Sunday, July 21, 2019

Respecte Ton Lac

I returned to Louvain-la-Neuve after more than 1.5 years for my 1st Ph.D. defense (yes, there will be one more defense - as this is a double degree). My 1st defense is actually in Portugal. But I had a short stay in Belgium as I wanted to meet my supervisor in Belgium to get his feedback before my defense. While waiting for him to turn up in his office, I decided to have some coffee and a croissant in a bakery I used to frequent while I lived in Louvain-la-Neuve in 2017. I sat down in the seats outside the bakery and had a sip of the coffee. A few minutes later, a waitress came to me and politely reminded that the seats belong to the restaurant and not the bakery - and therefore I should leave unless I order something from them. 

There was this beautiful lake full of geese and
Completed constructions in Louvain-la-Neuve
ducks - we used to feed them. It has also become my most favorite lake in the world ;) (thanks 2017 for all those awesome memories by the lake!).  I decided to go to the lakeside and sit on one of those seats facing the lakes while enjoying my croissant and coffee. I started walking and ended up in the lakeside. To my disappointment, the lake had become completely dry! What an anti-climax. A lake that was part of my life for the whole year of 2017. I used to walk by the lake every single day to my lab, and also in the return journey. I was not sure what made the lake go dry. A family (a middle-aged couple and their teenage son) was walking. I decided to ask them about the lake as they looked locals: "There was a nice lake here when I lived here 2 years back. What happened to the lake?" The gentleman smiled and replied, "Oh, they dried it to clean the lake. You are disappointed, aren't you?" I said, "Yes, I came back to see the lake and found it gone. Of course, disappointed" Then I walked around the lake taking some photos. I also saw some guys crossing the lake (which by now is just a patch of grassland) by walking across it.

Later, I found that this is a regular practice in Louvain-la-Neuve. The municipality empties the lake every 5 years in February and keeps it dry until October. Before doing so, they carefully move the fish, birds, and animals to a nearby lake, and in October, bring them back. That means the lake will remain dry when I return to Louvain-la-Neuve in August for the UCL public defense (Update from August: I did visit the lake again in August during my second visit and found it to be drier). It was interesting (and sad) that I was expecting to see the lake and missed it despite visiting it.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Memories of Portugal

When Portugal hosted the Eurovision 2018
Memories of Portugal is a series of blog posts, attempting to recall my vivid memories of Portugal for the past several years. I have been writing these posts for quite some time at intervals. It has been after all a long journey. When I look back, even the boring routine stuff I did in Portugal makes exciting memories.

My 6-year long stay in Portugal (2012 August - 2018 June) had 4 segments, with some interval between each segment as I had to migrate to another country in between due to the Erasmus Mundus mobility requirements. Given below are 4 episodes of my life in Portugal, each describing one such segment of my stay. My trip to Portugal for my Ph.D. defense would qualify as the Episode 5, and I have no idea when will I travel again after that to write an Episode 6. But I have a feeling we will, some day in the far future.

Episode 1: Friendships and Goodbyes

Episode 2: Welcome back Home  

Friday, July 19, 2019

Ep 1: Friendships and Goodbyes [Memories of Portugal]

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


1.1: Moving In 
2012 August
Getting used to life abroad
When I arrived at Lisboa airport on the 23rd August 2012, I did not know that Portugal and specifically Lisboa would become the one-word summary of my 2010s. I also did not realize Lisboa airport will become my most frequented airport, even more than the Colombo airport, the airport of my home country. Within the years, Lisboa airport had also become a second home to me - making me feel relaxed and comfortable while I wait for my next flight.

View from our apartment
My landlord was waiting for me at the airport with my name on his iPad. He showed me around the neighborhood - the supermarkets, my university, bank, university admissions office, and other closeby places of interest such as Campo Pequeno. Shopping in Lisboa - both for groceries and other fun shopping - was quite fun. It has many shopping malls and supermarket chains. There were 3 major supermarket chains - Pingo Doce - the one I would always visit, Minipreco - a smaller but cheaper one, and Continente - bigger but a bit more expensive one.

