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Photo Diary Part 2: Wandering the streets of Kuwait’s Old Souk, Mubarakiya

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A bookshop with old magazines, publications, and comics that date back to the 40’s.

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The cookware market

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Antique shop

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One of Kuwait’s oldest mosques

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Mosque’s exterior

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This mosque dates back to 1776 and is considered Kuwait’s oldest mosque around! Masjid Al-Haddad.

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Here it is!

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Tea pots

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Getting ready for National & Liberations days

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Just another cat!

Check out part 1 here!

Are you really a “Food Blogger”?

It seems that with the ongoing rise of social media, particularly Instagram, everyone feels the need to call themselves an expert on something.

When was the last time anybody ever just simply posted a random moment from their life? Those casual, candid and spontaneous captures? Most if not all people are losing sight of what Instagram was originally about. Honestly, I miss that about social media myself. Now, it has become a playground for advertising and self-promotion, to the point that I get physically nauseated at the endless scrolling and sponsored posts passing me by.

It’s not ALL bad though. Instagram can be a good source of information, a way to share beautiful photography, and connect. But all these good things are being replaced by marketing, online shopping, and some kind of indirect promotion to the point that people have ceased to become just people, instead, they want to become walking advertisements and constantly try to project a certain image of themselves that they can later sell and earn money for. They can do that if they want to, but why does every single simpleton and joe have to become that now? Let it happen naturally. Just do what you love. Don’t force it and pretend to be someone you’re not.

This leads me to the title of my post. It’s ridiculous how some social media users try hard to appear as an expert on a topic, just to earn trust from their followers and potential brands. There are “experts” on fashion, food, sports, and whatnot. Some people can be talented in these areas and there is nothing wrong with showcasing their passion towards a field. They could be professionals or just serious hobbyists. But what does it even say about society when it’s reached to the extent that influence becomes more powerful than expertise? It appears that your status (number of followers) becomes increasingly more important than knowledge. On the other side of the spectrum of professionals, there are those who don’t belong where they claim to be, and you will see what I mean further ahead. I am mainly going to focus on food because that is the current trend I am seeing.

If you’re living in Kuwait, you are probably aware of the huge amount of foodies here. Food is a craze in the country, the dining scene is exploding, and eaters are hungry to try the rising number of new restaurants. With that, there’s a volume of “self-proclaimed” food bloggers. Now, let’s dissect what this really means.

If you look up anything about food reviewers, you would mostly likely find that they are professional journalists usually with a degree in Culinary Arts that write for a large publication. They understand how to write skillfully about the flavors, sights, and smells of what they are eating, which is NOT easy, and they tend to do this for a living. They are good at critiquing the meal in front of them and describing the complexities of a dish and it’s ingredients.

Now that we are clear on that, let’s backtrack to the food bloggers on Instagram, as there is a big difference. Since when does having a Nikon or Canon in hand, a huge appetite, and a social media account, make you a “food reviewer”? You can be a personal food blogger which entails keeping a journal about the food you cook at home, what you enjoy eating, or about the restaurants you are visiting. As long as you know how to “write” about it well, then yes, it’s called blog because you are storytelling.  If you’re just posting appetizing photographs, and placing a rating of a restaurant with information on what you ate, this is NOT a food blog nor is it a food review, even if its coming from a good place within you because you love food. What are these people then? They don’t know how to write about what they are reviewing, yet they want to be perceived as experts on what they are eating and expect to be received this way in the eyes of the online public.

Ok, you enjoy food and are crazy about eating, so am I! You can definitely share your love for food however, please just don’t act like a “food connoisseur”. Mind you, thousands of people are following these guys and viewers actually take your word for it when you attempt to critique a restaurant like a judge on “The Next Big Chef”.  Why should I trust your restaurant review when you are working in a corporate office somewhere in the day and in the night, haunt for dining places to “review?”

Who is this stranger claiming to be a food blogger? What is the meaning of what you are sharing? And you have thousands of followers! This also goes to show that visuals alone SELL. Nowadays, thats the first thing that people care about when they order something, even myself. I always prefer menus with photos. But thats not the entire point!

Let me get to my second point now. These so-called “food bloggers” approach restaurants and even high-end ones from luxury hotels, asking to be invited to “review” the menu. They expect to come in free, and on top of that demand to get paid. When I worked at a certain company, I dealt with some of the food bloggers in Kuwait occasionally and some of them have an inflated ego with self-entitlement. They are actually asking to be paid for their “expertise”.  There was a particular, rather popular, Kuwaiti food blogger I dealt with who, on the first few invites, accepted to come and dine and not charge for his “services” as “a favor”. Please. After those first couple of times, he literally began to angrily request that we invite him to the more expensive restaurants and demanded to be paid. Seriously, who do you think you are? He actually made a big fuss about it! All he does is post a quality photo of the places he eats at, puts a restaurant bio, opening times, and a few words about what he ordered. Usually, we would do follow up calls as well to ask about the dining experiences, and he had the audacity to nitpick the dishes he ate like some kind of pro. If I didn’t like a dish, let’s say the meat was slightly undercooked or rubbery, of course I would point it if out as feedback to the restaurant too, as any customer would. But you are a “food blogger” with thousands of followers who is sharing your opinion like you have a license to be referred to as a food critic.

I have shared plenty of food reviews on my blog but I don’t call myself a food reviewer or blogger because I’m not. I’m simply sharing my opinion of an experience, just like with anything I liked or enjoyed. People like to read about opinionated pieces. But at what point does one demand to be paid to write just an opinion with no professional culinary background and expect to be credited as a food blogger? That’s the equivalent of a deaf person claiming to appreciate good music. You simply don’t know how to respect true gastronomy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you even knew how to cook, yet you tear down a restaurant with a single post or tweet criticizing a PROFESSIONAL CHEF! Next, you will go to a Michelin-starred restaurant or try a cuisine not native to you and nitpick what you ate there too without even understanding what you are eating for the first time, because you don’t have the experience nor gastronomic capacity to be a consultant on food. Actual food reviewers travel globally to experience a wide variety of flavors and cuisines. They have a scope to rely on which is called experience.

So many of Kuwait’s bloggers are also called “innovators”. Taking an already well-known Korean concept called a “Mukbang” to your country for instance, is not an innovation nor are you a trend setter. You are simply following an already existing trend which doesn’t make you a leader. It also doesn’t take much talent or innovation to chew and swallow a feast in front of the camera and broadcast it to people. Viewers enjoy that because it makes them hungry and it feeds their indulgences, I enjoy watching them myself! You just take a foreign idea from abroad, implement it at the right place and time, and voila! Maybe you are the first to introduce it where you live, but again, it’s an existing idea that you didn’t even re-introduce in any new way. And the same applies to pretty much every so-called idea. If you watch any travel channel with Travel & Food programs, you will notice that those hosting the shows are professional chefs and journalists whose main goal is to explore the local culture and it’s food, and ultimately they go back to their kitchen to implement what they’ve learnt from this experience while ALSO adding their own twist and character to the dish. They are experimenting with the original recipe, and using their knowledge to do so.

