Travel + Leisure, The Feasts of Tel Aviv, July Issue

 
 

“…From pickled mussels to sardines with shushka peppers to glazed pork belly, charred eggplant and much, much more…Tel Aviv may look like South Beach on the eastern Mediterranean, but the food is ‘influence-rich, ingredient-agnostic, and genre-busting’I am very honored to introduce my recent shoot for Travel + Leisure, July Issue: Welcome to The Feasts of Tel Aviv. 

A few months ago I was contacted by the Photo Editor of Travel+Leisure, asking me if I was interested in shooting the Food Scene in Tel Aviv for an upcoming Summer issue. Of course I said Yes. Even though I am not a foodie, I LOVE photographing food and style some table scenes. My Food assignment started with an item about HaCarmel Market in April issue and continued with an exciting list of some of the busiest restaurants in Tel Aviv, run by some of the Top Chefs in the Israeli Culinary arena.

Restaurants such as Yaffo Tel Aviv by chef Haim Cohen, HaSalon and Port Said, run by chef Eyal Shani, Alma Lounge Bar, to chef Yonatan Roshfeld. In addition I had to photograph Gil Hovav, a well known food writer, TV host, book publisher and producer. I photographed Gil in HaCarmel Market and it was fun watching how he interacts with his fans and how people in the street stop him to acknowledge him.

If you wonder if I ate some of the food, the answer is No. Not really. I was so busy making sure I have the appropriate light or the appropriate lighting equipment and even making sure the chefs themselves feel comfortable and at ease, that I really could not sit down and relax at the end of the shoot. But nevertheless, the experience was AMAZING and I enjoyed every minute of it. At Yaffo Tel Aviv I peeped into the kitchen and saw how they make their own pasta. I also got some tips from chef Haim Cohen in case I visit Georgia. In HaSalon restaurant I ended up having a long conversation with Eyal Shani (even though I was quite nervous to photograph him) and in Port Said I had to be very fast and specific if I wanted to get that specific frame by my ‘hand models’ (I had only 30 minutes).

Every shooting assignment is a learning experience and teaches me something new. Beside the fact I get to know Tel Aviv MOSTLY from the shooting assignments I get, this Food Scene shoot taught me how to communicate with Top Master chefs (who have their reputation and ego) so I can get from them the shots and frames I want. It also taught me to plan my shoots ahead of time but also be open for changes on the set, and above all, it introduced me with some of the best food in Tel Aviv, I was not yet familiar with.

Here is the final result, the cooked dish. You can read more here, The Feasts of Tel Aviv. 

But wait, there is more….

Apparently, the Photo Editor was so happy with the shoot, that she chose one of the Port Said Table Scene as an opener for the July section. I LOVE how this shot came out.

Don’t you just want to jump into the frame and eat what’s in it?

 
 
 
 
 

Semiramis Hotel; By Karim Rashid

 
 

Since I first came across the NHOW Hotel in Berlin, designed by Karim Rashid, I keep looking for more hotels and projects he designs. I was lucky enough to meet Karim a few times in person; Twice in New York, (both in his old and new studios) and once in Tel Aviv, where he is currently designing a new hotel, planned to be opened in October. While I am hoping and planning to shoot the next hotel in Tel Aviv, I had the opportunity to stay it one of the first hotels he designed. The Semiramis Hotel located in one of the most affluent and leafy suburb in Athens, called Kifissia. I wish I had more time to stay in Kifissia and at Semiramis but I was on my way to Milos for a shoot. It is such a magical area that one of my close friends described it: ‘If I ever want to disappear for a little bit, I can easily go to Kifissia’. 

I arrived at the hotel on a Sunday afternoon after a long flight from New York in which I didn’t really have the chance to sleep. Regardless, I was anxious to walk around the colorful hotel and discover some of Karim’s signature designs and style.