Unwrapping and first meal
I had to share the 4-room apartment with 3 others. However, I had arrived before everyone else. Therefore, I had the whole apartment for me for a few days. We also had a portion of an open-air balcony that belongs to us, that we later used for barbecues and parties. Our apartment was surrounded by 3 metro stations - Saldanha, Alameda, and Arroios. Alameda neighborhood has a beautiful park with a water fountain. For the first few days when I was still alone in Lisboa, my life was mostly limited to this triangle where I was walking around. I realized how much time I had saved while living in Sri Lanka, thanks to my parents who were doing many things for me - such as cooking, grocery shopping, and taking care of managing everything that does not need me personally. Now I am on my own, and I had to spend time doing a considerable amount of 'boring' things such as cleaning and grocery shopping. However, since the environment is new, I was still excited. I did feel like a fish out of water at times. My mom had gifted me a God Ganesh statue before I left Sri Lanka, which I had taken with me to Lisboa. The God Ganesh always secured a spot in all my apartments in Lisboa and elsewhere afterward.

1.2: Feeling young 
2012 September - 2012 December
Campo Pequeno
Eventually, my three apartment mates arrived, and we lived like a team during our stay. Our landlord also made sure to help every one of us settle in, with the bank accounts, school administration, and initial shopping. He went above and beyond, showing us the spirit of Portuguese hospitality. We all went to the same university, and our university was at a walking distance. My classmates of the same Erasmus Mundus program arrived soon after, and the courses began on the 17th of September. We all became good friends, as we all had come from various parts of the world. Thanks to Erasmus Mundus, we all had a clique though. No one was left around.

The Alameda Park, in front of IST
The early days, i.e., the year 2012 was exciting. Everything looked new and fresh.  I had visited France (Paris), India (Bangalore and Hyderabad), and USA (Mountain View/Googleplex) before. But this was my first experience living abroad. Luckily I was not alone in this journey, and it was pleasant!  During my first year in Portugal, I maintained a weekly blog on my life in Lisboa. Everything seemed new and fresh, and I never ran out of things to blog about. We tried to learn Portuguese. I even got a certificate for the A1 level. However, my only regret in Portugal was not truly learning Portuguese. I never realized I would stay in the country for around 7 years. Indeed, it was not a continuous stay of 7 years — more of an on-and-off stay due to the Erasmus Mundus mobility requirements. Still, Portugal was my base country for the entire period. My initial plan was to stay just a year. But this lovely country and circumstances made me stay much longer.

Cascais Beach - my first beach outside Sri Lanka
We spent some time visiting popular places in and around Lisboa. We used the yellow bus, the Lisboa's version of the hop-on-hop-off buses you would find in any major cities. We paid visits to major museums and churches. Belem, Estrela, Oceanario, Sao Jorge Castle, Sintra, and Cascais/Estoril beaches - all those popular touristic destinations in Lisboa. Sao Jorge Castle, despite being within the city limits, feels like otherworldly. Sintra is just outside Lisboa. It is blessed with the beauty of nature and architecture. Lisboa Oceanario is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Cascais beach was clean and nice - but later I would visit much better beaches in Portugal. We do not have a metro in Sri Lanka. I started to getting used to (and love) the metro journeys in Lisboa.

IST/ULisboa - Alameda Campus
Our EMDC program was a coordination of 3 universities - IST/Lisboa, UPC/Barcelona, and KTH/Stockholm. While half of us spent the first year in Lisboa, the other half was in Barcelona. We all would meet in KTH/Stockholm for the third semester, before breaking away for the thesis in the 4th/final semester. I also became the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) program representative (PR) for EMDC. It was fun, representing EMDC. Later, I also represented EMDC and EMJD-DC at EMA in the following several years and organized EMA days and participated in an EMA General Assembly.

Taguspark Campus
Some of our classes in the first semester were in Taguspark. A long shuttle journey twice a week also became part of our life. Taguspark is in the middle of nowhere. So when we had lectures there, we had to spend the whole day on the campus. Luckily, the Tagupark canteen offered relatively good food. All you can pick at once with a fixed price. We also had some good memories and made some local friends at the Taguspark campus. The Taguspark campus was also more modern than the Alameda one. Later during the Ph.D. I had the Data Quality course in Taguspark - thus reliving those Taguspark memories after 2 years.

