Um Amigo enviou-me, como reacção ao post anterior (Sr. Presidente sabe quanto vale Coimbra?), uma notícia publicada no mais importante jornal da Letónia, que confirma tudo quanto escrevi.
Para quem não saiba letão, em baixo deixo a tradução para inglês:
"My perfect Portugal
Studying in Portugal is dangerous... because it’s an unforgettable adventure you want to feel again and again.
My eyes are getting wet every time, when I start looking through my pictures of my so dear and beautiful city – Coimbra.
I had heard a lot about the student exchange program ERASMUS from my course mates. I didn’t think much and just applied for the studies in Portugal. What it really is and what exactly I’m doing I just realized at that moment, when I found out that on the 3rd of May I have to start my studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra. I was very scared, but in the 27th of February I got on the plain. Together we were 3 Latvian girls and when after a night without sleeping we got out at the airport of Porto, we all were scared as never before. At that moment started the most magnificent part of my life.
THE STUDENT CITY COIMBRA
I was living in the 3rd biggest city in Portugal, witch was located between Porto and Lisbon. The city has the perfect size – it’s not too big and not too small. It was not like that that I knew every body who was walking by me on the street, but during these 5 months I didn’t see any traffic jams. Out of 150 thousand habitants 80 thousand are students. On the top of the city center is one of the oldest universities in Europe – the University of Coimbra. Coimbra is a real student city, where you can still feel the old world. Maybe that’s because why I liked it so much. All around are young, smiling Portuguese people from all around Portugal and there are also a lot students from other countries, which are now in Coimbra and willing to see and learn something new. The second biggest part of inhabitants are old people. We were laughing and calling them the everlasting students which were not able to get away from the joyful life of Coimbra. Tourists visit this city for some hours - just to see the old university and the old part of the city, because after the big earthquake in 1755 Coimbra was one of the fewer cities which were left totally undamaged, whereas Lisbon was almost totally destroyed.
Together with both other Latvian girls and a Slovenian boy I was renting a five room apartment in the city center. My favorite place in our apartment was the big balcony from where you had an amazing view to the mountains. It was really idyllic talking English to our neighbor, drinking a glass of win and looking at all the enlightened houses in the mountains. I think it’s not even worse to mention that the price of our 5 room apartment with the beautiful view was the same as for a usual three room apartment in the suburbs of Riga. Around our three floor house was a garden with flowers and bushes and around it all was a small white fence. Of course the stairways were always clean. From our kitchen window you could see a lemon tree. Next to our house were many tins for garbage because the Portuguese people are used to sort the garbage and they even have advertisement of that in the TV. I also learned how to do the sorting and while doing that I felt that I’m doing a good thing. When I returned to Latvia, I automatically was looking, where to put my plastic bottle. If I would be sorting garbage in Latvia I would have to drive with my sacks full of rubbish kilometers far to get to the closest garbage tins for sorted rubbish.
After just seven minutes walking down the hill I got to the big shopping center Dolce Vita. On one side it has a big stadium, on the other - a swimming pool and a basketball hall, in the middle the shopping center. One time in the swimming pool costs you just 2.12€ and you can swim there even the whole day if you want. When my parents were visiting me, they had a simple question – why are we building in Latvia plastic sheds, but here a comparatively small city can afford to build something so magnificent? I didn’t bring them to the other two shopping centers. Every good thing has also his bad sides – I’m living on the top of a hill, but Dolce Vita is on the foot of the hill. You can get down very easy but I always think twice when I have to go to the shop because coming back with all the full sacks is exhausting. March and April were very cold and the way back from Dolce Vita was a perfect way how to keep yourself warm, but in July, when the temperature reached +35 degrees, I always waited till ten o’clock in the evening to go and get food – at the day it’s almost dangerous for your health to climb the hill.
The Portuguese life rhythm is totally different from the one I was used to. In the first month I couldn’t stand that the Portuguese people are always late – not just 10 minutes but much more. Once I went with other ERASMUS students to a city in the north – Braga. After checking-in in the hostel the guide Marco told us: in 7 minutes will be the bus and we will drive to place to have diner, be ready. Approximately in 10 minutes he took a billiard cue and played a whole game. Then I understand that being late is in the blood of every Portuguese and I didn’t take it so serious anymore. When we went to Lisbon the meeting time for the ERASMUS students was 7:45 but for the Portuguese people – 7:30. At the end I started to do the same as the Portuguese – never be in a hurry, because you will not miss anything anyway, you have to take your life very easy.
