Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guimarães and Barcelos

We’re sitting in the mostly dark bar of our hotel right now, side by side on a surprisingly right-angled (and therefore rather more surprisingly comfortable), shiny black leather loveseat with white stitching. There’s an orange plastic vase with two sprigs of lucky bamboo in it on a rectangular black table in front of us, and a dim floor lamp with a cubic shade to my left. The open hours for the bar are 4pm to midnight, and we’re well within those hours right now. Nowhere is it posted that the bar shouldn’t be open on a Wednesday night, and since we’ve been sitting here (almost an hour now, I should think), several couples have come around the corner, seen only the two of us side by side in a square pool of light with our laptops on our laps, and gone away again, confused. There’s nothing, actually (from what we can see), to keep us from just pouring ourselves some drinks—the bottles are out on a shelf behind the bar, the glasses are clean and within reach, we know from the regular chilly tumble that ice is plentiful in the machine. But for some reason (morals, maybe?), we’ve stayed primly in the public area. We’re only here at all, and not in our clean, Ikea-esque room, because we’ve found that we can access somebody’s unsecured wireless here. It is very Portugal, the whole scene.

We hiked today outside Guimarães, through invasive eucalyptus forests (which nevertheless smell good when the sun hits them) and along a river, up to an ancient (maybe 2300 to 2400-year-old) city. Alongside the river for part of the way up the hill ran a brisk watercourse—I’m assuming a several-centuries-old irrigation system (although the current channel is lined with concrete halfpipes instead of the marble or granite slabs you’d expect). The ancient city was, well, very old. In the beginning, I’m always interested in seeing these ancient things . . . but then, once I’m there, I lose interest pretty quickly. Yeah, okay, a bunch of old stone walls, or not even that, just old stone squares laid out on the ground. In ten minutes I’m done, and ready for refreshment (in this case a “red fruits” juice). I always wonder uncomfortably just how long I’m supposed to be interested in ruins. I suspect it’s longer than ten minutes, but that’s almost universally all I can muster. I’m much more interested in things maybe 300 years old, which we encountered aplenty near the end of our walk, down at the bottom of the hill, crumbling and covered with vines, old irrigation ditches still flowing with water along the edge of houses and in narrow cascades over walls, feeding a corn patch here, a plot of flowers there.

Then we drove to Barcelos, which is a fine town (although no Guimarães for sheer picturesqueness), but we’re really only here because of tomorrow’s market. It’s just the weekly market, but supposedly it’s the best in Portugal, with everything from chickens to vegetables to pottery or embroidery to Romany selling secondhand clothes (most likely from Americans). Dinner was tasty (pig in the fashion of the Minho, which included liver and some sort of tripe sausage as well as regular old recognizable meat . . . I admit I stuck to the recognizable . . . boiled with olives and potatoes and pickled carrots and cauliflower), and the wine, a red vinho verde, was only €4 for the bottle.

And now it’s 11:15 and time for bed. Tomorrow we head east, over the mountains, to Trás os Montes.

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