Conclusion

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Last post of my Portugal series

I arrived in Lisbon late in the evening to spend the night and catch my flight early next morning. I woke up before the sun and booked an Uber for the airport. Diego, the driver was warm and welcoming, and we had a little chat on our way. He asked me about my travels and whether or not if I liked the place. I enquired about him and his life. Apparently, he wasn’t very happy with his life. He had to work 2 jobs and said its a normal thing for people in Portugal. He had to drive the cab for 12-13 hours when he wasn’t working on the other job. It was not possible for him to pay rent with just one job. Like some other Portuguese, he complained about the taxes and corruption. However, he held high praise for the new prime minister but was concerned that others in the ministry won’t let him last long. According to him, Portugal is a very nice place for tourists, with beach, sun, sea, food, everything nice. But for locals, they have to pay even when they are sick. “You cannot be sick for long in Portugal, if you’re sick for long, you die..”. The wildfire in the summer could also have been controlled, but the government officials were bribed and no adequate steps were taken to prevent the fire. The officials didn’t care because none of the dead were their families.

He complained about a few more things till we arrived at the airport. I think he just needed someone to talk to and express his disappointment. The sun had already come out by this time. I thanked him, hugged him, and said goodbye and walked into the check-in to board my flight for one final time in Lisbon.


It has been an amazing one month spent in Portugal. I met a lot of fantastic people, crazy ones, experienced great things, had eventful times, seen some unreal places.

I am also thankful to the Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe for funding a part of the travel through their grant. It’s a wonderful initiative to encourage young people to travel.

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Till next time, Adeus Portugal!!

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Algarve: Sun, Sea & Shore

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My flight from Porto reached late in the evening to Faro, and it was almost midnight by the time I checked in the hostel. Faro is a city in the southern region of Algarve. The weather was definitely a lot warmer in the south compared to Porto. The region is blessed with beautiful coastline and astonishing grottos. This was to be my last destination, before heading back to Luxembourg and I wanted to make the most of my time there.

Benagil
Located an hour’s drive from Faro is a small town of Benagil. I left early for the place since the buses going there are limited. Deboarding at a town called Lagoa, some 5-8 kilometers from Benagil, I had to take a taxi there. If someone’s planning to go there, I must inform there are only 2 buses, one each in the morning and evening from Lagoa to Benagil. So an alternative option is either a taxi or by car. Since I don’t drive my mobility is challenged and had to depend on a public conveyance. On reaching the place, I booked a tour to the caves, with a dozen other people. Being an offseason the guy manning the wobbly boat showed us around and explained in depth. This was one of the highlights of my visit, the place is absolutely picturesque and one of these caves makes it to the list of the most beautiful sea caves in the world.

 

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Benagil Sea Cave, Algarve, Portugal

These caves hid small beaches inside them, most of the beaches were accessible only by waters. One in particular called, Carvalho beach is accessed only by a small tunnel. the story has it, that it was by an ex-chief of the Portuguese Navy, Captain Carvalho before the government amended the laws prohibiting people to own the beaches. Now all the beaches in Portugal are free to the public. There is a lighthouse on the rocks above the beach.

Our captain, guy rowing the boat was a funny person. He made us imagine the shapes of the rocks as pictures and figures of people, animals, and things. I also noticed these guys from the company, had tattoos of the sea and things from the sea. One of them had the sardines (the fish), some had shells, other had boats. It made me ponder how important the sea has been to them. In one way or the other, if we see, they get their livelihood from the sea. Maybe most of them had been born here and they know the sea inside out.

After one and half hour of rowing in the waters, passing through the caves, we were back on the shore. The whole area around is such that it’s all rocks high above the sea and these grottos were formed in these rocks over the time. One can go hiking along the shore on the rocks. The trail is almost 11 kilometers long and the map says might take more than 6 hours to finish. But personally, I would recommend it since while hiking you’re witnessed to some amazing views of the expansive ocean and small pretty beaches. While hiking, I was walking through all the ups and downs in the rocks, the sun was out and at times, I could just sit at the edge and hear the sound of the sea hitting the rocks with pleasant winds on my face.

