Happy Un-Birthday To Me

Happy Un-Birthday To Me

This is was a most delicious marzipan cake from a konditorei in Dusseldorf, that was flown via RyanAir carry-on to Porto and given to me along with a great big bar of marzipan chocolate last week. No, it’s not my birthday but that’s just a tiny detail, right?

Thing is, the Germans are pretty superstitious about celebrating birthdays on any other day… it is bad luck to mention birthdays before the actual day (not kidding!). Hence, I threw in a big UN in front of the message so as not to beckon any bad karma on Casa Aguiar as a result of this cultural faux-pas. Also, some careful slicing.

Much cake — and marzipan — was enjoyed by all, guilt-free.

October 18, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

Guimarães and Braga: A Preview

Guimarães, Portugal (5)

Toural Square, Guimarães

Casa Aguiar rode this late October heatwave out of town to the north — namely, the medieval cities of Guimarães and Braga. I’d been to Guimarães briefly before, seven and some months ago, but the weather was mostly unfavourable while we were there; today was a do-over. I was keen on visiting Braga for the first time, too, and both are close enough that we could tour both in one day. We also brought our weekend couchsurfer with us, a Canadian guy (our first Canadian couchsurfer as Casa Aguiar!) who’s travelled to — get this — 135 countries. (I think Portugal is #136?) I’m no slouch in the travel department, but that number boggles my mind.

Anyway, this is a preview of today’s photos, in mostly chronological order starting with Guimarães and continuing on with Bom Jesus do Monte (a sanctuary on a mountain overlooking Braga), then Braga centre.

Guimarães, Portugal (4)

Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal

Guimarães, Portugal (1)

Guimarães Castle

Guimarães, Portugal (2)

Oliveira Square, Guimarães

Guimarães, Portugal (3)

vintage VW in Guimarães

Bom Jesus do Monte outside of Braga (Tenões, Portugal)

just part of the staircase at Bom Jesus do Monte

Bom Jesus do Monte outside of Braga (Tenões, Portugal)

Bom Jesus do Monte

Bom Jesus do Monte outside of Braga (Tenões, Portugal)

autumn at Bom Jesus do Monte

Braga, Portugal


Braga, Portugal

autumn sunset in Braga

Braga, Portugal


October 19, 2014
Album: Guimarães + Braga, Portugal

Postcards From Porto: A Picture Project


I took this picture last Saturday from the top floor of the Centro Português de Fotografia (Portuguese Centre for Photography). It was taken through some jail bars and a thick pane of glass, so I had to give the image some treatment to make it look like I had a clear shot. And then, after this mysterious artistic fiddling and tweaking process comparable to a cook alternately tasting the food and throwing something else in the pot to enhance the flavour, the picture came out like this. It looks postcard-esque, doesn’t it?

Anyway, when titling this post I started thinking about Christmas and Christmas things and Porto-centric Christmas things. And I came up with an idea, a little project that combines photography, Porto, handwriting, and doing something nice to brighten someone’s day. I’m still in the brainstorming stage, but I’m thinking along the lines of offering to send a customized postcard to someone (as a surprise), made by my little postcard printer with any photo in my Portugal collection.

Anyone can write to me and nominate the postcard recipient but it has to be someone else. It should be a surprise to the recipient, someone who would be tickled to receive a personalized postcard from Portugal.

It could be your grandma, or a child, a friend, or a long-term hospital patient — anyone who you think would like one. I can even print their name against the image on the front of the postcard (“To _____ From Portugal”). I’ll set up a form that feeds into a Google doc with all the information (message, address, image link). As far as quantities go, I’m thinking it should be only one recipient per person, and I’ll cap it off at…20? 30? No time limit, I would just keep going until I reach the quantity limit. I would handwrite your message (here’s a sample of my handwriting), and it doesn’t have to be in English but I’m going to write your message exactly so there can’t be any mistakes because I won’t know!

I’m still working out the details in my head, but until I make a proper announcement I’d love to know who would be interested in participating. You can be anonymous, of course, and send a message to me privately instead of commenting. Whatever photos I take of the postcards won’t have any personal information showing.

