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La Quinta das Lagrimas and the Legend of Ines

By on Apr 23, 2014 in Travel | 0 comments

A tale of star-crossed lovers, a fountain sprung from tears, a garden tangled with romanticism and wild-flowers – La Quinta das Lagrimas in Coimbra, Portugal, is an enchanted place of medieval intrigue, love and tragedy. The moment I read about La Quinta das Lagrimas, my travel plans – only ever loosely made anyway – shifted to accommodate a visit. I am something of a hopeless romantic when it comes to medieval literature and history, so the legend of Ines de Castro enthralled me. The Quinta – or country estate, which doesn’t sound nearly as romantic – is located in the city of Coimbra, long renowned as a centre of learning. Ines was a real Spanish-Portuguese noblewoman, who became the lover of the Portuguese King, with whom she had several children. However, when the Queen died and the King announced that he would marry Ines, it was to the horror of...

Book Review: Night Train to Lisbon

By on Mar 26, 2014 in Books | 0 comments

First published in German in 2004, the first English edition of Night Train to Lisbon was released in 2008. Last year, a film based on the book came out – something for a later review. Deeply literary and philosophical, it is a book which divides opinion, but it will certainly leave you thinking.  Year of release: 2004 (German edition); 2008 (English translation) Author: Pascal Mercier Translator: Barbara Harshav Rating: 4 stars The Book This is the story of Raimund Gregorius, a staid and predictable professor of ancient languages who lives his life to an entirely set routine, quietly impressing his students with his outstanding knowledge and total reliability. Until one day, when a woman in a red coat writes a phone number on his forehead and leaves him with the whisper of one word in his mind: Português. For the first time, Gregorious abandons his routine. He tracks down...

A Lisbon Literature Tour

By on Mar 18, 2014 in Europe, Travel | 6 comments

We were standing on the Santa Justa bridge in Bairro Alto, looking out at Lisbon’s terracotta rooftops spilling down the hillsides. The sun, now a deep orange, was just hitting the tops of the church spires, bathing the whitewashed buildings in rays of burnished light. The Rio Tejo glinted and glimmered in the distance. It was the second-to-last stop on my Lisbon Literature Tour. My guide, Rafael, was explaining part of a story in which two people, fleeing from Europe in the Second World War, are desperate for tickets for the ship bound for America. A man offers them the two tickets they need, in return for one evening spent in his company, wandering through Lisbon’s streets as he tells his sad story, and how it is that he came to be in Lisbon, giving up two tickets to freedom. “You must remember this for me,” says the man, as he bids them goodbye. “For I...

Cultural Berlin in 4 images

By on Mar 12, 2014 in Europe, Photography, Travel | 1 comment

Toting my camera around Berlin was a rewarding experience and – as my friends will wearily attest – I took a lot of photos. The blend of architecture, from soviet blocks to modern glass, the free rein given to graffiti artists, and the open-air museums offering both iconic history and stunning art, offer a particularly potent blend for the photography-mad. I’ve narrowed down my vast album of wonky, blurred and not-perfectly-composed images, taken in excitement and haste, to these four, which show some of Berlin’s main cultural attractions.   East Side Gallery A huge, reconstructed section of the Berlin Wall in Kreuzberg gives some impression of the scale of it, and of the eerie Nomansland in between the two sides. The wall is covered in original artworks from 1990, celebrating freedom and expressing political messages. Due to huge amounts of graffiti, some...

Nikolaiviertel: Berlin’s oldest district

By on Mar 3, 2014 in Europe, Travel | 2 comments

Berlin is an indisputably cool city. It is the punk-rock, graffiti-artist, high-school dropout of European capitals – the kind of character I am vaguely in awe of, slightly scared of, and will just never be. I was definitely in awe of the city; of its restored sections of Wall, complete with murals and graffiti, of the real-life punks, with shaven heads and hundreds of piercings, of the monumental, soviet, East Berlin architecture. But then, on our last morning in the city, my friends and I discovered Berlin’s oldest district, Nikolaiviertel, and I felt like I had found my little piece of Berlin. Nikolaiviertel is unmistakably medieval in appearance and character, though most of it has been restored since the Second World War. It is right at the centre of Berlin, between the Rathaus and Cathedral, very close to Alexanderplatz. But its small jumble of streets, just wide...

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