A Travellerspoint blog

Cultural musings

Portugal

sunny 23 °C

There are a disturbing number of beggars, people sleeping in the street plus the weaving mutterers. No hawkers, few buskers. I have just seen my first nun, dressed in the old style, in the cavernous bus station. Unemployment here is running around 15 percent, and there are constant comments about funding cut backs. Trains which were running to smaller locations have been closed. This is a country with a history of political activism and commentary. We have experienced one train strike,but it was on a day of public holiday, so the impact was moderate. However, we were told that the holiday would no longer be held after this by agreement with government and church, due to The Crisis. 13 000 tenured teachers without an appointment at the start of the new year, due to drop in birthdate and subsequent school closures.

Respect for the past is evident in way locations are invariably named after people or significant events and dates. There are innumerable pracas de Liberade, or 5th October,an important revolution date. Most ordinary streets are people or indicators of historical function: iron workers, commerce, English traders or the local church parish. Everywhere there are statues or plaques celebrating- wait for it! - not sports figures but poets, writers, artists, intellectual leaders or fighters for freedom. Houses claim the honor of being the birthplace of a national cultural icon. Mind you, soccer is obviously also a supremely important cultural event so there will be a Rua Ronaldho one day.

So many Portugese colonies were in Africa, and of course Portugese-speaking Brazil is the powerhouse of South America. After the colonies were given their independence following the Carnation Revolution, and the ousting of the fascist dictatorship of Salazar, numbers settled in Portugal. The consequence is a racially very mixed population, at least in cities. We have heard complaints about Romanians and Bulgarians as unwelcome and antisocial,but also that they're willing to work at menial tasks young Portugese are no longer willing to take on.

" The infant mortality rate in 1974 stood at 37.9%. Today it is 2.5%. This indicator is, perhaps, the most relevant of all to show how far Portugal has come since then." some eye popping stats from a local blogger. Personally, I find this statistic more meaningful than say economic data. Is this poor community health background the reason we have seen so many blind or lame?

Men hawk and spit on the street. But they also greet other men with a prolonged ritual of shoulder and arm clasps, pats and repeated semi hugs. Rather endearing. Women also lean close to talk, walk holding hands with teenagers and older family members. Older men seem to have plenty of time for park sitting with mates.

Tentaclos E2.50 and they are big!

Wine in mini marts. Beer in cafes. Tiny shops which sell mixed hardware, anything you could imagine wanting. Streets which specialize in florists, shoe repair, electrical appliances, carpentry....
Also hypermarts, even "jumbo hypermarts!" we were too scared to go there!

On doors, puxe and empurre. And no, puxe means pull. I am finally getting it right.

Nothing gets started til 9 or 10 am. Cafes close around 5 and restaurants only really get started after 7.30. Lunch finishes by 2. Museums close til usually 2 or 3 after lunch. You need to adjust your day to suit.

"Chinese" shops abound, filling our 2dollar shop gap.

People in service positions are usually helpful but only if you ask. Often nothing extra is volunteered. Like the tourismo in a town offering no information past the immediate locality, even about commonly recognized local attractions. Not an entrepreneurial society.

The only info about a street will be its name, if you are lucky, on a corner building. No businesses label themselves with an address. It is unusual for little places to have a village or town name plate. Hey! If you live there, you know anyway. This can be a bit stressful as the bus wends its way around some scenic loop, and you have no idea where you are!

Posted by woylie 13:40 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Kulture and easy climbing

Guimaraes

sunny 27 °C

A short bus trip from Porto and we are ensconced in this lovely inland city, named Europe's city of culture for this year. It is also a UN World Heritage site. We are just outside the walls of the old city, which is called the birthplace of Portugal. Pretty three or four storey buildings with iron work balconies overlooking many small pracas or largos (little plazas) and public gardens. There is a four cornered remnant of a very old building purporting to be where the Visigoth leader claimed victory from the Swabians. The nearby church bells have an overwrought celebration of the hour which bounces off the stone walls around.

The telerifico is a cable car which whips us up rough slopes forested with chestnuts and oaks, and some eucalypts!, to Penha. This hill rears up beside the city, adorned with the most enormous granite boulders, hermits grottoes and forest. It was so cool, and so effortless to get there! My kind of climbing. It must have been a haven for brigands as well as the monks who from 1720, found isolated spots for religious life. Rich green, mossy rocks and so quiet.

Down below, there are all sorts of artistic events for this special year. We sat in a Praca to watch a marionette show, in Portugese, which stretches the imagination wonderfully. Who cares if we had it right? Magical ending as one white clad figure rose slowly above the crowd and then moved in a stately progression out of the courtyard. We were all oblivious to the handlers tho we cheered them madly at the end.

Translation was almost unnecessary also as we were guided around a collection of archaeological treasures from a nearby Celtic city. The guide was so passionate, and keen that we comprehend, that it almost rendered common languages unimportant. I wish we had time to see this citania, but should be able to see an example settlement elsewhere.

Last night, dinner was in a restaurant full of Portugese families, but tonight we eschewed the delights of bacalhau in tasty but enormous quantities. It was petiscos eg tapas, at tables in Praca Santiago, as the evening cooled down. Wow! Octopus grilled, lovely padrones, and pears soaked in port with slices of goat cheese. And chilled Viognier.

We heading back tomorrow for another sample after a quiet Sunday exploring the castle.
Off to Viana do Castelo on the estuary of the Rio Lima on Monday.

Posted by woylie 13:05 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Messing about on boats

Porto

sunny 22 °C

Ah, Porto! City of bridges(many), also hilly streets(ditto), amazing river and buildings. After a day of resetting David's built in GPS, and revisiting some favorites, we took a bus to the far end of the city. Matosinhos is the industrial port end, where fishing boats also land. Fabulous grilled fish prepared outside so the smoke billows down the road. Choose from a range of fish on ice, simple, excellent.