Praca do Comercio
In Saldanha, right next to our campus was "Canela e Acucar", a cafe restaurant that offered cheap food, starting from 4.45 Euro. Bacalhau, the salty dry cod fish is a popular Portuguese food that we tried often. We also had several fish including Carapasinhos (the small fish, fried), Dourada, and Robalo. We also had other options such as Francasinhas. We learned one thing quick. If you ask for "Sumo de Laranja" you will get some orange soda. Not the real orange juice. You must ask for "Sumo de Laranja natural" for freshly squeezed orange juice for like 2 Euro or 2.50 Euro. The orange juice maker was virtually in every cafe in Portugal. We liked to have orange juice as it is natural and 100% orange. No water, sugar, or anything else added. The Civil department canteen food was 4.50 Euro, with daily options for 3 Euro food also. Then there were also subsidized canteens for students in the main building, as cheap as 2.35 Euro. We tried all the canteens - their food options and desserts.

Arraial Do Tecnico
Despite our busy schedules and group projects, we still had lots of fun. Our university also hosted some interesting events, such as the annual musical evening of Arraial Do Tecnico. Music, snacks, and beer. That was fun. Thanks to our diverse friends, we even had our own "cultural days" or international students' days - including a Chinese party and a Brazilian party. We also visited the Hindu temple close to Telheiras in Lisboa, as well as the mosque in Sao Sebastiao! As time passed by, I experienced my first autumn in Lisboa - much wetter and colder than the summer. I enjoyed my first Halloween in Lisboa, meeting new friends.

Bairro Alto
Every Friday evening we would visit the "Erasmus Corner" in Bairro Alto where we have beers and some drinks and meet other exchange students as well as some locals. Bairro Alto hosts the Erasmus Student Networks and an Erasmus Bar. The place had a unique smell of beer, Portuguese and international food, and the occasional smell of urine from some corners. Bairro Alto is popular for its cheap beer - 1 euro per cup. Bairro Alto neighborhood was also special for me - especially the view from the corridor where I had a birthday celebration in 2013.

Christmas at Rossio Square
By the end of 2012, we got more familiar with the city. We had to apply and receive a residence permit, which we then had to renew every other year. We started to visit more interesting not-so-touristy places as well. Lisboa indeed has some hidden gems such as Pensão Amor. We also enjoyed our first Christmas in Lisboa, despite the approaching exams. The exams and group project presentations were a little bit stressful - but we all overcame them successfully. No one was left behind. I also started the habit of writing an annual post, summarizing my interesting events (typically limited to 30 events each year, a number I randomly chose) of the year.

1.3: Those Days
2013 January - 2013 June
2013 New Year - It all started here
My first new year in Lisboa was exciting. Despite the exams, I decided to do a big shopping, because I was so energetic. I also had received my scholarship money. So why not? Falling in love in Lisboa was a wonderful feeling. The experience was mesmerizing. We recall the new year of 2013 and the romantic memories of Praca do Comercio (with the Terreiro da Paco metro station) every now and then. After several years, we still fondly recall those first 6 months of 2013 as "those days".

On the way to Freeport from Oriente
I also had started to travel outside Lisboa. I first visited  Fatima with 2 of my Sri Lankan friends. It was an average Portuguese village, if you remove the religious significance. But it was also my first trip in Portugal outside Lisboa. Therefore, it was special to me. During these days, EMDC also had our Winter Event in Nuria, Spain. We met our EMDC mates from Barcelona for the first time. It was also our first international trip from Lisboa. We traveled to Madrid and Barcelona and stayed in cheap youth hostels - dorm rooms and bunk beds. We enjoyed the snow and a real winter of -11 C. It was also my first time getting drunk. In my entire life, I had got drunk only twice. First in Barcelona (2013) and then in San Francisco (2016). Strong memories.

Romantic Parque das Nacoes
Not all walks are memorable as our extended weekend (Thursday evenings - Monday mornings) walks. Parque das Nações had become our regular romantic getaway. We walked by the riverside, from Cabo Ruivo, Oriente, Moscavide, and until Sacavem. Over the years, we witnessed how the Parque das Nacoes neighborhood evolve. We visited all the restaurants along the river. Some restaurants later closed down and new ones, including a fancy Chinese restaurant appeared years later. We also visited the newly popping up restaurants in Parque das Nacoes. We fed the seagulls close to Oceanario and also fed the geese in Estrela park. I got used to walks and metro rides between my university (IST) and ISCTE-IUL. We also frequented the Hard Rock Cafe in Restauradores and Starbucks in Rossio train station, as they both are close to each other. In the blue metro line, we also visited Santa Apolonia. The photos bring back vivid memories.

