20/07/2010 by etiennefish
After breakfast on day 4, it was again time for us to head on to the next stop, and thus we were introduced to Martha. We started with Mary. She was British and perfectly lovely, but a bit too understanding of our many errors, and far too patient with us (and I was bored and fiddling with things in the car), so we switched to Danielle. Danielle sounded like she was from middle America, and her voice was neither inspiring, reassuring, nor particularly nice to listen to, but she was the ‘woman’ for the job. My father renamed her Martha about 5 minutes into being introduced to her, as he wasn’t interested in working with a Danielle. Martha was our GPS. We had rented a car for the remainder of our adventures, and Martha was the guiding star to light our way. She was often wrong in her direction giving (sometimes only according to my father), but we mostly forgave her. Without Martha, we might never have made it out of Porto (fact).
Anyway, we decided to go a bit further north, and our first stop was in the small coastal town of Viana do Castelo. It was a cute place. We had some of the most legendary cappuccinos in possibly the entire world (seriously amazing), and I introduced the parents to Portuguese pastries (yum, yum, yum). Then, we wandered the old town a bit before heading to the waterfront. There we happened upon an old hospital ship that had been turned into a museum. It was a very enjoyable side adventure, which involved a never-ending self-guided tour through the bowels of the ship, some posing in the surgery rooms, and learning quite a bit about the cod-fishing (bacalhau) industry in Portugal. I also learned that if I’m ever going to be stationed on a ship for any reason, a hospital ship is the way to go. There was so much room!!! I think the crew’s quarters all had bedrooms about twice the size of mine in Geneva. I was more than slightly jealous (sigh). There was also a youth hostel on-board, which would probably have been amazing to stay in. Unfortunately the office kept strange hours so we couldn’t check it out, but if I ever make it back there, that is where I’m going to attempt to stay. We didn’t do much more in Viana do Castelo after the boat adventure. We mostly looked at some of the fishing boats, took some photos, and went on a desperate hunt for toilets. Then, we piled back into the car, and carried on until Braga.
Braga is known as the city that prays. For good reason. There was gorgeous church after gorgeous church throughout the city, all of which seemed to be conducting a continuous series of masses, that carried on at all times with no break. It was mostly ridiculous. I thought Braga was fairly amazing though, even if a little too pious for me to actually live in. The main square held what clearly had recently been a festival, which we were sad to have missed. However, after having dinner there, we happened upon an outdoor dance performance that included performances by little kids to young adults. It was a quite modern and different show, and it was a fun unexpected treat to watch that I thoroughly enjoyed. Our hotel that night was also a treat (it is called Residencial Avenida for anyone heading to Braga). It had been recommended by the tourist office as fitting our needs (namely close by and having some sort of parking associated with it), and it turned out to be amazing. It was a very cosy place, and looked very family run. Our room was actually two, and the space looked right out a historical novel. It was definitely an enjoyable place to stay.
(Sorry didn’t include any Braga church photos, despite having visited a fair share of the 30 odd ones that apparently occupied the same general vicinity of our hotel. They were nice, but not as interesting to me as the photos I chose here.)
Started out with a fabulous breakfast, quickly followed by a wild goose chase by Martha up the side of a mountain. We wanted to go see the Bom Jesus complex (another church/hotel/park/religious mecca of the Portuguese world/ etc.) before leaving, because we’d heard it was fabulous, but Martha apparently had a different means of getting there which involved some tiny cobbled residential roads ending in dead ends, and scary narrow/steep/terrifying passageways. We made it to the top eventually (mostly by disregarding Martha all together, and following the, you know, actual road signs), and wandered around (part of) the enormous parks and grounds. We made our ‘pilgrimage’ of the trip up and down the labyrinth of steps leading to the enormous cathedral, and got a fair bit of exercise in. After taking in as much Catholic as we could handle, and the ceremonial posting of some postcards after so many previously unsuccessful attempts, we were back on the road.
The next town we visited was Guimarães. There, we mostly wandered as per usual. We had lunch at a great unassuming little café across from the Praca de Sao Francisco. The woman running the place there was pretty fabulous, me and dad had amazing sandwiches (with actual wheat bread. swoon.), and the lady hilariously chided mom when she caught me finishing her corn for her. We walked around the old town there, and it was yet another cute little place. We didn’t stay too long, however, because we had to get back on the road in order to arrive in Coimbra before it was too late to see much.
Coimbra was fabulous. I really liked it there. We sadly didn’t get to see too much of the town, at least not in daylight, but I had fun there nonetheless. It was yet another city full of hills, and after a delicious dinner of pizza (legendary) and wine, we walked ‘up’ in search of the university and sights. Coimbra just had a great atmosphere, and the streets were either completely empty at night or full of students in outdoor cafes chatting, discussing deep thoughts, and laughing the night away. The whole place had an excited air about it, as if great things were in the works, set in an old world-style setting. Coimbra was also, however, the city of ‘you don’t speak Portuguese, you speak Brasilian.’ Let me explain- Within seconds, I was not a huge fan of (translation- Vehement loathing is child’s play to the way I felt about him) the guy the hotel desk where we stayed (slimy bastard). Within 10 minutes of meeting him, he was uber pushy and more than slightly rude, and then proceeded to insult the way I spoke, forcing me to pronounce words that he wrote down so he could then mock my Brazilian pronunciations (‘Mau’ and ‘Mal’ for example). He then blamed me for Brazil’s deviance from ‘proper Portuguese,’ by giving me the history of a country he’s never been to and then comparing it with other former colonies such as Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and even East Timor, stating that despite the Portuguese leaving those places forever ago, they still knew how to ‘speak properly.’ I wanted to punch him in the stomach. Fact. I also wanted to talk about all the bad things ‘he’ did to Brazil. If he wanted to blame me for Brazil’s corruption of his ‘perfect language’ then I had plenty of things I could blame him for. I didn’t, it didn’t seem worth it (sigh). But I also wanted to talk about his corruption of the English language, which he spoke quite strangely with my parents. Apparently he learned his English in New Jersey. I mean enough said. They don’t even speak ‘proper American’ there. Anyway, I clearly was not going to make friends with this guy, especially as our conversation could have been funny with someone who could have been saying the same things in a joking and teasing manner. He was not joking. Grrrrrrr. In fact, I got the ‘you speak brazilian’ thing a few more times subsequently that night. Everyone else was joking and funny about it, and I completely didn’t mind the comments. Okay, enough said about stupid man…. Midnight hikes through a city are fabulous, especially when visiting cool universities atop hills, and I wished we’d had more time in Coimbra.
Today (well it was when I wrote this). Another early morning start. We attempted to get going earlier than later because of the distance we were covering, but Martha got us lost in the construction zone of new roads, and so we were forced to double back to Coimbra in order to get better directions from the tourist office. We are now about a 1/3 of the way to the Algarve, and I am excited for beach houses, and the little village we will be staying in. I do not like driving for long distances. Sigh…. I’m working on being patient…