Exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle by car

Percorrer o Circulo Dourado na Islândia de carro

Visiting Iceland is a dream for many people, and for several good reasons. Mostly for those breathtaking and almost unspoiled views. But not only because of that, also all that mysticism that Iceland brings in us for all of those unique natural activities, that for most of us can only fit in our imagination. Like volcanos, northern lights and the midnight sun. Even for those who only have a few days to visit, the Golden Circle is a short route really close to the capital, and easy to visit. Continue reading “Exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle by car”

Visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi horror camps

This week I finally ticked off another one of my Erasmus’ goals, visiting Auschwitz!

If you are expecting something extremely depressing (though that would be just really odd), I highly recommend you to visit these camps during Winter, as in Spring most likely only the museum and stories will shock you. To be honest, I felt like the place is a bit too “tourist oriented“. All trees are perfectly shaped, the grass is perfectly cut and everything looks in great condition. I even saw people eating on the grass like if they were having a picnic… Very disrespectful from my point of view though…

Continue reading “Visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi horror camps”

How I had five amazing days in Istanbul

After a few tries, I finally ended up visiting Istanbul! A few misadventures prior to that and unforeseen changes of plans that lead to cancel the trip once, this time I flew alone and I ended up having a memorable time in this ancient city! So memorable that I decided to split this article by days.

First Day

Going to the airport…, hop into the bus early at 6 in the morning, and queueing to check-in…, again… Once at the check-in desk, the lady asks how to pronounce my surname – Sousa – which made me laugh immediately, and I say it out loud “It is Sousa, not Susa“. The lady from the next desk starts laughing uncontrollably once I say that. In greek, lowercase “Y” is represented by a symbol that resembles “u”, and the combination OY is equivalent to the sound U, “Susa” in greek means popping a wheelie.

Not long until reaching Istanbul from Athens, and right on international soil I tried to pass the boarder, which I learnt that I need to pay visa…, I assumed that all EU citizens could get in freely, considering I knew greeks and even french people friends of mine who just visited Istanbul without any visa, but back then I had to pay 15€. No questions ask, I just paid and that was it. Once I passed the passport control, I did my first money withdraw in that new currency, and I headed towards the city center by metro. I had to wander around for a while since my couchsurfing host couldn’t meet with me until only after lunch.

The tram trip was something, I never imagined I would meet so many nice people, actually, I think I never did! One old man, who couldn’t even speak a word in english, started a chat with me (I speak absolutely no Turkish). He was trying to figure out where I am from and trying to help me with my stop. The guy sitting next to me saw my face of desperation, and he helped with the translations, plus a few other tips. First hours in that amazing city, and that was the reception I got! I couldn’t be better impressed!

I got out in Sultan Ahmen, I went for a walk to visit the mosque and the nearby area… I had to pay to drop evidences…, and there were people everywhere trying to sell me water. It seems every country have those annoying sellers with a particular characteristic. In Portugal we have the quéfrô (I won’t even explain this), in Greece the vérynaíce and apparently in Istanbul they have the su (which means water in Turkish). The area is really pleasant and totally different from what I was expecting, and for better! The park was what surprised me the most, I was not expecting to find Istanbul as such a green city, mostly right after coming from 6 months living in Athens…

After a few hours wandering in the European side, it was time to cross the canal and set foot for the first time in Asia! As a matter of a fact, the first time I left Europe! Does this even count? That’s when I met my host and the couch where I would stay for the following days, and then a shower before scratching one of my Istambul ToDo Items! Play backgammon and smoke narghile with a Turkish person! A friend of his also joined us for the very pleasant afternoon. Unsurprisingly, I won the first match! Though, I am pretty sure he did let me win…

While we were playing and smoking, a street food seller came by with oysters with rice. That’s just delicious! Street food is definitely the best thing ever! After that we went to Taksim for a walk, SO MANY PEOPLE!!! The area is really pleasant, filled with bars, restaurants and a few pubs. Loads of people outside, which reminded me of home, like a night of Santos Populares, the most known street party in Lisbon and in Portugal.

And to end such an amazing day, my host took to to a roof restaurant, if I am not mistaken, that’s even the name of the restaurant itself, where we dine with the view to the Golden Horn! What a view! Once back home we kept talking, I was absolutely wrecked but still really eager to keep talking like if he was a flat mate. Yes, like a flat mate, that’s how comfortable I felt with such a welcoming day in Istanbul!

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

Second Day

There’s no better way to start a day than with a brunch! My host invited me for a brunch at one of his friends’ place, whom also treated me the same way like he did, like an old friend. Two hours eating, chatting and trying all those Turkish delicacies, the first time I had tea at breakfast, which I really did like and it is something to repeat.

Back to the ferry and back to Europe, or at least the European side of the city. It’s amazing how easy it is to cross from Europe to Asia and vice-versa 😛 We went to the Spices Bazaar, where I took several photos to all those stalls filled with spices, colors and smells of the Oriente. I fell in love with that place! Next to the Spices Bazaar there is a really nice park, maybe a bit also too European style, that totally fascinated me, mostly because of what they were selling there! Leeches!! And in that same park we ended up drinking another Turkish Coffee and play a bit more backgammon 🙂 I play like in slow motion for Turkish standards, but who cares? I am Portuguese, not Turkish 😀 And the rest of the day? Loads of “shots” of tea! Oddly it seems to refresh more than cold water…

How I had five amazing days in Istanbul
How I had five amazing days in Istanbul

We went back to the avenue that starts in Taksim and goes to the Tower, though this time during the day, and again, filled with people! It seems that that Avenue never sleeps! And the fact that cars are not allowed, it makes it even scarier by the quantity of people who passes there. I am not much into crowded places, but I have to admit I did like that atmosphere. We had a late lunch (or early dinner) in one of the restaurants by the University, or is it a school? I am not much into meat, but that was exactly what I ended up eating, when I travel I always make an effort to try the local flavors…, it was nice, but I still prefer other things 🙂

After dinner we went back “home” again, and while my host went to practice some sports I stayed with his friends at the place were we had the brunch, probably more than one hour always chatting with them. And to end the day in a great way again, we went to the park by the sea to drink beers and more chats! We talked about everything, I reckon we stayed there for over two hours, and to finalize it, we went for an ice cream to a place nearby. Probably one of the best ice creams I have ever had! The ice scoops dropped into hot chocolate, which solidified instantly. Simply perfect!

