300 years in Portugal

With 5 friends from university, we spent a week in Lisbon to celebrate our, on average, turning 50, giving us a combined 300 years, or so, of revolutions around the sun.

Natalia and I followed this up with a visit to Porto, together with Benno and Gitta, and Natalia and I then went on to Coimbra, roughly halfway between Porto and Lisbon. Coimbra was an early capital of the country, has a large student population, and, it is said, together with some venues in Porto, modelled for a number of features cast into the world’s consciousness through the works of J.K. Rowling, who resided in Portugal when writing parts of the Harry Potter series.

In all three towns, we fell with our noses in butter.

In Lisbon and Porto, ‘Festa Junina’ was in full swing. Brazil also celebrates the saints around which these festivities take place, but in Brazil, June is winter, while in Portugal, we were baking in the sun almost everyday.

In Lisbon, the festivities were centred on the suburb of Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood of the city, where its name is derived from the Arabic for ‘hot fountains’, or ‘baths’, similar to the origin of the word ‘hammam’.

In Porto, as part of Festa Junina, we enjoyed the most important celebration of the year, the ‘Festa de São João’. Here, we let fly some paper lanterns, which required a collective effort, including the injection of local expertise. The day, with tens of thousands of people on the streets (and a surprising lack of public toilets), finished with an excessive fireworks show, which we were able to enjoy from the top floor of Benno and Gitta’s hotel.

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In Coimbra, we managed to capture the last day of the city’s biennial. Held, mostly, in a large monastery, the installations were perhaps not spectacular, the venue certainly was.
And we had fun singing Frank Sinatra songs in the building’s empty cistern.

The societal contrast between Portugal and the US, where we had just spent some four months, was stark. Friendly, sociable, pretty, superb food, affordable, it was an excellent place to recover.