From Brazil with love

In the summer of 2015 I went with a friend to Brazil. First we visited the north: Recife, Olinda and Porto de Galinhas. Then, we flew to the most beautiful city ever, Rio de Janeiro.

RECIFE

Facts about the city:

In Recife they dance Frevo, not Samba. Frevo is a rhythm born in Recife, and that’s what you’ll see people dancing during Carnival. Frevo was included on the UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage.

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First we visited Recife, in the Northeast of Brazil. Me and Rita went there to visit Claudia, a former college classmate. Claudia went to Brazil to study there and ended up staying there for good, because her family is from Recife. Her house is super nice, we felt like we were right in the middle of the jungle, with that abundant vegetation, with monkeys roaming the electric cables and with that tropical climate, super humid and hot. We hated that weather, it seems we can’t even breathe.

Recife is a city that is below the sea level and thank God we didn’t witness a terrible flood that stroke the city a few days before our trip. It is a city full of canals and therefore is easily flooded. The sea there is not very good there because you are not allowed to swim since there are some sharks. We went out for drinks twice in a bar near Claudia’s house.

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What shocked me and Rita the most is the way they go out in Brazil at night. The boys are really confident and the girls are really sluts. We also went out in a bar and in a nightclub with Cláudia’s friends. In the nightclub I drank a lot and let some boys pull me to dance, but Rita helped me to send them away when they got annoying. By the end of the night we were the only ones who were not kissing anyone.

Claudia’s brother already took hundreds of girls to motels, disgusting! Even Claudia was there kissing a random boy. Another thing that is different there is the fact that the music is almost only sertanejo, and that they play it live in clubs with covers bands, which does not happen in Portugal.

In one of the days we stayed there Claudia showed us Recife. We went to the Marco Zero square and to a museum there called Caixa Cultural Recife and then we went to see the Recife Antigo (old Recife). Recife Antigo consists of the initial Portuguese settlement in the 16th century around the port.

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We were also in a rock bar, Rock & Ribs, and went to have dinner at Cláudia’s cousin’s place. I loved Abel, he is very nice.

We went to the Cais do Sertão museum. Inaugurated in 2014, this bold new museum highlights the culture of the sertão, especially as it relates to the godfather of forró music, Luiz Gonzaga, who was a major player not only in bringing the music of the region to national prominence but the culture as well. This museum also talks about the history of Recife, the Portuguese occupation, frevo music, etc.

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We went to the two main shopping malls in the city, both with panoramic views of the canals and bridges of the city. The best part was when we did a catamaran boat tour around the city, it was beautiful.

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We took this opportunity to eat different things: graviola, cajá, mamão, tapioca (prepared by Cláudia’s mom), castanha de caju, bolinhos de goma, açaí, etc. We were addicted to Paçoquita, which is a peanut butter candy.


PORTO DE GALINHAS

Facts about the city:

The town was called Porto Rico (Rich Port) until 1850 when it became a place where people traded slaves to work in the plantations of sugar cane. To evade the control of the illegal transaction, slaves were transported together with guineafowl and passwords were created by traffickers (Portuguese: “Tem galinha nova no porto” – “There are new chickens in the port”), hence the origin of the name.

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In one of the days we were in Recife, we went with Claudia and her mother to visit Porto de Galinhas. The beach of Porto de Galinhas, 60 kilometers south of Recife has been repeatedly awarded the title of best beach in Brazil and has drawn many tourists.

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That place is heavenly! Porto de Galinhas beach is a major tourist destination and it is famous for its bright-water beaches and the natural pools.

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The water there is hot even in winter, but in summer it reaches 28 degrees! Claudia and I took a swim and it felt amazing. The city center is also nice, with craft shops and souvenirs, with chickens statues and images everywhere. I liked it!


OLINDA

Facts about the city:

Pernambuco was a Portuguese colony. While Recife had port functions, Olinda was the capital. However, in 1630 the Dutch invaded this area and set Olinda partially on fire. Recife became the seat of the Dutch government and Olinda lost his importance. Olinda is still one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil and its historic town center considered a world heritage site by UNESCO.

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Still during our stay in Recife, we went with Cláudia and her cousin, Abel, to visit the city of Olinda. Olinda has a great connection to Portugal, with the azulejos (tiles) and the cute churches. We visited some of them: Igreja da Se, Convento de S. Francisco, etc.