Third Day

Visit to the Historical Peninsula, again…, but way more paced! I went back to the park I been to on the first day, but instead of just crossing it, I explored it a bit further and I noticed how “prepared” the local culture is…, Istanbul is an amazing mix of religions and cultures, no one cares about what the other is wearing, burkas or tops, everyone minds their own business. At the park you can find really cute and romantic corners, perfect for couples to date with a bit more privacy (but not too much). It is really a cosy park.

I went back to the Blue Mosque, and this time I actually got in. I had to take my shoes off and what I saw inside totally amazed me. Nothing alike what the catholic religion got me used to, inside kids were playing, people were taking photos and talking freely, though there is still a segregation for praying. Women and men are apart, and there silence is requested. A sacred place  where you don’t feel tied to religion, but where the same religion also constraints you. A bit like an oxymoron, no?

I get out of the Blue Mosque straight to the Historical Bazaar, right next to the Mosque. There I bought some tobacco for my narghile, orange flavor! Let’s see if it is any good…, the odd moment of the day was the fact that more than one guy offered to clean my shoes… for free! I bet they looked really dirty…

Since I was still in the Historical Peninsula, why not trying to get lost? I opened my map, I saw some kind of a draw, and I headed towards that place without looking at the map again! I passed by a graveyard where supposedly is buried some sultan, which I didn’t find, and then I kept walking towards that draw I saw until I stumble with the Grand Bazaar! Another amazing Bazaar! Though this one seems to be very tourist-oriented, but still amazing. I walked, walked and I kept walking, though I didn’t buy anything… I am not a tourist, I am a visitor 🙂 And from the Grand Bazaar I went back to the Spices Bazaar. I have no idea how I got there…

Since I was enjoying my time, I thought I could do something cool to please my host as a way to thank him for the amazing experience. I remembered that the day before he wanted to buy a watermelon for me, so i did it for me 🙂 Though, when he got home he said “Gil, I have some fruits for dinner“, to which I replied with a bit smile and a “Me too…, check in the kitchen…“, he went back to the living room really pleased by that! Something so simple, though very personal. And that’s why I love couchsurfing, you don’t need to buy something expensive, instead something personal works way better.

But the day wasn’t over…, we crossed the canal again towards Europe! And again on our way to Taksim, we stopped at a tiny food stand, so small that only had a table and three chairs! We ate what they described as “meatball without meat“, something REALLY spicy, but REALLY GOOD!!! Thank you Ozan for this! And as a beverage I drunk a juice of…, peppers our something alike…, interesting, but not that good… We had to wash down our throats with some beers afterwards 😀 Another rooftop bar (I really love rooftop bars…), with another amazing view! And to end the third night in a great way…, we went to a bar with gipsy music, great atmosphere! That was also the greek night, where something interesting and funny happened to me, one of their friends joined us and said “Geia sou fili” (hello friend, in greek), though my brain was already ready to not understand anything that I didn’t even considered that it could be greek, so I looked back at my hosts awaiting for a translation… which I shouldn’t need… And it was time to go back “home”…

Fourth Day

Something I forgot to mention about the third day, I wrote on Istanbul CS group if anyone wanted to join me to the islands next to Istanbul, and only a 46 years old woman replied. Though I changed my mind regarding that, only 5 days in Istanbul, why leaving the city to visit more islands? She still joined me for the day…

I went (again) to Taksim, and I waited for her about 45 minutes (gotta love punctuality), until she finally showed up. Since my plans were only to enjoy the city, we decided to cross the whole avenue and go to the Tower, in a very paced way. Then we would decide where to go. On the way we stopped for tea and for a chat, and after the tower another stop for a freshly squeezed juice (where she starts complaining that it was too expensive…).

We then went down to Karaköy, and while she went to an internet café, I tried to find a map for her in some tourist office. When we met again at the internet café, she was again complaining about the prices. Though this time I started to be annoyed, she KNEW beforehand what the price was, why did she complain again? To ease the moment I suggested to go to a bazaar of cafés (where I smoked narghile on my first day) to drink some tea or a Turkish coffee…, and again, she complains again about the prices. I was really starting to be fed up of her by then… From there we went to the Palace where Ataturk died, unfortunately we arrived right after closure time. We decided to stay in the area for another tea (I think my kidneys never worked that well before…), and again…… she complained! This time she had some reason, all waiters couldn’t speak english, and the café was next to the palace, a very touristy area. Though, if they don’t speak english…, why would one complain to THEM in ENGLISH???

I walked her to Takim where she would meet with her host, we drunk a beer and I went back to my host’s place! My host was tired, and I was tired of the company I had for the day, so we decided to stay at home!

A view over the canal
A view over the canal

Fifth Day

Last day in Istanbul…, and that was the day I realized I actually like to suffer…, I met again with the woman from the day before! At the Historical Peninsula! I went to Hagia Sophia from inside, a bit expensive (10€), but still quite interesting, and the local history is just amazing which fueled a bit more the pet-hate I have for the catholic church! Besides the way the destroyed the Parthenon in Athens, with Hagia Sophia the other religions proved to be way more respectful towards art from other people and religions.

Hagia Sophia was originally a Cristian Cathedral, you can find loads of references and art related to Our Lady, Christ and other Cristian symbols inside the church, however the muslims conquered the church (I am not sure about this part), and instead of destroying the symbols that are not related to their believes, like the Catholic Church did with the Parthenon, they kept it all! Is there a better way to show respect than this? Everything related to the catholic church that is more damaged is mostly due lack of preservation instead of destruction. It is amazing to be inside a catedral that resembles more like  a Mosque but that it has symbols from both religions! Amazing!

