It’s like a dream. No, better. Porto is separated by the Douro River, that is made all the more splendid by its six bridges. At the base of the Dom Luis I Bridge near the Sandeman Port Distillery, colorful women dressed in traditional Portugeuse dress dance through a specialty market offering olive oil, wine, port, cheese, bollo pastries, boudain-like sausages. Inside the Sandeman Distillery, groups of tourists tour and hear the story of how an Englishman conquered the port industry two hundred years ago. After paying penance and completing the routine tour, everyone eagerly tastes the sherry and tawny. Too sweet for my taste, I prefer the dark red wine and salty olives of the Portuguese in the gardens of the Serralves.
During the Serralves em Festa, the Parque de Serralves are filled with art of all traditions- artists, musicians, and contemporary art demonstrations span the grounds. Giant plush Royal thrones sit patiently in the middle of a field. Women untangle from the limbs of a tree, their silky dress flutters in the breeze. Photographers appear out of nowhere with wide lenses, snapping up the beauty from all angles. The soundtrack of a live jazz chantress with an orchestra accentuates the fluctuating smells of minty herbs, geraniums, and mossy leaves. Artist hang their crafts, their flamboyant colors mosaicly broadcast amongst the dark greens of the forest. We relax in between the gentle foliage facing a quartet of jazz musicians that emit lazy Spanish beachcombing tunes ideal for cracking that first cerveza of a hot summer’s evening.
Afterwards, we meander over to pop into the Museu de Arte Contemporanea, which reveals characteristic portrait of Porto’s contemporary art timeline. An exhibit on ‘Teatro Sombras’, or shadow theatre, by Lourdes Castro is colorful, sexy, mysterious yet all-telling. A women’s outline lit in the doorway by the light of the moon. On the screen, an unidentified body moves through the shadows, much like the alleyways of Porto.
If you go, don’t miss: Douro River Cruises Speedy boat trip under the six bridges and almost to the ocean, quick and beautiful.
In March of 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland leaving millions of travelers stranded across the world. I happened to be in a fairytale land known as Luxembourg at the time with a friend visiting from the United States. The next snipet is how I found myself in the squalor that is Brussels, Belgium…
An usual Icelandic volcano eruption compounded by a usual train strike in France made the Luxembourg train station was in utter chaos. One frustrated traveler was arguing with a ticket attendant, periodically switching between in French, Italian, and German. The stress was contagious and we began to feel that our immediate departure was more necessary by the minute. We decided to depart on the next train out, either to Brussels or Paris- whichever was first. After about an hour, we hopped on the train to Brussels, ecstatic to have escaped the madhouse in such a short time.
Once the train station was no longer in sight we began to take notice that, although there was a shortage in available transportation, the train was scarcely populated . The woman behind me reeked of stale cigarettes and her mutt continuously emitted a stench of rotten eggs. Every person in the car had a cellphone that rang on maximum volume. The ring, however, was not a standard ringtone but one that was a medley of the most irritating technical sounds obtainable. I began to be convinced that all the other passengers were in a conspiracy to see who could make me jump from the yellow tented windows onto the track.
Immediately once we crossed the border into Belgium, it became gray and cloudy. The landscape was gritty, the grass in the passing fields was dead. As we began to approach Brussels, vile graffiti became more prevalent. Homeless (or otherwise bored vagrants) drank cans of Belgian beer outside Gare du Midi amongst construction, throwing their empty cans into the dust – adding to the piles of filth. The Fine Art Museum was across the street. The color of its columns matched the grey of the street and the sky.
Meandering the streets, a storyline began to take over my mind: I’m in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus inducing dementia has taken over. The virus causes paleness and cravings for waffles from contaminated street vending carts. Instead of the Bourbon Street Lucky Dog carts, these carts were selling waffles instead of three-year-old minced meat conglomeration. I deduced this was the source of the virus.
The whole city is an anarchic toilet bowl. Instead of avoiding the litter on the streets, couples strolling hand-in-hand purposefully kick garbage while smiling at each other. A downtown art installation consisted of a giant orange construction cone. The city produces wafts of waffles, simulating being in a port-o-john while eating a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. If I had an appetite before arriving, it has now been bludgeoned into nothingness. I deduce that I will not be joining Erica for dinner, but drinking myself into an intended oblivion.
