Greetings from Braga, Portugal. We have been here a month and it has been a unique start to our 3-month stay: rainy, informative, delicious, and relaxing.
Our flat is conveniently located just off a main thoroughfare, only a 5-minute walk from the city’s historic plaza (Praça da Republic), a less than a 10 minute drive to a couple of great grocery stores, two multiplex theaters, a huge mall, and an Ikea. Add in a number of neighborhood pastelarias (pastry shops), vegetable/fruit stands, and restaurants, and we are in what is turning out to be an ideal location. (Oh – and our building provides a reserved parking space in an underground garage and an elevator.) Observation: most of the housing complexes in Portugal (excepting for the historical zones) look pretty much like those you see in the photo. The uniformity is striking.
First up on our list for settling in: adding feathers to the nest. The flat is spacious and comfortable but lacked a bit in its depth of amenities – particularly for a “Chef Bob” kitchen. It always amazes us what hosts supply – and don’t supply. For instance, who doesn’t need a paring knife, dish towels, a pizza pan, aluminum foil, dinner bowls, and pepper? There was more we ended up purchasing, but you get the idea.
We were itching to do some site seeing, but the rainy weather for the first couple of weeks kept us indoors much of the time. I did try an extended walk one afternoon and got surprised by a sudden shower. Almost got my umbrella turned inside out; came home wet to the bone. Most days we opted to stay dry and warm, and I occupy myself by painting, knitting and wearing my newly acquired and eye-poppingly colorful TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses) socks.
One evening, to keep from going stir-crazy, we braved the weather and went to Bicla Burger, a couple of blocks from the flat. We both loved our meal, not to mention the beer prices – less than $2/bottle.
The fries (should I say chips?) came in this British-inspired paper cone. Take a moment to read the print… What???
We were amused by the restaurant’s repurposing of mattress springs as a lighting feature. (This isn’t the first time I have found proof that it is alway wise to look up, right?)
On another less-than-seriously rainy evening we headed for a lovely park that had a pizza restaurant. It was a nice walk and excellent pizza: cracker-thin crust and interesting ingredients (salted cod, prawns, truffle carpaccio).
One of the other things beside nearby restaurants that has been a real boon is finding a fitness center just a short drive from the flat. (Allowing us to eat more pizza, maybe?) Our monthly (and reasonable fee) gives us access to both the facility and all classes; they even have private parking. So 3-4 times each week Bob heads for the upper level – recumbent bike and weight machines, and I go to the pool. Pool rules dictate that I have to wear a swimming cap and I also wanted my own water weights so it was off to a sporting goods store. Decathlon provide us with a new experience. To check out you just dump all the stuff you want to buy into the bin and, voila!, via the miracle of technology, all your tags are read and you get your bill.
We have a dear friend who lives in Porto, so as the weather got more favorable we made plans to meet there for lunch. We could have driven into the city (about 35 minutes) but decided to experiment with the train. What we learned: the Braga station is close to our flat (walkable distance but major roads in between nudged us into driving), parking for the day was €2, the trip took an hour and had 25 stops and cost €3.25/person (one way). There was some great people watching and pleasing scenery.
Lunch at Traça, our favorite! Based on our friend, Kerry’s, recommendation we shared a venison carpaccio. Bob had wild boar and I had veal. There was the requisite green wine to accompany, of course.
Traça is just a short walk from the beautiful São Bento Station. In a post from an earlier visit I shared photos of the stations’s interior walls and the gorgeous tile work. To mix things up, here’s an exterior wall from a building adjacent to the tracks.
Looking for a change of scenery we decided on a short road trip. Just a 45-minute car drive north from Braga is Portugal’s only National Park: Peneda-Geres. The experience is different from that of parklands in the states as the Peneda-Geres area is designated but not contained within conventional boundaries. There are small communities and various roads throughout. It was a curvy and steep excursion and well worth the afternoon.
The weather got clearer just as we welcomed a visit from our nephew, the amazing and the I-am-thrilled-we-are-related-to-this-great-human-being, Kyle. One of our first outings was to Bom Jesus do Monte – a Braga must-see. This is the view from the cathedral at the top of the mount.
And this is the view after walking down to the plaza. Note: those diagonal railings at each side designate a flight of stairs. Lot of steps, interestingly crazy fountains, and an appreciation of how this all got constructed.
Kyle and I standing at the terrace in front of the cathedral. Photo credit: Bob.
The cathedral interior. The art above the alter is a sculptural interpretation of the crucifixion.
The cathedral ceiling.
Bob catching me looking (predictable) up.
A trip to Guimaraes, an historic town and an UNESCO sited based on the preservation of its medieval origins. We walked up into the walled city, continued uphill to the Duke’s Palace, and after a wonderful visit that included exquisite tapestries, we again walked upward to the Castle.
And so went January. As for the rest of 2023, I stay open to nudges. This was on my tea bag from a beverage I had at Dulles before boarding our flight to Portugal. More next month…