I’m always typing these days, it will be such a great handwriting exercise, too!

What’s For Lunch, Porto?

When Paulo and I had lunch in Porto last Saturday, I took a picture of this sign to give blog readers an idea of what the people of Porto consume for almoço (lunch). Little did I know this sign would work against me! But, I’m getting ahead of myself here…

At first I thought, excellent! This sign has pictures, which is good since I won’t have photos of anything beyond what we ordered. Except here on the left sign, starting at the top, we have caracóis, or snails. Problem: it’s a Lisbon thing. I don’t know why, but the northerners don’t eat snails. In fact, I don’t recall snails on menus in Central Portugal, either. I couldn’t tell you where the snail trail begins but if you have a hankering for them, head to Lisbon or further south.

Secondly, moelinhas, or chicken gizzards. Yes, they are a thing and Paulo’s a fan. Me, they’re not my first choice but I eat them and have cooked them at home. At the same time I also understand that for many people, chicken gizzards are about as appealing as a knuckle sandwich.

Thirdly, pimentos padron, which I showed you in the Saturday post, is a Galician dish and rare to see in Porto, even though we are relatively close by. The pimentos were tasty and I wish they were more popular here, but in the meantime I’m going to order them wherever they pop up because it’s still easier than driving to Galicia.

But there’s more on this sign: typos! Actually, I don’t know if it’s a typo or a word mix-up, but the sign says at the bottom “Don’t be full by these public works” while I’m sure that’s supposed to read “Don’t be fooled by these public works”, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. Either way, the sign is there to assure people that they’re open for business despite their proximity to a construction zone (a hotel is getting built next door).

But without further ado, here’s what we ate:

The francesinha is a Porto dish, but it’s also appearing on menus in Lisbon and the rest of the country where it was previously ignored. A francesinha is obviously something you would not eat regularly because your arteries would revolt. But, like the Canadian sister dish poutine, it sure hits the spot if you’re hungry. This was my introduction to it.

This was my dish, Bacalhau à Braga, which is heavy on the cebolas (onions). God, I love onions.

Lastly, we have the bolo de bolacha, my dessert of choice and the basis of my quest to find the best one. This one doesn’t even crack the Top 10 (too dry!) so I won’t be ordering it next time. Too bad because it looks so good!

October 11, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

Na Zdrowie! (Cheers!)

Polish beer

my Warsaw host’s choice of four kinds of Polish beer on my last night in Poland

You didn’t think I would return from Poland without talking about beer, did you? I hope not, because the Polish love their beer and I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t indulge.

On average, Poles drink 92 litres of beer every year, which leaves Poland in third place in Europe, after Germany and the Czech Republic (but their year-over consumption is declining).

My host in Warsaw took beer matters into her own hands by heading to the shop on my last night in the country to stock up on some “samplers” of the local brews for me to try. (Not that I would protest, but come to think of it, it was very optimistic of her to select four!) Unfortunately, neither of us were able to find Grodziskie (smoked wheat beer), which was recommended by a Canadian beer aficionado friend, but it will be on my radar for next time.

I realized something a little too late that night: I should’ve taken notes. Why? Because a) I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcoholic beverages, and b) I was borderline delirious already from a major sleep deficit. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d make it through a round of beer tasting without keeling over. I know you’re probably thinking, “But it’s BEER!” but bear in mind I live in a country where beer comes in 20cl or 33cl bottles, not 50cl!

That said, of the four beers above, the one that I do remember enjoying the most is — of course — the one with the longest name which I can’t even begin to pronounce… on the far right with the wheat sheafs, which is rather a dead giveaway that it’s made with wheat. Full disclosure: my beer tastebuds are biased towards this flavour, so if you’re looking for a recommendation for Polish beer, you are best not to get it from a person who is swayed by illustrations of wheat on the label and cannot pronounce beer names.

Speaking of which, in case you’re wondering how to pronounce Na zdrowie! heartily and confidently while you’re clinking glasses with a Pole, that I can help you with! Here’s a handy little cheat sheet below, courtesy of a Canadian named Julie who studies in Warsaw and kindly wrote out the pronunciation of the most common Polish words for me.

