Sunday, June 29, 2014

Querido Portugal | Visiting Minho

Hello World. It's been almost twenty days since we returned from a trip to sunny Portugal! We were so excited when our friends from the Minho region invited us to spend some time with their families. Two years ago, I had visited the North of Portugal with my mother. It was a beautiful trip albeit a very touristy one. This time round, I wanted to experience real Portuguese lifestyle. Of all the regions I have visited in Portugal, the North is by far the most historic and traditional one. If you're looking to soak up the sun and relax by the pool/beach, the Algarve region in the south will seduce you. However if you're looking for history, culture and tradition, the North it is!

Cabeceiras de Basto | Pedraça

Our friends live in Cabeceiras de Basto and Pedraça. Both counties are famous for their vineyards, linen, meats and natural beauty! June is a dazzling month for nature in the north. It's the end of spring and break of summer. It's cool enough for the sunflowers but too hot for the roses. The lush green and florals blend beautifully with the thousands of terraced sloping vineyards. 
I also must say, it's the people that make a place, and the kindness of the people in Minho really knows no bounds. I knew the Portuguese were famous for their hospitality but honestly I was really not prepared to feel like I was visiting my family right at the onset. An average Portuguese salary is between 480 to 600 euros, so nearly three times less than the French or English salary. But they are so generous!! People we barely knew would pay for our meals in restaurants, welcome us into their homes, offer us food (the best food), homemade wine, let us have the best rooms with comfortable beds while they slept on the floor. We were so moved. It's an amazing feeling to finally understand the meaning of a minha casa é a tua casa. I don't think I could ever repay the hospitality and love that I felt in this fortnight. My biggest hope is that the entire Portuguese nation comes out of this damned economic crisis, because the Portuguese, they definitely deserve better!
Dinner for 17 :)
Other than the fantastic scenery, Cabeceiras also boasts of an amazing cathedral aka Mosteiro de S. Miguel de Refojos. Legend has it that Cabeceiras de Basto (Basto meaning *enough*) got it name from Hermigio Romarigues who protected the monastery and the town from the powerful Moors. After the fall of the Visigoth empire at the hands of the Moors, the invaders marched towards the monastery, however Romarigues vowed "Até ali, por S. Miguel, até ali, basto eu!" (Until now, Saint Miguel, until the next time, I am enough!). And sure enough, the Moors attacked the vulnerable monastery three times but fell miserably thanks to the mighty sword of Romarigues.
Courtesy: Flybasto
Today the Monastery boasts of important architectural and cultural value to the region, but it needs the attention of benefactors to help restore its exteriors and interiors. Atleast what we understood from our guide was that the people of Cabeceiras are trying to get the attention of UNESCO to fund the restoration work. We witnessed an amazing feat by approx 3000 child volunteers. You can see in the photo above, they all came together to give the monastery a "hug". It's was such a beautiful initiative to save a monument that's filled with so much history and continues to be an important part of daily lives! UNESCO people, if you're ever reading this, you have some work on your hands!
Mosteiro de S. Miguel de Refojos
Baroque interiors of the monastery.

Povoa de Varzim
Since 138 BC, Povoa de Varzim has remained an important fishing port in Northern Portugal. It's also a well-known beach resort and even though it's by the cool Atlantic ocean, there are many tourists who come by to enjoy the soft sands and sunny skies. I will never forget this place because here's where I realized Sushi is not meant for me. Our friends and I went to a beachfront Sushi restaurant. The prices were amazing. All you can eat for ten euros! And sure enough, since we never find sushi at that price in France, we ate of sushi quota of the entire year in one meal. That night my body exploded. I never realized until that day that I could scare people off by just using their bathrooms but yeah, that happened. Lesson of the story: stick to local cuisine while travelling + don't overeat even if the food is free. 
Cultural scenes depicted with traditional coloured tiles.
Portuguese people are really gifted with ceramic tile work. I spoke more in detail about Azulejos here. The tile work on display in Povoa de Varzim was a real treat. The traditional blue and white colours of the tiles synced well with the colours of the sea and the sky. Honestly, it's such a pleasure to find that associations still invest in their artists, who in turn create such amazing art and it's free to admire of course!
More Azulejos | Portuguese Tiles

