Tag Archives: travel

Encounters #6 Swallows – Andorinhas

“True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.” – William Shakespeare

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If it’s true that one swallow does not make a spring, as Aristotle already knew, does it then mean that many swallows do make summer?

That should mean that wherever I go in Portugal, there’s eternal summer, for the swallows are everywhere. Blue and red, yellow or black. In one iconic shape but all sizes. On electrical wires, walls and fridges.

For a long time I just accepted their existence, saw them, liked them, felt that their presence made me happy. Until, only recently I found out that there’s more to their existence, here in the land of fado and saudades, of big waves, green wines and explorers of the worlds gone by.

According to local legend, swallows – or andorinhas, as they are called here –  are symbols for family and home; the place for which they always have saudades, to which they always return. Also, very romantically, they find a single partner for life and thus have become symbols for love, loyalty and faithfulness.

In the 1890s, the Portuguese artist Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro, one of the most influential people of his time, started to design and produce little colorful swallows in his ceramics factory in Caldas da Rainhas in Central Portugal. Quickly, his handcrafted beautiful birds gained popularity, and the exchange of swallows, not only between lovers, has become a token for harmony, happiness and prosperity in the home.

And, of course, seeing them in real life, they are simply, magically beautiful, and, after all, they do bring the summer.

Thank you, swallows! – Obrigada andorinhas!

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A little Arctic Adventure

Sitting on the Inlandsbanan somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Swedish Lapland and heading south, I am saving my legs a good thousand kilometers of riding through forest and wilderness. A pity perhaps, but sometimes time, although elastic, is of the essence and choices have to be made.

Inlandsbanan in Gällivare

Crossing the Arctic Circle

But let me start at the beginning – of which I’m not exactly sure where to find it. Where did the idea come from to start the northern section of my European bicycle adventure in Tromsø, the so-called Paris of the north? I think it had to do with a book, as usual. In this case, if I remember correctly, it was one of Judith Herrmann’s short stories that was set in Tromsø in “Nichts als Gespenster” or “Nothing but Ghosts”.


And, I wanted to start at a place north of the arctic circle, from where i had access to the islands of northern Norway, and from where i could reach Kiruna. Because that original plan of riding from Kiruna to Cadiz was still bouncing around in my head.

So at the beginning of August I found myself on a plane from tropical Berlin via cool Oslo to chilly Tromsø – and immediately liked it. I loved exploring the town for a day, finding the treasure trove the Perspectivet Photographic museum is and dodging hordes of German, Dutch and Swiss tourists released from the Hurtigruten Cruiseship. The following day I set off. Around Tromsø island, over the first one of those impressive bridges that link a lot of the northern Norwegian islands, across to Kvaloya. Called it a day early when I came across a most pleasant place to stay, where I was treated to some local Norwegian wisdom and hospitality. And the waffles were just delicious!


An early departure the next morning lead to an hour of heavenly cycling. The sun was out, no cars in sight, just some arctic vegetation, chirpy birds and spectacular views.


Onto the ferry to Senja, which now has become one of my favourite cycling destinations. It just doesn’t get much better. A different, more spectacular view around each corner, blue skies, white beaches, arctic ocean, high cliffs and impressive mountains.


And then, of course, there were the tunnels. Oh my word, the tunnels. Although i was equipped with lights and a reflective vest, although there was a button to push at the entrance, which then would alert drivers to a ‘cyclist in the tunnel’, and although the traffic was minimal and mostly very respectful, i felt my body tense every time I had to enter one of the dark mouths in the mountainside. Some were narrow, others dark and the worst went uphill for two kilometres at 8%! But they say it’s good to face your demons and challenge yourself at times…

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The reward – a sunny evening in picturesque Gryllefjord.


Thank you Senja!

Happy Birthday Bicycle!

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Happy Birthday, dear Bicycle!

