Travel: Goa

I had a generally unproductive day today. Nick went off to visit some family that he had in Mumbai and although I had time to go explore before meeting him at the airport, I decided to let myself have a lazy morning.

My original intent was to catch up on some blog posts but I found myself mesmerized by a new book I was reading on my kindle.

I caught a taxi to the airport after I checked out after noon. There, I waited for Nick to arrive after a lunchtime meeting with his uncle. When he hadn’t arrived by 1:30 pm, I had a brief panic moment that we had missed each other. This was compounded by my schizophrenic cell phone issues. Fortunately, he was just running late, and I didn’t have to deal with all his luggage on top of my own.

We arrived in Goa around 6 pm, however, it took us about 2 hrs to taxi to our hotel because of how large the state is and the New Year’s Eve traffic. After we settled in, we rented a moped and went in search of dinner, I was surprised by how many Russians were on holiday there!

Goa has a history dating back as far as 20,000 to 30,0000 years. There are still rock art carvings that demonstrate the earliest traces of human life when our ancestors first began to transition from four legs to two legs.

Modern day Goa however can be traced back to the year 1510. It is at this point in history that that the Portuguese defeated the reigning sultan and claimed the region as a settlement. Portuguese sovereignty in present-day India would last for four and a half centuries until 1987, when, in the advent of claiming their independence from the British in 1947, the Indian Army moved to reclaim the territory that was rightfully theirs.

Goa is now one of the richest states of India, with the highest GDP per capita (2.5x the entire country’s), and an average growth rate of 8.2%! It is famous for its beaches and nightlife, which is exactly why Nick and I chose to spend our New Years Eve here.

Travel: Elephants

imageElephants are creatures that are revered in India. According to Hindu Cosmology, the earth is supported and guarded by mythical World Elephants at the compass points of the cardinal directions. Sanskrit literature even attributes earthquakes to the shaking of their bodies when the elephants tire of their burden.

The deity Ganesh(a) is the god of wisdom, and he is distinctively represented by a human form with the head of an elephant, which was placed after the human head was either decapitated or burned from the body.

imageHowever, this is not how the Elephanta Caves, with origins dating between the 5th and 8th centuries, received their namesake. In the 16th century, the Portuguese named the island “Elephanta Island” in honor of a huge, monolithically rock-cut black stone of an elephant on a mound; this unfortunately has been relocated to the Mumbai Zoo.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 Despite being just 7 miles east of the port, the ferry ride took an hour to get there! Fortunately, I caught some great views of the Gateway of India, the exit causeway through which the last British troops passed through on February 28, 1948, signalling an end to British rule and the beginning of Indian independence.

In each of the caves, Shiva or Mahadeva, “Great God” is aniconically represented by a Lingam, a single rock rounded at the top. Aniconism is the avoidance of using images to represent divine beings, prophets, and religious figures.

However, I happen to find the monolithic rock to be an appropriate manifestation of Shiva.


At his highest level, Shiva is considered limitless and transcendent, unchanging and formless. Why not abstractly represent him as something from nature that also adheres to these characteristics? Are rocks not powerful? Do they not withstand the test of the time?

I may not be Hindu, but even I was moved. I couldn’t help but place my palm against the rock and close my eyes, taking some time to summon my faith, and chant the Buddhist Mantra I learned as a child beneath my father’s wing.

Travel: City of Oporto

Oporto, is one of the oldest european centers known. It originated many centuries ago as an outpost of the Roman Empire, Today, it is best known for it’s port wine. When wine first emerged in Oporto, there was no method to ensure the quality of wine, as a result the flavor suffered at the hands of the english. The Marquis of Pombal counteracted this by demarcating the region to ensure the wine’s quality and set a standard for production. It was the first attempt within europe to control wine quality and production.

Interesting Fact: Only wines made in Oporto can bear the adage of being named a “Port.”

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On the way to one of the wine caves, we stopped by to visit the Sao Bento Railway Station. It was inaugurated in 1916 and is best known for its azulejo walls that depict moments in portuguese history. They are the work of Jorge Colaço and date from 1905 to 1916. The building itself is French Beaux-Arts architecture, which uses elements such as conservative sculptural decoration, noble spaces, and symmetry. It is still in regular use today.



We then stopped by the Calem Winery to savor some Port in Oporto!

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On our way to the last stop, we paused to enjoy a view of the Casa do Infante, a 14th century house, in which Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394.


Casa do Infante

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Palacio da Bolsa








We also passed by the Palacio Da Bolsa, an old stock exchange built-in the 19th century.