In my opinion, you would have more credit if you actually stuck to what you already know and what you are genuinely good at. Don’t be hungry for followers and money.  Either these huge number of followers are unaware and aloof of what they are seeing or they simply don’t care and have become numb to the legion of photos on Instagram. Again, I am referring mainly to Kuwait where I live, and this is what I’ve observed. It’s surprising as well, that with such a prominent food scene, the number of self-proclaimed food reviewers outweigh the quality ones (if there are any!). If you think of food blogging or food reviewing as just a fun and leisurely pursuit, I don’t agree with you. You are just a food enthusiast who loves to gobble up food and photograph it.

News flash! There is more to food blogging and reviewing than eating 🙂

 

Photo Diary Part 1: Wandering the corners of Kuwait’s Old Souk, Mubarakiya.

I’ve always loved strolling the streets of the old souk, especially in the early hours. No matter how many times I’ve been there, Mubarakiya always has interesting little corners and scenes to discover and capture every time. That’s what I love about it!

If you keep your eyes peeled and are mindful of the surroundings, you’d be surprised at how many details and moments are hidden in the everyday life of this souk.

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A shop selling cookware

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Coffee break in a shop selling Prayer Beads (Misbah).

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Mubarakiya’s signature mural gives it a youthful and modern touch in the midst of an old souk.

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Reflecting on something… in a perfume shop.

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Accessories for Prayer Beads

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The endless variety of Prayer Beads

My favorite Kuwaiti food place so far – Amiti Noora

If you visit any mall, open any delivery app, or look up the food scene on social media, you’ll probably notice there are a growing number of Kuwaiti restaurants opening up.

People’s typical all-time favorite restaurant for Kuwaiti food has always been Freij Sweileh. Whenever anybody asks about the best place to enjoy Kuwaiti cuisine, this is usually the first restaurant that comes up. In my opinion, it’s not the only top one out there.

I had a period of “Kuwaiti food” obsession where I had an unusual appetite for Kuwaiti dishes almost all the time. This is when I resorted to feeding my craze by searching up  Kuwaiti restaurants for food delivery; and there are tons of them. Every now and then I would notice yet another new Kuwaiti restaurant featured on Carriage or Talabat. Some of the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed to date are Seventies, Emberech, and Maryam Brothers. There’s also a new place called Kharoof, that specializes in baby lamb Kabsa.

But Kuwaiti food is not that diverse. There is really not much room for creativity. So you might think, what difference does it make where I choose to have Kuwaiti cuisine? After all, it’s mainly rice with chicken, lamb or fish.

When you are accustomed to eating Kuwaiti cuisine though, you do tend to see and taste the differences in the way the food is spiced, cooked, and presented. The rice could be more aromatic, the fish or meat more tender, the type of hashwa used (stuffing of herbs and spices) more interesting and flavorful. These all play a role in coming together to form and represent the perfect traditional Kuwaiti dish.

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The other day at the Avenues Mall we decided to try the  new restaurant Amiti Noora (Auntie Noora), which recently opened only a week ago. I always associated Kuwaiti cuisine with comfort food and I got this impression from Amiti Noora, which according to their philosophy, is about welcoming people to indulge in home-made style Kuwaiti food cooked with love.

The sound of two oud players calls upon the attention of hungry diners at the entrance. The place is quite cozy and pleasant, with touches of Kuwaiti decor but at the same time incorporating foreign elements.

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For our first visit we tried the breakfast. We started with a cheese platter (not typically Kuwaiti) cheese sambosas, and flatbread with halloum, tomatoes and zaatar oil.  Kuwaiti food doesn’t have appetizers, so most of the starters were inspired from the Middle East. We were also served bread with a variety of spice pastes such as Maabouch and achar (pickles).

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I should point out the dough on their flatbread was outstanding. It’s not that easy to find good-made bread here in Kuwait, but this was just so well done.

I was craving balaleet at the time and I was happy to find it there. Normally, you don’t find a Kuwaiti restaurant that serves every kind of traditional Kuwaiti dish, but Amiti Noora does which gives it a check mark.

I was so eager to dive into the balaleet that I forgot to take a photo! To those who don’t know, balaleet are sweetened noodles with saffron and rosewater, complimented by a salty omelette on the side.

For dessert, we went for a milky saffron pudding topped with pistachios and sprinkles of darabeel (a type of crisp cinnamon wafer) and Kuwait’s indulgence called lgaimat – my guilty sugary and syrupy pleasure! When I see these on any menu I can’t help but order some.

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lgaimat

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Milk pudding

On our next visit we tried the lunch, which turned out to be just as delightful. We ordered Gaboot, a type of stew consisting of Kuwaiti dumplings stuffed with onions and raisins together with chunks of soft meat, and a side of fragrant white cinnamon rice. We also got the machboos with lamb neck. The lamb neck fell apart with a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. The gaboot is not a dish that people normally make at home anymore, it’s a very old dish, so having this authentic recipe available at restaurants is nice. All in all, everything was delicious!

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Machboos with neck of the lamb and hashwa on the side.

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Gaboot

I enjoyed the dining experience at Amiti Noora, and I am actually eager to return to try their seafood. I will be sharing an update on my blog post until then!

 

The Ukrainian Virsky National Dance Ensemble – First time in Kuwait!

The other day I was reading the Arab Times newspaper and found an article announcing an upcoming show by the famous Ukrainian Virsky Folk Dance performers. 

Of course, I got very excited and immediately jumped at the chance to attend! I have always been keen on experiencing the culture of my Ukrainian half, considering that I had never seen a live performance of a National Ukrainian dance and especially one that’s showcased by an ensemble historically famed and celebrated for over 80 years.

As part of their 80th anniversary the Virsky ensemble, which were founded in 1937, have set out on a world tour. They were visiting Kuwait for the very first time and I was so happy to be part of the union of two of my cultures – Kuwait as the host and Ukraine as the guest to my home! Prior to that, the ensemble had been a guest to almost 80 different countries and has won several international prizes.

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The event was held at Abdulhussain Abdulretha Theater and it was already halfway packed once we got there and completely full by the time the show started.

It was incredibly beautiful. The handmade embroidered costumes, the perfect choreography of complete harmony, the acrobatic skills, the great virtuosity, the spirit of it all, just everything! It was so lively, passionate, vibrant and moving. I could really feel the soul and history of the Ukrainian culture and it made me so proud. I was at the edge of my seat the entire time!

There were a series of different performances that showcased dances from various regions of Ukraine and the traditional diversity was impressive.

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The Cossacks

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The high level of artistry and technique was breathtaking, like this performance involving colorful ropes that skillfully intertwine with the dance.

