Why You Should Travel To Portugal Now, From Backpack Me

gailatlarge-portugal

Portugal Day was a month ago, but we were already in Cabo Verde when this post was originally published on June 10. Back at the beginning of May, Zara, the Portuguese half of Backpack Me, invited me to participate in a group post comprised of locals (Portuguese travel bloggers), expats (travel bloggers based in Portugal), and visitors (travel bloggers who’ve been to Portugal) in honour of Portugal Day. The aim of the article is to share a variety of perspectives that will inspire people to include Portugal in their bucket lists:

Backpack Me: A Bunch of Good Reasons Why You Should Travel To Portugal Now

(In the internet era of lists, it’s nice to read a title that has no numbers!)

It’s always interesting to read collaborative articles because everyone has different ideas, backgrounds, reasons, and experiences. My contribution was one of the two expats in the group, and I’m reprising my text here, since I talk about the subject often:

Travellers going to Portugal for the first time will no doubt spend more time in the cities, but I urge everyone to visit the tiny villages in the mountains, where time seems to have stood still. I live in the north, where most of these villages can be reached within a few hours’ drive. For the ones still inhabited, they are now essentially living museums, but they won’t live forever — urbanization is shrinking the villages. Go before they completely disappear!

So what can you expect to find in rural Portuguese mountain villages?

Some are only ruins now, some accessible only by hiking, a few have been restored. You’ll find villages made entirely of schist, or whatever stones are local to the area. Along the mountain roads, chances are you’ll be passed by longhorn cattle making their trek to the upper pastures; be prepared to stop for sheep and goats. There probably won’t be enough room for the car so you’ll make your way up the steep stone path to the village on foot, outpaced by little grandmas with big smiles, no teeth, and layers of skirts — even in the hot sun — making their daily journey from the chapel on another mountain. Every village has at least one chapel, but you’ll also see them in unlikely places, like the middle of an orchard or vineyard.

If the village has only a couple of hundred regular residents, like my husband’s family village, you might notice the absence of a grocery or convenience store. On certain days, you’ll hear horns from the fish van or the bread van announcing their presence. Each horn is different; the locals know which is which. There are no banks. No shops. No corporate banners. No brands… oh, but wait: the Portuguese love coffee so if the village is larger there might be a “cafe” — I use the term loosely because it just looks like someone’s door is left open — marked by a coffee brand at the entrance. Nearby, possibly a burro or oxcart, but always a village dog or two lounging around in the sun.

If you can swing it, I highly recommend visiting a village during their patron saint’s festival: there’s often a parade, traditional clothing, music, food, and a festive atmosphere. You won’t find anything flashy, it’s not for tourists. But you’ll forget it’s 2014, if only for a day.

Now that you’ve read my #1 reason for travelling to Portugal now, go read the rest!

The Works of Artist Cildo Meireles at Serralves

The Works of Artist Cildo Meireles at Serralves

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

This is a continuation from the preview of our visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art at Serralves in Porto on January 5. We are heading to Serralves again this weekend (it’s free on Sunday mornings), which reminded me to hurry up and post the other pictures from last month because once the exhibitions change it’s more difficult to track down the information for reference. Also, it’s easy to forget small details about the art once it’s out of physical range. 2D pictures are a big part of my life, but they are only meant to inspire — you cannot live through pictures, no matter how hard you try. And I don’t encourage anyone to try, in fact I discourage it! Get out there and see things in person, though on the other hand what I’m also trying to accomplish here is to provide a pictorial to those who can’t, for whatever reason.

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles

Cildo Meireles is a Brazilian artist born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, best known for his contemporary installation art. Notably, the early works were created during the time of the Brazilian Dictatorship (1964-1985) and no doubt his later works were also influenced by that period of oppression. The Tate Modern in London featured Meireles’ work Oct 2008-Jan 2009 and has a longer bio on their website.

The exhibition was at Serralves from Nov 14, 2013-Jan 26, 2014, a collection of installations Meireles created from 1969-2013. Before Serralves, the solo exhibition showed in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia from May-September 2013. (The Madrid press release here for more information, as I couldn’t find one for Serralves.)

