A Quick Visit To Guimarães

Guimarães, Portugal (2)

I was in Guimarães for less than 24 hours to visit friends, not really to be a tourist, but my camera caught a few images I wanted to share in a post, anyway.

Guimarães was the European Capital of Culture in 2012 and it’s a very pedestrian-friendly city with well-preserved architecture dating from medieval times; the historic centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. It is also very accessible from the Porto area: I took the airport shuttle (€8) to get there because it cuts the journey to less than an hour for me (I live by the airport), and took the train (€3.10) back, a longer journey closer to two hours between train/metro/bus to my door due to connections.

I’d been to Guimarães at least three times before, which means I’ve lost track of the count but certain I’m past the Highlights Tour and ready to join the locals for the Insiders Tour. I will join in on whatever errands must be run around town in the hopes that I can catch a serendipitous situation — of the very low frequency variety. We had that happen today, where we peeked into the back garden of a property that was being renovated and we were invited to come in for a closer look!

Guimarães, Portugal (1)

Guimarães, Portugal (3)

This very chocolatey-looking chocolate cake is a concoction by the confectionary called Manjar dos Doces, It was demolished in no time at all (with help)!

Guimarães, Portugal (4)

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Guimarães, Portugal (6)

July 7, 2015
Album: Portugal [Summer 2015]

Carapau At Cais 51 Restaurante, Matosinhos

carapau (mackerel) at Cais 51 Restaurante, Matosinhos

We were in Matosinhos to continue our venue viewing today at Open House Porto, First Edition. We lucked out with a prime parking spot near the restaurant zone by the fish market and all we could smell on the way to the car was the smoky scent of grills starting up for lunch. We brought Ice with us today and he was giddy with excitement over the prospect of fish. Of course we couldn’t just go to the next venue without eating lunch in Matosinhos! It would be a crime not to, especially since we were already parked. We could do it, after all, we had a different strategy for Open House Day 2, and our itinerary was much more flexible.

As it turned out we had a full day of activity between Matosinhos and Vila Nova da Gaia and I’m deluged with images, so I’m making my signature fall-back move and posting food pictures today. A very special mention goes out to Cais 51 Restaurante for the best carapau (mackerel) I’ve ever tasted. Paulo tried some and he was surprised, too, at how “juicy” (his word, not mine) it was. Compliments to the griller!

Of course, we had more than mackerel, we also had lulas (squid) plus the regular accompaniments, and by some miracle we also managed to squeeze in desserts.

lulas (squid) at Cais 51 Restaurante, Matosinhos

This is my second time at Cais 51, and I was hoping it would be as memorable as the first when I had a banter with the owner and discovered the joys of razor clams when he suggested them. I had no idea what razor clams were, but my Polish friend and I enjoyed them thoroughly (she’d never had them, either). Another happy surprise was that the restaurant’s WC was decorated rather unusually, but I didn’t have anything to capture it with. This time I was more prepared and brought a camera AND my mobile phone into the WC with me.

This was a photo by Paulo of Ice’s reaction to me disappearing for a period of time that is too long for a dog to comprehend (anything longer than 5 seconds):

#IceTheDog wondering what's taking me so long

And this is what I was trying to capture (with a mobile phone because it was the fastest means of capturing most of it):

Cais 51 seafood restaurant in Matosinhos has such a funky WC, but I didn't have my phone with me last time to shoot it. This time I was prepared, but the only way to fit it all in was to make a video. I showed it to Paulo and he said the men's is the same but instead of pink detail, it's blue.Posted by Gail at Large on Sunday, July 5, 2015

I was trying to capture the details in this WC: the plexiglass floor with stones underneath, glass walls (bouncing lots of light everywhere to brighten up this tiny room), floral ceramic angled sink, angled mirror. There’s a mounted frame on the wall of the WC that lists all the materials which I’ll try and take a picture of next time.

July 5, 2015
Album: Portugal [Summer 2015]

Open House Porto 2015: Piscina Das Marés

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (4)

This weekend is the First Edition of Open House Porto, an architectural initiative that is part of Open House Worldwide (Doors Open in Toronto is similar). 42 spaces around Porto, Vila Nova da Gaia, and Matosinhos are open to the public at specific times and the event offers guided tours either led by volunteers, architects or specialists.

We visited four sites today, the first of which was Piscina das Marés in Leça da Palmeira (Matosinhos). I first saw these pools in some random aerial footage shot by a drone (similar to this; see also this) and I searched on a satellite map of Porto to find and photograph them. But it was my first winter, and Paulo informed me the pools are only open in the summer. Then before I knew it, Summer #1 came and went and I had to wait for Summer #2 to get around to it. Open House Porto made it easy — and free — for me to tick this one off the list, finally.

The Piscina das Marés has two pools with filtered sea water, the larger one for adults and the smaller one for young children. Each one is built into the natural rock formations at a lower level from the road and only pedestrians notice part of the pools if they know where to look. Renowned Matosinhos-born architect Álvaro Siza Vieira designed it this way to preserve the view to the ocean. The Piscina is one of his earliest projects (1961-1966) along with nearby Boa Nova Restaurant (formerly Tea House), and in 2006 both were declared National Monuments.


I found a documentary video on Vimeo (6mins) that delves into the architectural philosophy behind the construction:

We attended the first guided tour with a specialist at 9am as they were opening, so the bathers were just beginning to arrive. It’s a popular spot, but if you’re an earlybird you will get the worm in Portugal because the Portuguese are not morning people — the parking lots along Avenida da Liberdade were still mostly empty at 9 o’clock. I predict we’ll be back here before the summer’s out, but with swimsuits and without the cameras.

