Azores, a piece of Portugal in the middle of the ocean

During Christmas in 2016 I went to S. Miguel island, in Azores, with my friend Rita. It was the first Portuguese island I’ve visited. Funny how more than 1500 km away we have a little piece of Portuguese. S. Miguel is a beautiful island of happy cows and green hills.

 

Facts about the city:

When measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks, the Azores are actually some of the tallest mountains on the planet. Mount Pico, at 7,713 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the Azores and all of Portugal.

Home to about 250,000 people, the 9 islands of Azores are known for their vibrantly-colored blue green lakes, fertile prairies, volcanic craters and colorful hydrangeas flowers. Faial Island is known as the “blue island” due to the vast number of hydrangeas present.

Portugal Azores Sao Miguel Island Photography 3 By Messagez.com

Ryanair started to fly to Azores from Porto and me and my friend Rita took that chance to get to know the island of S. Miguel. Azores is the land of the happy cows. They are all over the island and they like to climb the mountains, whether it’s raining or snowing.

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We stayed in a hostel called Big Fat Whale, in Rua do Passal 128, Ponta Delgada. It’s was very cozy. We stayed in a double room with private bathroom and a private living room. The public living room was also very nice, with sofas, a TV and a net bed. The breakfast was included. The total price was 87€ for 3 nights so it was 14,50€ per person, per night.

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The lady from the hostel was very nice too and we talked to her a lot during our cigarette breaks. Speaking about smoking, in Azores it’s much cheaper because they don’t pay tax. In Portugal a normal pack costs 4,80€ and there it’s only 2,80€ per pack.

We went to visit the city center of Ponta Delgada and had dinner in a restaurant there. We went to Portas da Cidade (these doors are a symbol of the primitive terrestrial defense of the city and were erected in 1783), strolled along the sea side and stopped in a cool bar close to Forte de S. Brás.

This fort, considered the most important example of military architecture of the sixteenth century and the most powerful fortification of the island, it was erected on a tip in the primitive anchorage of tip Delgada, with the function of its defense against the attacks of pirates and buccaneers, once frequent in this region of the Atlantic Ocean. It felt good to be there relaxed, drinking a coffee, listening to a cover band live and seeing the reflex of the moon on the water.

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The next day we were not lucky. It rained a lot so we went to the shopping mall to have lunch and do some shopping. In the afternoon we came back to Ponta Delgada. At night I realized I had lost my iPhone! I panicked because I had everything there. We called the police, blocked the phone, went to Vodafone, but there’s not much else we could do. The next day I was very lucky! The police called me and told me that a homeless guy found my phone and went there to give it. There’s still some really nice people in the world!

Since I had my phone back, we managed to call a taxi driver that my friend Carla recommended. He made our trip much better! He charged us something like 14€ per hour but showed us the whole island. He took us to the main lagoons. The first one was Lagoa do Fogo. This is one of the largest lagoons in the Azores, classified as a nature reserve since 1974.

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Then we went to see the Lagoa das Sete Cidades. This is a twin lake situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. It consists of two small, ecologically different lakes connected by a narrow strait, which is crossed by a bridge. The Lagoa das Sete Cidades is the largest body of water in the region and one of the most important freshwater resources in the archipelago.

It is characterized by the double coloration of its waters, on one side a mirror of water of green tone and, on the other, a mirror of blue tone. These characteristics, and the beauty of the surrounding landscape, gave rise to beautiful legends about its origin and formation, including one that which links it to the myth of Atlantis.

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We also went to other lagoons, like Lagoa de Santiago or Lagoa das Furnas.

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We went to Caldeira das Furnas, with the volcanic vapor and an awful smell of sulfur.  There we saw how they cook their famous Cozido das furnas, which is a one-pot stew cooked by the hot springs. The ingredients are cooked under the earth under the heat of the volcanoes (the meat takes about 5 to 6 hours and the cod about 3 to 4 hours). This fact emphasizes an exquisite flavor. We saw a giant Christmas Nativity scene and tried the famous bolo lêvedo.

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We passed in front of Parque Terra Nostra and Poça da Beija. Terra Nostra Park is a botanical garden. In this park there’s a pool of volcanic and natural iron water of brown color and whose temperature is around 25 degrees. The Pools of the Dona Beija are an idyllic outdoor spa area. This space was born of a set of hot springs and associated with volcanism phenomena of the Furnas Volcano. The water reaches the surface at about 40°C. In all there are 5 spaces/ pools. We didn’t go in, but then I went to a place called Poça da Tia Silvina to get my feet wet for free.

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We went to a dark sand beach. We visited villages like Ribeira Grande and Rabo de Peixe. We drove across plantations of pineapple, inhame (like a potato) and tea.

Discovered by the Portuguese and brought to Europe at the time of the Discoveries, tea has become fashionable among the European aristocracy, thirsting for luxury and exoticism. The Azores’ tea-drying process using the fresh ocean air gives its green teas a unique fragrant scent when they are brewed. We visited the famous tea factory Gorreana. Gorreana holds the title of the oldest tea factory in Europe, since it began to produce it in 1883.

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We also went to some places with amazing views.

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One of them was Miradouro de Santa Iria. The landscape from here is lush and green until it meets the sea.

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Another one was Miradouro da Bela Vista. It’s name means “amazing view” and this is really what this place offers.

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I loved to be surrounded by all that green and feel reconnected to nature, something I had already started in the Way of St. James. In our last day we went to the airport and had another bad luck strike – the place had some technical problems and the flight was delayed for over 6h. It was boring to wait, but we got home safe, which is the most important thing. In this trip I had some bad luck, but good luck in the bad moments. These are life lessons, that remind us to be more aware of what surrounds us.

Way of St. James, the pilgrimage of a lifetime

In November 2016 me and two friends have decided to do the Portuguese Way of St. James. We walked for more than 200 km for almost 2 weeks, from Porto (Portugal) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain). It was an amazing experience and a valuable life lesson!

DAY 1

PORTO – VILARINHO (27,5 KM)

On the 3rd of November I started this great adventure with two of my colleagues from Sandeman. As our employment contract ended and we had free time, we decided to set foot on the road to make an old dream come true. For years I wanted to make the Camino de Santiago on foot, but the timing was never right. Now was the time.

We started in the Cathedral of Porto around 10 am. We went up to Rua da Fábrica, we pass Praça da República, Lapa, Jardim de Arca d’Água and we followed Amial, after Circunvalação. In Matosinhos, from São Mamede de Infesta, the path has already begun to be well signalized (because the truth is that in the center of Porto we think the directions were a bit confusing).

We passed by the Monastery of Leça do Balio and stopped there for lunch. It was an essential break because we were already KO. Me and Marie we were feeling pain in one shoulder and Joana hurted her back and a toe. Lunch was great. We passed a giant wall with some graffitis and we headed towards the center of Maia, passing by the Church of Nossa Senhora do Bom Despacho.

When we got to Vilar do Pinheiro it was already getting dark. We didn’t plan the time right. We left very late from Porto! We were super tired and still had 2 hours to walk to get to the Monastery of Vairão, where we were supposed to sleep. So we decided that the most sensible option would be to call a cab, not caring that we’re cheating, because health and well-being come first.

We then went to a pharmacy on EN 306 and asked to call us a taxi. It was here that the magic of chance and fate began to emerge. The man from the pharmacy knew a taxi driver and called him. If we had not gone to that pharmacy, we would not have gotten that taxi driver, and that day would be different. Is that the taxi driver was amazing! He told us that several pilgrims already cheated like us and, when he was going to leave us at the Monastery, he decided to take us (without charge) to the next hostel (2 km ahead) in Vilarinho, to see if we liked it better, since Vilarinho has more places to eat nearby. He also told us that if we did not prefer this one, it would bring us back to the Monastery (also without charge). Along the way we were still showing friendly coffee places and everything. So thoughtful!

Another thing of faith was that we arrived at the Vilarinho Hostel (called Casa da Laura) and the owner (D. Laura) was about to go out to go and buy some bread! What a timing, if we had arrived a few minutes later we would not have stayed there and would have gone back. The hostel / house was brutal. A large house, clean toilet with shampoo, shower gel and hairdryer, drinks such as water, tea, coffee and milk available, food like crackers and marmalade, etc. The house still had a garden and a very nice terrace. The room with 3 bunk beds was just for us, it was perfect.

In the meantime two very friendly Brazilian pilgrims from Rio Grande do Sul arrived at the Hostel, but they stayed in the next room, so that we could all have privacy. At night we showered and went to dinner at a coffee place next door. The coffee shop owners were also very friendly. Finally we still drank a glass of Port wine at the Hostel, offered by the owners and went to sleep.

