Two trips to Portugal

During my current contract with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Guinea, according to the policy for delegates working in the stressful context of the Ebola epidemic, I had to take two short R&R breaks.

For the first one, I chose to visit Portugal because the flight price and length were both low, and because I’d never been to Portugal before. As a bonus, it just so happens that Portugal starts with the letter P: I’d never been to any country starting with the letters O, P, Q or X, Y, Z. Now, only five remain (X is going to be a tough one…).

Before I’d even left Guinea, my Singaporean friend Angela (check out her design portfolio at Behance: Angela Soh) told me about her plans to travel Europe, and we agreed to meet up wherever she’d be during my second R&R. As it turned out, Angela planned to arrive in Portugal at the end of May, at the same time I would be starting my holiday, so I booked a second trip to Portugal two months after the first. Here are a few photos from the two trips:

Trip 1: Sintra and Lisbon

I landed at Lisbon Portela Airport in Portugal on 24 March, caught a bus into town and then a train west to the small town of Sintra. As soon as I’d dropped my bags in my rented apartment, I hit the cobblestone streets to explore. This is the town hall:

Sintra Town Hall, Portugal

On my ramble home through the side streets of Sintra, I stumbled upon this old Piaggio three-wheeler and wished I could take it for a joyride:

Old Piaggio three-wheeler in Sintra, Portugal

The next morning I visited Quinta da Regaleira, a fantastical estate built by a set designer for a very wealthy man. Looking out from a cave:

Looking out from a cave at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

Walking through an underground tunnel:

Tunnel at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

There are also two initiation wells on the estate: towers that make you feel like you’re descending underground as you enter through a secret revolving stone door at the top and spiral downwards.

The initiation well at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

Some flowers floating on water with little green somethings:

Flower petal on green aquatic plants at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

There are loads of fancy stonemasonry creations at Quinta da Regaleira. Here’s an example:

Tower at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

That afternoon, Ricardo picked me up and drove me down to the coast to see some of the natural beauty of the area. Looking toward Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe:

Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe

Views in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park:

Waves crashing on the rocks near Cabo da Roca, Portugal
Yellow building in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park

The next day, I walked through the fog and some rain to the Capuchos Convent (which was a monastery). Luckily I had a map in my phone, as I walked along forest paths through the hills not on any tourist maps.

Low clouds in the forest walking from Sintra town to the Capuchos Convent

Cross on a cairn at the Capuchos Convent:

Cross on a cairn at the Capuchos Convent

The monks used cork to protect against moisture, tacking it around windows, doorways, even entire ceilings.

Cork-insulated window at the Capuchos Convent

On this visit to Portugal, I finally got to see real Cork oak, the tree species from which we get genuine cork material. This is what it looks like when it hasn’t been harvested:

A Cork oak tree

On the walk home, I stopped in at the Park and Palace of Monserrate, formerly owned by Sir Francis Cook. The botanical gardens are amazing, but I didn’t take too many photos so you’ll have to visit to see for yourself. Tree roots overgrowing a mock ruin:

Tree roots overgrowing a mock ruin at the Park and Palace of Monserrate, Sintra

Young Aloe vera leaves growing out of an old plant:

Aloe vera growing at the Park and Palace of Monserrate, Sintra

Monserrate Palace:

Monserrate Palace, former estate of Sir Francis Cook

Parts of the palace were under renovation, as water had damaged the ornate alabaster designs. It was interesting to see what’s behind all the fancy moulding:

Alabaster restoration inside Monserrate Palace, Sintra in March 2015

On 27 March I walked up the steep path to visit the Castle of the Moors, a fortress overlooking Sintra:

Castelo dos Mouros, seen from below
The Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros), Sintra

For a brief moment while I was at the Castle of the Moors, the sun shone through the clouds and directed a spotlight right onto the National Palace of Sintra in the town below:

