Monday, July 31, 2017

Rua Augusta Arch - Lisbon

It is difficult to decide which palces to visit, if you have allocated just 3 days for all of Lisbon sightseeing. Especially difficult if we don't know which we should see and which can be given a miss, not knowing the importance of any of them. So, we just picked a few places of tourist interest based on the logistics. I am glad we did not miss this one, as it had everything we love, beautiful architecture, great open square, sculpture, river and riverfront promenade.
Rua Augusta Arch is situated on Praca do Comercio, or Commerce square, in Lisbon. One can see the river Tagus from the arch and the square.

The Rua Augusta arch, the Commerce square form a place of very handsome proportions.  
In the center of the square is the bronze statue of King Jose 1.
The archway forms part of a U shaped building, housing govt. buildings for customs and port activities.
The two arms of the U shape building end in two towers; the white building as seen in the above photograph.
Standing in the archway, one can see that the height at the center, is more than 5 floors by today's standards.
There is a gallery or colonnade on either side of the arch. Handicrafts and touristy mementos are being sold in these galleries.
Beautiful cast iron lamps hang from the ceiling on the ground floor. Underside of the arch decorated with beautiful designs.
We actually arrived at the Praca do Comercio from behind, through a labyrinthine narrow lanes connecting old Lisbon.
This particular stretch of the street is only pedestrian. Decorated cobblestone paving greeted us warmly, along with the musicians playing various instruments. 
If you are in Lisbon, save half a day, preferably towards evening, for the visit to Praca do Comercio and Rua Augusta arch. The majestic proportions of the monuments and the open spaces have to be experienced to believe. There is beauty everywhere!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Museu Nacional do Azulejo

We were in Lisbon and started our tour of monuments and museums. There were so may museums, and we had factored in only 3 days in Lisbon, that we had to choose only a few. On this trip, we were not too keen on museums displaying paintings and sculptures only. We decided on the Museu Nacional do Azulejo. They said it is Tiles museum. 
The National tiles museum, as it is also called, is situated in the eastern part of Lisbon. Located in the former Convent of Madre de Deus, it was founded in 1509, by Queen Leonar de Lencastre, wife of King Joao 11. St.Anthony's chapel, Upper choir, and the vestry are part of this structure as a whole.
An Azulejo is a decorative Ceramic glazed tile. Ceramic tiles from the 2nd. half of the 15th. century till date, are displayed. It is a unique museum, in the sense, exquisite hand painted ceramic tiles and murals of distinct designs and patterns are exhibited. 
There are 2 sections to this museum. one section consists of exhibits originally on these walls, flooring, staircases. Second section consists of tiles and murals collected from other buildings belonging to the Govt. or those in poor condition. The technicians working at the museum collect / remove the tiles with great care, assemble them in order, and store them in boxes. They are again mounted on suitable walls in the museum, precisely as they were in the original location; there by preserving the heritage and saving the craft for future generations. I found their work commendable.
The skirting along the staircase is a single scene, meaning each tile has a part of the scene.

On this mural, Tiles of same size, in the same color scheme, but with varying types of flowers and birds depicted on them.
The 16th. century cloister circles a square open courtyard. Beautiful columns and arch openings along the passage.
The walls are covered with tiles in geometric patterns. There are taps for water set in perfectly in the wall.
Geometric shaped tiles fit neatly to form interesting patterns.
The skirting along the staircase is adorned with the Azulejos in a continuous scene. the top of the mural takes the shape of the design instead of a straight line. Amazing work!!

Here is a window for the light, and the sides of the niche are also tiled.
  View from the upper choir of St. Anthony's Chapel.
 Gold encrusted chapel in Baroque style of architecture make you go 'WOW'.
 All the walls, ceiling, columns are covered with designs in Gold and paintings by Andre Goncalves.
 
These tiles are contributed by the Monastery of St. Monica, Goa. While speaking to a member of the museum staff, we told her that we are from Goa, India. She quickly took us to the section where the tiles from Goa are exhibited. Very thoughtful of her!
Could not resist this photo. There was standee made of Azulejo, with a cut out for the face. 
 A visit to this museum is worth making a trip all the way to Lisbon from Goa. I had never seen anything so exquisite in my life, and probably will not in the future. Must must see in Lisbon.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

LisBoa Card - Lisbon

I was wondering how and where to start this blog post. While going through my notes and photographs, came across this guide on Lisbon. Voila, this is it. I want to write about this wonderful LisBoa card, which we used thoroughly and were very happy with it.
After reaching the grand international airport of Lisbon, we went straight to the Tourism office / counter inside the airport. The staff was friendly and patient. They spoke multiple languages. A young man explained various products and services they provide. There were various brochures and pamphlets displayed, which were for free. 
We wanted to know if there were any day passes for buses and trains. He showed us this LiBoa Card, which is valid for 3 days, which lets one travel by various modes of transport for free, enter several tourist places for free, and for some we can get discount etc. Since we planned to travel and see as many places as possible, it was the perfect card for us, as we didnot want to keep buying the tickets everywhere. 
The card cost 40 Euros per person. They gave a card and along with it, a guide for Lisbon. The guide was equally useful, as it contained information in a nutshell.