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The male Hopak folk dance

I have compiled the video below of all the performances…

Slava Ukraini! 🙂 

My Spanish Inscriptions: Barcelona

I always felt that Barcelona was quite different than the rest of Spain. After all, it is Catalonia. Until today, Catalans still feel a sense of separateness from the Spaniards with whom they share a nation, and Catalonia continues to debate about separating from Spain.

But considering all of this, in my mind, we were still traveling to Spain. It is really no wonder, because you still feel like you’re about to experience the Spanish traditions that are synonymous with the image of Spain as a country!

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The Catalan culture has it’s own distinct set of traditions and cuisines. But the Flamenco dance, the infamous Spanish Paella dish, and everything people generally know about Spain are also expected to be found in Barcelona. All of these cultural customs do exist and can be experienced there, however, Barcelona isn’t originally home to them.

The more we stayed in Barcelona, the more the differences became apparent.

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The view from our hotel

As excited as I was to experience Spain for the first time, my first impression of Barcelona was that it’s a tourist trap. It’s one of the most visited cities in Europe. Even though we planned our trip during the low season and expected the crowd to quiet down, it was still throbbing with tourists which became a nuisance at times.

But the city’s overall hip hangouts, interesting collections of art, and monumental architecture made everything worthwhile. After all, we were in a new place and that was enough to keep us excited all the way!

Antoni Gaudi’s Modernista Architecture

Honestly, I hadn’t known much about Barcelona’s treasured architect until we witnessed his artworks in reality. The Spaniard left his footprints all over Barcelona and we spent most of our time tracing his iconic buildings. Gaudi practiced a form of art known as Catalan Modernism, mostly drawing inspiration from nature, religion, architecture and Catalan culture. His work was characterized by mosaics and an impressive level of detail. He had a recognizably distinct and signature style in all his buildings. Barcelona is simply a manifestation of Gaudi’s artistic vision and when one thinks of Barcelona, Gaudi should immediately spring to mind.

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The Casa Batllo designed by Gaudi (built in 1904). The houses were always named after the families that lived there.

The very first building we spotted was Casa Batllo, visible from our hotel balcony. From the early morning until dusk, we could see the never-ending queues to the house and never really managed (or even attempted) to enter it.

(Just as I journey through my story here, I will be writing more about Antoni Gaudi’s work along the way, many of which are now Barcelona’s landmarks)

We continued to explore much of the city on foot. Our hotel was located in a shopping area called Eixample, so there were high-end brands everywhere. In Barcelona, the buildings are incredibly historic and most of the time I found it bothersome to see these ornate and ancient structures sharing a wall with a Starbucks or stamped with the zillionth Zara brand in the area. It was frankly an eye sore and one of the main things I immediately disliked about the city!

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Looked up as saw this beautiful cathedral!

The Gothic Quarter: La Ramblas and The Boqueria Market

It only took a short taxi ride or nice walk from our hotel to reach the famous medieval neighborhood known as the Gothic Quarter and this is where most of the touristic places are found.

The Gothic Quarter starts with the notorious La Ramblas street, a wide pedestrian zone. If you look up any tourist guide or tips it will probably tell you to preferably avoid this place at all costs and there are a number of reasons for this.

Once in the Gothic Quarter, sometimes there is really no other way to get to a place except to cross La Ramblas, so we didn’t intend to entirely stay off the tourist trail. It’s lined with giant trees and hordes of pop-up vendors selling their kitschy tourist trinkets (good for magnets though!) There are also tons of restaurants and cafes which are reportedly said to be too over-priced for only mediocre food.

Aside from being crowded, Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of the world and the La Ramblas boulevard is THE place for it. You’d be surprised at the variations of schemes these pickpockets employ to trick their victims. The only way to safely get through this “dodgy” street was to make sure we had our bags in front of us and clutched with one hand, also ensuring all pockets are empty, or better yet, having no pockets at all.

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Walking through La Ramblas wasn’t that bad I must say. As first-time visitors it was actually quite interesting, just as any first encounter with anything.

Eroticism seems to be quite the rage in Barcelona, due to it’s open tolerance. As we look up to our left, we spot an erotic museum with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator poised at the balcony, waving at the crowd below. Flower stands along the La Ramblas sell seeds of erotic fruits, from melons that grow to look like a woman’s breast, to flowers that resemble, well, you probably guessed it!

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Ham selection in Boqueria Market

One of the places I was excited about was Mercat de La Boqueria, Barcelona’s famous open food market. It’s teeming with a variety of produce ranging from a kaleidoscope of fruits, ham, flowers to cheeses. It was bustling with faces from all around the world. The limitless bounty of flavors and scents surrounding us was overwhelming, I must say!

Thinking we would be leaving with a full stomach and camera filled with photos, that wasn’t the case. The place was super crowded, we could barely walk through or even stand to look at a stall. With the amount of people rubbing up against you also made it hard to take a decent photograph!

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Interesting displays of food!

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After a quick round in the market, we left and continued our path along La Ramblas until we reached the Mediterranean sea. Around that time, the sun was just beginning to set.

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A taste of Paella!

It was time (isn’t it always?) to devour some seafood for dinner. On the beachside, we found a restaurant serving primarily fresh marine goodness with a variety of paella dishes as their specialty. We ordered the mixed seafood paella and some calamari for starters.

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I hadn’t realized how delicious paella actually is until this moment. Because the term Paella refers to the iron-cast pan in which the dish is cooked, usually over an open fire, the rice is formed into toasted, caramelized edges which becomes more tender and creamy towards the center (not as creamy as a risotto). It was bursting with seafood flavors! The calamari appetizers also melted in the mouth. Delicious!

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Interestingly, there is also a Catalan version of the Paella dish called the Fideua. It’s exactly the same, except instead of rice, the Catalans use a short type of noodle similar to the Indomie ones.

La Pedrera

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The next morning, we embarked on a trip to La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila. It’s another enduring monument of architect Antoni Gaudi, featuring an alien-like rooftop of strange figures. The house was designed for a wealthy family in 1912.

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Looking down from the rooftop

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La Pedrera courtyard

Before we were about to leave La Pedrera, there was a very interesting art shop inside with cool art figures, toys, and best of all, books on all kinds of art topics!

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Camp Nou

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I wouldn’t call myself a football fan at all. When my husband wanted us to go to Europe’s largest and most popular football stadium, I wasn’t that much enthused in the beginning.  Besides, he’s a Madrid fan. But oh boy, it turned out to be quite fun.

Camp Nou is actually referred to as an experience because it gives you access to the FC Barcelona stadium and the ‘player journey’ through back stage areas, namely the massage and relaxation room, dressing room, and press room. We enjoyed the experience at our own pace as we never enjoy being hurriedly herded through a place with tours. My husband was my personal tour guide and I was impressed by his expertise! (He’s a football fanatic!)

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The first area as we entered opened up to a museum showcasing the history of the football team complete with a parade of winning trophies and many other moments of the club’s history. Then we moved on to the back stage areas and ultimately the stadium from a tunnel entrance where players had passed through for years. The scale of the stadium was huge, I can only imagine what it’s like on match days when it’s filled to the brim!