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Beach with shells

I think its one of those places, where one can find peace.

After an eventful and tiring day, I returned to Faro and had a peaceful sleep.

Faro
The next morning I check out of the hostel and had the whole day to myself as my bus to Lagos was in the evening. I utilized this time to see the city (I don’t even know, if the city is the right word to describe the place, it’s smaller). The old town is small and beautiful. The pleasant sun added to the experience. Being a bank holiday, some of the places were inaccessible.

I was particularly impressed by a small island by the name of “Ilha Deserta”, or Desert island reached by a 25-minute boat ride. In one of my previous posts, I have expressed my liking for the Portuguese word Ilha and its usage. This island a small kind of abandoned place with arid vegetation, and desert-like sand. with a small beach and a fancy restaurant. The cape of the island is the southernmost point of continental Portugal. There is a hiking trail, which sees you through the whole island pretty much. The ocean looked greenish blue and was glittering in the sun. I just sat there beside the ocean soaking the warmth of the sun for hours. It felt nice to just see the time going by and pondering over things. Once in a while, it’s nice to pause and reflect. This was one of those places where you would like to do that.

 

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Cabo de Santa Maria, southernmost point of continental Portugal

 

After spending some relaxing and lazy hours in the sun of Ilha Deserta, I boarded my bus to Lagos in the evening.

Lagos
Lagos was supposedly my last destination before spending a night at Lisbon for my flight back next morning. I had also planned to spend the New Year’s eve here in Lagos. This is not one of most preferred destinations for a New Year’s party. A small town close to the sea is summer destination, mostly for the Brits. I noticed people here spoke more English compared to other parts of Portugal. The restaurants and bars had advertisement boards at the door with quote “English Breakfast available here”. I was later informed that sometime in the past, the Britishers used the southern coast of Portugal for trade and now a lot of them have their summer houses here. In fact, my hostel owner was from Kent, UK. So, I arrived late at the hostel and went for a walk looking for dinner. It was quiet, cold and empty. Finally, I dined at an Asian restaurant and retired to bed, I was a bit tired honestly.

Next morning was the 31st of December, and the city was preparing to welcome the new year. The central square was being decorated, the technicians were testing the equipment, playing music occasionally. It was bright and sunny, people were out on the streets. I went hiking around the coastline, trailing away from the city. The clouds hid the sun occasionally and the breeze from the sea grew stronger. The high uneven rocks above the sea made a good pondering place. I sat on one of these rocks for a while feeling the breeze and watching the waves smashing on the rocks. “We should all be like waves, persistent”, was the thought that came to my mind. The landscape here was a bit similar to that of Benagil, only the rocks were higher, uneven and the city or civilization was closer. It started to get a bit cold after a while and I made my way back. On the way, I saw many of these small villas or fancy houses, which looked like a summer house. The billboards also advertised the sale of many such houses. It sure looked to me that this place might be holiday homes. I had spent my whole day hiking and the sun was setting now and people were preparing for the party. My plan was to return to the hostel, have dinner, freshen up a bit and head out to the party.

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I met few other guys at the hostel after dinner we made a small preparty with lots of drinks and games. We could hear the music already, meaning the bands have started performing on the stage. “You guys gonna love it, there are a lot of girls there. A boy band is in town”, the owner of the hostel said it. We were informed that one of the bars is having a beer pong competition, the beer is cheap and the winner gets 20L of tap beer =D. Our preparty moved the bar, dingy loud and packed. We went into the competition but were eliminated more sooner than expected.

