Ocean is magical. I am drawn to it. I recall the days when work and pressure used to suck me dry. Ocean would restore me better than a day spent in meditation, a Monty Python skits or a box of pills to increase serotonin.
When I look at it – it seems cosmic; I feel like hypnotised plankton. My problems shrink and appear irrelevant. Its powerful winds blow out all the negative residues. I feel so small. It performs its scary dance in front of me like a Chimbu Skeleton dancer.
I believe that four million years ago it was our natural habitat. We still carry a bit of ocean inside us: our blood, sweat, tears are salty; our mothers carry us in salty water; our taste buds need salt to recognize food flavour.
You need to see it once to miss it the whole life. Ocean is mystical.
Without them the world would not see orange carrots, ice skates, yachts, Spinoza and liberalism. We would never be able to find Ursa Major and Orion if those brilliant minds had not invented a telescope. They are the gifted, straightforward and friendly European Gullivers, also known as the Dutch.
We had been savoring the idea of our trip to the Netherlands for a year, carefully planning the cities to visit, boats to ride, herrings to swallow and stories to discover.
Despite rain (it was October), cranky mornings and bunches of tourists everywhere, we managed to take a glimpse at so called “still Dutch phenomena” with its bikes, windows life, canals, pancakes, Van Gogh and creativity.
Time was the resource we didn’t have – that’s why our expedition to Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht was compressed to 5 days. Seemed impossible at first, but great transportation, short distances between those places and dedication to lose a couple of pounds helped a lot.
Amsterdam certainly had that special something – an indescribable quality somewhere between quaint and exhilarating. Lights, canals, reflections, bicycles – everything was blended into a charming postcard image. In two days we were able to take a canal cruise, enjoy ingenious architecture, visit Van Gogh Museum and eat the most delicious pancakes at “Pancakes! Amsterdam” as well as famous herring at “Stubbe’s Haring”.
Our first dining experience reinforced the stereotype about bad service. The waiter forced us to order rapidly, and left us to dry over empty pints of beer. The amount of Argentinian restaurants made a strong impression as well. Seemed like a “tio Juan” escaped the outskirts of Buenos Aires, opened a restaurant in Amsterdam, helped 1\4 of his compatriots with working visas – then developed the biggest franchise of “Gringo Steak House”. Anyhow, the ribs are are amazing there. Craving for traditional Dutch food? – Well, those crispy “Vleminckx” fries with peanut butter sauce on the corner of Voetboogstraat, 31, herring with chopped onions, incredible pancakes and various fried dough sweets would be your choice.
If you need to buy something – better hurry up! Stores and fast food places are open until 5 p.m., unless you manage to find a Chinese place. Those tough guys would feed and supply you if you are late.
Amsterdam was definitely one of the most romantic, charismatic and atmospheric places we’ve ever been to.
The Hague was the most controversial city of all: justice and criminals, perspectives and stagnation are blended together in one smoothie where ingredients are hard to recognize. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a legendary Binnenhof and had fun pretending to be Godzillas in Madurodam.
Rotterdam welcomed us with one of the most horrifying storms: the umbrella was destroyed in a blink of an eye; my hair was a ready-to-live eagle nest. Despite all those moments we managed to have a quick run to make amazing shots of that altar to creativity with its famous Kijk Kubus – a Dutch anthem to imagination and freedom of ideas implementation; the iconic Erasmus Bridge – an important connection between the Northern and Southern parts of Rotterdam. (the project can be a perfect example of a “budget-time-purpose” symphony).
Our cozy CitizenM Hotel gave us a perfect introduction into Rotterdam’s futuristic way – the best place for young people to stay. The rest of the day we spent in Markthal gazing at vast variety of cheeses and other delights.
Utrecht was very special to me: a traditional breakfast at atmospheric canal place – “De Bakkeerswinkel”, fairy tale houses, charming canals, breathtaking Domtower view (by the way, the climbing process will help to rediscover well-forgotten claustrophobia, acrophobia and every possible phobia).