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DAY 2

VILARINHO – BARCELOS (26 KM)

In the morning, we said goodbye to our Brazilian friends and went to the cafe from yesterday to ask for a stamp and say goodbye. Yesterday and today we were lucky with the weather because it only rained during the night and during the walk it never rained. I loved a phrase from one of the Brazilians, who told us that all of us who chose to do the Way are crazy! xD I agree, but I also agree when he completed saying that he is a healthy craziness.

We started our walking passing through a beautiful medieval bridge over River Ave, flanked by two windmills. We continued walking through the middle of some fields and we passed another medieval bridge, before arriving at S. Pedro de Rates. There we met another pilgrim (now we know that he is German), that we saw two or three times that morning.

It is true, even before we arrived at S. Pedro de Rates, we stopped to buy water and bread in a coffee place (Café Barbosa, in Arcos, Vila do Conde). The owner was fantastic with us. We signed his book, he took a picture of us for Facebook and we talked to him a lot. It was a very nice break.

Back to S. Pedro de Rates, we were looking for a place to have lunch and the owner of Macedo’s Bar chose not to profit from us and indicated us a nice restaurant (Restaurante Ritual), where we went to eat. When we arrived at the restaurant we met an Italian pilgrim who had just finished his lunch (Don Laura had already told us about him, because he asked her for the price yesterday, but ended up staying in the Monastery).

In the afternoon we continue through a large forest area, where we only cross with tractors and where there was only nature ahead. So cute and bucolic! We wrote our initials on a mossy wall and even went to pee in the woods, because there really was nothing and no one around. Through nature we had interesting conversations about life and about metaphors and analogies between the Way and life.

For example, I said that in the Way and in life we only value the downhills after first having gone through the difficult climbs. The Way teaches us to value things we do not value in our daily lives. It teach us to taste the little pleasures of life. He also said that in the Way and in life we can not plan everything because there are always surprises and unforeseen ones and we have to know how to deal with them. You have to learn to relax and plan one day at a time, enjoying it. Carpe Diem! The Way and the life are also equal in the sense that we are always complaining and only give value in the end, when it’s too late. I think we are now focused on pain and miles, but later, looking back, we are going to realize how special the Way was and how it has changed us.

We must think that what does not kill us makes us stronger. Not only physically, but also spiritually. On the Way we spend a lot of money on equipment, food, shelters, etc., but the truth is that the Way is making us richer on the inside. Finally, we also talk about the fact that it is interesting to see people from all over the world, with totally different lives, doing the same Way, before each one goes back to his own Way.

When we got to Barcelos it was dark and we were dying of fatigue. My vision was already blurred and my feet were super swollen . I could not do it any more. We still stopped at a grocery store to go to the toilet and in a cafe to buy some food to eat at the Hostel. Finally we arrived at the Hostel in Barcelos (Friends of the Mountain). The hostel was super modern and well located, with a good living room / kitchen, but the rooms were not very comfortable. We had to rent sheets and the mattresses and pillows were very hard. We had to get along like cold, light and noise in the room. I slept a little badly, also because today we walked 26 km without cheats and my feet were already dead.

Two Canadian pilgrims (Daphine and Julie, two ladies from Alberta) stayed at the Hostel with us. They were super nice! We stayed in the living room talking to them and eating chocolate. One of them had done the Way before. The other was chubby and had various health problems, but nothing to stop, had an incredible spirit. In fact, both had a fantastic spirit.

They were giving us advices about life and the Way and we ended up deciding to cut off two steps tomorrow to enjoy the Way more. Because, as they say, “pass by the Way, do not let the Way pass through you”.  So we will have more time to enjoy everything.

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DAY 3

BARCELOS – VALENÇA

We woke up later (until we were almost expelled by the cleaning lady of the hostel) and went to have breakfast in front of the hotel, at the cafe Cantinho do Peregrino. The lady that works there, D. Irene, was super sweet, we even took a picture with her. She also gave us directions and told us stories about the Way. She told us the story of a pilgrim who had survived a shipwreck, surrounded by the bodies of his dead friends. He promised that if he survived, he would make all the holy ways of the world on foot. Now it has been going for over ten years. He also told us the story of the Barcelos cock.

Then we went to a pharmacy (Pharmacy de Barcelinhos) because Joana had a big bubble in her foot and the pharmacist (D. Manuela) was incredible. She gave us tips, told us that she is part of the Mountaineering Club of Porto and still left us the contact of her if we had any questions / problems along the way. We have met lots of helpful and friendly people!

Then we walked to the center of Barcelos and, on the bridge, we met again that German pilgrim. Incredible, what a timing! Fate is really funny. He did not even sleep in Barcelos, and we, as we woke up later today, thought we would never meet him again. Every time I believe more and more in fate. This time we got into a conversation with him and we even took pictures together. He thought it was amazing that we were all three together, getting along so well and looking so happy.

We went to visit a church and ruins and then walked to the station. And is not it that, in the end, we were sitting on the ground, resting, and we see Danny (German pilgrim) again? Amazing! It’s because the station does not even stay on the route, the Way does not go there. He came to sit by our side, we were talking and even exchanged contacts. He told us that he had already done the French Way before but that this time he was feeling very lonely and that he was going to stay there and was going to catch a train to Lisbon (where he will stay for two weeks). He was very pleased to meet us and even asked us to send him the photos.

We went to lunch at the Cafe Snack Bar, next to the station. From the cafe we also saw the Canadians pass by, but we did not have time to call them. The owners were also very nice in this cafe. In Valenca we went to take a snack and we checked in at Hotel Val Flores. We decided to pamper ourselves today and stay in a hotel that appeared in my book instead of staying again in a Hostel without blankets and sheets. Each one paid € 15, but we stayed in a triple room with toilet, hair dryer, breakfast (and even room-service ahah, because the owner let us take a little tea at night in the room). The Brazilian gentleman from the hotel was very friendly and gave us some tips on the way.

In the afternoon we went to visit the city inside of the walls of Valença. I really enjoyed the craft shops. I already knew the city but they did not. In the evening we had dinner at a coffee place near the hotel and went to sleep.

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DAY 4

VALENÇA – O PORRIÑO (22 KM)

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel and departed from Valença going to Tuy (Spain). We passed the bridge that marks the border between the two countries and it was very cold and foggy, we couldn’t even see the end of the bridge. In Spain we lost 1h because of the time difference. We were curious to see if in Spain we were going to keep meeting nice people or not.

In Tuy we crossed the streets of the medieval village until we reached the Cathedral. At the Cathedral we forgot to ask for a stamp, but we only need two stamps a day in the book, so it’s fine. Since it was Sunday, everything was closed and there were few people on the street. We passed the tunnel of Convento das Clarissas and by some churches. The first contact with Spanish people was positive, because we stopped for a coffee and the owner of the coffee place offered us some tapas to eat, because we were pilgrims.

Then we continued by the bridge of Veiga, a Roman bridge with a statue of a pilgrim, where we took the opportunity to take some photos. Then the Way continued inside a protected forest area, with bridges and streams, very beautiful. In this zone we ran into a pilgrim who came in the opposite direction, very nice. I can not remember her name anymore. She came from Israel and was doing this alone. She told us that she made the French Way with her brother, and when they arrived in Santiago, her brother returned home and she decided to continue walking to Porto. We exchanged tips about the Way and also exchanged contacts. She had a positive and contagious energy, we really enjoyed meeting her!

Already close to O Porriño, we passed through Portico da Glória, a mural painted on a wall by an artist in honor of the pilgrims. Then there were two paths to choose from: the traditional and the alternative. We chose the traditional one because it was 3 km shorter, but the truth is that it was really ugly. It was a giant road in an industrial area called Polygon, which seemed to have no end! We wanted to stop band have lunch but there was no nice place to do it. And to got worse it started to rain. Luckily we were almost arriving in O Porriño, our destination for the day.

At the entrance of the city we stopped at a cafe to have lunch, but the lady was really unfriendly. In the center of O Porriño, to compensate, we found a street fair and the ladies of one of the tents offered us tea and cookies, because we were pilgrims. They were super nice with us! We talked a little bit and later, in another stall, we also tasted some organic wafers that the ladies offered us. The lady of the tent and her mother already made the Way and they walked an average of 50 km a day! We took pictures with them and headed to the historic center.

