I fully expected to enjoy Portugal. I hoped I would find a good spot for relocation. I did not expect to fall in love. But I did.
Coimbra is a small city, a university town. Piled on a hill pressed against the Mondego River near the Atlantic, the city – as odd as it sounds – felt like home. It was kind and comfortable and interesting. The people were warm, welcoming, and patient with my Portuguese.
I was different in Portugal because Portugal is different.
Here, we talk about taking caffeine intravenously. As a child, I was told the early bird catches the worm. As an adult, that time is money. That quiet time is wasted time. That contemplation doesn’t pay. Not in cash, not in benefits. I happily, even eagerly, lived this way for years. After all, I’ve chosen to live in or near New York City for forty years. I kept up with the pace, sometimes created the pace, and felt like a fish out of water whenever I strayed too far west. I always insisted on enough solitude to write, but there was always that underlying pressure to produce in visible, viable ways. I gave in to the notion that visible busyness was Plan A. And Plan B.
Not so in Porto, where I stopped first, or Coimbra, where I stayed longest. People seemed able to allow their days to unfold naturally. That’s not to say there weren’t schedules – the trains ran on time; stores opened on time; hotels were efficient – but no one measured out minutes. No one measured out my minutes. No one rushed me through my espresso. No one hurried me through my dinner for a next seating. People talked to each other, and to me, instead of frowning into their phones, or they sat contentedly taking in their surroundings. I never felt measured on some activity continuum.
I liked it. And just in case you’re wondering if I was too relaxed to write, no. I wrote. I wrote a lot. I liked that, too.
A few photos. Funny thing, they make me homesick.
So many streets to explore.
The Old Cathedral (12th century) with its thousand-year old olive tree. Who thought to preserve this particular one?
The moody mysterious Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha.
Food glorious food. Some healthy: the marvelous Mercado.
On my last evening, I watched the moon rise above the town from the terrace of the Hotel Oslo while chatting with a couple from Amsterdam and a young fellow from Manchester, all of us toasting the lovely town.
Here’s to facing forward.