The colours of Porto

Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Lisbon for the first time in my life and I completely fell in love with the city. A few months after that I had the fortune to visit Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, and I experienced the same infatuation. There is something magical about Portugal. People are warm and friendly. The mediterranean climate makes it a very hospitable place. The Portuguese mediterranean cuisine is superb: a combination of simple and healthy food, with very high-quality ingredients, with a super rich wine culture, and delicious bread always fresh from the oven. Architecture is another strong feature in the country, as I had already described in my post about Lisbon.

My visit to Porto was brief, as I was there for work and only had the weekend to visit around. However, the things that I enjoyed the most from my visit were:

  • The bridges: The city of Porto expands along the Douro river in the northern part of Portugal. There are six main bridges that connect Porto with the neighbor city of Vila Nova de Gaia, better known as Gaia. Most of the bridges are impressive both, at day and night. However, the (Dom) Luís I bridge is probably the most representative bridge in the city. The (Dom) Luís I bridge was designed by Théophile Seyrig, a German architect and former business partner of Gustave Eiffel. The bridge, whose iron structure resembles the structure of the Eiffel tower in Paris, is an architectural and engineering gem that carries pedestrians, cars and even the Porto metro trains.
  • Ribeira: Ribeira is the core of the historic centre of Porto, designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Sitting along the side of the Douro river, Ribeira encompasses a seemingly endless number of colorful alleys, steep medieval streets that connect to the upper part of town, and a tunnel. Ribeira is full of street cafés, artists and restaurants and getting lost in its small streets is a must when visiting the city.
  • Molhe e Farolim de Felgueiras: The Felgueiras lighthouse and quay, situated in the Foz do Douro district, is another architectural gem in the city of Porto. Situated at the delta of the Douro river, the quay breaks the waves coming from the atlantic and mark the beginning of the Douro river. While the architectural style of the quay is very simple, it is an enormous concrete structure that made me think about the magnificent things that humans have built for centuries, and yet, how they remain small when we compare them to the vastness of the ocean and nature.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. With this, I hope that some of the pictures below will inspire more than one to consider visiting Portugal.

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Crónica de una Ofrenda Anunciada

Following the traditions around the Day of the Dead in Mexico, this year my wife and I decided to set up an altar dedicated to our beloved ones who are not around anymore. The altar includes different symbols including the four basic elements (water, fire, air and earth); pictures of the remembered ones; their favourite food & drink; skulls representing death; a special bread prepared around the day of the dead (pan de día de muerto); flower; confetti; copal and incense.

According to pre-hispanic cultures in Mexico, Day of the Dead altars act as a gateway between the material and the spiritual worlds and help guide the souls of our beloved ones to visit their families during the Day of the Dead. Regardless of each person’s beliefs, setting up Day of the Dead altars is a beautiful way to remember and to honour those that are not around anymore.

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The Colours of Lisbon

Having had the opportunity to visit many of the main cities and capitals in Europe, I never thought that I could be that surprised by another European city. I was wrong. Lisbon is just amazing. Travelling to a new destination normally involves a couple of main attractions that make the trip worth it, and then, a few secondary elements that round up the experience. In some places, the main attraction is the seaside; in others the food; in others the street life; in others a historic building or monument; in some place the weather; in some place the people; and so on.

Well, this is not the case with Lisbon. Lisbon has everything and has it in abundance. Some places in Lisbon, such as Praça do Comercio, Castelo de Saõ Jorge, Mosteiro des Jeronimos, Parque Eduardo VII or Ponte 25 de Abril could easily be the main attraction in any other destination; and any of those sites, alone, would attract millions of visitors every year.

Lisbon has them all and that is just a fraction of what the city has to offer. The city, sprawled across seven hills alongside the Tagus river, also offers a magical experience when wandering around the city. Chiado, Barrio Alto, Baixa and Alfama, are only a few of the many picturesque neighbourhoods that bring together centuries of history; uncountable parks and plazas; walls full of colours and beautiful azulejos (tiles); the famous Portuguese pavement that make up the unique patterns of streets and plazas; and a number of charming means of transport, including tram, tuk-tuks, lifts and funiculars.

As if this was not enough, Lisbon also has an outstanding culinary offer based on a mediterranean diet and a vast array of fresh and high-quality ingredients, including sea food, vegetables, fruits and juices, cheese, olives, cold cuts, wine and extraordinary bread.

Finally it is also worth mentioning the friendliness and warmth of Portuguese people. Everyone, from the officers that received us at the airport, to the taxi and bus drivers, to the waiters and musicians, to our Airbnb host; every Portuguese we met was always smiling and always willing to help.

