Category Archives: Portugal

Rainy Porto, sunny Milan

We said goodbye to our short-term family in Parada de Gonta and caught the bus to Porto. It was especially hard saying goodbye to Zero, Jet, Kitty, Womble and Lottie; we started missing them as soon as we left the Quinta.

Zero giving Dylan’s head one last lick and bite

Although it rained all throughout the one afternoon we were there, we did manage a quick look around the pretty and very hilly city of Porto. We strolled along the port, rode the funicular, shopped for souvenirs and checked out an old bookshop that was featured in one of the Harry Potter movies. We spent the night at the Rivoli Cinema Hostel, another one of Portugal’s excellent hostels (this one won 5th Best Hostel rated on Hostelworld). We would’ve loved to have stayed a few more nights, but Italy beckoned.

Unfortunately, no photography allowed inside. Squint hard and you might see the crazy staircase

Porto – we liked it. Thought it was a bit like Georgotown, Penang, but a bit hillier

Definitely recommend this hostel for those going to Porto. They have a good collection of Star Wars posters too

We were a bit confused for a second. Porto airport is almost exactly the same as KLIA, just a bit smaller

The next morning, after a two-hour Ryan Air flight and a lost tin of sardines (confiscated by airport security), we were in sunny Milan-Bergamo. The temperature was 25 degrees Celsius and the air smelled of pizza.

We had one and a half days in Milan before we moved on to Verona to meet our friends, Josil and Davide. We had managed to find a good deal for a hotel room in Milan on Booking.com. Although it’s not great, the hotel is located in a nice residential area just five Metro stops from the city centre.

There are a lot of Asians in Milan – the Indonesian and Malaysian tourists, as well as the Filipino, Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese immigrants. About one out of three souvenir shops / fruit stalls / mini markets would be manned by smiling Bangladeshis. Although there is something very strange about having a Bangladeshi trying to speak to you in Italian, it amazed us that so many of these guys manage to fare well in distant lands.

Milan is where fashion meets religion. Its beating heart is the Duomo, an imposing cathedral surrounded by designer outlets housed in beautiful old buildings. From Prada to Alexander McQueen, H&M to Gap, Burger King to McDonalds, you can spend hours here just browsing.

The Duomo and metro exit

A shopper’s cathedral

Milan – where religion meets fashion

Following the recommendation of a friendly local who we sat next to on the flight over, we had ourselves some panzerotti (deep fried folded pizza) at Luini’s. It was so good that we went again the next day.

The lunch time queue outside of Luini’s

Worth the queue – spinach and ricotta cheese panzerotti from Luini’s

Having had enough of window shopping, we set out in search of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church to have a look at Leonardo da Vincci’s “The Last Supper” mural. When we finally found the place (after some getting lost and stumbling upon another pretty church) we didn’t get to see the mural as phone reservation was required, and to preserve the mural, only 25 visitors are allowed in every 15 minutes.

Man cycling in front of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. A lot of men in smart suits cycle around Milan

We never thought we would do this in Italy, but we ended our Milan stay with cheap and good Chinese food – fried rice, fried noodles, chilli prawns and vegetables with oyster sauce.

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“Bersih” in the Portuguese countryside

Sorry for the hiatus. We’ve been tied up with work. Just the usual stuff: baby-sitting, cleaning wine tanks, farming, feeding chickens, ironing… that sort of stuff.

It all started about two weeks ago when we got a bit tired of sightseeing. So we registered ourselves as workaways and discovered a totally new dimension to traveling. Workaway-ing a very good deal for travellers because in exchange for work, you get accommodation and food (depending on the hosts) and experience everyday life in the areas you choose, as opposed to the usual made-for-tourist crap.

We’ve been staying with and working for Hugh and Jane Forestier-Walker (and their two dogs and three cats) at their country home cum bed and breakfast, the Quinta Dos Tres Rios since Monday. Wanting to escape the “red tape, onerous legislation and UK rat-race”, in 2005 the couple sold off their famous smokery business which they ran from South Wales, bought a piece of land in the small village of Parada de Gonta (about 20 minutes from Viseu), and set about restoring the abandoned house that came with it. It’s now a top-end bed and breakfast, which they run by themselves with the occasional hand from their family and friends.