There is a sign in this town that says "Aqui nasceu Portugal", which means Portugal was born here. During the 12th century, the Portuguese sovereigns were grouped in this region, including Afonso I, the first Portuguese king. This eventually led to the official creation of Portuguese identity and the Portuguese language. The historical center of Guimarães (comprising of the medieval castle, the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, etc) is a UNESCO heritage site. Today you can find a very vibrant city, steeped in history and filled with artists, museums, great restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops. No guesses why it was named European Culture Capital two years ago. 
Church of Senhor dos Passos, Guimarães.
Archer at the Ducal Palace
To immerse yourself into Portuguese history, you must visit the Paço do Duques de Bragança or Palace of the Dukes of Bragança. It's a few metres away from the medieval castle and chapel. The castle is in ruins, so venture only of you like rubble. The chapel is really sober and you can visit if you like to see tombstones beneath your feet. The fee to enter the Palace is really minimal (about 5 euros) and really worth it! The castle was built between 1420 and 1422 by the first Duke of the Bragança House, Afonso I. The palace was inhabited only in the 15th century and was eventually abandoned and consequently ruined. In the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to political backing, the palace underwent an integral reconstitution, including the interior deco (furniture et al). Today it's one of Portugal's most visited monuments.
The thing that strikes you at first is the the gigantic size and details of the tapestries in nearly every grand salon. And secondly, if you're a Game of Thrones fan like me, you'll immediately be transported to a Westeros-like world. You can find grand salons with low chandeliers, tables and plates for giants, warfare items like swords, lances, spears and pole arms. To be honest, the entire decor looked authentic to me. However, according to the Palace's website, most of the interior decoration is a replica and not necessarily medieval either. Due to time constraints and financial burdens to find exclusive medieval furniture, the commission decided to use replicas of different time periods. According to them, the replicas have the same "artistic merit and documentary value". Well to be honest, if you're not a medieval art specialist, the visit will not disappoint you.
Indo-Portuguese "artifacts" at the Palace.
Rua Santa Maria and Town Square
Charming bougainvillea!
Adding to the historical ambiance of Guimarães are her young and old artists. You'll see them plonked on the cobblestone streets, sketching away. Sometimes they're in large groups or sometimes alone. Seems like this city fits perfectly in history books and sketchbooks. 

Braga is the capital of Minho. This ancient city is important for Christians due to it's strong links with the Church, dating back to the 3rd century. 
Bom Jésus de Monte Courtesy: Wikicommons
Situated high on a mountain in Braga, the Bom Jesus de Monte church is an impressive architectural gem. Other than a Christian shrine, the church is also world famous for it's baroque architecture inside out. The staircase leading up to the church is an important point of interest. We mustered the courage to climb up to the church from the foot of the mountain, via the stairs. Took us a good half an hour. The view from the top is what makes it all worth it. If you're a believer, then the effort also adds to the sanctity of the experience. There are 14 mini chapels depicting the stations of the cross and water fountains to ease your climb. Apparently there are pilgrims who go all the way up on their knees!
The Church, the gardens and the view of Braga = Spectacular!
Sanctuary of Sameiro
O Sameiro is a sanctuary a few minutes drive away from Bom Jésus de Monte. It's famous because the last Pope, i.e John Paul II visited it in 1982 and it's generally the next stop for pilgrims after Fatima. The interior decor of the church wasn't very attractive. Outside, you find that the architect clearly played on the size of the structure to impress people rather than details. Most importantly, the view from here is the best in Braga. We just had to sit down and admire the spectacle at our feet. Also a good time to reflect on your speck of an existence in the larger scheme of things. 