“We should all be like waves, persistent”

After the drinks, we headed to the central square, and it was already full. A boy band, called D.A.M.A were performing. The people in the crowd seemed either too young or too old. There were indeed a lot of girls but all very young. The music went on until midnight and then people headed to the coast, few meters away. When the clock hit midnight, the fireworks started from the other side of the sea. It wasn’t far, there was a yacht parking space like water body between us and the fireworks. The light show went on continuously for 10 mins and it looked really good, actually better than I expected.

 

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New Year’s

After the fireworks people rushed back to the stage, for some more music. There were many DJs taking turns to play and it more like pop music or Mundial music or global music. I fought my way through to the front, just next to the stage and danced crazy and funny for a long time =D. After few hours, they had to close the central square and we rushed back to the bars and clubs. Some of the bars there were doing the 24-hour challenge was were supposed to keep open for the whole of 24-hours. I spent the rest of my evening in a bar playing live music, it was a small and cozy kind of bar with fewer people.

Few hours before the sunrise, I returned to the hostel to catch some sleep, before leaving for Lisbon. The first day of the New Year was bright, sunny and soothing. Woke up, had shower, breakfast, checked out and headed to the bus station only to realize the next bus to Lisbon is in the afternoon. Being a public holiday, the frequency of buses is low. So I just sat on one of the benches along the sea, basking in the sun and passed the rest of my time reading and thinking about what has been one amazing trip.

Soon it was time to leave, the engine of the bus started with a rattles and it moved towards Lisbon.

 

 

Party like Porto

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I would like to start with an apology for not being able to update the blog as frequent as I should. To restart from where I last left, I flew down to Porto from the Azores.

The weather was wet and I was greeted with rain in the city. Though being the festive season, like Lisbon, it was all lit up and decorated with Christmas lights. The city is well connected with the public transport. I used an awesome map, Use-IT, to find my way through the city. It was very convenient and I strongly recommend it.

Porto or Oporto
The Portuguese word is Porto but some tales say that the language requires adding a kind of an article before the name. Back in the days when the Brits came to Portugal, they couldn’t differentiate the article from the name and started using Oporto instead of Porto. Hence, the English word for the city is Oporto and the Portuguese version is Porto. Interestingly, the airport here also has the code OPO. Funnily, the auto correct in the notebook too suggests Oporto =D

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Porto and Lisbon being two big cities in the country share a friendly rivalry. I have had different opinions from people stating either one as better.
“Porto is a great place to party, you can go crazy there”
I will reserve my opinion to myself here. My love is equally divided for both, also I’m bad at lying 😀

“Porto is a great place to party, you can go crazy there”

The atmosphere in the city definitely was very lively and my hostel was full and alive. I befriended particularly two girls from Uruguay, whom I shared the dorm with. “You are Santiago, that’s your Latin name.”
We got along well and towards the end of my stay, they had given me a Latino name.

Super Bock vs Sagres
Port Wine comes from Porto, and it’s sweet and delicious. Some say its a dessert wine and can be dangerous because you can get drunk very soon without realizing (and that’s pretty much what happened to me there!). Super Bock is the beer in Porto, brewed locally, distributed globally. The other famous Portuguese beer, Sagres comes from Lisbon.
“Eu Quero tres finos, Por favor”, and we had three super bocks served on our table. Apparently, “fino” is the local word for beer as opposed to “Imperial” in Lisbon.
So, Fino=SuperBock, Imperial=Sagres!! Don’t use Imperial in Porto, if you want Sagres, specifically ask for it. Similarly, no fino in Lisbon.

“Eu Quero tres finos, Por favor”

IMG_2736Apart from the drinks, the food in Porto is delicious, Francesinha (special ham sandwich with special sauce), in particular, is the specialty of the region. It very filling and was my go-to food, especially while roaming in the city. Add SuperBock to it and you have a delightful combination. In addition, they have great Bifanas and Rissoles, a fried dumpling. One of these days, I had a very vegan meal, in an all vegan restaurant. I’d like to mention it because it was tasty, the atmosphere was nice and the place was new. People aren’t aware of its existence yet. So, if you’re in Porto and interested in some vegan delicacies. head out to Arvore do Mundo.

