My dream, traveling for work

In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to work for a Spanish cosmetics company that offered me training in their headquarters in Valladolid for 2 weeks. We went to Salamanca during the weekend. With this trip I fulfilled one of my dreams, to travel for work for the first time.

 

VALLADOLID

Facts about the city:

The city was briefly the capital of Spain under Phillip III between 1601 and 1606, before returning indefinitely to Madrid. The city then declined until the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, and with its industrialization into the 20th century.

Christopher Columbus died in 1506 in the city. The house of Columbus and the house where Cervantes wrote part of Don Quixote have been preserved.

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I traveled to Valladolid on business, to have a training at the PostQuam Cosmetics headquarters in order to work later in Porto as a store manager. This has always been my dream, traveling at work with everything paid for. Me and two other girls were chosen – Vera and Diana – and we stayed there for two weeks.

It was very nice to stay for two weeks in a 3 star hotel, Park Hotel (now called Hotel Zentral Parque), with paid meals. They gave us a lot of money to go to eat wherever we wanted, and the truth is that we took advantage of that and we always ate in the best restaurants we could find. We got along very well and that also helped a lot to enjoy ourselves these weeks. The Hotel is located in Paseo del Hospital Militar, near the bus station.

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Sometimes we would have lunch with Cesar from the company and we went to dinner once with Gonzalo, our boss, in a very nice restaurant. One other day we went to eat with him at a gourmet market near the station.

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I think we walk all over town. The city is neither too big nor too pretty. We went several times to Plaza Mayor (where the Town Hall is) and the surrounding commercial streets. Plaza Mayor, presided over by a statue of Count Ansúrez from 1903, is located only a few blocks away from another famous plaza, the Plaza Zorrilla.

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We went to Campo Grande, a large public park located in the heart of the city. A notable feature of the park is the abundant bird population.

We visited other nice places like the Valladolid Cathedral. The original design for this cathedral would have created a church which would have been the largest cathedral in Europe. Initially planned as the Cathedral for the capital city of Spain, ultimately, only 40-45% of the intended project was completed, due to lack of resources after the court moved towards Madrid, and the expenses caused by the difficult foundations of the temple, located in an area with a large gap in the field.

We went to several other churches, like San Benito el Real or Santa María La Antigua. In the last days of the training we left the call center and went to help to prepare the opening of new stores of our company through the city. One of the days I also worked in one of their stores.


 

SALAMANCA

Facts about the city:

Salamanca is one of the most important university cities in Spain. The frog, which appears on a skull and decorates the facade of the original building of the University, constitutes to one of the principal touristic attractions of the city and also has its own history. According to the legend, if a student doesn’t see it, he’ll fail in his studies.

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Over the weekend we took advantage of the fact that we were not going to work and went to Salamanca, the golden city. It is so called because all the buildings are yellowish and with the sun they become golden.

We saw the Casa de las Conchas, that currently houses a public library. It was built from 1493 to 1517 by Rodrigo Arias de Maldonado, a knight of the Order of Santiago de Compostela and a professor in the University of Salamanca. Its most peculiar feature is the facade, decorated with more than 300 shells, symbol of the order of Santiago, as well as of the pilgrims performing the Way of St. James.

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We visited the Plaza Mayor. It was built in the traditional Spanish baroque style and is a popular gathering area. It is lined by restaurants, ice cream parlors, tourist shops, and jewelry stores along its perimeter except in front of the city hall. It is considered the heart of Salamanca and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain.

We went to see the Convento de San Esteban and also the Old and New Cathedral of Salamanca. Cracks and broken windows are visible reminders of the devastating effects of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, still visible today. After the earthquake, repairs were necessary to the cupola and the base of the tower.

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We didn’t spend much time in Salamanca, but it was a very fun and relaxing day and we managed to see everything.

Bruges, the fairy tale city

In the summer of 2014 I went to two Belgium cities: Bruges and Brussels. Without a doubt I preferred Bruges, a medieval town very charming and beautiful. It reminded me of fairy tales and great love stories!

 

BRUGES

Facts about the city:

The history of the swans dates back to the middle ages. People from Bruges were unhappy with Emperor Maximilian of Austria and his adviser Pieter Lanckhals. The two were captured and Lanckhals was executed in front of Maximilian. He escaped and punished the people from Bruges decreeing that they would have to keep swans on the canals and lakes forever to remember what they did. Swans have long necks, which in Dutch means lanckhals, the last name of his executed adviser.

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I loved Bruges! It is undoubtedly on my top favorite cute places in Europe. Bruges is an old medieval town, full of cute waterways. Ricardo and I stayed at the Hostel Bruges Inn Center (now called Hostel 28) on Dweersstraat 28. We paid €104 for two nights, so €26 a night each.

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I loved the Burg or Markt, which is the main square of the city, which also has the Town Hall and the Belfry. In the center of the market stands the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.

The Belfry is a medieval bell tower and one of the city’s most prominent symbols. A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps leads to the top of the 83 m high building. The building is a central feature of the 2008 film In Bruges and is also mentioned in the novel Cloud Atlas.

