Sunday, 22 February 2009

H2O hotel

The highest road in Portugal, almost 2000 meters above sea level.

Place: Portuguese Serra da Estrela mountains. Recently opened H2O hotel and spa.
Time: 09 of February 2009.

Gosh, how I love new hotels. Everything is so clean & new, staff is nice & accommodating. Pools are great.

Unhais da Serra valley overlook. Where is it ( see on the map )

That night at the restaurant ( main restaurant still not open yet ). H2O hotel interiors.

At night we tasted Portuguese local specialty: "Pernil do porco" accompanied by the bottle of red "Casa de Santar" 2005 from the Dão region. Didn´t like the meat very much, so ended up with a nice table of local delicious sheep´s milk cheeses ( Queijo da Mistura, Queijo picante, Queijo da Ovelha Serra da Estrela ) and wine, doing the "Cheese and Wine Tasting".
Queijo picante, with its strong taste and relatively hard and chewy texture, worked very well with red from Dão. "Casa de Santar" is full-bodied, with a deep ruby-purple color. The wine is dense, chewy, ripe, and a surprisingly big mouthful of juicy, velvety-textured wine.

PS. Our second stay at the H2O hotel / click here



Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Once In A Lovely Spring Day

Early February. Porto, Portugal. Blossom trees of Magnolia. Like snowflakes - no two blossoms alike. Each is unique. Named after a French botanist Pierre Magnol.

Magnolia is an ancient genus. Fossils of
Magnolia Acuminata has been found dating to 20 million years ago.

Flowering tree on my picture belongs to
Magnolia Grandiflore or Southern Magnolia. White and beautiful. Spring in its best.

Camera: Nikon D80, F 13, Fl 10mm, Sigma 10/20 mm, ISO 100, no flash, skylight and polarizing filters, 14.02.2009, 13.00. Site: Avenida Aliados, Porto, Portugal.


Monday, 16 February 2009

Braided delta of Vouga River, part II.

Yesterday I pointed camera at my favorite spot at Ria de Aveiro , close to the fishermen´s village of Murtosa. The sunset was gorgeous. After a month of almost continuous winter rain, the beautiful Portuguese weather has finally returned.

Camera: Nikon D80, F 22, Fl 12mm, Sigma 10/20 mm, ISO 100, no flash, Cokin Gradual ND filters 0,6 and 0,9 special equipment: tripod, ladder.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Braided delta of Vouga River

Vouga River mouth, central Portugal. Water flows as several interconnecting streams forming vast patches of multiple sinuous channels. Welcome to Ria de Aveiro, or delta of Aveiro ( Aveiro is a name of a city lying nearby ). A malaria parasite was still present in the waters of this coastal lagoon in the middle of the last century.

Ria de Aveiro is a beautiful spot for photographers. Picture above was taken in January 2009, close to fishermen´s village of Murtosa.

Camera: Nikon D80, F11, Fl 18 mm, Sigma 10/20 mm, ISO 400, no flash, Cokin Gradual ND filter 0,6, special equipment: tripod, ladder.


Last Wednesday ( 11.02.2009 ) in Spain

Align Centre
View from Monte Santa Tega to the South: Portugal´s coastline.

It usually takes us 30 minutes to drive from Porto to Caminha, where we hop on a ferry to cross the Minho River and enter Spain. The funny thing is, that when you cross the border, nothing really changes: the villages and people are exactly the same. The architecture, churches small markets, shops, even the language is very similar. Galiza is in fact not so different from northern Portugal.

This Wednesday our plan was ... well, we did not have any specific plans for that Wednesday. First thing after leaving the ferry we climbed the Santa Trega mountain. This is a site of an ancient Celtic village. The views here are absolutely marvelous. To the south there is a Minho river that separates Spain from Portugal. To the north you can see the rocky Spanish coastline dotted with red roofs of La Guarda town.

View to the North: La Guarda town.