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To top it off, there was also a new virtual reality area at the stadium that we decided to try out. In a 10 minute 360 video tour, we were immersed into the footsteps of the players and also the spectators which captured the overall lively atmosphere of a match!

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The El Raval Urban Street

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Historically known as a red light district, El Raval is considered a seedy place with a rather dark history of violence, sex, and crimes. It’s preferable not to walk these streets alone (as a female), even in the daylight. As I was taking pictures, an angry drunk woman yelled something in Spanish. I guess she didn’t want to be in the frame! There are certainly a lot of wandering eyes there that can be intimidating.

With a labyrinth of dilapidated buildings, El Raval looks almost like a ghetto. It’s also a multi-cultural community, as we also spotted falafel restaurants, Thai cuisines, Indian cafes and Pakistani supermarkets. In general, the entire district has a Bohemian and indie feel to it, which gives it part of its charm. With some exploration there are trendy spots to stumble upon.

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From a Marijuana shop

In the same area as El Raval, there’s Barcelona’s Contemporary Art Museum (MACBA) which is also popular with skateboarding communities.

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The Urban Scene

Gracia District

I was told that Gracia is one of Barcelona’s must-visit towns, owing to its quaint hipster neighborhood characterized by independent shops and local restaurants. It is also said that is where we could get a taste of the real Barcelona experience.

One of our first stops was Gaudi’s Park Guell!

Park Guell by Gaudi

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The park is HUGE and also insanely popular. It took quite a trek to cross the whole place!  This is probably my second most favorite of Gaudi’s works after Sagrada Familia.

Park Guell was also intended to be a new housing development for the wealthy, but for some reason, the project had failed. That’s one beautiful failure though. From what I’ve heard, is that Park Guell was quite a complex construction to build, which ultimately lacked funding. There was a plan to build up to 60 houses and the buyers would help fund this development. Due to a shortage of buyers Gaudi completed only two houses, one of them being his own and another turned into a museum. Now, it’s an artistic monument open to millions of tourists.

The centerpiece of the park is a mosaic salamander statue that resides at the gates of Park Güell. The lizard now acts as the symbol of Barcelona as well as Gaudi himself.

The intricacies of the mosaic designs covering the park are really impressive!

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Striking

Because Park Guell is located on a hill, there is also a small terrace overlooking Barcelona which at the time was undergoing construction and I believe there’s a fee to enter.

When we left the park, we stumbled upon a cool-looking vibrant souvenir shop, filled with mosaic trinkets.

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That owl though!

Since we were in Gracia, we decided to walk back to it’s next-door neighborhood called Eixample close to where our hotel is located. There, we decided to have some lunch in a place called Paelleria, and yes, it’s all about paellas!

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Black Squid Ink Paella, also called Arroz Negro

El born 

El born is another hip and trendy place. We primarily wanted to check out the district for its local shops and “Made in Barcelona” goods. El Born is actually the locals’ favorite place. It’s a very “bo-ho” – looking town with an artistic edge. Interesting places range from chic art boutiques, trendy concept stores, and even a local design market (which was closed on the day and we didn’t make it on our trip), but we did find plenty of great places to see.

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Barcelona souvenirs

The Picasso Museum

Arguably one of the most famous artists out there, this was a good enough reason to pay a visit to the museum dedicated to his life and work. What surprised us mostly, is that while he is known  for his colorful “Cubism” style artwork, this is not what we found. The museum focused mostly on the artwork he did during the early parts of his life, which were unexpectedly less vivid and radiant but duller with black and grey tones. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos at all.

It was interesting to see how his work evolved over time. I wanted to understand how he made this drastic transition in his paintings. One of the biggest factors had to do with his life story as that greatly affected how he expressed himself.

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The Santa Maria Del Mar Cathedral

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By coincidence, we came across this beautiful gothic church in El Born. We decided to take a quick peep inside, and just in time a tour was about to start. At first we joined but then wandered off and found ourselves lost from the group.

During that time we just strolled around and marveled at its interior.

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I just love it when religious sites are decorated in beautiful stained glass. It gives the church that magical and heavenly illumination, especially when sun rays shine through!

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We then found ourselves in an atmospheric courtyard, where we rested on a bench for a while and made friends with a Russian Blue.

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We decided to head back to the tour group but couldn’t find them. So we asked a man working in the church how to reach them. Apparently they were already on their way to the bell tower and had locked the door behind them. The man was kind enough to show us the way  and unlocked the old wooden door that lead to the tower.

“Here you are! Got a little lost didn’t you?” said the tour guide.

It was indeed a long climb up through a narrow spiraling staircase!

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Panting and somewhat dizzy, we finally reached the top featuring 6 bells with varied sizes. The bells are given names and baptized since they represent the voices of god.

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Further up ahead, there’s a terrace overlooking some of the best views of Barcelona!

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On the way to Poblenou District

Poblenou is also one of Barcelona’s towns recommended to us. It is another authentic part of the city with a local atmosphere, filled with traditional Catalan hole-in-the-walls. There are old derelict buildings around from the industrial age, but also a lot of residential streets that are fun to look around.

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Before siesta time?

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A type of Hispanic baked pastry with different fillings. It’s traditionally eaten in South America, Spain and Portugal.

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The Olympic Park and Montjuic Hill

Twenty-seven years ago, the Olympic Games of Barcelona were inaugurated in 1992. Here, in Montjuic, we witnessed the beautiful Olympic Park on a cloudy morning. The vast space lined with columns are one of it’s distinguished features, as well as the soaring white needle-shaped tower which almost pierced the low-laying skies that day.

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The tower, which is called the Calatrava,  acts as a sun-dial as well as a communications tower that carried the coverage of the games back then.

Within Montjuic park, we also came across Barcelona’s Museum of Art (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya). Unfortunately it was closed on the day but we still admire its beautiful architectural grounds.

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Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

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After some short chats with the locals who helped us navigate to Montjuic Castle, we eventually located the Funicular ride up Barcelona’s highest hill where the castle was situated. Oddly enough, “Montjuic Mountain” actually translates to “Mountain of the Jews” because of a Jewish cemetery that was found there.

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The Montjuic fortress overlooks the sea and for over 300 years served to defend the city. It was used to bombard the people below and to imprison, torture and execute the survivors in the 1800’s. For this reason it was also used as a prison during the Spanish Civil War.

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The cannons

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The tower that allowed the sighting of the enemy approaching both by land and by sea.

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Root top of the castle

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Harbor views

Inside the castle, prisoner rooms now accommodate displays of old artifacts, weapons, armor, and exhibits showcasing the several episodes of history of the Catalan capital. The creepiest part is that many important figures in Spanish history were even executed within its walls!

It was getting quite gloomy at this military enclave, so after exploring the place we started to head back home. It was a long day!

Last Day: Sagrada Familia 

The Everlasting Legacy that crowns Barcelona

Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, also known as the Basilica of the Holy Family, was the perfect culmination to our trip. We decided to make the reservation days before in the afternoon as it’s believed that the sunsetting gives the interior a beautiful glow.