 

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I loved the other square where there is the Basilica of the Sacred Blood. Originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders, the church houses a venerated relic of the Holy Blood of Christ.

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I really liked the area of Beginhof, which is a collection of houses surrounded by beautiful water channels with ducklings. The entrance bridge is from 1776. The beguinage used to be like a small city. The women had everything they needed in there, such as plantations and church. The place had its own rules, the women living in there were protected within the beguinage in case they committed anything illegal outside of its walls.

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I really liked this area too, Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai). Being one of the most photographed sites throughout the city of Bruges, the Quay of the Rosary is one of the most beautiful sights of this Belgian city with its canals and classic buildings.

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The Onze Lieve Vrowekerk (Church of our Lady) is also beautiful. I took pictures of a bridge with this church in the background that look amazing. Its tower, at 115 m, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.

 

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I enjoyed the walks we did to the Jan Van Eyck Square area. Here we had dinner at an Italian restaurant and also went to some bars to drink some typical Belgian beers, with red fruits. The square is named for noted Northern Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck.

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In Simon Stevin Square we also drank some beers. As we went there during the World Cup 2014 games, we went to a square to watch the game Belgium vs. Germany and it was crazy. We ordered the most expensive beers, all fancy, and then we ran away without paying in the middle of the crowd.

We then saw the second part of the game for some sort of giant outdoor pavilion with giant screens. Belgium lost and was eliminated but even so it was super fun. Another typical thing we did there was eating chips with a special sauce. And waffles, of course.

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I loved the fact that we rented bicycles and rode all over the city like that, past all the canals, parks, lakes and picturesque mills.

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BRUSSELS

Facts about the city:

The city is home to 40,000 EU employees, 4,000 NATO employees and hosts about 300 permanent representations: lobby groups, embassies and press corporations.

Many walls on houses in Brussels are covered with comic book references – so look up when you walk the city.

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After Bruges, we went to Brussels for two days. The trains in Belgium are really modern, with two floors and everything. I liked Bruges much more than Brussels. We were not lucky in Brussels because it was raining a lot. In addition, in Brussels, Ricardo and I had some fights. The city is nothing special. We stayed at Hotel Sabina. We paid € 47 for one night in a double room, so we paid €23.50 each. It is on Rue du Nord 78.

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I liked the Grand-Place, with its nice buildings. We had dinner in a Greek restaurant close to this square.

This is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the King’s House or Breadhouse, a building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels.  The square is the most memorable landmark in Brussels. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

We visited the Manneken Pis. This is a landmark small bronze sculpture with 61 cmdepicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue embodies the sense of humour of people from Brussels and their independence of mind.

We went to the Cathedral of St. Michael and Sta. Gudula and the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert. The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is Europe’s oldest shopping arcade.

We visited the church of Notre Dame du Sablon. Close to the church, there’s the Petit Sablon square and garden, very beautiful decorated with some nice statues.

In this trip we also went to the Palais Royal, which is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels. The palace is situated in front of Parc de Bruxelles.

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Close to the Royal Palace, you have the Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg church. In front of this church, you have Mont des Arts. I really liked Mont des Arts. We sat there watching the sunset, with the silhouette at the bottom of the buildings of the Grand-Place.

To give the area, situated between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place, a better look during the Universal Exposition held in Brussels in 1910, the king ordered the landscape architect Pierre Vacherot to design a ‘temporary’ garden on the hill. The Mont des Arts offers one of Brussels’ finest views.

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Finally, we visited the Parlamentarium, very interesting and interactive. The Parlamentarium is the visitors’ centre of the European Parliament The official opening was in 2011. The permanent exhibition contains hundreds of multimedia components, explaining the European Parliament and other European Union institutions. All content in the Parlamentarium is available in the 24 official EU languages.

The European Parliament has three places of work – Brussels (Belgium), the city of Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and Strasbourg (France). Luxembourg is home to the administrative offices (the “General Secretariat”). Meetings of the whole Parliament (“plenary sessions”) take place in Strasbourg and in Brussels. Committee meetings are held in Brussels.

Madrid, twice in a year

Taking advantage of the fact that Ricardo was doing ERASMUS in Murcia, we both went to Madrid for a weekend. I was also there a few months before, briefly.

 

Facts about the city:

The famous Real Madrid Football Club was founded in the year 1902 and is the world’s most successful and richest football club of the 20th century. Real Madrid has a record for the most victories in a row, i.e., five for having won the competition Champions League from 1956 to 1960.

Madrid’s flag symbol is a bear on its hind legs eating berries. This symbol is significantly a metaphor of Madrid’s growth and progress, also represents possession of the wood used to construct buildings. These two emblematic figures also represent the official Coat of Arms of Madrid.

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The first time I went to Madrid, I took a train to Murcia to visit Ricardo. I went with Catia, the sister of a girl who was staying with him. As we had some free time, we were able to take a walk around the main points of the city, such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.

The Puerta del Sol is a public square, one of the best known and busiest places in the city. The square contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year.

