Friday, July 19, 2013

Disconnected Worlds

Walk towards the 'point' in Parque das Nações
That was the 28th of June, the late night 12.15 a.m after the Porto trip. Enjoying Dim Sum in a Cantonese restaurant in Arroios, I was thinking of the day of return to Sri Lanka, which was just a few more days ahead. It was just 10 months in Lisbon, and for many of the readers, this period may be awfully short. But I should note that these 10 months were the best part of my life, so far. My mind was empty when I came to Lisbon. I earned lots of friends during my stay, which essentially had filled my mind full of memories. One thing I liked most about Erasmus Mundus is, it had offered us an immediate set of friends. As a set of foreign students, we all had become a clique, regardless of our cultural diversity.

Staring at a fish tank
Though we are separated by the ocean, I thought, we are still connected. We are still living in a connected world. I was wondering, how horrible that we force fish and birds to live in disconnected worlds by capturing them from their natural habitats to our fish tanks and cages. Probably they will miss their loved ones, forever. Just imagine, what would happen if you are dropped at Mars with a no return journey to the Earth (refer to the Mars One initiative)! 

Reverse Cultural Shock?
A big fish in Lisbon Oceanarium
When I came to Lisbon, I was thinking, what would I feel when I return to Sri Lanka. I thought, I would be really excited. I would not really miss anyone, because I will anyway meet all my friends again at Sweden! But what happened? Lisbon was not a mere place where I studied for a few months. Rather, it redefined me. It let me see the world in another perspective. I earned more friends than I thought. The life was simple; but complicated and complex. I was happy and sad at the same time. Then I realized, I was just sad. While I was walking towards the gate after the security checking in the Lisbon airport, I realized that I am leaving my heart in Lisbon. I will be back, I said myself. Lisbon had written so much into my memory. The days in Sri Lanka introduced a reverse cultural shock to me. I knew about it; but never thought it would happen to me, myself.

Back to 2012?
In Sri Lanka, I had the chance to meet my beloved lecturers and my friends. I started to become active. I thought of writing something on my blog, since it was starting to lose its technological essence once more, as I haven't blogged on technical stuff, after the series of posts on Jikes RVM. However, all I had was the thoughts and reflections of Lisbon. I feel like I have left some of myself at Lisboa!

Living Light Weight
Before my Erasmus Mundus life, it never occurred to me that I will have to shrink my belongings to some luggage. Travelling have to be light weight, and due to the mandatory mobility involved in the Erasmus Mundus, we also have to live light-weight. This involved a decision making on what to throw and what to take back with me.

I had some free time, and I decided to review the places I visited in Lisbon. I started writing reviews at TripAdvisor, which I didn't do for almost a year. You may have a look at my reviews. Oh, I am a proud Senior Contributor of TripAdvisor. I found the blog post, "What Happens When You Live Abroad" sharing same sentiments as me on living abroad.

My friend pointed me out recently, when I was chatting with friends from Lisbon, over the Facebook. That site is indeed useful for anyone who is travelling to Lisbon for the first time. What I like about their site is, they keep it simple. Click through the tabs, and make sure you visit this site on a later day again, as this site is pretty much new and currently being updated.

Erasmus Mundus Presentation at the University of Moratuwa

Today I gave an introductory talk to the Erasmus Mundus program for the final year students of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. The presentation slides which complimented the discussion are given above, though the presentation doesn't capture much of the topics discussed in the session. I enjoyed doing the talk and the students showed great interest and involvement. 

This was a quick introduction to the Erasmus Mundus program, based on my personal experience with Erasmus Mundus after completing the first year of EMDC (European Master in Distributed Computing) at Instituto Superior Tecnico, Lisbon. My blog posts on my stay in Lisbon can be found here. Feel free to drop me a line, if you require further information on this.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Till I see you again..

Seagulls everywhere, just like our crows!
[29/06/2013] - We wanted to pay a quick visit to the south of Portugal following the visit to Porto, as we had initially planned a few weeks back. Since we were running out of time, we just wanted to make it a day trip. Our target was Lagos. Rede Express has a direct bus to Lagos, unlike the train which goes up to Faro, and requires changing to a urban train to Lagos. The bus went from Lisboa to Lagoa, Portimao, and finally reached Lagos. It took 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Beaches of Algarve are really popular. We preferred Lagos over Faro, as Faro gets a bit overcrowded during the summer. First we had a boat trip of an hour to the caves and cliffs of the region by a small boat, starting from the Lagos beach, for 10 Euro. It offered us a picturesque view. Our initial plan was to go on a dolphin visit (which costs 25 Euro) for 1.5 hours by boat. We were feeling dizzy after the boat ride, and had to drop our plan. But we realized, had we gone by a bigger boat, we wouldn't have felt that much uncomfortable.

Cliffs of Lagos
Meia Praia
We spent the rest of the evening under the shade in Meia Praia (half beach). We had to pay 6 Euro per shade, from 4 p.m onwards. But it worths it. The beach was warm. But was full of algae, which made us avoid having a bath or swim. I never had realized that the summer in the Europe gets this hot, to 40 °C.

Finishing Touches
[30/06/2013] - This evening was a bit tiresome and full of mixed feelings. I had a lots of things to throw. I put the clothes and shoes that I don't want to take back with me into the Humana Portugal bin. I hope they will be useful to someone in need.


