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Oporto – Praias

A couple of images from some early morning walks (this has become a tradition by now) in two beaches in the North of Porto: Praia de Mindelo (foggy morning) and Praia de Árvore (clear day).

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Oxford

Two years ago, we went to Oxford as a friend had just moved there and organized a house warming. We had a great time there, and decided to establish a new tradition for that, the Biennal Oxford BBQ, where we would come every other year to this famous city to share quality time with friends around a BBQ.

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Things move fast, and this year we came back for a second and probably last time as she is moving to another wonderful city in Europe, which we will soon be visiting, of course.

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The good thing of coming back to a place you know is that you can slow down during your stay. Walk slowly, and enjoy every piece of the city a bit more. I come from a few weeks getting up early, and this weekend was not an exception, so I went for a long walk along the Thames River and into an empty Oxford, where most of these pictures were taken.

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Switzerland

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Switzerland was in my wishlist to visit since a couple of years ago. Some friends moved there and had invited me, and a Toastmasters Conference provided the perfect excuse to spend a few days visiting this beautiful, small and extremely expensive country. 10 days had to do it, starting in Zurich visiting Elena and Hendrick, and ending in Winterthur with the Toastmasters conference.

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When I organized the days in between, I selected several cities to visit and only one mountain spot. After having seen them, I regret I had not put more mountain destinations in the agenda. Switzerland is really well organised for the travellers, and even solo travellers as me. Trains are expensive, but somehow affordable with some planning ahead, and you can get anywhere (even to the actual mountains) thanks to their dense network, which works like a Swiss clock.

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do… and so we did as the Swiss do: we went hiking to a mountain. In this case, we started with Mount Pilatus in Luzern: which was my first experience with the Swiss Alps, where mountains welcomes thousands of visitors, especially from Asia, who want to get as high as possible, with the least effort… And they can do it: it is just a matter of money. Most mountains have a cablecar which takes you to the summit or to any intermediate stop, for a ridiculous amount of money. In the information office, you receive a map with all the possible routes, which are clearly marked on ground too.

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We took the cablecar to an intermediate station and walked up to the next one. The main goal was not climbing to the summit, but getting to see the Lake Lucerne. We succeeded, and enjoyed lunch in a remote part of the track with amazing views. When we reached the upper station, we also had some fun riding the longest sommerroddelbahn (a dry toboggan, where you ride a wheeled cart) in Switzerland, before the rain took the scene and we had to go back by cablecar.

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The day after, it was time to visit Zurich, although the day was not very pleasant (cloudy, cold and even rainy), and that did influence my perception of the city: just another German-like one, except for the huge lake (Zurichsee), which provides the city with an extra dose of charm. Our walk included Banhofstrasse, with all the extremely-expensive shops were lined up; walk up to Lindenhof to enjoy an interesting view of the city, and the mandatory visit to the main churches in the Fraumünster, Grössmünster and St.Peterskirche, which has the biggest clock in Europe (where else!?).

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In the evening, we climbed Uetliberg, which is one of the mountains surrounding Zurich, with a good view over the city. Actually, we took a train to the summit, and we walked down back, climbing one mountain per weekend is already a lot.

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After Zurich, I headed to Lausanne, a beautiful city by the Geneva lake. It has a nice city centre with plenty of slopes. It was a grey day and I devoted the morning to the Olympic museum, which I do recommend to everybody. During the afternoon, walking around the city, suddenly the sun found some space among the clouds, and locals started to enjoy every minute of sunshine as they could, like that girl who spontaneously sat on the grass with her coffee-to-go for a few minutes before resuming her way back to work or school.

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Then, I took a train towards Interlaken, and this was probably the most beautiful train route from all the ones I saw. The tracks were on the upper part of a hill that started in the lake and that was full of vineyards, the sun was setting, and the local commuters had that face of tiredness and relax of those who finish a long working day.

