Published: July 17th 2008July 16th 2008
16th July. Bye bye Lisbon, hello Coimbra. As I did my final packing just after 09:00 I was conflicted in my feelings. On the one hand I was relieved to be leaving Lisbon where I’d had an extended forced stay due to illness. On the other there was some trepidation at facing the unknown. Will the bus station at Coimbra be near where the pensions are located and secondly will there be reasonably priced accommodation on offer? I can tell you I wasn’t looking forward to lugging my large back pack through unknown streets in the midday sun. Settling into a new place sucks. It’s the hard yards of travel in my opinion. I could only hope it went by quickly with a minimum of hassles. I got to the Jarmin Zoologico Metro station without much drama and rushed by beggar’s corner on the way to the nearby bus station. As bus stations go it wasn’t too bad. In other words it was an utter crap hole with a fresh coat of paint. I looked at my bus ticket and saw the number twenty. There were a number of bus bays running from one to twenty so I figured that that
was what the number was referring to. And as per usual, I couldn’t have been further from the mark. If I’d been able to read the departure screen monitor I might have been able to decipher their system. But I was flying blind which is more than often my fate. I searched for bay twenty but nineteen was the highest number I could find. Was the world out to get me? So I sort help from a bus driver. I might as well have asked a speed hump for assistance.
The clock was ticking. It was now less than fifteen minutes before my bus departed. That familiar feeling of panic set in. So I approached a fellow passenger who directed me to the opposite side of the booking hall. With little confidence I trudged off over there. The first few bays were occupied by a number of buses from the same bus company marked on my ticket. I looked up at the small electronic display below the bay number and saw that bay three had the number twenty showing in an amber digital format. I showed a young guy standing there my ticket and he confirmed in perfect English
I was waiting in the right spot. I bitched to him about the confusing numbering system here. He had no problem with it. After all he’d been living with Portuguese signage since birth and thought it was hunky dory. He probably thought I was just another whinging Brit. Good thing I didn’t let on I was an Aussie. So our bus pulled up and we stowed our big bags in the luggage compartment. This bus driver had no problem with me carrying on my small pack. Nice change for the ahole bus driver on the overnight coach from Blahdrd. I even worked out I had an allocated bus seat and made my way to seat number one on the top deck. Sat next to a nice middle aged lady who spoke a reasonable amount of English. She confirmed I was on the right bus even though there was no mention of Coimbra on the bus’ destination boards. Got quite a panoramic view of the countryside from my persistently squeaky seat perched up against the windscreen. As we travelled north the countryside became more wooded and a little greener. I only hoped it might be a little cooler as the forecast
was bloody hot, no matter what scale of measurement you used.
Two and a half hours after departing Lisbon we arrived at Coimbra. It looked a little bigger than the 150,000 population it boasted. I asked my travelling companion in the seat next me which direction I should head to find pensions in this town. She said she hadn’t been there for years but pointed to the right where the railway station was located. I thanked her for her help and wandered off in that direction. Luckily there was a bit of shade from buildings along the way which made the going a bit easier with a full backpack. I decided that I wouldn’t rush things and work in a methodical manner, carefully checking each building I passed for a sign of hotel/pension. After about fifteen minutes or less of foot slogging I come across the Hotel Oslo. It looked a little over my price range but I figured there’s no harm in checking with reception. They were very obliging and showed me a reasonable room for thirty-five Euros including breakfast. They would drop it to thirty Euros if I stayed a week. Still a little pricey but at
least I knew I had a place to stay if worse came to worst. Checked another hotel several doors down which was in the same ball pack, price wise. Then discovered Pensao International Residenial. This was it. A hotel oozing with shabby, old-worldy charm and rooms at twenty Euros a night and under. I was shown a dig on the first level for twenty Euros, then another on the second level for fifteen Euros and then one more on the third level for twelve and a half Euros per night. I was hoping the place was twelve stories high so they’d be paying me to live near the top level.
Each room had its own on suite of toilet and shower plus air con and TV. I actually preferred the cheaper room on the top level in the attic with a dinky sloped ceiling and rotating hatch window like the one I had in my house in Nth Fitzroy. I’d intended to check out more places but saw no point after discovering this gem. I immediately paid for two night’s accommodation and hauled my gear up to the room. I tested out the double bed which was comfy and
snuck a peak at the old buildings on the hill through the window. I couldn’t fault the place. Definitely the best value I’d had in Europe so far. The people behind the reception desk were also helpful and spoke a reasonable amount of English. It was great to resolve my bedding issues so quickly. Looked like there was no need to worry about falling on my feet. I went for a cursory wander of the immediate area. Looked like a really attractive little city. There were plenty of cafes and hidden streets to explore which gave the impression of a much bigger place than the population figures would suggest. It seemed to have a sophistication unexpected in such a small provincial capital. Maybe that was partly explained by the fact that it is a university town making it atypical from cities with a similar demography.
I didn’t walk around too long as it gets pretty hot around here during summer. Felt like it was in the high thirty’s so I made it a short excursion outside. Retreated to my room and snoozed for a couple of hours. I hadn’t slept too well the previous night and travel tends to
drain you, even a relatively short bus trip. I bumped my scone on the beam of the sloping roof several times. A piece of red tap was stuck along the length of the protruding edge of ceiling. I still managed to but heads with it. Luckily my Super Bock soaked brain was already beyond saving so a few savage blows to the head was no big deal. That’s what my imaginary neurologist told me anyway. Couldn’t think of deferring to a wiser higher authority. I watched the news on local TV after waking. The only bit I understood was the weather. Thirty-four on Thursday and sunny. I left my room at around 19:00. Took a seat at a local café with a view of the river. After being ignored by the waiter for fifteen minutes I switched to the other outside café next door. Again the waiter ignored me for over fifteen minutes, not once showing any interest in serving me. Is there an ordinance against serving middle aged English speaking tourists? Complete opposite to my experience in Lisbon. I felt wanted back there, in a creepy stalked sort fashion. I walked off with an empty belly looking for somewhere/anywhere
to get fed.
I ended up lobbing outside of café Angola. It wasn’t the swankiest address in town but at least the waiters served you. I ordered a beer to dull the hanger pangs. Then another to deaden the pangs completely. Desperate times require desperate measures. A local at a table opposite me translated on my behalf for the waitress. He told me that I could get some of the snack food inside reheated if I asked. A guy arrived walked up to the table grabbing some towel or something off a dog who had run past. I thought he was a dero or something but my translator informed me that he was indeed the waiter in casual dress. I asked for a grande beer making my point with exaggerated hand movements. He seemed to get the point and came back with a pint sized glass of beer. My temporary translator walked off with his friend and I thanked them for their assistance. A local fronts up and sits at the base of a nearby tree while I consume my big arsed glass of beer. He has an electronic keyboard with him and commences to play Yankee Doodle Dandy
half a dozen times or more with a bit of freebasing interspersed. A woman sitting at the table closest him dropped coin in his case. Not sure if it was to encourage him or shut him up. It encouraged me to hastily consume the remainder of my beer. I kicked myself for missing the rest of this impromptu concert but I guess I’ll have to learn to live with myself.
I walked inside the café and looked for something to eat. I saw some fried snacks in a display case that looked a bit like samosas. I picked one of each using my non existent Portuguese. I tried to convey that I would like them heated up. The waitress responses with confusion in her non existent English and the conversation implodes into a ramshackle mess. I call a truce and watch her wrap the three snack like treats in sheets of paper. Then she engages in home spun origami. First she fashions the base of a box using a flat sheet of grey cardboard and then makes the top using the same method. I‘ve never ever seen someone do take away like this. Custom made containers. These people must
have a lot of time on their hands. Maybe it’s an Angolan tradition to individually produce each take way containers? There may be a lack of a decent restaurant around here but there’s no lack of quirkiness.