When your hotel provides you with jumbo playing cards, a window sit to watch the canal, a hand-made rabbit toy and shelves full of books to recreate Alice in Wonderland scenes – it’s worth staying. MaryK Hotel was adorable!
I am riding a memory train watching the most nostalgic memories passing by. What do I see? – Romance, charm, bikes, creativity, canals, soft salmiak candies, boats and mystery. It is a place to come back – no doubts!
I have to admit that 4 years ago I didn’t expect Portugal to make a tremendous impact on me. If my religiously Portuguese husband had not dragged me to Lisbon to “live for a couple of weeks”, I would not have discovered an enigmatic Portuguese soul. After being a restless, independent metropolitan I turned into a member of a strong, relatively provincial community. I was among people who knew how to relax and not feel guilty for that.
A foreign me had plenty of questions in the beginning of my partial assimilation: “Why everything works so slow?”, “How comes you showed up at 6 p.m. , when we had agreed to meet at 5 p.m.?”, “Why all the sweets are loaded with eggs, have the same taste, but different shapes and names?”, “Does it make sense to even bother to dry cod fish if you would have to soak it to reach its original texture again?”. Not only I found the answers for those questions, but realized the importance of all the mentioned rules and habits.
Portugal is a slow – cooked delicious tomato sauce. To receive a spoon of fabulous high quality substance, you need to reduce its amount and generously spice it up – that’s what the Portuguese did: let all of the colonies follow their own path, but embraced the Brazilian “caipirinha”, the Goan curry, the Angolan kizomba, the Mozambican “tipo tinto” and the Macanese rice noodles.
Portuguese history is glorious, no doubts, but who they are today is far more important. They preserved their essence and managed to errase Old Europe’s mistakes: chauvinism, racism and delusion of grandeur. So many nations, traditions and habits fit in this tiny land, like a puzzle completing the picture and making Portugal so diverse, rich and colorful. Every tourist finds himself at home here: unbelievable friendliness and fluency in many languages make them perfect hosts.
After a couple of years I learned how the locals act, what they eat, where they prefer to go out. If I had to organize a perfect trip, I’d begin with Lisbon: would start my morning with a glass of “galão” and a “tosta mista”, catch a famous tram 28 to scratch a surface of the most important districts, observe the city from the 360 ° panoramic spot – “São Jorge” castle. Then I’d go for the best seafood place – “Ramiro”; ramble around some of the most charismatic European streets in the districts of Bairro Alto and Baixa Chiado.
The next day would be solemnly dedicated to the famous Belém, where I’d get my teeth into heavenly delicious “Pastel de Belém”, and the most romantic place – Sintra. Well, evenings should be spent with a glass of red “Adelaide” or white “Primus 2008”. Add savory chunks of “Queijo de Azeitão”, “Queijo Serra da Estrela” or “Queijo Rabaçal”- a gastronomic orgasm is guaranteed.
Summer offers the entire coast of divine beaches – Porto Covo, Troia, Lagos, Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Adraga – the list goes on endlessly. Green wine, fresh grilled fish or crispy “Sagres” with gastropod snails are the best garnish for a sunny day out.
Porto will offer you mouth-watering “francesinha” and some of the best wine tastings; Algarve area– the best Mediterranean dishes and sweet brandy “medronho”; Alentejo – paradisiac bread and olive oil, and the Northern districts – best “chouriços”. Anyhow, it’s very relative, because Portuguese cuisine is a vast chapter and can’t be squeezed even in a “Zettels Traum” kind of volume.
Each region is well – defined by its specific landscape, cuisine, dialect, the way they cook codfish and football club fans. If you have an intention to find friends
among the Portuguese – either avoid favoring a specific football club or divide them into logical groups: praise “Sporting” with green fans, sing “Benfica, oh glorious!” with a red scarf on, and proudly wear a blue dragons’ T-shirt in Porto. Football is more actual than politics. Belonging to a club is a matter of national pride; it runs in DNA, infects generations.
