told me I am 15% over the weight limit. What? It cannot be! “Oh, then please weight it again at my colleague, sometimes we have issues with this scale”. Oh really? And funny, it’s not for less! If it was not 4am I would have probably asked them for the proof that scales were audited in this century but… we’re in pandemic and we need to understand…

I do apologize if this post is too negative, the photos will be nice. It’s just that there’s this voice in my head repeating: in times of trouble the poors get poorer and the rich get richer.

Sevilla with a local

I first time visited Sevilla in the spring of 2015 while touring the South of Spain, Andalusia, trying to avoid the heat and the tourist crowds while enjoying sightseeing, the food, music, mixed architecture and the laid back feeling. This time I went back in autumn and with a sevillana- such a precious part of our five days trip!

We took the flight from an almost deserted Santiago de Compostela airport, with a short stopover in Madrid, just hours after Madrid was announced to be (again) in lockdown. (One day someone asked me to how many countries I have traveled. The question surprised me because it never occurred to me to count them. Or even do a race for gathering more… the flights to Sevilla were strange in the same kind of way…asking myself this time how many flights have I taken in the past? How many without a mask…)

We landed in Sevilla in the late afternoon at 30 degrees (in October!) and headed straight to Raquel’s place. Her parents were waiting for us with a list of things to do and see and with an obvious desire they could join some of our escapades.

Because I paused writing this post now for more than four months, I will not recall the order we saw things but will tell you a little about the memories I keep.

Now everybody knows about the Cathedral with its Giralda tower, the crocodile received as a gift and the orange garden. Of course a must see! But beside that and close nearby one can find a more recent work which is an inside garden to a half rounded building. Look for Plaza del Cabildo. And once you get hungry and definitely don’t want to grab a bite of the Mc Donald’s burger (please, spare your money for the trip if you come to Spain and eat fast food) then turn two corners from the Cathedral and you’re in Casa Morales. Oh how I love the laughters and loud voices over lunch…almost feeling like you need to fight to get served! Ah and please don’t forget to order the orange wine!

Then we move to the other direction and loose our steps in the combled and narrow streets of the Jewish quarter- el barrio Santa Cruz. Then take a stroll in the Real de Alcazar and wonder what right has a royal family to call such a place their own. You have as well the archives of India (I did not see them yet).


Walk across the river to Triana and get lost again. Go to Plaza de España and look for your favorite Spanish province “escudo”, sing “Sevilla tiene un color especial…” and pretend you’re a flamenco dancer. Rent a bike and discover the Maria Luisa’s Park, reflect on the mix of cultures at the Folk and Art Museum. Where now sits the University of Sevilla, once stood the first tobacco factory that inspired Carmen. And right next to it you have the Hotel Alfonso XIII.

There are two residencies I visited there (among the many open to the public) the one of Countess Lebrija and the Palacio de las Dueñas- both worth the visit.

And then you have the Setas, this beautiful, architectural, modern construction that some like and some dislike. And if you go to the Isla de la Cartuja (sadly pretty deserted) you need to see the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo. On the way back to the city I was impressed by the Centro commercial Plaza de Armas- no, not because it’s a shopping center but because it was previously a train station and the reconversion was so beautifully done.

How could you miss la Macarena and the walls around the city. Or the City Hall with its unfinished facade.

And then don’t forget to eat and drink and laugh. And if you’re in for a half a day field trip go to Italica- amazingly preserved city from Roman times.

When I think of Sevilla there’s one color in my mind: violet from the trees that take over the city in the spring…

A plan for calendar year 2020

As the year started I had a plan: move to Vigo. Soon I had a(nother) wish- buy my dream house. And then it all started to go crazy… The house was almost promised to somebody else, Corona outbroke in Europe and free travel was no longer possible, my planned Easter trip home had to be cancelled, same as the surprise trip to Disneyland, same as the skiing trip to St Moritz. Despite me starting to pack my stuffs and paint the apartment before leaving, I had to stay in Germany for almost three more months than initially planned. But all good, especially since my landlady was understanding of the situation and she let me stay beyond the announced leaving date. So end of July, after painting the apartment there, packing and shipping all my stuffs here, I was finally here! Only that Corona changed my Spain as well… People are no longer as outgoing as before, no more hugging and kissing, less going out, more restrictions 😔. I still hope this is temporary because they might not show it like before but they still mean it, this I am sure!

So while the owners of the house I was going to buy were still busy with settling out the paperwork, I was staying with friends. And when I finally signed the contract and got the house keys I started to clean up (with friends’ help, of course) and paint and transform the house into my living space. I will not mention the one month I was waiting for a higher potency of energy, nor the daily calls for the internet connection. This month almost drove me crazy! What I am thankful for are the people around me, the ones that went beyond understanding me and did everything that I feel good and welcome.