Irony mocked us continuously. Ironically, these were the people known for producing comics. The fact that these dirty, barking homeless beings’ one call-to-fame was laughter and delectable sweets was impossible to imagine. The sole Tabac nearby carried a sparse selection of intoxicants: merlot or peach schnapps.
A peeing cupid statue dons the mantle over the front door to our hostel, the statue a welcoming to all the tired, poor guests to the Sleep Well Hostel. Needless to say, I was drinking straight from my bottle of merlot by 20:00 in the lobby. Walking up to the front desk (bottle in hand) I asked the receptionist, a Hunchback Dilbert, where to find the book exchange. The only geek to ever state, “I’d rather watch the movie then read the book” leads me to a dungeon where the ‘book exchange’ was located. It only consists of Lord of the Rings knock-offs. I tried to imagine Hunchback Dilbert joking with friends over waffles in a diner. The scene quickly ends in bloodshed after pancakes are brought.
Around 2:00AM a homeless man acquired a jackhammer and began to test it outside the hostel. Although we were on the 3rd floor, it sounded as though the Jackhammer Villain was beside my bunkbed. I awoke from my booze-induced coma delirious but ready to escape. Once we arrive at the train station, we drop 100 Euros, no longer pennywise, and step into our escape car as the whistle blows.
I was surprisingly pleased to be physically capable of supporting my fifty pound backpack after only four hours of sleep. From my couchsurfer’s residence in west Bergen, I bused over Michael Krohn’s Gate to Central Station and attempted to sleep on the train to Myrdal. Drifted in and out of pseudo-rest for an hour then proceeded to eat oatmeal cookies (for the sugar) and drink all café (for the caffeine) in possession in less than one minute. To my utter disappointment, it didn’t aid the utter physical and mental exhaustion one bit. I then came to the conclusion that this much anticipated journey would end in a disastrous fury. However, I was surprisingly pleased that my body decided to perform otherwise.
The Flambana train ride was absolutely splendid and included the following: 1. Numerous waterfalls, including one with a staged dancing nymph on a hilltop (or, rather, two alternating to create a disappearing affect- thanks to the subliminal mystical enthusiasm of the country). 2. Oh-ing and ah-ing Asian tourists, including one skinny twerp from Thailand repetitively doing spirit fingers at every stop. 3. 180* turn.
Upon arriving in Flam, its obvious that the inhabitants’ income is comprised by the train ride as well as the town acting as a base for transport to the surrounding fjords. The brochures, variety of postcards, and tourism center and visitor support system is utterly immaculate. Once one sets eyes on the glistening fjord, you feel that you must be on it. However, a special certification is required to kayak and the fjord day trips must coincide with the limited arrival and departure train times. After deciding that bike rental was the best (and only) option, I rented a bike for 50 NOK from Rahl (as in Dahl), also another hungover being, and took to the streets.
I passed house after house with perfectly painted sides set on sidestreet all with views of rushing water in between the steepest mountains I’ve ever come across. Sheep grazed and their bells rand as they frolicked from salt-cube to salt-cube. I got happily sidetracked down dead-end roads which led to distant names or bridges to hiking trails (Apparently the waters gets its color because it is void of life).
After leaving a mom & daughters knit shop, I passed kindergarten-aged children all sporting neon-construction worker type vests walking down the road. The conversation went something like this:
Imagine a teacher mediating the conversation and a child echoing: Marcus: Hi Me: Hi Marcus: What’s your name? Me: Elyse, what is yours? Marcus stares with bewilderment, eats flower.
Biked towards fjord park until the path ended, sat on a rock and watched the waterfall in the distance drop endlessly. Hesitantly, I returned bike and boarded the train to begin journey back to Oslo. As we approached Myrdal it began to snow.
If you go, don’t miss:
Shop: Unable to find the name but the knit shop is near the Flam Kirk (Church)
Bike riding, kayaking, hiking, boating on the fjord
Trail leading up to the walls of Sudak Fortress, 2012
View from pier in Novyi Svit, 2012
NOTE: This was before the horrible invasion and destruction of Crimea.