Then we went to the Castle, I was not much in the mood to get in at the time…, I was a bit hungry and I was not particularly curious to get it. She wasn’t either, so we decided to go for lunch. After lunch we visited the Basilica Cistern, A M A Z I N G!!!! Half the price of Hagia Sophia, though the surprising factor was twice as much! Something REALLY amazing! I highly recommend a visit, I can’t even describe it besides the obvious, an underground basilica! Flooded with water and FISH! Something really amazing!

After the Basilica Cistern, we went (again) to the park, where she started complaining again…, though this time I understood where all that rage was coming from. Her Turkish ex-boyfriend knew she would be there, and didn’t say anything to her. Apparently I was the perfect target as a punch bag…, it seems like my karma… We ended with an ice cream at the hill with a view to the Canal, and after that I went to Kadiköy to meet with my host and get ready for the night.

We had a light dinner, we bought some beer, and we went to the park by the sea. My third wish in Istanbul! CS Meeting! Amazing night, where I found out that my accent sounds absolutely like Russian, or at least when I get a bit more tipsy… unfortunately that night also meant that my visit was close to an end….

Back home, I said my goodbyes, and a few hours to nap before the very early wake up. I crossed the canal to the European side (my last crossing), and last moments to enjoy of both sides of Istanbul. Got the tram, passing through Sultanahmet, another last look at the Mosques that welcome all the visitors when they arrive. Arrived at the airport, where I met more Portuguese people, though they were unable to have a chat, besides asking how is the weather in Athens. I just politely dumped them and I tried to focus on how amazing those days were! What a trip!

Istanbul left a big mark in me! Amazing city!

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What did I pack for Disneyland Paris?

O que levei na mala para a Disneyland Paris?

This trip was completely different from all my other travels, it was the very first time I traveled alone with kids! I decided to treat my nephew and niece with a special weekend, they were only 5 and 8 when we did this trip. It was their first time at Disneyland Paris, and they had no clue about where I would take them 🙂

Regarding packing, the way I prepared it was quite simple, my sister-in-law took care of the kids’ luggage, and I did my part. Considering it was just a weekend, of course packing went quite smooth, with a few details…

Gadgets

  • iPhone

    What did I pack for Disneyland Paris?
    What did I pack for Disneyland Paris?
  • charger for the iPhone
  • power bank (I have the 6600mAh model, though I didn’t buy it on amazon)
  • phone holder for the car
  • Canon Powershot (the model I have isn’t available anymore, this is a more recent model)

Considering I live in Ireland, and I was traveling to France, try to guess what I forgot at home? Maybe a plug adapter? Yep, that was my fail… The good thing is that I had the power bank, which was enough for almost three charges, and the fact that I rented a car and it had USB socket, I could charge the phone while driving.

Regarding the camera, why a different and lower range one this time? What was the reason? Mostly to avoid distractions, after all, three days with two kids under my responsibility isn’t a joke. Then, also because I thought it would be a fun way to initiate my niece into photography, which I think it worked fairly well. Which also meant that I didn’t have to use the camera at all 🙂

Clothing, hygiene and extras

  • Lowe Alpine TT travel backpack
  • 2 small backpacks for the kids
  • a plastic bag for the dirty laundry
  • shampoo
  • conditioner (for her)
  • shower gel
  • tooth paste
  • 3 tooth brushes
  • 1 hair brush (for her)
  • 1 rain coat
  • 1 jacket
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of boots
  • winter shirt
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 3 boxers
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • book
  • Kids’ clothing:
    • one full set per day for each one of them
    • one extra set for each
    • 1 rain coat for each
    • 1 pair of boots for each

Even though it looks like a lot, it wasn’t. The spare set of clothes wasn’t needed, but we always carried it with us just in case we would get wet in some rollercoaster, though that didn’t happen. The same applies for the boots, the weather is always quite unpredictable, and with kids…

Of course there must be some kind of strategy when traveling with kids, so I left everything in the hotel that would only be used the following days, and with us we took a spare change of clothes (for them). The goal was not to let anything ruin the day, and thankfully everything went as smooth as possible 🙂

Basically everything went really well, a bit of overpacking on the kids side, and a power adaptar that stayed home…


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Some random facts about Greece

Some random facts about Greece

The article below is a translation of an old article about Greece that I have deep down inside my memories chest, considering it’s still one of my most viewed articles in Portuguese, I decided to translate it to English and share it with everyone! I tried to keep the same voice as the original version, in Portuguese, but some of these “facts” were mostly my perception of things when I was living there.


Some random facts about Greece

I think I will have a diabetic seizure soon, these traditions are killing me! Here in Greece it is tradition to give sweets to friends/work-mates when it’s someone’s birthday. Nothing strange to us, Portuguese people, because we do something alike…, and if we don’t bring anything to share, we all have that one friend who will force us to pay a few beers at any pub (preferably at an expensive one 😛 ) Well, considering this, the last two days we had 3 birthdays here at the office, which means, this is my third morning sweet :X

Another tradition around here, that I just got to hear about, is that when someone buys a new car that person also should give sweets to their friends/work-mates, so try to guess what I have here right now between my keyboard and belly? That it! What’s left of another morning sweet! This is my second one today…

Crystal clear waters in Skiathos
Crystal clear waters in Skiathos

Regarding the birthdays story, that’s something I still didn’t get properly, according to some touristic books, Greeks only commemorate their birthdays until their 12th birthday, but I’ve seen a few birthdays around here as well…, maybe just because yesterday I had two sweets as well :X And in theory, after their 12th birthday they only commemorate their “Name Day“. Almost all Greek names are based on some Saint (which has a day for them), and in that Saint’s day they commemorate something alike a birthday…, and just by coincidence, while I was writing this article another guy came up here with more sweets! I asked if it was his birthday, and his answer was “Name Day“, I will really become a diabetic if I stay here much longer… I am starting to think this is just an excuse for them to eat sweets for any random reason…

More random facts about Greece, not counting with their really complex and interesting history, but there are a few really odd things still today, one of them that comes from almost 2000 years ago…, the Mount Athos which I am eager to visit one day…, but not during this internship. Check the link that points to Mount Athos, that peninsula is “independent” for almost 2000 years, it survived wars, empires and even Governments…, all because this peninsula is ruled by the church! Alike Vaticano, but on a bigger scale…