The Plaza Mayor is located only a few Spanish blocks away from Puerta del Sol. The Plaza Mayor is rectangular in shape, surrounded by three-story residential buildings having 237 balconies facing the Plaza. The Casa de la Panadería, serving municipal and cultural functions, dominates the Plaza Mayor.

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The second time I was in Madrid was at the end of Ricardo’s Erasmus. I went to meet him in Madrid and I got to know the city better this time around.

We stayed at the hotel Hostal Alistana and I remember we did not like it because we heard the rain knocking on the window and it made a lot of noise and we could not fall asleep. The hotel is located in Hortaleza, 28 2º, 01.Centro Madrid and we paid 54€ for two nights, so 13,50€ per person per night.

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We visited the Royal Palace, which is very nice inside. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but it is only used for state ceremonies. King Felipe VI and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palace of Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid. It is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area.

We were in Madrid the day that someone important died (I cannot remember who) and there was a funeral with ceremonies in the palace. I also remember that we went to a zone of narrow streets full of bars and we ate at 100 montaditos.  We also went to see the Catedral de Almudena, right next to the Royal Palace.

Close to the Royal Palace, there’s also the Temple of Debod. The shrine was originally erected in Egypt, in the early 2nd century BC. In 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the consequent threat posed by its reservoir to numerous monuments and archaeological sites, UNESCO made an international call to save this rich historical legacy. As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.

The temple was rebuilt in one of Madrid’s parks, the Parque del Oeste, and opened to the public in 1972.

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In addition to the points that I had previously visited, we visited Parque del Retiro. This is a large and popular 1.4 km2 park at the edge of the city center, very close to the Puerta de Alcalá, Plaza de Cibeles (this square and its fountain have become symbolic monuments of the city) and not far from the Prado Museum. Retiro is a magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake, and a host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid’s premier attractions.

We visited Mercado San Miguel. This is a covered gourmet tapas market built in 1916, with over 30 different vendors selling a wide variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods and other foods.

Finally, strolled around the Gran Vía. Gran Vía is an ornate and upscale shopping street and it is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe. It is known as the street that never sleeps. The street is also noted for the grand architecture of many of the buildings, like the Metropolis building.

Exploring the south of Spain

In 2014 I went to Murcia. I took the time to visit other cities in the south of Spain as well, like Cartagena and Granada. In Granada, we visited Alhambra, an amazing complex of Arabic palaces.

 

Facts about the city:

Granada was a Muslim Kingdom for 800 years, which is the longest Muslim rule in Spain.

The Alcazaba, the Moorish citadel, is the oldest part of the Alhambra in Granada. It was built in the 11th century. The name “Alhambra” (meaning “the Red” in Arabic) derives from the red, sun-dried bricks of the citadel.

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MURCIA

The city is funny and cozy. It has the big Cathedral of Murcia with narrow streets full of shops and some squares where you can sit down to eat an ice cream. Murcia also has great bars and it’s mainly a university town.

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The city, as the capital of the comarca Huerta de Murcia is called Europe’s orchard due to its long agricultural tradition and its fruit, vegetable, and flower production and exports.

I spent a very fun week with him, Laura, Cátia, Sofia, Tainan, the Italian guy, the Brazilian girl, Bruno, etc. We had some dinner parties and went out to the Erasmus bar in the evening.


 

CARTAGENA

During my stay in Murcia, Ricardo and I took the opportunity to visit other cities in southern Spain, such as Cartagena. The town is funny, with a large, ancient amphitheater, and a very cute marina.

Cartagena is a major naval station.  As far back as the 16th century it was one of the most important naval ports in Spain, together with Ferrol in the North. It is still an important naval seaport, the main military haven of Spain, and is home to a large naval shipyard.

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The confluence of civilizations as well as its strategic Harbour, together with the rise of the local mining industry is manifested by a unique artistic heritage, with a number of landmarks such as the Roman Theatre, the second largest of the Iberian Peninsula after the one in Mérida (built between 5 and 1 BC).

This and an abundance of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish remains, result of the bourgeoisie from the early 20th century. Cartagena is now established as a major cruise ship destination in the Mediterranean and an emerging cultural focus.

 

 


 

GRANADA

We also went to Granada for two days and I loved the city. We stayed in a hostel called El Granado and we paid 36€ in total for one night, so 18€ per person.

Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is a fantastic city, full of Arab influences. I really felt like I was in Morocco! It has narrow streets with places to smoke chicha and shops that sell typical souvenirs (we went to one of these bars), places to eat tapas, etc.

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But undoubtedly the most beautiful and special part of Granada are the Arabian palaces of the Alhambra! Well worth the money. The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, is the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy with its many cultural attractions that make Granada a popular destination among the touristic cities of Spain. It is all Arabic, with typical arches and ceilings in detail carved with huge gardens and beautiful fountains.

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We also visited the Generalife, which is a garden area attached to the Alhambra which became a place of recreation and rest for the Granadan Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official life in the Palace.

We went to see the Cathedral of Granada. The cathedral is built over the Nasrid Great Mosque of Granada, in the center of the city. We entered the Royal Chapel. The Catholic Monarchs chose this place as their burial site by a royal decree dated September 13, 1504.