I retreated to my hotel room a little after eight. Watched the last ten minutes of ‘The Big Bang Theory’, a sitcom I enjoyed last year in its first truncated (by the writers strike) series. Interesting to watch it with Portuguese sub titles. After that there was a hyped up National Geographic special about killer bees, sharks, lions, volcanoes, you name it. It was totally over the top schlock, perfect programming to put you to sleep. I hit the sack at about 22:30 after a pretty exhausting day with the heat and the moving and all. An hour later my peace wasn’t just disturbed, it was bludgeoned to death with a twenty kilogram mallet. A group of guys stormed my level of the hotel and began talking at the top of their heads. Then I heard what sounded like a basket ball being bounced on the floor of the corridor. If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the selfish idiots began knocking
on all the doors a little later, including mine. The noise died down a bit then rose again in a repeated pattern that didn’t burn itself out until say 02:00 or a lot later. I tried to get some restful sleep but it was almost impossible even with the assistance of my ear plugs. And here I was thinking how quiet this place was compared to Lisbon. I decided I’d ask for another room for the following night. You’d think that a group that went to bed so late would sleep in but no. They awoke at 07:00 as loud as ever but mercifully left rather quickly. I prayed that they were checking out that morning. My fingers were crossed.
Apparently I didn’t cross my fingers enough. The group booking from hell were staying for at least another night so I asked to move downstairs away from the animal house. Room 204 wasn’t nearly as nice as the one I had on the top level and cost me slightly more. Figure that one out. It’s en suite wasn’t nearly as good and it seemed rather cramped due to a huge wardrobe taking up a lots of floor space. A
wardrobe I might add that didn’t have any keys so was useless in serving its original function. All it was to me was a huge obstacle to be navigated around. On top of this there was a standing lamp in the room which took up even more space and was functionally useless. What made things even worse was that there was only one power point in the room above the wardrobe that could only be accessed by standing on a chair. No doubt this layout will win a major design award. It makes such a bold statement. That statement being that I want my old room back. I lay down on my single bed (the other room had a double) and cursed the noise brigade upstairs. After a short moment of settling in I left the hotel in search of an internet café. A rare beast indeed in these lands. I followed the directions given to me by the tourist information office. After about twenty minutes or so I found it. The place was very modern and spacious. Totally unlike the usual hole in the wall internet joints I usually frequent. Of course these plush surrounds came at a price
and I was paying more for connectivity here than in Lisbon. Still any port in a storm and the guy running the place seemed nice and was happy for me to use my laptop at my own desk. Luxury!
When I got back to the hotel I discovered that my room was pretty warm. Switched on the aircon and waited for the room to cool down but it didn’t seem to be happening. After a while the aircon just stopped working all together. I told the guy on the afternoon shift and he wasn’t sure what the problem was. In desperation he came upstairs and opened the master power board and then flicked the circuit breakers. The aircon began working again although I still found it oppressively hot in the room. Went out to grab a bite to eat. The guy on reception confirmed that many of the places around here only serve snacks. Weird. He said I could find some real restaurants behind the big pink building a block away. I found a nice little restaurant exactly where he’d said. I ordered goat off the English language menu. It was delicious. I guess you’d describe it as a
type of goat shank. Tender meat off the bone swimming in its own sauce. I don’t know what ingredients they used in cooking it but it was one of the nicest meals I’ve eaten for a while. Before the main meal arrived I was given a roll of bread and a generous serving of olives. The meal itself was accompanied by potatoes and a small salad. No greens! I’m really hanging out for that vegetarian joint in Chiang Mai. Got back to the hotel and the saga with the faulty aircon continued. The guy on reception conceded I’d have to change rooms if he couldn’t get this sorted. Told me that no one else had had problems with the aircon. I just love hearing stuff like that. So now it’s my fault. Of course a little later I switched to the room across the corridor. The aircon in that room wasn’t working as well so the guy flicked the circuit breakers again and it powered up. He fiddled with the settings and asked me not to touch them. For the rest of that night the aircon did its stuff until it cut out a little after 23:00. By that time
the air temperature outside had fallen sufficiently I didn’t need it anymore. I heard the dickheads arrived back upstairs. They thumped around so much it sounded like elephants dancing upstairs. What were they a weight fitting team?
Didn’t get the most restful sleep of my life in spite of it being much quieter downstairs. Showered in the sterile looking stainless steel combo of shower and toilet. The light went out as soon as I stepped in the shower cubicle. Very convenient! There wasn’t a mount for the shower head so I had to hold it in may hands. I hate that system. Who came up with it? As soon as I stepped out of the shower the light came back on. Another design award pending. I couldn’t revive the stalled aircon unit. It had knocked off at 23:00 the previous night and now was on an RDO. Went down to reception and was told the group booking from hell had checked out. Apparently they were a cacophony of workers who were returning to their work huts, in an isolated spot I hope for the sake of all Portuguese. The receptionist insisted I swap rooms right then. No idea what
the rush was but my morning coffee could wait. It was nice being back in my old room with a proper shower and toilet and an aircon unit that kicked arse. I decided to forsake the Angola café and try the place next door. I ordered one of the small standard espresso type coffees all the locals appear to drink. There wasn’t much liquid in the cup but it did pack a punch. Cheap too at only .50 Euros.
I headed up the road to the internet café and then further on right up to the top of the hill. I wanted to take a few panoramic shots of the city. Passed by a lot of apartment buildings which no doubt cater to the many students and staff working here. There were some very attractive streets along the way. You wouldn’t know you were in spitting distance of virgin pastures less than a block away. It was an interesting walk but I wouldn’t want to attempt it in the afternoon sun. I even discovered another Roman aqueduct although this one wasn’t quite as impressive as the one in Lisbon. On the positive side the people of Coimbra seemed to
treat it with a bit more defernce. I took a different route back but still ended up at the top of the attractive avenue where the internet joint is located. Tested the wi fi hotspot marked on the tourist map. Got a good signal but discovered you had to pay to logon. Walked down the end of the avenue and searched for Pingo Doce, a supermarket I’d been told about by the receptionist guy. I asked a lady for directions who was walking down the street. She didn’t speak any English but I gathered she was headed there to shop. I followed her two blocks and bingo we were there. It was a full size supermarket like you’d find back home. It had everything except the one item I really desired, cold beer. There was beer alright, bucket loads of it on various shelves at good prices but nothing sitting there below room temperature. I may check it out again tomorrow and make do with some port, red wine or Jamieson’s Irish whisky which seemed ridiculously cheap at a shade under twelve Euro.
Headed back to the mini mart just near the hostel. I picked up a couple of
small cold bottles of beer from them. Thank god someone here sells it chilled. I was dripping with sweat as I entered my room. Immediately flicked on the aircon which began weaving its convective magic. Sank the two bottles of amber heaven in short order and flaked out on the bed for several hours. I woke at 16:00 feeling totally out of it. Cleared my head and resumed working on my second screenplay, a task I’d been neglecting quite a bit. Didn’t take long for my throat to feel a bit parched so I made another run to the mini mart. It was 18:00 and the sun was taking no prisoners. I’d hate to be working outside on that day. Got back into the writing groove with the aid of the cold beer. Decided it had cooled enough around 20:00 to venture outside to grab a bite to eat. Passed by a place that appeared to have a set menu advertised on a board for 6.50 Euros. Seemed worth investigating so I sat down. Waitress came outside. I pointed to the board. She grunted something and retreated back inside. Five minutes later nothing so I got up and checked the
place I’d eaten at the previous night. A number of tables were joined together. It looked bad. It looked as if he had a booking for a large group that night. He confirmed the bad news apoligising for being booked out so I went back for round two at the set menu joint. The waitress was sucking on a fag outside but eventually cane over to my table. It was indeed a set menu but the fish was off so I picked steak instead. I had no idea what I was in stall for here but I thought what the heck. First bread was served with a half carafe of red wine. Then a decent sized bowl of vegetable soup followed before the main course of pressed steak with salad and chips. It was all very digestible but then there was more to come. I also got a desert as part of the deal. The waitress chose one for me as she figured translating each option would be too much of a hassle. After that I got a small cup of espresso. I couldn’t believe the value. I was sure I’d have to pay extra for the wine but it
was all inclusive. I love student towns. I left her a .50 tip on the table. Hope she came out and got it before a passerby pinched it.