From my perspective, this is really absurd and very closed minded, it is a peninsula restricted from women and female animals, but only the domestic kind. Yes, that’s right, women are RESTRICTED from that peninsula! How on Earth does this still happen on XXI century? And from the images I see online, it is a place of an amazing beauty…, at least they kept it unspoiled and they didn’t let it become another touristic place filled with hotels and resorts…

Breaking news -> I just got offered another sweet! This is my third one today, if I am not mistaken :X And this one is definitely a birthday sweet 😛

Some random facts about Greece
Some random facts about Greece

And proceeding with the random facts about Greece…

Another protected area is Hydra island, which I plan to visit one day, if I have better luck with the stupid boat tickets…, it is an island restricted from all motorized vehicles and with a very specific urban plan, all of this to keep the typical architecture of the island intact! You might find many things to complain about the greeks, but in regarding their heritage they know what they’re doing…

Monemvasia is another place like this, a town I am planning to visit in June’s long weekend. It is a medieval town, also restricted from all motorized vehicles, and again, to keep the town/isle intact!

However, you can also find terrible examples of how not to do things, like what they did in Athens… Between the Temple of Olympian Zeus and one of the most typical districts in Athens, of which it’s history and mythology are so tied up, they created a wide and busy avenue…, which means, the Temple and the historical district are split apart by a busy avenue…, this is the price of “process” when people don’t plan properly.

This weekend I will try to visit Meteora, I had other plans, but I guess I really will go to Meteora, I’ll try to book a bedroom today (but first I’ll make sure I can get the train tickets), and I think this time I will finally visit this place. This area, according to everybody, it is absolutely breathtaking…, whoever saw the movie 300 probably remember  that Monastery that was on the top of a cliff…, these monasteries exist, and they are all in Meteora!

Another curiosity, is how precise these old people did things, apparently there are three temples that form a perfect triangle, and they are quite far away from the other ones, being one of them in one island… How on Earth did they do this? Based on stars only? I already visited these three temples, Parthenon, Temple of Poseidon in Sounio and Temple of Aphaea in Egina (the first, and so far only, island I visited in Greece).

And I think it’s enough of random facts, it’s your turn now and come to Greece and explore it 🙂 Even if it seems they don’t care much about the tourism, they have loads of amazing things for you to see 🙂


Now some proper facts about Greece!

As the excerpt above was from a younger Gil, I decided to add a few more things to this article, and some proper facts about Greece that might be unknown to some.

Fact #1

The modern borders of Greece, as we know it today, only has 70 years! Less than a century! Yes, it’s more than known that greeks are the pillars of modern society, democracy, philosophy, arts and much more. We all heard about Ancient Greece, and how important that period was and how that affected, in a positive way, the rest of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. But, what probably you haven’t noticed yet, is that Greece is located in a very very strategic region. Several wanted that part of Europe, Venetians had part of today’s Greece, then Italians, also the Ottomans, Bulgarians, and other folks. The greeks suffered a lot across times, though their identify as a people prevailed.

Fact #2

Greece, for us is Greece, for them is Hellas! Confusing? I couldn’t find exact information of why this is so different, but for what I could understand it started with the Romans, they called the people living in the area that is now Greece the “Graeci”, while those people used to call themselves Hellenes. Maybe we all should start calling that country by Hellas?

Fact #3

Besides Greece and Cyprus, greek language is base for several dialects in Turkey and Italy, some even closer to Ancient Greek than Modern Greek!

Cats are everywhere in Hydra island
Cats are everywhere in Hydra island

Fact #4

The greek flag has 9 stripes, 5 blue and 4 white. According to popular saying, each strip is for one syllable of their motto, Freedom or Death (Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος), it’s also said that the nine strips are one for each letter of the word Freedom (Ελευθερία). The blue cross, I think than one it is easy to guess 🙂

Fact #5

Greek coffee, Turkish coffee, Arabic coffee. They are all the same. But don’t tell this to a greek, or a turk or an arab, most likely they won’t like it. But you should try and drink it! Don’t drink it as an espresso, let it settle down and take your time to drink it. And unless you want to hate that coffee for life, don’t drink the very last part of it… Just take your time to drink it, and all will be fine. Patience is the trick to drink this special coffee.

What did I pack for Iceland?

What did I pack for Iceland

This year was amazing, and at last I checked out of my bucket list one of my travel dreams, this trip to Iceland! No, I didn’t see the Northern Lights, at least not with my bare eyes… (more about this in another article). But it was a trip that taught me a lot about loads of things, even how to prepare a bag and the trip itself. This time, and I hate to admit this, but my packing didn’t go so well… It was the first time I traveled to a country known to be really cold (ICEland anyone?), and I knew very few about this country too, even though I researched a lot. And I ended up overpacking some items into my bag… So here’s the list.

Gadgets

Comparing with other lists I did…, I am starting to think I might have a problem regarding the amount of gadgets I take with me… Anyway, after all of this, I ended up using everything except the Travel Adaptor. Honestly, I don’t even know why I took it with me, considering I already had an USB adaptor for European power outlets, everything would work fine. Please note that Iceland uses the same power outlets as the rest of mainland Europe, if you’re coming from any of those countries you won’t need any adaptor. Regarding the batteries, if I had doubts about their need when I purchased them, now I am certain that it was a wise decision. When I tried to take photos of the Northern Lights I really had to use the spare battery I had, even though most of the photos are still crappy… But it was way better to have a spare battery than not even trying to take those photos. Regarding the SD cards, I only had to use an extra one for the GoPro, the spare ones I had for the Nikon I didn’t even had to take them out. But I was already counting on that, I just took them as a backup.

Clothing and hygiene (e extras)

Just by looking at this list it is obvious that I overpacked…, and yes, I over packed it. I had no idea how to pack a bag for a country known to be this cold, and I also didn’t know exactly what to expect. Waterfalls? Hikes? Snow? Rain? My biggest fear was ending up soaked without a change of clothes, and considering it didn’t make sense to plan laundry while traveling for just a week… I decided to be over prepared… but while for some things I was really well prepared, I failed in a few others.

