Travels in UNESCO lands

Deep inside the Iberian Peninsula lay the great plains of Extremadura, a region with tight connections to the Portuguese Alentejo. Besides the land border – now virtually nonexistent due to the Schengen Area – there are deep cultural bounds that go way back to the time of Roman occupation, when the province of Lusitania was formed.

Cáceres sights

The walled city of Cáceres is a UNESCO world heritage site, with much cultural and historical overlapping between Moorish and Roman urban design and Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Most paths are an intertwining of small squares between wealthy manors and churches, in the way of the fora in Rome. Even the private outdoor space is fashioned in such manner. The two patios featured in the 15th century Palacio de Carvajal are connected by a small passage and, while one of them is a place of meeting where all compartments of the palace converge, the other is a place of reflection and meditation, a cool breeze in a dry desert

Plaza Mayor

Even the Plaza Mayor has a hierarchy of different public squares, some more exposed, some more secluded, some are noisier, some are quieter. And the space beneath the dozens of parasols in front of the coffee has a different atmosphere still. The only place bearable under the Iberian sun is the shade, where the view between the tables and chairs and the thick canvas was minimal.

Mor Karbasi concert

A friend of mine has the theory that the region could benefit if Mértola, Marvão, Cáceres and Elvas joined efforts, because between them they share traces of the most important heritages of the Peninsula: the Roman, the Moorish, the Medieval, the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.

Late at night, back in Elvas, Mor Karbasi, a Sevilla-based israeli singer seemed to tie this theory together. She was singing in spanish, portuguese, hebrew and ladino, the jewish language of the Peninsula.

The odd suburbs of Lisboa

The palace of Queluz

 

Lisboa’s outskirts are peppered with suburbs of different shapes, sizes and styles. They range from forest parks to densely packed residential districts, from slums to industrial areas, from bourgeois waterfront mansions to medieval towns that have been absorbed by the city’s ever expanding grid. Queluz is one of those suburbs. It is home to Queluz National Palace, built in the 18th century as a summer home for the royal family. It is but a dwarf variation of the great Rococo palaces of Europe like Versailles. Right next to it rests a tiny urban settlement of old houses and narrow streets. I’ve always admired how in Lisboa great buildings of power are offset by projections of the humbleness of common people. Another example of this is the National Parliament of São Bento and the vernacular buildings that face it. It is in that space between that most political oriented demonstrations of Lisboa have their final checkpoint.

 

Magoito beach

Then, there’s Magoito, a village by the beach in Sintra. Still close enough to be a candidate for the title of suburb of Lisboa, but far enough for people to feel as if they are spending holidays away from the city, if they happen to sleep over. The farthest people in it were engulfed in a thick sfumato of dust and iodine, and the smell of the salty water was instantly invigorating. The sun was hidden behind clouds, so we had to be extra careful not to get burned without noticing. The layers of blue and grey almost melded on the horizon and the body-boarders peppered the waves. The sand was not yellow nor white but in shades of brown and shadowy brown – contrasts lowered by the wind and the clouds. I always get drowsy in the first days of going to the beach.

 

Snacks in Magoito

During the match between Holland and Costa Rica, there was, of course, time for more snails and bifanas and beer.

Breakfast of champions

A good night’s sleep had us forget about the full day in tin cans on rails and up in the air. After that, the first thing on the ‘to do’ list was to have a proper Portuguese breakfast. Down at ‘Talismã’, a corner snack bar in Benfica, we ordered a couple of long due galões (sing. galão) – coffee with milk in tall glasses – with torrada – dry bread toasted with butter – and pão de deus misto (lit. mixed god’s bread)- a sweet bun topped with coconut custard with cheese and ham.

Breakfast

Screw lattes and muffins! This is the stuff!

Later, I munched on one more pão de deus at Areeiro, overlooking some modernist/fascist buildings. Can’t get enough o’ them! The sweet buns, that is.

Faux olde towne

Jakriborg is a neigbourhood in Hjärup, a suburb of Lund. Whoever glances at it from the passing train might find it very old and well-preserved in its quaintness. It’s not! It’s deceiving and mischievous. It’s the trickster’s doing.

Hjarrup

It was actually built in the 90s by realtors Jakri AB as a pastiche of medieval building styles backed by modern building techniques – below these impressively high gables you can occasionally find a concrete base with underground parking. The streets were designed to mimic medieval vernacular urbanism, with curvy streets and narrow alleys but it all comes out too neatly. It’s not even local Scandinavian architecture that is pastiched, the whole thing just feels very Flemish or German.

Despite all this, the town common was nice enough to spend a few hours and have a picnic. The town is completely car-free in its inner streets and that certainly improves the quality of life for its denizens. Not a sound was heard for hours, except for a few neighbourly conversations. Doesn’t take medieval fake architecture to create nice living surroundings, but Jakriborg succeeds in that at least.

Mingling with the danes

Canal in København

One place we had never been in on our previous visits to Copenhagen was The Black Diamond, the modern extension to the Royal Library of Copenhagen. As a public building, it catalyzes people’s relationship with the water, as it provides an outdoor living room under its protruding black glass volume. It was late in the afternoon, and having wandered the gigantic hallways of the library and having checked the exhibitions that were there, we were just about to call it a day and return to Lund. Outside we were approached by two friendly characters: “Are you enjoying Copenhagen? Would you like to tag along and party with us?“. “Yes” on both counts. We tagged along!

Christianshavn

Turns out we had just met the two most friendly men of Copenhagen that were on their way to meet the two most friendly women in Copenhagen. We sat on the cobblestones by the canal in Christianshavn, drinking Danish beer and getting to know our new Danish friends, waving hello to the canal tour barges.

Amager Øst

When we got hungry, we walked. We walked until we had to stop in another canal to alleviate ourselves from some beer by-product. I distinctly remember a rickshaw being involved in the affair, but that’s another story. Along the way, the beer buzz made us the best of friends. There was a grocery store, there was hurling boxes of cookies like a frisbee, there was chilli con carne and guacamole. There was good music and funny stories. And then it was midnight. Fearing our two-day ticket wouldn’t be valid for the return, we rushed to the subway, then to the train, then we were home, yet another layer of Denmark revealed.