I started chatting to the night manager at the hotel. He seemed like a nice guy and had a pretty good grasp of English. We talked travel and I told him about Seville. He’d never been there but his parents raved about it. See a pattern forming here? Watched a sketch show on local TV. It was like being catapulted back to the seventies. For instance there was this lame series of skits revolving around a cruise ship. The middle aged Captain was dressing down his Ensign who just happened to resemble a glamorous show girl. (obviously the writers had meticulously researched this piece to deliver the greatest authenticity to the scene) At one point she did or said something to the Captain’s displeasure. As a consequence she paid the penalty. No not keel hauling. (how old hat)
This missy had to raise her skirt enough to expose the front of her panties to the leers of her lecherous boss. (panties were white in case you were wondering) Cutting edge humour
at its best to be sure but the writers were just warming up. They knew they were onto a good thing and repeated the gag ad museum. That poor Ensign just couldn’t or wouldn’t learn the rules of the boat. Side splitting comedy morphed into dark pathos as her embarrassment grew with every additional indiscretion. It was tragic to watch. And I do mean tragic. But there was more to come. A well endowed passenger walked through a metal detecting arch before boarding the ship causing the alarm go off. You’ll never guess what happened next. Do they ask her to empty her pockets or remove the contents of her purse? Hell no. They follow standard nautical practice requiring her to remove her blouse. She reluctantly compiled and walked through again and springing the alarm once more. Another piece of clothing was removed as stated in naval ordinance twenty-three B paragraph two, sub section one. You’d think this gag would have run out of steam immediately but then you’d be wrong. Portuguese comedy writers saw this as an ideal opportunity to milk the sketch dry which they duly did. We could learn an awful lot from them.
strange going to bed upstairs without my noisy neighbours to keep me company. I was the only person staying on the top level and it was eerily silent. Ironically I found it hard to get to sleep. Don’t tell me my brain now craved the sound of dickheads to lull me into a restful sleep? I eventually did grab some shut eye but not as much as I needed. In the morning it was nice to have my old shower back with the fixed mount. I headed off to the internet joint just after 10:00 and found that the place was shut. Great! It was already starting to heat up and I didn’t relish doing two trips across town to web surf. The woman at hotel reception said that the forecast for today was 40 C, the same as yesterday. Now that’s hot in anybody’s lexicon. I wasn’t imagining the intensity of the heat after all. I grabbed a couple of cold beers from the mini mart which sent me to sub conscious land for over an hour. Booze has that effect when I’m sleep deprived. Take two of my trip to the internet café. This time it was open
much to my relief. Rang my bank back in Oz. Always such a pleasure to speak with a financial institution. I complimented them on levying bank fees against my account. So thoughtful of them. Conversing with the NAB was the highlight of my day. Returned to my hotel room, switched on the aircon and bunkered in. I wouldn’t venture outside again until the sun had well and truly set.
Checked out available restaurants at close to 20:00. Found a French eatery that was a few Euros more than the standard joints. Call your cuisine French and it’s like a license to screw your customers for more $$$$, Ended up at a popular open air restaurant. They had an English language version of the menu and I ordered cod with cabbage and potatoes. A generous bread basket with fish paste and butter was deposited on my table by a young, attractive waitress in tight jeans. She asked if I wanted a drink. I initially said no and she seemed disappointed. Then I relented and asked for a vino tinto. It was a warm night so I figured the red wine would go down well. A large carafe of rouge arrived
at my table as I struggled to get through the Moroccan size portion of bread in front of me. Quarter of an hour later my main meal arrived. I initially thought it was just the vegetables and left it there awaiting the fish’s arrival. The fish never showed primarily because it had been sitting on the dish all along. The fillets were white and the blind man didn’t see them until they were virtually scraping his eyeballs. I began working my way through the meal hoping my bread binging had left enough space in my stomach. The food was acceptably palatable but not in the same league as the goat I’d tried a couple of nights before. One thing I really did appreciate though was the addition of spinach to the mix. Haven’t had a green leafy vegetable like that in over two weeks. I got the bill and it looked as though they’d charged me for the bread which I thought was a bit rough. Surely that should be inclusive in the cost of the meal. No tip forthcoming with this place.
Went back to my room to witness an encore of the hilarious goings on at sea
onboard that infamous cruise ship. These riotous routines must be all time favorites over here. They really have refined the sketch comedy format with the subtle art of mugging to the camera in close up as punch lines are delivered. It was either watch that or a soap opera, variety show or soccer. I get the impression they are football mad over here going the coverage it gets in the news before a game. Later that night Dog Day Afternoon was broadcast as a welcome change of pace. As I hit the sack I could hear the distant sound of the nightly rock concert. Maybe it’s a summer thing they do here with the music students? I woke at the decadent hour of quarter past nine. No rush to get up as nearly everything is closed on Sunday. Luckily the corner café was an exception so I got my morning caffeine fix. It was a little overcast today which tempered the heat. Would have been a good day to explore the river front. Instead I decided to explore the remaining contents of a bottle of port I’d purchased at the supermarket. Went back to the café mid afternoon and bought
three pastry thingees. I assumed there’d be no restaurants open today. Had little idea what I’d purchased until I began chomping away. Discovered I’d bought an egg roll, (ordinary) pizza slice (passable) and a morsel that’s still a mystery to me. That night there was another sketch comedy show on TV. This one starred two boys who were no older than fifteen. They wore funny beards and moustaches which gave them a sophistication way beyond their years. However they still had a lot to learn. There was a distressing absence of scantily clad women. Give them time and they’ll see the error of their ways. Put my head to the pillow as the not so faint sound of a thumping bass signified that another early morning rock concert was in full swing.
Monday 21st of July - Went through my usual routine. Two micro coffees at the local café after confusing the girl behind the counter with my order. I seem to have a knack of bewildering this one girl. Call it a gift. I’m sure she’d call it something else using a local expletive. Went to the internet joint at ten to discover there was no email. Nobody
loves me. So what’s new? Bought a selection of three new beers at Pingo Doce. An up market boutique variety of Super Bock and two other dirt cheap Euro trash ales. I also bought some cake and mineral water to disguise the fact that I’m a staggering lush. Unfortunately I think the word’s already out. That’s small towns for you. I got the chick on reception to put the booze bottles in the staff fridge for me. I retired to my room to do some real writing while the beer chilled. Several hours later I checked the Crimean War vintage fridge and discover the booze is barely below room temperature. I throw caution to the wind and chisel out a space in the freezer for my contraband. Thirty minutes later I down the contents of the first two beers. First the boutique Bock as it’s the most expensive. My verdict - tastes the same as bog standard Super Bock. (there’s a contradiction in terms) Then I consumed a can of Dutch Cergal rot gut - My verdict - no worse or better than the Bock but at less than half the price. I gulped the Imperial ale a quarter of
an hour later and came to the same conclusion. From what I can tell the only thing that could justify the Bohemia Bock’s inflated price tag was the pretty label. All tasting was conducted using the internationally accepted blind testing technique. Everything I do in life is assessed on this basis. I call it the Mr Magoo methodology.