When we arrived to our destination, I was in awe!

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Started in 1883 and to this day, Sagrada Familia is an unfinished dream. It is still in the works after 135 years! Antoni Gaudi dedicated the rest of his life on the project, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to finish it within his lifetime. He believed that his client was god himself.

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Gaudi gathered most of his inspiration for this work from nature.

As I walked towards this behemoth of a church, it left me awestruck at its sheer size. I’ve always seen it in photographs and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I always felt it looked like a half-melted candle. But up close and in person, it’s completely different and it gives you a real sense of scale and grandness. The strangeness of it was rather moving.

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The Basilica is something out of a mystery/fantasy novel. It’s an ever-growing monument with fascinating stories and secrets. Every part, every corner, tells an interesting detail.

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I loved the rosy touch at the entrance.

I find it amazing that a construction so old is left to be finished in the hands of modern times, which is already set to be completed in a few years. The Basilica is entirely funded by private patrons and the entrance tickets.

If the exterior wasn’t striking enough, the ethereal beauty of the interior was just as marvelous!

I already mentioned my love for castles here, but my other big love are cathedrals!

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Enthralled by the stained glass windows!

What I hadn’t know prior, is that Gaudi himself is buried in the cathedral. His crypt is in one of the chapels and visible through a glass window from above. Fascinating!

Further inside a corridor, there’s an exhibition of the story behind Gaudi’s work.

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The workshop. Gaudi left many plans and drawings of the monument for future architects to complete. During the Spanish Civil War, a large part of these models and plans were destroyed. Therefore only a few instructions have been left for architects to rely on, who try to remain as faithful to Gaudi’s vision as possible. But inserting one’s own style is probably inevitable too. Maybe that’s what Gaudi would have encouraged as well?

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After a wonderful time at Sagrada Familia, our hunger pangs started to kick in.

Time for Tapas

We found a bustling Tapas bar next to our hotel. After going there a few times we liked the experience and became regulars.

Tapas are like morsels of meals on toasted bread and are meant to be eaten as a snack. Usually they are topped with simple ingredients like olives, cheese or ham. But Spaniards have gotten creative. In general, sharing tapas is a social activity and a bonding experience.

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Breaded chicken with goat cheese and vermicelli shrimp with cream cheese.

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Choosing tapas!

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These were so good that I ordered round 2! Asparagus wrapped in fish tempura, cream cheese wrapped in zucchini and topped with jam, and my favorite was delicious cod on a bed of sautéed spinach and some kind of unique-tasting sauce.

A Catalan Trinket

The caganer is one of the most characteristic and beloved figures in popular Catalan Christmas imagery and it is believed to represent good fortune. Apparently, pooping ceramic figures of famous people is a popular thing in Barcelona. Even presidents, political figures, and celebrities are turned into a “Caganer”. The traditional caganer is depicted wearing a red Catalonian hat and a white peasant shirt.

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That’s all for my Spanish story. If I ever do return, I think I would love to see Valencia! or perhaps the Canary Islands 🙂

Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My experience working in a hotel and why I loved it.

Everyday would feel like a vacation. These were my first thoughts when I first considered a career in the hospitality and tourism sector, especially in a beautiful resort situated on the coast of Kuwait’s Arabian Gulf Sea. I remember walking into the gorgeous lobby of the multinational world-class hotel and wondering what it would be like to actually work there — great atmosphere, great perks!

As a Kuwaiti female, it’s pretty uncommon if not common at all to work in a hotel in Kuwait. The tourism industry is not as advanced and progressive in the country making it an unpopular career choice. People also have this misconception that if you do work in a hotel then you’re either a receptionist, doorman or a housekeeping attendant which are all absolutely false assumptions and merely stereotypes.

Being in the PR & Marketing field, I was eager to start off my career promoting a hotel. If people were opting for the banks and oil companies, I was heading the opposite direction. The deciding factor mostly had to do with my interest in the trade itself and to avoid a mundane job that I would dread waking up to every day. After some persistence, I managed to land a position in the PR & Marketing department in Kuwait’s luxury resort and I was thrilled!

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Knowing I had to sacrifice some of my work-life balance, I still willingly accepted the offer to start my journey in an industry completely new to me and I couldn’t wait to discover it.

First and foremost, working an 8-6 job wasn’t easy after all. Being a 24-hour based business, the long hours with a few quiet breaks between the rush all come with the package of working as a hotelier.

In hotel life, there is constantly something happening somewhere to someone at sometime, whether a colleague or a guest. It’s full of life, action, stories and involves a great deal of variety. It’s never-ending drama. I was always expecting the unexpected. At some point, it gets exhausting but almost in a good way.

There is so much that goes on behind-the-scenes. The beautiful surroundings, content guests, smiling staff and impeccable service are merely the surface of what really happens. There is more than meets the eyes. Everything extends far beyond what the customer sees. The amount of intricacies that go into effectively running the complex operations of a huge resort was challenging, but being part of each layer of communication to make something happen was rewarding and satisfying. To the guest, it’s merely like waving a magic wand!

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There is always a new experience to promote; whether a product, service or event. Behind creating that perfect instagrammable 5-course set menu to upload on Instagram, for instance, there is a team of passionate culinary experts mastering the plating and presentation, keeping the food “alive on set” by stroking it with a brush of oil to maintain a “just-cooked” look, while service colleagues arrange the table and adjust the lighting at the venue and the restaurant manager ensures that everything else looks flawless. Over at housekeeping, the team add their own personal touches in the rooms ahead of a guest’s arrival, who is delighted to find an origami towel creation of an animal on their immaculately-tucked bed. Then somewhere on the beach there’s an energetic Zumba class or yoga session taking place, a romantic candle-lit dinner to impress, a team of chefs getting read to cook up tonight’s beachside barbecue, or an embassy prepping to celebrate their national day with festive activities.

The hotel is made up of a giant team all of which are interconnected in one way or the other in a chain reaction – if a detail goes wrong, everything else tumbles down. Ultimately, the goal is to serve up memorable moments to guests meticulously, be it an elaborate wedding, VIP arrangement, media welcoming, or celebrity hosting. Some of my colleagues are so dedicated with this, that I wonder how they are able to maintain their positive demeanor at all times even in the face of stress and chaos, which is something I myself have picked up on and got used to. Handling the image of every aspect of a hotel required being a perfectionist in every sense of the word to ensure that everything was up to the highest standard of luxury. Everything is detail-oriented.

As a PR & Marketing practitioner, I wasn’t dealing directly with guests the majority of the time. However, from time to time, I did face some of the dozens of guest interactions that took place on a daily basis, especially when it came to celebrity visits, media, and commercial photo-shooting. There’s ample of networking opportunities, as I got to meet with people from all walks of life. Hospitality simply thrives on interaction with all types of people.