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About six kilometres away from the city center, lies the beautiful parish of Belém. A trip to this part of Lisbon is a must in order to visit the Mosterio des Jeronimos and the Belem tower. The route is quite scenic with Ponte 25 de Abril and Cristo Rei as main landmarks. Once in Belém, it is a must to try the Pastéis de Belém that have been in business for almost 180 years.

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Less than an hour away from Lisbon, lies the beautiful town of Cascais. Located in the estuary of the Tagus river, Cascais provides a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the sunset and to sight the beautiful beaches and the colourful Farol de Santa Marta.

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The colours of Morocco

Visiting Marrakesh is an enchanting experience for all senses. Vibrant colours are everywhere. Terracotta is in the walls, in the tagine, in the surrounding mountains and in some places, even in the rivers. Colourful tiles arranged in beautiful geometric patterns make up the design of amazing walls and floors. Rich colours abound in the textiles, and babouches, and ceramic and spices that are traded everywhere in the uncountable street markets, or souks, around the Medina in Marrakesh.

As you walk around the old Medina, you get immersed in a unique soundscape. From the percussions, strings and qraqebs played by the street musicians that perform on the main place, Jemaa el-Fnaa; to the almost Babelic sensation of listening to hundreds, if not thousands, of merchants skilfully closing deals in multiple languages; to the sound of motorbikes passing around you as you walk across the souks and alleys.

Eating in Morocco is a sublime experience. Fresh and fragrant ingredients transform into a unique selection of exquisite dishes that often convey a blend of savoury, sweet and spicy sensations in a single mouthful. While tagine and couscous are essential dishes in traditional Moroccan cuisine, the palate can get delighted not only with these sophisticated dishes, but also, with simple items, such as a freshly squeezed orange juice, a cup of fresh mint tea, or an assortment of Moroccan pastries.

Visiting Morocco is an enriching experience for the senses as well as for the soul. Despite its proximity to Europe, Morocco preserves traditional ways of living not only in the high-mountains and remote villages, but also in large cities such as Marrakesh.Bargaining in Morocco is an art, but also, an opportunity to interact with local people and to discover the warmth and kindness that characterise Moroccan people.

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South from Marrakesh rise the majestic High Atlas mountains that separate the Sahara from the Mediterranean. In about three hours, you can go from the semi-arid climate in Marrakesh, through the breath-taking High Atlas mountains and into the desert to visit the city of Ouarzazate and the fortified city of Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO world heritage site.

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A shorter trip into the western part of the mountain range is the Ourika River valley. The valley lies only 30 kilometres away from Marrakesh and represents a good opportunity to learn more about the traditional way of live of the Berbers, that inhabit the Atlas mountains, and to contemplate the stunning landscapes.

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The colours of Oaxaca

The colors of Oaxaca

I love Mexico. I love its colonial cities. I love its magical towns. I love its mountains, volcanoes and deserts. I love the Mexican caribbean. I love the pacific coast. I love Mexican food. I love Mexican traditions. I love Mexican folk music. But above all, I love Oaxaca. Last time I had been there was almost 15 years ago. I liked it then.  This time, I developed an infatuation with the city and its surroundings.

Oaxaca is full of culture and traditions. The region distills mezcal and art. In Oaxaca City you can smell chocolate and social activism. You can find traditional tlayuderias, slow-food restaurants and renowned author’s cuisine but no McDonalds. You can walk in the city center and find dozens of small coffee shops selling organic coffee but no Starbucks. You can find several traditional markets before running into a supermarket. Everywhere you look there is popular and contemporary art, traditional handicrafts and the influence of the great Francisco Toledo.

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Santiago Matatlan, about 30 minutes away from Oaxaca City, is known as the World Capital of Mezcal. Dozens of family-owned small-scale distilleries (‘Palenques’) are located one after the other. The production process of mezcal is beautiful. From the harvesting of maguey (i.e. the cactus), to the cooking of the piña (i.e. the maguey fruit) in earth ovens, to the crushing of the fruits in a stone wheel pulled by horses, to the fermentation of the mash in wooden barrels, and finally to the distillation in copper or clay pots, the whole process is entirely artisanal. Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Usually, there is a mezcal master that oversees the entire process. Most of the mezcal is produced from maguey espadin, the variety that is most easily farmed usually taking 7 to 10 years before being harvested. However, there is also production of mezcal from wild species of maguey, including Tobalá, Cuish and others. If you are in Oaxaca City, a visit to Santiago Matatlan is definitely worth it.

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Another village worth visiting less than 30 minutes away from Oaxaca City is Teottilán del Valle. Teotitlán is famous for the production of hand-woven textiles arts using traditional techniques. Several of the artisans continue to use natural dying processes using cochinilla (a bug that grows on the cacti in Central America), indigo and turmeric. Traditional wooden looms continue to be used for the weaving process.