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We also used a lift to go up to a lookout point where we could enjoy a beautiful view of Recife on the other side.

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We visited street markets and more craft shops. I ate a delicious tapioca there. Too bad we did not go there for the Carnival, it is super famous there.


RIO DE JANEIRO

Facts about the city:

According to tradition, Rio de Janeiro was first visited in January 1502 by Portuguese explorers, who believed the bay they encountered (now called Guanabara Bay) was the mouth of a river. They named the area named Rio de Janeiro, “River of January.”

There are more than 1,000 favelas (slums) in Rio and almost one fourth of Cariocas (nickname of the locals) live in them. Rio’s residents have been living in favelas since the end of the 19th century, being the most affordable housing option. It was there, in the favelas, that former African slaves first created the music style we now know as samba. Nowadays, most of the city’s renowned samba schools that compete in the world’s most famous Carnival parade are located in favelas.

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After all this, we went to visit Rio de Janeiro, the famous cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city). Well, loveeeed it! Rita’s cousin, who lives in Rio and is a taxi driver, picked us up at the airport and then showed us around the city. First, we visited the favela where he lives and we met Rita’s family. Afterwards, we went to Maracanã stadium. The stadium was opened in 1950 to host the FIFA World Cup.

Then we went to Copacabana beach. There, at the Copacabana Palace, Rita was hoping to see some of the Globo’s famous actors, but nothing (btw, we also saw Globo and Projac, where they shoot the famous Brazilian soap operas). Back in Copacabana, we went to a street market and bought some souvenirs. The people of Rio are very friendly and cheerful, gave me the urge to go and live there!

Next we went to our hotel which is the best hotel I have stayed at in my entire life! Right on the calçadão, on the Ipanema Beach line! It is called Best Western Sol Ipanema Hotel and is located on Avenida Vieira Souto. What a luxury!! We had gym and hotel at the top of the hotel, overlooking the beach and Morro dos Dois Irmaos (two mountains that rise at the western end of the beach). We paid x for x nights.

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The people at the hotel were also super friendly. Our hotel was super comfortable and with a magnificent view, like a postcard. We always fell asleep with the sound of the waves. The next day we had a luxury breakfast at the hotel and spent the morning strolling down the promenade from Leblon beach to Ipanema beach.

The Leblon beach is known for its elegant development and its social life. Two mountains called the Dois Irmãos rise at the western end of the beach, which is divided into segments delineated by postos, or lifeguard towers. In Ipanema beach there’s usually a lot of people playing football, volleyball and footvolley. Beer is sold everywhere, along with the traditional cachaça.

We finished our walk in Pedra do Arpoador. This is a rock located between Ipanema and Copacabana. During some time around midsummer it is possible to see the sun setting over the sea from Arpoador, a rare event on the generally eastward-facing Brazilian coast. On these occasions crowds gather around the place and cheer when the sun disappears.

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This place is a natural viewpoint with giant rocks and a beautiful sunset view to Morro dos Dois Irmãos and Favela do Vidigal. Beautiful! Then we went for a walk to see the shops in the center of Rio de Janeiro. We went to Girl from Ipanema bar, to Vinicius de Moraes Bar, we went to McDonalds (they use names like McLanche Feliz or the slogan Amo tudo Isso). At the end of the day we went for a swim in our hotel’s pool.

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The next day was awesome. Rita’s cousin came to pick us up in the taxi and took us to Cristo Rei. Before Cristo Rei, we went up to Mirante Dona Marta, with the best possible view possible for Pão de Açúcar! This lookout offers a spectacular view of the city. On one side you can see the Guanabara Bay, Niterói and the mountains of the Serrana region in the background. On the other side, next to the heliport, one can see the Lagoa and the South Zone, besides the Christ statue. This viewpoint has one of the most perfect angles of the city to take photos. I took some of my favorite photos of the trip there.

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This day was very hot, which was great. After that, we climbed up 700 metres to reach the top of Monte Corcovado, in the Tijuca Forest National Park, in some vans. Finally, we reached the Cristo Rei (Christ the Redeemer) statue! 😀 Well, what an amazing place!! There are no words to describe it… It was the most beautiful place I have ever visited in my life.