The Almohad influence on architecture is also preserved in the Granada neighborhood called the Albaicín with its fine examples of Moorish and Morisco construction. Granada is also well-known within Spain for the University of Granada.

 

Germany of the post-war

In 2014 I went to Germany with a friend for the first time. We went to visit Frankfurt, a city with some interesting things to see but a lot of contrasts, since a lot of the old monuments were destroyed by the war and now a big part of the city is modern.

 

Facts about the city:

During ancient times, Frankfurt was the center of the Holy Roman Empire where kings – and later emperors – were crowned.

The famous writer, humanist and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt in 1749. In 1860, it also became the final resting place of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

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I went with my friend to Frankfurt for my birthday and it was freezing cold. We stayed in a very nice hotel in the center of Frankfurt, near the train station. It was called Frankfurt Hostel and it was on Kaiserstr. 74, Bahnhofsviertel, Frankfurt. We paid € 147 for three nights – 24.50€ each, per night. We also had breakfast included. The balcony of our room had a very beautiful view of the skyscrapers.

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Behind our hostel we discovered that there was the Red Light District of Frankfurt. Creepy! Despite being a city with not much to see, we had a lot of fun. We went to Starbucks, we went for kebabs in an Indian restaurant down the street… We also went to a calm bar next to the hostel where Rita sang me happy birthday.

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The coolest place where we went out at night was a pub called O’Reilley’s Irish Pub. Some German guys who were there chatted with us and there was one who asked me for a second of my time and I literally gave him a second of my time and said “bye!” haha

Then on the street we also met a gentleman who asked us for the lighter, who had just moved to Germany. A funny thing in Germany is that, because I was blonde and white, everyone spoke to me in German, thinking I was from there. The same didn’t happen with Rita, because she really looks latin. Another funny thing about the trip was the fact that we always used the underground without paying.

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Speaking now of what we visited, the most beautiful place was Römerberg without a doubt. It is very beautiful with those typical buildings. If it was not for World War II, Frankfurt would still be pretty. The Römer house is located opposite the Old St. Nicholas church and has been the city hall (Rathaus) of Frankfurt for over 600 years. The Haus Römer is actually the middle building of a set of three located in the Römerberg (square).

 

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We also went to the Museumsufer, which is the “neighborhood” of museums, on the other side of the river, and entered the Staedel Museum. The Städel Museum has one of the most important collections in Germany. The Städel Museum owns 2,700 paintings (of which 600 are displayed) and a collection of 100,000 drawings and prints as well as 600 sculptures.

We went to Dom St. Bartholomaus (or Frankurt Cathedral), a giant cathedral that we could barely fit into photos. Then we crossed Eiserner Steg, a bridge full of love locks, and visited the Liebieghaus, a beautiful house that contains a sculpture museum.

The Eiserner Steg (Iron bridge) is a footbridge. The first bridge of wrought iron was built in the year of 1868. It was replaced in 1911/1912 by a slightly larger cantilever bridge. The bridge was blown up by the Wehrmacht in the final days of World War II, but it has been rebuilt shortly afterwards in the year of 1946. In 1993 it had been fully renovated.

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We passed Paulskirche (St. Pauls Church). Paulskirche is notable for being the seat of the 1848 Frankfurt Parliament, the first publicly and freely-elected German legislative body. Although now a United Protestant church, it was started as a Lutheran church in 1789—coincidentally the same year as the French Revolution.

We also went to Dreikönigskirche, to the Hauptwache square, which is a central point of Frankfurt and one of the most famous squares and to Katarinenkirche, a lutheran church located nearby. The Stock ExchangeBerger Strasse (a cosmopolitan boulevard with many bars, pubs and restaurants and two of Frankfurt’s most traditional cider houses, Solzer and Zur Sonneand) the Goethe House.

We also went to the Alte Oper (opera house). It was inaugurated in 1880 but destroyed by bombs in 1944. It was rebuilt, slowly, in the 1970s, opening again in 1981. Many important operas were performed for the first time in Frankfurt, including Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in 1937.

 

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We discovered the Chinese Garden. In 1990 a Chinese garden, the ‘Garden of Heavenly Peace’ was created in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The garden is authentic, created according to the principles of feng shui by Chinese craftsmen. Most of the materials were imported from China. The walled garden’s entrance is guarded by two Chinese lions. The garden features a temple, pagoda and the beautifully carved Jade Bridge.

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There was also another day when we left the center of Frankfurt and went to a “neighborhood” full of typical German bars and pubs (and we also visited Hooter’s, a typical American pub). As I forgot the Citizen’s Card in the hostel and there is even mandatory to show it to drink, no bar was accepting us inside.

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At the end we ended up in a Moroccan bar, with the owner passing Brazilian music to please us and even chatted with us. It was fun!

 

In the land of Harry Potter and Beatles

In 2013 I went with my best friends from childhood to London. It was an amazing experience to travel with them to a city that has so much to offer and to see. We also went to the Warner Bros – Harry Potter studios, a universe that was part of our childhood.