When the description of the hotel goes like this..“Semiramis is what happens when you give a hot designer total control”…I need to see it in my own eyes and cameras

So let’s start with the Pool:

As a long time swimmer, I do tend to check out the swimming pools first when I check in to hotels. Even though the Semiramis pool is not a lap one, it was quite hard to ignore it. The pool is shaped in a fluid curved shape, typical to Karim Rashid’s style and colored in shades of turquoise and neon green. To complement Karim chose white sun-beds with pinkish color umbrellas, dotted with white. To be honest, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this pool. I tried to cover every angle. A mosaic dark blue fountain adds a decadent touch and border between the pool area and the area around the hotel.

The Facade:

Only by seeing the colors of the Sun terraces (Lime Green) I knew I arrived at one of Karim’s playgrounds. The facade is totally different to the Greek typical style, and this is what I actually love about Karim’s style. His designs are ALWAYS extraordinary. To enter the lobby I had to walk through a glowing pink glass cube and to be warmly welcomed by one of the staff, offering me a glass of sparkling water.

The YES Lobby:

As Semiramis is part of the YES! Hotels group, the Artwork ‘YES’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster is definitely a great visual welcoming sign. The affirmative “YE$” sign presents the familiar dollar symbol in a bright display of shimmering lights flickering on and off before the viewer. I enjoyed watching this sign when I got back to Semiramis after an evening stroll in Kifissia. On a bright Pink wall the Artwork ‘VBGDW’ by Vanessa Beecroft is also a welcoming gesture. ‘VBGDW’ is a photo of Vanessa Beecroft’s wedding party in Portofino in September 2000. (Rumors say she is divorced now). The dark blue Wavelength Sofas designed by Karim, gave me a feeling as being under waves in the ocean.

The Bar and Dining Area: 

I just LOVE this bar and dining area. I felt as I was walking in one of the wings of a contemporary modern museum. And no wonder. Dakis Joannou, the hardworking owner of Yes! Hotels, is one of the foremost collectors of contemporary European art in Greece, and therefore is surrounding himself with objects that inspire him, from Art, Design and Architecture. I could spot two Artworks by Spencer Tunick, (The ‘New Vienna’ and ‘Krystl’) and the ‘Shutup’ Artwork by Michael Bevilacqua right above the seating area. On a Pink color carpet, Karim furnished the dining area with his signature Swing Chairs in addition to a lively lighting concept, especially commissioned from Focus Lighting in New York, under the direction of principal designer Paul Gregory. I love the Orange colored glass wall, which made a perfect dividing wall between the Bar and the Dining area. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really dine at Semiramis restaurant, as it was closed due to a private event. Well, it is a reason for me to go back…

Rooms:

Semiramis has three types of rooms; Standard rooms, 20 meters squared rooms overlooking the park of Kefalari. Queen bed and above bed- lighted murals offers a pop of color to the all-white feeling of tranquility of the room. The Superior rooms, 25 meters squared are overlooking either to the park or the great pool. (I was lucky enough to overlook the beautiful pool) and then there are The Pool Bungalows, 25 square meters, built as separate units alongside the pool and each bungalow has a King size bed  and a private small garden. I have stayed in one of the Superiors rooms overlooking the pool. I loved having a great afternoon light reflecting and glittering on my lime green terrace and watching the sunset over the hills around Kifissia. The hotel has its own sense of humor, which reflects well in the design; The rooms, for instance, don’t have numbers, but every floor has a color and each room has an icon. To find my room, I had to spot the icon across the hallway. Instead of the typical boring ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs, hanging on the door knobs, Karim decided to place electronic message boards at every room entrance, which guests can personalize from their in-room keyboards.

