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.

2017_090322_3319_270

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.

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

Capture.JPG

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.

Capture

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!

Advertisements

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!

carlsberg-draught

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.

Capture

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.

 

Capture.JPG

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.

 

Capture

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.

1280px-Christiania_indgang_20140414_3_13956521506.jpg

 

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.

 

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

 

Capture

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.

Capture

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!

amsterdam-bicycles

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.

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

Capture

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

the-famous-night-watch

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.

Capture

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).

 

Capture

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.

Capture

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.

Capture.JPG

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.

Capture

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.