National Palace of Sintra, seen from the Castle of the Moors

After rambling over the ramparts, I headed over to Pena Palace, which appears to have come straight out of a fantasy fairytale:

Pena Palace, Sintra
Grandiose vaulted carriageway into Pena Palace
Poseidon at Pena Palace
Pena Palace, Sintra
Pena Palace, Sintra

The view from Pena Palace to the Atlantic Ocean:

View to the Atlantic from Pena Palace

I was highly impressed by this wood and velvet shelf inside the palace:

Ornate woodwork and velvet shelf at Pena Palace

Mandatory flag photo:

Flag of Portugal

Pena Palace from a nearby vantage point, with Sintra in the background:

Pena Palace, Sintra

On the grounds of Pena Palace are a number of other things to see, including the Chalet da Condessa d’Edla, a whimsical home with ornate cork woodwork framing the entire thing:

Chalet da Condessa d'Edla, Sintra

On 28 March, I caught the train to Lisbon. The 25 April bridge bears a striking resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge, no?

25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal

On 29 March I wandered the streets of Lisbon, wrote postcards while a daytime drunk blasted tunes on his phone nearby, and wandered the streets some more. This is Rua Augusta Arch, built to commemorate Lisbon’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake:

Rua Augusta Arch in Lisbon, Portugal

If you’re familiar with the Brussels street art scene, you’re used to seeing pencil crayons all over town. If not, you can see a collection of over 600 photos of the pencil crayon street art here: flickr ancatphil. Well, one of the artists seems to have made a visit to Lisbon, where he or she got to a hard-to-reach spot to paint this pencil crayon figure, who appears to be sitting on a toilet taking a dump:

Pencil crayon street art in Lisbon

There are many old street trams in Lisbon, mostly packed full of tourists:

Electric tram in Lisbon, Portugal

Sunset over Lisbon:

Sunset in Lisbon, Portugal

My flight out of Lisbon was on 30 March, but before I went to the airport I caught a train to Cascais to take a walk by the sea. Cascais is too beach-touristy for me, but it was nice for a stroll.

Cascais lighthouse

While standing near the underwhelming Boca do Inferno, I spotted a school of catfish having some sort of feeding frenzy at the surface of the water:

Catfish feeding frenzy at Boca do Inferno, Cascais

Walking farther along the coast, ice plants (an invasive species initially brought in from Africa on purpose) colour the shoreline:

Ice plant in the foreground, lighthouse in the background, at Cascais

That evening I flew back to Guinea, landing at 04:00 only to find no vehicle waiting for me. A fitting start to two very challenging months of work.

Trip 2: Porto and Lisbon

On 28 May I once again flew from Conakry to Casablanca, and then onwards to Lisbon. This time, I jogged a bit and mostly walked as fast as I could through the airport, caught the metro to the train station, bought a ticket, and boarded the train to Porto with 2 minutes to spare. The next one would have been an hour and a half later. I arrived in Porto in the late afternoon and met up with my friend Angela, who’d arrived a few hours before. The next morning we had breakfast with Callum and his girlfriend, who happened to be in town for a wedding.

Callum Benson and me in Porto, Portugal

Angela and I walked up and down the steep streets of Porto, got confused a few times, drank lots of coffee, and took photos. Looking across the River Douro to some ruins and the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar:

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, Porto

There are only two tram lines remaining in Porto:

Electric tram in Porto, Portugal

We stopped in to look at all manner of old camera at the Portuguese Centre of Photography:

Old camera at the Portuguese Centre of Photography, Porto

Every day we passed by the Church of Saint Ildefonso as we walked to or from our rented apartment:

Church of Saint Ildefonso, Porto

The Lello & Irmão bookshop is said to have been the inspiration for the library at Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter series, although the best part of the bookshop – this fantastic staircase – isn’t found at Hogwarts:

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto

On 30 May, we caught the tram to Foz do Douro. The old trams still have the cable to ring for the next stop; the cable causes a little striker to hit the bell mounted on the ceiling of the driver’s cab: full analog.