I’m really looking forward to see the next hotel designed by Karim Rashid, Sir Benjamin Hotel, coming soon in Tel Aviv.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Travel + Leisure; The World’s Greatest Hotels, 2014 Edition

 
 

Like every year, around April or May, the travel magazine, Travel +Leisure is publishing an annual book about the World’s Greatest Hotels. I was thrilled to participate in last year’s 2013 edition and shoot the Efendi Hotel in Acre, Israel. This year, for the 2014 edition, I was asked to shoot one of my favorite and colorful hotels in Tel Aviv, Alma Boutique Hotel. I was very happy to discover that one of the images made it

To see more images and a previous post about Alma Hotel, please click here.

In case you don’t have a chance to get the World’s Greatest Hotels’ book, here is the text about Alma;

‘To see what really makes Tel Aviv tick, head to the White City UNESCO World Heritage site, where design and architecture take center stage. Smack in the middle of it all, the Alma Hotel & Lounge has become the discerning traveler’s hotel of choice. Siblings Adi and Irit Strauss have created a patchwork of bohemian luxury in 15 airy rooms inspired by the 1920′s, each with bijou stained-glass windows and handwoven carpets. Yonatan Roshfeld, the chef behind nearby tapas hot spot Ahad Ha’am, lures Israeli socialites and Russian businessmen to the hotel’s namesake restaurant with Moroccan small plates (beets-topped raw beef kibbeh in sheep’s milk; lamb encrusted with red pepper, roasted garlic, thyme and sage). The artful menu perfectly complements the decor, which is lifted straight out of Paris’s Marais district; a smattering of jewel-toned chairs, checkered floors, and edgy contemporary artwork” 

 
 
 
 
 

Patisseries Galore in Paris

 
 

When people ask me what I do for a living and I answer: ‘Travel Photographer’ their first reaction is usually ‘Oh, so I guess you get to travel a lot and be in all these fancy hotels, right?’ 

Well, I DO travel a lot (after all, this is the only way for me to do my work) but being a travel photographer doesn’t necessarily mean I sunbath along the poolside in an exotic island while I am on assignment or stay in those super luxury hotels I get to shoot. Being a Travel Photographer also means following the client’s brief, carrying some heavy equipments (mostly all day on your back) spending a lot of time in front of the computer editing pictures (unless you have an assistant who does it for you) and marketing yourself among magazines, photo editors and potential clients because nobody else will do this for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my job! I get to explore a lot of buzzy and brill places, meet very interesting and diverse people from different ranges, see some marvelous interiors and eat delicious and exquisite cuisine. Yes, Just like one of my recent assignment in Paris.

On March I got one of the most enjoyable shooting assignment; To shoot a Patisseries Guide to Paris based on a popular blog in Israel called Paris Chez Sharon. I couldn’t ask for a better assignment which combined two of my favorite things; Patisseries and Paris. When my friends heard I was about to go to Paris to shoot some of the top Patisseries chefs and boutiques, they happily volunteered to be my assistants on board. I must admit, it was a dream assignment but it was also an intense one; Sharon, the blogger behind the book, made sure to schedule all the shoots in advance and it was managed as a well controlled military operation; I shot 32 (!) patisseries in 4 days, running around from one location to another, whereas in each location the Patisserie chef himself was welcoming us with something sweet to taste. As much as I care about my figure (especially on assignments) I couldn’t say No to a famous Patisserie chef or Chocolatier who hands me his best Patisserie in front of my face.

And Yes, I did try MOST of the desserts; after all, not everyday do I get to work with such a delicious client, right?

So here are few images that reflect my love to Patisseries and Paris.

Stay tuned for more delicious images soon… meanwhile, make sure to check the previous of the book here.

 
 
 
 
 

Featured in Elle Decor US, May Issue

 
 

I am very honored and excited to have my debut image of Porto featured as the travel story opener in Elle Decor US, May Issue.

Beside Travel Magazines that inspire me, Elle Decor is an inspiration for everything that has to do with design. Quite often I get myself a copy of the magazine and dive into the homes and lives of others. Therefore, I was quite excited when the Photo Editor of Elle Decor has contacted me two months ago, asking me to share some images I took of Porto.