These works by Meireles are large, which is why I’ve got photos of them at different angles. When you consider the dimension and scale and detail of these pieces, the logistics of a travelling exhibition is mind-boggling, although I don’t know if all works travel as an ensemble or if parts are acquired locally.

For instance, this first work titled Olvido (1987-1989) is made of 6,000 banknotes from all the American countries, with three tonnes of bones and 69,300 candles. In Amerikkka, a floor is made of 20,050 wooden eggs beneath a ceiling of 40,000 bullets. In Marulho, more than 17,000 books with photographs of sea water represent the ocean. I don’t have photos of all the pieces in the exhibition simply because it’s not easy — or downright impossible — to capture; all the more reason to see them in person.

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Olvido (1987-89) by Cildo Meireles

Amerikkka is probably the most visually-arresting installation in the exhibition due to the menacing sparkle of 40,000 bullets overhead and the unmistakable shape of 20,000 white eggs. It is also one of the most interactive of all the works, where viewers are invited to participate by taking the expression “walking on eggshells” literally:

Amerikkka (1991-2013) by Cildo Meireles

Amerikkka (1991-2013)

Amerikkka (1991-2013) by Cildo Meireles

Amerikkka (1991-2013)

Amerikkka (1991-2013) by Cildo Meireles

Amerikkka (1991-2013)

And speaking of expressions, you know that one about finding a needle in a haystack? Here we are: Fio (thread) is made up of bales of hay, 18-carat gold needle, 100m of 18-carat gold thread.

Fio (Thread; 1990-95) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Fio (Thread; 1990-95)

Fio (Thread; 1990-95) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Fio (Thread; 1990-95)

To give you an idea of how much Meireles’ work is valued, have a look at this link for the price tag from Christie’s auction house of Jogo de Velha Serie C 8A (Tic-Tac-Toe Serie C 8A). An excerpt of their description of the work:

With Jogo de Velha Serie C 8A, Meireles arranges yellow wooden rulers into nine squares on masonite. He paints five X’s in black and four O’s in an identical yellow on each square. The piece visually engages the viewer through the visual tension between the daubed markings and the details of the rulers as well as the use of a limited but effective palette. The X’s almost appear like targets and themes from his earlier political works are discernable. With the rulers one cannot help seeing the oppressive force in the need to measure and corral. One can also extrapolate from the game of naughts and crosses an allusion to power and its cruel vicissitudes. However, though the crosses in black may dominate the board visually, it is the nearly invisible naughts which have won the game. Might has failed as a latent order and begins to assert itself in a piece emblematic of Meireles aesthetic and social concerns.

Jogo de Velha Serie C 8A by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist (Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto)

Jogo de Velha Serie C 8A

Jogo de Velha Serie C 8A by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist (Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto)

Jogo de Velha Serie C 8A

This is another interactive installation titled Entrevendo (Glimpsing), which Paulo participated in. From the website murmurofart.com:

Visitors are invited to enter a funnel-shaped structure measuring more than eight metres in length, at the end of which is a hot air blower. At the entrance they are offered two cubes of ice –- one salt, the other sweet –- to put in their mouths. The ice melts as they approach the source of hot air, giving concrete form to the phenomenon of synaesthesia: the same sensory stimulus is thus perceived as a dual experience, creating a sense of alienation.

Entrevendo (Glimpsing; 1970-1994) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Entrevendo (Glimpsing; 1970-1994) by Cildo Meireles

Entrevendo (Glimpsing; 1970-1994) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Entrevendo (Glimpsing; 1970-1994) by Cildo Meireles

Entrevendo (Glimpsing; 1970-1994) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Entrevendo (Glimpsing; 1970-1994) by Cildo Meireles

Mereiles also has multiple projects using banknotes, some of which he altered with stamps and circulated, while others are fabricated:

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Cildo Meireles @ Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto

Marulho (Surge of the Sea; 1991-1997): wood decking, 17,000 books, soundtrack with the word water in 84 languages.