1920s tram in Porto, Portugal

Felgueiras Lighthouse:

Felgueiras Lighthouse at Foz do Douro, Porto

Queijo Castle:

Queijo Castle, Porto

On 31 May, we caught the train to Guimarães for a day visit. After a couple of coffees each, we visited the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, which has an interesting roof construction:

Roof structure at the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Guimarães, Portugal

Two of the rooms in the palace have ornate paintings on the ceilings, causing much neck strain:

Ceiling detail, Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Guimarães
Ceiling detail, Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Guimarães

After the palace, we bought some chips then caught the cable car up to Pena Mountain:

Angela and me in the teleférico (cable car) de Guimarães
Teleférico de Guimarães

Pena Mountain has some neat paths through, over, and under boulders although on this quiet Sunday in Guimarães, the mountain was a gong-show of families and groups who’d driven up with gear for Sunday picnics and merriment.

Steps through stones on Penha Mountain, Guimarães

There was a Cork oak up on Mount Pena which was missing most of its cork bark. So, here you can see the before/after of cork harvesting:

Cork oak, with the cork bark partially stripped

Back down in Guimarães town, the Church of São Guálter is a neat sight:

Church of São Guálter, Guimarães, Portugal

On our last day in Porto, we walked across the bridge to Gaia and took a short tour of the Taylor’s port wine cellars. They age different types of port in different sized barrels, such as these enormous 24,000+ litre wooden barrels…

Enormous barrels of Taylor's port ageing in the cellars at Porto

…and these 600+ litre barrels:

Hundreds of barrels of Taylor's port ageing in the cellars at Porto

After the tour, we were given small taster glasses and encouraged to sit in the sun and enjoy. Here, Angela and I are enjoying port wine in the sun:

Enjoying a tasting sample of Taylor's port with Angela

Back in the day, port wine was transported down the river on boats like these:

Dom Luís I bridge, Porto

On 2 June, Angela and I caught the train down the coast to Lisbon, where we drank coffee then wandered the streets, eventually stopping in to see the Design and Fashion Museum right before they closed. This colourful chair caught my eye:

Colourful chair at the Design and Fashion Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

That evening, my last in Portugal, we went to a small bar to enjoy some fado,a traditional form of Portuguese singing accompanied by two guitars. We had a great time listening to music and making friends with strangers from Italy and Germany at our table during the breaks.

Twelve-string Portuguese guitar during a fado performance in Lisbon, Portugal

It just so happened that Mike and his brother Sebastian were in town as well, so they came down to watch fado and then dragged me around town for late night adventures. Here, we each make a serious face:

Post-fado adventures with Mike and Sebastian in Lisbon

Although I was five minutes late to the airport, the check-in lady was kind enough to sit back down and print my boarding pass. Not long after, I found myself in Casablanca, on an airport shuttle to a nearby hotel to have a nap and dinner, before flying onward to Conakry. I landed at 04:00 and, once again, they had forgotten to send a car to pick me up. Hopefully not a sign of things to come, this time.

Vancouver to Amsterdam to Bonn to Abidjan

On June 8th I left Vancouver to begin my first contract with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF aka Doctors Without Borders), in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. As usual, I didn’t take the most direct route. Before starting work, I had to attend a ten day introduction to MSF, which was held in Bonn, Germany. Another guy from Vancouver, John, was on the same flight, which had a six hour stopover in Amsterdam, so when we landed on June 9th the two of us left the airport to see my old friend Pieter in town.

Clocktower, central Amsterdam

The three of us visited the MSF office, walked around a bit, talked a lot, and had strange but tasty Dutch sandwiches before John and I caught our train back to the airport. There, we met up with a few others heading to the induction, flew to Köln together, and figured out the buses to get from the airport to the outskirts of Bonn for the induction.