Once we were done with cleaning a living space, putting on wallpaper, painting walls, windows, radiators and assembling some of the furniture I was ready to move in. I was so happy to be at MY place!

Will spare you as well of the details about registration. This actually was not as bad as some were telling me. Of course the Spaniards request a lot of papers that normally somewhere else would not be needed but once you have it all- all goid. And oh, don’t forget to stay “tranquila”. Getting in a hurry does not help. The whole Corona restrictions (with the need to have an appointment for everything) did not help at all but in the end, after 2.5 months of being here I was happy to have all documentation ok.

Then one morning I found one mice dead in the skimmer of the swimming pool, another morning I found a live mice in between the two windows of my bedroom, another day the heating was dead, the next day a pipe exploded… You know what? I don’t complain, my start here was very smooth thanks to my friends but I just don’t want you to think that I simply moved to paradise and that my life is perfect because it’s not (although it is pretty close 😊).

What I did learn in these months is that once I decided to move here, I need to integrate: speak the language, adopt the customs. I cannot imagine having done all the bureaucracy without speaking a bit of Spanish. I guess it’s not everywhere the same, but in Vigo I guess they don’t get many foreigners. And that’s a challenge.

So now I am here, installed, discovering almost daily something new (the standard beds here are smaller, postboxes and bell rings don’t have names on it, Spaniards do drink a lot of beer- why was I of the idea that they prefer wine?), continuing to do stuffs in my house (whenever I am not too lazy sitting on the couch) and simply enjoying life (after work. AFTER work). Two more months to go to change the year and mind you- so many hopes for a better year (although, to be honest, my year was not that bad. Except for traveling, this I do miss…). I will drop you a line if I make it to my family in my hometown for Christmas this year. Santa Claus: please don’t forget me, I have been as good as I can and I do want to be home for Christmas this year!

long weekend in Belgium

From Saturday to Monday we spent 2.5 days in Belgium with my sister in law surprisingly being agitated when we were wasting time talking instead of visiting. (I guess I virused her with traveling, need to work now more on going up and down and up and up and up 🙂 ).

We started in the capital, Bruxelles. If one does not know the city, even an accommodation 15min walking from the central square can still present a parking in front of the hotel where gipsies are sleeping in their vans. Or hearing music and chasing flies during the day.

Nevermind, starting exploring- the famous Gran Place, Galerie Royale Saint Hubert and Manneken Pis- all within 10 min walking. Atomium was another point of interest.

The second day we departed West- first stop being Ghent, then Bruges and to end the day Ostend. I would recommend all three of them as well as the seafood.

Last day we headed South East to a small place called Dinant. Set up on the Meuse it pictures colorful houses and a citadel surrounded by nature.

We passed then Luxembourg on our way to Cologne (via Frankfurt, because I forgot my entry ticket for the Maroon 5 concert at home).

The concert was a big disaster, I prefer not to recall too much. Money wasted on a band whose lead singer was not capable to finish even one song.

Enjoy the photos- Belgium was worth the trip!

North of Germany

Post three months of travel restriction… I came back from my last trip to Vigo on February 23rd and here I was, May 29th packing for a long weekend. There was a joke question circulating- should we tell everyone that lockdown is over (when is over)? Well this is how I felt driving north last Friday- me, fearing that police will stop me and question how do I go on holiday while the world is still at home and the highway full of holiday makers- mind you! All equipped with boats and bycicles- no doubt about the purpose of the trip!

800km, one planned stop for a  conference call on the way, to save the world of the industry I work for, three traffic jams and a few construction areas (with speed limit, of course) and 9h later I finally arrived in Potbus, Rügen Island. Needed a shower and then straight to bed.

Day one- exploration starts with the island of course. And as any normal human being I wanted to have breakfast. Good luck! You know Corona? Since this, the world changed. You won’t get breakfast in the bar of a hotel (unless you’re a guest of the hotel), you don’t get a place in the sun of that terrace because you did not reserved upfront so…bakery and a yogurt from the supermarket works as well. First stop was at Sellin, a nice (and once rich) holiday destination, with villas reminding of late 1800 movies, with a beautiful Pier and of course, the so known baskets of the north Sea.

Next stop was the Baumwipfelphad which is basically a natural park with wooden elevated pathways leading to the main attraction point that is a circular way leading to an upper platform. The view from up there is spectacular in the way that one can see the forest leading to the sea, interrupted only by the Prora Colossus. Which leads to the next stop of my trip. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prora

On short Prora was a resort built by the Nazis for Strength Through Joy, basically a 4.5km long building in front of the seaside. The building was left in decay and is now being refurbished as summer apartments. Impressive to see the size and the documentation center on life during Nazis.