As it turned out the three beers didn’t give me the lift I was hoping for. Maybe I’d been ambered out? I decided it was high time I got off my arse and did some serious exploring of this fair city. I chose the route along the river this time. It was quite pleasant walking along tree lined street before commencing my ascent of the hill. I walked for a number of kilometers until I reached the shiny new football stadium down the road. It stood next to a church that seemed to have a bit of an Arabic influence in its design. One place of worship next to another. I was quite surprised by the size of the stadium. It could have held 40,000-50,000 from what I could tell from the outside. Pretty impressive for a city of only
150,000. I took a few snap shots of the area and then headed back down the road. Passed by several of the ugliest multi story buildings I’ve seen in a long time. It seemed as if the developer may have run out of money during construction because the site looked dead. I guess their dream of reviving Stalinist collective architecture must have gone soul. Damn! Check out the photos of these monstrosities and see if you agree with me. I can only imagine how some of the residents of this community must have reacted when they saw these featureless blocks rising from the ground. Luckily for me an attractive riverside park awaited only twenty metres down the road. The hideous vista of those semi built tan-colored apartment blocks soon faded to be replaced by attractive flower beds and overhanging trees. A young couple were racing around the urban park in large peddle carts while others took leisurely strolls along its meandering length
I decided to try the 6.5 Euro set menu once more. The vegetable soup was hot and thick and flavorsome. The bread was dry but good for dunking. The half carafe of red was cask quality. (to
be expected) The main meal arrives and it’s seafood on a skewer. The fish chunks were fine but the prawns were too high maintenance for my liking. Why couldn’t nature produce a self peeling prawn I ask. For desert I had a choice of Jell-O or Jell-O. I wisely chose Jell-O. Sorry but a small bowl of red jelly doesn’t do it for me. Not the same without the hundreds and thousands on buttered bread. Gulped the coffee and departed. Good value meal but I wouldn’t come back unless they rotated the main course. Watched a bit of the local TV. You wouldn’t believe it but the cruise ship sketches were on yet again. This is either a top rating show over here or more likely they’re dumping it over summer. And of course another leggy lady was forced to remove her blouse as the metal detector went off. I never tire of that gag. No sign of the boy wonder comedy team though. Maybe they’d been caught wagging school and were being held after class. Either that or they’d run out of funny beards and moustaches preventing them from undergoing their amazing character transformations.
The following morning I
rushed down to reception for my coffee fix. I asked the girl there whether the people at the local café would think I’m strange if I ordered two cups of coffee instead of one. Without blinking an eye she said, Yes they would. That threw me. I was expecting her to say something reassuring like, ‘people order two cups all the time’. Expect the unexpected as they say. I’m thrown off balance once more on my way to the internet joint. I wait at a road crossing where the pedestrian light is red and a car stops on a green light to let me walk. I was thinking is this a trick? I cautiously navigated my way to the medium strip without incident. If I was back in Melbourne I would have been verbally abused and run down like a dog. Back there they have road rage parties where motorists devise innovative ways to take down the walking enemy. Over here it’s like a pedestrian Shangri-La La. Portuguese TV has it’s quirks as well. During the news there’s always an insert of a chick doing her sign language shtick. But the programmers haven’t stopped there. The semaphore babes also get
a gig during daytime talk shows as well. Now the news is one thing but do we really want to expose the disabled to the utter drivel being spoken on daytime TV? Don’t these people have enough of a handicap to cope with already without stifling their intellectual development as well.
WARNING - The following paragraph is from a seed of an idea by Terry that has blossomed into a weed.
A phrase that resonates here is ‘Don’t knock the Bock.’ Until recently I didn’t realise the true significance of these words. I like many visitors to this fair land was ignorant of the ancient Bock culture that pervades Portuguese society. But now the veil has been lifted. I’ve discovered that from an early age children here are immersed in Bock custom and history. They are encouraged to participate in monthly fermenting festivals. Each one culminating in a group dance where all the townsfolk do the Bockanova. Happy days but it always hasn’t been so. At one point their were heretics in the ranks. Those who questioned the bedrock foundations of Bockdom. These dissenters took on two guises, the Bock Knockers and the Bock Mockers. Both groups
claimed with some justification that Bock no longer made them rock. In the past a man would become legless on this potent brew within an hour. A wonder of modern chemistry. Now drinkers emerged from bladder busting sessions stone cold sober. Questions were being asked, dissent was in the air. The Bock was rapidly losing the respect of the masses. So Super Bock was devised. A new formula incorporating potent strains of GM bailey and hops. It was an instant success the moment it hit the streets. People were chucking in plazas and laneways right across town. The executives at the Bokadrome looked on with pride. Portuguese drinkers were on familiar territory once more. Now a small bottle was enough to turn men into slurring, blubbering wrecks. Memory loss, incontinence, and throwing up into the toilet bowel were celebrated once more. The Bock Knockers and Mockers were stripped of all their worldly possessions and barred from all government employment. At least they could comfort themselves in the knowledge that it was a no brainer to get pissed. On the other hand, Bock drinkers with big knockers were granted a 50% discount and granted guest appearances in the cruise ship metal
Returned to my favorite restaurant around the corner a little after 19:00. I ordered pork this time and washed it down with a half bottle of red. No label but it was quite a nice drop in spite of it being served chilled. The meal consisted of chunks of pork in a sauce accompanied by potato cubes and salad. A bit of a Scandinavian influence I suspect. It was mouth watering. I was hooked on this place and I wasn’t the only one as witnessed by the number of patrons who filed in as I finished my meal. Hit the sack at around 23:00 after watching yet another variation on the cruise ship metal detector skit. I wonder how many of these sketches they have in the can? I know what type of can I’d be depositing them into if I had my druthers. Unfortunately I’m drutherless. But I digress, In the early hours of the morning I heard what sounded like a tray crashing to the floor downstairs and a couple speaking in an elevated volume. I’ve noticed that a few people over here have one volume setting to their speech, ‘shout’. It was a real
hoot to hear their muffled banter but I had other priorities in the early hours…SLEEP. I’m a bit strange that way. Call me counter culture but I like to grab some shut eye while the sun’s down. My attempts at fulfilling that dream both literally and metaphorically were daunted however. I should have predicted what was to follow. If one speaks loudly then one must also turn the volume of one’s TV up to full volume. It’s only logical. So now there was a decibel arms race taking place downstairs between amplified speech and booming TV speaker. Two for the price of one. How lucky was I? But I didn’t feel lucky, punk. I consoled myself with the thought that this couldn’t go on for too long. Surely these people have paid good money for a place to sleep and that’s what they intend to do. But as they say about us humans, we’re all different. A lesson I was about to learn in spades. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours. You see the progression. Ear plugs were inserted but the background din persisted until just before dawn setting me up for a blissful day of semi consciousness.
My favorite mental state.
Sleep deprivation wasn’t that big a deal for me. Every day I follow a similar routine in the morning. I really didn’t need my faculties. Besides I was in a university town. I was surrounded by other people’s faculties. BOOM BOOM! (hears a collective groan from the big, brown land girt by seaweed) Passed by numerous locals using walking sticks to get around. Is this because they have an aging population over here or are there no health professionals qualified to do hip replacements? It’s a mystery to me as are most things in life. Checked out Pingo Doce. Bought what I thought was a small loaf of bread, a can of tuna paste and a couple of cakes. Thought I’d be adventurous and put together an ad hoc lunch. Get back to my room and remove the plastic from the bread and discover that it is in fact a fruit loaf. I’m thinking can tuna paste and fruit co exist peacefully in a gastronomic context? I had my doubts. I certainly wouldn’t have combined these two foodstuffs voluntarily. I was forced into a culinary corner. It was either starve or jump in the deep
end with citrus and fish. I pinched my nose and took the plunge. Spread a dollop of the gooey paste over a torn off piece of fruit loaf using a finger as a make shift knife. It didn’t look pretty but aesthetics took a back seat to hunger at this point in time. I opened my gob and inserted the seemingly incompatible grocery items into the salivating cavity. Would my taste buds mutiny or worse still abandon ship? I’d know in an instant as their verdict was relayed via my caffeine charged nerve system to what I laughingly referred to as a brain. I waited for the results with baited breath. (actually it was tuna breath laced with sultanas) First sour reported in and flipped their card. An 8.0. Quite a respectable score. Next came sweet, this time with a 9.0. Sweet and sour followed with an 8.5. If that wasn’t predicable. Overall result an 8.7. My teeth were given the GO signal and the digestive system kicked in, pumping out gastric juices like there was no tomorrow. There’s a message here kiddies. Ignorance of the Portuguese language can pay dividends.