  
The card along with the guide have to be carried. The guide has coupons inside, which we need to give at certain places if we want a discount.
The benefits of LisBoa card are:
  • Free travel on Metro 
  • Free travel on trams, buses, lifts and trains.
  • Sintra - Rossio - Oriente Line
  • Cascais - Cais do Sodre Line 
Free entry to 28 museums, monuments and other places of interest which charge a fee
5 % - 50 %  discount at various tourist / cultural attractions, shops.
The guide also lists the location, addresses, and telephone nos. of all the tourism offices in Lisbon and Sintra. All the tourist attractions are described with short explanation, how to get there, and opening and closing timings.  
We used the card on buses, tram, entrance to museums and monuments, and saved a lot of money. It is hassle free. There were queues everywhere for the tickets, so the card saves a lot of time too.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vacation in 2017 - Portugal 3

Three weeks is a long holiday; the expenditure will be enormous. There are expenses for - Stay, Food, Travel inside Portugal, Entrance tickets to museums and castles, Souvenirs, and miscellaneous and unforeseen expenses which may crop up. The plan was to have a good time, have loads of fun, eat good food (translates into tons of ice cream and cheese for Jo, varieties of bread, fruits, and rice for me). We decided to see all the places we wanted to irrespective of the entrance tickets. We had to travel by the available transport. We couldnot economise on transport not could we economise on entrance tickets etc. That left only 'food', where we could economize on. 
It turned out to be a simple decision for us. Jo and I are vegetarian. Though we enjoy eating out now and then, we like home cooked food more; which meant we had to buy buy locally available groceries, vegetables and fruit and prepare our food as much as possible.
I love traveling to see new places, meet new people, and understand their lifestyle / culture of that place. Staying in hotels in tourist places, we cannot see people in their environment. Combining our love of understanding the culture and eating home food, the result was Homestay. We had stayed in a homestay in Paris a few years back, and we enjoyed it thoroughly!!
Once we decided that, we had to find Homestay options who allowed the use of their kitchen. We used mainly airbnb website for most of our stay, Homestay.com for accommodation in Lisbon, and Booking.com for hotel room in Brussels. 
Airbnb website is easy to use, they are quick to respond and clear to understand. For four locations, where tariff was deducted but the booking was not confirmed. We found different homestays for those locations and booked those. Received the amounts for those unconfirmed bookings returned to my bank account in exactly one week's time. There were no hassles of chasing them for the booking amounts.
We had very good experiences in all the places we stayed. The hosts were very friendly and helpful. 
For those who donot know what a homestay is, it is accommodation on rental basis, for a stay as short as one day or as long as several months, as part of someone's home / a complete house for the purpose of homestay. Usually those who have one or several extra rooms in their homes, need extra income, have some extra time to manage the guests arrival and departure, and take care of housekeeping, who love to meet people, opt to open up their homes for guests. The cost of a room per night in a homestay is much cheaper than a hotel room with similar facilities.
it is always better to book your stay well in advance. If it is a tourist season, there will be demand for accommodation, they will be snapped up soon. We left booking a few places till one week before departure, and we had to take whatever was available.
The criteria for selection of a homestay for us was:
The location - Since our schedule was very tight, we wanted to stay as close as possible to the places of tourist importance. That way we could cut down on travel time and spend more time sight seeing.
Connectivity - The homestay has to be close to a public transport, either buses, trains, metro, or tram. We did use the cabs where needed, but mostly preferred public transport. It is cheaper and more fun. I got to see how the card swiping in buses works, the turnstiles in metro stations is a nightmare for me, the announcement of the coming stop / station, observing people ....
Staying at home feeling - As the name implies, since we stay in someone's home, we do feel at home. We will have people to talk to (in most cases). We can cook our food and / or eat at a dining table etc. To unwind and relax at the end of a tiring day of sight seeing...
Tariff - For all those who are traveling on a budget, homestay is the best option. It is way cheaper than staying in a hotel. There were homestay options which were expensive, we chose the ones which suited our needs and pocket.
You should register with airbnb website to use the site for booking.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Vacation in 2017 - Portugal 2