 

Facts about the city:

Voltaire, Edgar Allen Poe, Ho Chi Minh, Mahatma Gandhi, Vincent Van Gogh, Sigmund Freud, and Hiter’s older half-brother all lived in London for a time.

The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree comes all the way from Norway. To show their gratitude to the people of England for their alliance in World War II, the people of Oslo, Norway, present London with the Christmas tree every year.

There are around 20 subterranean rivers flowing beneath London’s streets.

In order to drive in downtown London between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. one must pay “congestion charge” of £10.

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This continues to be one of the best trips I have ever done, also because I went with my three best friends from childhood, who still continue to be my best friends nowadays: Soraya, Paula and Inês. We went to London for a week.

In the first night we stayed at Zita and Leandro’s place, our friends from Paredes who live now in London. It was a horrible experience. Leandro is a spoiled boy who doesn’t want to lose the place on the couch to play PS2, so we had to eat on the kitchen floor (because the kitchen has no table or benches). Zita was no better, complaining that we left some hairs in the shower and that the floor was wet. We didn’t feel welcome at all. At least the next day we could move to Tuga’s place, another friend of ours.

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Tuga lives in Wembley with his father, stepmother and brothers (two twins of our age and a little one). Tuga was a friend of Inês. During our stay in London, he and Inês ended up falling in love and kissing and currently they are married and have a kid 🙂 Tuga’s family welcomed us as if we were a part of the family. They were incredible! They gave us the best food that you can buy and they took us to a pub where they paid for our drinks.

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In one week in London we managed to see everything. We visited several museums. The first was the British Museum.

The British Museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering some 8 million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.

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Then we went to the National Gallery, which is on the famous Trafalgar Square. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. It is among the most visited art museums in the world, after the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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We also visited the National History Museum.  The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The museum is a center of research specializing in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture.

 

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We also visited some parks, such as Hyde Park and St. James Park, full of cute squirrels. In the late 20th century, Hyde Park became known for holding large-scale free rock music concerts, featuring groups such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Queen. Regarding St. James Park, it has a small lake, St James’s Park Lake, with two islands, West Island, and Duck Island, named for the lake’s collection of waterfowl.

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We also visited major monuments such as Big Ben, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster.

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The Big Ben’s tower is officially called Elizabeth Tower, renamed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012. The tower was designed by Augustus Pugin in a neo-gothic style. When completed in 1859, it was, says horologist Ian Westworth, “the prince of timekeepers: the biggest, most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world”. It stands 96 m tall, and the climb from ground level to the belfry is 334 steps.

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames. There was a day when a friend of Soraya who lives in London came to us and we were in this area taking pictures and eating box sushi at dusk.

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We saw Westminster Abbey.  It is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs.  Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey. There have been at least 16 royal weddings at the abbey since 1100.

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We were very close to London Eye, but we didn’t go up. The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel 135 m tall. When it opened to the public in 2000 it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel.

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We went to Tower of London, which is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames, and to the Tower Bridge, which is a combined bascule and suspension bridge located next to the castle.

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We visited churches such as St. Paul’s Cathedral.  The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognizable sights of London. Its dome, framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, has dominated the skyline for over 300 years.

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Services held at St Paul’s have included the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher; jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Charles and Lady Diana; the launch of the Festival of Britain; and the thanksgiving services for the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees and the 80th and 90th birthdays of Elizabeth II.

We also went to see if the queen was at Buckingham Palace. On one of the days we did a free walking tour that went through many of these sites, including Buckingham Palace, and that’s where we watched the royal guards exchange.

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We also took the chance to go to Piccadilly Circus, to the M&M’s store and to China Town. Piccadilly Circus is a road junction built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with Piccadilly. It is particularly known for its video display and neon signs mounted on the corner building on the northern side.

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Another day that I loved was when we went for a walk in Camden Town, which is a kind of giant outdoor market with an alternative style where you can find everything for sale.

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We also went to Kings Cross station to take a picture on the 9 3/4 platform, imitating Harry Potter.

We went to Abbey Road. The eleventh album released by the Beatles in 1969 has the same name – Abbey Road. The recording sessions for the album were the last in which all four Beatles participated. The album’s cover features the four band members walking across a zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios and has become one of the most famous and imitated images in the history of popular music. We also recreated that image and since we were 4, it was perfect!

We still visited other sites like St. James’s Palace, which is one of the most senior royal palaces in the UK, and The Household Cavalry Museum. We walked a lot by tube in London. At first it seemed very confusing, but then we got the hang of the map.

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Finally, the most fantastic day of all was undoubtedly the day we visited the Warner Bros studios and visited the magical world of Harry Potter recordings. It was only me, Soraya and Paula, because Inês did not have the money to go and stayed at home. But for us who are fans and we grew up with the saga, it was worth every penny.

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First opened in March 2012, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is where all eight Harry Potter films were produced. The Studio Tour showcases the incredible British talent, imagination and artistry that brought J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World to life on screen.

We could step on to authentic sets, discover the magic behind spellbinding special effects and explore the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Harry Potter film series.