It didn’t take long for me to dispose
of the fruit loaf and tuna paste. You who know me are aware I eat like a crazed, ravenous dog. You’d think I was brought up in a large family where it was first in best dressed at the dinner table. But no, I’m an only child. That explains a lot I hear you say. Maybe I was part of a huge extended family in a previous life and still feel a residual need to shovel in food at a frenetic pace? Whatever the reason the cakes were my next victims on the menu. I bit into one and recoiled immediately. This desert had an in built defence mechanism I hadn’t counted on, an unexpectedly dry texture. A rational person would have just binned the sweets but not this human waste disposal unit. I paid for these suckers and I was going to swallow them come hell or high water. Some of the latter wouldn’t have been a bad thing in this case. So I chomp away as my mouth transmogrifies from swampy saliva land to salty Sahara. The cake mix is so dry that the desiccated coconut on top seems moist in comparison. I finished off the second cake
as mini sand dunes formed in my cheeks. I gulped half a litre of mineral water down to quench my thirst. Water I’d purchased at Pingo Doce. That’s one way to create an artificial demand for your product. I collapsed on the bed in a heap and snoozed for one or two hours. Went back to 007, the restaurant I’d been frequenting. I only recently noticed the large sign out the front. Yeah, I’m blind and unobservant as well. What a great double. The owner is a huge Ian Fleming fan. He proudly told me that I.F. did a lot of his book research in Portugal. Interesting background information but I was primarily here for the sensual delights of Portuguese nosh. This time I ordered the squid. Wasn’t fried in rings a la calamari but presented in the flesh as it were. To die for taste that was perfectly complimented by the half bottle of red. Life doesn’t get much better.
I returned to my room with a mild buzz from the near perfect combination of wine and food. The only thing that could make the night complete was….you guessed it…the metal detector sketch. As it turned out the
Gods were smiling upon me. Yet another variation of this classic routine was broadcast on the small screen. This time the lady in question was already in her bikini briefs. See how much this skit had evolved in such a short time. It was the perfect night cap to an incredibly restful sleep. I was still the only guest occupying the penthouse level, as I refer to it in my delusional state. No sooner had my eyelids closed when morning as upon me. It’s always good to awaken from a truly restful sleep. The sun was out but it was a lot cooler than recently. Grabbed my two concentrated cups of caffeine downstairs. The woman there had even anticipated my order and had a cup waiting for me. She even smiled. Was I being accepted as a pseudo local? Updated my travel blog. I still find the blank page daunting. It’s not like anything spectacular is happening here. Maybe I’m boring the crap out of everyone? I find some of the most mundane things about life interesting while travelling. But I march to a different beat, one that’s usually out of tune. It was a superb day for a walk
to the alter of the internet. Cool breeze, sunny sky. Finally bit the bullet and booked an Air Asia flight from KL to Chiang Mai. I’ve been waiting for a reduced fare but there’s been no downward movement in price. Cost me almost A$150 which is steep by AA standards. It was actually marginally cheaper to take two flights to CM via Bangkok. How crazy is that? And think how good that is for the environment. More craziness awaited me online, this time courtesy of the Australian government who have made insanity into an art form. I wanted to get a replacement Medicare card which had been stolen off me. To get said card you need to register online. How do you do this? You fill out a form that requires details taken off your Medicare card. That’s right the same Medicare card you no longer have. Catch 22? Joseph Heller would be proud of the buffoons in Canberra.
Resisted the temptation to buy any more moisture busting cakes. May take some back with me to Chiang Mai. I think they’d do a better job at holding back the Ping river flood waters than sandbags. I did buy a
small bottle of Sagre Stout and it tasted good. Sorry to all the execs at the Bockadrome for this blatant show of disloyalty. The injection of alcohol into the blood stream spurred me on to do a bit of exploring. This time I took a right after leaving the hotel. I strolled past the railway station and on towards the ugly freeway overpass at the end of the river. (show me an attractive freeway overpass) My bus entered Coimbra from this end of town and I’ve got to say it hasn’t got much going for it. Busy roads with none of the historical charm of the old part of the city. I decided it may be more rewarding to cross the river near my hotel and see how people on the west bank live. First thing I noticed was that the carnival had left town. No great loss there. Then I spotted a restaurant that advertised a five Euro set menu. An option worth exploring in the near future. I trudged past a huge expanse of perfectly manicured playing fields, presumably attached to a school or university nearby. Crossed the road and walked up a set of newly constructed steps
There was an old pathway at the top leading up the hill. The strange thing was that this attractive walkway was totally overgrown with weeds. Why would someone go to the trouble of building new steps to a derelict path? I then hauled my arse up to the top of the hill to get good views of Coimbra. I was expecting to find some really up market residences in the clouds but no. They looked fairly bland and basic. That’s not to say they don’t charge premium rent or command high purchase prices.
I returned to 007 for my nightly feed. The only other patron was a female customer sitting at the table opposite me. I think she is a regular who always sits at the same spot. But I’m only guessing as I have no idea what she looks like. The curse of the blind man on tour. This time I ordered chicken and rice. As usual a bowl of olives and a basket of bread was plopped down in front of me. I devoured the olives one by one. I always eat the firm green ones first. They are my favorites. Not so big on the purple
squishy ones. My God! I’m turning into an olive snob. Wasted no time gulping down a mouthful of red wine while tearing apart the bread roll. Several other customers walked in. Two guys who sat by themselves and a couple. I read a page of a novel I’d bought in KL as the main meal arrived. It came in an impressively large serving tray. Several chicken pieces with a base of rice swimming in a brownish sauce. Noticeably there were no vegetables. I scooped several ladles onto my plate and sampled the chicken. It was okay but nothing special. After having three sensational meals there I was almost expecting this. I knew in the back of my mind I’d set myself up for a fall. And so it happened. The James Bond mystique had been broken. Then a very curious thing happened. The owner came over to my table and showed me the recipe for the meal. It was pretty basic and started with a run down on how to best kill a live chicken. An essential piece of information for any serious traveller. He then went on to inform me that the sauce included the chicken’s blood. I thanked
him for sharing that with me. I looked around and wondered if I was dining in Coimbra or Haiti.
The following morning discovered the girl on reception isn’t a local but in fact French. I asked her where she came from in France. She became evasive and said, eighteen as if that was supposed to mean something to me. Maybe it was the number of a province over there or a code to help protect her true identity? Be the perfect cover for a super hero or spy, working as a receptionist in a cheap hotel. I slipped on my long pants and ventured outside. It was overcast and cool and on the cusp of rain. I picked up some supplies at the supermarket as classic Beatles musak reverberated down the aisles. I walked briskly while dodging umbrellas as drizzle fell from the sky. A good day to spend hibernating in my room. I must confess I wimped out on the fruit loaf and purchased conventional bread instead. Combined the seed covered rolls with some good quality canned tuna and fixed myself lunch. Wolfed down several chocolate coated shortbready type things for desert and I was all set. The
only thing missing was the Super Bock stout which was chilling in the staff freezer downstairs. I’ve tried drinking Sagre beer but you can’t buck the Bock. Their influence on Portuguese society is pervasive. If they’re not sponsoring football or rock concerts their delivery trucks are blocking your way along the footpath. This country is in effect a Bockocracy, with the day to day affairs of government handled by a small group of powerful brewaucrats. Sure they pay lip service to democratic principles to keep the plebs happy but we know who’s making all the important decisions.