My next stop was in the national park Jasmund. The day was sunny with about 20 degrees so a walk to the King’s chair (Königsstuhl) was really welcome. About the place itself- yes, it is nice. It gives view to some chalk steep cliffs ending into the sea and with the green/white/blue contrasts it definitely created an impression. What I did not like we’re the high prices for the two paid locations I visited. While the Baumwipfelphad needed maintenance money the King’s chair was nothing but nature. Compared to the castles I was visiting the days after, their cost was double! Absurd.

I was reckoning if I should still drive to Cape Arkona but in the end decided not to. I was tired and just wanted a rest. So I drove back to my place and spend the late afternoon in the garden, in the sun.

Day two I woke up before 7am and headed straight to my first visit point- the Schwerin Castle. Beautiful laid on a small island a combination of Dutch, Gothic and I would guess even some Oriental influences, the castle is named “Neuschwanstein of the North” and it is indeed charming. I got there before the opening hour and managed to be one of the first ones to get in. Why so important? Because with the Coronavirus restrictions come visitors limitation which means that when the max number of visitors is reached, the line forms outside the entrance until one visitor gets out… One particularity about this castle- in one oft the very modern refurbished rooms meets the Mecklenburg- Vorpommern’s state parliament.

Next stop was Ludwigslust ( Ludwig’s pleasure/desire). As the name says it, the palace was built as a hunting lodge for Ludwig but was later extended to become a palace. For my tastes the place is a little bit charmless BUT the town was amazing. With the red brick houses, very clean, green, calm, providing the back of the countryside feeling. Definitely worth the visit!

On stop three I was debating weather Lübeck or Rostock. I did not have time for both so in the end it was Lübeck and I didn’t regret at all. This city is a jewel! With it’s fatty towers Gate, the salt warehouse, the channels, again the best houses, colorful, bricky, you name it! Ah, and you have to try the marzipan cake! The locals are very proud of it (and they have what to be proud of! Diet can start tomorrow 😉

In the late afternoon I drove back to my island and just rest on the beach.

Day three I started as well early because I had a long drive back home with several planned stops. My trips- especially the discovery ones- are full. I don’t care for parties and bars (generally!) but love to discover new places. I usually plan 2h for stops in town and one hour for smaller stops. First stop was Magdeburg for my Hunderwasser, of course. After going around the building 2-3 times I took a walk in the town. It is not an ugly town but it misses something…there were a lot of Communist building (well maintained, but still Communist). Because Elba is crossing the town I was expecting more. I had to settle in with the Dom- biiig, Gothic to the bones!

Second and third stops were not planned in the morning. I discovered them in the Dom, on one presentation board. So Bernburg- small town, nice center, nice City Hall and pretty castle. Unfortunately in construction but colorful- it reminded me a little of the Peña castle from Portugal.

Next stop- Falkenstein (falcon’s stone). I did not get in (because I would have to wait for 2h) but the hike to there was nice. A slow walking 20 min through forests, on a nice 20+ degrees day, with birds singing and me having internal conversations.

Fourth stop was Quedlinburg. Now most of you who visited me in Germany ended up visiting Rottenburg ob der Tauber which I love because the old city is preserved/ has been reconstructed within the city walls. Well after visiting Quedlinburg I really find it difficult to say which one is best between the two. Beautiful! Add to the Market Square a long street (literally Langestraße) to the castle, or the Münzeberg (coins’ mountain) which is Quedlinburg’s historic and charming little alleys without the visitors from the old town.

Last stop of the day was at Wernigerode. Already visible from the road to there, the castle looked impressive. Another hike and got there just in time to catch the last entrance to visit the castle. The castle is another one built in Neuschwanstein’ s style but I find it nicer because of integration with nature- stone is visible, green is living lush on the outside walls and it’s smaller (therefore nicer, as someone would say).

With a big smile on my face and thankful for the weather I had these three days but as well physically tired while fully reset mentally I started my drive home. Another 4h of audio books and no traffic jams highway with definitely a desire to plan the next trip!

 

Romania- visitor in my homeland

When good friends from Spain wanted to visit Romania, I was more than happy to join them. We had one week to be planned and so much to see.

Our trip started in Budapest, in the late evening/early morning of Saturday/Sunday. After checking in, we went out for a drink. We initially wanted to stop by more places but due to the timing we just stopped at Szimpla. Located in an interior courtyard, the place is full of bars and even at 1am there was a full atmosphere.

Next day we started with breakfast and a stroll around the city with the free guided tour. The shoes monument on the Danube, the parliament, freedom square, the cathedral, Sissy’s place, the Synagogue and then continue over the Chain bridge to the other side of Danube, going up to the Fisherman’s Bastion. Happy from what we saw but also pretty tired from all the walking we took the car and started our way to Romania.