Viana do Castelo
Locals devoted time and effort to create these religious floats with tiny grains and flower petals!
Viana de Castelo is a real treat for varied interests. On one hand, it seems like a très chic côte d'azur and on the other hand it holds onto a prized medieval centre. You know immediately that this is a "richer" region in the North mainly because of its historical port, naval construction, tourism, gold artisans, religiosity, etc. This city has something for everyone. Especially if you're looking for the bolas de berlim, then you've come to the right place! OMG these desserts are just amazing, so fantastic that I will dedicate a separate post just for them. 
The Marina. Great for long walks on a sunny day.
Yacht beauties.
Vianense architecture.
Another historic square is the Praça da Republica. Nearly all the cafés, historical buildings and souvenir shops are grouped here. It's also a great place to purchase Portuguese filigree jewellery. 
Santuario de Santa Luzia
This dominant shrine can be seen from almost every place in the Lima valley. The Basilica of Santa Luzia reminded me of another important church I had seen somewhere. I couldn't place my finger on it until I read the plaque. The church was modelled after the Sacré coeur in Paris. Contrary to its appearance, the church dates back to the early 1900s. With the exception of an ornate altar, chandeliers and stained-glass windows, the interiors are almost bare. But it's worth climbing up the hill or driving by car to appreciate the views of the valley and see the River Lima greet the Atlantic. 
Our hosts were very kind to take us to the Basilica in the morning and again at night. Just in front of the monument is a great viewpoint. The city's personality is completely different at different times of the day and hence a photographer's or chronicler's delight. In the morning you see the calm Atlantic and the dreamy Lima valley below. In the evening, you see a vibrant black and gold phoenix come to life. True to its golden heritage, it seems like someone melted tons of gold and poured it into the Vianense arteries. 

Adeus Minho! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dream Box

Once when I was young, we all gathered around my dream box,
You placed into it the choicest of things,
The kindest of your words,
The sweetest of your smiles,
The warmest of your embraces,
The genuinest of your blessings,
The smartest of your thoughts,
The gentlest of your kisses,
The best of yourselves.
In my time, I placed into the dream box, 
the only thing a child has,
The entire life you built around me. 
The dream box was forever mine to keep. 
I would forever hold your best selves,
I would forever come back to you.
Safely buried, somewhere in our fertile hot red earth, 
The treasure of treasures, 
This dream box of mine.

So often I lay my head on the secret spot,
Listening below the ground, that faint tick of his precious watch;
Childhood terrors faded away,
when the lavender rose up from her perfumed kerchief.
The dream box below the ground illusioned a rare peace of mind and soul.
Carefully I noted the exact spot and then I put my dreams in a bag,
I saw you one last time before the plane took me away. We left each other.

My carefree adolescent decision to run wild, far away from my child self,
Soon followed the scandalous ingress into adulthood,
The world that revolved around the dream box, slowly faded away.
The following day in hotel rooms, came the time to reflect the night before,
High tea rhyming with intoxicated sunrises and sunsets;
Sheets still warm from a recent absence, where did life go?
Money couldn't buy that lavender perfume troubling my brain,
Nothing could buy the musty tea stained Chekov story book I read with ma,
The best of me, I had left behind. In that dream box of mine.

Eons later, I went in search for the best of ourselves.
The fertile hot red earth had turned black and listless,
A home into a house into a blank space into your heads.
Your lives salvageable only by the best in the box.
I retraced my steps and put my ear to the ground. This here!
I listened carefully for the faint tic. Nothing.
A new sulfurous smell replaced her dreamy lavender.
I looked again, tears unable to help,
my mangled fingers clawing the ground, trying to find,
that dream box of mine.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My mood board for today: Portugal

Since my return from sunny Portugal, I have a tons of little souvenirs that I collected. I couldn't fit all of them into the mood board. But just few of my favourite things. On the ipad, you can see an artistic arrangement of azulejos. Azulejos refers to the Portuguese ceramic tile art that's been practiced in Portugal for five centuries. From big cities to charming little towns, you cannot escape this beautiful art form on interior and exterior walls. Mostly the tiles are arranged to depict the concerned area's history, battles, feasts, occupations, etc. I didn't have space in my travel bag to bring actual tiles but that's the plan for the next trip. I'd love to have a bathroom or a headboard decorated with tiles like these.