There we passed a building that looked like a castle tower and a shopping street. Then destiny and the magic of the Way did strike again. We were on the street deciding whether to stay at the Albergue or in a Hotel, when a gentleman appeared in the street and started to talk to us and asked if we were pilgrims. Do you know who he was? The president of the Association of Friends of the Way of Santiago of Galicia, what a good timing! He was one of the creators of the alternative detour that I mentioned earlier (because the landscape was more beautiful and we did not pass through the Polygon). He was so cool that he even offered us books created by the Association (a guide on the Way) and gave us a stamp on the street.

As for the accommodation, we ended up opting to stay at the Hotel (Hostal Louro). Not only for the amenities, but also for the friendliness of the receptionist. We have certainly made the right choice! We spent a lot of time talking to him and his father (the Hostal is a family business). They told us stories about other pilgrims (lovers who argued and got upset and later the guy calling the hostel looking for his girlfriend because she did not want to see the stars with him and ran away, two pilgrims who met on the way and fell in love, stayed in a room together and at night the boy listened to them having sex and imitating animals, etc.).

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The boy also told us that he met a pilgrim who has already made a pilgrimage across the world 5 times! Oh, and he told us that we are lucky to be doing the Way now, at this time of year, because there are so many free rooms and you do not have to run to get there before the others. He told us that sometimes in the summer at 11 am is already full! We also spoke of all the Ways in the world that exist to get to Santiago and he said that the Portuguese Way, as it is not as exploited as the French, is not yet so artificial. He told us that the French Way is a real Mafia! They only think of frauds and business in order to profit from the pilgrims. Juan (Mr. from the Association) had told us today that in creating alternative ways, he had already made enemies, because certain businesses are no longer on the way and they get mad about it.

The guy from the hostel also said that hostel owners know each other and indicate accommodations to pilgrims (in fact, he is a friend of the owner of Hotel Val Flores, where we stayed in Valença, and they are thinking of doing the Way together next year). And, of course, there are many complementary services (such as transporting bags from one hostel to another, massages, etc.). He speaks Galician but the Galician is so similar to Portuguese that it even seemed at times that he was speaking Portuguese.

We had diner outside, near the city center (I love Spanish smoked ham!) and came back to the room. We did meditation together and we listened to the conversations of some Portuguese women who were in the next room, who were speaking super loud. Today we walk a lot but I do not have blisters. I’m happy!

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DAY 5

O PORRIÑO – CESSANTES/ARCADE (18 KM)

Joana was in the room talking about the Way and about life. She said that if we can reach the end of the Way, it will prove to us that we are capable of so much more than we think! And this applies to everything in life. We can not stop doing things for fear of not being able to, because if we want something and fight for it, everything is aligned so that we can achieve our goals. We have to think big and do not doubt ourselves. We also talked about the fact that life is like a puzzle. I feel that I am gradually collecting pieces (I know that I like the direct contact with the public, I know I like Tourism and travel), but I still can not see the final image that the pieces of the puzzle form. I still do not know what my purpose is, I have not gotten there yet.

On the Way we passed through Palacio de Mos Palace and Church of Santa Eulália. We found two Galician old ladies almost 90 years old sitting on a wall, with whom we talked for a while. One of them even said some rhymes, so cute! Then we climbed a slope and found some cool landmarks of the Way.

We met three pilgrims in a forest (one Italian, one French and one from Estonia) and stopped for lunch with them in an isolated restaurant. These three pilgrims met last year while doing the French Way and became friends. We ate Spanish tortilla. We did not like them very much because they were not modest people. We like humble people and not people that think they are better than the rest. We followed a road with a panoramic route to Ria de Vigo and we arrived at Redondela.

In Redondela I really liked the narrow medieval streets. I also liked a bridge from Eiffel that was built over the city. As we were feeling well and energized, we decided not to stop there and continue walking to Cessantes, 3 km ahead. The trouble was, we could not find a place to sleep. I will summarize what happened.

Basically we only found a hostel that did not even appear in my book (Jumbino) and we paid €15 for a triple room. For our astonishment, the lady told us that the rooms were not there, that they were in a house a bit further down the road, in a hidden alley. I asked her if there were more pilgrims there today and she said no. We felt a strange energy in the place from the beginning. Even in the cafe where we paid for the room there was one of those prosperity cats and the paw was not moving, which is a bad sign.

Already in the room, in the house, we heard a strange noise coming from the toilet of another room, where nobody was sleeping. We went to take sneak peek and heard some water running. We tried to open the door and it was locked, but then I noticed the key was in the bedroom door. Completely frightened, we opened the toilet door and saw that the lights were off, everything was dark, but the shower was running and the water was boiling and the bathroom was already full of steam in the air! We were full of fear and we ran to get our backpacks and we got the hell out of that strange place. What a strange energy we felt! I am a skeptic, but I don’t have an explanation for what I saw that day.

We took a taxi and stayed in Arcade, a small town a bit further ahead, in another Hostel (Lar de Pepa). We were also alone in this Hostel, but the owner was old and nice and we felt more comfortable. However, this experience left us a bit traumatized and we even went to the bathroom always together, afraid. None of us could sleep that night.

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DAY 6

ARCADE/CESSANTES – PONTEVEDRA (15 KM)

The lesson of the creepy things that happened yesterday was: we must always rely on our instincts. When something does not seem right, it probably is not. We must pay attention to the signs. Today we left early and had breakfast at a spectacular cafe that the owner of Lar de Pepa recommended us. For 1,50 € we drank coffee with milk and we ate a delicious toast and the lady was so nice that she even offered us some cakes because we were pilgrims.

Then we decided to take a cab and go back to Cessantes, so we do not cheat again and start the Way from the exact place where we left it yesterday: in Cruceiro do Viso. We passed through an area with a net covered in giant shells from pilgrims from all over the world. There we found a group of three girls: 2 from Germany and one from Iceland. They were nice. We walked for a bit with them, but then they stopped and we kept on walking.

Joana left a poem with the shells: “In this role, in this place, I leave everything that hurts me and torments me back, I leave all my sorrows and fears in the past, which is where they belong. I forgive those who made me suffer and I move on in peace, towards my Way “:)

We went back to Arcade, where we had slept, and then we passed Puente Sampayo, a beautiful medieval bridge in a fishing village. This bridge was the scene of a battle where Napoleon Bonaparte lost. When entering the municipality of Pontevedra, after passing a giant Roman sidewalk in the middle of the hill, we took a wrong turn.

We got into a park / woods, by a river side, and we were finding it odd that there were few arrows. We asked for directions to a farmer who passed by us and he said that we should be careful, that ahead in the woods, there was a rapist that raped some girls there and that several pilgrims have had problems in the past. He said that we should stay together and always look back and forth, but that it should be ok because it was only 1 km in the woods and then we would see houses again. We arrived well, but I tell you … it was the longest kilometer of our lives …

When we returned to an urban area we had a break down and I even cried because we really felt the danger. I even smoked in a coffee the only cigarette I brought, that I was supposed to smoke in Santiago, to relieve the stress. We decided, from this point onward, to avoid the sections of the Way that are in abandoned forests. Joana thinks this was the perfect timing for me, as a warning to be more cautious when I go to Malta, since I’m gonna go completely alone. We walked to the center of Pontevedra and it began to rain.

We went to Froiz to buy food and to the Chinese store to buy a blanket to stay in municipal hostels without feeling cold and then we went to the city center to see the historical part of Pontevedra. Then we realized that the Hostel was farther back, at the entrance to the city, and that we had already gone too far. There was even the episode of Marie, who dropped a slice of pizza she had bought and started to cry, because we were all tired and we didn’t want to keep on walking.

The Albergue seemed cozy to us. We were there and then suddenly a Spanish old man started to talk to us and he was nothing less than … Antonio, the famous pilgrim who survived the shipwreck, who has been walking for more than ten years and who has made all the holy ways of the world!! Do you believe in destiny ?! The lady from Cantinho do Peregrino, in Barcelos, had told us his story a few days before and now he was there and we met him in person! We hugged him, we took pictures with him and we cried together. Amazing! What a perfect timing…

We also met again in the Hostel those three girls that we walked with today and, guess who else, the two Brazilians that we met the first night, at Casa da Laura! Good, we thought we would not see them anymore, because they had fewer days to complete the Way. They even made dinner for us and had good conversations about the Way and life with us. They have also made the French Way and other trails (in Italy, for example) and are already accustomed to human contact and sharing among pilgrims.

We told them about our fears and they even told us that we can walk with them tomorrow if we want. They are incredible people. At the Hostel we also talked to a Polish boy and had good conversations with a girl from the south of Spain who is making the Way with her brother. Well today was a roller coaster of emotions, I’m learning more these days than in months of my life.

