Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Porto. Visit to Gaia

The next step in our visit was crossing the river using the bridge I showed to you yesterday to go to Gaia, a small town in front of Porto, where all the wine caves are. Besides, the view from the city is really beautiful from this side of the shore.

There were also some ships anchored in front of the wine caves. Some centuries ago, these ships sailed to England carrying many many barrels of wine.

Of course, we visited the caves! We went for Calem cave. It was cheap and there was some drinking at the end. There, we were explained how to prepare Porto wine and the particularities and different kinds which exist. This barrel behind me contains around 10000 liters of wine!

And these are a bit smaller but the picture is nice :P

Finally, we could drink three different kinds of wine: one white porto and two different red tawny wines, with aging time 5 and 10 years. My favourite, the 5-year-old red tawny!!

And back to Porto to go to the cathedral!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Porto. Day 2.

Our second day in Porto started with a huge storm. However, we managed to see most of the city. We started visiting the touristic neighbourhood in the morning. This part of town is quite old and every street has a slope. It is the part of the city going steeply down to river Duero (Douro in Portuguese). However old it is, it has a special charm which makes it really nice to walk in that area.

In our way there, we passed by Sao Bento station again and took some pictures from outside:

Our first stop was in Porto Stock Market building. It was a beutiful building and has a room, the Arab room, which is magnificent. The treaty of Porto, a key stone of the birth of the European Union was signed in this room. This is how the building looks like from outside:

And this is a beautiful room within it:

And this is the view of town from the entrance of the Stock Market building. A the back, you can see the cathedral, on top of the hill.

In Porto, there is a very old system of trams still running. It perfectly matches the ancient spirit of the city!

Closer to the river, we found Luis I Bridge, one of the symbols of the city. This bridge connects Porto with Gaia, a small town on the other shore of the river which houses all Porto wine breweries.

And this is one of the most famous squares, Dom Henrique square.

And these are some houses facing the river on Porto's side. Quite beautiful!

Tomorrow, our visit to the breweries in Gaia!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My visited countries

These last days, I finally wrapped up all my travelling plans until 12th May. I already told you I was going to go to several countries in the coming months. My additional destinations will be:
- Copenhagen
- Vienna
- Budapest
- London (for sure this time I will bring my camera along...)
- Krakow

I also thought this was a good moment to check how many countries I have visited so far. The answer is 17, in 3 different continents. However, most of these countries are in Europe... I have to start expanding my destinations to more exotic places ;-) This is my visited places map so far:

I also wanted to compare it to what it will look like on 12th May. The answer is most of the "white spots" in Europe will turn blue and I will visit most of the countries in Central Europe. By then I will have visited 24 different countries, in 4 continents.

I still have some months to travel around before I move to another continent (America or Asia) for my PhD studies. Some possible destinations are Athens in Greece, Istambul in Turkey or the Norwegian Fiords (to complete Scandinavia). After that, it will be the right moment to leave Europe and start travelling in another continent.

By the way, this is my post number 150th!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Porto. First day

As I told you sometimes before, from 2nd to 4th January, I was visiting Porto with my mother. It actually was my Xmas present for her. We arrived there in the afternoon on 2nd Jan. I had never been to Portugal, so it was quite interesting from the beginning. The first thing i noticed was that Portuguese is similar to Spanish when written but a complete different language when spoken ;-)

I didn't have a map of Porto, so we just went downtown and checked a map in a metro station. As the hotel was a bit far, we could see a bit of the city on our way there. We passed by the church of Trindade and Avenida dos Aliados. And then we found our hotel with the help of some local people.

After checking in and leaving our stuff in the room, we went for a walk in the city. This photo was taken next to the university. At the back, you can see a typical Porto church with blue and white tiles all over.

This is a typical pintoresque view in Porto, a row of old houses which look ancient and at the same time cozy.

This is the entrance hall of Sao Bento train station with its typical tiles in blue and white colours. It looks like a traditional beautiful station.

An another typical church in the top of one of the countless slopes in the city.

After a few hours, we were a bit tired and stopped for a coffee at the most famous cafe in Porto, Cafe Majestic. It was opened at the beginning of the 20th centuty and has been running since. This is it from outside:

And this is the interior:

And this is the main shopping street, Via Catarina, with its nice New Year's illumination.

Finally, we came back to the hotel along Avenida Dos Aliados, one of the main avenues in Porto and full with nice buildings and a huge Xmas tree!