Drinks at Hard Rock Cafe Lisboa
Arroios neighborhood had a Dim Sum restaurant. Although the service was bad, the food was good. Therefore, we visited it several times. There was also a Chinese buffet restaurant, which was similar to every other Chinese buffets in Lisboa. There was also a Portugalia that we visited once. Estefania neighborhood, in between Arroios and Saldanha was a good one for a walk from our apartment. We used to buy lots of things from Pingo Doce and take them back home. Eventually, we also started to visit the nearby Continente.

A night walk in the Avenida neighborhood
We watched several movies. At times, two movies back-to-back in the same day in the same shopping mall. We also had the loyalty cards from the movie theatres! There was also a night we decided to stay in the streets just outside Centro Comercial Colombo after a late night movie from 2 am until 6.30 am when the metro station eventually opened. Yes, we were crazy. :) I also started cooking in Lisboa. Initially I started for fun and to save money. I became quite good with cooking eventually. I actually was enjoying cooking various interesting recipes. First I followed the recipes to the letter. Later, I started to innovate. I used to post photos of my cooking to Facebook, until I retired from Facebook in 2015 December. Eventually, as I started cooking, I reduced the freqeuncy of my visit to the Nepal restaurents. However, I would still take my friends to a Nepal buffet.

Beautiful view of Obidos
My first spring in Lisboa was refreshing and romantic. We made boat trips to cross the Tagus river, which separated Lisboa from most of everything. From Cais do Sodre port, we would take a boat to Cacilhas in the other side of the Tagus river. From Cacilhas, then we take a bus to the beach towns such as Costa da Caparica. We attempted our best to see dolphins in Setubal. But we failed several attempts. ;) Óbidos was a town that we loved visiting - its cherry wine / ginjinha (ginja) in a chocolate cup was truly unique, best of both worlds. We played Chess there while enjoying some ginja in a romantic hotel (Pousado do Obidos). We visited Obidos once again later for its chocolate festival. We also went to the Freeport open-area shopping mall twice, taking the bus from Oriente.

Typical Portuguese food along the river
We frequented many good restaurants in the city. There was a Nepal restaurant, Restaurante Kathmandu, in our road. I was frequenting it, especially because it was the closest to Sri Lankan food I was able to get while in Lisboa. I took many of my friends to that restaurant at several occasions. I also visited some other Nepal restaurents. We also frequented Restaurente Destino, a friendly restaurant in Restauradores neighborhood. We would often walk from Restauradores to Avenida, along Avenida da Liberdade.

Finally, the summer was back to Lisboa again. By this time,
Porto Matosinhos Beach
I decided that I would come back to Lisboa for my master thesis
. Therefore, my stay in Lisboa is not going to be limited to just one year. :) We also started to feel the pain of friends saying goodbye, as the semester ended. Some were in Lisboa for just one semester! I would love it if every wonderful people stay with me, and not to leave in the middle. :) But life is always moving.

My move to Stockholm came close too. I had to go to Sri Lanka before that. We visited Porto and Lagos before I left Portugal. Saying goodbye is hard. But I reassured I would come back. Since we were spending time in Porto and Lagos before I left Lisboa, time went real quick when we were finally back in Lisboa. I came to Lisboa 10 months back with a free memory. I left Lisboa with a strong association to the city. I knew I would be back soon.

1.4: Party Never Ends
2013 August - 2013 December
Vila Franca de Xira riverside walk
While I was in Stockholm, I visited Lisboa twice. First, immediately after arriving in Stockholm, to enjoy the summer in Lisboa and Setubal. Then, during the mid-semester break, which was already wet autumn in Lisboa. During my second visit, we also made a metro station trip, visiting each and every neighborhood connected by Lisboa's extensive metro line - that we had missed previously. We also visited Alcantara-Terra, the touristic riverside of Lisboa. We also visited Vila Franca de Xira by train. It is a riverside town that can be reached by the train from Lisboa that goes towards Azambuja. The town hall had a free open wifi by the riverside in the town. But when I visited the town later, the wifi was no more open for public.

The beautiful Lagos
When I am away from Lisboa, I often think of the days I spent there. Despite my 7 years there, most of my memories revolve around 2013 - specifically those days, the first 6 months there. The memories are addictive and intense, and they are like a drug - I can feel the blood circulations with the memories. My memories of Portugal also is correlated with a few songs I listened to during my stay in Portugal. There are a few songs, mostly of Romanian origin - I always associate them with those romantic memories of Lisboa - because I listened to them for the first time during those days. Some songs bring back the memories of youthful moments, nostalgia, and the longing feeling that is defined as Saudade in Portuguese.