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DAY 7

PONTEVEDRA – CALDAS DE REIS (23 KM)

Today was a super tough day! We left the hostel at 8 am and did not even have time to have breakfast outside because we wanted to walk with our Brazilian friends, Eduardo and Sepé. They are lawyers. The oldest is already 60 years old. We walked with them through the center of Pontevedra, where we had already been by mistake yesterday. The city is beautiful. We passed in Pontevedra in a beautiful bridge where we saw the sunrise. I forgot to say that there is a church there in Pontevedra of Virgen de los Peregrinos and it has the shape of a shell.

After that the Way was no longer urban and we walked again in the woods but this time, with some company. They had a super fast pace and it was difficult for us to walk more than 5 hours straight with only two mini-breaks and no lunch. Finally we arrived at Caldas de Reis, dying. We stayed at Albergue O Refuxio, which was fantastic. We shared a room with the Brazilians and we all went to a coffee place for lunch. Then we visited the Church of St. Mary and bought food for dinner at the Hostel in Froiz.

We had dinner with Sepé and Eduardo in the living room of the Hostel and we had good conversations with them. They told us that only arrives in Santiago whose who Santiago allows, because those who are not humble, they either give up, or get hurt, something always happens to them that makes them not reach their destination. I hope Santiago allows us to arrive! We were also told that a true pilgrim does not like the city, likes the nature. While I was doing the Way, I realized that I was really very detached from nature and I need to make that connection again.

Entering nature without stopping (walking without pauses) makes us enter into that magical atmosphere in a way that we forget everything else. And in life is the same, if you work in something that you like, you concentrate on it and can not get rid of you objectives and then the magic happens.

At the end of dinner, Sepé still told us his life story. His wife has triple negative breast cancer, which has no cure. She was given two months to live, but she is still alive. Seeing him always smiling, we had no idea he had such a sad story. But his wife told him to do the Way, because she knows he likes to walk and he came for her. Incredible… she has survived more than expected, just for all the support and positive energy she has received from him. Sepé was a dear in sharing his story with us. He warned us about the importance of health (I’ll do some check ups when I get back) and a smile. Besides, Sepé’s story also made me think about my mother. We can cherish our loved ones, but we must also follow OUR OWN Way.

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DAY 8

CALDAS DE REIS – PADRÓN (20 KM)

In the morning we said goodbye to Sepé and Eduardo, because they were in a rush to get to Santiago. We had breakfast in the hostel’s cafe. Then we started our walk alone. We passed through woods, but we were always finding some pilgrims along the Way, which made us feel safe. On the Way we talk about Sandeman: how Sandeman prepared us for the Way (it allowed us to know each other, to practice languages, to make money, and for the three of us to be all three available now) and the Way will prepare us for other things (Malta, in my case).

The Way teaches us not to give up, even when we think something is difficult (like Sandeman at first when we arrived there). There is a joke about Trump (who unfortunately won the election these days), about him winning, which says that we should all send our CV to that job that we think we will not get because we can even get it!

On the Way we also spoke about the physical side of being physically stronger than we initially thought. We also spoke about the fact that, on the Way, whoever receives must give back, if not, it’s like a hot potato in our hands. We are thinking, as a way to give back, to send a postcard to people who were nice to us along the Way.

In the middle of our walk we had the most special moment of the day. We passed a kindergarten that had a window filled with papers in various languages to wish “Buen Camino”. I stopped to take a picture and the teacher called us inside. Already there were two other pilgrims (Portuguese! From Gerês) and the teacher said to sing a song for them and we sang “A Machadinha”.

The kids were so sweet and cute! We took pictures with them and then some came to hand us some necklaces with a shell, made by them, with the help of the teacher. When they delivered the shell, they gave us strong a strong hug! It was so good, so special 🙂 After, the teacher told us that for 3 years he has opened that window “to the world”, because it is very important for kids to have contact with people from all over the world. The kids even know how to speak English and German at the age of 3-5, they know some phrases that they learned to tell the pilgrims (for example, when they gave us the shell, they said “This is for you”).

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The teacher told us everything with such passion that you can see he is really happy to do what he does! It’s like he says … if the school had been built a few meters higher, it would no longer have a window to the world. He also told us stories that have already happened there. He once again met two Latvian pilgrims, who also went there. They got on so well that they met in Santiago and later one of them invited him to their wedding there in Latvia. He went and met again the other one in the wedding and they fell in love. Now they are married and have a baby son.

He also told us that he read in the newspaper the story of a pilgrim who was doing the Way barefoot (because his daughter had an illness in her legs and could not walk, but began to take a few steps and he promised that he would go to Santiago barefoot) and told this story to the kids. That same day, that guy showed up at the window. Another story he told us was that one day he dreamed of New York and felt it was a sign that he was going to meet someone from there. Then he wore a t-shirt saying “New York” to prove it. That same day, two pilgrims showed up there from NY and a Portuguese boy from Lisbon wearing a cap saying New York.

Awesome these stories! We left that place with our hearts full of joy: ‘) The Way makes us have our emotions at the edge of our skin. In fact, the Brazilians have told us that those who did not make the Way, will not realize why we are so moved by little moments, only those who go through this understand. This episode at school was special and, as Maya Angelou says, there are people with whom you cross only ten minutes and who mark you more than certain people you’ve known for years. Very true!

We then arrived in Padron and went to lunch near the Hostel and ran again into the two Portuguese women who were in school. And did not we discover that it was the Portuguese that we heard in the next room in O Porriño? Amazing. We talked to them (they are very funny) and we took a photo together.

We left our backpacks in the hostel (near the Carmo Convent), which looks like a chalet, and we visited the city of Padron (the shopping streets, the botanical garden, the pilgrim statue, etc.). I really enjoyed the city! In the Hostel we found the Germans we had met and there was another boy there. We ate pizza in the kitchen and went to sleep.

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DAY 9

PADRÓN – SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA (25 KM)

Today we wake up early, anxious to be the last day of walking to Santiago. We had breakfast at the same cafe yesterday and we found the Germans there, who asked us where we got our shell necklaces, which the kids gave us. We started our walk from Padron and passed by the Church of Iria Flavia.

We passed several picturesque villages and even small woods, but this time we were no longer afraid, because the Way gave us the strength to overcome them. We played with dogs and cats, wrote our names on arrows, we took pauses to rest, but we always kept going. We arrived at a mountain where we could see the Cathedral in the distance and it was a moment of ecstasy! But she was still so far away, it seemed we never made it. We were so tired already. We’ve been walking for 7 hours straight! We could not anymore …

We still stopped to buy water, and later (already at the entrance of Santiago), for lunch, but we almost fainted because we were so tired! At the entrance of Santiago an elderly lady came to us, asked us where we are from, said that she was very fond of Porto and welcomed us to Santiago. How cute! We entered the old part of Santiago by Rua de Franco and finally we arrived at the Cathedral and Obradoiro Square!!!

It was raining a lot and at first it was strange because we were looking for km 0 and it is not there, as it is in Finisterre. There’s only one sign on the floor. We took pictures, we hugged each other to cry and it was an emotional moment. These days we have talked a lot about the power of a hug and not wanting to be the first person to leave and really this hug was super special and none wanted to let go. I really enjoyed sharing these moments with Joana and Marie, I really like them 🙂 I can not believe we arrived.

When we were there in the square a lady came to us to ask us if we had any place to stay. As we had not, she showed us an apartment we had to rent for €18, just in front of the Cathedral, right in the historic center (on Calle Trinidad, 4). It was brutal! A room just for us, with kitchen, toilet and terrace.

We put down our backpacks, went to buy the train tickets to return tomorrow. On the way we found the two Portuguese from yesterday, they also arrived well. Afterwards we went to get the Compostela, which is a certificate in Latin for those who walked at least the last 100 km on foot. There we met the two Spanish brothers we had met at the Albergue de Pontevedra. They are very friendly. Our Compostela was hard to get and we thought several times about cheating again, but thank god that from Spain we did everything right.

Then we went to buy souvenirs and at 7:30 p.m. we went to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass in the Cathedral. At the mass the two “Australians” we had met at the Hostel of Caldas de Reis and with whom we had crossed on the walk too (always holding hands, very cute). It was they who protected us in the woods, without even knowing, when we walked alone to get to Padron. I really enjoyed meeting them there. I barely talked to them, but they have good vibes.

Marie also saw the Germans. The church was full of pilgrims and I felt that we were really part of a large community. The mass was very touching. They presented the different countries represented by pilgrims present there and mentioned the places where they began the walk (“Portuguese, which began the walk in Oporto”). We went to the communion and saw the spectacular swing of Botafumeiro (the famous giant incense).

