Tales

MOSAICS AND MONUMENTS TO THE MIRACULOUS 


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Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

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The streets are narrow and wind up the hilltop, decorated with bright streamers and other adornments that mimic children’s’ birthday decorations. The little leathered Portuguese locals stand outside their tiny business doors; their lolling posture and gentle stares implying an eternal wait. 

The old #28 tram somehow winds through these streets, hauling loads of tourists packed liked sardines. Which is quite fitting, seeing that grilled sardines are a local staple. Despite the guidebooks’ claims that locals still mainly use the line, one only sees pale arms hanging out of the windows snapping pictures. This is the main reason I refuse to take the train until the following day and, by the time I finally concede, I board the tram like a dehydrated golden-retriever on the final leg to the Basilica Estrela


I wander uphill to Igreja Graca to get a virgin’s orientation of the city. It is vast; with the a spectacular view of the impossing Castello de Sao George perched high over the stacked orange roofs. However humorously unoriginal, the Ponte 25 de Abril is a powerful sight from afar and seems to give the towering Cristo Rei a red carpet entrance.

In an attempt to climb the Castello de Sao Jorge for ‘the best view’, I end up wandering around the little streets surrounding it for over a half-an hour, before finally reaching the entrance to be completely over the undertaking. I would argue that we got a better view from the Igreja for free. 

Walking through the streets, with sand between my toes due to quick spur-of-the-moment trip to Cascais, the possibilities are exhilarating and beautifully overwhelming at times. The little cobblestone streets are enchanting, especially upon the descent to Ria da Liberdad. It is an unexpectedly scenic road, considering it is one of the main thoroughfares jutting through town into the drugpusher’s den aka Praca Pedro. The street has a tree-lined ped-pathway with shaded benches near a multitude of ponds. As usual, I subconsciously decide on a mission without being completely informed (this is also due to stubborn unwillingness to read a map instead of simply looking at a map) and walk to Parque Eduardo VII. The Marques de Pombal is a sweet site but the park’s fountains are graffiti-ridden and one is even tagged joker-style with red mocking lips. 

After the tram ride from Alfama (on which the train got stuck due to lack of uphill speed and had to descend to reattempt incline a second time), I got a taste of the Portuguese gardens while lying in Jardin da Estrella under a willow-tree enjoying some vinho verde before taking a peek inside the Basilica da Estrella.  Warning: Do not get apprehended when you enter the Basilica by the old nuns. They’ll take you behind a tomb to the church’s tourist trap: pay .50 to light up a paper-mache crib of 500 bobble-headed figures.

If you go, you simply must:


Bars, Music, Nightlife:
The Old Pharmacy
PAVILHÃO CHINÊS
Docas- Drink the Sangria
PÁGINAS TANTAS
Tasca do Chico – Bairro Alto- Fado
Sip on capirhinas & ginginha (only from hole-in-the-wall joints)
Elevator de Gloria

Skip: 
Nacional de Arte Antiga, rather disappointing venture and consisted of gory art that is full of blood-spewing decapitated heads. 
the Castello de Sao Jorge
Basilica da Estrella

Sidetrips
Belem
Confeitaria de Belem- eat the pastries 
Jeronimos
Discovery Monument
Pracado Imperio
Muse Collecciao Berrado- Design

Sintra:
Pena National Palace- Visit in the late afternoon and have a drink of wine before closing, and get a chance to feel what it means to be in the clouds…

Cascais:

Craving a beach? This is just a short ride away. It was beautiful, but inquire with locals to find the hidden spots. Bring a towel and buy some fruit from a street vendor and relax by the sea.

Lodging:
Lisbon is known for quality Hostels, they are abundant. 
Where I stayed: Tavira Youth Hostel, safe & clean with community dinners



Chilean Thorns


Standing on the top of the Santa Lucia hill in Santiago, the peaks of the Andes glisten against the steel of the city and, as nature typically does, provide reassurance of an escape. There are several locations in the world in which you can get away in a flash to wineries, mountain ranges, water rafting, the beach in under a few hours. There are also several places in the world where an avocado dispenser is a typical condiment option. Santiago is an ideal place for the cultured with restless leg syndrome- unlimited outdoor adventures, wine and history to pursue.

Sidetrip to the Mountains:
60km into the mountains Cascada de las Animas Ecoresort and Nature Sanctuary sits on the Maipo River and has access to extensive trails. On a 2 hour easy hike, we came across cacti, snow, several birds of prey, and the namesake waterfall. Individual Cabins available. Bike ride, hike, zipline, whitewater raft,then eat homemade dishes on the porch at La Tribu restaurant.