On our way back home we noticed that many new wineries are being opened. Seems like Galiza wine industry is booming. Their Albariño vines, which have been nicknamed "The Wines of the Sea", are absolutely first-class. They are the descendants of Portuguese vines called Alvarinho. To be denominated as DOC they must contain 100% Albariño grapes. These single-vine, single-grape wines I like most.

We ended up buying some bottles of Albariño and a plate of Spanish curado chesses. The dinner at home was going to be great.

Ferry from Caminha to Spain. The view from the top os Santa Trega mountain.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Modern Valencia

City of Arts and Sciences. L'Hemisfèric.

I´m not a modern art lover. In fact I believe 99% of modern-art-artefacts are rubbish. If one puts a 1425 "Saint Josef in his workplace" painting of Robert Campin, one of the greatest Renaissance painters, in the garage, it´s still a great piece of art. If one puts a modern-art piece in the garage, it´s obviously a trash. "Art in the gallery-rubbish in the garage" - this is how I define modern "art".

The only art that somehow has survived in our post-modernism world is architecture.
We´ve been lucky to see two masterpieces of modern architecture genius: Santiago Calatrava. One was in Valencia last November: City of Arts and Sciences. The other is located "right under our noses" in Lisbon, Portugal: Oriente Train Station.

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is really impressive. At first a "wow" factor dominates. Ultramodern architecture with good taste. Lots of water pools. Spacious. Very nicely illuminated. White and transparent. Made of heavy materials but somehow remains light.

The Hemesferic was the first building to be completed in 1998. Looking from the right angle it resembles a huge eyeball floating above a pool of water. The eye even blinks with the aid of a steel and glass shutter operated by hydraulic lifts. Looking from the sharp angle the Hemisferic and the Oceanografic resemble a huge fish.

Opera House ( photo below ) was opened in 2005. For me ( I am a big"Star Wars" fan ) it definitely looks like an Imperial Star Destroyer space ship.

The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía is the final segment of Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences.

That November night Lucas and Agnieszka went shopping. I stayed and took about 500 shots of the City of Arts and Sciences in the sipping rain. The rain clouds went low the way they reflected red and blue city lights. No wind, no tourists, no flashes. Photos went very well: micro bubbles of falling rain did all the job.
After they came back we headed for
"Civera" restaurant in Valencia´s Old Quarter ( recommended by the "Good Food" magazine ) to taste the best classic paella valenciana.

Time: early weekend of November 2008, Valencia, Spain. Rain. Camera: Nikon D80. Photo 1: F22, Fl 20mm, Nikkor 17-80mm, ISO 560, HDR +2,-2,0 exp., no flash, no filter. Photo 2: F11, Fl 10 mm, Sigma 10-20 mm, no flash, tripod. Photo 3: panorama made of 6 horizontals.


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Skiing in Portugal - Impossible?

Torre - the highest point of continental Portugal.

Central Portugal. Serra da Estrela mountains. Top peak named Torre is nearly 2000 meters above sea level. The skiing station is rather small counting with only 5 ski-lifts. The ski trails are marked red and black but the degree of difficulty is very, very exagerrated. All the piste are easy or moderate. One is marked as black, but on the Alpine scale of difficulty it should be only easy-red.

Skiing conditions are very, very unpredictable due to strong winds from the Atlantic Ocean that can bring rain ( very frequently ) or snow ( rather rarely ).

But this February 2009 the massive snow storm hit the mountains really hard covering it with up to 2 meters of fresh powder. We took our ski and hit the slopes of Ski Station at the top of the Portuguese mountains.

Part of Torre instalations.

Later in the afternoon we drove down to the hotel , where I usually stay, and had a local specialty:
Trout from Manteigas. ( Manteigas is a name of small Portuguese mountain village ). Baked with oil, flower and coarse grain salt. Served with butter, poured with the lemon juice, pepper and the minced parsley.
To accompany we had a small bottle of regional white wine Meia Encosta. Dry, well equilibrated and full of minerals,
Meia Encosta is a nice white wine for mid-week´s night dinner.


Camera: Nikon D80, fl 10 mm, f20, 1/125, ISO 100, white balance:auto, sky filter.

Ski Station Link