At the end of the Mass the priest wished everyone around a good return home and wished that the fortune and protection we felt on the Way continue to accompany us home. That touched us so much that, at the end of the mass, we gave a strong hug together and we began to cry: ‘) And we were not the only ones to cry at the end of Mass. Then we went to embrace the statue of Santiago and thank him for all the lessons we learned on the Way and all the protection he gave us at the sight of his tomb in the crypt. Then we went to the restaurant and went back to the apartment. Even though we were tired, we stayed in bed until 1 am in the morning to write down all the life lessons we learned and the conclusions we reached on the Way. Definitely an amazing experience!

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DAY 10

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA – PORTO

We slept like stones no later. It felt very good not to have to wake up early to walk, but I know I’m going to miss it. We went to have breakfast at the same cafe as last night and we bought more souvenirs. We left our backpacks in the Post Office and took the opportunity to send a postcard to our Sandeman colleagues to thank them for their concern and support. Next we went to attend a mass at noon and the priest spoke of the magic of the Way, like when we meet with strangers who give us a helping hand. We had several on our Path, fortunately!

After the Mass we had lunch and came to the train station. We made Santiago-Vigo and then Vigo-Porto. In Vigo we had to wait for the train (2h) so we went for a walk around the city. It was an amazing journey of ten incredible days, but it also feels good to come home. It was very strange to spend 4 hours on trains and know that I did that (almost) everything on foot! I arrived in Paredes tired but happy and with the certainty of having lived the most fantastic experience of my life so far 🙂

 

Exploring Belgium alone

In September 2016 I decided to travel alone for the first time ever, in a safe familiar country that I have visited before. I re visited Brussels like a local and discover new cities like Ghent and Antwerp.

 

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Facts about the city:

Brussels sprouts have been grown in Belgium for over 700 years.

Brussels is a major trader of beer, waffles and chocolate. There are more than 800 brands of beer on sale in Brussels. Also French Fries were invented in Brussels.

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I had visited Belgium before. Back then I visited Brussels and Brugge. I didn’t enjoy Brussels a lot during my first visit because it was raining a lot and we didn’t stay in the city for a long time. This time my experience in Brussels was quite different.

Before the trip I had met an Italian guy here in Porto, Fabio, though Couchsurfing. He lives in Brussels. Since we got along, he invited me to visit him in Brussels and that’s how the idea for trip came up. It was my first trip alone. But the truth is that I didn’t spend a lot of time alone in Brussels because I was almost always with him.

I went to revisit some of the main monuments (Grand PlaceJardin du Petit Sablon and Mont des Arts) and got to know Parc du Cinquentenaire, that I haven’t visited before.

Most buildings of the U-shaped complex which dominate the park were commissioned by the Belgian government for the 1880 National Exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian independence. The centerpiece triumphal arch was erected in 1905. The Royal Military Museum has been the sole tenant of the northern half of the complex since 1880. The southern half is occupied by the Cinquantenaire Museum and the Auto World Museum. The Temple of Human Passions, a remainder from 1886, and the Great Mosque of Brussels from 1978 are located in the north-western corner.

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We also went to Musée Magritte, to see the work of the surrealist artist René Magritte. The Magritte Museum opened to the public on 30 May 2009. It displays some 200 original Magritte paintings, drawings and sculptures including The ReturnScheherazade and The Empire of Lights.

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We went to a coffee place in the rooftop of a building – Musée des Instruments de Musique de Bruxelles, close to Mont des Arts, that has an amazing view to the city. The museum itself is internationally renowned for its collection of over 8,000 instruments.

We were also in a big park close to St. Gilles, where Fabio lives. The weather was good and the park was full of people enjoying the sun. There we took a boat to an island in the middle of the park, where there’s a coffee place that is really nice.

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In one of the nights we went to have dinner in a restaurant with almondegas with different sauces. We also took breakfast in a place where we ate Moroccan crepes. Once Fabio organized a dinner at his place so I could meet his friends, all from different nationalities. It was very nice.

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We also went out together. We went to a square with a lot of bars and pubs to drink belgium beer in a bar called Maison du Peuple. We even took pictures together in a vintage machine there. I had a lot of fun!


 

GHENT

Facts about the city:

Ghent promotes a meat-free day every Thursday called Donderdag Veggiedag. Vegetarian food is promoted in dining rooms and public schools. Ghent is said to have the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.

Ghent is known for purple cone-shaped, jelly-filled candies called cuberdons or neuzekes (‘noses’). You can buy Ghent noses at street stalls that specialize in these overly-sweet candies.

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Even though in Brussels I was always with my friend, in Ghent and Antwerp that didn’t happen. I took the train in the morning to St. Pieters station. The ticket is 9€ and it takes about half an hour. The station is a bit far from the center: you can walk, but I don’t recommend it because it’s not beautiful. I recommend taking the tram number 1 and get off in Korenmarkt. The ticket is 1,20€.

Ghent is a beautiful medieval town, very similar to Brugge, but smaller. In the map below you can see the route I did, that allowed me to see the main places and monuments in the city. It’s 1,3 km and just 16 minutes walking. That’s why I chose to visit Ghent and Antwerp in the same day, because you can see both really fast.

I really enjoyed sitting there next to the Graslei and Korenlei ports. Graslei is a quay located on the right bank of the Leie river. The quay opposite of the Graslei is called Korenlei. Both quays were part of the medieval port and are now a cultural and touristic hotspot of the city, with a high concentration of cafe patios. Today these ports are surrounded by historical buildings and they are the heart of the city.

I went to a small wooden bridge called Grasbrug, as well as St. Michels bridge, and from Koranlei I enjoyed the view to Graslei.

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I visited St. Bavo Cathedral, from 1559. The masterpiece inside this church is the painting “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” from Jan van Eyck, 1432. I didn’t go inside to see it unfortunately.

I also went to see the Belfry and St. Nicholas church. Belfry is the symbol of independence. It was built in 1313 and it’s 91m tall. The panoramic view from the top is higher than the one from Gravensteen, but less central. St. Nicholas church is next to Belfry. Despite being older than St. Bavo’s, it’s more preserved. The sculptures are really nice.

Gravensteen is a medieval castle in the middle of the city. The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard. They wanted to demolish it but in 1885 the city bought it and started the renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and keep were restored to their original condition.

The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It has a nice view from the top. Inside is a museum with various torture devices (and a guillotine) that were historically used in Ghent. Getting out of the castle, we see a nice square with historic buildings. The Sint Veerleplein is today one of the most touristic squares, with several bars.

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It was a shame that there was a lot of restoration works going on and a lot of the monuments were covered. I stopped in a coffee place for a bit and I spoke on the phone with my best friend for a long time, it felt nice. Finally, I went to McDonalds to eat and then went back to the train station, to continue my trip in Antwerp.


 

ANTWERP

Facts about the city:

While the country of Belgium has three different official languages including Dutch, French and German, the official language of the Antwerp province is Dutch, as in all Flemish provinces.

Between 80 and 90 percent of the world’s rough diamonds, and 50 percent of its cut diamonds are traded in Antwerp each year, earning the city the “The World’s Capital of Diamonds” moniker

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Even though Antwerp is not so beautiful, I preferred the vibe of this city. Or maybe it’s just because I got more comfortable traveling alone. So comfortable I even had people asking me for information on the streets, thinking I was a local. Like Ghent, you can visit this city really fast.

I arrived at the train station, Antwerpen-Centraal, considered in 2014 the most beautiful one in the world. The ticket from Brussels is 7€ and it takes about 50 minutes.

To get to the city center, I walked along Meir, one of the main commercial streets in the country. The street is huge and you can find all the famous brands and a lot of coffee places and restaurants.

 

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I visited the Cathedral of Our Lady, with its giant towers. It took them 170 years to build it and it was finished in 1521. The project for the second tower, however, mas never finished and they don’t have the same size today. It contains a number of significant works by the painter Rubens.

I continued in the direction of the Grote Markt, the colorful main square, with a lot of flags from different countries. You can see the Town Hall there, built in 1565 and the Brabo statue. He was a mythical Roman soldier who is said to have killed a giant who asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt. When they didn’t want to or couldn’t pay, he cut off their hand and threw it in the river.

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I went for a walk close to the sea and the castle. The Castle of Het Steen is a medieval fortress built in 1200. It used to be a prison and now is a memorial of the II World War. In front of the castle is Lange Wapper, a statue of a guy who people say used to chase the drunk men in the city. It was a busy but cool day. This trip was very important to me, because it made me think about everything in my life.

