Archive for November, 2014

The Old Quarter of Porto, Northern Portugal

Portugal > Porto

May 2014

About 320km north of the capital Lisbon lies Portugal’s second largest city, Porto. Located on the Douro river estuary, it was founded by the Romans in the 4th century BC. Being a Roman outpost, it carried the name ‘Portus Cale’ which is said to be the origin of the name ‘Portugal’. The Muslim Moors invaded it in 711, but were chased away by armies of King Alfonso III in 868. Porto was the northernmost point in Portugal the Moors’ empire extended to.

Porto, meaning ‘port’ in Portuguese, became a key port in the 14th-15th century, and thanks to Prince Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese ‘Age of Discovery’ was initiated from here. Prince Henry himself was thought to have been born in Porto, based on the fact that he was baptised here.

Porto is also the home of the famous port-wine, produced in the fertile Douro valley located upstream of the river.

In this short visit to Porto, I take a stroll from the modern port-wine Gaia area of Porto and cross the Douro river, via the Luis I Bridge. This brings me to Ribeira, the old quarter of Porto, with buildings from the 15th century, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here facades covered with azulejos tiles (introduced by the Moors in the 8th century) look spectacular in late afternoon light. Looking a bit decrepit, but notable nevertheless.

Please view in HD.

 

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Labuanbajo in Flores, and Denpasar Airport

Indonesia > Flores Island > Labuanbajo

September 2014

Labuanbajo is a small town located at the western tip of Flores island at the centre of the huge Indonesian archipelago. Its claim to fame is being the gateway to the islands of Komodo and Rinca, where the famous Komodo National Park is located, home of the Komodo Dragons. Anyway, the area around Labuanbajo also boasts of pristine islands and beaches, plus spectacular snorkeling and diving sites.

Labuanbajo was once a small fishing village, settled by the seafaring Bajau and Bugis people from the north. In fact the name ‘Labuanbajo’ stands for ‘Pelabuhan Bajau’, which means ‘Port of the Bajau’. Indeed it has a picturesque sheltered harbour which is the starting point for visiting the Komodo Dragons.

I think it’s a matter of time before mainstream tourist hordes would arrive and crowd this beautiful place. Prime seaside properties in the area have already been snapped up by businessmen from Jakarta, ready to exploit the tourism dollar. At the moment the only people here are backpackers and hardcore eco-travellers, such as us. The Labuanbajo airport has even attached the word ‘Komodo’ to its name in order to exploit the commercial value of the Dragons — its new terminal (which carries the lizard theme too) was opened just a few months ago.

The slideshow below also shows the spanking new domestic terminals of Bali Denpasar DPS airport, and it’s slightly older international terminal. Both structures are most welcome as Bali becomes busier as a tourist destination, over-expoited in my humble opinion.

(September 2014)

 

Please view in HD.

 

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The Home of the Komodo Dragons

Indonesia > Komodo National Park

September 2014

We finally make it to the home of the awesome Komodo Dragons. We fly from Denpasar DPS to Labuanbajo LBJ, located at the western tip of Flores island in central Indonesia. The 90-min flight from Bali is memorable with the sights of menacing, but enchanting, active volcanoes along the way.

From the airport we go straight to Labuanbajo harbour where our boat is ready to take us on a spectacular 2.5 hour ride to Komodo National Park, located on Rinca Island. Excellent weather coupled with calm sea make it a truly enjoyable boat-ride with freshly-cooked lunch served onboard. The scenery along the way is simply fantastic.

On Rinca, the Dragons themselves do not disappoint us. Being so close to one of the most fascinating and fearsome creatures on earth is a very memorable experience. The island of Rinca itself is paradise for nature-lovers.

Definitely a very worthy journey to Komodo Dragon country!

 

Please view in HD.

(For the trip to Komodo National Park, we used the services of Mr Ignas Suradin, fantasticotour@yahoo.com, http://www.komodotours.net)

 

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Bali, Island of the Gods

Indonesia > Bali

September 2014

We do a quick one-day tour of northern Bali, while en route to Komodo National Park (500km to the east, near Flores island). Renting a car, we make quick stops at the icons of Bali — Pura Besakih or Mother Temple of Besakih, Kintamani with its picturesque (but dangerous) volcano Batur and lake, and finally sunset at the ever-romantic Pura Tanah Lot.