Turned on the news and saw a report about the Qantas jet that lost part of its fuselage while in the air. The item went on for a minute or so and must have thrilled the Qantas execs back home. Think of all that free publicity. I have two Jet star flights coming up soon so I was doubly excited by this news item. Not much else to report about this day. I drank, I slept. I wrote and then repeated the sequence. Adrenalin pumping stuff that has no doubt left you the reader on the edge of your seat. The weather
was a little more benign the following day. I fronted up to the internet joint just after 11:00 and there was a morose looking woman waiting outside. I entered the place and was informed by an animated cleaning lady that the owner wouldn’t be there until noon. Either that or she was telling me that my hovercraft was full of eels. That was highly unlikely though as I had the eel exterminator out yesterday. I walked the streets to kill time. With any luck I’d come across another internet joint that was open and cheaper. Lady luck wasn’t with me that Saturday however, although I did take a few pics during my wanderings. On my way back I passed by a place that looked like an internet joint but sadly it was shut. Wouldn’t want to mess with the other guy’s monopoly now would we? I also came across those ubiquitous golden arches. I was thinking that this is a city where none of the fast food chains have a foothold but of course I was wrong. Mind you it isn’t a very big foothold. More of a toehold really going by the small shop front size of this Macca.
I popped into Pingo Doce later before everything shuts down for Sunday. Picked up the essential item for survival, home brand Tawny porto which went down well the previous week.
I sampled a drop of the Tawny Porto and devoured an elongated cake I also acquired at the super market. It had a moisture content greater than that of dust so I was grateful. Checked out the café across the river that advertised five Euro set menus. Walked up to the guy behind the bar who didn’t speak a work of English. Luckily one of the drinkers there helped me out and conveyed my enquiry to the barman. He handed me a menu which had a number of mains and a choice of drinks. I saw the word porco (which I knew was pork) and took the plunge. I indicated that that was my choice not really knowing what I’d opted for. Next came the drink selection. I wanted red wine but couldn’t see vino tinto listed so I pointed to beer. The barman seemed satisfied and asked if I wanted soup as I went to my seat. I was served a roll in a basket followed by hot
vegetable soup with a cabbage base which seems the norm over here for set menus. Then came the mystery main course. All it was was a couple of small pieces fried pork accompanied by rice and tired French fries. The salad consisted of several lettuce leaves and a couple of onion rings. What do you expect for five Euros? I washed down the oily chips with a cold beer and decided that I wouldn’t touch a set menu below six Euros again. As I sipped my complimentary coffee I mused that you do get what you pay for. It was a bit of an experiment. I’m glad I really slummed it once but no more. Back to the 007 safe house on Monday to reacquaint myself with goat and other such treats that don’t have an overt sacrificial chicken, voodoo influence.
It was very pleasant walking back over the bridge toward my hotel. The sun was about to set and people were out and about enjoying the evening ambience. Not the most exciting city in the world but a very pleasant place to stay. Suits me at the moment. I’ve fond it a great environment for writing. Cheap accommodation
and not too many distractions, apart from that hilarious metal detector sketch. I’ve decided to extent my stay here by another week leaving me with approximately five days to explore Porto. I think that should be more than enough time. I’ll be probably be paying twice as much for my accommodation there for an inferior room so it’s a no brainer. When I got back to my room I spotted the partially consumed bottle of Tawny Port sitting on the desk. I could feel its pain. I could sense it’s lack of self worth. Okay, my secret’s out. I have the capacity to empathise with inanimate objects. Tawny the Porto’s angst was growing by the minute. Drink me he pleaded for that is my one purpose in life. No I replied. I’m all Bocked out. My liver and kidneys are holding protest vigils as we speak. But the soulful cries of anguish continued unabated. There would be no peace that night until the remaining contents of TP flowed down my gullet. Against my better judgment I acquiesced to the fortified whining. With every additional gulp massed columns of brain cells were mowed down. The carnage was indescribable. It was a
neurological Gallipoli. Through the fog of war I heard a family group move in next door. A child was yelling at the top of his voice. Oh what joy I thought, the perfect neighbours. Then I drifted off into a deep, deep sleep. (or in more prosaic term, I blacked out) Fast forward to 06:00. I was awoken from my alcohol induced slumber by the screams of a hyper active child next door. Isn’t that how all Sunday mornings should commence?
So Sunday wasn’t such a flash day for me. Lots of lying around and feeling sorry for myself. Still managed to get my travel diary updated but I wouldn’t attest to its quality. Struggled to the internet joint. Passed by a number of men who were lying on benches in the plaza or taking a kip in a laneway. They weren’t homeless it’s just the done thing over here on Sunday to laze around. I grabbed a savory pastry and a cake at the local café. I guess McDonalds was also open but I hadn’t reached that level of desperation for food. I started to feel a little more human at 17:00 and actually got some work done
on my latest screenplay. Knocked out about four pages which meant the day wasn’t a total waste. Just before my head hit the pillow I glanced at the empty vessel by the door that had once been Tawny the Port. There it stood, smugly silent, a witness to my not so silent suffering. Lights out and so ended the rarest of events for me while on the road, the alcohol free day. Could this be the harbinger of things to come for Lloyd. An era of abstinence and self control. I seriously doubt it. As I woke the following morning memories of the previous day’s suffering were already receding. Any lessons learnt had now turned into so much confetti. The ability to forget and move on is both one of humankind’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. (sourced from the latest addition of the Concise Bock Book of Philosophy which comes in a handy flask size)
Monday morning and I was back on track and fighting fit and any other number of clichés you’d like to cite. The forecast temperature was in the mid to high twenties and it was a great day to live. So what did I do? I
holed up in my room and wrote. I can sense your envy from afar. Why can’t I have a lifestyle like that? But you can. All you need is a tiny attic room and a photo of Coimbra blu tacked to the window and you’re set. It’s all in my new travel kit designed to appeal to the tourist who hates travel. I did actually venture out into the world to go online. The place was packed out. Very unusual. There was the usual assortment of nerds and misfits but several guys stood out. They were dressed like Mormons and spoke with American accents. Don’t tell me they were having a convention here? Tried to speak with my bank but I couldn’t get through to the customer service rep because I needed to quote the number on my transaction card which had been stolen. Think I might just close my account when in Darwin. That might get the bastard’s attention. Picked up a bottle of mineral water and some disgustingly unhealthy looking doughnuts from Pingo Doce. I’d intended to buy some peanuts but do you think I could find any on the shelves? Grooved away to a musak version of
Roxanne. It was really funky. Made me think, how could Sting have got the original version so wrong? Imagine having his pounding beat assault you while riding in an elevator. The man’s a musical dinosaur. Soon as I got back to my room I devoured the delectable sugary treats. One by one the custard filled doughnuts disappeared into my greedy maw. In a matter of minutes all three were gone. It’s all about abstinence and self control, character traits that are totally foreign to me.