Constructed between 1922 and 1931, the statue is 30m tall, excluding its 8m pedestal. A symbol of Christianity across the world, the statue has also become a cultural icon of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, and is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. What a breathtaking view! Even the crowd of tourists like us, trying to take a thousand photos, did not take away the charm. I’m glad I went there with Rita, I really like her. After the photos we stayed there for a while trying to absorb the landscape.

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Rita’s cousin took us through Floresta da Tijuca and Barra da Tijuca. We had lunch at a restaurant and in the afternoon we went to the Botanical Gardens and Praia da Barra. Barra da Tijuca is believed to be the safest of Rio’s upper-class neighborhoods because of its lack of favelas and plentiful private and public security. Barra da Tijuca neighborhood is well known for being the home of celebrities and soccer stars.

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Then we passed the house of Roberto Carlos in Urca, we went to Morro da Urca, Praia Vermelha and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf mountain). Pão de Açúcar is amazing! Rising 396m above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. It is terrifying to get on its cableway (bondinho) because it shakes a lot, but the sight from the two or three places where we stopped is almost as perfect as the view from the Christ. It’s amazing! It was a fantastic day.

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The next day was amazing too. We booked a guided tour with a private guide, to show us the historic center of Rio, because we were afraid to go there alone. The guide was a super friendly African guy. First he took us by car to the neighborhood and favela of Santa Teresa.

Then we went to Escadaria de Selaron (Selaron Steps), which is a set of world-famous steps create by the Cilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, with donated tiles from all over the world. I’ve been looking for tiles from Portugal and Porto and found a lot! I had no idea. There are over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.

In 1990, Selarón began renovating dilapidated steps that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbors mocked him for his choice of colors as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colors of the Brazilian flag. It started out as a side-project to his main passion, painting, but soon became an obsession. He found he was constantly out of money, so Selarón sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhausting work but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of steps in tiles, ceramics and mirrors.

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Then we went to the historical center, with some trace elements of the Portuguese influence, in a museum that spoke about the Portuguese and our empire there, in the House of Carmen Miranda, in the Candelaria Church, in the cultural center, in Arcos da Lapa (the aqueduct serves as a bridge for a popular tram that connects the city center with the Santa Teresa favela uphill), in the cylindrical Cathedral, etc.

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At the end of the tour we went to eat açaí and the guide brought us back to the hotel by metro. In the afternoon we went to say goodbye to the Calçadão, we went to the beach, drank coconut water, took photos with the statue of Tom Jobim and enjoyed the wonderful view of those beaches for the last time.

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We were sitting on a bench that had the quote: Pare aqui. Aprecie a vida por um minuto e SORRIA – Stop here. Appreciate life for one minute and smile. Isn’t it beautiful? 🙂

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Portuguese influences in Africa

In 2015 I went to visit my best friend in Cape Verde. She was there doing a volunteer programme with children in S. Vicente’s island. It was the first time I traveled outside of Europe and I was in Africa, in a Portuguese ex-colony. We share the same language but the contrasts are obvious.

Facts about the city:

The language spoken is in Cape Verde is Portuguese, as the islands were a Portuguese colony from 1462-1975.

Cape Verde is the 3rd largest nesting site for the endangered Loggerhead turtles and gives you the rare opportunity to see these animals in the wild.

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I was in Africa for the first time to visit my best friend Soraya in Cape Verde. I went to the city of Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente. It was strange to be so far from home, to see a reality so different from mine and yet we all speak the same language, Portuguese.

The people there are really friendly and welcoming but men are creepy. They say things like “psss, branquinha!” (psss, white girl!) or “lindona” (hey beautiful!) or even “loiriiinha” (blondie!). For them we, white people, are amazingly hot just because we are different from the women they have there.

I loved Laura, an Italian with whom Soraya lived there, and Francesca, who is Laura’s sister, who went to visit her on the same days as me (we even went on the plane together). I also liked Soraya’s friends from capoeira class (I attended one class), especially Carvão.

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There was a night when Carvão took us to see the real side of the island. He took us into the middle of the favelas and I got super scared when we went through a tunnel surrounded by strange looking guys (Carvão told us after they steal a lot and they sell drugs) and they just let us go without problems because Carvão said to them that we were with him. He also took us to the top of a mountain that had a magnificent view and then took us to his cousin’s house in the favela and we smoked some weed there together.