Polish For Dummies

Polish For Dummies (thanks Julie!)

My host in Warsaw also went to the trouble of searching for a take-home beer for me, and I was sweating bullets at the Warsaw Airport trying to check in my bag on time for the flight, otherwise I’d be summarily relinquished of all the booze she sent off with me! Thankfully, I squeaked in just under the wire and breathed a huge sigh of relief once I reached home with the bottles intact. I consumed the honey beer within a day of arrival and was surprised to discover just how intensely the honey flavoured the beer. It tasted more like a dessert beverage than a beer!

Polish beer

Polish beer made with honey

I’m writing a separate post about the Polagra Food Fair I attended in Poznań, but including a few of the beverage pictures here.

Polagra Food Fair (Poznań, Poland)

I was so taken by this drink display — it’s very much like a tropical fishbowl, sitting in snow

Polagra Food Fair (Poznań, Poland)

beer produced by a family-owned, regional brewery in Lask

Polagra Food Fair (Poznań, Poland)

latté art master class

And last but certainly not least, one more gift from my host in Warsaw: bison grass vodka called Żubrówka. After some poking around on the web, I’ve discovered it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill vodka and thus I’m saving it for an occasion. A few tidbits about Żubrówka, from Wikipedia:

Żubrówka is banned in the U.S. (WTF!), but not in Canada.

The name of the country Żubrówka in the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel is named after this style of vodka.

According to the label on the bottle, Polish nobility “seasoned” vodka with bison grass as early as the 14th century; this was likely a precursor to Żubrówka. Żubrówka has been manufactured in the region of the contemporary Polish-Belarusian (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) border since the 16th century, and by 18th century was one of the favourite raw drinks of nobility (szlachta) and peasantry alike.

Żubrówka is usually served chilled and mixed with apple juice (a drink known in Polish as tatanka or szarlotka; known in the UK as a Frisky Bison; and in the US as a Polish Kiss). It is sometimes served over vanilla ice cream. A Black Bison is Żubrówka mixed with black currant juice. Another common mixer is ginger ale. Żubrówka also goes well with mango juice.

I can’t wait to try it! Bottoms up!

Polish bison grass vodka

Polish bison grass vodka

Album: Poland Press Trip 2014
Trip sponsor: Polish Economy Promotion In Canada
Organizer: M Promotion

10 Years On Flickr

at Flickr's 4th birthday party in San Francisco, March 2008

at Flickr’s 4th birthday party in San Francisco, March 2008

The internet 10 years ago was an entirely different space than what we’re used to now. The big players were AOL, AskJeeves, and MSN Messenger — can you believe it? 10 years as a user of any website is like 50 human years… or something like that. A really long time. Services come and go, gain popularity and fizzle out of the public consciousness in no time, only to be replaced by yet another service. 10 years ago I remember setting up my first gmail account, which was only by invitation back then, and then giving out invites to other people. I remember people trying to auction invites on eBay!

Another major web player that took a big hit to the solar plexus over the years is Yahoo, which bought the photo-sharing service Flickr in March 2005 from the founding company, Ludicorp, a Vancouver software company that was building an online game. At that time I was living partly in Vancouver, which is how I ended up at the going-away party. Flickr was still developing its service, and Yahoo’s purchase caused such a ruckus amongst the anti-Yahoo crowd that people wondered whether Flickr would survive the inevitable changes. By this time, Flickr had built up the community features (comments, groups, contacts) to the point where people became very invested not only in its photo-sharing features, but its value as a social network.

mostly Caterina

with Flickr founders Caterina and Stewart, May 2005 (Flickr’s Going-Away Party, Vancouver)

Through Flickr I’ve made both real-life friends and online friends, and met a ton of people. I cannot say for sure how many, but it was at least a hundred people between all the places where I met up with Flickr users (Vancouver, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and more). I happened to be in San Francisco for Flickr’s 4th birthday party in March 2008, and the last Flickr meetup I attended was a couple of months later in Toronto. Some were serious photographers, most were hobby photographers, some went from hobbyist to professional in just a few years. I saw a bunch of people become very famous through Flickr and were offered commercial opportunities for their work.

