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Photographs from Portugal: Picture Perfect Travel Tales

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It reminded me of home. If I had to confine how I felt about Portugal in five words, maybe that would be it. The cab we rode into had seen better days, and as it drove into the rough highway while attempting to illegally overtake another car I can’t help but half smile. To my right a familiar landscape of dilapidated buildings intertwined with what I presume were electric cables rose from the ground. From this side of town, Lisbon seemed more like the Philippines than a place somewhere in Europe. But five minutes into the journey and the similarities dissipated, and I began to see the unique beauty of the place.

Determined to explore the sights and wonders of Portugal, we set afoot on Lisbon on that not so warm November day. Getting around the city was not difficult and we walked around most of the time to maximize the chance of seeing everything, but we also took the bus and train fairly often to save time. It’s still hard for me to explain but somehow, Lisbon proved to be one of the most photographic places I have visited. Something about how it survived through the years made it standout from the other cities I’ve been. It was not even about how the city looked, it was the vibe it exuded. Portugal showed me that not all beautiful things are shiny and new and that to an extent, there is beauty in ruin.

I hope this post allows you to take a glance of Portugal through our photographs, from the food we ate to the many things we saw and discovered in no particular order. May it be a visual experience, a window from which we can share our happiness from this trip. Fragments of time frozen in a frame, a welcome reminder of how at times, this city had me at a loss for words.

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Fountain at Rossio Square. Photo by Kenneth Cerbo.
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A lovely close up. Photo by Kenneth Cerbo
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Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a memorial for the maritime explorers. All those lessons from my high school history class came rushing back to me  and the realization that I was standing in a place where all those travel expeditions came from was surreal.

 

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Portugal’s trams. Old and creaking, I was almost always sure it would fall apart mid – journey. It took extra skills to remain upright once inside but a good rule of thumb would be to hang on for dear life. But seriously, Lisbon would be incomplete without these ancient machines.
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Belem Tower
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A city embellished with tiles. Portugal made me look at tiles from a new perspective. Be sure to drop by the Tile Museum!
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When in Lisbon, don’t forget to look down at the patterned cobbled streets.
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Find yourself a miradouros and marvel at Lisboa.
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City lights

 

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They say real delicious food comes from humble places and not from those fancy overpriced Michelin restaurants serving bite sized meals. In a sense, that is true as the best food I’ve had so far were straightforward and simple, and in this case, served on a plain tin plate. We ordered two more of this Chili Garlic Shrimp from Ramiro’s-it was just that good. The shrimps were succulent and tasty and the garlic chili oil just got me hooked. Definitely worth the queue.
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No shortage of delicious food in Portugal. This crab roe made my heart skip a beat.
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To this day, I cannot believe that the best sandwich I’ve had came from Lisbon. They called it tostas, and at the time I though I was ordering two slices of bread warmed in a toaster. But this is no ordinary toast because it puts all other toasts and sandwiches to shame. My personal favorite was the Chicken Tostas topped with Chopped almonds. There’s your perfect excuse to go brunching in Portugal.
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Cabo Da Roca in Sintra had a shocking view of the Atlantic Ocean. The waves were crashing against the cliffs in almost a protest, with foams of white forming along the rocky shoreline. The enormous cliffs together with the vast ocean made me feel like I was along the final frontier of something. You stand there and you just feel small surrounded by all this beauty.
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Almost freezing to death was not in my itinerary while in Portugal but that was what happened anyway. The fairy tale palace was yellow on one side, pink on the other and dreamily located on top of a mountain. I don’t know if places like these required damsels in distress but I was in some sort of distress in my thin summery jumpsuit while cold mountain winds blasted me left and right in such high velocity. So for the record, DO NOT wear your lovely summer outfits to Portugal on the month of November even if the BBC weather app says it’s going to be 22 degrees. Especially if you’re looking at going around Sintra’s beautiful castles and palaces.

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The Cliffs and Lighthouse of Cabo Da Roca in Sintra, Portugal.
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Much of the travel experience would be about the person you are with. And Portugal was such a lovely experience with my friends around. Between, eating, laughing, getting lost and jaywalking in another country, you realize how blessed you are to have them to share this moment with. These people are not just friends – they are family you chose for yourself and in the end they chose you. Kristine is my flatmate and she has to be one of the kindest persons on Earth. At some point we just clicked, and we didn’t need to explain things to each other, we were just there for one another. Sometimes I like to think she adopted me as a sister – an older sister. Haha.
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If there was a person who taught me how annoying it can be to have a brother, it would be Kenneth. But he is adorable, and he always makes me laugh so in the end we always let him get away with all the teasing and name calling. He’s one of the few adopted family I have and I am proud of how we have each other’s backs while living overseas and all. Travels with him are always fun, and Portugal was so much more memorable because I had him around. If I had to name people who accepted me as I am, mood swings and all, Kenneth and Kristine would be among them for sure. Picture taken in Lourdes, Portugal.