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Interlaken was the highlight of the week there: a small town between two lakes, and really close to the some of the highest mountains in Switzerland, and with all kind of activities to do (hiking, climbing, skiing, paragliding, …).

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There are hundreds of hiking routes, so I decided to follow an advice I got in Zurich, and went for the Valley of the 52 Waterfalls: 6 km in a valley with the cliffs, typically formed by a glacier, and with waterfalls everywhere.

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At the end of the valley, I took a cablecar to Schilthorn, a peak at almost 3000 metres where I could enjoy the breathtaking of three mountains over 4000 metres (Tiger, Münch and Jungfrau) emerging from a sea of clouds. This place happened to be under construction when a James Bond movie asked them to record part of it there, and the movie investment was the last boost it needed.

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On my way back, I took a different path, stopped in Mürren and walked back on the upper part of the cliffs through the trees, in a route of 7 km with a significant slope down.

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Before arriving to Winterthur, there was time for a stop in Lucerne, this time with a more city tourism approach. Lucerne is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland, and I do agree on this evaluation: difficult to compete with a medieval town in such a wonderful location, amid high mountains, and at the lakeside… Lucerne is an easy spot to visit, as the size is not very big, but its city centre, the Musseg Wall and the Chapel Bridge do deserve some time to wander and enjoy.

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The last stop was Winterthur, which hosted the Toastmasters conference. Winterthur is a city north of Zurich, whose main highlights are some art and photo museums (which i could not visit as the only free day was Monday) and the revitalised Sulzer factory which is now home of offices and plenty of different businesses.

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Although I had saved Monday to visit the city, we ended up in a small tour to two interesting spots near the German border: the Rheinfall, Europe’s largest plain waterfalls, and Stein am Rhein, a cozy and well-preserved medieval town near the Lake Constance, which made it a perfect climax for this interesting trip to a new country.

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Venice

When taxi is not even an option to get to your accommodation from the airport, you already know you are in a very special place. This is the case for Venice, a city occupying completely over 100 islands, where cars have no access, and transportation looks to the water: private boats, vaporettos (the Venice equivalente to buses), water taxis, or romantic gondolas.

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As the agenda for the weekend looks quite busy with little time for sightseeing, I decide to get up early and explore the city for a couple of hours before breakfast, and a couple of early bird colleagues join me. This happens to be a great decision, as this city of 60,000 inhabitants hosts an average of 100,000 daily visitors, which remove part of its charm, and none of them are there before breakfast. The city is almost ours.

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In the early morning, Venice is an empty city. The narrow streets are only populated by some young people who come back from crazy party nights out, runners seizing the few hours without intense heat, some people unloading boats with goods for the bars and restaurants, and photographers looking for the best light for their postcard pictures. They are not the only photographers you see, as the still calm Piazza San Marco hosts a number of brides and grooms photo sessions, especially Asian ones.

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When we arrive to the Gran Canal, an image strikes us: a huge cruise is being towed by two tugboats through the canal. Later we will see several posters announcing a referendum for limiting the access of those huge boats to Venice canale. Our local colleague explains us that Venice is considering limiting also the number of tourists a day, by asking for an access fee.

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If you are planning to go to Venice, take just one advice: avoid the tourists, even if you are one of them… it is worth it.

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Mar Menor

La clásica salida en velero a principios de junio es la bienvenida oficial al verano: sol, calor, y el agua a una temperatura que invita al baño (salvo sensibilidad extrema). En esta ocasión, el plan era navegar hacia el Sur, tratando de pasar la noche fondeados en el Mar Menor. El año pasado teníamos el mismo plan, pero se frustró porque el fuerte viento de poniente había convertido este mar interior en una especie de río bravo, que nos obligó a hacer noche en el puerto Tomás Maestre.
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En esta ocasión, la previsión daba vientos moderados de Levante con una componente Norte, el cuál hacía factible cumplir nuestro objetivo de llegar en el día al Mar Menor con cierto margen de tiempo, y con una navegación muy cómoda.