If you go: 
A Few of the Vineyards 
Cocha Y Toro, right south of Santiago
towards the ocean
Indomita Vineyards (1.40 from Santiago)
Veramonte Vineyards

Santiago Lodging
Great location but beware of drunk Aussies at La Casa Roja Hostel

LES FEUILLES MORTES: A SERIES OF EXPERIENCES

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Sitting on my bag on the side of the road holding a sign (‘Estacion de train’) while paranoidingly glancing back and forth for a black van – the only public transport in town.

Fib Music Festival

Benicassim, Spain


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Biking past grazing sheep, perfectly-painted houses, getting side-tracked down dead-end roads while following the rushing water. 

Flam, Norway


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Mangroves, white-bellied sea eagles, coral crabs.

Similan Islands National Park, Island No. 4, Thailand


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Blue ox herds, bright green rice fields- speeding down gravel sideroads with a surgical mask to keep the dust out of your teeth.

National Highway 6 –> Phnom Koulen National Park, Cambodia


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Steamed sea bass sitting on your haunches drinking Tiger beers.

Old weathered ladies boiling pots of pho on the street while their daughters stare down at their cell phones.

Temple Club
Saigon, Vietnam


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Mossy rocks, sea cabbage, berry trees. Catching a glimpse of a dory when looking up from the pages of a weathered book.

Björholmen, Sweden


TIME TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE: AN EMERGING CUBA LIBRE

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Cotton candy in Old Habana, 2013

PictureStreet in the Old City of Habana, 2013

I stood, exhausted, but unable to sit. The man’s voice rung out through the open windows and into the streets, pausing passers-by. The cigarette smoke of Cubans and cigar smoke of tourists filled the lighted bar. I knew that if I walked next door or into any other place, I would easily find another musical ensemble. But this was the first time I’d stumbled across any Cuban my age on a weekday night not taxing tourists in some mode of transport. Tuk-tuks, state-owned taxis (Hyundai’s), puttering Coco taxis (3-wheelers), famed ’50’s vehicles all filled the streets, soliciting shuffles. Locals walked, biked, took the bus (which were unreliable), or took ride-shares. On the weekend, 20 somethings and teenagers were found posted up on the Malecon, eating popcorn and laughing. From afar, it was innocently reminiscent of the 1950’s. If you were one of the lucky ones to obtain a car, legal or illegally, there was an even smaller chance you were in your 20’s. 


Every street is different, yet the same. Rows of dilapidated buildings with cracked paint, frequently collapsing onto the ground like crushed dry leaves. The buildings conferred history and time unraveling , literally telling the story of the place like none other. On one building, an ornate iron balcony would enclose a brightly painted apartment. Above, there would be an opposite story- the identical unit merely a carcass. Each building was a quilt, its patchwork presented a mixture of wealth and circumstances. 

The variability was a result of the state’s system: owners could not ever sell their units, renovation materials have been difficult to come by due to the past state-run market and high prices, and, most importantly, because common areas were not one entity’s direct property. (Stairwells, roofs, exterior facades of buildings were unkempt.) Because of this, buildings were literally crumbling at the rate of about three collapses a day. Restoration has now beginning but the problem is thwartingly immense and widespread- restorers simply can’t keep up. They don’t have access to the materials or the funds. The architecture combined with the fiery vigor of the people gives an inexplainable allure to the city. Havana is a time capsule that is sure to disappear.

If you go:

Art, Food, Drink
Callejon de Hamel– An Courtyard turned Afro-Cuban art project
Rene Pena Photography– Study up and see it for yourself at private restaurant Atelier Cuba
Hemingway’s Cuban Residence– Spectacular
Farmacia Taquechel– Beautiful snapshot of a traditional, mid-century pharmacy on Calle Obispo
Casa de Fuster – Heralded as the Cuban Gaudi
El Tempelete – State owned restaurant in Old Habana with great seafood
La Guarida – Paladares (private-owned) restaurant mysteriously set on the second-story of a seemingly abandoned mansion

After-hours:
Espacios, 10th St. and 31st ave playa
Melon Club, 1st and 60 Playa
Encuentros, Linea St between L and M

Quick Sidetrip:
Las Terrazas– Have coffee at Cafe Maria after canoeing, zip-lining, and swimming in the temperate creek

Skip:
El Floridita – Outside is the best part, unless you enjoy being ripped off