I visited Porto last February and spent a long weekend in that old mysterious and gothic city. I was quite lucky to experience so much in such a little time and get a sense of that city, which left me, of course, with the desire and curiosity to visit it again and experience it even more. (Hopefully during the Summer Season).

If my A Long Weekend in Porto post doesn’t convince you to book a flight or a vacation in this city, maybe the fact that Porto has just been selected as the Best European City for 2014, will do the trick.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

The Laundry of the French Riviera

 
 

When I am not traveling on assignment, I often choose my travel destination from a picture I see of a place or an object. A picture that fuels my curiosity. It happened to me for Buenos Aires, where I traveled for a picture of a great Street Art mural. It happened to me for Hoi An Vietnam, where I traveled for a picture of the Full Moon in Tet Festival. It happened to me in Naples, where I traveled especially to shoot hanging laundry. And it happened to me in Menton in the French Riviera, for a picture of laundry hanging outside a yellow colored  house. (Thanks Millie Brown for your blog).

I am always in search of interesting areas and locations to shoot laundry as part of my on going personal photography project Intimacy under the Wires and when I saw that picture of laundry in the French Riviera, I knew it had to be my next destination.

So here I am. After an intense shoot in Paris, both for the Patisserie Guide to Paris and the food shoot of Rue du Nil, I have decided to take a train down south and search for French Laundry in Nice, Menton, Villefranch Sur Mer and Cap Ferrat.

Sivan Askayo-Menton Laundry-1-4

Sivan Askayo-Menton Laundry-1-5

Sivan Askayo-Menton Laundry-1

Sivan Askayo-Menton Laundry-1-2

Sivan Askayo-Menton Laundry-1-6

 

 
 
 
 
 

Travel + Leisure, April Food Issue

 
 

Tel Aviv is becoming quite a HOT destination recently, not only because of the weather, but mostly for the things it has to offer; Culture, Beach life, Night life and the Food. Oh yes…The Food.

Travel+Leisure April Issue is always a food related one. This April issue I was assigned to shoot the ‘Street Smart’ segment for ‘On the Radar’ and I found myself looking for a variety of interesting characters in HaCarmel Market in Tel Aviv. I must admit; I haven’t spent so much time in HaCarmel Market before, mostly because it is always busy and crowded. But for this assignment, I walked around the alleys in different hours of the day, spoke to Patrons, followed customers, photographed dogs, tried out some Humus places, Beer Bars and got myself familiar and comfortable with that special rhythm of the market.

I highly recommend to get yourself familiar with these locals picks…and if you are a foodie, stick around, because there is so much more to come.

 
 
 
 
 

The Casa das Penhas Douradas Hotel

 
 

Case des Penhas

One of the favorite parts of my job is shooting well designed hotels in various locations in the World. I wish I could stay in most of them, but it is not always possible, for various reasons. But when I DO have the opportunity to be a guest in these hotels, it is sometimes hard for me to take off the Photographer hat and switch it with the guest’s one.

During my visit to Central Portugal I had a wonderful surprise. My beautiful host, Silvia, who by the way, knows almost everyone in Central Portugal, told me we were about to stay in Casa das Penhas Dourades. I googled the name out of curiosity and saw some pictures (of course) and Silvia just blinked with her eyes with excitement. I didn’t ask much questions as I like surprises, so I was not aware of how amazing this hotel was and the story behind it.

The story starts in the village of Manteigas, down the mountain hills of Serra da Estrela in Central Portugal, in what used to be an abandoned building of the old Imperio Wool Factory, and now it is known as The Burel FactoryThe factory is owned by Joao Tomas and Isabel Costa, who are also the owners of the hotel.

Joao and Isabel, a couple in business and life, found the building (originally from the 19th century) which used to be a wool factory but was going through a bankruptcy. They seized the opportunity and bought the company with the existing machines (some of them are also dated back to the 19th century) and turned it into what it is now, The Burel Factory.