I can’t really say anything about the MSF induction itself, just that it was a lot of fun, with some really cool participants and organisers, rather bad (and I suspect perhaps decaffeinated) coffee, and no fresh vegetables for the first few days because of the big E. coli outbreak in Europe at the time. A few pics of Bonn:

Bonn Münster:

Bonn Münster, central Bonn, Germany

Bonn’s historic Town Hall:

Bonn's historic Town Hall

Bonn’s most famous citizen, Beethoven:

Beethoven statue, Bonn, Germany

Street art in Bonn: an East German soldier jumping over the line:

East German soldier skip rope street art, Bonn, Germany

After ten days, all the other participants left Bonn, except for me and one other guy. I stayed part of an extra night in the hostel, caught a taxi to the Bonn Hauptbahnhof in the middle of the night, and a little after 5am on June 19th I was zooming along the Rhine River watching the castles glide by around me en route to Frankfurt by train:

Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany

From Frankfurt it was a quick hop through the sky to Brussels:

Flying from Frankfurt to Brussels

From Brussels, the plane passed over the Mediterranean with its pretty islands and coastline:

Islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa
The northern coast of Africa

By 515pm I was on the ground in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, to start a six month contract.

Sunset in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

September Adventures in London

On August 29th I flew over the Arctic from Vancouver to London. These clouds were kind of strange and neat:

I landed on the 30th, stayed a night with Gareth, a fellow logistics intern, then found my own place in northeast London on the 31st. A very rare empty car in the tube (London Underground):

Gareth and I went to the Notting Hill Festival, which is a big Caribbean festival in London. It was better-organised than Caribana in Toronto, and we had a good time navigating through the crowds and chatting with random people.

A capoeira group displaying their skills:

There were also LOTS of police around:

Check out the woman on the right side of the photo:

Neat street art:

My friend Aidan lives in London now, as a med student at Imperial College. We met up on September 5th and headed to a local pub, but when we arrived there was a crew of firemen arriving!

The firemen eventually left, and my friends Stash and Ian showed up to join us not long after. Stash and Ian were in London at the end of a two month European backpacking trip, and it was great to hang out with them while they were in town for a few days.

Stash and I went to the Lion King musical, which was amazing! No photos allowed, so I just took one before the curtains opened. But man, the visuals were amazing. If you ever have the chance, go see it.

On the first day of my second week as an intern, Stash and Ian joined me after work at a local pub called the Bavarian Beer Hall, where they sell very large beers. We did not order this:

The three of us, plus my friend and fellow intern Joanna, then headed to Tottenham Court Rd to eat Pho. Ian and Stash are tall:

We phound it!

Jo’s not in any of our photos cuz she was always taking them for us… man was it tasty!

After we had our fill of Pho, we had a walk around the area and soon found Poland Street, which made Stash (who’s Polish) very happy. Especially when I renamed it Pholish Street. We like Pho a lot, what can I say.

And as we passed an electronics store, the TV inside was playing some crazy weird movie with dinosaurs and aliens and stuff:

Stash and Ian then headed back to Vancouver, and I finally started getting some sleep in the evenings!

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(Sorry no links in this one as I’m posting from a friend’s computer in Germany and have to jump in a car in 5 mins)

My maternal grandmother grew up in England, and went to school for a time in Bristol, not too far from her parents’ home in Bridgwater, Somerset. Nearly six years ago, after returning from my three week trip to Uganda, I spent several days with my great-aunt and great-uncle in Taunton, Somerset, and got a chance to visit Bridgwater and pass by the house in which Granny lived on Castle Street.

My boss during my internship, Fraser, lives in Bristol and invited me to work from his house there for a few days after our mountain biking weekend, so I could have a look around. Of course I had to try and see if I could visit some of the places Granny would have been over 80 years ago. I got my mother to ask Granny a bunch of questions about her time spent in Bristol, without letting on that I was actually there. I then set about town looking for a bunch of stuff she spoke of, using Google Earth and Google Maps and the various references and names Granny gave my mother. I was really surprised at how much of it I could find.