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Livraria Lello

Our final destination was to admire the staircase of the Lello & Irmão bookshop. It is speculated that inspiration for the staircases and caped uniforms of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels stemmed from her time living in Oporto, Portugal.  The art-nouveau of the staircase and the bookstore do indeed give me a sense that I stepped into the world of Hogwarts, but it can also be seen as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. However, there is no denying the similarities between the Hogwarts uniforms as depicted in the movies, and the traditional school dress for university students.


Travel: Dom Luis Bridge, Oporto

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve managed to haul my ass out of bed this early in the morning. Oporto is a 2-hour drive from my prior location of Fatima, and I wanted to get the sites in before retiring early for the night due to an early AM flight. Yes, Alas, the time has come for me to bid adieu to my short time in Portugal and move on to the next destination on my European Adventure.

Once again, the weather is not being agreeable, in the sunlight you could no doubt see the old world charm of this century old city. However, amidst the gray skies, damp air, and churning brown waters, the city itself seemed to be sighing in sorrow. Fortunately, for the most part, the skies were generous enough to withhold a downpour of rain, and we merely had to deal with the pitter-patter of irregular drizzling.

2013-04-10 05.32.04My first official view of Porto happened while I was still in a dreary state, our bus was crossing a bridge parallel to a well-known sign of the city. It was in this fuzzy mindset that I first witnessed the historic Dom Luis Bridge.

You’ll understand my fascination with this span when you consider my background (see About Me). I was just enthralled by the structure, and it was difficult to withhold the continuous stream of design considerations and analysis methods required from zip-lining through my head.

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The arched form of the bridge results in a degree of non-linearity when considering how the structural elements resist the applied loads. This is difficult to describe in a non-technical sense, but it simply means that as the structure deforms  (changes shape) the strength and capacity of the bridge actually increases, as opposed to the logical assumption that it’s carrying capacity would decrease.

For a brief historic background: The government held a competition for the design of this land connection between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia that would span the Douro river. Téophile Seyrig claimed this honor, and construction began in 1881, and the bridge officially opened in 1886. At the time, it was the longest bridge of its type at a span of 172 m.


Travel: Leiria

Once again, woke up late, this is becoming a pretty nasty habit since I, as a traveler, obviously want to jam-pack my days with the culture and heritage of the region. 😦 Nonetheless, it was relaxing to take a leisurely day to explore a nearby town, hike up to a castle, and just breathe in the atmosphere of Portugal as I reach my final days in this nation.

We didn’t really get a good head-start until around 3 PM this afternoon, despite the fact that I woke up earlier than I have any other day this week (excluding the day trip to Sintra since travel time was a much larger consideration). My friend has just as much affection for sleep as I do. Zzzzzzzzz!! However, my aunt would argue the following “You are on vacation. You aren’t allowed to wear a watch, you are just supposed to relax and care about nothing.” This statute would be much easier to follow if we tourists did not have to conform our schedules around attraction hours.

We started off by stopping at the “Funmarcia” an interesting twist on the classic Candy Store.You select your pill container  stock it with an assortment of candy, and are written a prescription for it!

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‘Medicines’ can range from being antidotes to lovesick woes, stimulators to improve your sense of humor, or Activators to increase your memory (all in jest of course). It was pretty comic to see all the prescription tag-lines the franchise had come up with; definitely not an innovation yet seen in the states. I almost want to open up a franchise myself! Of course, parents would hate how excited their children get over it. The company is trying to transition to include english prescriptions at this moment.


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All this candy provided energy for our short, but steep hike up from old Leira to the Leiria Castle.  It’s location atop the mountain was strategic since it provided military support to the region.




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The town itself was founded by D. Afonso Henriques circa 1135. It was a prosperous economical trade center which marketws major products such as olive oil, wheat, wine and timber, as well as ore, and handicrafts. It is believed that Leiria is the first known Portuguese town to produce paper (1411).

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Despite its origins, which included both Moorish and Jewish districts in the town around the year 1211, it was ultimately chosen by Pope Paul III as headquarters for the Bishop in 1547. The city itself holds a large medley of monuments from the 16th century, the landscape served as a backdrop to a large array of convents.

View from Top

View from Top

Medieval Early Gothic

Medieval Early Gothic










The original plan was to drive to the gorgeous beach town of Nazare, but Portugal’s weather has been uncooperative as of late, and the gloomy sky ended up not boding well for us.

Travel: Mosteiro Batalha

As we continued our day, we went to visit the famed Battle Monastary (Mosteiro Batalha), so named due to a vow given to the Virgin Mary, that should the outcome of a dire-looking battle be victorious, the king would erect a monastery devoted to her. Today, we know this battle as the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota and the ruler as King John I of Portugal who won a Portuguese victory over the Castilians.