Hey! Where are you going next little buddy? Is everything packed yet?

Uma foto publicada por Gil Sousa (@gfpsousa) a 

A pair of hiking pants that I didn’t even worn, socks? Three unused pairs… The idea was to wear double pairs of socks in case it was too cold. Oddly, the cold wasn’t as bad as I thought. Underwear? 1 extra pair of boxers, the idea was to wear them after snorkel, though I didn’t even get wet (for another article), so this pair wasn’t necessary. The same regarding the extra tshirt. Regarding swimming shorts and beach towel, the idea was to use it in case I went to any hot springs, which didn’t happen… What was lacking? A spare pair of gloves…, I ended up getting mine wet while I was waiting to get in the water for the snorkel, and a dry spare pair of gloves would be awesome…

So basically, this time I really overpacked. And considering I drove a lot, I actually didn’t need that much, it was just a matter of being careful not to get wet, and everything else would be fine. Considering I had no idea how the weather would be in Iceland, I ended up being over prepared… And regarding shoes, I highly recommend hiking boots, but some proper hiking boots. Normal boots won’t be enough, mostly with ice. A good pair of hiking boots will protect your ankle, I slid a few times and the terrain is a bit unstable in some trails. If you are planning to hike a bit, think about your own safety too. If your boots are really good, like mine are, you won’t need any other kind of shoes. In Iceland you’ll want to see Nature 🙂


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What did I pack for Iceland
What did I pack for Iceland

Edinburgh, the city of the dead

Edinburgh, the city of the dead

An adventure doesn’t have to be epic to be enjoyed, it doesn’t have to last for several months to have memorable stories to tell, and it doesn’t have to be shared with an old friend to feel absolutely comfortable. This trip to Scotland was one hell of a trip, filled with moments to remember and to try not to forget (this blog will certainly help to keep those memories alive).

This trip to Scotland was quite spontaneous, not much planned, but obviously Edinburgh had to be in the list of mandatory places to visit. We checked prices how to get there, and the capital of Scotland happened to be the cheapest option from Cork as well. The first thing we did was deciding where to stay, taking into account we would arrive by the end of the day, we decided to go with it. Then…, we only had to enjoy the city 🙂

Besides the touristic thingies, I had also a personal goal of what to do in Edinburgh, and that was to meet an old friend I met in Greece. One of those friends who visit us countless times, in Portugal, in Ireland, and that we are really pleased to see them again. This time was my time to pay him a visit, it was a very pleasurable “had to“! We didn’t have much time to spend together though, one coffee the day after I arrived, and another one before my departure back to Cork.

National Gallery of Scotland

Regarding the city, after breakfast we walked to the castle, where we ended up not getting in because we already had a tour booked and we assumed we would get inside the castle anyway. We wandered a bit through the historical center while we were waiting for out tour, so that we could also have an idea of what to expect.

Free tour through Edinburgh

At scheduled time we were at the meeting point, ready for our free tour! Our guide was really eloquent, he explained in detail some of the most important moments of Edinburgh’s history, which can be resumed to…, a lot of dead people… Science, mostly medical sciences, have a really obscure past, most of what is known nowadays was due some not so good practices… The way medicine is practiced nowadays is way different from what it used to be just 50 years ago, and unfortunately thanks to those bad practices and experiences that they did. In early XIX century, Edinburgh was considered the capital of medical studies, and a lot was discovered there, a lot was tried…, and a lot of dark things happened there too…

We were fed by real tales of stories that happen in the city, each stop a new story. One of those stories tells the last public execution in Edinburgh city, in 1864, of George Bryce. Our guide has the eloquence gift, sharing with us such an horrific story really made us tremble a bit, it is hard for me to image how killing someone was considered a kind of street performance, and this one went too far. By evilness or incompetence of the executioner, George instead of dying the moment the floor opens, he was suffering for over 40 minutes, because the length of the rope was badly calculated. Even the sadistic population thought that was too much.

But not all horror stories end badly, one good example is the famous story of Maggie Dickson (they even have a pub with that name), which was sentenced to death for killing her baby son, even though she always denied that and all the proofs were inconclusive, she ended up being hanged anyway. She was 30 minutes hanged, and according to the law, her body was then transferred to her town. On the way to her town, the cart driver who was moving her body heard some sounds coming from the back, he stopped to double check what was that sound, and Maggie was still alive! By then, this was considered as will of God, therefore they forgave her for the crime.Maggie lived 25 more years after her death

Being in Edinburgh, obviously we would have to have section of the tour just for Harry Potter. Why? Because J. K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh, and wrote the first book in that city, most of the characters’ names were inspired in local people, and even some popular buildings and alleys in the book were also inspired by some streets in Edinburgh. One of those places is Greyfriears Kirkyard Graveyard, which is right a school that also inpired JK to create Hogwart’s. We walked around the graveyard and we were pointed at some tombs, the names engraved in those tombs were used as characters of the book itself, some of them well known by those who read the books or saw the movies, like Lord Voldemort. But for me, the best part of the graveyard was a less known story, of a dog…

Greyfriars Bobby, another legend-dog though not as known as Hachiko, is another great example of loyalty and how dogs are indeed a man’s best friend. According to the tales, Bobby spent about 14 years, until his death, always laying on the top of his owner’s tomb. Bobby died with 16 years, which means that a 2 years dog got so attached to his owner that he spent almost all his life on the top of a tomb…, if this is not loyalty… It is another story of death and graveyards in Edinburgh, but this one filled with love. Some years ago I was by Hachiko’s statue, and this time I saw Bobby’s, a story that at that point was totally unknown to me. It is great to know that animals also have these kind of homages.

