Discovering the Identity of Lisbon through the Azulejos

Streets of Lisbon

Streets of Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon.

Square, shiny ceramic tiles, colorfully painted, cover the city. They cover its walls, its tabletops, its staircase banisters. Its bathroom and powder room interiors, its churches inside and out.

All around, azulejos.Azulejos in Alfama, Lisbon

They take their name from the Persian al zulayj, meaning  “polished stone”. But they are much more than polished stones. They are little works of art, that put together build the image and the identity of Lisbon. They tell the story of the city, and manifest the artistic trends of the times, tirelessly, for the past 500 years.

A Bit of History…

The ceramic tiles were first brought to Portugal from the Moors, in the 16th Century, when they were used to sketch mostly biblical and mythological scenes. About a hundred years later, the Portuguese started to imitate the Persian carpets and built them out of tiles on their walls. The 18th Century brought the “Golden Age of the Azulejos” when these unique hand-made works of art were replaced by mass production. The notorious repetitive pattern tiles were born out of this azulejos era.

Art of azulejos in Lisbon    Azulejos art in Lisbon    Azulejos in Lisbon

After Lisbon emerged from the Great Earthquake it survived in 1755, the azulejos became a practical, durable material to rebuild the destroyed city. The locals started putting small shrine-like painted tile designs above their home entrances, believing it would protect them from future disasters.

The City of Million-Color Tiles

Casa do Ferreira das Tabuletas, Lisbon

Casa do Ferreira das Tabuletas, Lisbon, 1865, showing allegories of science, agriculture, commerce and industry.

Climbing the hilly roads of the Alfama neighborhood, I learned to see the painted tiles with new eyes. Strolling on the narrow pathways of Chiado I understood that they can be more than “ceramic wallpaper” for clean bathrooms. The ceramic white squares have been canvases for expressing hundreds of years of art. Storytelling mediums, that left a deep, colorful print on the history and culture of Lisbon. The poems they would silently recite could be as long as hundreds of tiles put together, or as short as a bunch evoking a domestic scene or a craft tradition.

The azulejos, are the great identity of Lisbon. And they peek out from everywhere.

Multicolored or monochromatic, they fill the streets with myriads of shiny shades. They run through Lisbon like a silver lining, waking up the soul of this Atlantic windy city.

Museo de los Azulejos, Lisbon

The cloister of the 16th Century convent where the National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is housed.


There’s a Monkey on your Back: a Walk in Ubud’s Sacred Forest

Let go of the banana, lady!”, shouted the Balinese guard.

The lady-tourist wouldn’t give up fighting for her banana, bought at the forest entrance. She absolutely wanted to feed the baby monkey, not the heavy papa that had climbed on her back as quick as a lean lizard.

Let it go!”, shouted one more time the guard, trying to save her from being bitten. Finally the lady listened, saddened she couldn’t feed the baby monkey, while the big papa was already gulping down the small fruit.

Macaque monkeys in Monkey Forest, Ubud Bali.

Monkeys in the Sacred Forest, Ubud, Bali.

Any time of the day you pass through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, in Ubud, Bali, you can spot this episode. Day in and day out tourists flock to see the playful macaque monkeys jump around and seem to enjoy being stolen food from their hands and backpacks.

The access to the Sacred Forest is a short walk uphill from our hotel. But the macaque monkeys claimed their playground way before the forest entrance, on the narrow streets, stealing food from the warung terraces. Continue reading

Fashionable Milan: a Weekend-Long Surprise

A weekend in Milano is all you need.

Strolling under the glass arches of Vittorio Emanuele Gallery, the sun waves “hello” from the other side, while the Baroque buildings whisper untold stories about forgotten dukes and princesses.

The massive wooden gates of red-brick Neo-Classical Palazzo di Brera stand behind, tall and quiet, like an appointed castle-guard, as we enter the inner court.

The symmetrical arches of the Main Central Station, in their signature Art Deco-style, embrace me as I rush through them to catch a local train.

Vittorio Emanuele Gallery in Milan

A weekend in Milano is all you need.

Two days of walking around the narrow streets and on the large corso boulevards to figure it all out. The palaces and basilicas, the opera and the central mansions, they all have fallen behind. Continue reading

Costa Brava’s Botanical Jewel

Popular for family holidays, Blanes, the small resort on Spain’s Costa Brava, has all the beach amenities you’d expect. Long stretch of sand, turquoise-green translucent sea, nearby water park, even hidden calas, or rocky golfs, for the more laid-back traveller.

Blanes on Costa Brava, Spain

However, the resort has more to offer than beaches and 300-days-per-year sunshine. One hour north of Barcelona, tucked around a rocky, winding shore, Blanes has some surprises in its sand-sprinkled sleeves.

One of them is the botanical garden Mar i Murtra. Leaving below the golden beaches and the old town, and after a short twisting climb up the San Juan hill, the white reception building welcomes you. Travellers looking to discover mediterranean, American or South-African nature turn to this four-hectare partially hidden garden. Continue reading

Gracia Summer Festival: A Splash of Colors

It’s August, and the blazing heat is rolling over rooftops and hidden alleys. It’s that time of the year again when Barcelona’s artsy district, Gracia, holds its summer festival, festa major.

Festa de Gracia 2013, umbrella decorations

The city, otherwise depleted of locals, away in cool country homes and nearby beach towns, fills up almost miraculously for a few days around St. Mary’s Assumption, on the 15th of August. Tourists alike mix with the locals to experience this almost 200-year-old Spanish fiesta.

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Between Sunrise and Sunset, Bali

As he sees us strolling towards him, the hotel attendant puts his hands together before his chest, in a small prayer sign, and smiling he cheerfully says “good morning!”. It’s breakfast time and we’re trying to chase away the drowsiness from our muscles. But he’s been awake for 3 hours already.

Sunrise in Bali, Indonesia

A Life Guided by the Sun

The Balinese wake up together with the sunrise, around 6 am every morning. As a Western visitor, partially jet-lagged and with the vacation “hat” on, you feel like you’re interrupting an ongoing movie scene. You’ve entered a bit too late after the “action!” sign has been snapped and are trying to catch up as the Balinese are already in their daily errands, long past their rice-porridge breakfast. Continue reading

The New Kid in Google Town: Google Now

If you have a list of travel business competitors that you monitor, I bet you probably didn’t include Google in it as well. The online giant converted into much more than a search tool, incorporating numerous products, cloud software and marketing services.

And, rather quietly, since about 2 years ago, Google has been entering the travel industry. With a couple of acquisitions of travel businesses, such as ITA Software or Zagat, the track for Google in the travel industry seemed clear.

However, since last June, with the launching of Google Now, they openly embarked on this journey. Called the “perfect travel companion”, this Android-based intelligent tool is already becoming a strong competitor for many travel-related businesses.

Google Now screenshots

Google Now screenshots

Google doesn’t actually sell any travel products, but it holds the power of search results performed by potential travellers. And for a few months, any traveller with an Android looking for travel information, can see the helpful, personalized results of Google Now.

What is Google Now?

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