 

Road Trip to Sevilla

In the summer of 2016 I decided to go on adventure with two friends and discover Seville. We did a road trip in my car from Porto (Portugal) to Spain, more than 800 km, stopping also in Algarve on our way back, in the south of Portugal.

 

Facts about the city:

When you visit Seville, you will undoubtedly go out for tapas. These small, tasty dishes, now found all over the world, originated in Sevilla.

Christopher Columbus is buried here, in Sevilla’s mighty Gothic cathedral, that variously described as either the third, second or biggest cathedral in the world. After Columbus died in 1506, his remains were buried first in Valladolid, then taken to Sevilla; thence to the Dominican Republic, and finally Havana, from where they were returned to Seville after Cuban independence in 1898.

Seville is a monumental film city and several known movies were shot here: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the ClonesLawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, Game of Thrones, etc.

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In August, completely out of the blue, I decided last minute to go to Seville (Spain) in my car. I went with my best friend Soraya and with Laura, our Italian friend. I drove for 8 hours. I’ve never driven that much in my life. The trip went really well, with no problems what so ever! We sang musics on the radio, we shared our love adventures… When we got to Seville it was passed midnight and we went straight to the hostel.

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We stayed in Urban Sevilla and paid 69€ for two nights in a triple room, so around 11€ per person, per night. It was very well located, right in the city center, and it had a nice internal patio, typical from this region of Andaluzia. The weird part was that we never saw anyone from the hostel. We just picked up and dropped the keys from a box.

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We started by visiting Torre del Oro. It’s a military watchtower next to Guadalquivir river. Constructed in the first third of the 13th century, the tower served as a prison during the Middle Ages. Its name comes from the golden shine it projected on the river.

Then we visited the beautiful Seville Cathedral. It’s the biggest one in Spain and third one worldwide. Since the world’s two largest churches are not the seats of bishops Seville Cathedral is still the largest cathedral in the world. The bodies of Cristóvão Colombo and Juan de Cervantes lay inside.

Next to the Cathedral we can see the big tower called Giralda. It was originally built as a minaret during the Moorish period. The tower of 104.1 m remains one of the most important symbols of the city, as it has been since medieval times.

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After that we went to the Arabic palaces complex – Reales Alcázares. It’s very similar to Alhambra, in Granada, but smaller. These palaces are very beautiful, with Arabic walls, water mirrors and amazing gardens. This place was originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings and it is now one of the most beautiful monuments in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. Some episodes of Game of Thrones were shot here.

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We decided to have lunch in a restaurant located in the typical neighborhood of Sta. Cruz. It was sooo hot that day – 47ºC! I was not used to these temperatures and even though I was constantly drinking water, I started to feel really weak. I was playing strong and didn’t say anything to them but when I went to the toilets I had a meltdown and almost fainted. I was scared because I couldn’t see and I was not coming back to normal. I had to rest for half an hour and only then I was OK enough to go back to the hostel and rest for a bit.

Later that afternoon we went to Plaza de España, a complex of buildings, fountains, bridges and a lake with small boats. Its inside Parque Maria Luísa. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is a landmark example of the Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles of Spanish architecture. Even at 9pm was still 38 degrees! That places is very nice.

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We went to have dinner in a pizza place and then we saw a live show of flamenco in Carboneria, a typical non-touristic place. I loved it! It’s really an energetic dance. Flamenco includes singing, guitar playing, dance, vocalizations, hand clapping and finger snapping. In 2010, UNESCO declared flamenco one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The next day we had breakfast in the cafe in front of the hostel and we hit the road. When we left, we decided last minute to stop in Algarve, in the south of Portugal. The Algarve is Portugal’s most popular holiday destination due to the clean beaches (approximately 200 km of them), the cool, unpolluted water, and the facts that it is relatively cheap, very safe and overall welcoming. English is spoken at most resorts.

The entire region is graced with over 100 different beaches. Of those 100, 88 beaches are designated as blue flag beaches. So we stopped in Monte Gordo, bought a bikini in one of those stalls near the beach and went to take a nice swim. It was the best dive of my LIFE!

I had only been in Algarve once and I didn’t remember how amazing and warm the water is down there. It was not something planned ahead, so it felt even nicer! After that we went back to the road and arrived home at night. It was totally worth the ride!

In Scandinavia: one trip, two countries

In the spring I decided to go with two friends to two Scandinavian countries: Denmark and Sweden. Due to the geographic proximity, we were able to visit Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden, in a cold but unforgettable experience.

 

COPENHAGEN (DENMARK)

Facts about the city:

Copenhagen was considered the happiest city and the best place to live in the world.

Founded in 1847, the original Carlsberg brewery is located in Copenhagen and is now one of the most popular places to visit in the capital. The urban fairy tale park has inspired Walt Disney in their theme park creations!

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In April I visited Copenhagen with Paula and Carla. Paula is one of my best friends and Carla is a girl who also lives in Paredes and that I met in Porto, while doing a French course. They did not even know each other but it worked out very well, we all had a good time together! In the plane we ran into my friend Rita’s parents, such a small world. They went with us by train to the city center.

We arrived late at night and checked in at our hostel: Copenhagen Downtown Hostel. We stayed in a triple room which was not very big, but OK. We paid a total of €412, all three of us, for three nights. That is, about 45 € per person, per night. We had cheaper options, but this hostel was very well located and it was considered even one of the best hostels in Europe – partly because of the lively bar that exists on the ground floor. At night we went to the bar of our hostel to drink a beer. The atmosphere there is indeed amazing, always full of people from all over the world.

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Danish people are more civilized than we are. If we return the empty water bottles we bought, they give us part of the money back. People are also super nice: they are beautiful, speak good English and are always smiling. They ride bike a lot too. It was only strange for us that the currency is not Euro in these two countries.

The next day we had breakfast at the hostel and went for a walk. We passed Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) and the Danish Royal Theater (Kongelige Teater). The theater was founded in 1748, first serving as the theater of the king, and then as the theater of the country. The theater presents opera, the Royal Danish Ballet, classical music concerts (by the Royal Danish Orchestra, which dates back to 1448), and drama.

 

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Then we took a boat tour, which began in Nyhavn, is a famous 17th-century water canal. It is lined by brightly colored 17th and early 18th century townhouses and bars, cafes and restaurants. The canal harbours many historical wooden ships. Hans Christian Andersen used to live there.

The boat passed by the Opera, several churches and the statue of the Little Mermaid. The Copenhagen Opera House is among the most modern opera houses in the world. It is also one of the most expensive opera houses ever built with construction costs well over US$500 million.

The Little Mermaid bronze statue is one of the most famous landmark in Copenhagen! Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story, the statue was given to city by Carl Jacobsen, a Danish brewer after he saw a ballet of the tale. The statue, full of meaning, it is in a beautiful open place, but far from the center. Also, the statue is very small live so we only saw it from the water.

It was very cold! After the tour we wanted to warm up and went to Papirøen (paper island), which is a kind of market in a warehouse on a island with several restaurants where we can have lunch.  Upon entering the former warehouse, you’ll notice that it has been transformed into a hipster mecca perfect for your newest Instagram Story. The food stalls and trucks within the warehouse are completely different from any others that you’ve seen before. From an old, bright green bus serving coffee, to a little wooden house selling burgers, and colorful carts selling Korean street food, you’ll need to walk around to take it all in.

Before we finally got to Papirøen, we caught a boat in the wrong direction and made an unnecessary turn to the city! At least we didn’t have to pay for it.

 

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Next we went to Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district of about 850 to 1,000 residents, covering 34 hectares. It’s like a hippie community where they also sell drugs. It was strange to me to see the camouflaged shops and the hooded men and guns at the entrance of each store/tent.

It was temporarily closed by residents in April 2011 by the Danish government, but later re-opened. Christiania has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. Its cannabis trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004. In the years following 2004, measures for normalizing the legal status of the community led to conflicts, police raids and negotiations.

The area can be considered quite rough and dodgy. According to Copenhagen police the area around Pusher Street is controlled by organised criminal groups. They discourage visitors to photograph, run and talk on the phone in the area.

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We also went to the Church of Our Savior (Vor Frelsers Kirke). It is most famous for its helix spire with an external winding staircase that can be climbed to the top, offering extensive views over central Copenhagen. The staircase of this tower begins internally, almost two people pass at the same time, and it gets narrower, until it is necessary to wait if you’re going up for the people who are trying to go down.

We crossed Christianshavn water canal and the Stock Exchange building until we reached Christiansborg Palace (Christiansborg Slot). Then we climbed from the elevator to the tower and took some cool panoramic pictures from above.