Regarding the free tours, there are two things you should know, first they are not entirely free, these people spend their time to prepare these stories, and they spend even more time to share them with us. They need to have really good people-skills, they need to know how to deal with different kind of people and to keep their customers always happy. In the end of the tour, we give them some symbolic amount of money for the work they did, and it is up to each one of us how much to give. Of course some people don’t give anything…, but well… Regarding this tour, I loved his sense of humor which reminded me a lot the Irish personality and the way they make fun of the English, the Scottish also have history with them, and they don’t lack jokes towards that. It was a really pleasant and interesting tour, filled with culture and humor.

After our tour, we went for another walk, to the National Gallery, where we spent a good while to enrich our soul with art 🙂 We saw art from some of really known artists, I guess we spent around two hours inside, and from there we went to the garden right next to the galleries to rest a bit. It was a really tiresome day, a lot of walking, and that was just the first day, more up to come 🙂

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Reviewing the hostels and B&B where I’ve stayed in Scotland

Once upon a time I used to surf couches, but now it seems like just another fairy tale… I still love the concept though, but nowadays I am more into hostels. Those times when I was hooked to couchsurfing, the main reason was the experience and contact I had with the hosts, never for the fact that was for free. However, my last experiences were way too impersonal, even as a host. Nowadays I prefer to pay, and take my chances, I might or might not meet people who I get along with, and to add to that, there is also less responsibilities, as I am not staying at someone’s house.

On what this trip regards, since we were two, the options were totally opened, for both B&Bs and hostels in Scotland, and initially, due to our lack of experience searching for a place to crash for more than one person, we ended up not finding the best options. But everything is a lesson.

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Pessegueiro Island, Portugal

Ilha do Pessegueiro, Portugal

This is a new series I decided to create, where I’ll present a few photos I took a while ago. Some more recent, some that I found deep inside my chest box while I checked old photo albums.

To start this new series, nothing better than my own country, that has so much to see! By the end of that road you can see an island, Pessegueiro Island, at the Alentejo’s coast. I took this photo in 2012 on my way to Algarve, by the coast, with my parents, nephew and niece. By then I was already living abroad, each time I go back to Portugal I look at my country from a different perspective, with more pride.

Ilha do Pessegueiro, Portugal
Pessegueiro Island, Portugal

This place, besides it’s natural beauty, it is also part of my childhood’s memories where I spent some short holidays several years ago, with my parents. I don’t remember much in detail, but I remember what I felt. When I wrote the article 5 places in Portugal I recommend to visit, I had this place in mind, and I’ll repeat what I said, this region should really be on your bucket list!

And before ending this article, here’s a song (in Portuguese) mentioning this island, which I listened to while I was writing this article 🙂

5 Epic Railway Routes in Europe

5 Epic Railway Routes in Europe

Some of the most famous railway routes cross entire continents, and for the majority of us time to enjoy properly such an epic trip isn’t easy to have. It isn’t easy to take a full month for holidays, and even though one only needs 7 days to cross Siberia, to enjoy it properly it’s better to take a few stops, and for that 7 days isn’t enough… We need time, always time.

A few years ago I made a dream come true, an Euro-interrail (article in Portuguese). It was my first solo trip which took 10 days on a trip from Germany to Portugal, it was a dream that ended up becoming a reality by chance. The return tickets to Portugal by airplane were way too expensive, much more than 10 days by train through Europe. The decision was easy to make.

This is my first infography (original in Portuguese), with a few suggestions of small train trips in Europe, and obviously with one route in my gorgeous country, Portugal

Europe - Railway Trips
Europe – Railway Trips

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2015 Review and 2016 Goals

2015 Review and 2016 Goals

Do traditions make any sense? Maybe some do, but in my opinion, the commemoration of the end of a year isn’t one of them, after all, that will depend on which calendar you use. In another words, it’s just a matter of perspective. However, sometimes those traditions branch into other new traditions, more local or even family traditions, and those then start to make some sense, either sentimental or by convenience.

For me, these reviews are one of those traditions that make sense, I started writing them a few years ago (article in Portuguese), and honestly I don’t even know why I started doing that, but it became a very interesting practice. Mostly after moving to Ireland and then stumble with this surprise while reading the goals I had for that year, which I accomplished even without be aware of that. It’s quite interesting to set goals and then just let life follow its way without making a big deal out of it, and then just looking back and realizing how great our year was after all, even better than we thought. These kind of reviews always boost my mood, I look into detail how bad or great the year was, and usually things are way more positive than I expected them to be.

2015 in Review

Obviously, I’ll take into consideration my 2014 goals, which were few but precise. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome!

Visit at least three new countries in 2015

Well, I’m not even sure where to start from…

This “travel year” started a bit late, but it was full of adventures nonetheless. In just one trip I passed through 5 new countries! Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia! One month later, I went to Scotland for the first time, and even though Scotland is (still) part of the United Kingdom, it is considered as a country (not independent). Goal achieved with distinction!

Become more active with the blog (for real)

I think this achievement is more than obvious as well! With exception for the period while I was on the road, I never missed any of my goals! The next article is regarding the blog and social platforms’ stats that are directly associated to the blog. But I guess that a total of 52 published articles, utill now, sprinkled between two languages, is a real proof that something went really well! Another goal achieved!

Paying attention to the stats and to my followers

My next article will get in more details regarding stats, but basically I worked quite hard so that I could increase the list of people that follow the blog, via twitter and Facebook, and also some other social networks where I invest some time. This was the hardest part, but also the most rewarding one, it’s possible to see in real time how the blog is doing, it was also with this background tasks where I learnt more during this year. Obviously I still have a lot to learn, and it is these background tasks that I want invest more during 2016.

And for last, an objective I added as a stretch goal.

For 2015 I also have a stretching goal, this one will be tough but hopefully I’ll do at least half of it! Ireland has an amazing tourism trail of 2500km, the Wild Atlantic Way. I plan to do this by bike in several different stages, maybe one weekend a month which would be about 200km a weekend… Yep, that’s just a stretching goal :)

And here it is! A massive fail! I didn’t even cycled one km of this route…, but this goal won’t be postponed either. It was just for fun, and even if it sounds like an interesting adventure to share, I won’t add as a goal to 2016.