They opened the factory in March 2013 and managed to combine the old tradition of machineries with the young and up to date designers and artists, who work with them on various wool projects. I was lucky enough to have a tour at the factory (which, by the way, there is a free guided tour every day, you just need to schedule) and even see Isabel herself cutting and stitching some wool samples. Isabel mentioned the importance and uniqueness in using traditional machinery and equipment, especially from times when the industry was mostly hand-crafted. With lots of thought and care, both she and her husband managed to keep the past, reinvent and adjust it to the current needs of the market, but also think globally and look for ways of exporting the products outside of Portugal.

When Silvia and I arrived to the factory it was already the end of the day and the end of the week so most of the workers have left already. It was only Isabel and a few women who were at the factory, finishing up a long week of preparing samples for an upcoming exhibit in London. While I watched her working and managing both the factory and the hotel through some phone calls, Isabel shared with me that the factory produces few kinds of wool fabrics; flannel, melton, hounds tooth pattern, tweeds, prince of whales, you name it.

I love the idea that Isabel and Joao have decided to work with various young and creative designers. I think it is quite unique and has that touch of collective thinking. Among the products I could spot colorful blankets, shawls, scarves, hand bags, hats, upholstery of furniture (hand made and hand stitched- I concur) most of them are used in the hotel Casa das Penhas Dourades, and also acoustic panels used in offices and public areas to reduce sound. Some of these colorful acoustic panels are well used in Microsoft Headquarters in Lisbon.

So…I saw the promo at the factory, and it was just about time to head up the hill and drive to the hotel, located at the top of Serra da Estrela Natural Park.  Na

By the time we got to the top of the hill and parked the car, it was pouring rain outside and all I wanted was to get indoors and feel the warmth of the hotel. And Warmth was an understatement. The hotel is located at an altitude of 1500m and surrounded by an extensive mountain landscape and an unspoiled Nature. Due to this special location, the hotel is influenced by its surrounding and ‘communicates’ well its designed concept;  Rediscovering the beauty in simple things, just as with Nature. This is why the Architect, Pedro Brígida, kept using natural materials such as cork and wood alongside vast raw concrete walls. The cosy atmosphere was in the warmth of the wooden panels, the rawness of the wool, the comfort and ease of the chairs, the softness of the curves throughout the hotel, all in a discreet luxury.

Since it rained non stop outside and got quite foggy, I was ‘forced’ to stay indoors and enjoy that fuzzy, cosy, homey feeling the hotel could easily offer.

The Living Rooms:

There are some living rooms in the hotel, all are birch paneled and furnished with wooden chairs with colorful wool patterns straight from The Burel Factory. Fire place in every room, wool stitched rugs (also made at the factory), shelves filled with books, colorful retro lamps and comfortable armchairs, all to give you that inviting feeling of a space where you can watch your favorite movie, read your book or just make you want to sip that warm chocolate drink while it is snowing or raining outside.

The Dining Room: 

This might be one of my favorite areas in the hotel as it was accessible for guests 24 hours. If you fancy a tea or a fresh cookie early in the morning before breakfast is served, you can find it on one of the tables, neatly displayed. I love the simplicity in the dining area, the comfortable chairs, the colorful watercolor pictures on the walls and the place-mats made of… well… wool of course.

The hotel’s chef consultant is Luís Baena, one of the most important and well known Portuguese chefs. Our dinner was a candle-lit dinner, quiet and relaxed even though the dining area was busy with other diners. The food is considered a gourmet cuisine, using local products for the various dishes.

The Rooms:

The hotel has 17 rooms and a suite. (I was honored to be hosted on that super suite). The rooms are also birch paneled (same as the rest of the hotel) and have large windows and terraces with deck chairs and footrests. The rooms are facing the breathtaking views of the mountains, and the suite has these great ceiling windows, allowing more light to come through. Unfortunately, when I was there, it rained very hard and I could only lie down on one of these straight sofas and stare at the rain outside, falling on the window. I took advantage of this rainy day and got myself into the nice bath, which is also located under a ceiling window.