First, though, a funny photo for my friends. 13 years of primary and secondary school with a majority of students being Filipino, I thought some of my friends might appreciate this. It’s some sort of candy bar from Spain that was in Fraser’s house. So now you can buy and eat Filipinos for less than a Euro.

One thing that wouldn’t have been around when Granny was in Bristol: Banksies. This one, a relatively old piece of street art by the world famous Bristolian, who now lives in London, is quite high up on the side of the building. It ‘just appeared’ one day:

There was an old bike in Fraser’s garage, so I spent half an hour adjusting and fixing it, then off I went to explore Bristol by bike.

Here’s a somewhat strange building in the Clifton Downs, a nice semi-wilderness area of Bristol near the River Avon:

Looking East, South, and West from the cliffs above the river:

Granny told Mom that she went to a school called Felixstowe School which was in a large house right next to the Mayor’s house. Google Maps told me that the Mayor’s house was in the Zoo grounds, which was wrong. It also told me there was a Felixstowe Cottage located a few blocks from there. As it turns out, there is no Felixstowe Cottage on the street that Google Maps lists, but there IS a Felixstowe House on the next street, which happens to be right next door to the Mayor’s mansion. I find it quite impressive that, despite Granny’s 99 years of age, her memory is more reliable than Google Maps.

This is one of the buildings the school used to own. It’s now something private, not sure what. The other attached house was also part of the school and is now a fancy building for a bank.

The Mayor’s mansion is the building on the left. The one on the right is the old Felixstowe School.

Granny said she used to cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge to go to a church she liked in Leigh Woods, so I decided to find it. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was designed by the very well known (at least in Britain) architect/engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s now 144 years old and still carries tonnes of traffic and people across every day.

The view from the North end of the bridge, looking West. I bet I could convince many Vancouverites that this is somewhere near the Upper Levels or similar.

The bridge is undergoing some maintenance; as far as I can tell it’s just repaving the deck. Looking South:

Looking back North:

Looking back North, on the West side of the bridge. Check out the tunnel that comes out of the rocks. I haven’t yet taken the time to find out what the deal is with that, but it sure looks neat!

Looking North:

When I got across the bridge, I cycled up a side road and found the only Anglican church in Leigh Woods: St Mary the Virgin. Near as I can tell, this must be the church that Granny would have attended all those years ago, as it did exist at that time. It’s in a really nice area, which actually felt to me a bit like Bowen Island.

I then went off to look for a cycle trail through the woods to take me down to the river’s edge. A few blocks along, I spotted this awesomecool roof:

Down at the river’s edge, while I was looking at my map and deciding where I was, I saw this:

Turning about 120 degrees, this was the view on the other side of the trail: a bridge for the old decommissioned railway:

And behind the bridge, in the forest, oldschool stone walls to channel water under the bridge and into the river:

Looking East from the same spot:

I then cycled East on the trail along the edge of the river, in the direction of the suspension bridge. This is a proper sized tree growing out of the side of a retaining wall for the old rail line:

I was standing on top of these cliffs when I took the first three photos of the river, at the start of this post:

Not sure why I find this funny, but it is:

Read the story, it’s neat:

Looking East toward the bridge that I had crossed earlier:

The cycle trail:

My poor attempt to make a panorama shot of the bridge’s underside by stitching together three photos taken from direcly beneath the South end:

East of the bridge, still on the South shore of the river, looking North:

Eventually I returned to the city centre. This replica boat, the Mathew, is on display there. Apparently it used to sail to the Americas, but it’s pretty small.

Old school loading crane:

There was a dragon boat race as I passed by, so I watched. Team 2 won I think.

This crazy boat caught my attention. The sign on the stone wall just left of the bow says “No Mooring”

And that was my Bristol adventure!