To our American readers (and maybe those from other places, but I can’t make informed analogies for y’all): you know how there will be two small towns that perceive themselves to be blood rivals, when from any reasonable zoomed-out observation they seem absolutely identical? Their football games are the rowdiest of the year, heck even the debate teams get pretty heated if they meet up. (Many of you have already had a pair of town names pop in to your minds. I go with “Valdosta” and “Tifton” personally.) These towns have similar populations, chief industries, distribution of churches, demographics etc.. but significant numbers of their citizens will spit and make the sign of the evil eye (or whatever) if you mention this blood rival in their presence. It’s quaint, charming, or exasperating depending on how much you have to deal with it. Almost worse, not everybody is on board with this border war mentality, so you can find yourself perpetually off-balance when the subject comes up with a stranger, not sure what camp they fall into.
I brought that up for no particular reason. Anyway, let’s talk about our visit to Guimarães.
Yes, yes, astute readers can see between the lines and realize that I’m talking about Guimarães and Braga; well done you. We hired a young man to mow our grass (for I am old and feeble now and can’t be arsed to do yard work) and the first thing he said to me was “I’m from Guimarães. You know about the rivalry, yes?” He was not picking a fight; he was a very pleasant fellow but he thought that if I was a long-time Braga native that I might be upset to discover he had hidden(!?) his Guimarães-y background. And I was reminded of this when we checked into our accommodation (holy #*&(@# he got to the point?? We had lost hope.) in the pousada in Guimarães, a converted monastery turned hotel when the nice young lady at the front desk, having heard us say that we were from Braga, brought up the rivalry but then took pains to explain how we all need to get along, it’s modern times etc… So, that was an interesting start to our trip.
It got even more interesting when we walked to our room. And walked. And walked. Seriously, when I say the place is a refurbished monastery I mean it’s a giant old almost-castle with high, high ceilings and a monumental sense of scale. You know, just in case you were harboring doubts about the misuse of parishioners’ donations back in the day. In any case, it was both a fascinating and a comfortable place to rest our heads for a couple of days.
Alas, our time in Guimarães wasn’t quite what we thought it would be, because the weather turned against us. Granted, it’s still winter and the weather was what you might call “normal”, but it’s been such a sunny and warm couple of months by and large, we allowed ourselves to plan around it. So thank goodness the hotel itself was pretty neat, because it was a lot of our next couple days.
We did get to spend a fair amount of time in downtown Guimarães, which only reinforced my “two identical, bitter rivals” theory. It was different from Braga, for sure, but baaaassically it was the same. Beautifully manicured flower beds, pedestrian-only area with typical shops and an over-abundance of cafes and restaurants. (Speaking of which, thoughts on our meals in Guimarães can be found at… that’s right! Our facebook page.) Our time in Guimarães was quiet and restful, and the pousada was practiced in old-school service and hospitality; things like staff knowing our room number automatically after the first day, or offering extra services unprompted and unasked for. We’re kind of typical “oh please, don’t go to trouble on our account” types, but we couldn’t even refuse things like an extra-late turndown service because they just did it without us asking.
This may sound a little dull, but we like our quiet time. We played cribbage in the bar. We strolled. We read. As a celebration of our relationship, it was pretty spot on, actually. Thus recognized, we packed ourselves back up and made for home. And now we have some “normal” time until the end of the month when we have (*cue ominous music*) our SEF appointments. Stay tuned.