December 9, 2015

AGM 2015 – November 4-6 2015 Cascais memories as seen from a guest


We had the last INAA AGM from 3 to 7 November in Cascais, a nice holiday resort only 30 km away from Lisbon, Portugal, facing the Atlantic ocean.

This nice village was the residence of the last King of Italy, Umberto II on his exile, not far from another exiled King, Juan Carlos of Spain who spent many years in Estoril.The hotel that hosted our meeting, the Grande Real Villa Italia Hotel & SPA, is indeed the former residence of the last King of Italy, a beautiful palace overlooking the sea: a five stars hotel with a five stars staff!

At the arrival, we were welcomed by a stormy ocean and we could enjoy the view of this spectacle of nature from our rooms.

On Tuesday, some delegates enjoyed golfing in the beautiful Quinta da Marinha Resort, designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, a golf course that offers fantastic views over the Atlantic Ocean and the Sintra Mountains.

On Wednesday, while the Board had his meeting, many delegates and guests went to a full day tour towards the north and had the opportunity to visit some nice villages.

The first stop was in Obidos, a charming small and fortified town that looks like a medieval film set: it has been very well preserved and its inhabitants take careful pride in maintaining the architectural image of days gone by.

We had the opportunity to taste the famous traditional sour cherry Ginjinha Liquor in small chocolate cups: delicious!

Then we took a stroll around in the narrow streets with plenty of nice handicraft shops.

The next stop was in Nazarè, a fishermen village settled along a beautiful beach and over an impressive cliff: we walked along the beach and we enjoyed our dinner in a nice restaurant facing the cliffs and the ocean.The last stop was in Alcobaça to visit the Cistercian monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and  a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art, where we also learned about the sad love story of the King of Portugal Don Pedro and Doña Inés de Castro, buried in the monastery church.

In the evening, we had the pleasure to meet our INAA family colleagues and friends during the Welcome Cocktail & Dinner in the beautiful dining hall of our hotel with a nice terrace overlooking the ocean.We were really happy to meet each other again and  to get acquainted with the new members from Switzerland and Israel.We spent a nice time together eating great food and drinking good wine with the big INAA Family!

On Thursday, while delegates had their first day of business session we went to visit the old town of Lisbon.

Along the road to the capital, we first stopped at the Belém Tower: it was built in 1515 in the Tagus river as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon's harbor and it was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery.

For the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland: it was very impressive to think about all that men that left towards unknown land and, if many of them never came back, some others discovered new territories.

A little ahead, we visited the Monument to the Great Discoveries: built on the north bank of the Tagus River, it represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart, with sculptures of important historical figures. Facing this monument, we found the Church of the Jeronimos Monastery,  the most impressive symbol of Portugal's power and wealth during the Age of Discovery, that was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama's voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success and hosts now his resting place.

We proceeded to Lisbon center crossing the streets that lead to the Tagus river and we stopped to visit the Alfama district. We had a relaxed walk through the Lisbon's most emblematic quarter thanks to its medieval alleys and outstanding views: it survived the 1755 earthquake, and a walk through this old-fashioned residential neighborhood was like a step back in time. It’s a village within a city still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, drying laundry, and caged birds.  We stopped for a good lunch in a nice restaurant in the large Praça do Comércio, a very wide square facing the Tagus river.

After lunch, despite the rain, we took a walk in the pedestrian shopping area, and then we visited the Rossio Square, the liveliest square in the city, where people like to sit and relax, or for a drink at the several atmospheric cafes with their dehors. In the evening, we joined the delegates and went all together to a nice restaurant overlooking a beautiful beach.

On Friday, while the delegates were having their second day of business session we visited the area where in 1998 Lisbon hosted the Universal Expo whose theme was "The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future".

It's a district of modern buildings, the Parque das Nações, designed by some of the most famous contemporary architects as the entire area at the eastern end of the city's waterfront was rebuilt for the event. When we arrived, we were immersed in a surrealistic atmosphere because of the thick fog rising from the river: it was like walking in a cloud among fantastic buildings! We then went straight to the Oceanarium, one of the biggest aquariums in the world where we experienced a deep-sea diving experience without taking any risks!  We could look into an enormous central tank with many different species of fish, seabirds, and mammals from different levels to take close-ups views of the various creatures, including different species of sharks. We also had a lot of fun watching at the peaceful otters and  the funny penguins. At the exit of the Oceanarium, a wonderful sun was smiling at us! We went back to the hotel to meet the delegates and have lunch all together.

We then went to Lisbon to start our team building activity: a treasure hunt across this beautiful city up and down its hills.

We gathered at the Praça do Comércio where we were divided into several groups. We were each equipped with a tablet, metro ticket and a roadmap to follow.

Each team was led by a Team Leader, some of them lost their groups on the way but always in a good and fun spirit!

The hunt drove us through Lisbon and its very nice streets. The weather has been so generous with us, we could wander around, enjoy the views, the people until we reached our goal at the Saint George's Castle, the highest site of the city from where we could enjoy a wonderful view and a suggestive sunset while relaxing in this oasis of peace after the long walk.

I ts oldest parts date from the 6th century when it was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths, and eventually the Moors.

In the remains of the castle, a nice restaurant is hosted where we had our farewell dinner, accompanied by a Fado show, the traditional Portuguese music and songs.

On Saturday, all of us who could extend its journey to Portugal went to the Alentejo region, where the plains extend as far as the eye can see and the vastness of the landscape is dotted with cork oaks and olive trees that withstand time. We reached the small city of Évora that is laid out over a gently sloping hill rising out of the huge Alentejo plain. It guards its historic center with a vast outer wall and represents a valuable cultural legacy that UNESCO has classified World Heritage. Surrounded by a vast outer wall, the city, with its narrow streets of Moorish origin contrasting with squares where the light floods in, holds two millennia of history: in fact, the first building we encountered was the ruin of a fine roman temple. After visiting it, we strolled down the main street enjoying the atmosphere with its diverse range of cultural influences laid down in this city and having a look to the many arts and handicraft stores.

We moved again to reach Herdade Do Esporão, a wine producer with an excellent restaurant where we had our lunch with a taste of their delicious wines. The way back to the hotel was quite long, but we could take advantage of it for our after lunch nap!

On Sunday, we said goodbye to Portugal and, after a last glimpse of the wonderful rocky coastline around the hotel and to the impressive Boca do Inferno, we took our plane flying over Lisbon and the Ponte Vasco da Gama, the longest bridge of Europe, the ninth in the world.

A new fantastic adventure is waiting for us on May 2016 for the next IMM in Shanghai and we are looking forward to meeting all the INAA Family again!

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