The Christiansborg Palace is the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Danish Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court of Denmark. Also, several parts of the palace are used by the Danish monarch, including the Royal Reception Rooms, the Palace Chapel and the Royal Stables. The palace is thus home to the three supreme powers: the executive power, the legislative power, and the judicial power. It is the only building in the world that houses all three of a country’s branches of government.

The palace today bears witness to three eras of Danish architecture, as the result of two serious fires. The first fire occurred in 1794 and the second in 1884. The main part of the current palace, finished in 1928, is in the historicist Neo-baroque style. The chapel dates to 1826 and is in a neoclassical style. The showgrounds were built 1738-46, in a baroque style.

Afterwards we had breakfast and we still visited the Marble Church (Marmorkirken) and the Amalienborg Palace, which is the official residence of the royal family, and where there is also the exchange of guards like in London. Amalienborg Palace is located between the Marble Church and the Operaen, in an octagonal square with four identical buildings and an equestrian statue of Frederik V. We finished the day in the bar of the hostel again, listening to music from the 90s.

 

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The next day we went for a stroll around Strøget and I bought some new Adidas shoes. Strøget is a pedestrian, car free shopping area. This popular tourist attraction in the center of town is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe at 1.1 km.

We went to the Roud Tower (Rundetaarn), which was built as an astronomical observatory. It is most noted for its equestrian staircase, a 7.5-turn helical corridor leading to the top. Today the Round Tower serves as an observation tower for expansive views of Copenhagen, a public astronomical observatory and a historical monument.

After we discovered a nice park by mistake This was not the park we were looking for on the map, but we had a lot of fun there! We took pictures with Carla’s Instax, tried to take pictures in the air jumping and still fed some ducks that walked around there. After we went to Rosenborg Castle and the Botanical Garden.

The castle was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 and is an example of Christian IV’s many architectural projects. The castle is open to the public for tours and houses a museum exhibiting the Royal Collections, artifacts spanning a breadth of royal Danish culture, from the late 16th century of Christian IV to the 19th century.

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We ended the day at Tivoli, which is the second oldest amusement park in Europe (opened in 1843) and is right in the center of Copenhagen. We paid about 13 € for the entrance. I love it! It was big, vintage style, with a large lake in the middle, and a lot of revivalist amusements.

We tried one called Vertigo and I never felt such adrenaline in my life! It was giant, with two airplanes at each end, and it went up and down at incredible speed as the planes spun on themselves as well. Our heads were upside down! From above we saw the whole city and when we went down it seemed that we were about to touch the ground and die.

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After the Tivoli we went to the train station. We stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks and then took the train to the airport. Tak (thank you) Copenhagen, I loved this trip!


 

MALMÖ (SWEDEN)

Facts about the city:

The Øresund Bridge opened in 2000 and since then thousands of cars and trains have crossed the strait between Denmark and Sweden. The bridge consists of both a bridge, a tunnel and the artificial island Peberholmen. Combined it adds up to a total length of 16 km.

We left Copenhagen and took a train to Malmö, Sweden. We took advantage of the geographical proximity of these two countries and the two cities, which are divided only by water and the Øresund bridge, and we visited two countries in a single trip. This bridge is very interesting because it is half bridge, half tunnel: it is 8 km long: 4 km on an artificial island and suddenly the island ends and the train plunges into the sea through a tunnel of 4 km more. It only takes about 20, 30 minutes to be crossed. Because of the refugees, police had  to control our identity in order to let us cross.

Malmö is a small town, but super cute. You can see everything in one afternoon. We visited a lighthouse and the Stortorget. Stortorget was built in 1536. Stortorget became Malmö’s new marketplace and was the largest city square in Northern Europe for a very long time. The Town Hall is located in this square.

Then we visited Södergatan (a shopping street with a funny statue of an orchestra) and Lilla Torg. Lilla Torg is a main square, with beautiful old houses. It’s a great spot to take a stroll or enjoy a coffee and it was built in 1592. We also visited a church: St. Petri Kyrka. Construction started in 1319. It is built in the Gothic style and has a 105 m tall tower.

 

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Then we went to Kungsparken, which is a park with a gorgeous giant mill, a lake, water canals and ducklings. After that we went to visit the Malmöhus. The Malmöhus Castle was built in 1437 by Erik of Pomerania, inhabited by the kings of Denmark in the 1500s, and used as a prison until 1914. Currently it houses a history museum, art museum, aquarium, and terrarium. We visited both museums and the aquarium.

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We had lunch in a nice restaurant and bought some souvenirs. At the end of the day, we returned to Denmark and said goodbye to Sweden. It was an amazing trip!

In the city of Anne Frank

In the winter of 2015 I went to Amsterdam. It was an amazing trip in the city of sex, drugs, water canals and Anne Frank. It was cold but I still enjoyed the city a lot.

 

Facts about the city:

There are 165 canals in Amsterdam. In total these waterways add up to more than 100km. The Seventeenth-century canal ring area became part of the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010. There’s also 2,500 houseboats in Amsterdam that are occupied by residents but some are available for rent to visitors.

Amsterdam is the most bicycle friendly city in the world. In fact, over 60% of trips are made by bicycle in the inner city. There are over 813,562 people living within the city limits of Amsterdam, however it is estimated that there are well 1,000,000 bicycles. How bizarre!

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In November I went to a city I wanted to visit for a long time: Amsterdam. We traveled with Transavia. We arrived by train to Central Station, an imposing building. In fact, the whole area surrounding the station is very beautiful. Amsterdam Centraal was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers and first opened in 1889.

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We stayed in Hotel Iris which was very cozy, with steep stairs and a nice view of a canal. It was to have a Lidl right in front because it allowed us to go there for food everyday. Hotel Iris is located at Sarphatikade 17. We paid €311 for a double room for three nights. That is, €51 each, per night. The hotel also had a very beautiful back garden with Buddha statues.

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It was raining every day but I loved the city. I loved the water channels of the Amstel River, very photogenic: Jordaan, Prinsengacht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, etc. Amsterdam has more than 100km of grachten (canals), about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges.

The three main canals (Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht), dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. Alongside the main canals are 1550 monumental buildings. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan contributed to Amsterdam’s fame as the “Venice of the North”.

I hardly saw cars in the city and the bridges were full of bicycles. Even with rain it’s amazing how we always have to be careful not to be hit by someone on a bicycle.

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We did not go to the Heineken Museum, but we went to the Rijksmuseum, where is the Museumplein, which is a square with a lake and the famous giant letters saying “I Amsterdam”.

The current main building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and first opened its doors in 1885. The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000, among which are some masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer.

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In this museum we saw the self-portrait of Van Gogh and Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch picture:

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We also went to the Hard Rock and the Anne Frank House, a writer’s house and biographical museum dedicated to Anne Frank. During World War II, Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution with her family and four other people in hidden rooms at the rear of the 17th-century canal house, known as the Secret Annex. Anne Frank did not survive the war but in 1947, her wartime diary was published. In 1957, the Anne Frank Foundation was established to protect the property from developers who wanted to demolish the block.

The museum opened on 3 May 1960. It preserves the hiding place, has a permanent exhibition on the life and times of Anne Frank, and has an exhibition space about all forms of persecution and discrimination.

I read the book for the first time just before the trip and it was indeed exciting to see the place where they were hidden so long and it was also very interesting to see, at the end of the visit, a gigantic book named after all those who died in the Holocaust. The queue to enter the house never ends! But it was worth the wait.

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We have also been in squares like the Leidsplein, Dam Square (where the Royal Palace is) and the Rembrandtplein. We also went to the Vondelpark (opened in 1865) and the so-called 9 main shopping streets of the city. That’s when I bought the souvenirs (I bought, for example, beautiful little music boxes with songs like Let’s Be by the Beatles).

 

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We had dinner in a typical Portuguese restaurant called Portugália that we found there (the owners are Portuguese emigrants). Another day we decided to have dinner at a sushi restaurant and went to a pizzeria.

At night we visited the famous Red Light District. De Wallen is the largest and best known red-light district in Amsterdam. It consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

Window prostitution is the most visible and typical kind of red light district sex work in Amsterdam and the “kamers” are a large tourist attraction. The area also has a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, and a number of coffee shops that sell marijuana.

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Another interesting aspect of Amsterdam are the coffeeshops. These are establishments where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities. Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by licensed coffeeshops. The idea of licensing the sale of cannabis was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated.

We bought an herb called Lemonhaze in a store where we could choose from a number of different types of cannabis, and then we went to coffeeshops to smoke it. It looked like a giant candy-and-gum store, but where they sell drugs instead. In these stores you can smell the weed but they do not allow you to touch it.