I was born with a way with words. I knew from the beginning that I felt a certain ease in weaving words together and maybe creating something beautiful. Needless to say, I am not one to run out of adjectives. But I guess there are times when pictures tell a better story. And for those moments we were rendered speechless, for those times our words were simply not enough – we are lucky we have pictures to say it all for us. Looking at all these, nostalgia simply overtook me and I learned that there’s something else travel gives a person aside from gaining perspective. It gives you something to look back to – a pleasant memory to make you smile, a period in time you can always recall and happily “travel” back to.

Authentic French Bistro Experience Like No Other at Le Gai Moulin

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A couple of years ago, Paris would have been a distant dream to someone like me. It was a dream so impossible that if I had to categorize, it would probably fall alongside those aspirations that were destined to remain just that – just dreams. But life is funny like that and when I became a nurse in London, Paris was suddenly one of the easiest place I could go to. Just like that, the City of Lights was a mere train ride away – not to mention all those pastry, cheese and wine waiting for me to taste.

Aside from the usual sights that tourists flock incessantly, it is hard to miss the abundance of good food around Paris. Their passion for fine dining is clear with the bounty of bistros and ristorantes established in just about every corner of the city. For this reason, deciding where to eat could prove problematic at some level but I was determined to leave Paris with the remnants of a proper French meal. And thus my quest for an authentic french cuisine experience led me to Le Gai Moulin Bistro.

The city is well known in its own right, however I find that the only thing not mightily overrated about Paris is the flourishing culinary scene. The quality of the food reflected the fact that truly, good food not only nourishes the body but the soul as well. A random bistro across the train station served me one of the best french fries I have had – crisp on the outside, light and fluffy in the middle and without a glimmer of unnecessary grease.

Le Gai Moulin is one of those restaurants fairly centrally located but for some reason, hoards of tourists aren’t exactly throwing themselves at the door. This bistro seems to be one of the well – kept secrets of the locals – allowing only an occasional table or two to be occupied by lost tourists. And truly, finding it was one of the best things that happened to me in Paris. The first thing that drew me in is the fact that it was one of the first gay restaurants in the city; up and running with pride since 1981. They offer hearty, authentic French food with a homey feel from the heart of Le Marais which is an established gay district in Paris. Whether you are a tourist on the lookout for an authentic Parisian meal or plain and simple just after an unpretentiously satisfying dinner, look no further than Le Gai Moulin Bistro.

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We arrived in time for lunch and with growling stomachs. The butter croissant I ate that morning was not holding up anymore, luckily we came in with a reservation and were seated immediately. The rustic wooden exterior was surprisingly low profile that I almost missed the place when we reached Rue Saint – Merri. Needless to say, place was packed, the air filled with the enticing smell of food and aimless chatter of hungry diners. The interiors were simple and far from posh, a stone wall painted white and decorated with some paintings and artsy boards – some of them might have been from an era some twenty something years ago.

We ordered a three course menu available for lunch which was reasonably priced at €15.50.You also have the option of having only a main course (€11.50) or going for a starter and a main priced at €13.50. It was good value for money, considering other restaurants in Paris would easily charge €20 for a three course meal.

Most set menus make me feel like I’m being forced to order out from the cheapest items from the main menu. But this was not the case in Le Gai Moulin as there was a fair selection of items and the variety was well thought of as well. For starters, we ordered Baked Eggs and Foie Gras and Burgundy Snails (can’t miss out on Escargot!).

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Top view of that lovely Escargot.

The escargot arrived promptly with the tools to accomplish the task of wiggling them out of their shells. It was served in a vibrant green sauce that was savory but not overpowering. The snails were soft and had a clean fresh taste. To be honest they were gone too soon from our plates.