Sun Clock
Sun Clock, Athens

2016 Goals

Now the hard part! Goals… I’ll start by the easiest one then.

Visit a new continent

Yes, this one is indeed the easiest to achieve, considering I already have those flights booked, I only need to board and arrive safe and sound 🙂

Start a new series of articles

My main goal for 2016, for the blog, is to create a stronger network of followers, and in mid 2016 I would like to start inviting people to write articles for my blog, expand my contacts and introduce other bloggers to those that follow me.

Targeting the Portuguese speakers as potential followers

During 2015 I expanded, a lot, my list of followers on Twitter and Facebook, but since I decided to invest more time with writing in Portuguese, it makes also more sense to target those that in fact read the majority of my articles. So, for 2016, I want to get more people to read my articles and understand them 🙂

Stretching Goal: More articles per month

Adventures are never outdated, but due the huge amount of articles I have in queue to write, I am already publishing articles a few months behind. Even though I managed to keep the rate of published articles, that was a goal for 2015, I want to start sharing more recent articles. Therefore, after my 2016’s big trip, I’ll invest way more time to write articles, and hopefully increase the rate of published articles to one per week. And in order I can do this, I’ll need some time to write articles, so I foresee that I can only start sharing more articles after June or July. Anyway, here’s the stretch goal 🙂

And I guess this sums up everything, 2015 was an excelente year for the blog, 2016 looks bright as well  packed with new adventures to share, so that’s what I hope for 🙂


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2015 Review and 2016 Goals

My route through the Balkans

My route through the Balkans

Being back from an adventure through some of the Balkan countries, it’s time to start writing about it. My first article of this series is about the route I took from Zagreb to Athens, the places I passed through and the reasons why.

Croatia

The decision to pass by Croatia was quite easy, I flew to Zagreb to meet with a friend from there, and that was my plan. She’s from there, so she knows better what to visit, being my first time there, anything would be new and interesting to me . I didn’t spend enough time in Zagreb though, our destination was the Dalmatian coast, mostly Šibenik area. We went several times to the beach, actually our house was literally across the road from the sea, and it wasn’t busy at all. We also went to Krka National Park for a day trip, just amazing 🙂

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Going to Bosnia was a mix of a “mistake” and “will“. Part of my plans was to go to Mostar for its famous bridge, however the real reason why I decided by Bosnia was due the cultural impact I was expecting to face, which indeed surprised me a lot. I still don’t know if it was a mistake not passing through Sarajevo, a lot of people tell me I should have included it in my plans… but just Mostar is a great place to visit, totally worth it, beautiful and full of history.

Montenegro

Of all the countries I passed through during this trip, this one was the one that I actually felt like visiting it and also the one I enjoyed it the most. Even though they are not part of European Union, the currency they actually use euros, a very cleaver way to avoid dealing with currency drops in case of a national crisis. In a few days I visited several national parks, in a so small country, and I spent most of my time in the charming town of Kotor.

Rota pelos Balcãs
Rota pelos Balcãs

Albania

Albania was one of the improvised stops of this trip, initially it wasn’t part of my plans to stop, but I had to cross it nonetheless to get to Macedonia (FYROM). The plan was to go from Kotor to Ohrid on a night bus, but when in Kotor I realized it would be way more interesting to at least cross the country during the day and see something, so I spent that night in Tirana and the next morning I headed up to Ohrid. It was a great decision, the trip was way more relaxed and I saw a few interesting things on the way 🙂

Macedonia (FYROM)

Macedonia, with official name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and where I stayed for two nights at the ancient capital Ohrid, by the lake with the same name. As one would expect, you can breathe history in each corner of the old city, with monuments everywhere that easily you can spot the different historical eras that passed through that city. There I decided to take my time to relax, with a full day dedicated to spend time at the lake sunbathing and swimming 🙂 I only regret not staying in a hostel, besides history, that city is also full of life. Day and night. And being alone, a hostel would be a great way to meet new people.

Greece

And back to my beloved Greece! Not much to stay about this country that I love so much, you can find plenty of articles in this blog detailing experiences I had while living there. I spend one night in the north of Greece, as a strategical stop so that I could take a rest before arriving in Athens, and another night in Athens to meet with some friends only. And as expected, it was totally worth it 🙂


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My route through the Balkans

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Madeira Island – Machico and Funchal

Machico and Funchal

This was my first time in Madeira, and the main reason why I went there was for a wedding of a friend of mine, though, I also had time for some sightseeing obviously. One of the things I noticed the most was the huge amount of tunnels, so criticized in Portugal’s mainland, but that make such a big difference for those living there. A few hundred meters make the difference between several hours up to just a few minutes to reach the same destination. Unlike a lot of people think, the tunnels aren’t a matter of luxury or wealth, but something that is indeed needed. It is one of those things that one has to be there to understand.

Machico

My host’s city, where I also stayed and the first place I saw after my arrival. Coincidently, also the first settlement in Madeira Island, where João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira arrived and stablished the first port of the island.

The landscape is breathtaking, the city is in a valley with has several really steep roads through those hills. More towards east but not far, in Caniçal area, a totally different landscape with a very arid aspect. All part of the same municipality, but so distinct landscapes.

Something I noticed was the massive amount of small lizards, according to what I’ve been told, they are an invasive specie that was introduced by accident, carried by ships. Due lack of natural predators, the lizards became almost like a plague. Cats kinda of helped controlling the amount of lizards, but it is still very common to see those small reptiles through the whole island.

Escarpas na zona do Caniçal
Cliffs in Caniçal area

Funchal

The capital of the Autonomous region, was the place where, oddly, I spent less time at. However, for a Nature lover, I think this was kinda of expected. But I have to admit, the view is also fantastic, either by day or night-time. The historical center is really cosy, several narrow streets with old houses, and with a lot of street art as well. A bit of a paradox, I know, but it all combined really well. As I was the last guest to arrive I missed most of the touristic thingies the other guests did there. I haven’t been to the highest point, through the cable car, but maybe another time 🙂

Ribeira no centro do Funchal
Stream at Funchal’s old town

Something that I really enjoyed to see, but haven’t tried it either, was the Monte’s basket cars. A 2 km ride in 10 minutes, always sliding down the street, a bit overpriced, but certainly a very interesting experience. Again, maybe another time…

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the most enigmatic and known monuments in the world, also one of the 21 finalists of the New 7 Wonders and without a doubt a place to visit, not only by those interested in archeology, but certainly by everyone.