More about Porto in the coming days!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One book and one movie

Today I finished reading a great book by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. This book was "Kafka on the Shore". So far, I had read two books by this author, as I told you in a previous post. Both were very nice intimist novels with high doses of melancholy... what made them even nicer to me... This guy has a peculiar way of writing: he sounds familiar, with lots of popular references, but his writing is sheer intelligent. "Kafka on the Shore" has been a bit different but I still noticed his personal style all over. It is a fantastic novel with a wonderful plot which makes you cannot stop reading. The novel is a bit longer than 600 pages, but it is so addictive you can read it in a few days. I read the English version this time. This books makes 3 in my account this year; still a long way to go before I get those 50 books! ;-)

That was the book... and now it is the turn for the movie. I have just finished watching "No country for old men" by the Coen brothers and with Javier Bardem in one of his finest works. In one word, SUPERB. The movie is really good, but his performance is amazing... I would be scared of bumping into somebody looking like him in the street, he looks like the worst of your nightmares... and what about the dialogues along the movie, just great. Conversations do not play such an important role as in Tarantino films, but almost. By the way, Bardem has won the Golden Globe with this character and he is on his way to the Oscar. He has been officially nominated today. Best Luck!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunday in Amsterdam

Yesterday, I was all day long in Amsterdam. Last year, I bought a card, the Museumskaart, which gives you free access to almost all the museums in the country. However, I am not very fond of museums and I did not go that often. Therefore, I tried to compensate for all these months of not visiting museums in the Netherlands, and I went to Amsterdam to visit as many places as possible.

The first I did once I arrived at the central station, I checked the front gate. Some weeks ago, I read in Kirai.com that Tokyo Station had been designed taking Amsterdam Station as a model. Actually, now I am pretty sure that is the case! Have a look! The first one is the one in Amsterdam, the second one is Tokyo Eki.

Afterwards, I headed towards NEMO, the science museum. When I arrived there, I found out I could not use my card there... so I decided to move to Sloterdijk Museum, a modern art museum nearby. I really enjoyed this visit! I think I quite like modern art. This photo shows the interesting building in which NEMO is.

And this is the view from the 11th floor of the builing housing Sloterdijk Museum.

Then, I went South, getting lost in the Red Light District. I wanted to see the Oude Kerk (old church), which was nice according to my guidebook. When I found it, it was closed. So, I checked a close place where I could go. By chance, I read in my book that there was one of the more enjoyable places in Amsterdam just a few blocks away. This place was a secret catholic church. When the prostestants defeated the catholic around the 17th century, catholics could not have churches any more. However, Dutch authorities were quite lax and they allowed catholic gatherings in churches provided nobody could tell it was a church from outside. Then, these people decided to join the penthouses of three house and they created a church there. This place is quite unique. You go into a normal Dutch house, start climbing the stairs (in Dutch houses it is literally climbing...) and in the 3rd floor, surprise! a church... I was quite taken aback... This is what it looks like.

Then, I went to the Oude Kerk and checked it out. In my opinion just another church... it was quite messy though... it had been made bigger little by little and it looks quite heterogenous now. This is the organ, quite beautiful...

After that, I came back to the city and went through one of the biggest contrasts Amsterdam shows. You go out of the church and you are in the middle of the Red Light District, with prostitutes and sex shops everywhere. Sometimes, Dutchies keep on surprising me! This is a country full of contrasts and sometimes, grotesque stuff...

I made for a place with less junkies and ended up in Dam Square. Here, a photo of the Obelisque and the Royal Palace, together with the Nieuw Kerk (New Church) on the right.

Then I continued walking along the streets full of shops parallel to the Amstel canal and checked some book stores. I ended up in Rembrandtsplein, so I decided to visit Rembrandt's house. I was surprised when I found out it is not in that square but a bit further away on the other side of the canal, near the Portuguese Synagogue. I visited the house and it was cool. I was happy I had visited it for free! There are no photos though, not allowed. Then I just came back walking to the Centraal Station and back to Leiden by train.

This photo is from the nice clock tower next to the Flower's Market.

At the end, I could visit 5 museums/places, saving around 30 euros. Maybe I will do the same next weekend!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A couple of funny things and a nice panorama

In the coming days, I will post some comments and photos from my trip to Porto (Portugal) at the beginning of the year. But, first, a couple of funny things:

- This poster says what everybody knows and not many dare saying

- Porto was full of "Sociedade de Borrachas"... Translating directly from Spanish it would be something like ("Drunk Women Society")... Some Brazilian or Portuguese can throw some light here ;-)

And the promised nice panorama, Porto from Gaia. Click on the image to see it properly.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

三島 由紀夫. Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima is considered one of the finest Japanese writers in the 20th century. He was about to obtain the literature Nobel Prize several times, and it was assumed it was a matter of time he received it, but commited suicide before. He was a very controversial person with very strong nationalistic ideas.