Our five day trip in Romania started in Oradea with a city center tour admiring the Black Eagle gallery, crossing the river and following the pedestrian streets up to the former Town Mall.

Maybe worth saying that we planned to your Transylvania, the central part of the country, historically a mixture of Romanians, Hungarians and Germans but also Serbians (if we include the Banat region). This mixture made the places more tolerant but also more wealthy, tidy and developed compared to other areas of the country.

We then headed to Turda for a walk in Cheile Turzii and a visit to the salt mine. Unfortunately we missed to pay attention to the time changing from summer to winter and we couldn’t visit the salt mine. Well… something for next visit! The day ended in Valea Verde, a small resort not far from Sighisoara where guests are hosted in renovated country houses and served great food. By the time we were done with our dinner it was getting pretty late, so we went straight to bed.
The next day after a good Romanian breakfast we stopped by Manufaktura to buy some locally produced cheese and get a tour of the laboratory. Here is where we learned that cheese in kept in salty water, then turned daily from on side to the other (to allow the water to come out and turned not to get deformed) and through the whole process it takes no less than 6 weeks for the cheese to be ready to leave to us. Interesting tour and very nice guide (the owner himself).
Our first stop was the colourful Sighisoara where we walked up to the tower then up again to the church on the hill and then just around the city.
Next we made a short stop in Rupea- a recently renovated fortress. We had the place almost to our own!
In our plan I put down a visit to Viscri’s fortified church but on a second thought we changed to Prejmer and this was a good decision. Prejmer is the biggest structure of such kind, being able not only to protect during attack but also host regularly up to 270 families. The place was built in the 1300 and it is impressive how good kept it still is.
Last stop for the second day was Brasov where local people are offering a free walking tour. Again because of the season change we missed the free tour but luckily we got the right contact and got an excellent guided private tour. I highly recommend doing this tour when you visit Brasov!
After a great dinner at Sergiana we headed to our accommodation on a hill near Bran in Casa Bunicii. The place is amazing and the view in the morning as well. I recommend this place as well but do stay longer… You’d feel what countryside in Romania means.
On the third day we started with the visit at Bran, the famous Dracula’s Castle. The place is beautiful, a fairy tale castle, my kind of place with different levels and rooms and secret tunnels.
After Bran we went to Sinaia to visit the Peles and Pelisor Castles. These are the Castles of the Romania’s royal family- the Habsburgs- and are jewels built in early 1900, very modern at that time and even nowadays!
Last visit of the day was planned at fortress Rasnov. Honestly I find the place nice but if you can’t make it to there, no big loss…
We then drove to Curtea de Arges where our accommodation was.
Next day we visited the Curtea de Arges Monastery. This is an impressive place for the legend of Manole (that had to build his wife in the walls to make the walls lasting), for the architecture (that has a lot of Turkish influences) and for being the place where some of Kings are burried.
With the threat of bad weather, we started the drive towards the Transfagarasan. At the entry of the road the Poenary fortress was looking at us from high above. We were ready to climb the stairs up but a sign warning of bears was stopping our access.
What can I say about Transfagarasan that you cannot find in the internet. Amazing road, beautiful views of lake Vidraru and the mountains and potential encounters with bears. We stopped at lake Balea and started our descent on the other side towards Sibiu. We were lucky again with the weather because rain came as we reached the main road towards Sibiu.
After a late lunch/early dinner we were touring the city center of Sibiu and then we went to bed, preparing for the last but busy day.
Friday morning with a little bit of rain, we drove to Castelul Corvinilor. After a visit at the castle we had a late breakfast at the Werk next door- very nice place!- and then headed to Timisoara. Being with colleagues from Vigo, we stopped for one hour at our plant in Timisoara and then started the tour of the old city. Well Timisoara is my hometown but I like to think that it is indeed a beautiful city, not only because I am talking about my hometown…
The evening ended with a good meal and then drinks and dance until 4am.
Saturday it was time for goodbyes but I truly hope that my friends enjoyed the short trip in my country.
What to eat (not to miss!):
–  salata de vinete (aubergine salad)
– different types of cheese (my favorite is telemea)
– zacusca (a cold served pasta of paprika)
– ciorba (soup, generally made with vegetables and cow meat, served with a hot paprika and sour cream)
– mamaliga (maybe the Italian “polenta” is more familiar to you)
– sarmale (meat stuffed in cabbage leaves)
– langos (as a Hungarian influence)
– papanasi (this is a desert that you MUST try out!)
– clatite banatene (available in the Banat region, pancakes with cheese, rolled and covered with white eggs and then put in the oven)
What to drink:
– anywhere you’ll go, people will offer you the local schnapps (call it ‘tuica’ or ‘palinca’). Try it, but be careful that it can go up to 70% alcohol!
– local wine- it is good! You have a wide choice between red, white and rosé
– local beer- we do have local brands and even craft beer
– as non- alcoholic I would recommend the “limonada”- lemon juice that comes with different flavors (mint, fruits, etc) and can be requested with honey instead of sugar.
For the rest- seat back and relax. Romania is still a very green country, the countryside and the mountains are still amazing but be careful with driving- from dogs to cows to non- illuminated chariots and even cars- you can find anything on the roads. At best, I would recommend you avoid driving at night. And then, as sorry as I am to say it: watch your pockets. The salaries in Romania are not high and despite the low unemployment rate, the country still struggles with corruption, black market and pick pocketers.
And enjoy! 🙂