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Six Burgundy Snails

The Baked Eggs with Foie Gras was my personal favorite and I had a moment after my first bite. It was such a party to the tastebuds that I felt bad for all entire of human race eating anything else at that very second. The creamy, salty, tart taste of Foie Gras complemented the eggy goodness underneath. Polishing that combination over bread is now officially my favorite thing to do. This made me realise how humble ingredients like eggs can succumb to greatness when combined with the right stuff.

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My little chunk of heavenly Foie Gras.

The selection for the mains were just as good as the starters but the carnivores in us won that day so we decided to order Grilled Rump Steak with Bearnaise Sauce and Fries and Pork Wellington with Salad and Fries. The Grilled Rump Steak was cooked to a good medium rare and had a good charred exterior holding all the flavour in. The meat was tender, came with a strong smoked taste and was incredibly juicy.

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A juicy slab of Rump Steak with a side of French Fries and Bearnaise Sauce

The Pork Wellington comprised of a portion of pork tenderloin cloaked in a curry coconut milk sauce dusted off with some paprika. I started by slicing the medallion of pork in half – revealing how evenly it was cooked all throughout. I swept a piece of pork against the sauce before popping it in my mouth and I was just taken aback at how good the sauce was. It was so good and balanced that it made me wonder where I’ve been all my life. After that I pretty much dipped everything on it from my fries to the salad.

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Pork Wellington at Le Gai Moulin Bistro

As a sweet finish we ordered the Creme Caramel and Raspberry Puree on top of Fresh Yoghurt. The Creme Caramel was encased under crystallized sugar that you had to crack to get into. It was reminiscent of my childhood Leche Flan back home, although the ones I’ve had were richer in flavour and had slightly better texture. The Raspberry Yoghurt was good for cleansing the palate after a good meal if you did not fancy anything too sugary. All in all a pleasant way to end such a delicious meal!

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Creme Caramel
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Raspberry Puree topped over Fresh Greek Yoghurt

Chances are, you have once daydreamed of walking around Paris and said to yourself those were the dreams you saved for the impossible. Chances are, you have seen people take pictures with the Eiffel Tower as background and so you told yourself, well good for them. But if the odds swerve in your favor and in a turn of events, you find yourself in Paris standing beneath that rusty old tower for real – then good for you. Because now, you can head over to Rue Saint – Merri for your very own French gastronomic experience at Le Gai Moulin. Where chances are, you are going to love it as much as I did.

Things About London I Learned to Love

Leaving your home country to pursue greater things comes with the sad fact that you will also leave behind a lot of things you love. From childhood friends to your favourite “kanto” breakfast to the endless support of your family – all of which accessible only via Skype and foodporn Instagram posts. Letting go of one’s comfort zone is terrifying and the separation anxiety may be enough to make someone turn around and take the easy way out. But then I told myself to suck it up and pack my bags because my hardwork was finally paying off and this was an opportunity to change my life. Despite my fears, I know that the blanket of comfort that comes with familiarity creates an illusion that everything is okay and that maybe, things are better off this way – but that is all crap. And of this I am sure because moving to London has widened my horizons so much that I did not even know what I was missing until I began my life here. My Dad would be so proud.

Living in a foreign land is not easy and at one point I found myself hammering a wardrobe together just to have somewhere to put my clothes in, but I slowly settled myself in. After all the culture shock and initial stressors of moving in a new city wore off (i.e. Omg I have no “tabo”, what the hell is an oyster card, where do I buy rice here? Etc.), I found myself thriving in London’s strange ways. There are days when I pause, smile and recall the times when I prayed to be where I am now and there are moments where everything still feels surreal. Today, I can say that as the months roll by and the seasons change before my eyes (too quickly I must say), I have learned to love this place as a second home. I don’t feel like a lost puppy anymore, and London has anchored its way into me in its own bizarre way. So, here are a few things about the city that has definitely worked its way into my Filipino heart:

1. The London Eye and Big Ben.

It may come as cliche to some, but even I find it hard to believe at times. Everytime my bus passes by the River Thames, I always linger to stare at Big Ben and The London Eye. I supress a small smile when they become smaller and smaller as the bus zooms away. These London icons are just divine to look at no matter how long you stare at them.

2. Londoners know how appreciate the beauty of small things.

I have acquired the habit of giving value to small things such as a breeze on a warm day, flowers during spring and even direct sunlight on a really hot weather. The fact that London experiences seasons makes you treasure sunlight when you see it, because you know that come winter all these are gone. You learn to notice how lush the green greens are because when Autumn comes, they all turn yellow and wilt to make way for the cold winter days. Because of this, I find myself appreciating simple things in life more from blossoming flowers to random acts of kindness. Things I would have missed had I chosen to bury my face in my phone.