The public transport on the other hand is very punctual. They have a very good planned transport system – in the evenings the big busses are changed to smaller ones, which don’t use so much petrol.
The different life rhythm I felt also at the university. The schools are open till approximately one o’clock in the night. The lectures finish in the evening about a half an hour before midnight. When I had to make an appointment with my teacher, he said let’s meet at ten o’clock in the evening in our university’s bar. That was strange, but not bad. Of course all the parties start much later then we are used in Latvia. You just can start thinking about going to a bar at midnight and even then almost everything is still empty. The clubs are starting to fill just at about three or four in the night.
Portuguese cuisine is not my favorite one, because the meat is too dry while the seafood offer is very wide. I cooked a lot at home, but having a meal at the cantina of the university was very cheap. The government supplies the universities with money for their cantinas, that’s why you can get a three course meal for just about 2 €. The food is very good and the cantinas clean. But still I missed different kind of sauces and sweets from Latvia. My friend brought me from home horseradish, sour cream and chocolate cheese. My roommates parents brought her cold soup. It was a real feast meal for us. From time to time a friend from our ERASMUS group invited us to a diner for tasting his own countries delicacies. Now I know how tastes a Polish Easter cake and Serbian homebrew. One of the national foods of Portugal is Bacalhau. The favorite sweet is Pastel com Nata. That’s pastry punnet with an egg filling. You can get it in every small confectionery which are very popular in Portugal.
AN HOUNOR TO BE A STUDENT
I told the local people a lot about Latvia, but I tried to be objective and I didn’t praise Latvia too much but I also didn’t make it down. I told them that in Latvia the students usually work even when they are studying. The most popular question was – How? Is it possible to study and to work? How is the quality of the Universities if you can manage to do both – studies and work?
A Portuguese called Hugo explained me, that in Portugal it’s like having a contract between you and your parents. While you are studying (and in Portugal student often are 25-30 years old) your parents are supporting you with money and a place where to live but after that you will have to take care about them. During the studies almost nobody is working, except internships which are a part of the studies.
The students have an official uniform, which is not obliged, but most of the students are wearing it. The boys are wearing a black suit with a black tie and a white shirt, the girls – almost the same just instead of the trousers they wear a skirt. Integral to this dress is a thick, black coat. It looks pretty strange when so many Batmans are walking around the city. When it’s hot outside they just keep their coats in the hands. There is a saying that till the end of the studies you are not allowed to wash your coat, because otherwise you will fail in the exams. Before the exam period the senior year students have a special ceremony – priests are sanctifying the maps of the students. That is such an important ritual, that often the parents of the students come to watch, how their children get the bless before the big exams.
QUEIMA DAS FITAS
The year’s biggest event in the student city Coimbra is the student festival – Queima das Fitas (translated – “Burning bands”). Usually this event takes place in May, but the preparing for that starts already in the beginning of April. The festival lasts 8 days and 9 nights - it’s the celebration of the end of the school year. Every day of the festival is devoted to one of the 8 faculties of the university – literature, law, medicine, science and technology, pharmacy, psychology and pedagogy, economic and sport. The students from each faculty have a band in a different color on which the other can write wishes. During the festival these bands are burned. During Queima das Fitas everybody is wearing his black uniform, but I have to say that on the ninth day the uniforms usually don’t look very clean anymore.
The festival is opened at midnight next to the old cathedral of Coimbra. The most talented students are singing fado on this evening. Fado is a traditional Portuguese music style. The fado in Coimbra is preformed just by men but in Lisbon also by women. That’s an exciting moment because a lot of the students are crying - they understand, that their student life is going to finish soon. But then starts the partying and so it continues all nine nights. The party is taking place in the Mondego Park close to the river and next to the old town of Coimbra. There is one stage and 8 big tents – in every tent you can dance to a different style of music. All around are a lot of hotdog and bear sellers. The Portuguese are proud that during this week the consumption of beer is even bigger than the one in Munich’s Octoberfest. A big event is the Cortejo – the parade. Trucks decorated with flowers are driving starting from the university and going through the whole city. In the trailers of the trucks are the senior year students giving alcohol and snacks for free to all festival’s guests. At that moment I thought – that is something unreal – the government is supporting the use of alcohol among young people. We had heard that there will be about 15 trucks but at the end there were 89. Everyone took beer, vodka, wisky or sangria. The people were dancing and having fun in the streets. And that all without any accidents or fights. The whole city was like drunk. Before the festival I asked my Portuguese language teacher how it will be with the learning process during this crazy week. She told me, that for years the students had to go to lectures on this week, but just a few showed up. Then the council of the city found a solution – they moved the Easter holiday week to Queimas das Fitas week.