Last year I read his most famous work, a tetralogy called "The Sea of Fertility". In these 4 books, it is possible to see the evolution of Japan from the beginning of the 20th century until around 1970: from a feudal state based on respect to the divine figure of the Emperor, to a country opened to foreign influences and integrated in the modern world. Besides, Mishima expresses his ideas by means of several of his characters.

The names of the books are:
- Spring Snow (春の雪, Nieve de Primavera)
- Runaway Horses (奔馬, Caballos Desbocados)
- The Temple of Dawn (暁の寺, El templo del Alba)
- The Decay of the Angel (天人五衰, La Corrupcion de un Angel)

*Maybe a SPOILER*

The four books share two main characters and a main story behind the individual plot of each work. The character who is present in all the 4 books is Shigekuni Honda. The first book tells an impossible love story to which he is a mere witness, it is the story of Kiyoaki Matsugae, who dies trying to make his love come true. In the second book, Honda finds the reincarnation of his friend in the figure of a teenager with strong nationalist and traditionalist ideas. This book shows Mishima's ideas about ritual suicide (seppuku) and how to die with dignity. Many ideas about reincarnation, samurais and Japanese recent history can be learnt through this book. The third one deals with the urge of sexual desire. This desire is inspired by the means of a Thailandese princess which is supposed to be Kiyoaki's second reincarnation. The books topics are more decadent as time passes by and Japan turns its back on its history. The fourth book is highly decadent and shows the life of Kiyoaki's third reincarnation. Honda is already very old and tries to help his old friend in the best way he can, but everything ends badly.

*End of SPOILER*

After writing the last pages of the fourth book, he gathered some of the men of his personal army (yes, he had a personal army!) and tried to unleash a coup by means of a speech at a militaty base. He wanted the emperor to recover all the power he had in ancient times. After that, he committed suicide following the seppuku ritual (harakiri).

After this tetralogy, I also read "The sound of Waves"(潮騷 Shiosai, El Rumor del Oleaje), a beautiful love story in a small and isolated Japanese island. I found this book in a second-hand shop in Ochanomizu (Tokyo), in Spanish and for only 300 yens (less than 2 euros)!

What I liked the most of Mishima's style was the extremely vivid and detailed descriptions. They are very colourful and evoke bucolic feelings when read. I felt like reading poetry at some point. Mishima is thus highly recommendable in spite of his personal radical ideas. Well, maybe that makes his story and life more interesting! and backs up their novels with a genuine coherence!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Continuing with those strange WCs in Europe...

Some time ago, I wrote a post about some very nice and hygienic WCs in Amsterdam. Aitor posted a nice post about the flat-bottom WCs you can find in Germany or the Netherlands. He got "moved" in meneame.com and got thousands of visits in a couple days!

When I was in Berlin, in the toilet in the hostel we slept at, there were some instructions how to use this kind of toilets... What i wonder is, is it necessary to be so explicit? hehe... Judge by yourselves!

What I like the most about these "instructions" is the attitude of the figure on the left. The cap is a key element... The guy spilling out the toilet has his cap backwards, whereas the other guy has is in a more socially accepted forward position XD

Monday, January 14, 2008

Future travelling plans

Wow, this weekend I have been working like hell... but not in ESTEC, at home checking flights. Naoko will come and visit me next February for one month and we wanted to go to Egypt for around 10 days. I have been checking the web for cheap prices, going to travel agencies... to get the best deal. By the way, it wasn't at the travel agency where I got it... they asked 1500 euros for 10 days in Egypt!! Incredible... i am still laughing. Actually, i got it much much cheaper.