We are in a basic cheap hotel, with a church opposite our window city walls of blue azulejo tiles telling the saint's life. The main market , Mercado Bolhao, is round the corner, so we stock up there for breakfast and some evening meals. Great breads. the metro stop is next door. Very convenient.
It actually rained alone day! We were indignant! However, a visit to the impressive Serralves Museum and art gallery was dry, tho the fabulous gardens weren't an option. Entertained by a display of work from a Bulgarian artist, much larger than life, very clever- Nedko Solakov. Not someone we would ever have seen in Australia. And seen some lovely old eclesiastical
buildings and wonderfully skilled furniture.

And then there was the Douro River. What a day! Up early to catch the train all the way to Pinhao, past terraced hills, along the river for quite a lot of the trip. Then onto a boat and back downstream. We even went through a lock! Which dropped 28 metres. Gorgeous green hills, worked and planted with vines right up to the skyline. Glimpses of houses perched on the slopes. This is the Douro wine region and many Quintas were labelled along the river in big letters. At Regua, sadly a big extra crowd joined the boat but we had a lovely morning before that. The crowd was entertaining in its own way, big numbers of Portugese families out to have a great time. Drinking songs were an important part of lunch, led by Portugese women of a certain age, a force of nature obviously. Lots of good humour. We arrived back at the Gaia side of the river, took the cable car up to the bridge and wandered across, stoping for stunning views, and back to our hotel. Had interesting chats over the day with a young couple from Belgium and another town from New York.

And we are waiting to find out what happened to the Art Nouveaux cafe Brasileira, a landmark of style, which had smoke puffing out and a big contingent of firefighters. David thinks they burnt the toast.

Posted by woylie 12:38 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Fonty's pool and some giblets (a Manjimup joke!)

Coimbra

sunny 31 °C

I felt a glow of satisfaction as the bus to Serpins pulled away with us on board. We headed out of Coimbra for the day to see some hill country around Lousa. (there is an important tilde there but I don't know how to do that). The town is only 25 km from Coimbra but via forested steep sided valleys which meant the road twisted around and up and up. I was chuffed that I had correctly worked out what, when and where from the online bus information, in Portugese. The day before, we had followed directions to find the local bus out to Conimbriga, what remains of a Roman city. At least there we pooled languages with a group of other tourists for travel information and reassurance.
But today, it was just us, and a collection of locals getting on and off as the bus worked its way out into the countryside. Lousa was a surprise, much larger than I had imagined, and the tourismo housed a really good collection of tools and equipment from the region. This is on the edge of the Serras, where village houses have been made of the schist or slate stone. Very poor, hard lives, isolated - and often abandoned more recently. People are realizing the interest in these beautiful locations and some of the villages are reviving and being repaired as a result. You really need either a car, or versus strong legs to walk
the trails.
We walked from the town up to the keep, which tested my calves. It was only supposed to be 3 km but it certainly was steep all the way until just before the end, when the road dived down to a river pool. It was clear and cold which did not deter family groups enjoying the day. We sat by the water, watching leaves drift down from the trees clothing the steep valley, and ate petiscos of moelas( chicken giblets) and thick slices of spicy chorizo. And beer. Then that descent became a demanding start to the return walk. The hillsides were covered in eucalypts and wattles. On the bus, we could see harvesting of plantations on some incredible slopes.
Sadly, we decided not to buy that lovely battered old house in Lousa- green walls, elegant sweep of stairs and an overgrown walled garden. I can see why visitors lose sight of sense and follow a folly.

It was worthwhile to travel out of the city for a reminder of what life is like for many still in Portugal. And just how green it is on this central region.

Posted by woylie 09:42 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Woaming in the wuins

Coimbra

sunny 35 °C

Conimbriga was once a "big" Roman city, abandoned as invaders pressured the locals and power shifted up the road to Coimbra. Today we wandered around the buildings revealed by archaeologists, with several baths, houses, forum, amphitheatre and massive walls. They say it is only about 15 percent of the city. Lovely mosaic floors just lying open to the elements. I guess there is a shortage of money for ideal preservation work. A river ran below in a steep green valley. An Italian woman and I shared a bi lingual response to some of the lovely finds in the ,museum. It did not matter that neither of us could understand exactly. Gorgeous matte cobalt blue glass beads made on site! Masses of pottery and weaving weights.

Language challenges abound of course although I have had several chats using my remnants of French. So that giant pink knitted piece hanging from the museum wasn't a yarn bombing by university students ( they are traditionally very politically active here), but left from the commemoration of queen Isabel referring to a famous story to do with roses. This is a famous university city, with elaborate rituals which bond students to their years here. They wear black capes to class, have developed fado singing in a local style, and scrawl wordy graffiti on the old walls.

We went to a fado performance with the distinctive plangent sound of the local guitar, a fne tenor singer and guitarist. Very theatrical with mournful laments or songs of praise for the beauties of the river. Impressive number of public plaques celebrating writers, poets, artists, singers and intellectuals in this city.

The older part of the city is based either around the base of the hillside or around the university buildings clustered at the peak. The streets are winding and narrow.this leads to some great terrific moments, mostly visitors. Like the BMW reversing uphill and around a bend when the driver realized he really would not be able to proceed down those steps. The street was only just wide enough for his car. He was laughing, but his parents in the back seat were flapping their hands a lot. I have no idea whether he made it!

It has hit 35 here, and lots of kids were out around the fountains in the pracas last night as the light went. How many centuries have adults gathered for a drink and rest while their children splashed the cobblestones and chased the pigeons?

Posted by woylie 13:00 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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