The geographical location of Porto allows one to travel to adjacent cities of Braga, Guimarães, Coimbra, and Aveiro for a day trip. The weather didn’t permit to visit all these places but I did go to Braga and Guimarães see an old friend. It felt good catching up after years and we shared a lot of laughter and stories. I filled him up on my travels around Portugal and narrated all my experiences, the local culture, words, slangs, accents I have picked up through the course of my travel. “Shameek, you know everything, you’re fit to be a Portuguese now”, I was so happy to hear that. My “Feeling Accomplished” Facebook moment :D. This was his reaction when I ordered beer using the word “fino”, and yes, they use it in Braga too.

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Portugal was born here

Braga is small town north of Porto, quiet and peaceful. It’s famous for its 17 flight church surrounded by gardens and greenery. “Braga is a place locals live, Porto is where they work. It’s relatively small and has everything one needs, a perfect place away from the city still close to the city”, according to my friend. After spending a few hours in Braga we drove to the historic town of Guimarães. Historical for some reason, they say “Portugal was born here”. The place has a big famous castle and old small center, with nice coffee houses and bars. Since it was an off tourist season, there weren’t as many people and it looked even better.

 

 

Lello
The Livaria Lello or the Lello bookstore is another famous one. I love this country, full of amazing bookstores. Lello is loosely called the “Harry Potter Bookstore”, and for some reasons. This place thrives on Potter. Apparently, back in the days, JK Rowling had spent some time in Porto and used to in the bookstore spending her day. There are beautiful staircases in the store, absolutely beautiful and they say these stairs inspired the Hogwarts staircases in the novels. The store has become so famous that they charge a 4€ ticket to enter it. Though if you buy a book, you get a discount of 4€ using the ticket but still. It was full of people, clicking pictures everywhere, it was impossible to buy a book there. Also, before entering the store, the tickets are sold at the adjacent shop and this shop has all the goodies from Potter. Coffee Mugs, t-shirts, notebooks, wands and everything, you name it they have it.

 

 

Apart from being modern, fashionable and stylish Porto is an old city and has a bit of history too. The Alminhas da Ponte Memorial, situated next to the river is a memorial for souls passed away in a tragic incident. The legend has it that Porto and Gaia were connected by a bridge, made of boats and tied together with ropes. Napolean’s army marched into the city and the bridge collapsed unable to handle the weight of people. Almost 4000 people drowned and it is the largest disaster in the history of Portugal.

There are a group of narrow alleys, in one corner of the city, Rua Central do Bairro Herculano, and one might find clothes drying overhead in these alleys. In the 1900s during the Industrial Revolution, almost 35% of the population lived here, stuffed in these narrow lanes. I have developed a special liking for the Portuguese word, “Ilha”, which means islands. That’s how this area was called, (or still called?!). Ilha is also used to describe personalities and human behaviors. The Portuguese Center for Photography has a whole section dedicated to “Ilha” with captivating pictures. One other reason I was impressed with the center was that it was a prison long ago and now its turned into a photo museums kinds.

 

Porto is one of those cities, that makes you feel alive. It has been one special experience, and more special that I got my first tattoo here XD. Now I bid goodbye to Porto and head to my next destination, Faro.

 

The Lady from Lahore – a short story.

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I met a lady from Lahore there. She was visiting her son, he studies in Amsterdam.

I met them at a coffee shop. Coffee shops in Amsterdam are not to be confused with cafe.

A cafe serves coffee and bagel and breakfast and croissant.

A coffee shop is a place you go to get marijuana and other stuff.

The son, Arslan was teaching his mom how to smoke weed XD

I told her that she might be the coolest mom ever. They clicked a picture together and uploaded it with this caption XD

Amsterdam is so full of happy stories, I love the city.