I always made sure to revisit the places that I loved visiting such as Obidos and Evora. But I never revisited Porto and Lagos later. Therefore, those memories are sealed as the memories of 2013 summer. But I, of course, want to revisit Porto and relive those memories. It will always be like time traveling to 2013 if I revisit Porto or Lagos. On the other hand, the place may still be the same. But it may not be possible to recreate the exact moments. We can try.

Thursday, July 18, 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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ep 3: The Transit [Memories of Portugal]

This post is part of a series on my life in Lisboa.
2016 October - 2017 January
The small pool area of our apartment
As per Erasmus Mundus requirements, I must get to my 2nd university ideally during my 2nd year. I was already late. It was October 2016, and now I am in my third year - not a junior student anymore. We returned to Lisboa from Atlanta. But we planned to go to Belgium for my 2nd university (UCLouvain) by 2017 February. We rented a small studio apartment in Olaias since our intended stay in Lisboa was indeed short. We used UniPlaces to find the apartment. UniPlaces list apartments in a higher price, to cover their own expenses. But it gives some peace of mind. Therefore, from 2017 onwards, we decided to use UniPlaces for our apartments.

Playing with candles
Olaias had a beautiful metro station. It is just one metro station away from Alameda, and therefore quite close to my university. The apartment also had a small swimming pool that we shared with the neighbors. It is so small, and the autumn is here anyway. Therefore, no one really used the pool. We spent some time in the poolside though.

The studio apartment was small. It felt tiny, given that we just returned from Atlanta where we had rented a much larger apartment. When we left for Belgium a few months after in 2017 February, we left our stuff in a storage facility instead this time, rather than bothering our friends once more with a whole load of stuff.

Palacio do Gelo, Viseu
Despite a short stay in Portugal this time, we still managed to visit some more new places. Our trip to Viseu was remarkable. We stayed in one of the best hotels in Viseu. We visited 2 of the shopping malls in the town. The town was emitting positive vibes with lots of young families. Moving out from Lisboa this time was smoother than last time, as we were already prepared for the move. We did not even unpack many bags when we came back from Atlanta, to be prepared to move out again!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ep 4: The Final Days [Memories of Portugal]

This post is part of a series on my life in Lisboa.
4.1: Nomadic Moments
2017 August - 2017 December

Toytrain to Fonte da Talha
We came back to Portugal from Belgium in August 2017 so that I can complete my thesis. By then, I was in my fourth year, and therefore my Erasmus Mundus scholarship had finished already. The Erasmus Mundus funding lasts only for 3 years, although we all had a Ph.D. that last mostly 4 - 5 years. Some students had managed to complete by 3.5 years though - primarily due to the limited funding.

Upon our return, we quickly enjoyed the rest of the summer. We visited Fonte da Talha using the toytrain from Costa da Caparica. I have been to that beach several times before in the earlier years. It is one of my favorite beaches as it is a long sandy beach with not too much crowd. We also went to take the cable car in Parque das Nacoes. It was 5 years ago in 2013 January we tried it before. This time, we just opted for a one-way trip, rather than a return trip, unlike last time. It was refreshing the memories from those days. We visited the Marques Pombal park area during the Christmas days. We also walked around the Ameixoeira neighborhood, including its park.

The cable car in Parque das Nacoes
I received funding from Belgium for the first half of my fourth year, and I had to return to Belgium briefly again. There were some back-and-forth flights between Lisboa and Brussels in August - September. Due to the last minute flight demands, I even had to fly from Faro. I was a reader of a master thesis defense that day. Therefore I had to connect from the hotel in Faro before taking the flight to Brussels, CRL airport. Although this was my second visit to Faro, I did not really have time to enjoy the town. After a few days in Belgium, I flew to KAUST, Saudi Arabia to do my research there, while still being in the mobility period and funding of UCLouvain. Finally, in mid-December 2017, I returned once more to Lisboa!

4.2: Final Goodbye
2018 January - 2018 June 
Lumiar Park
We had rented the apartment in Lumiar neighborhood since August. However, the neighborhood was still new to me since I was mostly in Belgium and Saudi Arabia until December. When I came back, we visited Moscavide and Parque das Nacoes neighborhoods, to relive the memories, as we did several times before. We also visited the Lumiar Park, which had a small lake with some ducks and geese in it. 2018 was the first new year which we did not go out to see the fireworks in Lisboa. We felt old!