Israel

Leaving Timisoara on a cold morning and landing in Tel Aviv at 30 degrees, October… We checked in and started our walk along the sea shoreline direction old Jaffa. The first impression about the city was one of a new city- sky scrapers aligned by the seashore, combined with lower levels buildings, not everything impressive and necessarily beautiful. But we reach Old Jaffa, a different world and size and time.

Second day we headed to the French quarter- Neve Tzedek. I honestly missed to see the local charm but…you are free to go and look for it.

Next was the walk on the Rothschild Boulevard. This was nice. You get to walk on the Independence Trail and admire some of the building that gave Tel Aviv the “white city” name.

We spent the afternoon at the beach. The sea front is amazing and the water was just perfect for a short swim.

Third day we took a train from Tel Aviv to Haifa. The trip takes one hour. Our point of interest in Haifa was the Ba’hai Gardens. Located on the Carmel sacred mountain, the gardens are composed of 18 terraces representing the first followers of the Ba’hai religion. In the middle of the 18 terraces is the Shrine. The lower gardens and the Shrine can be visited from 9 to 12, the upper ones from 12 to 17. Every day at 12 a free guided tour in English starts on the uppermost gate taking visitors down 700 steps to the Shrine. Once going down, the only way to get back up is by the street- no walking up the stairs. The gardens are impressive as itself and for the amazing view.

After the visit we took the train again to more north, destination Accra. From the train station a 15-20 min walk we reached the old town. Surrounded by high and still strong city walls, the place is a jewel. As you enter by the main gate, on the right side you pass by the enchanted harder reaching the visitors center to the citadel. We bought the “all inclusive” ticket which allows entrance to six or seven place- we just visited the three most important ones- the citadel, the Turkish baths and the Templer’s Tunnel. We spent there altogether 3-4 hours but you could easily add another 2 if you want to see it all. I loved the place, it’s really a travel back in time BUT I would definitely expect more cleaning of it. There was garbage almost everywhere, some of the small alleys were not at all inviting because of the bad smell. And then there’s the port with all the lights and sounds (and trash) of our day life… Nothing needed in that place.
The next day we took the bus to Masada.
One thing that you need to consider when traveling to Israel is that on Saturday no public transportation is working. The busses stop on Friday at 4pm and activity resumes Saturday after 6pm.
So driving from Tel Aviv to Masada should normally take 2.5h. in our case it took 3h and amazing as it might seem, the return bus did not have ANY delay. Which gave us 1.5h to climb to Masada, visit the site and get down. All for 5.5h of traveling by bus…
Few words about Masada- a rooftop city/fortress facing the Dead Sea and representing the last Jewish point conquered by the Romans. It was laid in three layers, on the cliffs- which made us think this must be the Machu Picchu of the middle East. Definitely worth the visit but plan it smarter (then us) and allow more time for the visit.
On day five we had a trip booked to Nazareth, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. And this was one of the parts people usually think of when mentioning Israel as a travel destination. All good, we’re in the Holy Land so we did this too: visiting the Announciation church with Mary’s and Joseph’s house, passing by Kanna, Tabha and Capernaum, stopping by the baptisation site on the Jordan river, driving through Tiberias and then back to Tel Aviv. Most of the day driving around the Sea of Galilee (but never diving in- as a teaser I guess!), having the Heights of Golan (and keep thinking about “the Spy”).
In the evening we drove to Jerusalem just to discover another world…
But before describing the other world, on day six we headed South. First stop Makhtesh Ramon- the world’s largest erosion cirque. Next stop was with a little nervousness (at least from my part!) because in order to reach it, we drove just on the borderline with Egypt, seeing a fence and death signs along the way. BUT once we got to the Red Canyon…all forgotten. You know the Antilope Canyon in US? Well I know it also from photos but I guess this much less known place is just as beautiful- just less advertise, much sauvage and not paid!
We made our next stop in Eilat, at the Red Sea, to deep the deets in the waters. Jordan’s Aqba and the mountains behind were absolutely an amazing view!
We then started driving North and stopped at Timna Park to drive through the beautiful desert formations. And then heading further North, we reached the Dead Sea shortly before sunset. And we did something crazy- we went on the beach of Leonardo’s resort and bathe under the moon light. Imagine 34 degrees Celsius outside at 7pm…
As most of you know, the Dead Sea (or Salt Sea as the israelian call it) it’s very salty…which means we all float the same (fat and less fat people) but I forgot that eyes don’t like salt… Neither nose or any wound. Well, now I know it!
The last day was for Jerusalem- the old city and the Mount of Olives. Well, we had in plan to see the flowers blooming at Valero Square but then forgot about them… So Jerusalem, totally different than Tel Aviv. I sensed it filled with believers but also very contrasting/conflicting between Christianity and Islam. Something to see once in a lifetime.
We skipped Bethlehem for a last swim in the sea… And to leave something for next time.
Few general infos:
– almost all public transportation has WiFi
– what to eat: shakshuka, humus, tzfat cheese, falafel, olive paste and the israelian salad
-AC is everywhere
– Tel Aviv people are sporty and the city is very friendly
– English is a wide spoken language
Some usual sayings…
If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going.
You are the salt of the Earth.
And last, one advice from me: look beyond the holy places. This country has much more to offer!