200 years! That’s quite a feat, yet you seem to be as young and sprightly as ever; aging well and always open to change and improvement…

I’ll never forget the day we met for the first time. I had seen you before, but when you knocked on our door on my 5th birthday, I was over the moon. At first my relationship with your green little self (it was before the days when everything girly had to be pink!) was a little wobbly and needed some support, but soon we ditched the spare wheels and started to go for a ride of a life-time. I still see myself cruising around in circles in the yard, reveling in the sheer joy of speed and movement and feeling the wind in my hair (it was also long before helmets!).

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Fast forward a few years, and your silver incarnation, equipped with a 3-speed torpedo gear system, roadworthy and thus quite a ‘serious’ bicycle, had become my daily companion on the way to school, to afternoon sport or to see friends. I’ll always appreciate the independence and freedom I gained, let alone the precious minutes in the morning, when I could delay getting up because I knew I could make up for it by pedalling harder. There was many a frosty winter morning when I arrived in the classroom with my fringe frozen from the condensation of my breath.

Do you remember our first real adventure together? It was just too exciting – a three day bike tour through the summery forests, organized by the local sports club. My friend and I were so desperate to go, that we lied about our age. Minimum was 12 years, after our pleading they lowered it to 10, and we just didn’t tell anybody that we were only 9 at the time. We had so much fun! And I think it was then that I really realized the potential that was hidden within your steel frame and turning wheels.

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Over the years there have been many successors in a variety of shapes and colours; there was the green racing snake my grandmother had won in a crossword competition and which she didn’t really want because it wasn’t quite lady-like enough; a purple city bike with a bow frame, which I used to commute to university and which involuntarily found a new owner; that first mountain bike I just had to get to impress a friend I had a serious crush on. Then the golden Kona which became my first ‘work vehicle’ and which has not only carried me up and down many a steep mountain, but also tidied me over some tough times, and last but not least the slightly dull grey touring bike with the fancy back suspension and the auspicious name of “Steppenwolf”.

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Dear Bicycle, I really appreciate that over the years you have helped me save a lot of roubles (in petrol money) and that you enticed me to stay fit without having to the gym. You made me realize that I wasn’t made of sugar, or, in other words, didn’t melt away in the rain, and quite how much I love moving freely in the great outdoors. You gave me work and joy, and you allowed me to explore new regions – and later on countries and then continents – at the speed of thought.

You took me on journeys from the end of the world to the beginning of time. I learned from you that looks and colour don’t matter, that we, just like you, come in all shapes and sizes. Pedalling hard, I wrote entire books in my head, worked through personal issues, solved the world’s problems and started to appreciate the pleasures of an uncluttered, simple life.

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More than anything though I appreciate that you gave me freedom; the freedom to move independently at an early age, the freedom to explore my own boundaries, the freedom of thought by literally widening my horizons, and finally the freedom that only trust and belief in one’s own abilities affords. You made me happy and for this I am grateful!

So here is to the next 200 years of freedom, happiness, joy and diversity! Viva!
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Thank you, obrigada, muchas gracias y merci beaucoup!

Times fly… and indeed times have flown! Weeks have passed since my last post, since I set off from the “End of the World”, O Cabo de São Vicente, towards the northeast, and since i packed bike and panniers away again, waiting for the next ‘expedition’. 
It’s been a ‘Journey to Portugal’, with Saramago weighing down the panniers, a pilgrimage of sorts through parts of ‘la España vacia’, a study in crossing borders and a discovery of French delights. 
There are many stories to tell, but before I start I feel I should say THANK YOU!


Obrigada, muchas gracias e merci beaucoup! To all the people I met en route, to everybody who greeted me with a friendly smile, answered my questions, was happy to explain the way or have a little chat… There were so many!
And then there are those I never really met in ‘real life’, but who have been of very real assistance in their own virtual ways
There’s Huw Thomas and his Pedal Portugal website, as well as his two books, The Alentejo Circuit and Cycling the Algarve.
Before I left, i downloaded the books and studied possible routes, dreamed of all the possible adventures to be had. There were so many options! And then there are those Huw describes on his site. Perhaps I should add the Border Castles Route? Or ride from the Sea to Salamanca? Go to Lisbon or bypass it?