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The monastery itself, took over a century to build and was continuously in construct during the reign of seven kings. Officially, fifteen architects participated in its design. The employed artistic style and complexity of the structural stability were ahead of its time.    The majority of the structure is done in the Gothic Style, but gave way to the Manueline style in its final years of construction.

I have used these expressions quite a few times in recent days, and even I don’t clearly understand the subtle differences between both. The following will be my attempt to illustrate the main features of each.

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The gothic style is an evolution of the older Romanesque style and emphasizes the use of verticality and light. So classic buildings vie away from solid walls and embrace stone skeletons that involve clustered columns, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.

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A defining characteristic is a ogival arch. Structurally a pointed arch helped vault spaces that had irregular plans, or brought transverse vaults to the same height as diagonal vaults. Additionally, gothic vaults tend to employ irregularly shaped polygons. This is advantageous because rather than being circular, orthogonal shapes provide clear load paths for the weight to distribute amongst the bearing pears and columns.

Gothic churches also tend to be extremely tall; this verticality suggests an aspiration to heaven. This is emphasizes through the use of towers and spires projecting to the sky as seen on the exterior.

The Unfinished Chapel

The Unfinished Chapel

The Manueline style is also known as a Portugese late-gothic style is evident in many late medieval buildings. Classic elements include intricate stonework with incorporates ship elements such as spheres, anchors, and chains. It also embraces use of items from the sea such as sea shells, pearls, and strands of seaweed.


2013-04-08 11.22.292013-04-08 11.26.03Additionally, symbols of Christianity such as the cross of the Order of Christ are prominently features. botanical motifs also play a role. The discoveries of newly discovered lands can subtly seen as well.

Travel: Gruta da Moedas

I woke up late. AGAIN. Hard to know whether it’s a result of terrible jet lag or sleep debt. My dear friend is surprisingly merciful (or not) in letting me sleep in. Nonetheless, we managed to fill today with a variety of sights, which range from natural and subterranean geologic formations to above ground man-made structures.

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Our first destination for the day, post-lunch (may I add) was the Cave of Coins (Grutas da Moedas); named as such due to the legend that robbers meant to dispose of the victim by tossing his body down the shaft, but accidentally left the coin pouch attached to his belt, it is said that the coins are still scattered about the cave. Two hunters chasing after a fox accidentally stumbled upon this cave in 1971. It runs about 45 m deep and dates from the mid Jurassic Period. Each room has a descriptive name that requires a sprinkling of imagination to understand how it received its title.

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It is not hard to see the natural beauty that is hidden below ground. The motion of water blended with stone allowed for the progression of peaks downwards from the cavern top as well as upwards from the floor. These are named stalactites and stalagmites respectively. They extend a mere few inches every hundreds of years depending on the abundance of natural minerals within the caves. Occasionally, a stalactite and stalagmite will meet forming a column in the middle.

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The Moeda caves have a secret; at the right location, a simple beam of light will show the shimmering crystalline surface on the rock face. This requires just the right amount of minerals to be present, to allow for the calcite to form.

The most enjoyable part of my visit was trying to understand what formation inspired the room’s title. What do you think these rooms were called?

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Travel: Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima

As a result of Saturday night, I woke up late and was unable to maintain our former schedule of events for the day. I spent the afternoon celebrating my friend’s grandfather’s birthday, and enjoyed a wide medley of traditional Portuguese food. This included cod, cauliflower and greens with piglet, rice with duck, and cake (of course). There was also lasagna, although clearly this is not of Portuguese origins :P.

It was delicious, and it was enjoyable to partake in a family celebration while listening to the conversations around me. I was able to pick up bits and pieces due to my background in Spanish. Some of her cousins did speak English and were kind enough to provide tidbits of information so that I could stay involved.

After, one of her cousins was headed to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, and was nice enough to let me tag along. Fatima is known for being the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to three Shepherd children in 1917. It is said that Mary predicted 3 events would come to pass, and only 2 have occurred to date.

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Franciso Marto

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Jacinto Marto and Sister Lucia

She patiently explained the history behind each aspect of the square, and accompanied me as I took in the sites of such a holy place. We entered the main cathedral, and paid our respects to the tombs of the three children.



After we exited, we went to light candles in prayer. Some individuals’ purchase was body parts or full wax figures; these are lit and melted by the church. Many see this as sacrificing part of yourself when you are praying for help from God.