We took pictures in the most iconic settings, such as the common room and Harry’s bedroom. We got into the flying car, drank butter beer, put on the selection hat … It was awesome!

We visited Hogsmeade and at the end of the tour we still saw a Hogwarts mock-up.

I hope this was just one of many trips with them.

Road Trip across Portugal

In 2013 I did a road trip around Portugal. I drove to cities like Porto, Lisbon, Evora, Alcobaca, Sintra, etc. It was an amazing experience that made me fall in love even more with my country!

 

Facts about the country: 

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake occurred in the Kingdom of Portugal on the morning of Saturday, 1 November, the holy day of All Saints’ Day. In combination with subsequent fires and a tsunami, the earthquake almost totally destroyed Lisbon.

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CONIMBRIGA

Since there were a lot of places I didn’t know in my own country, I decided to go with Ricardo on a real adventure and do a road trip across Portugal in my car.

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We started by visiting Conimbriga, close to Coimbra. It was sooo hot that I almost fainted, even though I was drinking a lot of water. It was a scary feeling!

Conímbriga is one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal, and was classified as a National Monument in 1910. It consists of various structures such as a forum, basilica and commercial shops, thermal spas, aqueducts, insulae, homes of various heights (including interior patios) and domus, in addition to paleo-Christian basilica.

A visitors’ center was constructed to display objects found by archaeologists during their excavations, including coins, surgical tools, utensils and ceramics.


 

TOMAR

Then we stayed in Tomar for one night, sleeping in a camper site. Tomar is very nice, I liked to visit Convento de Cristo, with the famous manueline window.

The town of Tomar was born inside the walls of this convent, constructed under the orders of Gualdim de Pais, the fourth grand master of the Knights Templar in the late 12th century.

 

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Tomar is one of Portugal’s historical jewels and more significantly was the last Templar town to be commissioned for construction. The park with the river are very nice too.


 

BATALHA

On day 2 we also visited Mosteiro da Batalha, a really nice monument with a nice architecture. The Monastery of Batalha was erected in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota, and would serve as the burial church of the 15th-Century Aviz dynasty of Portuguese royalty.

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It is one of the best and original examples of Late Gothic architecture in Portugal, intermingled with the Manueline style.


 

ALCOBACA

After Batalha, we visited another one, Mosteiro de Alcobaca. We didn’t go inside though.  The Alcobaça Monastery was founded in the medieval period by the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, in 1153, and maintained a close association with the Kings of Portugal throughout its history.

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The church and monastery were the first Gothic buildings in Portugal, and, together with the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, it was one of the most important of the mediaeval monasteries in Portugal.


 

OBIDOS

The next day we went to Obidos. The area of the town of Óbidos is located on a hilltop, encircled by a fortified wall. This is the coolest small village ever! Very typical, with blue and yellow on the walls, contrasting with the white.

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Óbidos remains a well-preserved example of medieval architecture; its streets, squares, walls and its castle are a popular tourist destination. The castle now houses a pousada.

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There are a lot of craft and souvenir shops around Obidos and a lot of flowers everywhere, which makes it a very cute place.


 

BUDDHA EDEN – BACALHOA

On the same day as Obidos, we went to Buddha Eden, an amazing place hidden in Portugal, not so touristic. Just an hour north of Lisbon, in the countryside, this beautiful managed garden intended as “a place for reconciliation” can be found. Buddha Eden has 35 hectares of natural fields, lakes, manicured gardens, contemporary sculpture…and Buddhist statuary.

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Six tons of marble Buddhas and figures were are installed throughout the garden. Walkways, piers and gazebos provide access to areas for contemplation. And additional feature of the gardens is a cobalt blue replication of the Terracotta Army from China.

The story of how the garden came into existence is both intriguing and endearing.  In 2001, a wealthy Portuguese investor and art patron José Berardo was shocked by the Taliban government’s destruction of the Giant Buddhas in Afghanistan.  In response to the demolition of these masterpieces of the late Gandhara period, Berardo initiated the Buddha Eden in an homage to the cultural and spiritual monuments.

This place has an amazing potential, but I guess a lot of people have never heard about this place. I loved the big lake and the giant statues. I really recommend it!


 

LISBON

Then we went to Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. We strolled around the big commercial streets and we ate some snails while drinking a beer. We stayed there for one night, in a albergue for young people. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe.

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SINTRA

The next morning we went to Sintra. For me, Palacio da Pena is the most beautiful monument in Portugal. This colorful palace is amazing! It was hard for me to drive to such a high place, on top of a big hill, but it was well worth the effort.

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The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle that stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains. It is a national monument and constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. In 1995, the palace and the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


 

EVORA

After Sintra, we continued our way down south to Evora, in Alentejo. We visited a roman temple and a chapel covered with human bones and sculls. Evora is a very interesting city to visit too.

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Due to its well-preserved old town center, still partially enclosed by medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, including a Roman Temple, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network.


 

REGUENGOS DE MONZARAZ

Also in Alentejo, we stopped in Reguengos de Monzaraz. This place is a small heaven in the middle of nowhere.