In the end I mixed and matched, and combined bits and pieces of various tours, and it was great – more about that, you might have guessed it, at a later stage.
A few days into my ride I was in doubt which route to take, and, on a whim, decided to contact Huw. Within an hour I received the most helpful reply – and so much more! I couldn’t have wished for better advice! So let me shout out a huge OBRIGADA to Huw Thomas and Pedal Portugal!
Obviously, Pedal Portugal was not the only source of inspiration! 

Kat Davis from Following the Arrows had me dreaming of pasteis de nata and Templar Castles long before I left (and patiently replied to all my questions) and Salt of Portugal encouraged me to explore Portugal’s culinary delights. What a beautiful country you live in! Mais uma vez, muito obrigada!

Once I crossed the border into Spain, i followed the tracks of the Bicigrino, and although my journey was not a ‘real’ pilgrimage, i heavily relied on his route descriptions for the Via de la Plata and the Camino de la Costa. Muchisimas gracias!
Then there were the books, oh, the books… 

Thank you to Ann Morgan and her fascinating blog A Year of reading the world!


And the bookshops! I kept on telling myself that it wasn’t such a great idea to fill panniers with books, and quite honestly, i thougt I had restrained myself severely, yet couldn’t understand why the load was getting heavier with every bookshop I passed…
Although the Velodyssey is a French cycle route, i was very excited to find a Spanish description thereof, De Hendaya a Nantes, by Adriá Tallada Cebrian, im a beautiful San Sebastian bookshop.


To keep me writing, making notes and scribbling down the facts and figures, there was no better way than using ‘The Cycling Travelling Journal’, lovingly designed by Claire and Anya from Puntures and Panniers. What a pleasure to use pen and paper in a time of digital madness! More about that a little later too!

So much for now, and another big KANIMAMBO to each and everyone … 


Hasta la vista!
P.S. as I am writing so many thank-yous, I remember a Mozambican friend’s quip “obrigada não paga o pão”, but that shall be a story for another day.

Encounters #5 Fernando Pessoa

“Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveller. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.”

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Fernando Pessoa. By now it almost feels like I’ve met him personally.

Travelling in Portugal, it seems hardly possible not to encounter this most iconic of Lisbon poets. Over the years, I’ve met him in the streets of Lisboa, sitting outside one of his faourite hangouts and coffee shop ‘A Brazileira’ in the Rua Garrett in Chiado; he’s greeted me for breakfast on my coffee mug in downtown Porto and his unmistakable face invites readers to delve into Lisbon’s poetry from every book stall at every airport in the country. My favourite incarnation of this writer, who allegedly used more than 72 pseudonyms, I encountered in Evora, where he braved the elements somewhat uplifted on the doorstep of the amazing “Fonte de Letras’ bookshop.

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72 pseudonyms! He preferred to call them heteronyms, because he felt pseudonyms were too close for comfort. One of his most famous alter ego, Ricardo Reis, even became the hero of “The Year of Death of Ricardo Reis”, a 1984 novel by fellow Portuguese writer and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago. Inspired by the heteronyms was also Italian writer Antonio Tabucci, who was so enchanted by Pessoa and his work that he began studying the Portuguese language.

“My soul is a hidden orchestra;
I know not what instruments,
What fiddlestrings and harps,
drums and tamboura I sound and
Clash in myself.
All I hear is the symphony.”
Fernando Pessoa

“The Book of Disquiet”, (Livro do Desassossego, composto por Bernardo Soares), Pessoa’s lifetime project and what he calls a ‘factless autobiography’, is signed by one of his heteronyms, Bernardo Soares. It is also the source of many of the Pessoa quotes floating around the post cards and coffee mugs of downtown Lisbon and Porto.

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Not only in Portugal….

“To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”

Fernando Pessoa was a poet, writer, philosopher, publisher and translator, born in Lisbon in 1888. His father died when he was five years old, and after his mother remarried, the family moved to Durban, South Africa, where Pessoa would live and learn for the next ten years. He learned to love the English language and began writing and publishing poetry under various pseudonyms.
In 1905 he returned to Lisbon for good and embarked on a life of writing, publishing, translating and philosophizing. He died in 1935, and in 1985, fifty years after his death, his remains were moved to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon, where he rests in the illustrious company of the likes of Vaso da Gama and Luís de Camões.