I also brought back Portuguese soap which is really one of the best things Portugal makes, an egg shaped jewellery box, a beautiful leather wallet with the Barcelos cock stamped on it, a pretty azulejo card holder, a cliché oven mitt, pressed flowers, books, thimbles from every place visited and of course magnets. 

Fernando Pessoa is one of my favourite poets and I'm so happy they started making ceramic magnets with quotes from his poems. It really is a perfect souvenir and daily poetic reminder. 
Magnet #1 "Tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mundo." - "I have within me all the dreams of the world."- "J'ai en moi tous les rêves du monde."

Magnet #2 "Put all you are into the least you do." - "Donnez tout ce que vous avez pour la moindre chose que vous faites."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

L'Oréal Makeup Genius: Makeup in Real Time

When Harper's Bazaar excitedly announced that a new application that would revolutionize how we buy and test makeup was going to be launched by L'Oréal, it got me curious and excited. I love downloading ingenious apps from the Apple store and if they're truly interesting they become a part of my daily routine. Sure enough Makeup Genius has remained on my phone since the day I downloaded it. The app works in real time which means you let it calibrate your facial features and voilà! You can try on makeup, be it eyeshadow, lipsticks, eyeliner, mascara, etc in real time. If you like the item, just click on 'buy' and they'll send it to you. Just like that!
I love this method of trying makeup because I was always a bit hesitant to try statement colours in public. I love nudes but I've always been curious about bright reds and corals. Thanks to Makeup genius I found out that bright reds are definitely NOT meant for me :) However surprise surprise! Coral is actually doable! Below you can see the app doing it's thing in real time.
I was so amazed that coral actually went well with my skin tone. Generally it's nudes, bronzes and deep browns that suit my skin. I was super glad to find the perfect shade for summer! So I bought these two shades immediately. I didn't have the patience to try the app's postal service because I was too anxious to see how I would look wearing orange asap :) So my local Carrefour and Sephora carried the shades I wanted. For obvious reasons *frown*, Sephora sold the same lipstick at a higher price than Carrefour. Here below is my haul of L'Oréal products. The Sunscreen and BB Cream are my staple products and two are novelties. 

Regarding the lipsticks, I love the little "L'Oréal" text stamped into the stick. Along with the gold, this little touch adds to the pizzaz. The 293 Orange Fever on the left is the colour I love the most. The stick colour really matches the one in Makeup Genius and for the first time ever I can confidently show off statement lips! :) The texture is really smooth too, there a slight shimmer to the shade, so it's perfect for a soirée look and somehow it feels like my lips are more pouty. The 379 Sensual Rose was a bit meh. The actual lipstick colour is not exactly the same colour as the app and on my lips it looks like any other beige-ish colours I usually wear. 

Anyhoo, life is all about change, adding colour and spicing things up. And to help you with that, someone made an app :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hello Summer..

What a nice warm weekend that was. I guess it's unofficially summer. The one thing I love about summer is the cherries. There is one person who encapsulated the entire sensation of summer. Arthur Rimbaud. His poem Sensation truly evokes a sweet summery bohemian dream.

SENSATION par Arthur Rimbaud

Par les soirs bleus d’été j’irai dans les sentiers, 
Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue : 
Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraicheur à mes pieds. 
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue. 

Je ne parlerai pas ; je ne penserai rien. 
Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme ; 
Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien, 
Par la Nature,—heureux comme avec une femme.

a translation by Gregory Campeau

Summer’s deep-blue evenings I will go down the lanes, 
Tickled by the wheat-berries, trampling the short grass: 
Dreaming, I will feel the coolness at my feet. 
I will let a northern wind bathe my bare head. 

I will not stir my tongue; I will think of nothing. 
Yet love infinite shall at once mount in my soul; 
And I will go far, very far, like a gypsy, 
Through Nature,—enchanted as with a woman. 

 —Arthur Rimbaud