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Overtime, the hotel culture becomes part of you, a lifestyle. I befriended multi-cultural chefs, foreign journalists, local personalities and socialites and industry experts. There were a couple of times when I met well-known travelers visiting Kuwait for the first time to enjoy both the culture and hospitality and I was tasked with planning their entire itinerary in Kuwait along with a tour throughout the hotel, having a moment to act as an ambassador to my own country.

There are vast avenues to explore within the hospitality world. This meant that I could get as creative as I wanted in tackling unique challenges. I could tell the chef exactly what personalized pastry I envisioned to place in the rooms for the guest, which specific dinner set up I wanted for that sumptuous magazine photo shoot, which prestigious new publication to approach for an advertising campaign, which interesting local associations to partner with to add value to the brand, which influencers to collaborate with in creative aways to tell the story of the hotel experience, which top travel and hospitality publications to write for and much more. There was also the excitement of ongoing seasonal events throughout the year. And of course, being spoiled with the perks of traveling and experiencing the brand’s distinct properties in other countries, which have their own signature culturally-connected characters and it was interesting to observe the variety and differences in their type of services.

Even when I tried to unplug and de-focus from the chaotic and frenzied time at the hotel I simply couldn’t. If I wasn’t at the premises itself, I was engaging with our online guests on Facebook or Instagram, answering their inquiries and producing fresh content. There’s not a moment of calm. Each day is unique which kept my job stimulating at all times. All I can say now is that it was an eye-opening experience! As fun as it was, an industry so fast-paced and demanding of my time and energy eventually meant it really was time for me to take a breather.

I gathered all the experience I needed, and it was only a matter of time before I took that experience with me to new ventures. At the end of the day, being part of a hotel was indeed a unique encounter from which I gained new insights and perspectives.

The fun part of it all is that in between all these experiences and encounters, I constantly raised the bar in accelerating my own learning curve. I didn’t just grow professionally, but even personally by learning so much through a journey I had been crafting for myself along the way, and most importantly one that I had initiated and believed in pursuing. My family and loved ones always encourage me and provide me with remarkable support in anything I’m passionate about, no matter how much of that thing may be a departure from “the norm”. And I am so grateful for it!

 

 

My Portuguese Inscriptions: Sintra’s Royalty Retreat

Royal summer places, fairytale castles, and gardens made for romance. This is Sintra, Portugal. Mostly unheard of by travelers.

During our stay in Lisbon, we decided to take a day trip to the compelling town of Sintra.

In the majesty of this Shakespearean-like town, we were surrounded with romantic Portuguese architecture while making our way through ruins quilted in moss. The air of history and mystery echoed around us. Moreover, what makes it’s history fascinating is that it was purely a retreat for Portuguese royalty in the past!

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Nestled on top of Sintra Hills is the extravagant Palacio De Pena (Pena Palace). We had our fair share of ascending Portugal’s steep hills, so this time we decided to board a bus to take us to the hill on which one of Sintra’s dreamlike castles is perched.

I have sort of an obsession with castles. Maybe it has to do with being a symbol of the Middle Ages, a period of history for which I have a deep fascination. Perhaps it’s the romantic and fairy-tale aspect and because castles are replete with ancient legends. Their somewhat grimly silent walls carry a past filled with stories of adventure, tragedy, and romance.

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Since 1995, the Pena Palace was placed under UNESCO World Heritage Site protection for it’s cultural and historical significance. The location dates back to the Middle Ages when a chapel was built to a local religious figure called Lady of Pena. Therefore the place represented mainly a religious site at the time.

Kings after kings built their own constructions on top of the area, including a monastery, which was then severely damaged and brought to ruins by the 1755 earthquake. The monastery was then transformed into Pena Palace and finally completed in 1854 by King Ferdinand II for his Queen Maria II as a romantic retreat. Many kings and queens that followed visited the palace as a summer getaway.

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On the outskirts of the palace, is something called a Wall Walk. It is from this path that one can enjoy the breathtaking  landscapes of Sintra and the countryside from all sides, and this is where I felt like a queen of my own castle!

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Views of the Moorish Castle from the Wall Walk

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The National Palace of Sintra

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Not to be confused with Pena Palace, the National Palace of Sintra is another royal residence recognized by it’s two white towering chimneys (Yes, actual chimneys!). Inside, the structure and decor is of Moorish roots. Because of it’s expansive history, the interior of the palace had undergone several renovations inspired by Moorish and Gothic influences.

Rooms dating back to the 1500’s range from the Arab Room, a personal bedchamber where the king slept, dining room, the Court of Arms room (holding the coats of arms of 74 Portuguese noble families with 18th-century tiled walls), a beautiful courtyard, and one of my favorites is the Grotto of the Baths, tiled with mythological ceramic art and scenes of nobility. We could even spot tiny opening (holes) in the walls of the tiles from which water jets criss-crossed the bath.

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Up close are the visible holes from which streams of water emerged in to the bath

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Quinta De Regaleira

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This was personally my favorite royal residence of them all, because we entered the scene of a mystical fairytale set in Lord of the Rings or the likes of Romeo and Juliet. With hidden passages, spiral towers, and paths guarded by waterfalls and ambiguous statues, the property is actually an estate that was formerly owned by millionaire Antonio Augusto.

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Some exotic flora surrounding the property

The gardens of the palace are vast, and one could easily get lost amidst it’s secret corridors and network of tunnels. I can imagine being entirely alone with my husband there and just playing hide and seek all day long in it’s bewildering and tricky forested park. There was this one small tower in the garden that was directly from a scene in Romeo and Juliet, from where I stood looking down at my husband..We were at the heart of a romantic Shakespearean play.

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One of the main highlights of the palace is a mysterious Initiatic Well with a depth of some 28 meters. We were lead to the tunnel from below and climbed up the twisting stairs to reach the top of it.  Strangely enough, the well wasn’t used as a water source but rather, for secret ceremonies and rituals. It was more like an underground tower.

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The Initiatic Well

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Even though our trip to Sintra was short, we thoroughly enjoyed the colorful palaces, extravagant mansions, and exotic gardens and overall mythical grounds of this beautiful town!

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My Portugal Inscriptions: Lisboa 2018

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Although neighbors, Portugal is an unusually different place than it’s adjacent popular buddy, Spain.

Even our tuk tuk tour guide, a young Portuguese man driving an auto rickshaw around town, said he could relate more to the Moroccan culture than to Germany, France, Italy or any part of Western Europe.

Seeing that Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe, oldest global empire as well as the oldest colonizing nation, it has plenty of beautiful historical hidden treasures to explore.

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We started our journey with a taxi ride to the apartment loft that took us through narrow cobblestone streets in the heart of a historic area. The paths wind their way up a steep hill past old tiled buildings and the city’s timeworn charm. When we arrived at our exact street, it was so narrow and tight that I wondered how the driver was going to squeeze in with the car, but he managed to do it!