On the ground along the square, is a long raised path that is paved in marble. Patrons of the sanctuary will sometimes walk, crawl, kneel, or lie down as they advance this tremendous distance to the chapel, which lies directly beside the tree where the apparition appeared. It is a painful process, and is seen as the deepest way in which to show reparation, devotion, and respect.


 It is difficult to describe the emotions that I felt. Let me preface this by saying, while I believe in a higher power, circumstances of life have made it difficult for me to be a true believer of any singular religion. I was raised as a Catholic, and spent years as a child attending church in addition to attending a private catholic school. However, my dad is currently a practitioner of Buddhism and I have also attained some of those values as well.

In witnessing the devout attendees of the sanctuary, an overwhelming sense of sadness hit me. I was jealous. In their faces, it was clear that they believed without doubt in the power of God, Jesus, and the mercy of Mary. They were willing to experience pain, and sacrifice symbolic wax figures, in hopes of answers for their prayers. I truly wish that I could also feel this, believe this, and accept this higher power without question. Even when my travel companions went to confession, I refused, having not been in confession for more than a decade. I wanted to attend, but I didn’t know how I could start when it’s been so long since I have had faith.

Is there a religion that you believe in? What keeps your faith strong and persevering?

Travel: Fatima NightLife

I LOVE BEER - Collection Bar
My friend insisted that I get the opportunity to experience some of the local nightlife, So at 11 PM I found myself at a bar called “I ❤ Beer” with a handful of her friends. Since being in europe, I have made an effort to drink beers that are less accessible back in America, thus, I found myself enjoying a large bottle of Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse. After enjoying a diverse range of conversation topics ranging from life, to death, to current troubles, it was already 2 AM! I truly applaud her friends for using English (their second language) and making an effort to more effectively communicate with me.

To my surprise, the night was not over! We headed over to a Disco Club called Lerias Bar (things apparently don’t kick off here until around 2 AM). It was an 80’s night, and I enjoyed some old american throwbacks, and also got exposed to popular Portuguese artists from back in the day. They also have present-day record artists, but saturday 80’s nights tend to have the best crowd.

Back home, I’m used to bars & clubs closing around 2 AM; In Portugal, the average is around 5 AM. Fortunately, the group called it a night around 4 AM, so I was back in the house and in bed by 4:30 AM.

What a night! It was an alternative glimpse of the youth party-culture in Portugal.

What exotic places have you partied in? In Mexico, we witnessed a Tequila Fire Tower, unfortunately we couldn’t get any good pictures.

Travel: Exploring Sintra

Since it was a gorgeous day on Saturday, We explored the gorgeous landscape of Sintra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with royal residences scattered along the mountain top. Its historical buildings date from the 8th to 9th centuries.

Political Situation of Portugal Circa 1065

Portugal Circa 1065

The Castle of the Moors is one of the oldest structures, it was designed as a military outpost by the Arabs to protect the territory’s population. Despite the Moor Badajoz King’s transfer of these territories to secure an alliance with the Christian king (Alfonso VIin 1031, and the castle ultimately surrendered in the Conquest of Lisbon (1147) to the forces of Alfonso Henriques.

Due to limited time, and the expenses associated with visiting each of these castles, we opted to visit the most well-known, the Pena National Palace. It is one of the best examples of 19th century Romanticism in the world.

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It originated as a Chapel  to “Our Lady of Pena” which was built as homage to the virgin mary after an apparition. In 1493, when King John II made a pilgrimage to the site, and his successor,  King Manuel I, constructed a monastery there dedicated to the Order of Saint Jerome. The area was devastated by the Great Lisbon Earthquake, and left largely untouched until the fascinated Fernando II acquired the monastery and it’s surrounding area, and commissioned Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege for the design. The last Queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, was the last royal family member to stay at this palace before her exile.

When you first emerge from the palace steps, a dramatic and dark bay window greets you. It is a clear representation of the Neo-Gothic style, and presents an allegory for the creation of the world, utilizing the depiction of a newt.

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As you progress through the castle, you can see the Islamic roots, this is particularly evident in the Arab Room which depicts domed ceilings decorated with intricate Arabesque detailing.

The palace does not uniformly draw its aesthetics from one style, rather it is an intentional eclectic merging of of Neo-GothicNeo-ManuelineIslamic and Neo-Renaissance architecture. Since I stem from a design background, it is awe-inspiring to note the time spent on such delicate details. It’s a shame that although we recognize architectural history as an art form, it is not practiced in the modern day. Yes, we continue to study the progression and origins of these classic styles, but it is becoming a lost art, much like the extinction of traditional crafts.

What are your thoughts on lost heritage? What can we do as a society to prevent the death of such vital history?

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