This is a continuation of the last post on Planning a vacation to Portugal and how it came about.
Here I am going to list the actual steps we took. They are:
  1. Applying for VISA 
  2. Checking weather conditions online
  3. Arranging the required finances
  4. Booking accommodation 
  5. Making a list of essentials for the trip and procuring them
  6. Packing 
  7. Making arrangements for my plants to be taken care of
  8. Closing up the house etc.
VISA application:

 Jo is a European national, so luckily for him, he does not need to apply for a VISA to Portugal. I had to go through the entire tiresome process though. It meant looking up on the net all the information available.One plus point for me was that the Portuguese Consulate is in Panjim, a stone's throw from where we live and work.
I needed the following documents to apply:
  • Flight tickets, to and fro to Portugal
  • Bank account statements showing adequate funds to cover the expense for the trip
  • Travel insurance for both of us
  • Photocopies of accommodation already booked
  • Online application form duly filled and printed
  • Passport size photographs as per the specifications
  • Interview date confirmed etc.
 First things first. The online application form could have been more user friendly. A couple fields to fill out were confusing. You just have to guess what they are expecting from you and fill out. If it takes you to the next field, well and good; or try another reply. Did it until all my replies were accepted. We can also choose the date and time for our interview. If everything is correct in the form, the Consulate will reply to your online application asking you to print it out and take on the interview day.
On the appointed day, duly collected all my documents and headed for my interview. The Portuguese Consulate is in Altinho, a hillock overlooking Panjim. Pretty view all round. It happened to be middle of summer and scorching heat from the morning. There is no shelter of any sort. Well along with 50 others I waited and when my turn came, I went inside, and when my name was called did the formalities of bio metric identification etc. I was in for a surprise as they asked me for the VISA fee. Online information in said spouses of European nationals need not pay VISA fee. When I pointed it out, they discussed it back and forth and insisted I pay the fee, in Cash, which I found odd. Aren't we all heading towards digital payments etc.?
Since I wanted my VISA, I went to the bank withdrew cash and paid up. Next step was to wait. Simply wait.... one week .... wait .... two weeks .... wait .... no intimation from consulate .... I found a mail ID from the net and write to them about the status of my form .... wait .... Received a mail saying it is being processed .... wait .... one more week .... wait .... I send one more mail saying I need to make preparations, the departure date is coming close .... 
After exactly four weeks I received a mail asking me to go and collect my VISA. I heaved a sigh of relief!!!! finally!!!!!
At the appointed time, I went and collected my VISA. Armed with it, we were ready to proceed to complete the preparations.
I was warned not to carry cash while traveling. That left the option of cards. HDFC bank insisted I take a Forex multi-currency card, more than 20 currencies; which they were charging Rs.250 for the service. I needed only for euros. After a couple of back and forth discussion, it turns out that the Euro Forex card had problems, so the bank wanted me to take a multi currency card for Rs.100. Very sweet of them, right? not so, as it turned out...
To be on the safe side, I got another International Debit card and made sure there was enough money on it. After all we were going to a foreign country and we needed to have adequate funds .... That is another story ...
At the time of applying for VISA, we had booked our stay in a couple of places. Now, we had only one week to go before boarding our flight, and had to book accommodation for the rest of 17 days more.
Our original plan was to do a road trip. we planned a circular route cover the entire country, starting from Lisbon, traveling north, then east, down south and back to Lisbon. Jo printed out the maps of Portugal in A3 size and we drew the route with a marker, along with highlighting the places we wanted to visit. Below is the list of place we wanted to cover:
  • Lisbon
  • Sintra
  • Mafra
  • Obidos
  • Alcobaca
  • Leiria
  • Tomar
  • Coimbra
  • Conimbriga
  • Aveiro
  • Porto
  • Guarda
  • Evora
  • Faro 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Vacation in 2017 - PORTUGAL

I know it is a while since I blogged. That is because I was busy with work and busy planning a trip, subsequently traveling. Now that I am back and rested (my weary bones are still complaining!!!!), I felt it is time I put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard. Here it goes....
It is 4 years since Jo and I traveled anywhere longer than 5 days at a time. It is 4 years since I stepped out of India. That means my dream of seeing the world is still a distant dream. Time to rectify it. One fine day in the beginning of this year, I thought long and hard, and told Jo, that I would like go for a holiday somewhere, preferable together, and if he wants to join me, that would be great or I will have to make some other plans. But, I am interested in traveling this year. 