After an 16 hour train ride in second class from Kiev to Simferopol, and a bus transfer from Simferopol, we finally arrived exhausted, hungry, and dirty as hell in Sudak. Through eye-contact alone, we agree on a taxi and manage to hire the only skinny taxi driver in Ukraine. Not a minute after we had agreed on the fare and set off, did he swoop around the corner and picked up his Mother-in-law to hitch a ride.
The gangly fellow turned out to be a madman behind the wheel. One of his first travesties was almost an old man canning across the intersection. Built on hilly terrain, the streets of Sudak claw their way out of the sea into a maze- thus a traffic jam on the main thoroughfare results in a pertinacious stalemate. Or so we thought. The cabbie proceeded to reverse at 15mph (and gradually increasing speed) up a one way street as if escaping a lava pit. Miraculously, we arrived at the gates of our guesthouse, backwards, Locked gates and a malfunctioning buzzer appeared to be trivial to our proactive Formula One taxi driver. Unsolicited, he scaled the walls and yelled “WOMAN, COME!”. Next thing we knew, a short Ukrainian woman was prying open the gates to an sylvan two-story guesthome shaded by cherry trees.
If you go: Beach & Fresh Market (Market near the Intersection of Ushakova & Mors’ka St.) Walk down the road towards the fortress until you almost reach the end of the boardwalk. Along the right, a fresh market sells fruits, cheeses, and vegetables. Take your haul down to the furthest point of the cove to sit on the water’s edge and watch Ukrainian women repetitively pose for their boyfriend’s camera. After a toe-dip in the cold sea, take the dirt, Mountain Goat-like trail up to the Sudak Fortress (FYI: littered with an impressive amount of glass).
Fortress Explore the fortresses’ views and various ramparts freely and gaze into the Black Sea’s splendor. Tie a piece of fabric on the makeshift statue at the top for good luck. Don’t slip down the anthill, the paths are not controlled. Spot the beach cove to the right of the fortress and plan your desultory route to it through side streets.
Isolated Beach Cove (Near the end of Prymors’ka St.) Once you emerge from the seemingly private garden path and you’ll come to a rocky cove with a restaurant and plenty of chairs to lie on. The water is warmer and the place is rather pleasant (besides the horrible, blasting music which is the norm). I recommend drinking over eating, unless shrimp crumbles mixed with eggs, mayonnaise and tomato sounds appealing.
Winery Transport: Novyi Svit Winery is three miles away, seemingly in walking distance. However, the route is along a winding mountain road. Luckily we took a cab . Even more luckily, we happen to pass a man running after pick-pocket who robbed him as he was walking along the very way.
The winery doesn’t sell cold cuvee, you much purchase it around the corner at the store. Drink your cold Ukrainian cuvee on the beach and watch the boats. And, apparently, the jellyfish don’t sting.
If you go: Transportation: Train + Bus (Don’t even try the Black Sea Ferry, it is impossible). Stay: Guesthouse Edem Aivazovs’koho St, 17, Sudak, Crimea, Ukraine, 98000 +380 50 055 6564
Sands with Chinese New Year Celebration Float in the Foreground, 2013
Singapore, Arab Quarter 2013
Rule One: Never enter into a Shopping Mall, no matter how badly you need to use the restroom or crave the air conditioning. If you’re body starts to gravitate towards Sim Lim, try to conjure memories of the valleys and creeks that you will never set your eyes on again after being sucked into the materialism that is Sim Lim.
Rule Two: Hawker Centers, food centers comparable to cafeteria style food courts, offer an array of food choices and give you the opportunity to try a variety of local delicacies. There are numerous
Hawker Centresthroughout Singapore, typically one per neighborhood. Each food stall is graded according to cleanliness, housekeeping, and hygiene. If you end up choosing one of the more touristy Hawker Centers, beware of the vultures that will circulate you for business. I recommend the Hawker Centre in Chinatown, the Bukit Timah Market. Climb to the highest level for the Hawker Centre, the lowest level is the food market (grocery) and ground level is a clothing market.