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It’s very rural but it has an amazing atmosphere. Everything is super cute there!


 

OLIVENZA (SPAIN)

We were so close to the border with Spain, that we decided to cross it and go to Olivenza, a city that belongs to Spain but for centuries belonged to Portugal and technically, according to some papers, should still be part of Portugal.

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Olivença was under Portuguese sovereignty between 1297 (Treaty of Alcañices) and 1801 when it was invaded by the Spanish during the War of the Oranges and then ceded to Spain under the Treaty of Badajoz. Spain has since administered the territory, whilst Portugal invokes the self-revocation of the Treaty of Badajoz, plus the Treaty of Vienna of 1815, to claim the return of the territory. In spite of the territorial dispute between Portugal and Spain, the issue has not been a sensitive matter in the relations between these two countries.

There are still traces of Portuguese culture and language in the people, although the younger generations speak Spanish only. At the beginning of the 1940s the city was reportedly mainly Portuguese-speaking, but after the 1940s a language shift towards Spanish took place.


 

ELVAS

On our sixth day we visited Elvas, a fortified city. Its very nice too, wih a lot of white and yellow.

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Elvas is among the finest examples of intensive usage of the trace italienne (star fort) in military architecture, and has been a World Heritage Site since 30 June 2012.

 


BEJA

After Elvas, we went to Beja, before returning to the North. We wanted to continue down to Algarve (the extreme south of Portugal) but we thought it would be too much, since I was already a bit tired of driving so much.

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LAMEGO

So we came back to the north of Portugal on the 7th day and we went to the Douro Valley and stopped in Lamego. We walked up the huge stairs of Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remédios.

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The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego is located on the hill of St. Stephen, being a major pilgrimage church in Portugal. There is a vast staircase that rises to the top of the hill, up to the shrine. Erected in 1750 to its conclusion ends only in 1905 and replaced the chapel dedicated to St. Stephen.

This was an amazing adventure and it was super interesting to visit all of these cool places without even leaving my own country.

In the city of Gaudí

In the winter of 2012 I went to Barcelona, the city of Gaudi. We visited the Sagrada Familia, Parque Guell, Barrio Gotico, among other things. It’s a city full of life!

 

Curiosities about the city:

Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya and the official language is Catalan.

There were no beaches in Barcelona until 1992. The seaside of Barcelona was full of local industries up until the city decided to host the Olympic Games and they created these artificial beaches

They are crazy about football, with one of the worlds’ largest and richest football clubs, FC Barcelona. The club’s Camp Nou stadium in Europe’s largest, with a capacity of 100,000.

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Barcelona was a fun trip with Ricardo. We stayed in a hostel with a beautiful old facade, but inside was awful. It’s called AWA Happy Hostel Barcelona. It is on Rambla de Catalunya 52, close to Casa Batló and Passeig de Gràcia. I remember, however, having had a good time there on the balcony of the hotel, which has a beautiful view of the city, talking and smoking with Ricardo. I think this hostel is now closed.

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On this trip I had a horrible hairstyle. I cut a fringe but it was too short. I hate the photos of this trip because of it. It was in Barcelona that I first went to Starbucks, strolling along the famous Ramblas and the surrounding streets, that stretches for 1.2 km connecting Plaza de Catalunya with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell.

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We visited the Sagrada Familia, which is eternally under construction. The back facade is very pretty. It’s an amazing interpretation of Gothic architecture. We did not enter because the queue was giant.

The Sagrada Familia is the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church in the world and it was designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). Gaudí’s work on the building is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.

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We also went to the Gothic Quarter, Casa Batlló and Casa Mila, these last two being renowned buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí’s.

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The Gothic Quarter encompasses the oldest parts of the city of Barcelona, and includes the remains of the city’s Roman wall and several notable medieval landmarks. El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter, is located within this area, along with the former Sinagoga Major. It retains a labyrinthine street plan, with many small streets opening out into squares. Most of the quarter is closed to regular traffic although open to service vehicles and taxis.

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I really enjoyed the Parc de la Ciutadella, gave excellent photos because it is very beautiful, with a large fountain designed by Josep Fontse and a triumph arch.

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There was one night when we went to Montjuic to see the fountain lights show, next to Palau Nacional and Plaza de Espana. The fountain, like most of the surrounding developments, was constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.

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We went for a walk near the Playa de la Barceloneta and the marina.

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In our last day, we went to visit Parc Güell, very beautiful. It was also designed by Antoni Gaudi. The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. In 1984, UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site.

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People had also warned me about the pickpockets in the subway there (there are even security guards on the subway who whistle to tell you when there are pickpockets nearby) and one time we were in the subway and a lady warned me that I was being robbed. I look back and I see a woman opening my backpack! When I looked at her, she ran away and did not steal anything. Uf, I was lucky!

In a maze of gondolas and canals

I went with Ricardo to the most romantic city in the world, Venice. It was a trip that was very important for me and I felt like my wanderlust desire was awaken again.

Curiosities about the city:

Venice is situated across a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges.

