Just Right: Coimbra!

Just Right: Coimbra!

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.


Some not: every cafe.

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.

 

 

 

 

The People Post

The People Post

New to blogging, I’ve neglected to take photos of the many wonderful and often helpful people I’ve met here in Portugal. But I have words. Here are a few.

Early on, when I asked a taxi driver in Porto why there were so few dogs, he offered to show me areas outside the city conducive to dog-keeping next time I’m in his cty. “All green!” he said. “Big dogs! German Shepherds! Do you have a German Shepherd?” No, but a big one. “Bring her!”

Here in Coimbra, I found myself beside a woman heading down a steep alley. Unsure I was headed in the right way — the path ahead looked like a dead end — and not wanting to have to climb back up for nothing, I asked her whether it was the way to the Old Cathedral. She turned out to be a professor of medieval history at the University, and so filled me in on the remarkable history of the 12th century fortress on our breathless — there is no other way — descent.

At one point, she glanced at my shoes, worried I hadn’t come prepared. I had: rubber soles. When I suggested  the walk kept her healthy, she laughed, and pounded her heart.

There was the woman who, when I asked for directions to the Jardim Botanico da Universidade, looked askance, and, I sensed immediately, pointed the wrong way. I found the right way. It’s gorgeous, even in March. I took my first selfie there, but I’m not sharing. So, magnolias instead.

There was also the woman who pulled up next to me in her car and asked directions in rapid Portuguese! I looked like a native!

My favorite might the earnest young man working as a guard in one of the University buildings. I had peered through a series of windows down into a grandly furnished hall where there seemed to be something important going on. Sure enough: a PhD oral exam.

He led me back to the windows to explain. “The jury, he said, “sits there, and do you see the woman with the robes? She is the judge. In fact, my exam for my Masters is coming up and will be there.”  He was becoming flushed and nervous, even sweating. A Masters in . . .  “Education. And friends and family sit there.” They can watch?  “Oh, yes.”  It  makes you nervous just talking about it?  “Yes. Very much.”  You will do beautifully. “Thank you.” He also told me that the room had originally been the Front Room. The Front Room? “Where the king sat on his throne.”

But a formal exam in an arena taken seriously. Education taken seriously. Education that matters. A degree that matters. Degrees earned from a university proud on its hill since 1537. No gift grades in Coimbra.

I do have one people picture, this one of the fine chef Eva and her crew at Maria Portuguese.

When you come to visit me in Coimbra, we will feast there. She’s turning me into a foodie!

Bom dia.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!