It seems that Portugal has immunity against globalisation. Even though “Starbucks”, “Burger King”, “Zara” made their way to this land, people religiously drink their “cafezihno” at traditional houses like “Nicola”. They learned how to appreciate sushi not so long ago, but also don’t skip on a traditional “bifana”. Trend is trend – habits are the nation’s core.
Religion is strongly rooted. They are still blissfully looking forward to marry at churches, have the first communion and visit the catholic Mecca – Fatima. Grandmas have gigantic statues of Jesus and Mary in the relatively small houses. My first lunch at a traditional house I spent with a jumbo monument to the Son of God silently judging me by the table. I washed my sins with a sip of his finest “blood” and felt relieved.
There are 3 words that pretty much define Portuguese essential features: “amanhã”, “talvez” and “saudades”. “Amanhã” (tr: tomorrow) shows the country’s productivity. If by any chance you hear that word, don’t rush for the results the next day – the time range is elastic: tomorrow could possibly mean “in a couple of weeks or months”. “Talvez” (tr: maybe) reflects how polite the Portuguese are. They are not capable of cutting you off by a sharp “no”, therefore leaving you with hope. There is a huge probability to never go out with people you invite, if they genuinely smile and say: “Talvez!”. Finally, “saudade” (tr: hard to define), which has no analogues or closest translations in any language, explains us the Portuguese soul – loving, nostalgic, childishly pure. It could describe anything between missing somebody or something, a will to repeat or return to keeping sweet memories and savoring them.
My almost 4 year transformation from a foreigner to a local was one of the most fascinating experiences. I figured I can’t live anymore without sun, ambrosial wines, aromatic coffee, ocean, seafood, shabby buildings, paved streets. I will conserve the memories of grilled sardines on the St. Anthony Feast, the earthy smell of roasted chestnuts, permanent blue colour of the sky, chicken house in the neighborhood, powerful energy of the Atlantic, joyful days with our friends, the authentic happy faces. My experience brought me to a conclusion that people – happy, slow, able to enjoy life, full of southern charm and rumours – are Portugal’s most powerful resource. Well, the sort of people you fall in love with and always feel “saudades”.
They mix, separate, unite and connect – so many feelings mingle behind those concrete walls. Every airport is similar to the Tower of Babel: hundreds of people talk gibberish and dig their way to the gates-tunnels, while carrying jumbo bags with duty-free trophies.
Those massive buildings reflect a country’s wealth, popularity, capacity and strategy. Like on a palm of a hand you can see the doomed and the glorious scrambled together: a Prada cougar rushes along with a barefoot Namibian, who tidily wrapped up the whole life into a single-use plastic bag. Both would take a glimpse of each other and retrace their whole lives.
Big iron birds take off and land, spitting out kerosene fumes and proudly boasting off their national characteristics.
Minutes before boarding are spent in meditation. Each is praying for what bothers the most. A father with rubber senseless hands is squeezing a couple of toys – those are birthday presents to his offspring – he is finally returning back after 6-months hard work in the land, where even trees are foreign; a boy thrown around the world by a corporate machine, striving to skyrocket his career. Is it what matters? – He would figure it our later. Meanwhile, he is rambling through important papers; tie sits perfectly on his neck; a branded suit, a Moleskine. A bunch of “golden girls” is on the way back from shopping in Milan. Ripped off by marketing sharks, but proud: “they’ve got a deal”. A couple of lovebirds craving to dig their feet into white sands of Barbados and watch cotton clouds pass by. A family occupied a corner of the waiting compartment. Clutched together like birds nestling under roof tiles, they are ready to run away from pain, doubts and frustration. They would shove civil engineering diplomas between dusty books and set a table, arguing what detergent is better to scrub off the stains at the restaurant they now work for.
Some are scared, some are happy. Some – confused and tired.
Airports are city gates. They squeeze together countries’ gastronomic delights, ridiculously expensive souvenirs, scents, shapes and tastes of what is hidden behind the revolving doors.
One would look through a nicely polished window, take a poetic look at the local panorama – it would not show the whole city. You would have to imagine what’s further, like stealing a glimpse of a Persian ankle. After that comes a thought: “Would it be just a transit or my next destination?”