The wooden piles on which the city was famously built have done their job with sturdy water-resistant efficiency for centuries. However, Venice is notoriously sinking by up to 2mm every year.

The Carnival is very famous. The Medico della Peste mask – the unnerving face-disguise which bears avian features and a long beak – is (as its name says) a reference to the plagues which swept Europe in the Middle Ages.

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We took advantage of the fact that there was a new low cost airline (Volotea) flying from Porto and we bought a direct flight to Venice, super cheap. I will never forget what I felt when I arrived in Venice. What a sense of wonder! We arrived at sunset and seeing all that with that light was breathtaking: the Grand Canal, the colorful houses, the beautiful bridges, the churches…

The Grand Canal forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city, with more than 170 buildings on both sides. Amongst the many are the Palazzi Barbaro, Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ d’Oro, Palazzo Dario, Ca’ Foscari, Palazzo Barbarigo, Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

Most of the palaces emerge from water without pavement. Consequently, one can only tour past the fronts of the buildings on the grand canal by boat.

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We stayed in a cozy hotel in the center – I cannot remember the name. The man front he reception could not even speak English, but we understood each other. I had never seen so many tourists together as in Venice, in St. Mark’s Square. What a madness!

The centerpiece of the piazza is, of course, magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica. Commissioned in 1071 by doge Domenico Contarini, this amazing church is built in Venetian-Byzantine style, a mixture of western and eastern styles.

The basilica has a separate campanile – bell tower – that stands 98.6 meters tall and is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. There’s also two columns that pay homage to two of Venice’s patrons – St. Mark and St. Teodoro of Amasea. The columns have long served as the official gateway to the city.

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Close to the square, we visited  Palazzo Ducale. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice, opening as a museum in 1923. Today, it is one of the 11 museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

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We went to the Bridge of Sighs. The enclosed bridge has windows with stone bars and connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. It was designed by Antonio Contino and was built in 1600. The name of the bridge comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.

We also went to see the little shops inside Rialto Bridge. The bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte in 1591. It has two inclined ramps that lead up to a central portico.

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Then we decided to go on one of the water buses, the vaporetto, to one of the other islands of Venice, with beaches and everything, more residential. These water buses are quite scary because when they hit the shore for people to leave, there is always a gap in which we can put our feet there or even fall into the water. We do not ride in a gondola, because it was an economic trip, but now I regret it.

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Last night we went out to have dinner in a typical Italian restaurant in front of a canal. It was beautiful! We had diner by candlelight, drank wine and then decided to try an Italian drink called Spritz. The drink was sweet but it had plenty of alcohol and the truth is that I drank too much!

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That last night Ricardo and I did not book a hotel. Our plan was to walk around the city, because the return flight was super early. We went to Casino di Venezia, very fancy, they even gave a blazer to Ricardo, because the dress code was mandatory. We left there and walked through the canals of Venice, now deserted and without tourists. It was interesting to see that more authentic side of Venice.

Across the Alps from Switzerland

During Christmas in 2011 I went with my mom to Geneve in Switzerland to visit my sister. Then we drove through the Alps to France, to visit the rest of my family in Dijon. It was not the first time I went to Dijon.

GENEVA

Curiosities about the city:

Geneva is a worldwide center for diplomacy due to the presence of numerous international organizations, including the headquarters of many of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. Geneva is the city that hosts the highest number of international organizations in the world.

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This year I traveled for the first time with my mother. We went to Switzerland and France for Christmas. We flew to Geneva, because my sister Zeza no longer lives in France as she moved to Switzerland with her boyfriend.

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My mother was in a plane only once, when she went to Madeira (many years ago) and I think she loved to travel this time. Geneva was full of snow when we went there. My nephew Luis had to wake up very early every day just to get the snow out of the car before he goes to work.

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I loved the little cottage where my sister lives, it’s super cozy. We visited Lac Lèman, a giant lake with a giant fountain, which is the symbol of the city. Unfortunately they did not have free time to take us for a stroll through the city center.

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As we drove to France, heading for Dijon, we passed the French Alps by car and it was magical to see those cottages all lost in the snow. I think it was the first time I ever saw snow for real in my life.

 


 

BEAUNE

Curiosities about the city:

Beaune is considered the “Capital of Burgundy wines”. The city is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages, while the facilities and cellars of many producers, large and small, are situated in the historic center of Beaune itself.

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This second time around in France, in addition to visiting Dijon again, I went with my brother Hipolito and his wife to visit another French city: Beaune. This city is very old and it has a famous Hospice of 1443.

The Hospice de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is a former charitable almshouse. It was founded by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building, one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, is now a museum.

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Beaune is the main center for the “Burgundian tile” polychrome renaissance roofing style of the region. We also visited a church called Collégiale Notre-Dame de Beaune.

 


 

DIJON

Back to Dijon, I visited all my family again.

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We also visited the same places where I had been last time: churches, historic center, etc.

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We spent Christmas at my sister Lila’s house and the New Year as a family in a rented warehouse.

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I think this trip was special for my mother because my father had died a few months before and I think my siblings had a beautiful attitude in not wanting us to be alone in this festive season.

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