My last dinner before leaving Lisbon was at my most favourite Restaurante Destino of Restauradores, with some sparkling wine. I feel like, my brain had lately started to function to just a limited extend. I already started to miss Lisboa. However, I am happy that my 10 months stay in Portugal was just perfect, and had nothing to regret. I realize how fast the time has gone, since the most remarkable eve of the new year. We are now saying good bye to the first half of 2013.

This is NOT the end
[01/07/2013] - Lisbon - Week 45: This is going to be the last post on the series "Lisbon - Weekxx" till I get back to Lisbon for my thesis, end of this year. Today was not so easy. In fact, it was one of the most difficult days in my life. Many of the things are left unwritten, as they are beyond the scope of Llovizna. I feel like missing everything. The day was full of tears, that I have never experienced before. Good bye Lisboa, till I see you again!


Sao Bento Railway Station
[28/06/2013] - Lisbon - Week 44: This week was full of farewells and tears as most of us have already started leaving Portugal, finishing our first year in EMDC. This week's highlight was the visit to Oporto (better known by its Portuguese name, Porto). The trip extended from the 25th to the 27th of June.

We reached Porto - Campanha on train by the noon. We got the andante card for 3 days (72 hours), so that we can freely travel around using the buses, metro, and the funicular. We could check in by 2 pm. We reached Trindade, by metro, and started walking to Aliados, and to Sao Bento, along the yellow line of Metro, visiting all the interests on our way. It seemed like all the cultural heritages of Porto are clustered between Aliados and Sao Bento. Having the lunch at Sao Bento, we took the metro to the station Marques, and checked in at Tropical Residences. The evening trip included a visit to Jardim do Morro in the yellow line. Unlike Lisbon, the metro in Porto was sometimes sharing the roads with the traffic, as it was going on the ground at some places. This was often imposing delays in the metro journey, and slow downs, unlike the uninterrupted underground metro of Lisbon. The bright side of this was, we were able enjoy some sceneries on our way, unlike the complete darkness of Lisbon. Unlike Lisbon, and similar to Barcelona and Madrid, the metro was going from left to right, and many lines shared the same platform in many stations, making the journey a bit more complicated for the first timers.

Rio Douro
Rio Douro and Ponte Dom Luis I
The cruise on the Douro river was remarkable for the 50 minutes, for the 10 Euro paid. It also included a free tasting of a chosen port from white, rose, ruby, or tawny, in a port cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. We went towards Taylor's, which is one of the most popular ports. However, it was closed when we reached, as they close by 6 pm, except for the restaurant. We walked to the other side (Porto/Sao Bento side) of the Douro River from the Gaia side (down from Jardim Do Morro), by walking over the lower deck of the Ponte Dom Luis1 bridge. The upper deck holds the metro line, where the lower deck accommodates the pedestrians and the traffic. Though Ribeira looks beautiful by the river from Jardim do Morro, the dinner was not that extra-ordinary. We have had much better in Lisbon for the same price. Since the funicular that connects Batalha top of the hill with the river side Ribeira, had already stopped when we returned, we had to climb ourselves, which was not that easy, considering the vertical path.

Matosinhos Beach
Seagulls in the Matosinhos Beach
The second day started by travelling towards Matosinhos in the blue line. Matosinhos Sul has a beautiful beach. Water was still cold, regardless of the warm summer, preventing us from having a bath or swim. However, we didn't fail to notice that many others were already in the water! After the beach we visited Casa da Musica and Bolhao. We had some drinks at the Majestic Cafe, one of the oldest cafes in Porto. We paid a quick visit to the Dragon Stadium (Estadio do Dragao). We did some window shopping at Boa Vista, which is full of shopping centres. Many of the shops were having good discounts, and from the first look, it seems we could even buy some clothes back home. Realizing the weight limit imposed on us by the flight carriers, I decided not to buy anything but food and drinks to consume at the moment. Since we had explored the yellow line on the first day and the blue line on the second day, we decided to explore the red, orange, violet, and green lines on the third day, which is supposed to be our last day in Lisbon. We noted that orange line has nothing that induces our interest, and violet was just connecting the airport. Compared to green line, red line is longer, and was going towards Povoa de Varzim and Vila do Conde by the river Ave. But unfortunately, a quick check to the website of the Porto metro revealed us that there is a national strike of metro, train, and buses.

The funicular descending from Batalha
The third day had to start with an altered plan due to the strike. Metro was still running only in the city center with blue line and yellow line, with a lesser frequency. Having everything explored in the blue line, we decided to get back to the yellow line, checking out from the hotel before 1 p.m. This time we didn't miss the Funicular dos Guindais. It was interesting to travel up and down and very convenient. We sat by the river for a while, and got back to Sao Bento, visited Se, had lunch, and got back to Vila Nova de Gaia. The sun had already started to burn us. Since the train was not functioning for the day, we had to return using the Rede Expressos from Sao Bento to Sete Rios - Lisbon. Rede Expressos provides cheap tickets to the students. It was just 15 Euros, which was half the price of the train tickets in the second class, which costs 32 Euros. Though I hate strikes, I admired how the unions coordinated their strike in a national scale. We spent the rest of the time at the nearest Elcorte Ingles before returning to Lisbon. If we could compare our first day at Porto with the visit to Obidos, and the second day with Setubal, the third day was just like a visit to São Sebastião

Though we were enjoying the trip, we could not hide our tears, fearing the distance of a thousands of miles in the upcoming days. We have learned much more than Distributed Computing during our ten months of stay in Lisboa.