I decided to leave my little creative cocoon at 18:30 after tapping out four to five pages of utter dross. Don’t knock it, dross sells. Walked along the urban park (officially known as Parque Dr Manuel Braga) I wonder if Dr Gregory House has a park here as well? Continued on down the path to the unexplored reaches of the river bank. I was a regular Burke and Wills. Discovered the source of the peddle carts. To my astonishment it was a peddle cart hire man or woman. (I was too far away to tell) Had some mean looking peddlemobiles sitting idle. The hoon in me said go for it. The inhibited non participatory
part of my psyche said steer a wide berth. The decision was made. Leave this activity to the lovers of peddle carts, the peddlephiles of this world. Further down the riverbank I passed by some kids playing soccer. Another activity where there was plenty of potential to make an absolute fool out of myself. Luckily I had purged my body of Bock and had ability to think with a clear head. It was nice to get out into the late afternoon sun and check out the surrounds. The locals here are blessed with an abundance of open space that would be the envy of many Europeans. Next time I’ll use the footbridge to cross the river and explore the other bank. Just then however it was din din time at 007 central. As usual the regular female customer was seated at the same seat, at the same table. She was like a culinary version of Rain Man. I played it safe after the chicken and rice menu malfunction of last time. Went with goat, the tried and true dish and wasn’t disappointed. It was also nice to pass alcohol by my lips after a forty-eight hour hiatus, in the guise
of a half bottle of red.
Woke up late the following day. Anyone would think I didn’t have a job. The internet café was devoid of Mormons, Quakers and southern Baptists. I was about the only person there apart from the chick running the joint. I shook with anxiety as I realised that she’d occupied my desk with her laptop. My desk! I screamed. Oh my god I’m becoming the Rain Man of cyber space. I needed comfort food and fast. I purchased three more disgustingly sugary doughnuts to suppress the trauma I’d just experienced. I needed certainty back in my life but fuzzy feelings of familiarity were undercut as I realised Pingo Doce was playing ‘real music’ through their PA. Just when you thought it was safe to go out and shop. Took the tried and true route back to the hotel. At least the streets were still in the same spot. Glanced up at the web like wiring strung above the main road. It was there to power the electric buses that ply their trade here. Trouble is there are no electric buses to be seen, by me anyway. Not that I’m the most reliable witness for
obvious reasons. The guy at reception said there are a few old electric buses left but they are phasing them out. Interesting move given all this supposed environmental awareness that’s pervading the world. Impressions of Portuguese TV - Irritating Wiggles impersonators ad (almost as irritating as the originals) endlessly repeated on the Disney channel. Unbelievably sleazy solarium tanned guy co-hosting morning chat show. Skimpily clad cabaret singers performing in various sunny plazas. Middle aged guy singing something pap while accompanied by gyrating bimbos on both flanks. Endless local soap operas and sketch shows. All cheesy and melodramatic. The sheer quantity of TV production in this country of ten million people is amazing. As to its quality that’s a matter of debate. He says diplomatically. Not that Australia is a shining light in that regard.
Ate at 007 yet again. And yet again that woman was seated at her usual spot. She left soon after I arrived. Maybe she thought I was stalking her? I ordered the squid which was as good if not better than the previous time. There was plenty to go around as well. But I don’t share, I’m an only child remember? I also got an
extra portion of bread. Lucky me. Quaffed down the half bottle of red while I read my novel. I’d eased myself into a very comfortable routine here. A chapter of Schindler’s List later and I was ready to drain my remaining glass of wine. Once emptied I prepared to pay for my meal and go. But no, a liqueur glass full of a pale unknown beverage was served to me on a small round metal tray. The owner asked me what I thought of it. I sipped a small mouthful of the volatile brew and gave it the thumbs up. It was like port on steroids. The owner explained to me that it was in fact a wine base that had been fortified. I asked if it was store bought and he said no it was his own creation. People from England had asked him to send them a bottle of it but he’d declined the offer. It would probably come under the hazardless materials category anyway. I thanked him for his generosity and headed off. The following day I decided it was time to cash one or two of my travellers cheques. Easier said than done I discovered. The
first bank I went to wanted to charge me a commission of twenty-six Euro to cash them. My jaw dropped and I made a quick exit before the vultures harvested one of my organs. Went to another financial institution that didn’t cash cheques but told me where I could have it done commission free. Of course I couldn’t find the Banco of Portugal. Probably walked right past it. Tried a couple of other banks but you’re lucky if you can even get in the front door, security’s so tight.
Purchased another three sugar bombs from Pingo Doce. I’m convinced I’m well on my way to becoming a diabetic. It had warmed up quite a bit so I went back to my room and recuperated. The woman downstairs looked up the bank’s address for me but they’d already closed. They open their doors at 08:30 over here. Or should I say the banks that actually let their customers walk into their offices open the doors at 08:30. I decided that I’d give the travellers cheques one more try tomorrow. If that didn’t work out I’d get them cashed in Asia where you don’t get ripped off with absurd commissions. Made
it three nights in a row for 007. This time I ordered fried fish. It wasn’t what I expected. I was served a platter of fully intact fish including tails and heads. I’m not used to my food staring back up at me. Felt like I was back at school dissecting frogs as I cut off each tail and head. Maybe I was expected to eat them whole but I couldn’t come at that. The fish was served with a side dish of mashed something. It didn’t look all that appetizing but tasted okay. Not my favorite meal at 007. I may try somewhere else tomorrow for a change of pace. Been agonising over the problem of accessing Bock from overseas. Made headline news here when it was discovered that Australia was stone cold Bockless. A contingency plan was hastily hobbled together. A group of dedicated brewers formed an amber colored think tank and established a non profit program to promote Super Bock internationally. They christened the program ‘Beer Without Borders’ and vowed to distribute the frothy quencher to every corner of the planet. For the first time groups as disparate as thirsty Zulus on the Veldt will have the
same access to Bock as researchers in Antarctica. ‘Ah a cold Bock’. Just what a boffin on the ice shelf needs after a day of freezing their tits off documenting the bonking habits of emperor penguins.
So another day passes in the life of the stay at home away from home traveller. My neighbour across the corridor got up early so I decided to follow suit. I needed to get moving as I needed to visit the Bank Of Portugal before it got too hot. Not much chance of that. It was grey and overcast. Seemed more like winter than summer. It’s been struggling to reach 30 C the last week. Big change from when I first got here. I trekked down to the bank and discovered it was located opposite the bus station. I tried to walk inside. Naturally the door was locked. Had to push a button to enter a sealed room and repeat the process to enter the bank proper. This really bellies the general laid back nature of Coimbra (pronounce queenbra) I confirmed with the bank teller that there was no commission fee. He took my passport and photocopied it and then handed me the
full value of the Euro cheques in fifty Euro bills. I assumed they were getting some sort of kick back from AMEX for providing this service which begs the question; how could the other bank possibly justify charging me twenty-six Euros? On my way back popped into Pingo Doce for you know what. A customer was in dispute with the check out chick in my line. People around me gave up and moved to other check outs. I was in no rush so decided to see how things panned out. The short balding guy was very agitated about something. It seemed this dispute had been going on for a while as the check out lady had washed her hands of him. He however persisted in his protest. Eventually he shut up and collected his bags as she served the next customer. He took forever to leave the check out. What was he angling for, squatters rights? The lady ahead of me and the check out chick exchanged words. No doubt they were saying what a total dickhead this guy was. I fronted up to pay and handed the check out chick two Euros. The tab came to 2.01 Euros which
I could just make out on the register display. With a flourish she raised her index finger up in the air for me to see. It was an ambiguous signal. Was she giving me the finger or indicating she required .01 Euros more? I went with the latter interpretation as she was smiling while venting her frustration. The check out chicks here are pretty good natured. Some of the friendliest I’ve come across.
Got back to my room early afternoon and skipped my siesta. For some reason I couldn’t sleep so I knocked out another seven pages of the screenplay. I’m ahead of schedule and should have it finished days before I leave for Porto next Thursday. That’s assuming I don’t get side tracked by Tawny Porto in the interim. Searched for a new place to eat at 18:45. Felt I couldn’t keep going to the same place all the time. It was drizzling rain and umbrellas were out in force. The cafe with the 6.5 Euro set menu was shut because their cook hadn’t shown. The waitress standing outside didn’t seem too fussed and laughed it off. Walked up to another place nearby that had reasonably price meals.