Portugal

I am not sure where from have I got this thirst for traveling and discovering new places… My brother is not like me. I have the feeling that he would be happiest spending his holiday in the garage, working on his motorcycle or car. So when I travel with my nephews I want to inspire the same thirst I have and this year my niece was going crazy answering the already crazy aunt- what’s the capital of Portugal? And what’s the second largest city? And in which country are we now?

Porto

I got so used to go to Porto as if I was going to the weekend market. Visiting the second largest town in Portugal is easy, if you like going up and down and up and down and… Porto is separated by Gaia by the river Douro. Porto would show the old part with the cathedral, the amazing Sao Bento railway station, the azulejos buildings, the Lello bookstore, the lions’ place, the Majestic Café and of course the walk or lunch/dinner by the river. Then you cross the Luis I bridge and come to Gaia with the numberless Porto wine cellars and restaurants. For me Porto is like my hometown- very nice but somehow cozy enough not to pretend the capital city title.

I almost forgot something- on the North of Porto direction Galicia, on the coast there are some pools, the work of Alvaro Siza. The pools are located on a rocky shore and I believe you can still feel some waves from the ocean when he’s angry. Unfortunately I was there as the pools were empty. Try to see them full, in the summer.

(Boa) Lisboa

There are not many capitals that I like, mostly because the rhythm is more accelerated, people more agressive. Well boa Lisboa is… boa! Maybe it’s the lifestyle, maybe it’s the culture or maybe it’s because it has so much to offer. I visited it several times- with friends, with my parents and even with my nephews and I can tell you that this city is just as welcoming for every type of visitor. If you want you can start at Praca do Comercio and walk any of the pedestrian streets up to Praca Rossio. On the way, at one of the crossroads, on the left, you’ll be able to see the Elevador de Santa Justa. Did you notice the pavement? Not yet? Well take a look at it in Praca Rossio! These waves you will find them as well in Macao (because Macao was a Portuguese colony). If you continue walking “up”, in the left upper corner of the square you will see a magnificent building- the railway station. This building as well reminds me of Gaudi and another building from my hometown. I would now advise you to look for tram 28 and hop on! Well, I don’t necessarily consider it worth mentioning- if you visit Portugal in summer expect heat, mind your pockets and of course- visit the touristic attractions in the morning to avoid crowds, frustrations and useless stress. So hop on and I would suggest to get a seat by the window and do a complete tour simply enjoying the views, the people, the narrow streets (I am smiling already as I write this!). At your second tour get off on top of the hill (don’t ask me the name of the station please!) and go visit the Castelo de S. Jorge. And honestly it’s not that much for the Castle but for the view over the city from the terrace. Breath it, enjoy, make mental photos and smile- you had the chance to see this beauty!

When you go out, search yourself a terrace and sip a drink. Or two. Or more. Enjoy the music, you hear it everywhere. And then walk, down, following any street you like. Hopefully you can stop at Miradouro de Santa Luzia, then see the Sé (cathedral) and wander a little through Alfama. I would definitely advise you to reach the place in front of José Saramago Foundation. The row of buildings is simply amazing! And now you’re close to where we started some hours ago! What I would do next, is go to the Mercado da Ribeira. Have a lunch or just another drink and of course don’t forget about the Pasteis de Nata!

My next stop would be Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, then cross the street and walk along Tagus to Torre de Belem. To close the day I would recommend to cross the Ponte 25 de Abril and go look for the elevator at Boca do Vento. The view from there is simply amazing! And you can then take the elevator down and look for a table at one of the restaurants by the water.

