Slow Train to Braga

just my speed

Train to Braga from Porto. 11:50 am. 

I'm starting this letter from the train to Braga. A roundtrip ticket set me back €7 (about $8.30), which is a bargain in my estimation. The trip takes about an hour, a pleasant passage through suburban towns and rural villages. 

Slow Rolling Travel

The train was only about 1/3 of the way full, comforting considering COVID and my tendency for anxiety while in crowds. It will take a while to get comfortable being around lots of people again; in lockdown, my threshold for human proximity has been lowered. But that's okay; this learning to do life amid a pandemic is a process, isn't it? 

The train I took to Braga is classified as Urbano, which in Portuguese means "goes slowly and stops at every station."

That’s fine with me as I enjoy rolling slow enough to take in the different station architecture, the lush green vineyards and pastures, and the meadows ablaze with flowers in a cacophony of yellows and purples. 

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As we cruise into and out of stations, past polytunnels and goats grazing under the broad canopies of cork oaks, my eyes linger over station names: TrofaFamalicãoArentimMazagão

I practice pronouncing the words in my head over and over like a mantra, wondering what they mean, or if the towns were named long ago for nobles or saints. Farmers burning small piles of debris and concrete block construction in various stages of completion remind me of Mexico.

Big Dream, Hard Work

Winding lazily toward Braga, I see the white spires of rural igrejas reaching toward the skyBreaking through my reverie is the thought that I LIVE IN EUROPE! I live in Portugal. I am so lucky. No, wait, it's not luck—it was a decades-long dream with a ton of hard work behind it. I put in many hours of action toward my goal, and although I'm doing it a decade later than I wanted to, I'm here now, and grateful to call Portugal home. 

Years ago, when on vacation in Europe, I'd love to take the train and enjoying the scenery. These are some of my favorite memories. Now, it's the way I live my life.

Sometimes this realization knocks the wind out of me—in a good way. I live in Portugal. 

Reminder to Self: Carry a Spork

The train arrived in Braga at about 1pm. I had plans to meet a reader for coffee and chat (hi Maria!) around 2:30pm, so I thought the timing would be perfect for me to have a wander and then grab lunch before my coffee date. 

With much of Portugal in Stage 2 of deconfinement (now Stage 3 for most regions), I was excited about having lunch outside on the esplanada of Semente, a vegan restaurant with good reviews. What I had forgotten was, although limited outdoor dining was now possible, cafés and restaurants were required to close at 1pm. 

I walked from the train station up the hill to the quaint town center and wandered around, wondering why the outdoor cafés that lined the central square looked deserted despite perfect weather and people milling around. I chalked it up to being a bit late for lunch for the locals. By the time it dawned on me that everything had or was closing, I power-walked my way to the other side of the town center to Semente

With the tables and chairs stacked, and a young woman busily taking everything in, I asked if it was possible to get something to eat. She said no, at first, then I explained that I'd forgotten about weekend hours and I was soooo hungry. She offered me the prato do dia, the dish of the day, which was a chickpea and rice concoction with soup (soup comes with every meal, pretty much). I said that was fine—I'd take it to go and sit in the park. 

When she brought out the food, I paid and asked for utensils. She ran back in and brought out a small disposable/biodegradable wooden fork and knife. No spoon for the soup—sorry, they don't have any to give out. 

The fork had no power to fork anything—and the knife was equally impotent. 

The soup? Well, there was broth, chunks of vegetables, and rice that had settled to the bottom of the cup. Quite often, the soup is a purée, so I figured I could drink it. Not this soup, though. I took a few sips of the broth and set it aside. I had to use the fork and knife as makeshift chopsticks, of which using chopsticks is not one of my skills. I muddled through about half of it, enough so that my belly was full. 

After lunch, I sat in the shade on a retaining wall in the garden, waiting for my friend. I didn't see much of Braga in the typical tourist sense, although the spring blooms around town and especially in the exquisite Garden of Santa Barbara were stunning. Some of the flowers were so bright they were hard to look at in the midday sun.

What's Up, Braga?

Braga, sometimes referred to as Portugal's Rome, was founded more than 2000 years ago by the Romans and named Bracara Augusta in honor of the emperor. It is one of the oldest cities in Portugal, and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world noted for spreading Christendom throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Braga is the capital of the Minho region and Portugal's third-largest city. It's full of history, churches(supposedly 30 of 'em), monuments, and did I mention churches? 

I'm sure there's something to Braga, especially for those of strong faith, but I don't feel overly compelled to explore it beyond my short day trip. 

Yes, it's beautiful, tidy, and the history of the place is palpable, but at this point, I feel like I've seen enough religious architecture and monuments. It's nothing against the Braga, I'm just a lousy tourist and don't much enjoy the act of tourist-ing. 

Give me a sidewalk café, coffee, and a simpático friend, and that's good for me! 

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