Rule Three: Take a journey to the outskirts to the European-style
Singapore Botanical Gardens and let yourself breathe before entering into the Marina Bay Sands complex, which has followed Abu Dabi and constructed its own landmass featuring a indoor-garden monstrosity surrounded by a resource-sucking 250 acres of gardens. It is, however, a extravegant sight and features massive tree-like structures that put on a light show to music at night. If you end up getting an hotel room to enjoy the infamous infinity pool on the roof at the Marina Bay Sans resort, you can watch and hear it from the rear bar.
Rule Four: Venture to the Arab Quarter (Kampong Lam) for everything. It is a tiny oasis that transports you out of the hustle and bustle. There are various shops, restaurants,eclectic spots with nightly live music and art happenings, and cafes. Remember that in the Arab Quarter, no alcohol is served or allowed.
Rule Five: There are plenty of architectural splendors and oddities that can serve as your escape route from the heavy metal and concrete. Below are a few traditional architectural hideouts, inquire for more… #1.
Parkview Square (“Gotham Building”) – Art-deco like structure, square features bronze statues of notable scholars, philosophers, and scientists. The ornate lobby has is simply breathtaking. Have a drink at the bar. #2. Central Fire Station – Candy stripped #3. Raffles Hotel – The atmosphere simply invites old-fashioned class and provides a refreshing breath of air, reminiscent of the past.
If you go:
Drink & Dine Bukit Timah Market – (Coffee stand up the stairs and to the left is amazing. There should be a line.) 116 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 588172
Raffles Hotel (They do have happy hour at the back bar, though not as special as the courtyard.) 1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673
Square. Harsh. Bleak. Dark. A quickness hoarding resent. Passing facade after facade, lifeless windows. Dilapidation of all we pass. The water even moves forcefully, violently against the boats, against itself. Each wave thrashing without repetition or order. The sky barring down upon the city and its inhabitants. We started the morning rushing past the memorials of a tragic past. Some meant to celebrate victory but instead serve to remind of the trials and tribulations and tiers of oppression. Lenin stands stalwart but windswept in front of Communism’s oath to work, labor. Guns held in the air of those Defenders of Leningrad greet those traveling from the hills into the city on Moskovsky Prospekt. Most statues’ body posture sculpted to impart strength and the supremacy over the common man who he concurrently is and isn’t a representation of. Over the hills and into Catherine’s Palace, we’re greeted by a second-rate Russian rendition of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The whole Palace was bombed in the War so it has been completely restored- however, poorly. Groups of look-alike tourists shuffle through with their pantyhose covering their feet to ‘protect’ the floor. It’s a madhouse. Our guide Dyolva tries to give us the history of every object, room, and related relic (it would not be the end of this information overload. However, it is quite impressive the amount of historical knowledge that every Russian civilian possesses in a memorized account.)
// In St. Petersburg you must experience with a discerning eye. On the way to Peter & Paul Fortress, we pass a monastery with grand spires and colorful domes- one blue with white stars. Incongruously, in the front along the street is a row of canons. We pass a Byzantine Synagogue (restored), a KGB building with perfectly square concrete windows for a whole city block, buildings of pale yellows and greens- their paint chipping onto the street torn by the wind and rain, bars named for their depravity (‘Sorry Mama’), horrid clothing shops, shadows stooped in windows just behind the drafty curtains. What we pass speaks more about the city than what we are supposed to encounter on our trip as tourists. A man walking out of an undisclosed building carrying one pair of women’s stilettos (one red, one black). Seemingly suicidal pigeons standing on edge. A Mondrian mural hidden on a side street.
// After much deliberation, we decide to go have lunch downstairs of the Elisseeff Emporium trading house. Founded by St. Petersburg’s first spice merchants, the atmosphere is truly grand. The walls are beautiful windows of ornate glasswork, framing rows of counters displaying tea biscuits, cheeses, meat, and other delicacies. We move downstairs, almost haphazardly, to find a dimly lighted restaurant boasting maritime specialties. The lighting hid its true opulence until we settled. We sat in front of the kitchen at a mosaic table, the top adorned with profiles of local fish, near cabinets of wine. We melted into the seats like royalty- plush sofas with wooden armrests. Starved (it was nearly 4pm), we dined on Carpaccio, fresh poppy seed bread, and massive black olives, calzones, salmon, pizza, creamy mussels, and wild mushroom soup. // To finish the grand tour, we popped into the student artist co-op and Smolny Cathedral. Still raining, we ran back into the boat from a quick stop before our after hours date with the Hermitage. [Sidenote: Our driver Nikkoli was quick to note that he was born in Leningrad, not St. Peterburg.]