Then we went with his cousin to walk by the sea, in hidden caves in front of the sea. The problem is that his cousin did not stop to say things like “you really are beautiful,” to leave the Carvão behind with Soraya. Obviously, I was not interested at all and when I tried to talk to him, we were like two deaf people talking because he speaks a lot of Creole and sometimes he did not understand Portuguese from Portugal. But it was a funny night.

I loved when we went to S. Pedro’s beach, with brown sand. The beach is simply enormous and almost empty. Sao Pedro preserved its fishing athmosphere despite being literally at a stone’s throw from the airport. In the village’s center I saw how the colourful boats are being repared and built.

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I enjoyed strolling along the beach near Soraya’s house, with that clear light blue water. From there you can see Monte Cara (Face Hill). It got its name due to its lines resembling apparently the profile of George Washington.

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I also went with Soraya to visit a typical Market in Mindelo, and strolled through the characteristic buildings of the city. In addition to the harbour in Mindelo, you can also admire the Mercado de Peixe (fish market), the Torre de Belém (replica of the tower with the same name near Lisbon), the bronze busts of Diego Afonso, the shoreline street with its beautiful manors and, a bit further, the Esplanada or city park.

In the Praça Nova quarter, an upscale neighbourhood with a plaza of the same name that has some pastel-coloured villas with stucco, the Quiosque Praça Nova with a lovely Art Noveau pavilion invites you to relax.

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I also enjoyed a night in which we went to the opening of an Italian restaurant of some friends of Soraya and Laura in the rich part of the city and I found there my professor of the University !! Woow the world is really small! He now lives in Cape Verde. It was also cool to go out at night with Soraya’s friends and drink grog in the bars.

I attended an English class that Soraya gave to the children of the favela. And I saw the rehearsals for the Carnival parade. The Carnival in Cape Verde is amazing.

The last day on the island was awesome. Me, Soraya, Laura and Francesca went on a tour of the island with Alveno, a friend of them (Laura’s crush). We went in the back of an open van and it was amazing!

He showed us everything: the agricultural part of the island, Monte Verde (which is the island’s highest mountain and one of the few places of São Vicente covered with lush green vegetation), the volcanoes, the dunes, turtles and, finally, the beautiful Baia das GatasA music festival also takes place here every year in August.

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I never swam in such a paradisaical place! The water was very clear. There are sharks there, but we swim in a safe area. We drank grog, a typical drink from there and went home.

In the city of the pilgrims

In 2014 I drove to Spain in my car. I visited Tui, the Spanish city in the border with the Portuguese city Valença and then I went to Santiago de Compostela, the city of the pilgrims.

 

TUI

Facts about the city:

Two bridges connect Tui and Valença: Tui International Bridge (known in Portugal as Valença International Bridge), completed in 1878, and a modern one from the 1990s. Both countries being signatories of the Schengen Treaty, there are normally no formalities in crossing what is the busiest border-point in Northern Portugal.

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There was a day when we went in my car to Tui, in Spain, one of the cities of the Portuguese Way of Santiago.

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We visited the city center and Tui Cathedral. On the top of the hill, the cathedral (11th–13th century) preserves Romanesque elements in its main vestibule, and the Gothic period in the western vestibule. The town has two museums, one dedicated to archaeology and sacred art, and the other is the diocesan museum.


 

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Facts about the city:

Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) refers to the different pilgrimage routes leading to Santiago de Compostela. There are many routes, starting in France, Portugal and Spain. The scallop shell and yellow arrows mark the way to Santiago. You need to walk at least the last 100 km into Santiago to receive the Compostela certificate at the end. Over 250,000 walkers make their way to Santiago each year.

Santiago de Compostela; Autobus

 

It was the longest drive I’d done by car by that time. The mystique of the city is always special with the pilgrims. But Santiago de Compostela is not just the final point of the Camino de Santiago, it is a fantastic place to explore, wandering around its alleys and quaint granite streets.