3. The city is home to cute and well behaved dogs.

Just this morning I saw the cutest pug happily rolling on the grass – today’s reminder of what real happiness is all about. The dogs are so cute that you actually feel bad you don’t own one. Big dogs are around as well but I have never seen them be of any kind of nuisance. On a warm summer day, it is common to see people hanging around the park with their canine friends jumping and running around.

4. Hot Dads.

It’s hard not to notice how good looking some dads are in this busy city. And I am talking about responsible men too. A guy once walked past me in his business suit, case in one hand and a baby in the other arm; it must have been bring your baby to work day. They say husband material men are hard to find nowadays, but they are quite abundant in this part of the world. I’ve seen dads pushing baby buggies around the grocery store shopping for dinner, changing diapers and dads bringing their kids to parks (Even without the mom!) I don’t know if I’m the only person impressed with this but a man that can babysit and do groceries is what a happy wife’s dreams are made of.

5. Couples grow old together. (I think)

I am basing this on the fact that it is not unusual to see old couples walk together hand in hand while strolling around. I always try my hardest not to stare but it is a challenge when they are just sweet and makes you go aaaaw. Coming home from my trip to Scotland we sat across another couple in their 70’s and it is a privilege to witness how love still prevails in a generation where marriage seems meaningless.

6. It is a foodie’s paradise.

You can order anything you can imagine online or via telephone or collection. Needless to say, nothing is too weird in London and all sorts of pubs and restaurants can be found. From the zingy dishes of India to Spanish tapas to a fresh steaming bowl of Pho. London is a melting pot of race and culture and it would not be a surprise to find a Ristorante boasting of family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Search Zomato or Just Eat.

Even the grocery store seems to surprise me each time. I was on the pudding section one day when I saw a pot labeled “Spotted Dick”.

7. People are apparently health conscious although the NHS might disagree with me.

It can be as cold as 6 degrees but someone will be outside for a jog or an intense run. Whenever I am headed somewhere, 80% of the time I will come across someone out for a quick run – even around Central London. A horde of Asians could be taking a selfie with Big Ben and I bet you somewhere in the crowd would be a local in the middle of a sprint. The most unbelievable level of determination I have seen was a man in very short shorts jogging outside when it was 3 degrees.

8. People don’t care.

You can wear whatever the hell you want and chances are, nobody will mind. Londoners are a bit of a snob (In a good way if you ask me), and they don’t really care much for small talk. The general populace is not aggressively rude but as a rule of thumb: they don’t want to hear about it. Just stay out of their way and keep in mind that people in London walk on the left. If you dare stand on the left side of the escalator you will be hurled into the vortex of doom.

9. The Tube.

Now the Tube is something I love and hate at the same time. Everyone owns a certain degree of hatred for the tube because of their incessant habit of going on strike. However, I truly believe that the filthy alleyways of the Underground are a source of nostalgia for most locals. People hate it, it is always a little bit filthy, crowded, too hot, smells weird etc. but they love that they hate it. Personally, I think it’s a great place to people – watch aside from the obvious that it makes manoeuvring around the city fast and easier.

10. Reading is a culture and the television is something half the population can’t care less about.

I see it on the streets, on the train, on the bus, everywhere! England is a great reading nation and I have happily picked the habit. They make you realize how much time you waste in front of the telly and how much of your brain has died as a direct result of watching too much of it. It’s a shame really, all those years I spent not reading this much.

11. Tea Breaks.

I cannot call most Londoners laidback, however, proper rest and work life balance is quite important here. At work, aside from efficiency, tea breaks are important too and employees have resources to turn to such as a “stress pack.” (I am not kidding I have the leaflets and booklets with a helpline and all.) Some days my work is busy as hell, and I cannot afford a tea break but on quiet days, it’s nice to know that I can look forward to a few minutes of tea time. The variations of how this tea can be prepared is quite interesting and would merit a discussion on its own.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life”. And in ways I cannot even begin to explain, that is so true. If you’ve never been to London, then I strongly advise you visit for a while and see for yourself; and you will believe me when I say that it is not so hard to fall in love with the sweet chaos this city so beautifully thrives in. My list is not in any way exhaustive and I may have forgotten a nugget or two, but it’s a list that’s bound to grow anyway. All I know is if my life were a book right now, this would surely be one of my favourite chapters.