I forgot to mention the Christ- yes, not only Rio has one statue! Lisboa too! Although access to the terrace closes at 6pm.

One other point I would definitely recommend is the Parque das Nacoes. Here you will discover a totally different Lisabona. If you’re traveling with kids you’re likely to visit the aquarium as well.

And then there’s Amoreiras. I think the Portuguese are proud of this complex of rather new buildings, the highest point in Lisabona but honestly, it didn’t tell me anything. Go see it but don’t spend too much time there. Or best- get one of the hop on, hop off busses and see it on the go.

The outskirts of the capital are also offering a lot. I visited the Royal Palace of Queluz, the National Palace of Mafra, Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. In Sintra you have enough for a week I guess! I got to see so far Palacio Pena, Castelo dos Mouros, Quinta da Regaleira and Palacio de Monserrate. But there’s so much more to see. It seems to me that someone starting building a fairy tale castle and then many more wanted to compete for “the best” title. I don’t think I have seen before that much beauty in the same place. Definitely go-go-go! And buy the tickets online to avoid the crowds. And go as early as possible to see the maximum. And enjoy 🙂

In Azenhas do Mar, 8 years ago, I saw an angry ocean and thought “this must be the power that drowned the Titanic”. I mean I know that Titanic was hit by an iceberg (and icebergs are nowhere to be found in Portugal) but the waves were angry and the view so dramatic, it made me small in front of nature. Since 8 years ago they build a viewpoint and I recommend having the drive to see the view.

And from here- follow the road to Cascais. Stop at Cabo da Roca- the westernmost point of Europe (or the Finisterre of the Portuguese, how I use to think) and then stop even for a little at Praia do Guincho. The beach, the wind and the windsurfers…priceless!

Next stop is Cascais (with the casino, of course) the Boca do Inferno or any of the beaches (in case you’re traveling with kids and already got tired of being asked when do we go swimming?). By the way, consider that you’re at the ocean so the water will not be 20 degrees plus.

With my parents I stopped in Fatima as well. A biiiiig square with absolutely no shadow, a biiiiiger cathedral, lots of people, even more souvenir shops but a must see for believers- the place where Virgin Mary appeared. Remember I wrote about Santiago and the mandatory positive energy point? Well here I did not feel it. Sorry.

On one of my previous visits I stopped in Coimbra as well. I still remember the university and again narrow streets and the fado! The nowadays fado is (I believe!) less sad or maybe more melodic. I love Mariza… Hear this out:

Convinced to go visit Portugal? Not yet???

Braga was another stop I made and Evora (some 15 years ago) with it’s Roman amphitheatre and the South- the whole Albufeira coast…

I could tell you about how many other places I have on my list but will resume to what I’ve seen.

Aveiro is the Venezia of Portugal. I planned to have a boat trip on the channels and see the striped houses by the ocean but the weather was not with us…will need to go back there!

As food I recommend the bacalao- cooked in as many ways as you can imagine! And sardines! And the Pasteis as desert and wine with everything and coffee- I don’t drink coffee but I was told there’s amazing coffee in Portugal.

If you want to go shopping- people from Vigo were going to Porto. I took my aunt to Vila do Conde shopping center.

I have never been to a fado concert. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but I saw Mariza live in Timisoara and it did impress me. What I discovered this year is that the Portuguese have their good share of great festivals and that more and more famous groups or singers are attending. This year I was at Meo Mares in Gaia and I will definitely follow it in the next year’s.

And if I forgot anything, I will write you in another post. And if you disagree with anything I wrote, you can tell me. And if you liked it- enjoy it as I did, every time I was there.

Obrigada Portugal!

 

Galicia (or how they stole my heart)

 

 

 

 

I don’t like roller coasters. I like the drunken feeling when life keeps rolling waves at me, but no, I don’t like roller coasters. Although my last six months were a roller coasters and somehow I am still hanged in there, lost in pleasure…

 

 

 

 

I planned to write about everything but then I was too busy living and now I sit here, trying to think where to start, how to remember everything, checking the map and the 4000 photos and the comments of the friends and the seashells I took with me (against Sara’s protests) and the sand (still in my shoes) and the smell, the tastes, the warmth of the people of this magic land…

 

 

 

 

Galicia is part of continental Spain, located in the upper left corner, just above Portugal. I visited a small portion of it 8 years ago doing a part of the Camino de Santiago, visiting Coruña, some beaches around there, Finisterre and Vigo. Here’s a YouTube movie I simply love:

Why I like it? Because it is the very essence of how I see the “Gallegos”- straight forwards, no fuss, no fear. Simply amazing!