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (1)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (2)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (3)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (5)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (6)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (7)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (8)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (9)

Piscina das Marés, Leça da Palmeira (Porto, Portugal) (10)

Piscina Das Marés
Avenida da Liberdade
4450-716 Leça da Palmeira

Website: http://www.matosinhosport.com/gca/?id=440
Tel: 22 995 2610
Email: geral@matosinhosport.com

HOURS: June-September, every day 09:00-19:00

Lat: 41 ° 11’34.40 “N
Long: 8 ° 42’27.58 “W

July 4, 2015
Album: Portugal [Summer 2015]

Armazém: Porto’s New Cultural Space In Miragaia

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (1)

We happened upon Armazém (“warehouse”) for the first time last weekend, a large multipurpose space in Miragaia across from the Customs building that is the new home of an art gallery, shops, and a tapas bar. We’re in Miragaia often because it’s one of our trusty free parking spots in the city when we’re around Ribeira (shhhhhhh), but how we didn’t notice this place before, I do not know. Although, according to this article in Porto24, if it opened a couple of months ago, in that time we’ve either been tour guiding friends or were out of town.

We had some drinks outside with Ice, and enjoyed a summer sunset in their exterior space filled with planters and lounge-style seating. There’s no table service outside yet, but I’m guessing once Armazém and the patio gets busier they’ll hire more staff to expand the service area.

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (2)

Armazém’s warehouse space covers 1,500 square metres, most of it an open layout, and you’ll see in the following pictures how they’ve left the interior cement surfaces more or less intact from when it belonged to Real Companhia Velha. The unfinished look combined with distressed wood and vintage items give it a pronounced hipster vibe (the Native Indian figure by the entrance sent my eyes rolling), but I’m willing to put that aside in favour of the rest of the place, which has great potential to host a diversity of arts events. For a warehouse, it has much more natural lighting than I’d expected, which warms up the space and reduces the institutional feel of the cement walls and fluorescent lighting.

I’m excited to see revitalization works in Porto, especially those aimed towards promoting arts and culture. The city is full of old buildings ready for some restoration love, and whenever another one reopens it is cause for celebration (especially if it has a tapas bar!).

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (3)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (4)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (5)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (6)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (7)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (8)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (9)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (10)

Armazém (Porto, Portugal) (11)

Armazém’s Facebook Page

Rua de Miragaia, 93
Porto, Portugal

Mon-Thu: 11:30am-8:00pm
Fri-Sat: 11:30am-10:00pm
Sun: 11:30am-8:00pm

June 27, 2015
Album: Portugal [Summer 2015]

Visiting Ninu’s Cave In Gozo

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta)

When it comes to travel, I’m not much of a planner. Instead, I like to go to a place, get a feel for it, talk to the locals, and see where I end up. My favourite travel experiences have been through very random circumstances, generated by locals or just following my nose rather than following guidebooks. I may skim some travel blogs to look at pictures but that’s about it. My travel style has evolved somewhat over the years — eg., I used to be a museum hound but in recent years I’ve all but stopped visiting museums. Now that I’m not travelling solo most of the time anymore, my ability to randomize the days is limited to what Paulo will tolerate. And I’m glad that between two of us there is one person who loves trip planning, because if we were more like each other we’d be either floundering on the road or heading for divorce from the planning conflicts.

So how did we end up at this little cave in Gozo? I — wait for it — randomly met a Finnish guy and his Gozitan taxi driver and struck up a deal for five hours of being chauffeured around Gozo the next day. It was the Gozitan taxi driver who pointed us to the cave, located around the corner from an ornate church. With two sites to visit, he dropped us off and let us explore both while he took a break.

Our little group of four (a Finn, Brazilian, Canadian, and Portuguese) followed the arrows marked “Ninu’s Cave” to this door at No. 15 January Street. I think we were all surprised that the cave was located below an ordinary residential neighbourhood. The caves I’ve been to around the USA and New Zealand were all a bit remote, probably discovered long before any neighbourhoods had sprung up.

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (2)

From Visit Gozo:

To the rear of an ordinary house at No 15 January Street, ix-Xagħra is this natural cave discovered in 1888 by local resident Joseph Rapa. The cave, now well illuminated by electric lights, is remarkable for its plethora of natural stalactites and stalagmites.

The cave is entered via a 4m descent down a flight of steps, which ends in a large chamber approximately 20 m by 8m. The calcification of water dripping from the cave ceiling has formed a forest of magnificent columns. There are even a few helictites (curved stalectites). Most of the formations are now dry and the same colour as the surrounding rock but some remain semitransparent and it is possible to see the rings formed as they grew.

The entrance fee to the cave is one euro, collected by the lady in the photo above, who is the wife of the grandson of Joseph Rapa, the founder of the cave. When she waved us through the first door it felt very much like we were being ushered into her home. She walked slowly with a cane, taking us down a corridor to the back of the house. There she pointed to an exterior door to the cave, instructing us to go down the stairs while she went to flip on the lights.

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (3)

It’s a good thing there were only four of us — and none of us tall — because there isn’t much room down there. But the lack of space lends to the otherworldly atmosphere found in caves, where time seems to stand still. With only echoes and the occasional drip, being underground and surrounded by formations made it easy to imagine Joseph Rapa digging for a well in 1888 and discovering this instead. It was around the time incandescent lightbulbs were invented, which meant he’d very likely explored this cave with other light sources like candles, amplifying the thrill of the discovery. (It would be downright spooky for some.)

Ninu’s Cave is a cheap and pleasant little diversion from the scorch of Malta’s summer sun, unless you have claustrophobic tendencies or are exceptionally tall. In that case, here are some pictures to spare you…

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (4)

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (7)

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (12)

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Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (10)

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (11)

Ninu's Cave, Xaghra (Gozo island, Malta) (13)

June 17, 2015
Album: Malta 2015