Quinta Dos Tres Rios

We’re absolutely loving it here – Sara gets to indulge in two of her favourite pastimes (cats and ironing) and the both of us are enjoying the hands-on experience of working the land (like everyone else here, they grow their own fruits and vegetables and make their own wine) as well as life in rural Portugal.

Chicken and duck feeding time. The cockerel attacked Sara right after this photo was taken

For some reason, Sara thinks ironing is a lot of fun

Digging and raking is much more fun (and better exercise) than ironing

Fun task of playing with Hugh and Jane's granddaughter Eilah

Not much fun when Zero broke the pot and we had to clean up his mess

Getting a quick lesson on grapevines

Cleaning wine tanks - this was a 1000-litre wine tank

We both crawled inside (not together, but in different tanks) to give the tanks a good scrub

Dylan keeping his head warm

Hugh and Jane have made us feel like part of their extended family. Every night Jane whips up fabulous dinners, and we particularly enjoy Hugh’s almost daily attempts to teach his 84-year old mother in the UK how to use Skype on her new iPad. “Slide your finger firmly but gently across the screen like you’re stroking a feather, find the button that looks like a camera and tap on it…”

Their good friends, George and Di live in another village about 20 minutes away. George was particularly interested in meeting us when he found out that we were from Malaysia as he has many fond memories from his time there as a British army paratrooper in the 1970s. We spent some time listening to his stories of encountering wildlife and people in the forest as well as being stuck in a parachute way up in the forest canopy – we will have to record his amazing stories someday.

Hugh showing off his potatoe mashing skills. The couple also makes their own jam, marmalade, chutney, olive oil and mayonnaise, among other things.

The cats, Zero and Kit Kat, at one of the warmer areas in the house. Jet (Zero's sister) only comes into the house once in a while.

Our first lunch there, on the patio

Kit Kat likes to go for walks in the evening and complains when he's left behind

Hugh gave us a tour of an old textile mill located within their property. He plans to turn it into a top-notch apartment complex for old folks

Yesterday, Hugh and Jane gave us some time off to sit down or “duduk bantah” in solidarity with our friends who bravely took on the water cannons, tear gas and razor wire on the streets of Kuala Lumpur during the Bersih demonstration for free and fair elections.

Sitting down on the job in support of a worthy cause and our brave friends in Malaysia

More work to be done in the next few days before we become tourists again. Leaving for Porto on the 2nd and flying off to Milan, Italy, the following day.

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Looking for “Al”

We’ve been in Lisbon the past two days, hanging out at a very cool hostel on the second floor of the train station. Although the hostel is extremely comfortable (well equipped kitchen, free flow coffee, hammocks, pool table, etc.) we did manage to drag ourselves out to have a look around town a bit.

The lounge at Lisbon Destination hostel

The city doesn’t have as many grand old buildings as we expected it would. This is because Lisbon was hit by a huge earthquake (measuring 9 on the Richter scale) on the 1st of November 1755. The earthquake (and the fires and tsunami that followed) not only destroyed almost all of the buildings, but also killed about half of the town’s population.

In any case, we like Lisbon. It has a gritty, working class feel to it, and if you forget about the pickpockets for a while (but not for too long), it’s really quite a laid back place.

The Lisbon skyline looks pretty much like this

Lisbon has many cool cats

Lisbon has many excitable dogs

Lisbon also has some unusual people

And since we’re here, we thought we’d might as well look up Alfonso de Albuquerque, the archetypal swashbuckling Portuguese male, who in any case, was much more of a man than the famous Portuguese of our times, the saloon-tanned, ballet-dancing, ball-juggling Christiano Ronaldo. While the latter is good with balls, the former was a scholar and a military genius.

Our little search for traces of Alfonso (his friends probably just called him “Al”) brought us to the Maritime Museum in Belem, 6km out of Lisbon, which houses the proud exploits of Portuguese seafarers from the time of Vasco da Gama up till today.

