Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ep 2: Welcome back Home [Memories of Portugal]

This post is part of a series on my life in Lisboa.


2.1: Beyond Those Days
2014 January - 2015 January
Yet another NYE, many more to come, in Lisboa
I did not expect to return to Lisboa when I arrived in Lisboa in 2012 August. But I enjoyed the return, and I knew I made the right decision. Sooner I started to realize that the Lisboa is not anymore the same Lisboa I experienced during my first year. My EMDC friends have all decided to stay in Stockholm or elsewhere. I was missing Lisboa while still in Lisboa. The nostalgia was weird. I still had some time left before starting my master thesis. I spent a few weeks with UniPlaces as a part-time software engineer and developed an A/B proxy from scratch. It was open sourced in GitHub. It was fun, and I met some interesting people there.

Historic Evora
While I was attending an EMDC Winter Event in Evora, I got to know that I was accepted to EMJD-DC, the doctorate program offered as a continuation of EMDC from the same 3 universities of EMDC and UCLouvain/Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium. So excited and now I knew that I will stay in Lisboa/Portugal for much longer. Around 4 years to come! This is how Evora became a memorable town in my life, and later I would name a core part of my Ph.D. work as Evora. I worked on my master thesis and dedicated my 100% of the time towards it. Consequently, I produced 2 papers and had the chance to present my papers at MASCOTS (Paris) and UCC (London). My MSc defense was a fun experience too. Some of my friends also had returned from Stockholm to defend their thesis at IST.

Cooking Confidently
Sooner, I started my Ph.D. In fact, my Ph.D. overlapped with my MSc by 19 days. I had my defense on the 19th of September, while my Ph.D. contract started on the 1st of September 2014. My MSc supervisor agreed to supervise me for my Ph.D. as well. We are ready for a fabulous start! We also had a small graduation ceremony at IST. Unlike the big graduation we had at KTH, the IST graduation did not bring any of my EMDC friends back to Portugal. It was just me from EMDC.

Returning from Conferences
I started researching on Software-Defined Networking (SDN) systems for my Ph.D., changing from my MSc research topic of distributed systems for cloud and MapReduce simulations. My initial plan was to have the mobility of IST/Lisboa -> UPC/Barcelona. Later, I changed my plan to have the same mobility as my EMDC: IST/Lisboa -> KTH/Stockholm. Mostly because I was missing Stockholm and also there were some professors who work on SDN. However, I learned that it was not possible to have such identical mobility. Since there were not many UPC professors interested in SDN (at least that was my impression that time), I finally decided to have UCLouvain as my second university.

Beautiful Ilhas Desertas
Going to work during summer is a unique feeling. All you want is to go to the beach and enjoy the sunshine. However, you cannot forget the research responsibilities and deadlines. I also had to complete course work during the first year of my Ph.D. We, of course, made small trips to nearby beaches such as Caxias. Sometimes we also visited secluded beaches. Our trip to Faro was special. We reached Faro early in the morning and took a boat to Ilhas Desertas, which I would later recall as my most favorite beach in mainland Europe. Not all visits are to the beaches. We also visited the carnival in Lisboa and Torres Vedras. Torres Vedras is rightfully known as the carnival town of Portugal. 

2.2: Independence
2015 February - 2016 March
Parque Florestal de Monsanto
February 2015, we decided to rent a whole 1 bedroom apartment rather than renting 2 rooms in a 4-room student apartment. We just did not want to share the kitchen with other students anymore as we had become so involved into cooking. Also some privacy would be nice too. We moved to Sao domingo do Benfica neighborhood, somewhat close to Centro Comercial Colombo in the blue metro line. But still we had to take a bus before reaching the metro station, or have a really long walk from the Alto dos Moinhos metro station - one station before the Colegio Militar metro station (the metro station of Centro Comercial Colombo). No more walking to the lab. We felt more independent living alone, and also felt like adults. I moved our things slowly, mostly using public transport in several visits between the old and the new apartments. It was tiresome - but I saved money and did a good exercise along the way.

God Ganesh with flowers
These were the days we actually visited most of Lisboa more like locals, than tourists. We did not have those tourist vibes anymore. We still enjoyed doing things. Sometimes, we had to make a decision whether to visit a new place or revisit a place that we had already visited before. Revisiting a place is like reliving a moment. I always wanted to visit Porto again. I also bought my 2017 diary with Porto as its cover, as we were planning to spend our new year there. But later, we decided to go to Switzerland - Austria - Liechtenstein for the new year - a much larger scale trip. Therefore, we dropped the plan for Porto - II. Until I left Portugal in 2018, we still did not have chance to go to Porto again.

A rocky beach in the Sintra region
We frequented a few neighborhoods. Martim Moniz is an Asian neighborhood, considered a bit riskier side of Lisboa. We went there for Asian/Chinese products. But every time we went there, we avoided taking too much cash or valuables with us, just to be safe. Martim Moniz also had illegal Chinese restaurants, which are quite popular among the international and local students, not only among the Chinese. We frequented some small Chinese restaurants in Martim Moniz and Roma. From our new neighborhood, we often walked to Centro Comercial Fonte Nova, a small shopping mall which had a few dining cafes and a Pingo Doce. There was also a meat shop nearby that we frequented.

Heli ride to a sushi restaurent
We also continued to visit the Bairro Alto, Praca da Comercio, and Cais do Sodre neighborhoods, remembering our 'young days.' There are several shopping malls in Lisboa, including Centro Comercial Colombo, Campo Pequeno, and Centro Comercial Vasco da Gama. We often visited them for shopping, movies, and some quick dinner. We also traveled by helicopter from the heliport, to a sushi restaurant in Monte da Caparica, the other side of the river. As years passed by, Arroios metro station was shut down for renovations and is yet to be reopened. Every time I went to Arroios, I had to get down at the Anjos metro station and walk. Anjos is considered an unsafe neighborhood. However, I got used to it due to the closure of Arroios. In fact, many of the metro stations of the green line, namely, Intendente, Anjos, and Martim Moniz are considered unsafe. However, we never had any trouble in them.

View from our hotel room in Portimao
In 2015 summer, I spent one month in the University of Rijeka, Croatia, for a Short-Term Scientific Mission (STSM). The research work I did there later became a core pillar of my Ph.D. In 2016 March, I went to Emory University, Atlanta for a 7-month long internship. It was a break from my regular Ph.D. research. This was the first time we actually had to move out from Portugal. Leaving from Portugal once more was sad. We packed our 4 years worth of things into 17 (!!) bags and left them with our friends. Of course, we should have thrown away some things. But we had little time to sort things out. In the middle, I had to come back to Portugal as EMJD-DC hosted the summer event in Costa da Caparica in Portugal. I stayed in hotels in Areeiro during this visit. Visiting Lisboa and Costa da Caparica once more, this time from Atlanta was remarkable. It was indeed a feeling of coming back home. By this time, I had a stronger association with Lisboa more than Colombo, the city where I grew up in my home country.

View from my hotel room in Areeiro
Before leaving Portugal once again, we made sure to spend some time having fun enjoying what Portugal has to offer. We visited some lovely beaches, as we always do during the summers. We visited Portimao, Cabo da Roca, and Porto Covo beaches. Just behind our apartment community, we had a small forest, Parque Florestal de Monsanto, connected by a bridge. It was ideal for trekking in the summer. Life is like a chess game. You play it against the unknown. The unknown is everything else and everyone else that can affect or influence you. You plan your moves which make your life choices and decisions. But you can just guess what the unknown's next move will be. Only after the opponent's (in this case, the Unknown) move, you realize whether your move was a good one or rather, a bad one.

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