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Oaxaca has a long-tradition of social resistance and social movements. This is largely reflected in the art-scene in the city and its surroundings.

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The colours of Peru

Amazing trip around the Andes and Lake Titicaca. Undoubtedly, Peru is one of my favorite countries. The seaside is beautiful. The mountains are astonishing. Lake titicaca is breathtaking. Peruvian people are warm and beautiful. Peruvian food is superb. The Incan and Pre-Incan cultures are humbling. What is not to love about a country like that?

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The most amazing part of this trip was to spend some time with a local family at one of the floating islands of Uros. The islands are made out of straw and float in the middle of the Tititcaca lake. Each island accommodates 4-5 families and most of them have been living there for generations. The family that hosted us has set up a small homestay and it’s eye-opening and inspiring to witness the wisdom with which these people take life. Victor and Cristina were our hosts. Cristina’s daughter cooks and she could well be cooking for a five-star hotel anywhere in the world. During a tour around the lake, Victor explained how living in the islands has taught them to appreciate change. Nothing is static there. The islands float in the lake, and while imperceptible, they are in constant movement. The straw, with which the islands and the houses are made, is in constant decay. The people living on the islands constantly need to rebuild the floor on which they are standing. Nothing remains. Everything changes. Victor’s mother tongue is Aymara. As a kid, he learned Quechua and Spanish. As an adult, after opening his home stay, he has taught himself English and French and he is well fluent in all of these languages. If you want to learn more about this unique accommodation and people visit Uros Khantati.

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The colours of Cape Town

Photos taken during a road trip around the Western Cape in South Africa. Certainly one of the most amazing and beautiful places on earth with pristine beaches, stunning mountains, hundreds of vineyards, and rich nature.

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Seagull eating stolen penguin egg

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Penguin watching seagull eating stolen penguin egg

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The colors of Havana

Photos taken during Christmas break in Havana City and Viñales, in Cuba. The photos barely reflect the richness of the city encompassing a vast number of historical sites, an amazing 7-kilometer sea front, an endless number of colorful buildings, a street museum of classic cars and most importantly: the warmth of Cuban people.

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As a means of protest, the Cuban government has placed a bunch of Cuban flags in the ‘Monument to the Anti-Imperialism’ blocking the view from the US section office in Havana.

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The best spot to enjoy the sunset in Havana is in ‘El Morro’ fort in East Havana. Down the hill, there is a small restaurant called ‘Los 12 apóstoles’ and a small bar next to it. From this spot, you can see the sun fall down behind the skyline of Havana City and enjoy a mojito for 3 USD. Also, as illustrated in the photos below, locals visit this spot to enjoy the sunset with a bottle of rum and a local cola soda.

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The pictures below were taken in Viñales, a small town about two hours away from Havana. Viñales, located in the Pinar del Rio province, is one of the most productive lands in Cuba with extensive areas of tobacco, sugar cane and other crops. A visit to Viñales (and Pinar del Rio) is worthwhile to learn about the cigar production process from the harvesting of tobacco, to the cigar rolling, to the packaging. Also, the landscape in Viñales is beautiful and is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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Hacienda Santa Bárbara / Casa Malinche, Tlaxcala, México

In the outskirts of Huamantla, one of the magical towns in the tiny state of Tlaxcala, in Central Mexico, lies the beautiful Hacienda Santa Barbara, also known as Casa Malinche. The property, erected four hundred years ago, is situated in the middle of a rural village called Chapultepec at the foothills of the Malinche vulcano.

In addition to its beautiful surroundings, the Hacienda has some majestic and relaxing interiors and a delightful decoration that includes an amazing collection of ceramics from the region, traditional cooking utensils and a vegetable patch supplying fresh and organic vegetables to the guests.

The eclectic decoration of the rooms and bathrooms combines local materials, recycled goods and traditional ornaments. If you are planning to spend the night at the Hacienda, make sure that you book the room that faces the vulcano. That room is just amazing!

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Hacienda Santa Maria Xalostoc, Tlaxcala, Mexico

This weekend, I visited Tlaxcala, one of the tiniest states in Mexico and also, one of the states with the lowest economic development in the country. I was absolutely astonished with the beauty of the state. Despite not being a top touristic destination in Mexico, the state has some historical and natural sites that are as beautiful as some of the famous ‘Haciendas’ in other states, most of them in a very genuine conservation state (i.e. non ‘touristy’) and free of the crowds of other more popular destinations in Mexico.

This is a collection of pictures I took in Hacienda Santa María Xalostoc. The hacienda was been around for almost five centuries and is a must if you are planning to visit the Haciendas in the state. Santa María Xalostoc is located close to Tlaxco, about 90 minutes away from Mexico City and only 25 minutes away from the state of Tlaxcala. You can learn more from the Hacienda on their website and find some relevant information.

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