Trouble is the door seemed locked. They’re not exactly pro active here at pushing business. How different it is to Lisbon where some places virtually lasso you to get you inside. Popped into a small corner cafe and waited to be served. The girls there were too busy chatting amongst themselves to be bothered with potential customers. Another small place off an alley looked promising accept they didn’t have a menu. I ended up lobbing at a BBQ restaurant I’d passed by a number of times on my way to the internet joint. This place enlists a unique and effective form of advertising. They smoke the surrounding alleyways out. So what if a few asthmatics bite the dust. The BBQ place has to make a living, right?
I chose a table down the back and perused the menu. It was all in Portuguese but I could make out a few meals with my limited linguistic resources. The waiter, who reminded me of Alfred from Batman hobbled over to my table. I discovered there isn’t an English version of the menu. No problem, Alfred (or should I say Alfredo) was happy to guide me with what little English he knew. I
kept things simple and went with the steak. Bread was served plus a fish paste and a mini round of squishy cheese. The steak arrived on a platter. It was huge and almost took up the whole tray. There was also rice and fries plus a garnish of salad. I washed the vittles down with a half bottle of red. The steak was rarer than I usually eat but good. I could hardly complain as I hadn’t specified well done.
When I got the bill it was a couple of Euros more than I expected. I’m sure that was due to me misreading the price of the steak so no complaints. The place is quite popular (among non asthmatics) so they must be doing something right.
Continued on the following day in my productive rut. Adhering to the same boring routine but getting a lot of writing done in the process. I came to the conclusion that it’s time to do a bit more exploring of the myriad laneways that criss cross this part of town. It’s just that I didn’t want to compromise time set aside to complete the screenplay. I’m eighty pages in and figure that fifteen
or so pages more will see it through to completion. Still, I’ve got to live and there’ll be plenty of time for the creative process in Chiang Mai. Time to leave these four walls, at least for a few hours. General Impressions of Coimbra - Weird pedestrian crossing light sounds on way to the internet joint - sounds like it has electronic flu one minute and a wrap DJ manipulating vinyl the next. Very strange. Women walking away from the fruit market carrying baskets on their heads.. People passionately talking gibberish at the top of their voices. Portuguese versions of Rex Hunt perhaps. Walked behind one man who began mocking one of these guys. Trouble is he mocked for so long he morphed into a mockee. ATMs with worn key pads which are barely discernable. (to a blind man) Old brand names like Calgon and Persil pop up on TV ads reinforcing for me a time warp feel to the place. Pingo Dolce TV ad featuring a guy flogging after shave as their big ticket item. May say something about the priorities in this culture. On to a big pet hate of mine. People driving up onto footpaths without warning.
Some motorists seem to think they have a divine right to drive where ever the laws of nature take them. I wonder how many pedestrians have been injured this way? May partially explain the proliferation of walking sticks here. Funny thing is local drivers always stop for pedestrians at crossings. Another unexpected hazard is birds. They seem to flock everywhere in these parts. If you walk down a narrow lane and disturb them they’ll fly up right in front of you to make their escape. Doesn’t leave a great margin for error. Lastly a youtube link to that show, Mare Alta which I believe is a Brazillion production. Looks like the Portuguese are paying a heavy price for colonisation. You be the judge. http://br.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yig-qTzhOU.
Not much to report the past few days. I think I’m Coimbraed out. Gave the Tawny the Port the flick over the weekend. Bought a litre cask of local red at Pingo Dose. Weird thing is that there was no easy way to get to the contents. No lugs, no perforations. Had to literally bite my way in. Wasn’t the smoothest wine I’ve had but that’s to be expected. I also tried a 250 mil
micro cask that at least had a peel off opening. Marginally better than the other rot gut. I’d have bought a bottle but they still use corks over here. I did find one bottle of Rose with a screw top but that was the exception rather than the rule. Bought a Camembert crème container to go with my rolls. It tasted okay but I prefer the real camembert with the skin. Had to endure bonking Nordic backpackers in the next room Saturday night. They seemed to take forever to orgasm, inconsiderate bastards. The price you pay for staying in a cheap hotel with thin walls. The following day hoons in a car abused me in Portuguese while I walked down the street. Bought a savory pastry a little later. Tried to pay for it but the woman who served me kept avoiding my gaze. In frustration left a one Euro coin figuring that was close enough. Some snack places were open that didn’t sell anything hot. And there were a sprinkling of empty restaurants that charge the earth. Monday checked out the railway station for trains to Porto but couldn’t find a ticket office. Of course the information booth was
closed. I’ll probably travel by bus as a consequence. Was thinking about booking a place in Porto online. But I find the best value pensions aren’t usually on the net. You just front up. I’m also a bit sus on the Hostel club site that I’ve used several times. They appear to have declined to post two critical reviews I’ve written. I’m looking forward to moving onto Porto on Thursday. I’ll seek out an Irish/English pub there. I really need to converse with someone in my native tongue. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to landing in Chiang Mai on the 17th. I may also find one or two English speakers in Darwin, with any luck.
Wednesday, my final full day in Coimbra. Couldn’t come too soon for me. Not a criticism of the city or its people. Just I’d been here a tad too long, partially to save money, partially to complete the second screenplay. It was all becoming a bit too routine for me plus I missed chatting in my own language. I won’t miss the low frequency musical sounds in the early hours. Have no idea where it comes from but it starts late and
finishes in the early hours. Maybe there’s a nightclub just downstairs in an adjoining building? No sign of it during the day. On the surface night life here seems limited but that’s probably just my ignorance. Got all my housekeeping completed by early afternoon. First a stop to the railway station. I was quoted 10.5 Euro for the fare to Porto. Now I’m told it is 15-20 Euro. Work out through limited language skills both on my behalf and the ticket seller’s that I had to get another train to Coimbra B station. Apparently I was at Coimbra A. Talk about confusion in such a small city. I buy the Inter City ticket at the originally quoted price. Another customer rudely pushes in while I’m being served to get her voucher book stamped. I walk away after the purchase thinking I have some idea what to do the following morning but am not 100% confident. Went to the bank and got the last two traveller’s cheques cashed and then headed back to the internet café. A group of people got off a bus and cut across the footpath I was walking along showing no regard for people like me. What
is this, be rude to foreigners day? Got a couple of tickets printed out at the internet café and headed back to my room to devour my last three custard cream doughnuts.
Wasn’t feeling the best that day until I got my sugar fix. Had been worried about travel arrangements as the pace was about to step up with lots of train trips, flights and bus trips on the agenda in the next seven days or so. The nightmare would be not to make a connection but it’s out of my control so not worth worrying about. Did a partial rewrite of the first screenplay I’d written on the road. Was happy with the first forty-five pages then it fell in a mini heap. Bit of rescue work to be done. Not a big deal though as most people don’t read the bloody things anyway. It’s all about the pitch not the substance. Counted the hours until I had my last meal at a little after 19:00. There’s a tell tale sign I’d been there too long if ever there was one. I ordered goat which had been excellent the previous two times at 007. My last feed was
no exception and a nice reminder of my time there. I shook hands with the proprietor and bid my farewell. Did my packing which wasn’t a huge deal and went to bed. Woke an hour or so later and couldn’t get back to sleep for any length of time. I always worry I’m going to miss catching an early morning plane or train. Wish I had a travel alarm. Got up at around 07:00 and readied myself to head off. Double checked I’d stowed everything then bumped my head for old time sake. I’ll miss the regular blows to the head. I walked out into the corridor toting my full load satisfied that I hadn’t left anything inside the room. Said goodbye to the girl on reception from region 18 in France and embarked on the epic fifteen meter journey to the railway station.
There are more photos below