// The walls of the Hermitage are noticeably cracked; falling in but the guide continues to brag about its flawlessness. No one seems to notice, even after she reports of the chandelier crashing onto the ground- through the floor- several years prior. We walk in to the Italian Master’s gallery and through Rembrandt’s gallery totally undisturbed, with time to process the brillance of the art. Our guide continues to lead us through the galleries with her left eye half-open into a wing where the St. Petersburg Orchestra has set up to play. Everyone takes their seats (20 per.) and I catch the first smile I’ve received from a Russian thus far. The clarinet player continues to cheerily play the whole duration and look at me after each song in an approving glance. The six scores are performed passionately with utmost precision. The conductor knows each note with all of his being, he performs and gestures as if to impart each note’s essence. // Afterwards, as we walk along the canal, the dark city is finally illuminated. The street lamps light the waterway and sparkling spire gleams in the distance. Finally I understand the splendor of the city and with a Russian-like subdued sign of cheer, I am able to retire peacefully.
The moment you land in Calgary and approach the city, you can instantly tell that it is a gateway to a natural landscape. The river, which separates the city into two distinctive parts, leads the eye to meet the peaks of the Canadian Rockies into the distance. Beyond that, the dubbed ‘Glacier Highway’ and miles of preserved lands await for exploration await within Calgary’s expansive natural preserves.
Calgary is a tiny city that has all of the precursory traits of a metropolis, however in infancy: an emerging neighborhood with art and subculture (Kensington), a chain-filled pedestrian mall downtown where tourists graze on fake-local dishes, the young professional zone with the newest farm-to-table cuisine and high-end cocktails. However, what makes it a truly enjoyable city was set years before the recent population boom. The most notable aspect resides in Calgarian’s love and appreciation for nature. A bike-friendly city with miles of running and biking paths and an efficient tram system connects the pockets of the city, making it easy to jump around town.
Calgary is a day-city that acts as an overture to nature-enthusiasts to the plethora of natural parks in the Canadian Rockies. Alberta is home to five immense National Parks. Banff, the first, is only 70 miles away from the city and the journey goes on endlessly from there.
If you go, you simply must: Caffeination
The Roasterie 314 10 St NW – When you walk into the door of this tiny dark coffeeshop in Kensington, it feels like you’ve uncovered a traditional shop whose purveyors have been roasting for centuries.
Adventure Bike west of the city along the Bow River and up to McHugh Bluff Park for a dazzling panoramic view of the skyline and the endless landscape beyond.
Head out of town – Head Northwest to Jasper National Park & Banff.- Stop in Lake Louise for a quick trail run and keep heading northwest towards Banff on the Plain of 6 Glaciers – Camp along the North Saskatchewan River off of Hwy 11
Vatnajökull 2014, Located further south, the thawing icecap’s mass totaled 8% of the country and lead to Dentifoss’s powerful rate of cascading 3,059,436 gallons of water per second.
The world anthem for indie soulful wanderlusters is the same in every country – a combination of folksy rock whose singer bellows with a heart heavy of disdain and longing. However, in Iceland, the music is overlaid with an eerie psychedelic haze that seems to synchronize with the climate and landscape.
The nation is one whole amusement park. Around every bend there are dutiful signs indicating a place of interest. A seal colony, glacial lagoon, lava field, geothermal lake, countless fjords, magnificent towering waterfalls, a rift between tectonic plates, black volcanic beaches…. After three nocturnal days in Reykjavik, I embarked on a clockwise journey around the island encompassing the Snaefellness Peninsula and the absolutely, terrifyingly desolated roads around the West fjords. The geothermal influence got particularly interesting as I approached the northwest corner.