“To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think.”

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From Reading to Riding

Times fly – never has it seemed more true to me. I had nowhere near finished reading all the books I wanted to read about Portugal, and had barely touched the surface of all the blogs there are to explore – about the country, adventuring and long distance cycling – when I found myself sitting on the plane to Faro. With my bicycle.

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Waiting for the train to the airport

To say I could have been better prepared is an understatement, but I guess that’s what happens if suddenly the opportunity arises to turn a dream that has been festering for ages into reality. Now or never. If I didn’t take this opportunity, which had just presented itself, I might as well let go of the idea and move on. Which might have been the sensible thing to do, but also a testament to lost dreams.

 

The original idea, which had managed to get itself firmly entrenched into my head, was to ride from Kiruna to Cadiz, from the Polar Circle to the Southern Edge of Europe, from cool Scandinavia to warm Andalucia, from the lands of Scandi Noir to Flamenco country.

Why?
For many and no reason in particular.
Because I can.
Simple as that.

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Meeting Fernando Pessoa

Well, that’s only partly true. There is more to it, somehow, although not very tangible. I’ve always been fascinated by the variety of landscapes and cultures and people that make up the European continent. They are so similar in so many ways, yet at the same time so different. The same difference. And what better way to explore that, than at the speed of pedaling two wheels. Where half a day’s ride can move you from one language, one culture, one landscape to another. Where everything suddenly looks and feels and sounds and smells different. Where borders between countries and provinces, cultures and languages can be crossed with a few pedal strokes.

Anyway, so now here I was with some unexpected time on my hands. So why not? I had to ask myself. Very simple, for two reasons. Time wasn’t quite enough to do the entire trip, and secondly, mid March was definitely a tad too early for my taste to cycle anywhere near the arctic circle.

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I realized though, if i were to wait for the perfect conditions, I’d never go. So why not be flexible, cut the trip in half and start from the south. Follow spring from the edge of Europe to the centre. Start at the end of the world and ride towards the middle of Europe. See how far I get. Just do it. Now!

So here I am, a week into my great European adventure ( or the first half, anyway😉), a week from the end of the world.

 

A week of cycling through Portugal, of meeting new sights and sounds and smells and delights. Cork oaks and castles, pasteis de nata, bookshops and windmills. Also a week of encountering more books, and I wish I had the time to read them all, now, while I’m here.

But the road beckons and times fly…

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Evora, March 2017

Reading Countries: Journey to Portugal

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All things going well, in exactly one month from today, I’ll be saddling up my trusted ‘Steppenwolf’ and start cycling. Viva Portugal, here we come!

What better way to prepare for an upcoming journey, than to read about the destination? Not just travel books – novels, travelogues, short stories, crime fiction, anything goes…

After a quick browse on real life bookshelves I came up with the following pile:

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Monica Ali: Alentejo Blue

Barry Hatton: The Portuguese, A Modern History

José Saramago: El Viaje del Elefante / The Elephant’s Journey

José Saramago: La Caverna / The Cave

Pascal Mercier: Nachtzug nach Lissabon / Nighttrain to Lisbon

Ines Pedrosa: In Deinen Händen / Nas Tuas Mãos / No English translation available?!

Francisco Jose Viegas: O Colecionador de Ervas / No English translation available?!

Cees Nooteboom: Die folgende Geschichte / The Following Story

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Not bad for a start! On the virtual bookshelves the choice is as usual near limitless…

There are of course the literary giants, Jose Saramago, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Eça de Queiroz and Fernando Pessoa.

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Tell a Story, an awesome little mobile bookshop in Lisbon, recommended a bit of a younger selection:

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Jacinto Lucas Pires: The True Actor

Jose Luis Peixoto: The Piano Cemetery

Afonso Cruz: Jesus Christ Drank Beer

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See you soon, Portugal! More about the travel plans coming soon!