Historical context

This monument is by the same period as the pyramids and the pharaohs, but had a totally different civilization, and apparently not so developed either. However, there are still many unanswered questions about this monument and about the knowledge this civilization had, for example, the fact that the rocks are aligned with the winter solstice and the avenue with the summer solstice. How did they do that?

Stonehenge is a circle of stones, weighting more than 50 tons each, that were carried from about 240 km away (there several theories how they moved those stones). There are other archeological sites in the area that also prove that this civilization had knowledge that was lost and that nowadays it is still unknown to us.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Some curiosities about Stonehenge

Stonehenge had several construction and reconstruction phases, it’s believed it took thirty million working hours for the three phases. The archeological site is a complex of two main circles, one of them with blueish color stones, an avenue and by some man-made dirt hills in a shape of a circle surrounding the site as well. The archeological site area extends to the surrounding area, and a lot is still to be discovered. Unsurprisingly, this site is part of UNESCO World Heritage‘s list.

Regarding the surrounding area, even though this site is of an extreme importance, until recently it didn’t get the deserved investment by the British government, it was only in December 2013 that the visitor center opened and the busy road that was passing just a few meters from the main site was closed. Slowly, what is left by that road is now being reclaimed by Nature, but it is still quite visible how awful and damaging that road was, literally passing a few meters from those stones.

In order to avoid spoiling (too much) the area of the site, the visitor center was built 2,4km away from the main monument, which isn’t visible from there. At the visitor center you can see several animations of the construction an reconstructions phases of Stonehenge, and in real size. You also can test your strength, there is a fake stone with a rope attached, so that you can try to pull it and see how many people exactly like you would be needed to move that stone 🙂 It is quite impressive, trust me 🙂

How to get there?

The best way is really by car, the parking area is fairly big and without a doubt a hassle-free way to find the site.

Regarding public transportation, from London, you should take a bus to Amesbury, which is about 3km from the archeological site, and from there you can go either by foot or by taxi.

The distance from the nearest train station is considerably more, and even though trains are usually a more comfortable way of traveling, I don’t think it would be the best way to get to Stonehenge.

You can find detailed information how to get there on Stonehenge’s website.

And to conclude this article, it’s quite obvious why this is one of the most visited monuments in the world. It totally worths the time invested to get there to see what was built thousands of years ago. The work done by the local entities to restore and maintain the site is notorious, the visitor center is simple but really a must see. Even if late, it is nice to see that something is being done to keep Heritage preserved. The visitors can be a major reason for the deterioration of important sites, but in this case, at Stonehenge there is a fairly good safety distance to visit it without damaging, and even the entrance fee is to be used to ensure the safety and conservation of the site. You should visit one day.

Red Bull Cliff Diving – Inis Mór 2014

Red Bull Cliff Diving - Inis Mór

Yes, the title is correct. This event took place last year…

What’s the reason for this delay? I let the time pass, and then it wouldn’t make much sense anyway, and now it is time for more Red Bull Cliff Diving. This year’s series already had a few jumps, and again this year one of the amazing stops was the Islet of Vila Franca, next to São Miguel Island, in Azores. And without realizing, I almost saw another jump but this time in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they’ll jump from the historical bridge. Unfortunately I was there two weeks before the jump. So, considering my trip and this even, I think this article is now on time 🙂

Red Bull Cliff Diving
Red Bull Cliff Diving

Red Bull Cliff Diving

The competition takes place in several places around the world, is a series of dives in places that might change every year. This event is both for men and women as different categories, men dive of heights between 26 and 28 meters, which is comparable to a 8-9 store building high, while women jump of heights between 20 to 21 meters, more or less a 7 store building high. A bit scary, and even more when you’re there and you see how high that is!

The “pool” in Inis Mór really resembles a pool, a rectangular shape open rock with sea underneath. The event’s reception was a few hundred meters away from the sea, so we had to walk a fair bit before we actually could see the dive stage, with a fantastic view to Dún Aonghasa, a pre-historic fort. The pricing for the event was a bit odd, two different prices for three different areas where you could watch the event. I think we got the worse area possible, even though I don’t regret the money I spent to see it. It was a very pleasant experience and the day was simply amazing! So great, that I got a sun burn!

Red Bull - Inis Mór
Red Bull – Inis Mór

Inis Mór (Inishmor)

Inis Mór island is the biggest of the Aran Islands archipelago, on the west coast of Ireland. It isn’t hard to get there, but it isn’t straight forward either. To those coming from Cork, the best way is through Doolin port. To those coming from Dublin, you have direct ferries from Galway to the islands or a short flight of 20 minutes (if even that long). Since we went from Cork, we took the ferry in Doolin, which took about 1 hour and a half with intermediate stops in two islands, the third and last one was our destination. Inis Mór. The travel was quite ok, with view to the amazing Cliffs of Moher, with the company of a few dolphins that followed us during part of the trip 🙂

To those that enjoy a nice retreat, those islands seem to be the perfect spot! Internet coverage is quite weak, and in some parts of the island almost none. The permanent populate is also quite small, which makes that place even more quiet. Like almost everywhere in Ireland, people are really nice, however with a very bad notion of time and distance 🙂 We almost missed the last ferry because someone told us that it would be fast to get to the port walking (about 20 minutes they said), a distance of almost 9km…, without internet for most of the time to help us having an idea how far we were, we almost had to spend the night over there… 🙂

Dún Aonghasa
Dún Aonghasa

The Aran Islands are also another nice detour from the Wild Atlantic Way. If you’re planing to visit Ireland, and it is part of your plans to do the Wild Atlantic Way, don’t forget to include these islands as part of your plans. Or maybe not, if the weather gets really bad 🙂

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