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We visited the Praza do Obradoiro with its imposing Cathedral, where the remains of Saint James are (allegedly) buried. The cathedral is Santiago’s most famous building with a Romanesque structure and later Gothic and Baroque elements. At the Cathedral, we checked out the Pórtico da Gloria (the original Romanesque porch entrance) and the Botafumeiro (its giant thurible).

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The Old Town, with is winding granite streets, arches, squares and monuments has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Here we found not only Romanesque and baroque churches, museums and some of the oldest University buildings but also many cosy cafes, traditional and contemporary restaurants and some interesting shops.

My dream, traveling for work

In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to work for a Spanish cosmetics company that offered me training in their headquarters in Valladolid for 2 weeks. We went to Salamanca during the weekend. With this trip I fulfilled one of my dreams, to travel for work for the first time.

 

VALLADOLID

Facts about the city:

The city was briefly the capital of Spain under Phillip III between 1601 and 1606, before returning indefinitely to Madrid. The city then declined until the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, and with its industrialization into the 20th century.

Christopher Columbus died in 1506 in the city. The house of Columbus and the house where Cervantes wrote part of Don Quixote have been preserved.

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I traveled to Valladolid on business, to have a training at the PostQuam Cosmetics headquarters in order to work later in Porto as a store manager. This has always been my dream, traveling at work with everything paid for. Me and two other girls were chosen – Vera and Diana – and we stayed there for two weeks.

It was very nice to stay for two weeks in a 3 star hotel, Park Hotel (now called Hotel Zentral Parque), with paid meals. They gave us a lot of money to go to eat wherever we wanted, and the truth is that we took advantage of that and we always ate in the best restaurants we could find. We got along very well and that also helped a lot to enjoy ourselves these weeks. The Hotel is located in Paseo del Hospital Militar, near the bus station.

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Sometimes we would have lunch with Cesar from the company and we went to dinner once with Gonzalo, our boss, in a very nice restaurant. One other day we went to eat with him at a gourmet market near the station.

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I think we walk all over town. The city is neither too big nor too pretty. We went several times to Plaza Mayor (where the Town Hall is) and the surrounding commercial streets. Plaza Mayor, presided over by a statue of Count Ansúrez from 1903, is located only a few blocks away from another famous plaza, the Plaza Zorrilla.

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We went to Campo Grande, a large public park located in the heart of the city. A notable feature of the park is the abundant bird population.

We visited other nice places like the Valladolid Cathedral. The original design for this cathedral would have created a church which would have been the largest cathedral in Europe. Initially planned as the Cathedral for the capital city of Spain, ultimately, only 40-45% of the intended project was completed, due to lack of resources after the court moved towards Madrid, and the expenses caused by the difficult foundations of the temple, located in an area with a large gap in the field.

We went to several other churches, like San Benito el Real or Santa María La Antigua. In the last days of the training we left the call center and went to help to prepare the opening of new stores of our company through the city. One of the days I also worked in one of their stores.


 

SALAMANCA

Facts about the city:

Salamanca is one of the most important university cities in Spain. The frog, which appears on a skull and decorates the facade of the original building of the University, constitutes to one of the principal touristic attractions of the city and also has its own history. According to the legend, if a student doesn’t see it, he’ll fail in his studies.

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Over the weekend we took advantage of the fact that we were not going to work and went to Salamanca, the golden city. It is so called because all the buildings are yellowish and with the sun they become golden.

We saw the Casa de las Conchas, that currently houses a public library. It was built from 1493 to 1517 by Rodrigo Arias de Maldonado, a knight of the Order of Santiago de Compostela and a professor in the University of Salamanca. Its most peculiar feature is the facade, decorated with more than 300 shells, symbol of the order of Santiago, as well as of the pilgrims performing the Way of St. James.

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We visited the Plaza Mayor. It was built in the traditional Spanish baroque style and is a popular gathering area. It is lined by restaurants, ice cream parlors, tourist shops, and jewelry stores along its perimeter except in front of the city hall. It is considered the heart of Salamanca and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain.

We went to see the Convento de San Esteban and also the Old and New Cathedral of Salamanca. Cracks and broken windows are visible reminders of the devastating effects of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, still visible today. After the earthquake, repairs were necessary to the cupola and the base of the tower.

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We didn’t spend much time in Salamanca, but it was a very fun and relaxing day and we managed to see everything.