He thought about it I guess, and came out with this idea of Portugal. I thought 'Portugal?' Why Portugal? He said, 
1. It is a European country 
2. Goa, where we live used to be a Portuguese colony for 400 yrs.
3. He had not seen it before
4. It is cheaper than other European countries
5. He wanted to do a road trip and Portugal is small enough to make it happen.
Since I hadn't seen many places, one country is as good as another, and since I love traveling, I jumped at the idea.
Next came, how long should the trip be. I mentioned 10 - 12 days, actually wanted to go for 2 weeks. A holiday should be 2 weeks long. Isn't it? 
Ok, 2 weeks it was. That was a tentative time estimate.
Next step was to find out what to see etc. Both Jo and I did not know much about Portugal. Then we started googling on the internet for information on Portugal. Jo got sidetracked and was looking at info into demographics, fuel, economy etc. I went the simple way - the internet - it threw up '10 best places to visit in Portugal' kind of websites. Diligently looked them up and read about them and noted down which place took how long to cover the tourist attractions. Now I had a list of places to see. Simple!   
We did not know there were so many castles and cathedrals in Portugal. Jo and I had our preferences, and when added up, 2 weeks was not enough. We were going so far, and why to miss out on such interesting places because of a few more days!!! yes, it did not make sense. 
So, it became a 3 week long trip. Yey..... I am happy!
When to travel was the next topic of discussion. Neither Jo not I enjoy the cold weather much. So it had to be summer. Summer would be holiday season, everyone would be traveling, and the cost of everything would be up. A compromise, just before the tourist season starts, was the right time for us. Middle of June to first week of July seemed ideal.
Next was to find out how much money we need. A 3 week long vacation can be quite expensive, if you add, airfare (to and fro between Lisbon and Goa) + Visa expenses + Insurance + Accommodation in Portugal + food + Travel expenses + entrance tickets + miscellaneous expenses etc. It was daunting. I opened an Excel sheet and started a 'Rough estimate' of the expenses.
Looked up the airfares on the net, and got an estimate of how much it would cost for airfare. 
We were excited at the idea of hiring a car, and going around the country through the back roads, stopping wherever we wanted to, etc. It seemed very romantic....
So, we started looking up the car rentals in Portugal and there were several on the internet and they were very economical. In my rough estimate, an average cost of the rental charges for a small car, and the cast of fuel for a approxi. distance for an approxi. no. of days was calculated. 
For 21 days, for 2 persons, cost of food per day ( 2 good meals and 1 small meal), was estimated.
It is fact of life that every museum, monument or place of interest has an entrance fee. I assumed at flat rate of 5 euros per place, for an average of 15 places, for 2 persons. Rough estimate of the cost of entrance tickets was arrived at.
I decided how much we should spend on accommodation. We were going to compromise on the location or type or size.  
So on so forth, assumed other costs too. Finally a total figure was arrived at. 
We knew where we wanted to go for our holiday; when we wanted to go; for how long; and how much it would cost us. 
I put all this information in my Rough estimate; places to see, how many days for each place, where to make the halt etc.
Now that we were equipped with a plan, we started executing it. How it panned out? That was another story, for another post....

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Penha De Franca Church, Goa

It was Easter sunday and we were in the mood for some sight seeing. Had been to this magnificent church, Penha De Franca,  in Bardez, Goa, last year. It was under renovation. Just went around the construction site and saw the work in progress.
 
The front of the church faces the Mondovi river, infact it on the river front. One gets a breathtaking view from the river rather than from the land. From the approach road, you can hardly see anything of the church, only when you go round the church and come to the back, that church is seen. The church and the river are an integral part of the scenery. You cannot see any part of the church without seeing the water from some opening!
There are two bell towers on either side holding large bells.
 
Could not recognise it as the same church; Turned out so beautiful! According to Jose Lourenco, in his book, The Parish Churches of Goa, The church of Our Lady of Penha De Franca was built by the Fransiscans in 1626. It collapsed and rebuilt in 1655. It is a large church of 3 bays and 3 storeys high.
What I liked about the design of this church is that, it has a long front entrance lobby. The main door, in the centre, has ornate wood shutters. The architecture is Mannerist Neo Roman style.
 
 
Since it is recently restored, everything in the interior was sparkling and clean. The ceiling was beautiful.
  
Another interesting feature of this church is attached to a square open courtyard next to it. Around the courtyard, is a colonnaded verandah, and rooms opening onto it. The courtyard is was designed beautifully with a small court in the centre with a frangipani tree, and around it is a water body or pool. A small wooden bridge connects the platform to the verandah around. The rain water from the roof, collects in the pool.
Landscaping around the church is a new feature. The idea was simple but the design is beautiful. The concept is to catch the rain water from the roof into pebble filled semi circular pools. Once the water level in these increases, it will flow into the common pool. Since the site is sloping, the water falling into the pool will naturally flow down and collect into another pool. from there it will flow into the river. rest of the open area is being developed into lawns. Already trees have been planted into circular mounds. The first monsoon since the developments has to arrive, then we will be able to see how picturesque the whole place will become.