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The building housing our loft was pretty old. It’s where life has carried on for centuries. Standing at the entrance, the rustic door slid open from the other end and we were greeted by the owner of the apartment, a cheery Portuguese woman named Clara. She helped us with our luggage up to the 4th floor and from there, gave us a quick guide of the rooms and a map of Lisbon, pinpointing its main hotspots and her personally recommended places to visit. Lisbon is also the city of 7 hills, our apartment being situated on one of them.

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Clara also spoke of Amália Rebordão, a Fadista singer of Portugal’s traditional Fado music dating back to the 1820’s, and how she popularized Fado worldwide. Clara mentioned that it makes herself and all Portuguese people proud of the way Amália had given Portugal a face and a voice in the outer world. Because Portugal is becoming more popularized as a destination, Fado music might be seen as an experience for tourists to go after in Fado Clubs like they would a Flamenco performance in Spain. However, the melancholic melodies of the genre are enjoyed for entertainment by locals in neighborhood pubs, cafes and restaurants at dinner theaters too. So it’s not necessarily a cliche activity that only tourists do, but a part of everyday local life.

We left our baggages in the apartment on spot and proceeded to go out and explore the region for the day. Walking around the city, we could already feel the six other hills in our calves because of it’s irregular urban cityscape.

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Discovering the city, immediately the first thing we noticed are shops and mini marts dedicated to Portugal’s much-loved staple food: sardines. Before traveling to any place, I really like to get to know what a particular destination is known for and what locals love to eat and do.

There are two ways to have sardines. One, are the small ones in the tin cans which are eaten with a piece of bite-sized bread. Another way is to enjoy the bigger sardines that are cooked/grilled as any fish with their signature Piri Piri Chili oil and some lemon.

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Cirque de Sardine, a touristy sardine shop. They all have years printed on the lids with an interesting fact about an event that happened during that year, which is an unusual souvenir to bring with you!

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The shop is themed around a circus, with carousels and ferris wheels displaying cans of sardines. It would definitely catch anyone’s attention!

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Portugal’s love for fish doesn’t stop at sardines. To talk about Portugal, is to talk about the Cod fish. I was expecting to find it everywhere around Lisbon, but the fish is not as popular as sardines due to it being regarded as a delicacy reserved for special occasions and family holidays, especially the buttery cod pâté. We visited a hip, contemporary Portuguese restaurant for a taste of traditional cuisine in an area called Praça do Comércio in downtown Baixa district. The famous square used to be home to a royal palace destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1755.

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The Rua Augusta Arch in Praça do Comércio serves as a noble gateway to downtown Lisbon and a commemoration to the rebuilding of the town after the destruction caused by the earthquake.

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So we sat a restaurant called “Ministerium”. It was already getting chilly around this time of year (October).

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My husband ordered the chicken wings doused in Portugal’s favorite condiment, the Piri Piri hot sauce. It’s really interesting to look back at the origins of such unexpected staples which in this case, go back to Portugal’s colonial history. Piri Piri is a type of chili that the Portuguese discovered when they conquered the world during their global voyage, specifically in the lush jungle of South America (Brazil) and Africa. The hot sauce is also obviously still used in Portugal’s former colonies in Africa and translates to “Chili Chili” in Swahili.

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Now, let’s talk about the cod! Unlike other types of fish, it has an unusual texture. We ordered one of the most traditional types of dishes you can ask for in Portugal: salted cod with potatoes. The cod itself is initially salted and then poached until it turns creamy and flaky, giving it that rich and distinct texture. As mentioned by one local, “you know you are eating good cod when it falls apart into slippery flakes.”

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Salted cod with potatoes and sautéed spinach. A simple dish but oh-so flavorful.

Of course, sardines and cod (or any other tinned fish) make the perfect Lisbon souvenir, as you are practically taking the flavor of the city and the country’s love for seafood home with you. The preserved fish comes in olive oil, tomato sauce, chickpeas and plenty of other marination and spices, and even better, the cans are wrapped in vintage-looking paper resembling an antique memento!

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In most things in Portuguese shops, there is an old-school aesthetic evident everywhere. From the retro packaging of sardine tins to embroidered napkins and artisan soaps. The cupboard essential, a can of sardines, is not only loved for what’s inside but also for the art on the can itself with colorful retro designs.

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We arrived at Cais De Sodre to board a ferry to Belem District. Since we were in the area of Cais De Sodre, we happened to find the Time Out Market, also known as Mercado de Ribeira. The hip riverside food court, which used to be a very old fresh food market in Lisbon, is said to be a renovated culinary destination bringing the capital’s best chefs and most popular restaurants in town. There are various stalls displaying tempting food and communal tables in the center. We first surveyed the stalls around the food center, trying to decide what to settle down for!

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There is also a small shop full of old-fashioned artisanal soaps, canned fish (of course!), and other vintage-looking souvenirs.

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Hand-drawn stenciled illustrations on retro journals.

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Belem is one of the places that one should visit when in Lisbon. We retreated to Belem on a ferry boat along the Tagus river opening up to views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Christo Rei statue from afar as we crossed under the 25 de Abril Bridge Suspension Bridge. It is said that the Christo Rei was originally inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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The Christo Rei statue and 25 de Abril Suspension Bridge as seen from our ferry

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As seen from the plane on our way to Lisbon!

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Capturing that moment right under the bridge!

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One of the most iconic monuments in Belem is the Belem Tower (Torre de Belém) representing the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the past. It was the main site and launch point from which Portuguese explorers departed on their voyage of discoveries. The tower also served to protect the Lisbon harbor.

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Inspired by Venetian and Moorish architecture, the tower was initially built on dry land in 1515. However, over 500 years the tide had risen.

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Over here where I sit, there is a visible slot of sand in front of me, which is completely submerged in water during high tides.

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People lining up to enter the tower

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Another unique monument in Belem pays homage to all the explorers of Portugal, which was around the time that the Portuguese began to colonize lands, although it doesn’t directly represent “colonialism” per se.

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In Lisbon, we didn’t stumble upon any museum that told a comprehensive or illustrative history of colonialism. When asked about this, one local told us, “Portugal was the earliest colonizer and we basically started the whole trend when establishing our dominions overseas in Africa for gold and diamonds, Brazil for their sugar cane, tobacco and cotton, and India (Goa) and China (Macau) for their exotic spices. What spurred our expansion was colonial wealth coming from valuable items such as cinnamon, which at the time was worth more than gold!” He continued, “We amassed such huge fortunes that it encouraged the Dutch and British to follow our footsteps. We were very rich, now Portugal is a poor country. Honestly, deep down, we do feel ashamed of this part of our history. But at the same time, proud of our strong past.”

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Statues of heroes on the monument who braved the uncharted waters during their discoveries (captains, navigators, cartographers)

After a good look at both monuments, we walked around Belem.

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An artistic installation

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This boy was fishing with his father.

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The red-brick lighthouse of Belem

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This is the national monument for the fallen Portuguese soldiers of the Overseas War fought in colonial Africa. The memorial is in memory of the Portuguese military who lost their lives during the African’s nationalist movement for independence (1964-1971).