 

 

 

 

So I visited Galicia before, I knew some people from our Vigo office and I liked them all but when I went there they stole my heart- these “locos”, with their warmth and the beautiful land they occupy.

I’m not able to remember everything in the right order and I don’t want to turn this post into a documentary so I’ll write from memories.

 

 

 

 

Vigo- as a city, it didn’t impress me. It boasts life and attract tourists because of the surroundings (I guess) and their mayor. The old city is nice, the Castro, El Siren, the statue of Jules Verne…

There’s an amazing spot on the highway coming from the airport, direction Baiona, where the whole city and the ria can be seen. Cies are floating. And if you’re lucky enough to have a clear evening, well you’ll understand why I believe these people live in paradise! Amparo was always laughing that I should not tell this to the mayor of Vigo or else he’ll set up a “mirador”. I secretly think that one day (not long from now) I will write him ;).

Until this mirador will be in place, you have the mirador O Cepudo. This is where Alberto and Conchi took me the first weekend for lunch. The sky was cloudy but every now and then Alberto posts fotos from there and they are all amazing!

 

Baiona and the whole coast south of Vigo until rio Miño. Oh and my very special place- Oia! Don’t ask me why but go there. Maybe to you there’s nothing special- apart from the Monastery or the great restaurant on the ocean shore. And before you reach Miño you have to wake up the sleepy A Guarda. Go up the Santa Tecla, see the remainings of the Celtic Castro de Santa Trega, take in the views and feel the mistery.

Banco de Redondella- for the view on the ria de Vigo and Puente de Rande.

A “furancho”- at some point my guardian angels took me to a furancho because we had to “check” this in our imaginary list. I let you Google it but I definitely have to recommend it!

Ribeira Sacra with the Cañon del Sil and the wineyards and the monasteries Santo Estevo- a parador nowadays as well (and Santa Cristina of course, as a “must”).

Pontevedra and Combarro- the first one with the closed for traffic center and the streets full of functionaries, the second one a fisherman’s village to take your love out for dinner.

Of course Santiago de Compostela- where the pilgrimage ends, where the main square in front of the cathedral is almost always full with people and thus positive energy- mandatory loading point!!!

Playa de las Catedrales- go! Go as soon as you can! This place is unfortunately too polluted by humans but go and enjoy. I suggest to try as well the beaches East- they also have their share of cathedrals.

Coruña- the big rival of Vigo… it’s definitely worth a visit! Hercules Tower, the old town, the Aquarium and the surfer’s fountain- this is what I would recommend.

Cies Islands-this paradise with the lighthouse and the white sand beaches and the blue water and the gaviotas.

Isla San Simon- I went there for a festival but admired her from a distance before. Worthwhile.

San Juan’s bonfire- 23rd of June, the yellow toxo, the queimada, the caracola and the brujas.

And then all the beaches that I cannot name… My Samil from almost every evening, my Montalvo and Monte Louro… Saians for windy days, Patos for surfing, Castiñeiras to feel like in the Caribbean while still in Europe…

When I started to discover all these places, they told me I am not allowed to talk about them, they told me to tell that in Galicia is raining a lot… I did not understand them. Now I do and I wish that all the visitors would see this land the way the local see it- magic. Please go there but don’t leave traces…

Muiños do Picon y do Folon- good for an afternoon hike, pure nature and nothing else. What else is needed???

Food- and now you know why I am not skinny… pimentos de Padron, zamburiñas, percebes, mejillones, pulpo, queso de cabra, olives, empanadas, rice- as per my nephew’s saying “better than my mom’s”… All fresh!

Wine- albarino and ribeiro. And beer- Estrella Galicia of course! Or Nos!!!

Amparo is this amazing lady to whom if you tell that you have plans to go to the beach but outside is raining, she’ll start looking for a way to talk with God to either change the weather forecast or think of a solution to make the world turn the other direction. She is simply great and yes, I would marry you, if I were convinced that marriage can offer you and me a better life than the one we have today as just friends.

Saturday mornings with Sara and Ita having late breakfasts with beers. And empanadas and olives. And lunch afterwards. And trips to Cies, Santa Trega, football match or fiesta at the football camp. I don’t know anymore what we didn’t do! It felt like family- always there!

Baskets of fruits that I could not name, home eggs, flan, queso con membrillo, home wine, I don’t even remember what else but all given almost daily, with open heart until I was feeling bad for not being able to pay back… My landlord and landlady or “mi familla gallega” :).

And then all the people in the office… laughing at me raising voice on the phone, kicking a.., encouraging me to speak Spanish, always helping, always there…

And now let’s see if they kill me for writing down all their secrets.

Os echo de menos… mucho!

Later edit: watch “Fariña” and “Vivir sin permiso” showing the recent every day of Galicia.