Alfonso - made tights fashionable

Alfonso - also has his own square and statue in Belem

Regardless of what the Malaysian high school text books tell you, the era of Portuguese exploration and conquest had  tremendous bearing on the the world we know today. The brief Portuguese rule in Malacca in particular, forever changed  the political landscape of the Malay Peninsula. It cemented the downfall of the Malaccan empire and the establishment of the Perak and Johor sultanates, as well as introduced of a lot of useful items and concepts (as well as new words) into the lives of the natives, such as chairs (kerusi), cupboards (almari), forks (garpu),  butter (mentega), soap (sabun), fire brigades (bomba) and party (pesta).

Where the Portuguese ships went in search of curry powder - part of a map at the Maritime Museum

Although on the whole the museum was impressive, we were somewhat disappointed that there was not a lot on the life and times of Alfonso, nor on the conquest of Malacca. We were also a bit disappointed that the Museum did not have anything on Enrique of Malacca, Magellan’s Malay interpreter who was among the first persons to circumnavigate the globe after Magellan met his fate in the Philippines (OK it’s probably because this was a Spanish expedition, but still, Magellan was Portuguese).

We did however manage to get our hands on the famed Portuguese egg tarts from a bakery in Belem that opened for business almost 200 years ago.

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Selamat datang ke Portugal!

Selamat datang ke Olhao, Sara!” went the first line of the email from Jeff and Leonie De Zilva at the Pension Bicuar Residencial in Olhao, Portugal where we had booked our beds online. They probably Google-translated the word ‘welcome’, we assumed.

Eyebrows were raised once again when Jeff welcomed us when we arrived by asking, “So which part of KL are you from?”

Turned out Jeff and his wife Leonie had lived in Malaysia for over 20 years, and moved to Portugal just eleven months ago when they bought over this pension. As Jeff worked in the hotel industry in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, it was only natural that he finally runs a hotel of his own. In fact, they were so Malaysian-ised that when they left Malaysia, they also shipped their stash of curry powder and other Malaysian food items to Portugal.

Tuan rumah: Jeff and Leonie

The pension. Strategically located next to a northern Indian restaurant, and less than a minute walk away from the fish market

Olhao is a historical city within the Algarve region in southern Portugal. A 15-minute bus ride away from the capital of the Algarve (Faro),  the city is unpretentious and immediately reminded us of Penang as we walked from the bus station to the pension.

Jeff and Leonie’s pension is located within Olhao’s historic town center, an old fishing town of marble and cobble stone streets and Morrish-style whitewashed square houses. It is a pretty little place, with a well-equipped kitchen and an amazing rooftop terrace with stunning views.

Pension Bicuar has one of the prettiest rooftop terraces in the area

Many pretty flowers on the rooftop. Incidentally, the Algarve is a plant diversity hotspot

There is a lot to do here, explained Jeff, but as we only had one full day here before heading to Lisbon, he suggested for us to visit the Ria Formosa National Park located just off the coast as well as explore the historical part of the city on foot. And not forgetting the seafood, to which he recommended a few good restaurants a few minutes away.

But there was one restaurant that we just had to go to: Indian Hut  Restaurant, right opposite the pension.

Makan tangan: Fish curry, garlic naan, palau rice, chicken korma

We rose early the next day and took the boat to Culatra beach within the Ria Formosa National Park. It was a scenic island with a few Portuguese “kampungs” with interesting short houses and nice beaches that would’ve been nicer if the weather wasn’t so cold.

Very short houses

Very pretty houses too

Sand dunes and unique halophytic (salt tolerant) vegetation

We managed to catch the boat back in time for lunch

We had to make a mad dash across a two-kilometre stretch of beach to get to Farol, a jetty on the other side of the island, as we wanted to catch the earlier boat back to Olhao for lunch.

Six sardines and four other fishes grilled with salt: More than enough for lunch/dinner and breakfast

We didn’t have dinner that night as we were still full from lunch. Our tapau-ed fish was our breakfast before we left for Lisbon.

Jeff and Leonie, it was wonderful to have met you. Meeting you guys cured our homesickness a little, and it was nice to chat about the food, traffic, people and amusing politians back home. Selamat tinggal dan semoga kita berjumpa lagi.

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