The first coffeeshop we visited was calm and we stayed at a table below, just for us. The drugs really hit me, I was super talkative. Then we went to a more upscale coffeeshop with a Moroccan feel (one of the famous coffeeshops of the Bulldog chain) but I smoked just a little bit. The annoying part of the coffeeshops was that even if you bring your own weed, you have to buy something, so we were always spending money on bottled water.

The coffeeshop we liked the most (we went there like three times) was Dolphins. The decor was awesome, it felt like we were in a cave under water. The top floor was for those who smoked pure joints and below, for those who smoke joints mixed with tobacco. It was always full. Because of this, the staff was always forcing us to sit in tables where there were already other people and socialize.

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We also went to one with a separate room for smoking, with tables that were like counters on the wall. We went to another coffeeshop, outside of the city center, only with locals and no tourists.

When we were in this place we saw in the Dutch television news that the Islamic State had just carried out attacks in Paris, the Bataclan and a soccer stadium and, until the end of our trip, this news were everywhere! The increase of the security in the airport was notorious when we returned home.

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To finish our trip, we took a boat cruise through the canals, which passed through all the emblematic sites of Amsterdam. I really enjoyed the boat houses on the canals. Yes, there are people who live in the river. Despite the bad weather and the madness of the city, I really enjoyed Amsterdam.

Contrasts of the North of Italy

In 2015 I went with a friend to the north of Italy: to the cosmopolitan and stressful Milan and to the beautiful romantic Verona. Two cities very close to each other but very different.

MILAN

Facts about the city:

Every night, from 7 PM to 9 PM, it is time for aperitivo – the bars and cafes offer huge spreads of food, which everyone can enjoy for free after buying a drink.

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is made famous by the fact that it houses the original painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. Before visiting it, most visitors don’t realize that it was actually painted on the wall of what once was the monastery’s dining room.

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I decided to take a trip with my colleague Vera. We were both in need of a routine and the stress of work. We decided to go first to Milan and then to Verona. I did not take any days off so I arrived in Porto in the morning at 8:30 am and I went to work at 10:00 am, but everything went well and it was truly worth it.

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I did not like our hotel – Hotel Brasil Milan – and I do not recommend it. It was terrifying! Away from the center, away from the metro, they did not speak English, we had a WC in the room but there was no toilet and, worse, had a horrible wallpaper stuck in our room, with a horrible tropical sunset. Plus we had to get on a super sly elevator. We paid €180 for two, for two nights. That is, stayed for €45 per night per person. It was not even worth the money.

I did not like Milan very much to be honest. It is a city full of stress, full of people hurried on the streets, full of wealth and ostentation (but at the same time full of poverty in the streets) and full of consumerism. Consumerism is the key word. It is undoubtedly a consumer city.

I only liked three places. The first place I found worth seeing in Milan is the Duomo di Milano (which, yes, is imposing and beautiful) and the main square, On the weekend in which we went to Milan was running the EMA’s of MTV in the square of the Duomo, but we did not see any famous there unfortunately.

The cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy (the larger St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City) and the third largest in the world.

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The second place I also liked is right next to the Duomo and it is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with its expensive shops. This is Italy’s oldest shopping mall and contains the Town House Galleria, a five-star hotel. Housed within a four-story double arcade, the Galleria is named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877.

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The other site that I also liked immensely was the Castello Sforzesco, with its lake and the beautiful Parco Sempione behind. The castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.

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Parco Sempione was established in 1888. I loved having coffee with Vera in the park, watching the ducklings on the lake and listening to a street artist playing. The Arco della Pace is also beautiful and stands at the edge of the park. The very design of the park, due to architect Emilio Alemagna, was conceived with the intent of creating panoramic views encompassing both monuments – the castle and the arch.

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We also visit the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, which is a Romanesque church with exquisite patio, in addition to a crypt where are the remains of Saint Ambrose. We went to the Pinacoteca di Brera (the main public gallery for paintings in Milan) and to the Quadrilatero della Moda (the most famous shopping streets).

We also visited Piazza della Scala, a square named after the renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house, which occupies the north-western side of the square. On the opposite side is the facade of Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall. The centre of the square is marked by the monument of Leonardo da Vinci by sculptor Pietro Magni (1872).

We also trolled around the Navigli (water canals). The system consisted of five canals: Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno, Naviglio di Bereguardo. Today, the canals are mostly used for irrigation. The only two canals who operate a tourist navigation system connected to the Darsena are the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, also becoming a nightlife pole.

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We went to have pizza twice (typical, I know) near the Duomo. We also had bruschetta and lasagna. Of course, we also drink the typical Italian coffee, although I think it’s almost the same as ours.

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I ran into Carla in Milan, a girl from Paredes who took a French course with me in Porto! What a coincidence, the world is really small (and here I didn’t even know that next year I would be traveling with her to Copenhagen!).


VERONA

Facts about the city:

Verona is the city where William Shakespeare based one of his famous plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Shakespeare set two more plays in this city – ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. If you visit Juliet’s house you should rub the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet. It is meant to bring good fortune for those who are unlucky in love.

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For me the best part of this trip was the day we went by train to Verona, the romantic city of Romeo and Juliet. There, unlike Milan, the people were friendly (in Milan we were shocked by the lack of sympathy of some people! And nobody knows how to speak English nor make the effort to understand us) and everything was more beautiful and cute.

We entered the historical center by some beautiful arches called Portoni della Bra, which gave access to the magnificent Piazza Bra. This square has a beautiful garden with the fountain of the Alps and a bronze statue of Victor Emmanuel II. It is lined with numerous cafés and restaurants, along with several notable buildings and colorful houses.

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One of them is Arena di Verona. This arena is a very well preserved 1st century coliseum (better than that of Rome). It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there. In ancient times, nearly 30,000 people was the housing capacity of the Arena. Nowadays, for security reasons, the maximum attendance is 15,000 people.

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It was also in Piazza Bra that Vera and I had dinner in a very fancy restaurant.

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After this square, we continue along Via Mazzini, a very cute shopping street, full of well-known shops but, unlike Milan, here the shops are in medieval buildings with flowerbeds. Most of the major Italian labels are represented, and even if you can’t afford them it’s great to wander and window shop.

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At the end of this street we went to the most beautiful place of Verona in my opinion: Piazza delle Erbe. This square is beautiful! Home of the Forum in Roman times this is still a focal point of the city. It contains the ‘Britney Verona’ fountain and a nice market. Its old buildings are very picturesque, it looks like a movie set.

The Torre dei Lamberti was completed in 1463 and is the tallest in Verona. The unmistakable clock tower looms over the Piazza delle Erbe, and you enter via the palace courtyard. Although there are 238 steps to the top, there is a lift! Views from the top are breathtaking.

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Next door is the Piazza dei Signori and the tombs Arche Scaligere, which is a group of five Gothic funerary monuments celebrating the Scaliger family, who ruled in Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.

Then we passed another shopping street and went to Juliet’s House. This is supposedly the location of the famous balcony love scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The house is a major destination for tourist pilgrimage, as the tiny courtyard is normally packed with love struck teenagers photographing each other on the famous balcony. The balcony overlooks a tiny courtyard containing a statue of Juliet. There is an unbelievable amount of graffiti and general scrawling on the walls, floor, seats, anything that will hold ink – there is a tradition of writing love messages to Juliet, and visitors leave notes, trinkets and bits of chewing gum fashioned into love hearts.

Afterwards we went to see some churches like the Verona Cathedral, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, San Zeno Maggiore or Sant’Anastacia. Some of these churches are very old but they had to be rebuilt after earthquakes and after the II World War.

San Zeno Maggiore is dedicated to Verona’s patron saint, Zeno. Zeno’s tomb lies in an atmospheric shrine in the church undercroft. The church itself was a center of European pilgrimage for centuries, who have left their mark – pilgrims happily inscribed graffiti in the frescos, and signatures dating from 1390 survive to this day. Its fame rests partly on its architecture and partly upon the tradition that its crypt was the place of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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We also went up to several medieval bridges. First, the Ponte Pietra (completed in 100 BC), with a fantastic view, which gave us access on the other bank to visit in a Roman Theater. The theater was also built in the late 1st century BC.

Then, the fortified Ponte Scaligero, with an authentic market of stalls in its interior, that gives access to the Castelvecchio Museum. The museum displays a collection of sculpture, statues, paintings, ancient weapons, ceramics, goldworks, miniatures and some old bells.

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I finished the day smoking a cigarette there to relax by the river and in Verona, yes, I felt that I had some rest. I loved the city!