There are two soldiers on either side of the monument that change every 2 hours. In the center is an eternal flame.

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Sailing along the Tagus River

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They say you can’t leave Belem without also trying their famed pastries. Before boarding the ferry back, we tried what is known as Pasteis de Belém, a custard pie. The confection of the Belem pastries was created in 1837 and the recipe remains exactly the same until this day. It is particularly from this place that only the masters of this pastry know the real, original family recipe!

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After leaving Belem, we visited the LX Factory. The LX factory is considered to be the place where hipsters go in Lisbon, as it’s filled with street art and creative expression integrated into old industrial buildings housing design shops and funky restaurants. The place, which is said to have been an 1800’s sewing factory, stretches under the 25 de Abril Bridge that I showed here previously in the post. The locals wanted to breathe new life in to the desolate area by turning the district into a vibrant spot.

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Some of the street art around LX factory. Make sure to check out my photo series on Street Art in Lisbon, Portugal!

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Having lunch at LX Burger

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LX Factory is also home to  one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, a former printing space called Ler Davagar Bookstore. A variety of interesting books are stacked from floor to ceiling and I would have loved to spend hours there looking through each and every intriguing title!

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Found this nice book that illustrated the symbols of Portugal

Some quirky shops…

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One of the most interesting and unusual places I was looking forward to is the world’s oldest surviving Doll Hospital, an antique repair shop for all dolls in need of fixing! For those who cherish dolls and have always been fond of playing with them, like myself (even until now!), this is where beloved dolls can go through a check up which determines whether they need; chipped paint? beautify and restore your doll. Is there a missing eye? leg? fingers? Your doll can get transplant. Or just a quick makeover (new dress?)

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Portuguese dolls

For over 200 years, the family-run business has had a curious trait for restoring antique dolls of sentimental value to its owners.

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I love these doll collectibles!

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water

Wandering around Lisbon and wondering where to go next, we located the old Barbadinhos Pumping Station. The museum, also know as Museu Da Agua, introduced us to the once painstaking process of pumping the river and bringing drinking water to the residents of Lisbon. The museum is pretty small, which is why it’s never crowded and probably because not that many people even know about it. We were actually the only ones there at the time.

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The main attraction of the museum is its grandiose engine room, where 19th-century steam-powered pumping machines have been preserved in magnificent condition. I took a moment to imagine the complex process of which it took to get fresh water to the homes of people. The antiquated machines made the room look very steampunk. I would have loved to see the engines in action!

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AlFama and Mouraria are the raw historical hilltop districts of Lisbon. Mouraria comes from the Moorish influences of the medieval period and Alfama traces back to the Arabic word “Al Hamma” referring to baths and fountains.

We started by exploring the oldest district in Lisbon, AlFama, home to the soulful Fado singing and sardine-cooking taverns. The district holds the strongest roots in Portuguese culture and heritage. With a steep tangle of narrow streets, AlFama is a prized relic of the past that remained almost unaffected by the 1755 earthquake. The district is filled with surprises at every corner, with endearing cafes and local eateries that tingled our senses. You could feel the history all around you.

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AlFama is amazingly photogenic!

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As we wandered about in search for a car ride, we came across a tuk tuk driver, Pedro, who offered us a ride around Alfama, Mouraria, and Chiado, the noblest district in Lisbon. We thought, what better way to explore these districts even better than to hear some stories from the local himself?

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Pedro is the friendly Portuguese tuk tuk guide that I mentioned earlier in the beginning of my post. Through out the ride we exchanged cultural information about one another and we gained a lot of insight into the various aspects of Lisbon. It was fun getting to know the city through Pedro! We spoke about the Portuguese and Arabic language and I pointed out how difficult the Portuguese language actually sounds, and it mostly has to do with the pronunciations. Although Arabic and Portuguese sound vastly different, there are many words derived from Arabic such as Soap – Sabonete (Sabon in Arabic), azeitona – olive (zaytoon in Arabic) to name a few. What surprised me the most is that Portuguese is actually one of the most spoken languages after English!

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As we drove between the narrow streets of Mouraria, we observed the various buildings adorned in artistic ceramic tiles traditionally called Azulejos. Interestingly, the name of this art form comes from the Arabic language too and was originally introduced from Granada, Spain, which used to be a host to Arabic culture in the past. Some tiles are decorative with geometrical patterns while others portray mythological tales and historical imagery. The most common and oldest colors used for the tiles are white, blue and yellow.

As mentioned by Pedro, Azulejos are not only utilized for their decorative purpose, but also have a more practical function by helping control the temperature in rooms and protecting the buildings against heat. The close proximity of houses also provide shade and prevent overheating.

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This is one of my favorite photos taken in Lisbon. A cozy local restaurant.

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Next, we stopped our tuk tuk next a church. “You have to see this place,” said Pedro. “It might look like an ordinary and humble-looking church from the outside and you might not even give it a second look. But inside, the bland facade hides a rich decorative interior.” Igreja de São Roque Church is reportedly one of the richest churches in Europe, meaning it’s of priceless value. The dazzling interior is adorned with marble, gold on top of gold, and sacred art pieces. He even mentioned that if any of the pieces are being transported, there is only that one designated person responsible who is allowed to even touch it. That’s how precious it is!

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To absorb Lisbon from above, Pedro took us to a hilltop terrace overlooking the vistas of the city – Miradouro da Graça. From this height, we observed the medieval buildings that dot the horizon as all as Lisbon’s Castle. The amount of large trees surrounding the terrace shades the entire place making it the perfect place to relax.

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Some scenes around Alfama and Mouraria…

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After bidding farewell to Pedro, we took a short trip to Lisbon’s Aquarium although we weren’t really planning to but decided to go there anyway to have a look…

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The Oceanarium of the capital hosts marine habitats of the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Antarctic. At the time of our visit there was a temporary exhibition by Takashi Amano,  a Japanese Aquascape creator who is also know as the Aqua Architect. With this lifetime project of his, he aimed at recreating tropical forests inside an aquarium to place emphasis on the preservation of sea life and its habitats. Amano did this through the practice of Ikebana, a Japanese gardening art form, and the concept Wabi-sabi which is a philosophy often described as appreciating the beauty in imperfection.

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Takashi Amano’s creation. The place was filled with such serenity and otherworldliness.

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Here are some photos of various marine creatures.

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There was also another small exhibition inside showcasing artwork made out of debris, waste and other pollution to shed light on protecting the marine environment.

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Now one last meal in Lisbon…! 🙂

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We sat at a very local restaurant serving typical Portuguese lunch.

For pre-starters, a couple of various fish pâté (Sardine, tuna, salmon) and our main course was bean rice and cod fish cakes. Delicious!

See you next in Portugal, Sintra!

The city of fairytale palaces and castles.

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A personal Kuwait-based blogazine. I'm a storyteller writing about my travels, experiences, curiosities, and things I'm passionate about!