During one semester I managed to travel in Portugal crisscross. Mostly I traveled by train. Trains are new, clean and in good quality. There is a fast train between biggest cities, the ticket price is more expensive, but you spend less time. The speed of the fast train is about 220 km/h.
The roads in Portugal are in really good quality. Those people whose time is money can use toll roads, that have flowers and bushes in sides.
Freeways are like our Via Baltic ring road in Saulkrasti (city in Latvia).Portuguese Ricardo told that almost all Europe money is invested in building and renovating roads. You really can see that.
Of course, there are some mountain roads, that you can get sick, but the quality of the road surfacing is good. We rented a car twice, I went by bus frequently, but I never saw any policemen or crashes there. Drivers are brave and fast, but safe.
North of Portugal is green and hilly. If you don’t like mountain roads, then don’t go there. But views are unforgettable. I remember cathedral Bom Jesus very well – on the top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere near old Braga city. I might think, that is some old big city sanctuary, but not. There are a lot of churches and cathedrals in Portugal.
Coimbra is situated in the middle of Portugal one hour away from Atlantic Ocean beach Figuera de Foz. Geographically it’s perfect location, because the distance is the same to all sides. Two hours, 15 euros and you are in Lisbon. I was in some small towns around Lisbon, for example Obidus, that Portuguese people call - city from a postcard.
King Afonso II gave it to queen at wedding. Around the city there is old wall where you can walk around the whole city. Houses look like made of gingerbread in Greek style. They all are painted white with yellow or blue line around Windows. You can buy a lot of different vines on the streets there.
Cintra is a historical city near from Lisbon and there are 3 fantastic castles. In one of them there is a Moorish citadel from Century III.
There is a marvelous wood around those castles, where you can see plants from all over the world. Magical places with ancient history.
One hour away from Lisbon there is fishermen village called Cezimbra. I went there 3 times because of its famous fish restaurants. There aren’t a lot of tourists, but lisbonians go there to spend their time. There are old taverns where you can buy cooked sardines and spider crabs. I ate so big crab for the first time in my whole life. It tasted wonderful and cost about 18 euros. And then we had some green vine and went to beach where I found the biggest see shells that now reminds me of beautiful Portuguese beaches.
I saw more then 10 beaches and they were all different. I have never seen such sandy seashore like in Figuera de Foz. When you start walking in sand you don’t even see the ocean then. Walk takes about 10 minutes and then you finally see the ocean with very big waves and surfers. There are really big rocks at the south Portugal beaches. And there is a fantastic view in distal west point in Europe – giant waves hitting against 140 m high cliffs.
There is another story about beaches of Algarve. That’s south region in Portugal with a lot of health resorts. Portuguese people say that the native language there is English. That really is so. All cities – Lagusa, Portimana, Faru, Albufeir are almost the same. Big hotels, tourists and white sand with cliffs.
PORTO AND LISBON
I was in Lisbon several times. Big city with half a million inhabitants with a lot of ancient architecture (after a big earthquake in 1775 almost whole city was rebuilt) and new futuristic houses – like, for example, Expo 98 district with one of the biggest aquariums in the world. I visited big rock festival in Lisbon called Rock in Rio. There were thousands of fans. I paid 53 euros and saw Lenny Kravitz, drunk Amy Wainhouse and Pol van Dyk. Festival lasted 7 days, each day 3 celebrities. Cool event! And all Lisbon hotels and hostels were full that time.
I had my Midsummer night in Porto. I have to admit it, that I missed Latvian traditional flower diadems and songs, but I experienced totally different Midsummer festival. The typical feature was plastic hammers in people hands and beating everybody with them. A little bit weird, but fun. City was full with hawkers that sell cooked sardines (Sao Joao national meal), ribs, beer, sangria and… hummer! At midnight there was a fireworks with music. Different but really great Midsummer.
That time I spent in Portugal now seems like just one moment, more like a dream. When I had to say goodbye to other students in Coimbra train station I cried so much because I knew – I will never see them again. I understood one simple thing that was told in our ERASMUS song Boa Sorte: “H? tantas pessoas especiais no mundo”. I just would like that other people would enjoy life. That`s my wish for them. Portugal now is my new love, that I will remember till I die."