Well, it is not only about egypt why i am writing this post. The next months are going to be hectic. Some conferences deadlines around Feb/March and too much travelling. This is the summary:

Beginning of Feb: carnival in Maastricht
Mid-Feb: weekend in Spain
End of Feb: weekend in Ireland
Beginning and Middle of March: Egypt
End of March: Eastern vacation (I still have to figure out what to do...)
Beginning of April: weekend in Prague
End of April: possibly London again

And that's it... I really think it is too much. I feel like an exchange student who has a limited time to visit Europe before coming back to his country. Actually, all this started in November when I noticed I was really leaving Europe for some years. In fact, as I already told you, I will go for a PhD in either the US or Japan. And that will be in September. And after that, I don't think I have the time to travel that much. Therefore, I had only some months left to visit as much of Europe as possible. I made a shortlist of the cities and countries I wanted to visit, which was:
- Berlin
- Portugal
- Ireland
- Vienna
- Prague
- Budapest
- Athens
- Egypt (well, i know it is not Europe but it is closer to Europe than to any other continent I am going to! ;-)
- Copenhagen

As you can see, I have managed to visit or book flights for almost all those places! It looked a really ambitious list at the beginning and I thought about cutting it down... but finally, Copenhagen is the only place I might not go to. I will go to Athens and to Vienna/Budapest in May, June or July. That is almost for sure! If I am not tired of travelling by then!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Something about books

As I have mentioned some times before, I do not want this blog to become a blog only about travelling... and the last posts are pretty much about that though. Therefore, now I will talk a bit about miscellaneous things.

The first one is about reading. Rikel has talked several times in his blog about the 50 books in a year challenge. That means reading a book every week (more or less), which is quite ambitious! However, since mid August I have been reading at that rhythm. I have read many books recently. Therefore, I have decided I am going to keep a record of the books I have been reading from the beginning of the year. For the moment, I have already read 2 books, even though I was travelling until 4th January. The books I have read are:
- "South of the Border, West of the Sun" by Haruki Murakami (in Spanish)
- "The trial" by Franz Kafka (in Spanish)

The first of the two books was superb. I read my first book by Murakami last year (it was "Tokyo Blues. Norwegian Wood") and I got completely hypnothized by it until I finished it. Really good! His language is fluent and not too complex, but some sentences and reflexions are simply so good, so clever. It makes your feelings arise and your wits be alert for the next big statement!

The second book is a classic among classics I had been wanting to read for a very long time. It is one of Kafka's most famous books. It is a posthumous novel and therefore, unfinished. It looks like a collection of chapters not properly linked. And the final chapter is too short, like if it had been written on a rush. It is necessary to know Kafka's biography to understand it properly. The book is fantastic. It is about a man who is arrested and who has a process started against him. However, he is not aware of anything he has done wrongly... and nobody can tell him why he is being processed! The whole situation is so absurd. Besides, the precision in his language makes the situations are grotesque at some point. It reminded me of the "esperpento" by the Spanish writer Valle-Inclan (in "Luces de Bohemia" for instance). The whole situation seems strange but the poor man cannot do anything to stop the on-going process. Finally, he ends up giving up. It is a really strong critism about bureaucracy and law. Fantastic. It is a pitty this guy died so soon. When I was at high school, I read "Methamorphosis", and it looked to me as a very strange book. I should read it again soon to compare what is my feeling towards it at the moment. It is interesting to check how the meaning and significance of a book can change when read at different points of your life.

The next book I will read is "Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami again (in English). I will keep you informed. Good night out there!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Berlin IV. The other places

In other to wrap up the series of posts on our visit to Berlin last December, I will show you some photos of other interesting places we went to and I have not commented on them yet.

For example, the German Parliament, the Reichstag. It was remodeled by the famous architect Norman Foster and his main contribution to the building is its glass dome from where the congress men and women can be seen while they are debating.

Not far away, and next to Brandembrug Gate, the Holocaust Memorial can be found. It is a collection of concrete blocks of different sizes and localized on a wavy ground. It creates uncertainty on the people who go through it... At every corner, and this is every two meters, you can crash with people coming in the perpendicular direction... it is also quite oppresive... many people compare it to a graveyard.

In Berlin, there are also many flea markets, like this one we went to. It looked like a lot of rubbish was being sold... :P

For the cultural tourists, and specially for those interested in churches, there is a square downtown where there are two twin cathedrals. They are one in front of the other and are exactly similar. When we were there, there was a Xmas market in the middle of the square.

Another of the most beautiful places in Berlin is the cathedral together with the television tower which can be seen from all the city. That tower is next to Alexanderplatz. Actually, wherever you are in Berlin, you can see the tower and you think averywhere is near... it kind of makes the city smaller than it actually is!

Finally, the cathedral is connected to the parliament and the Brandemburg Gate by means of a famous avenue called Unter den Linden ("under the lime trees", "bajo los tilos"). The trees there were gorgeously illuminated... where is the Kyoto Protocol? I think everybody forgets about it around Xmas... if not all along the year...

And that is all for Berlin. After all these posts, I think you can get an idea what it looks like!