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Tras una noche en el Puerto de Alicante, zarpamos el sábado por la mañana con un Dufour 34 en dirección a Tabarca, en ausencia de viento y de oleaje. Tras dejar Tabarca a babor, y con un poco más de viento, pusimos rumbo a Port Roig que es la única cala en esa zona de la costa con algo de resguardo, y donde comimos e inauguramos la temporada de baños “a gusto” (al baño en Ibiza un mes antes le faltaban un par de grados más).
Tras esta pequeña parada, nos encaminamos al canal del Estacio donde llegamos justos para cruzar el puente que abre sólo durante unos pocos minutos cada dos horas. En esta ocasión, volvimos a ser los primeros en cruzar el puente, lo cual es bonito, pero siempre supone un poco de estrés para los que no tenemos bien medidos los tiempos.

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Preparando la travesía, leí en algunos foros náuticos que el Mar Menor se navega con calma, y eso fue precisamente lo que hicimos cuando llegamos, aprovechando el suave viento de popa que había y quitando el motor por completo. Una hora más tarde, llegamos a la Isla del Barón, donde fondeamos, nos bañamos y pasamos la noche prácticamente en soledad. La verdad es que tenía bastantes ganas de pasar una noche fondeado, porque que en las anteriores travesías de este año, por unos motivos u otros habíamos pasado todas las noches en movimiento o en puerto.
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La mañana del día siguiente la dedicamos a dar una vuelta (literal) al Mar Menor, donde la tripulación además pudo probar y coger práctica como timoneles en condiciones de viento moderado de amura; y volvimos a la Isla Perdiguera a comer. Aunque el agua en el Mar Menor sigue estando un poco turbia, esta cala tiene un color que nada envidia al Caribe. Tras la comida, emprendimos rumbo al canal del Estacio, para volver al Mediterráneo.
Una vez allí, pusimos rumbo directo a Torrevieja, donde pasaríamos la noche. La idea inicial era fondear dentro del puerto, pero las circunstancias nos hicieron cambiar de plan. El primer intento de fondeo, justo detrás de la escollera, fue fallido, y, al levantar el ancla para repetir la operación descubrimos el porqué: habíamos enganchado nuestro ancla con un ancla “abandonada” en el fondo. No fue tarea sencilla deshacer el entuerto, y finalmente subimos a cubierta el ancla recuperada del mar, para tirarla a la basura.
Cambiamos de lugar de fondeo dentro del puerto y nos pusimos más cerca de la playa. Cuando habíamos fondeado, nos dimos cuenta de que estábamos justo en la ruta de salida de uno de los pequeños puertos de Torrevieja, por lo que levantamos el fondeo y decidimos acercarnos a una de las marinas a tirar la basura. Al abarloarnos al muelle de espera, uno de los tripulantes se hizo un pequeño corte con el ancla, que estaba oxidada, lo cual precipitó la decisión de pasar la noche en el puerto, para poder ir al hospital a por la antitetánica. Tras dos días con ciertas limitaciones, la ducha de agua caliente te parece un lujo asiático y la disfrutas como tal.

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El último día ya sólo quedaba volver a Alicante, con la parada de rigor en Tabarca para disfrutar un “arroz del senyoret”. Durante la travesía hacia la Isla Plana, vimos unos peces raya, por los que nos detuvimos unos minutos para disfrutar su particular forma de nadar. El fondeo en la playa de Tabarca fue un poco más complicado de lo habitual, ya que había bastante viento y muchas embarcaciones de diversa índole fondeadas en el poco espacio resguardado por la isla.
Tras el arroz y un último susto en forma de pinchazo (nota mental: alejarse mucho más, aunque sea una zona conocida), aunque sin daños para la embarcación, llegamos al Puerto de Alicante con el tiempo justo de coger los vuelos y trenes de vuelta a nuestros orígenes.
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