Bruges, the fairy tale city

In the summer of 2014 I went to two Belgium cities: Bruges and Brussels. Without a doubt I preferred Bruges, a medieval town very charming and beautiful. It reminded me of fairy tales and great love stories!

 

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Facts about the city:

The history of the swans dates back to the middle ages. People from Bruges were unhappy with Emperor Maximilian of Austria and his adviser Pieter Lanckhals. The two were captured and Lanckhals was executed in front of Maximilian. He escaped and punished the people from Bruges decreeing that they would have to keep swans on the canals and lakes forever to remember what they did. Swans have long necks, which in Dutch means lanckhals, the last name of his executed adviser.

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I loved Bruges! It is undoubtedly on my top favorite cute places in Europe. Bruges is an old medieval town, full of cute waterways. Ricardo and I stayed at the Hostel Bruges Inn Center (now called Hostel 28) on Dweersstraat 28. We paid €104 for two nights, so €26 a night each.

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I loved the Burg or Markt, which is the main square of the city, which also has the Town Hall and the Belfry. In the center of the market stands the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.

The Belfry is a medieval bell tower and one of the city’s most prominent symbols. A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps leads to the top of the 83 m high building. The building is a central feature of the 2008 film In Bruges and is also mentioned in the novel Cloud Atlas.

 

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I loved the other square where there is the Basilica of the Sacred Blood. Originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders, the church houses a venerated relic of the Holy Blood of Christ.

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I really liked the area of Beginhof, which is a collection of houses surrounded by beautiful water channels with ducklings. The entrance bridge is from 1776. The beguinage used to be like a small city. The women had everything they needed in there, such as plantations and church. The place had its own rules, the women living in there were protected within the beguinage in case they committed anything illegal outside of its walls.

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I really liked this area too, Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai). Being one of the most photographed sites throughout the city of Bruges, the Quay of the Rosary is one of the most beautiful sights of this Belgian city with its canals and classic buildings.

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The Onze Lieve Vrowekerk (Church of our Lady) is also beautiful. I took pictures of a bridge with this church in the background that look amazing. Its tower, at 115 m, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.

 

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I enjoyed the walks we did to the Jan Van Eyck Square area. Here we had dinner at an Italian restaurant and also went to some bars to drink some typical Belgian beers, with red fruits. The square is named for noted Northern Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck.

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In Simon Stevin Square we also drank some beers. As we went there during the World Cup 2014 games, we went to a square to watch the game Belgium vs. Germany and it was crazy. We ordered the most expensive beers, all fancy, and then we ran away without paying in the middle of the crowd.

We then saw the second part of the game for some sort of giant outdoor pavilion with giant screens. Belgium lost and was eliminated but even so it was super fun. Another typical thing we did there was eating chips with a special sauce. And waffles, of course.

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I loved the fact that we rented bicycles and rode all over the city like that, past all the canals, parks, lakes and picturesque mills.

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BRUSSELS

Facts about the city:

The city is home to 40,000 EU employees, 4,000 NATO employees and hosts about 300 permanent representations: lobby groups, embassies and press corporations.

Many walls on houses in Brussels are covered with comic book references – so look up when you walk the city.

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After Bruges, we went to Brussels for two days. The trains in Belgium are really modern, with two floors and everything. I liked Bruges much more than Brussels. We were not lucky in Brussels because it was raining a lot. In addition, in Brussels, Ricardo and I had some fights. The city is nothing special. We stayed at Hotel Sabina. We paid € 47 for one night in a double room, so we paid €23.50 each. It is on Rue du Nord 78.

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I liked the Grand-Place, with its nice buildings. We had dinner in a Greek restaurant close to this square.

This is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the King’s House or Breadhouse, a building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels.  The square is the most memorable landmark in Brussels. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

We visited the Manneken Pis. This is a landmark small bronze sculpture with 61 cmdepicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue embodies the sense of humour of people from Brussels and their independence of mind.

We went to the Cathedral of St. Michael and Sta. Gudula and the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert. The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is Europe’s oldest shopping arcade.

We visited the church of Notre Dame du Sablon. Close to the church, there’s the Petit Sablon square and garden, very beautiful decorated with some nice statues.

In this trip we also went to the Palais Royal, which is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels. The palace is situated in front of Parc de Bruxelles.