Pura Besakih is Bali’s largest and holiest temple complex, said to be constructed as early as the 8th century. The epicentre of Balinese Hinduism, it’s a must for visitors. Set 1000m up the slope of active volcano Agung, which last erupted 1963 (killing 17,000 people), it is a very culturally pleasant place to visit. The only drawback is the existence of a horde of dodgey ‘guides’. You can engage them — some are nice and very knowledgeable, but after haggling for a reasonable price. The 1963 eruption of Agung almost destroyed the complex, but the lava flowed away from the temples at the last minute, thus enhancing the holiness of the site.

Kintamani is a very touristy spot, where people normally stop for overpriced lunches, but it has a splendid vista of the majestic Batur, another active volcano which last erupted in 2000, and its beautiful lake. The black solidified lava of this eruption can be seen from the Kintamani eateries. The whole area is actually inside a huge caldera of a much larger eruption which took place a long, long time ago.

The Pura at Tanah Lot is truly magical, but you need to be there at high tide in order to experience the illusion of a ‘floating temple’. In any case, sunset is also a much sought-after event at Tanah Lot.

 

Please watch in HD.

 

 

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The Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Portugal

Portugal > Sintra

May 2014

Just 30km west of Lisbon, lies the amazing cultural landscape of Sintra, with structures dating back to the Moors of the 8th century. This area is located right inside the verdant forest of a large national park which stretches all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It has a long history of Portuguese architecture and culture, first occupied by the Romans, then the Arab Moors, who built a precipituous castle atop a mountain overlooking the plains all the way to the Atlantic. It used to be the playground for the Portuguese royals of the 12th-20th century, and many aristocrats owned and built properties here. The outcome is, the place is littered with palaces, stately homes, beautiful buildings, gardens, monuments and houses of worship. As such it plays host to thousands of visitors who drop by every year to savour the essence of Portugal. Spectacular Sintra earned the coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, so we decide not to miss it.

Please watch in HD.

 

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The Historical City of Evora, Portugal

Portugal > Evora

May 2014

Just 130km east of Lisbon, along the main expressway to Madrid, lies the historical city of Evora, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Evora is famous for its well-preserved Roman, Gothic and Baroque buildings, thus compressing 2000 years of history in a compact place. It is late evening as we drive into town, on the way back from Elvas to Lisbon. Its quaint narrow cobblestone lanes and whitewashed buildings are relics of its Moorish past, and always a pleasure to saunter along, as we bump into one spectacular building after another.

Please watch in HD.

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Adelaide, Capital of South Australia

Australia > South Australia > Adelaide

February 2014

Adelaide is possibly one of the best cities I have ever visited in all my travels, but then I could be handsomely biased. I spent 1978-85 here, in this beautiful place – did my matriculation, bachelor’s degree and doctorate, all in one swoop, and I also got married and had our first child.

Needless to say, this Adelaide sojourn influenced my life thereupon and shaped my weltanschauung immensely, but short of migrating here, I have returned many times for quick visits. This is our latest outing, to touch base with the ever-sprightly Prof Les Berry, my supervisor, and┬áthe venerable Dr Andy Coyle, my fellow PhD-mate. All looking hale and hearty! ­čśÇ

Please watch in HD.

 

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Victor Harbor in South Australia

Australia > South Australia > Victor Harbor

February 2014

From Adelaide it’s a pleasant┬á80km drive south to Victor Harbor, a resort town (very popular with retirees) which faces the tempestuous Great Southern Ocean. There we spend time at the famous Coorong National Park, where the mighty River Murray empties itself into the ocean, but in a rather odd way via a huge lagoon. This area is also famous for its fish and chips, and that’s a must. Not to be missed are heritage buildings from the 19th century, and its flora and fauna. If you reach Adelaide, do consider spending a couple of days here.

Please watch clip in HD, thanks.

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