View from the Loures Shopping Mall
Despite our long stay in Lisboa, we never failed to find new places to visit in the city and suburbs. Our apartment is just on the border of Lisboa. Therefore we were able to visit some outskirts and suburbs quickly with a bus. We visited the Strada shopping mall, which I had previously visited once to apply for a residence permit extension. We visited Loures shopping mall for the first time, a large shopping mall in Loures just outside Lisboa using an RL bus. Our favorite season, summer was back again. We also visited Sesimbra beach, a beautiful beach on the other side of the river that I never had a chance to visit before. I visited Evora once more - this time with my wife. It felt so good to be back in a town where I got to know that I had been accepted to the EMJD-DC. Great memories. We revisited several places in Lisboa, just once more - often mentioning that might be our last visit to that particular place.

Evora, one of my favorite Portuguese towns
I made sure to finish writing my thesis before leaving Portugal. I had my UCLouvain thesis confirmation at UNINOVA at Almada. I did not have much time to enjoy the town as I was busy preparing the presentation. Then I also had the IST/Portuguese version of the confirmation, which is known as the "CAT" just a few days before departing Portugal, finally. Of course, we wanted to visit and revisit many places in Lisboa and Portugal before we leave. It was almost like rushing for a summary. But our time was limited. Money was limited too, as I was funded from Portugal's local funding, rather than the EU funding as in Erasmus Mundus. We still tried our best. The bus trips from Lumiar neighborhood was fun. While staying in Arroios, we mostly used the red and green metro lines. During our stay in Benfica neighborhood, we used the blue line. Finally, this time we were using the yellow line. Now we have covered all the metro lines!

Sesimbra beach, my first time here!
This time when we decide to move back to Atlanta, we carefully discarded things that we do not need anymore. We also donated several useful and new things to the donation box. I even mistakenly dropped my metro card in the donation box, which I later found only after arriving in Atlanta. I also had mistakenly left my new umbrella in the taxi in Lisboa. Leaving Lisboa again, this time more like a permanently moving out, was indeed sad. We felt like leaving our home country yet once more.

How many times we relive those days?
Portugal had indeed become a second home to me. I have better memories in Portugal more than in Sri Lanka. But every story has to come to an end. Is this the end of our life in Portugal? I don't know. We may come back in the far far future. That time, probably we will recall the entire 6 years (2012 - 2018) of our stay as those days, rather than the first 6 months of 2013. We don't know. I still have a long list of places to visit, including Nazare, Sendim, and Braga, and revisit including Porto, Lagos, and Ilhas Desertas. Maybe when I go to Portugal in 2019 June - July for my defense. I imagine my next visit for my Ph.D. defense would qualify as the Episode 5 of my Portugal story. When will I have an episode 6? How will that be? Time will reveal.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ep 5: Better Endings [Memories of Portugal]

This post is part of a series on my life in Lisboa.
5.1: The tale of a time-traveler
Cloudy beach in the midsummer!
Porto was a city that we enjoyed most during those days. After my return to Portugal in 2014, we always wanted to go back to Porto - but we never did somehow. Every time we ended up in another city. It became close to reality during the 2016 Christmas vacation. But we ended up going to Zurich (and Liechtenstein and Austria) instead. This time, for my Ph.D. defense, I flew from Brussels to Porto airport. Of course, first I had to fly from Atlanta to Brussels. Interestingly, my stay in Porto was on the same days, as in 2013 -  25th - 27th June. That was a coincidence, not at all planned. Since I never had a chance to visit Porto after 2013, coming to Porto was like opening a time capsule, wrapping up a story which I left half-written six years ago. I had to work on rehearsing my Ph.D. defense presentation. Therefore, I did not have much time to enjoy Porto or Portugal until I have defended my thesis on the 1st of July. Porto airport was remarkably similar to that of Lisboa airport, in its size, shops, and decoration.