It’s quite amazing to track all the changes in photography over the years and the changes in people’s lives through the images they upload. In 10 years of uploading I’ve now got more than 35,000 photos on Flickr’s servers and although the latest ones are far better quality, I still enjoy wandering through the archives and seeing more than a decade of my own life via pictures.

Two years ago I wrote about my 8th Anniversary on Flickr, including my first pictures which were uploaded months after I joined (June 2004). Today I had a look at my archives and stats to see which pictures have been viewed the most, and they’ve been the same for years and years, which leads me to thinking the stats feature is broken, but nevermind. It’s a curious list — all of these pictures were uploaded between 2004 and January 2007, except for the cake picture which was uploaded in January 2009. I’ve uploaded at least 10,000 photos since then!

Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 1.50.47 AM

Anyway, numbers aside, the reason why I continue to use Flickr is this: All Rights Reserved, by default. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, the ownership of the photo belongs to the photographer, not the service. There are other reasons I prefer Flickr, but that’s the big one, and the tools I use for it (eg., Lightroom plugins). I’ve used other services like 500px, but they have their downsides, too. Most of my blog links to Flickr because it kept the domain bandwidth usage low for years, but it’s less of an issue now. Now, it’s a matter of finding files, and it’s much easier to find things if I have them in one place. With 35,000+ images stored in servers with tags and metadata, searching by tag makes it faster to dig through the archives.

At the end of the day, using multiple services is time-consuming and everyone wants their workflow to be as short as possible. 10 years on, so many things have changed and online services have become more competitive, which is good for the consumer. But the caveat is that the features must be over and above what’s already available — a user simply isn’t going to move a huge archive to another service unless there are major advantages and incentives on the other side. So far, I haven’t seen enough reasons to move (yet) and disrupt this entire site by breaking the image links and hyperlinks. The amount of work involved to repost the images doesn’t even bear thinking about, unless I want nightmares. I’m hosting more photos on my domain’s servers these days but the albums are large, so I keep them in Flickr (which has unlimited storage).

I doubt there are many of us super-early Flickr users around, still uploading at the same rate as the beginning, 10 years ago. The internet is a fickle place. Or rather, internet users are a fickle bunch. I’ve been on Twitter for over five years and even I’m surprised it’s been that long. After a 10-year relationship with Flickr, they should be buying me a tin anniversary ring on Etsy!

a Flickr a day keeps the doctor away

Quirky Portugal

Renova toilet paper vending machine

Renova toilet paper vending machine (Mar Shopping, Matosinhos)

If you already follow my Instagram account, you’ve seen these before (or maybe not). But since these first two are from tonight, I thought I might as well post a few more from recent months to further illustrate how quirky Portugal can be! These were all taken with my mobile phone, in case you couldn’t tell. (And if you couldn’t tell, I might as well chuck my expensive DSLR equipment out the window.) Nearly half of the pictures were taken in supermarkets, which is an adventure all on its own. It takes a lot of shopping trips to learn the huge array of foreign products!

just say no to crack, kids

just say no to crack, kids

oh dear, more crack!

oh dear, more crack!

Miau-Au-Au vet clinic (Porto, Portugal)

I love this vet clinic name, but imagine answering their phone every day?

Molho Inglês? English sauce? What is English sauce, anyway?

English sauce? What is English sauce, anyway?

Música Popular Portuguesa is a genre apparently.

Música Popular Portuguesa is a genre apparently. Check out their website to hear it BUT turn down your volume first! You’ve been warned!

I must eat this chu-chu before it eats me.

I must eat this chu-chu before it eats me, but I don’t know how to eat it. It looks like a toothless grandpa.

Has your apostrophe gone missing? I found it in Maia.

Has your apostrophe gone missing? I found it in Maia.

Pilinhas, licor banana kiwi

You won’t need much of an imagination to see what this picture represents.

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