The rooms are very comfortable and keep the warm atmosphere throughout the hotel; Each room has a duvet, down pillows, central heating, dressing gown and slippers, free wi-fi, DVD and iPod Players, fruit basket and water. And yes, the blankets, the rugs, the furniture fabrics, are all made of wool, hand made and hand stitched at the Burel Factory.

It is great to see the final product so handy and useful.

The SPA:

As a swimmer, all I can say is that I wish I had some extra time to use this beautiful interior heated swimming pool and enjoy the panoramic view of the mountains while swimming. Unfortunately, my schedule was quite tight and busy and I ended up only peaking through. Beside the pool, there is a sauna,  a Vichy shower and a SPA with several rituals and massages using oils infused with Serra da Estrela plants.

 
 
 
 
 

Aveiro, The Venice of Central Portugal

 
 

My first introduction to Aveiro in Central Portugal was through the window of a train.

Last year I was taking a train ride from Lisbon to Porto and the train had a stop in Aveiro, allowing passengers to get off the train and get on. I remember when I looked outside the window, the first things I have noticed were the marvelous blue tiles and the figures decorating the walls of a white washed building. (The old train station) This sight got me fully awake. I remember writing down the name of the station ‘Aveiro’ and made a note to myself to be back and see that place again and not only through a window of a rushing train.

So here I am! A year after. I am keeping my promise and visiting this city.

Aveiro is the second biggest city after Coimbra in Central Portugal. I have stayed only 24 hours in Aveiro and I can easily describe it as a must destination for Art Nouveau lovers and for those who blue azulejo (Portuguese tiles) make them tick. (Me).

Here are some of my favorites ‘to do’s’ of the city of Aveiro;

* Taking a Boat Ride along the Canals: Aveiro is known and nick named as the ‘Portuguese Venice’ thanks to its canals, the bridges over the canals and the painted colorful moliceiros (boats) which replace the gondolas in Venice. The original usage of the moliceiro was to transfer the harvest of seaweed, which was the main source of fertilizing the farmland of Aveiro, but these days they are mostly touristic and used for boat rides along the canals. The moliceiros are known for their bold colors and humorous decorations (including nudity) that ridicule situations of everyday life. Even though it might be too touristy (and I’m against everything touristy) sometimes it’s fun to have a boat ride, especially before sunset.

* Aveiro’s old Train Station: Even if you don’t travel to Aveiro by train, don’t miss a visit to the old train station. The white washed facade is covered with blue Portuguese tiles (azulejos) which tell a story of a typical everyday life in the ancient times in Portugal. This train station was built in 1861 and the constructions last for three years. It was opened for service on April 10, 1864. This station is currently not in use, as a new and modern building next door is now serving as the new train station. If you want to learn more about the history of the city, there is no need to open a History book. Just tour around this station.

* Art Nouveau Architecture: If you are a fan of Art Nouveau movement in general and Art Nouveau Architecture in specific, you should visit Aveiro. Walking in the streets, especially alongside the river, bring a lot of encounters with this style; The usage of exposed iron and large, irregularly shaped pieces of glass for buildings is fairly common. There is also a special museum for Art Nouveau, Museu de Arte Nova, located in Casa Major Pessoa, a true icon of Art Nouveau architecture. Casa Major Pessoa was initiated by Mario Belmonte Person in 1907 and was designed by the architects Francisco Augusto da Silva Rocha and Ernesto Korrodi .The building was purchased by the city of Aveiro in 2004 and in 2008 was converted to what it is now, a museum. It is a relatively  small museum. The spread of Art Nouveau (Arte Nova) in Portugal flourished mostly in Porto and Aveiro.