Turning the bend towards Krafla (a still ragingly active volcano), I tried not to be distracted into driving my Yaris off the road when I saw dozens of steaming chutes jutting out of the landscape. Due to the high volcanic activity further South and speculation of potential eruption, this was especially fascinating. Like awakening from hibernation, the Earth seemed to be rousing from its slumber. Numerable mudpots and live steam vents were backed by Krafla’s muted-red slope and which gave way to barren lavafields.
Two hours later, I found myself huffing volcanic debris as I puffed up the Hverfell crater. The ash from each step formed clouds of charred life in the air, and in my lungs. At the top of the semi-cone, the views from the rim of the crater exposed various stories of creation and destruction. To the west, Lake Myvatn shimmered with verdant coasts, and to the east, the total annihilation and scared earth from the various volcanoes laid out for miles.
About 45 km away, as if mimicking the same contrasting tone, the lavafields opened up to reveal a canyon containing Europe’s largest waterfall, Dentifoss– a 45m, gargantuan waterfall pouring between two sheer basalt cliffs. I stood there laughing at its ridiculousness, unable to comprehend how it was completely hidden, unexposed nearly 500 ft away.
Although it was mid-day, it seemed as though it was dawn. All of the air was heavy and tasted like the earth. Water was stirring everywhere. Further up the path was another massive waterfall- Selfoss, whose five giant 30 ft drops bellowed. Its splendor only mildly toppled.
If you go: Overall tips Rent a car online prior and pick up wine from a Vinbudin before you get into town. Remember that you can only buy gas and alcohol within certain hours. Save your receipts for a tax-refund. Late August is a great time to go- you can catch glimpses of the Northern lights, Reykjavik culture night, and the best firework show on the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon.
Myvatn: Eat & Drink Pick up food from the market before 10pm & grill at your mainstay Lodging Dimmuborgir Guesthouse – spectacular cabins, breakfast with house smoked trout and hotspring bread, & ownership Catch the sunset on the lake. Baths Jarbodin – bring a towel, water, & a book to take advantage of the sun and patio
Fjallsarlon glacial lagoon and the Hverfell crater, 2014
Salamanca is a university town that is filled solely with senior citizens and tourists during the summer. This transient population tends to linger mostly around Rua Mayor, dining at expensive, subpar restaurants in Plaza Mayor. The feeling I take away from this architectural gem is that it has been invaded by foreign students who’ve driven the locals (and their offerings) to succumb to jaded tourist conformity. This type of syndrome- a true love hate relationship- is found throughout the world, notably in Paris during the same months. They choose to work and be apart of the industry to reap the profits but do so with a grimace.
While waiting outside
CathedralNueva , a man with skin like the dried riverbeds of Utah strums his guitar. His music charms nearby Spanish high school students- many of which use the chance as a smoke break which subsequently formulates an overhanging smoke cloud, creating a terrarium like effect. (Spare yourself the confusion: Cathedral Nueva is right next to Cathedral Viejo.)
A few blocks out of the tourist red zone, there is an immaculate art nouveau and art deco museum. The stained glass ceiling of the entry is as if Van Gough crafted it while dreaming of a midsummers night’s sky. Every medium of the period is presented in great detail- from porcelain figurines, bronze, dyed glass vases to crystal feminine silhouettes. The arboretum in the rear of the museum is now a chic café and bar, a time-altering place to saddle up in a velvet corner couch soak up the atmosphere over some dark red wine.
Joao, a Portuguese gourmand who insists that every restaurant in Europe is the same and therefore dines by the Michelin Guide, and I finally choose a place that looks like it could be the much treasured ‘local’ joint. Fooled by the décor, the barmaid looks like a haggard hillbilly and recommends a bottle of wine that blinks the eye. Every dish is covered in oil and I begin to wonder if anyone can actually tell the difference between the dishes or if they just could just as well be served rancid meat fried in oil instead.
One last dud for the books: The 10€ ticket to enter the classic Pontifical University building tour allows entry to see rooms with chairs, benches, and old moth-eaten velvet curtains. You can also view the old library from behind a looking glass, complete with a roped off courtyard, which is home to a sole, haggard looking pine tree in desperate need of pruning. This is the full extent of the building access.
If you go, you simply must: Stroll around throughout the towns streets, especially the random ways, and be amazed by the architecture.