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Being from India, we have a sense that Pakistan is a closed and reserved society. I was pleasantly surprised rather delighted to meet this lady. She mentioned, that she had relatives in Delhi used to visit before the visa norms. I parted by inviting her to Delhi and requested to visit me next time when she’s in town.

 

 

 

 

The Girl with the Blue Glasses

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“Excuse me!! I suppose that’s my seat”

“Oh! I’m sorry. I’m just looking for my glasses, I kept it here, next to the window”

“How does it look like?”

“Nerdy and blue”

“Is it that one? Next to the scarf on the upper berth”

“Ah! Yes. Thank you!! I’m Ayesha by the way”

“Shameek! Nice to meet you”

“The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, sounds like an interesting book you’re reading”

“Yeah, I like travel stories”

“Do you travel a lot too?”

“My mom says, I live in the trains”

“Haha! I would never want to live on trains. Trains in India run late”

“There are more than 11000 trains starting each day in India, managing such an organization is no joke”

“Still, that’s not an excuse for being late”

Sir, Ma’am, would you like to have some warm soup?

“Yes, please”

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“Its delicious, at least the food in the trains is not so bad after all”

“Around 25 million people travel everyday, some are there for the food, you never know”

“WHAT?! That’s almost like the population of Australia”

“Could well be, though I don’t know much about Australia. But do you know Indian Railways is the world’s largest with a network of 117000 kms”

“How do you know all these things?”

“My dad worked for the railways, I grew up with trains all around me”

“Is that why you live in them now?”

*Both chuckle*

“I like traveling in trains. I’ve been on the trains at the highest of mountains all covered in green, passing through the waterfalls, in the deserts, on the coasts, bridges, rivers flowing beneath, through the tea gardens, mustard field, remote villages, all on the train. I have seen a lot because of the trains”

“Wow! That’s sounds beautiful. We are halted for quite sometime now. What station is this btw?”

“Its too dark outside, I cannot read the nameplate”

“Looks like a good place for a midnight tea. Wanna join?”

“Sure, lets go”

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“Its quite late, there aren’t many people on the platform”

“You see these platforms, they all have stories to tell. People you see there, some tired, of their journey, some anxious, some happy, some sad, some impatient, some have their ears glue to the announcement speakers, the hawkers are busying selling, the coolies waiting for passengers to carry their luggage”

“Never looked at the platforms this way, till you said it. You really love trains, don’t you?”

*Amused*

“Haha!! I guess so”

“The train is about of start, the engine is already whistling, we should get in”

“Yes”

“I’m a bit tired, I guess I’ll sleep now. Good Night”

“Good Night”

*Few hours later*

“Hey, someone’s up early”

“Yes, I like to rise before the sun” *wink*

“What?” *cackle*

“Look at this picture, I clicked it this morning”

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“Oh! That’s super nice”

“Watching the sunrise makes me cheerful”

“How far are we from our destination?”

“Few more hours”

“Oh! Look we are on top of the river, on the bridge”

“Yes, look how the river is shining in the bright sunlight”

“And there’s a road above the train track. I have been to such roads many a times, always wondered how the train track below looks like. I will get down and have a look at it”

“But be careful, you don’t want the train to leave you behind”

“Don’t worry, I’ll hop on before it whistles”

“Alright”

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*Train whistles*

“We’re moving again, I hope we don’t halt anymore”

“We’re almost there”

*Sometime later*

“Is this the railway station?”

“This is the yard, that’s what they call it, it just outside the main station. They prepare the trains here for their next journey. Do you see the overhead bridge in the far horizon there?”

“The one with lots of people?!”

“Yes, that’s the main railway station”

“Its super huge”

“..and very old too”

 

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“So is this it?”

“Yes, here we are, final destination”

“It was really nice to meet you, lets keep in touch. Bye Bye.”

“Sure, Good Bye.”