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Close to the Royal Palace, you have the Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg church. In front of this church, you have Mont des Arts. I really liked Mont des Arts. We sat there watching the sunset, with the silhouette at the bottom of the buildings of the Grand-Place.

To give the area, situated between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place, a better look during the Universal Exposition held in Brussels in 1910, the king ordered the landscape architect Pierre Vacherot to design a ‘temporary’ garden on the hill. The Mont des Arts offers one of Brussels’ finest views.

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Finally, we visited the Parlamentarium, very interesting and interactive. The Parlamentarium is the visitors’ centre of the European Parliament The official opening was in 2011. The permanent exhibition contains hundreds of multimedia components, explaining the European Parliament and other European Union institutions. All content in the Parlamentarium is available in the 24 official EU languages.

The European Parliament has three places of work – Brussels (Belgium), the city of Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and Strasbourg (France). Luxembourg is home to the administrative offices (the “General Secretariat”). Meetings of the whole Parliament (“plenary sessions”) take place in Strasbourg and in Brussels. Committee meetings are held in Brussels.

Madrid, twice in a year

Taking advantage of the fact that Ricardo was doing ERASMUS in Murcia, we both went to Madrid for a weekend. I was also there a few months before, briefly.

 

Facts about the city:

The famous Real Madrid Football Club was founded in the year 1902 and is the world’s most successful and richest football club of the 20th century. Real Madrid has a record for the most victories in a row, i.e., five for having won the competition Champions League from 1956 to 1960.

Madrid’s flag symbol is a bear on its hind legs eating berries. This symbol is significantly a metaphor of Madrid’s growth and progress, also represents possession of the wood used to construct buildings. These two emblematic figures also represent the official Coat of Arms of Madrid.

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The first time I went to Madrid, I took a train to Murcia to visit Ricardo. I went with Catia, the sister of a girl who was staying with him. As we had some free time, we were able to take a walk around the main points of the city, such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.

The Puerta del Sol is a public square, one of the best known and busiest places in the city. The square contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year.

The Plaza Mayor is located only a few Spanish blocks away from Puerta del Sol. The Plaza Mayor is rectangular in shape, surrounded by three-story residential buildings having 237 balconies facing the Plaza. The Casa de la Panadería, serving municipal and cultural functions, dominates the Plaza Mayor.

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The second time I was in Madrid was at the end of Ricardo’s Erasmus. I went to meet him in Madrid and I got to know the city better this time around.

We stayed at the hotel Hostal Alistana and I remember we did not like it because we heard the rain knocking on the window and it made a lot of noise and we could not fall asleep. The hotel is located in Hortaleza, 28 2º, 01.Centro Madrid and we paid 54€ for two nights, so 13,50€ per person per night.

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We visited the Royal Palace, which is very nice inside. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but it is only used for state ceremonies. King Felipe VI and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palace of Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid. It is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area.

We were in Madrid the day that someone important died (I cannot remember who) and there was a funeral with ceremonies in the palace. I also remember that we went to a zone of narrow streets full of bars and we ate at 100 montaditos.  We also went to see the Catedral de Almudena, right next to the Royal Palace.

Close to the Royal Palace, there’s also the Temple of Debod. The shrine was originally erected in Egypt, in the early 2nd century BC. In 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the consequent threat posed by its reservoir to numerous monuments and archaeological sites, UNESCO made an international call to save this rich historical legacy. As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.

The temple was rebuilt in one of Madrid’s parks, the Parque del Oeste, and opened to the public in 1972.

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In addition to the points that I had previously visited, we visited Parque del Retiro. This is a large and popular 1.4 km2 park at the edge of the city center, very close to the Puerta de Alcalá, Plaza de Cibeles (this square and its fountain have become symbolic monuments of the city) and not far from the Prado Museum. Retiro is a magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake, and a host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid’s premier attractions.

We visited Mercado San Miguel. This is a covered gourmet tapas market built in 1916, with over 30 different vendors selling a wide variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods and other foods.

Finally, strolled around the Gran Vía. Gran Vía is an ornate and upscale shopping street and it is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe. It is known as the street that never sleeps. The street is also noted for the grand architecture of many of the buildings, like the Metropolis building.