Beautiful view from the bus
I bought the 72 hours Andante card for 15 Euros, although I knew I would not optimize it as I would not have much time left after spending a few hours presenting my thesis presentation every day. My hotel was in Matosinhos. It was in a walking distance from  Praia de Matosinhos, the beach we enjoyed in 2013. Unfortunately, and weirdly, Portugal was colder than Belgium. Almost in the 20s while Belgium was reaching the 40s! So I could not go into the water. I cannot catch a cold and lose my voice before the defense. The beach was empty except for the surfers, a few tourists who did not want to miss their vacation to the unpredictable cloudy and cold weather, and lots of seagulls! There were also people just starting at the beach in their street clothes. Anyway, it was still lovely to be in Porto 6 years after, and in Portugal after one whole year - the longest I have ever stayed away from Portugal after moving to Lisbon in 2012 August from Sri Lanka. It was like picking the pieces of artwork and stitching them together. Memories scattered everywhere.

The beautiful Douro River
During our last visit to Porto, we missed the opportunity to visit Povoa de Varzim, the town in the far northernmost end of the red line of the Porto Metro, unfortunately, due to a metro/train strike. Not this time. I made sure to make a metro trip to Povoa de Varzim. It was a cute little neighborhood. Every time I went on a train/metro trip, I kept a copy of my presentation slides with me so that I can go through them whenever I wanted to. Although I passed through the Douro riverside a few times, I did not take the river cruise this time. I also walked from the metro station Jardim do Morro to Sao Bento in the night, enjoying the river view in the night lights over the bridge. The river had a romantic atmosphere. Probably, it is just my memories. I cannot say for sure.

Night view from the bridge over Rio Douro
The main streets of Porto, especially, Avenida dos Aliados and the Marques neighborhood, all felt so familiar, even after six years. I did several random walks, without using a map of any sort. Not once I got lost! Eventually, my time in Porto came to an end. I had to take a train to Lisboa. It was precisely six years ago, on the same day, we were leaving Porto to Lisboa full of sadness. That time too, I knew I would be leaving Portugal soon after. This time, I leave Porto with more positive thoughts, somewhat excited and a bit nervous too - as the defense is approaching and I was still fine-tuning my presentation. I also had a feeling I had prepared for this presentation much more than for any of my previous presentations. Overpreparation is not good either, I usually say. But still much better than going to your Ph.D. defense unprepared. Anyway, I got on the train, saying goodbye to Porto. I will be back to Porto on the 4th of July from Lisboa - to return to Brussels. I won't have any time for sightseeing in Porto on that day.

5.2: Just once more - Just once more
A cat made of trashbins
Finally, I arrived in Lisboa, my most favorite city I have ever lived. First things first. I  reached my hotel in Saldanha neighborhood. The hotel itself was horrible - but close to my university. So I could comfortably reach my defense without a commute by public transport.

I had to go to Povoa, a village in the Vila Franca de Xira region to collect our suitcase from a friend. I downloaded an offline Google map of the village to my tablet so that it was easy for me to locate the apartment. I also had a mobile Internet on my mobile phone in any case. I purchased it from Vodafone, as Vodafone had locked my phone when I bought it and did a half-job unlocking it when I requested and paid for that in 2013 January. My phone, therefore, never worked with other carriers for data. We had left 23 kg worth of a suitcase with a friend before we left Lisboa last year. It was nice to recover our old things. I also repeated one of our favorite walks from Moscavide to Parque das  Nações once more. But this time, from the Moscavide train station, rather than the metro station. Little did I know that Moscavide train station is much farther than the Moscavide train station to Parque das Nações. It was also a heavy walk since I had just collected our old suitcase. A long walk indeed, reaching the bottom of the Vasco da Gama bridge from Moscavide train station and continuing south towards the Centro Comercial Vasco da Gama.

Tagus river and the Vasco da Gama bridge
I met my supervisor at earliest on Friday to get his final opinions on my presentation. I had previously received the opinions of my co-supervisor in Belgium before leaving Belgium as well. Over the weekend, I iterated over the presentation based on the feedback I received. Later at the hotel, I eventually moved the contents from that old suitcase to my current checked in luggage. Then I tried to sell the old suitcase to the Cash Converter. They rejected it as apparently it was a bit too old for their taste. Therefore, I left the suitcase near the donation box. I had to throw away some old clothes in my current suitcase to give space to the things from the last year.

View in Sintra
I decided to do a "quick revision" of all the places I have visited during the past 7 years. This included many places that I had visited several years ago, such as Belem, Sao Jorge castle, and my apartment of 2012 - 2014 in Arroios / Rua da Ponta Delgada. Overall, my time in Lisboa was really a time-travel kind of experience again, often with a feeling of overlapping timelines - as if searching for my younger self. The only difference was, I wasn't alone when I visited all these places during the past years. This time, it was mostly a solo trip.