* The Biggest Collection of Colorful Portuguese Tiles: I have been to various cities in Portugal before visiting Aveiro, but walking through the little streets of the old part of the city, it seems as though Aveiro has the biggest and maybe the most diverse collection of Portuguese tiles which are decorating the walls of the buildings. The first time I saw this design called ‘walls covered with ceramic tiles’ was in Lisbon. I remember taking a lot of pictures of these building (mostly located around Alfama area). But being in Aveiro, I didn’t put the camera down. Every building was different than the one next to it, both in color and the pattern of the ceramic tile, making my photography experience even richer and more exciting.

* The Stripped Houses of Costa Nova: A short driving distance from Aveiro toward the ocean, you can discover a typical beach where the charm of many wooden houses with colorful strips is quite exceptional. If you can plan your visit, make sure not to miss the sunset or sunrise over Costa Nova, when the colors of the houses are dramatically showing. Beside the ‘haystacks’ (the name for these wooden stripped houses) Costa Nova is also one of the great Portuguese beaches for water sports, windsurfing and kitesurfing. Walking along these colorful houses made me feel as I was visiting the movie set of ‘The Truman Show’, maybe because the houses looked quite the same and the streets were quiet and still. Or maybe my imagination was just running wild. Regardless, bring your camera to have some picture-perfect spots there, all hours of the day.

* O Barrio Restaurant: O Barrio Restaurant (opened in 2012) is a young, trendy and hype restaurant which gives the traditional Portuguese cuisine a fun twist. The owners of O Barrio wanted to keep the roots and tradition of Aveiro, but also to approach a younger crowd with less traditional palette. The menu is quite colorful and diverse; small fish dishes, grilled and stewed, small burgers, sea food soup and great desserts. Even though I’ve spent only 24 hours in Aveiro, I made sure to visit the restaurant twice(!) as I wanted to try the different dishes as much as possible. The service is really good and friendly and there is a good chance to see one of the owners enjoying a family dinner sitting at the table next to you.

My favorite dish in O Barrio (rest assure I had it twice, right?) was the combination of a Cheesecake and the Ovos Moles. Ovos Moles is a typical dessert from Aveiro, made with egg yolk and tons of sugar. All of this goodness comes with an orange flavor ice cream and crusted dough. For me, it looked like the Pac Man figure I used to play when I was way younger. Nevertheless, this dessert is delicious. Don’t miss it.

Whether you are taking a train from Lisbon to Porto, or going on a day trip out from Coimbra, don’t skip Aveiro. Spend at least a day or two (I wish I had more time to explore) and enjoy a quiet city, which combines the old and the new, the crumbling buildings in the old town vs.the modern and advanced University of Aveiro, the colorful tiles decorating the buildings and the over – the  -top sweet Ovos Moles and other egg based desserts.

 
 
 
 
 

The University City of Coimbra

 
 

Coimbra Vista View, Central Portugal

When I look at the pictures I took of Coimbra, and mostly those of Coimbra University, I feel as I still need to pinch myself to realize that the places I have visited were actually real, and not part of a Harry Potter’s movie set. It might sound like a cliche, and I might not be the only one to feel like that, but walking through the University halls and courtyards, running into students wearing their typical uniforms of black robes, patterned with colored patches and symbols, made me wonder if I was about to meet Harry and his friends in the next corner.

Truth is, when I mentioned this similarity to the University tour guide, she confirmed my thoughts and told me that J.K Rowling used to live in Porto for a few years and was inspired by her visits to Coimbra, which later were transcribe in the Hogwarts Aesthetic, including the uniform.

Coimbra is known as the Medieval Capital of Portugal for over a hundred years, and the University, which is considered one of the greatest in the world for the past five centuries, plays a significance role in the Portuguese history. In 2013 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of the notable University buildings include the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Cruz, the Royal Palace of Alcacova, which housed the University since 1537, the Joanine Library with its phenomenal rich Baroque decor, the 18th century Botanical Garden and University Press, as well as the large ‘University City’ created during the 1940s.