Marulho (Surge of the Sea; 1991-1997) by Cildo Meireles

Marulho (Surge of the Sea; 1991-1997) by Cildo Meireles

Marulho (Surge of the Sea; 1991-1997) by Cildo Meireles

Marulho (Surge of the Sea; 1991-1997) by Cildo Meireles

Para Pedro (1984-1993) by Cildo Meireles, Brazilian artist

Para Pedro (1984-1993) by Cildo Meireles

By this point you can imagine I’ve read many bios of Meireles while researching this post. The man has a wide body of work spanning decades using different mediums, and it’s not easy to describe conceptual art, let alone his. But this bio by Britannica has a quote from him which gives a brief insight into the philosophy behind his work:

“Remember that the work is not what we see in a museum exhibition. It’s not the bank notes or the Coca-Cola bottles. These objects are only relics. The work itself has no materiality. And it is ephemeral. It only exists when someone is interacting with it. In this respect, it’s much more connected with the concept of the anti-object or the non-object.”

You can see the rest of the Cildo Meireles exhibit and other works at the Museum of Contemporary Art this winter in the album: Serralves Winter 2014

More Porto and Gaia From Last Saturday

Porto, as seen from Gaia

Porto, as seen from Gaia

One of the things about living by the ocean is the variation in light. Weather changes quickly, clouds roll in from the Atlantic and break at a moment’s notice. No-one knows this better than the local boat-owners, fishermen, and those who make a living on the water.

Saturday's sunset, Porto

sunset over the Atlantic

Living in northern coastal Portugal reminds me very much of living in Vancouver, except one major difference: Vancouver is sheltered from the ocean waves by an enormous mass of land called Vancouver Island. I lived right on the beach and never had to worry about getting swept out to sea. If you want to surf and see big crashing waves, you have to go to beautiful Tofino or other spots on the west side of the island. Here in Portugal, there is nothing to protect the coast from the force of the sea, which has been quite destructive lately in the recent winter storms. It makes for dramatic pictures, but you don’t want to tempt fate by getting too close.

This photographer hopped up on a rock to take photos of Capela do Senhor da Pedra like I did earlier, but he was soon surrounded by water.

Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal)

caught by the tide

Capela do Senhor da Pedra (Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal)

Capela do Senhor da Pedra

Capela do Senhor da Pedra (Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal)

Capela do Senhor da Pedra

Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal)

waves crashing the rocks at Capela do Senhor da Pedra

I’ve photographed the Arrábida Bridge from below and facing west, but this time I wanted to photograph it from the other side, facing east. After leaving the beach at Capela do Senhor da Pedra, we drove to the river where it meets the sea. The sun was setting and clouds were forming, but I got some parting shots of the sky before it reached the blue hour.

marina and Arrábida Bridge

marina and Arrábida Bridge

Arrábida Bridge

Arrábida Bridge

the blue hour, Porto

the blue hour

Album: Portugal Winter 2013/2014

Miniature Wonderland, Hamburg

Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg is one of those places where you can unleash your inner child, your inner sense of wonder, gets you feeling creative, maybe inspire you to build something yourself. Likely not to this scale, though — Miniatur Wunderland is a MASSIVE place that’s been years in the making, constantly growing, and there’s no indication it’s slowing down anytime soon. They’re already got a couple of entries in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest train set. But even if you’re not a miniature railroad fan, there’s plenty to fascinate.

http://www.miniatur-wunderland.de

This is one of those posts that is best left to show than tell, so I’ll post some pictures and videos for now:

Official video (in English):

[video link]


[video link]


[video link]

Miniature Wonderland (Hamburg, Germany)

Miniature Wonderland (Hamburg, Germany)

Miniature Wonderland (Hamburg, Germany)

Miniature Wonderland (Hamburg, Germany)

Miniature Wonderland (Hamburg, Germany)


[video link]


[video link]


[video link]


[video link]


[video link]

Casa da Música (2014)

Casa da Música, Porto

I seem to be on a real kick with the nightshots. Probably because it’s winter and the sky plays far less a role, or none at all, in nightshots. Except maybe for a reflective slick of rain, you wouldn’t really notice the difference between nightshots taken in the summer or winter. That said, I did take some daytime shots yesterday at Casa da Música, too, but out of the ones I’ve uploaded I prefer the nightshots so I’ll post a selection of those first.