I had a walk over the Parque das Nacoes riverside, not once - but thrice during this visit. The area was full of memories, from the range of 2013 - 2018. I felt like searching my 6 - 7-year younger-self - and also the younger selves of her and our friends. I almost felt like we are still here after six years. The memories kept me in a state similar to intoxication! I truly missed this place — lots of deja vu. I also realized that my preference for Lisboa, and Portugal in general, comes mostly from the fact that I had great memories there. It was nice to meet a few friends in Lisboa - of course, the majority of my friends had left the city over several years. I was the last to leave among our Erasmus Mundus friends.

The large waves of Praia das Maçãs
I had lunch at Restaurante Kathmandu and Canela e Açúcar restaurant. The former is a Nepalese restaurant in Rua da Ponta Delgada, the street of my first ever apartment (2012 - 2014) in Lisboa. We used to visit it frequently in 2013, almost daily at a certain point - sometimes twice a day! The latter is close to my lab. My friends and I used to have lunches there in 2012, almost daily. Sometimes also dinner. Both restaurants maintained the price. The price did not increase over the years. I could not say the same about the quality or even the quantity of food for the same option in the menu. But it was good to relive those memories.

On the day of defense, 1st of July, I woke up early. The hotel had a balcony, from which the early morning sunshine reached my room abundantly. I left to my lab and met my supervisor again. The defense (30 mins of presentation) and the following question-and-answer session of up to 2 hours went pretty well. I passed with a distinction. Now two free days before leaving Lisboa, to Porto, and then on the same day, to Brussels airport from Porto airport. The first day, I decided to go to Praia das Maçãs, and the second day, a random trip across Lisboa.

Good bye, my romantic Lisboa
Praia das Maçãs is where one of my most favorite songs, Inna - Amazing, was shot. Finally, I had a chance to visit this lovely remote beach myself. I had to take a train to Portela da Sintra, and then a bus from there. The waves were very strong and quick! I enjoyed some cocktails and a frozen shot in a nearby cafe overlooking the beach. On my return trip, I took a toy train to Portela da Sintra from the Praia das Maçãs village. The beach is a red flag guarded beach. That means not suitable for swimming due to its strong currents. Good for surfing, as I observe the big waves hitting the rocks and the beach as well as the surfers riding the waves.

The second free day, my whole day was in Lisboa. I was doing a random metro ride and bus ride to cover as many places as I can. I was revising my six years in Lisboa (2012 - 2018). I even went to Belem, which I hadn't visited for several years. I went to Restauradores, Rossio - Praca do Comercio, Baixa - Chiado, Bairro Alto, Alfama, Alameda, Arroios, Cais do Sodre, and several other neighborhoods. The day eventually came to an end, and I did not have many things left in Lisboa that I did not cover during this trip. Of course, I did not visit Centro Comercial Colombo and ISCTE-IUL, two of our most frequented places. But it is not necessary to visit all the places again during this short trip, I reminded myself. I had visited the most important ones, where I had the strongest memories. I felt like a time-traveler most of the times. I was checking whether I could run into my old friends or our younger selves from 2012 - 2013.

Back to the starting points..

Finally, it was time for me to leave Portugal again. I felt this was a better ending than what I had in 2018, exactly a year ago. I now have defended my Ph.D. thesis. That leaves me with no real attachment to Portugal or Lisboa. Of course, I have a strong cultural alignment with Portugal after my six years of life there. This trip also completes my seven years of student-life in Portugal. I still have to defend my thesis again in Belgium, since this is a double degree. But that has nothing to do with Portugal or my Portuguese university. I thank Portugal, as I eventually leave Lisboa to Porto in an Alfa Pendular fast train. I came to Portugal for my studies in 2012. I searched and found myself in Portugal over the years to follow.
Now, in Porto, I was switching from the past and the present at the same time, as I was waiting for the metro to the airport. My Portugal trip was successful and now is a return trip. It truly felt like time traveling since I felt many things were frozen in time as if it was 2013 summer again. I am also leaving Porto once more with a more positive note, compared to 2013, when I left Porto with lots of questions. At present, from Porto airport, I board the flight to Brussels. Goodbye, once again, Portugal. Until I see you again another time!