As the University is situated on a hill overlooking the city, there are a lot of students dorms/fraternities called ‘Republicas’ down the hills, each Rebublica holds a different facade and its residents’ characters. There are currently over 24 Republics in operation, with almost all of them grouped in the Council of Republics (CR), which meets the request of any of the houses that compose it and take its decisions unanimously. A friend of mine, who used to be a member in one of the Republicas few years ago, told me there is an unwritten rule that whenever an alumni is coming to Coimbra, he can stay in his original Republica.

I visited the University at the end of February and the streets around the University were quite calm. My guide rest assured me that this time of the year was not really portraying the University atmosphere. ‘If you can’ she said, ‘come and visit us in the beginning of May, at the end of the second semester for the Queima das Fitas festival’. This festival, (The Burning of the Ribbons) which represents the end of the Academic year, is one of the biggest student parties in all Europe and it lasts eight days, a day for each of the University Faculty. It includes a parade of the University students, sport activities and the historic night-time Student Fado serenade (Serenata Monumental) which takes place in the stairs of the Cathedral in front of a crowd of thousands of students, alumni, tourists and visitors.

One of the highlights of my visit to Coimbra (which turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Portugal) was getting this special opportunity to photograph the Joanine Library from the inside. When the University tour guide opened the heavy doors that lead inside the library, I was at awe. And yes, I had to pinch myself and soak in all this beauty. While I was taking pictures of this beautiful Baroque Style Library, I had to remind myself to give my eyes a rest from the camera’s viewfinder, to really absorb this beauty.

The Library, which was built in 1717 during the reign of King John the 5th, (you can see his majestic portrait below) is located on the ruins of the former Medieval royal prison. The magnificent interior (stone floor patterned with geometric motifs, plaster ceilings decorated with allegorical trompe-l’oeil paintings and real gold leaves decorating the shelves) clearly connected with the Portuguese Empire of that period.

When I climbed the narrow steps to the second level of the library, just to have a better view and to understand its enormous amount of books, (57,000) the University tour guide leaned toward me and whispered that behind these shelves of books there is a real school of bats (!) that keep the moth away. (Harry Potter, remember?) At the same breath she mentioned that the library contains an amazing collection of 15th century Judaica, including the Abravanel family Bible and documents of the Coimbra Inquisition.

After taking a great amount of pictures of the library, we walked outside through the Via Latina, right into the Great Hall of Acts, where most of the Academic ceremonies are taking place. This is where grad students and Doctoral students are presenting and defending their thesis, where the official opening of the Academic year is taking place and where ranks of honors are given to particular people. I could only imagine how does it feel to be a student in Coimbra University, presenting his thesis under the investigating eyes of Afonso Henriques, the King of Portugal, portrayed on a large canvas on the wall.

To show respect, hierarchy and admiration, the students must sit lower than the eye level of the faculty.

Each faculty of the University is defined by a different color. The Faculty of Medicine, for example, is characterized by the Yellow color, and the Yellow Room (walls lined with yellow silk wall paper) is where the meeting of the constituent bodies of the Faculty took place. The paintings on the walls are of 19th century Rectors of the University. The Coimbra Faculty colors are: Forest Green- represents the University, Red is for Law, Yellow for Medicine, Royal Blue for Humanities, Sky Blue and White stand for Sciences and Technology, Purple is the color of Pharmacy, Red and White is Economics, Orange represents Psychology, Brown is for Sports Science and Black and White is for the Student’s Union. These colors, by the way, will be presented as patterns or patches on the students robes, bags and notebooks.

I highly recommend to take a guided tour when you visit the University of Coimbra. Whether you are a Harry Potter’s fan or not, the stories, the facts, the additional information you get to hear, are somewhat better than the movie.

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