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

My original plan for yesterday was to take a guided tour of Casa da Música at 4pm (there’s only one English tour each day), and pick up a stack of tickets for the open rehearsal of the Porto Symphony Orchestra to save for some couchsurfers who weren’t able to pick them up during the day. The rehearsal was scheduled for 8:30pm, which gave me hours to shoot whatever I wanted nearby before we were all to meet at Casa da Música. But it was misting when I arrived, and while I knew generally what it would be like, I was hopeful for more light streaming into the building. I decided to postpone the tour to another — brighter — day. After all, I live here, there’s no time crunch.

I wandered around the Rotunda da Boavista to scope out the area (there’s a beautiful garden in the middle of the giant roundabout), and found myself ducking into the Mercado Bom Sucesso, an upscale and newly-renovated urban market. It’s like a modern version of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto (under renovation soon; watch the prices go up!), with more light than the Ferry Building Market in San Francisco, more open than Pike Place Market in Seattle, and set up more like Granville Island Market in Vancouver but on two floors. It’s smaller than all of those North American examples, but I will definitely return to photograph the interior on a brighter day, because the ceiling is mostly glass and the light looks incredible in there. I don’t hold back in expressing my dislike for shopping centres, but I’ll ease up on this one — it has a more open layout, which makes an enormous difference in the ambience. There are food stalls grouped in clusters of four in the middle, more like an old-style market, with tables in-between. I don’t know whether these food retailers are part of a chain, but it definitely feels less chain-like.

The way Mercado Bom Sucesso is designed — more kiosk space versus mostly large retail space — reminds me less of the cookie-cutter urban shopping centres that you’ll find all over the industrialized world and suggests, perhaps on a more subconscious level, that I’m supporting smaller business ventures. Whether that’s truly the case or it’s merely marketing at work here, it remains to be seen as I become more familiar with the retail environment in Portugal.

Anyway, back to Casa da Música… (You’ll see further down why Mercado Bom Sucesso gets a big introduction here.)

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Casa da Música, Porto

Photography and videography of performances is not allowed, so my only open rehearsal shots are of the warm-ups. Here’s a couple of VSCO shots — one of the full orchestra and another of, I’m guessing, a musician’s kid (?) with a gigantic stuffed teddy bear companion?

On a related note, an article about the demands of being a conductor: (BigThink.com) Conducting Is Like Telepathy With 100 People

During the open rehearsal, I couldn’t help thinking I was listening to a film. Actually, a film score. From the dramatic music, I imagined that I was listening to an epic period piece where the protagonist gets shots down over a desert and has to survive a lack of food or water, getting chased by tribes, ride horses, and prays for rescue. Not that I can demonstrate any of that with the music since I couldn’t record it, but I here’s an unsteady 30-second videoclip of the warm-up and a few seconds of it to pique your imagination:

[video link]

The rehearsal continued until much longer than was printed on the tickets, well after 10pm, and Paulo (who had raced over directly from work) was starving by the time it was over. Since we were there with other couchsurfers, the next logical step was to ask around if anyone else wanted to go somewhere. And like any typical couchsurfing-led event with more than two people, deciding on a place to eat/drink took an extraordinarily long time, and mobilizing the crowd to get there took even longer. But in the end, where did we go?

Yep, Mercado Bom Sucesso, where I’d spent practically all afternoon between picking up the tickets at Casa da Música and the open rehearsal. Half of my Friday was spent between those two places! But I was surprised Mercado was open late (’til midnight it turns out), which really sets it apart from all the North American markets. Also, they had live music!

Album: Portugal Winter 2013/2014