It isn’t always sunshine & rainbows: Guimaraes

It isn’t always sunshine & rainbows: Guimaraes

On the advice of one our hostel stays, we skipped Braga and went to Guimaraes. THE place where Portugal was born. It isn’t on  many people’s radar because it is a very small town and its neighbour Braga has more of a reputation in guide books…..

The initial impression I had while walking around was that it was very historical here. There is an old wall surrounding much of the historical old city. It oozes with beautiful buildings and you can just feel the sense of history all around.

But you get a sense that it is a place for Portuguese people to visit. To understand and really feel their sense of self here. We got a lot of stares. The first place we have ever felt it, in Portugal so far. Not that there weren’t other tourists there. We could see many from France and neighbouring Spain. Even some from the U.K. Guimaraes in August wasn’t a place overrun with tourists, but they did keep to certain areas – the main squares, historical centre, and the castle.

"Portugal was born here"

“Portugal was born here”

I don’t mind the stares, but it gets to a point where you are trying to figure out if the stares are just out of curiosity and novelty or if they are negative or even hostile. Our impression in Portugal up to this point was only of warmth and welcoming. Our last encounter with the owners of the campground we were staying at, ended with him driving us for free to a lookout point because he felt it was important that we should see it before we left. So it was difficult to wrap our minds around the less than friendly attitudes we felt in Guimaraes. We couldn’t just brush it off as it just being a small town as we had just come from a tiny, tiny mountain town called Ermida, population under 200. It is a community town where they are almost fully self-sufficient growing their own food, building their own facilities, creating a water system that comes from the mountains. A place that works together and stays together, which means very little outsiders join in. But even here, we did not feel even an ounce of negativity. We were not invaders of their little town, we were welcomed.

Maybe here in Guimaraes they are even prouder than most, I really cannot say. Many here did not even give us the chance to connect with even a nod or a smile. Even the tourists here I felt stares, or maybe at this point I was being paranoid.

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The climax or crescendo occurred when we went to a restaurant that Mike had looked up and was looking forward to. It was a bit out of the usual areas and had a strictly Portuguese language menu posted. No translations here. I got excited because I love going to local spots even though it may be a struggle with the language. When we went in it was 9:30. Half the restaurant was full, many almost finished their meal. We went in and the waiter came up to us and very briskly told us they were too busy. To come back in an hour. We looked around, there were plenty of seats and no one was waiting outside. We knew from google that the place closes at 11. So we were confused. I mean it might have been a perfectly valid reason, maybe a lot of locals just show up or they were truly booked for some event? But even when we said sure we will come back in an hour, he looked surprised and shrugged and walked away. We just got that feeling he didn’t want us there, which is kind of a crushing feeling to have. We left confused and feeling disheartened and hungry to boot. You couldn’t help but ask yourself the dark stuff, was it because we were Asian looking? Or just tourists in general? Was this really what we were going to remember most about Guimaraes?

Luckily we remembered passing by a local restaurant near our hostel. It was a simple, to the point kind of place with no frills, loud with locals at times and smelled great from the street. With our hearts low, we decided to check it out, crossing our fingers and hoping that we would not be turned away again. Here, we were met with smiles and  treated as if we were just regular people and for that we were extremely grateful. The food was good too and they let us stay passed closing to finish our meal.

Honestly, looking back, what happened wasn’t so bad. It sucked at the time and marred our very sunny vision of Portugal a little bit. Our guard came up, our walls, ready to protect. But if this is the worst thing to happen to us in our whole year of travel, I would count us the luckiest people of all. Travelling isn’t always taking pictures of bridges and churches, sometimes it’s experiencing the realities of life; let’s call it all the colours of the rainbows – even the ugly ones.
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Vicki Li

Always up for an adventure, I travel with an open mind and am ready to discover the world.