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Culture Shock!

Having lived in 3 different continents in my close to 50 years, I can tell you that nothing ever prepares you for the culture shock you experience when moving to a new country.

It's one thing to experience a new place in 2 or 3 weeks of vacation, because the experience is always romanticized in your mind, for the most part.

You can form connections to places, and unless you live there for more than a couple months, that connection gets stronger or it weakens with time.

If it gets stronger, you become more aware of your surroundings, patterns form, routines solidify and you start becoming familiar with every day life; going to the market every day, people watching in the square, kids playing, housewives gossiping, old men reminiscing. It becomes your new normal.

I've often wondered how it is that people were able to live the way that they did, with less amenities than the average modern family. In a modern world where convenience and comfort trump everything else, it's hard to fathom how these villages still manage to survive.

Living in Portugal for the last 2 months, it's easy to see how difficult life must've been for those living in smaller towns and villages. In many ways, lots of Portuguese people still live the 'old way'. They are a modern people of course, but they have held on to alot of old traditions and maintained their way of living for so long, that it just makes sense to them to continue doing it that way, for some things at least.

Having come from a place where Walmart, McDonalds and 7-11 stores are within a five minute drive from wherever you live, you become very spoilt. You forget where things come from, how things are made, because you're so far removed from the source. I don't really find that here.

Even though there are lots of cafes and restaurants and other shops of all descriptions, including big box stores, it feels very different from where I've come. In a good way.

At the very least, it makes for a very non-boring life experience, because I'm out and about every day doing new things that I've not done since I was a kid. I feel like I'm living more conscientiously.

Here in Portugal, the architecture is astounding. Some of these places have been standing here not for decades, but for centuries. With a little imagination, it's easy to see how grandiose everything must've seemed. However, today castles, palaces, monasteries, mansions, walled towns and all type of other interesting old buildings and spaces lay in a state of either upkeep or disrepair. Unfortunately there is much of the latter.

Many a drive through the back roads and even main roads of these old places reveal a marvel of abandoned homes, mansions and factories that were once alive and thriving with energy. Now, sadly, they lay by the wayside falling to pieces, only to be admired by people like me who find the whole notion of abandonment fascinating.

When I see places like this in the state that they are in, I wonder why they are not being utilized by young people out of school and entrepreneurs and government initiatives to revitalize and repurpose. Instead, these places die a slow death.

Lawyers can spend decades trying to locate the next of kin to close the estates. Most next of kin have moved to other countries in search of work or better opportunities. Or you may find that a person willing to buy the property ends up giving up and moving on: because the sale doesn't move forward or the property is tied up in red tape with city council.

There are so many solutions, options and possibilities for these places and yet... I'm rambling.

Once upon a time... (wait, aren't you a little late in this blog for a "once-upon-a-time"?) there was a beautiful Portuguese Queen called Leonor, who upon passing through this old village, discovered that the locals would talk about how the hot springs cured many of their ailments. So she setup a thermal spa and hospital in the area and thus, the name of the town became, Caldas da Rainha, the Queen's Cauldron. The translation sounds a lot more menacing.

A spa and hospital it was for many a time and still is today, just not in the same place. Those buildings are no longer in use, as they are not in habitable condition. They remain a sight to behold still and are a protected permanent installation in the beautiful park that surrounds them.

The park on the other hand, is stunning, well kept and well loved and used by locals and visitors alike.

Dogs are allowed as long as they're kept on a leash. It makes for a lovely walk any time of the day.

Coimbra, so far, has definitely sparked the romantic in me and captivated my wife's heart. It is a very old city with the oldest university in all of Portugal and one of the oldest in the world.

This pleasant treed lane once belonged to the Benedictine monks who lived and worked here.

There used to be a football field, orange groves and a horse racing track here many decades ago. But in 1920, the city bought the grounds and turned them into this lovely public garden for all to enjoy. And so, we enjoyed it, with our labradoodle, Gevalia, who I suspect was way mo'happy than us to galavant freely in the wide open spaces.

Lucky surprises are everywhere and if you can live in the moment, the universe will show them to you. Sometimes you happen upon a place with a great vibe and natural beauty and you just want to capture it in a little frozen moment.

I wasn't even aiming my iphone at the sunset, but after the first snap, it struck me what a beautiful moment I had just witnessed.

Baleal beach is very well known in surfing circles and it is an awesome water sports hangout for pros and locals. This windy place will get you the speed you want, whether on your windsurfer or while kite surfing.

The light here in Peniche (the area) is incredible. It's soft and decadent and creamy, almost like velvet cake and white chocolate. It's quite delicious. The light, I mean.

...and then there's Sao Pedro de Moel, with it's cute little beaches, lovely cobblestoned roads and stunning vistas. It's a place that is quaint and gorgeous with so much appeal and right along the coast. Literally a retiree's paradise.

It has a continuous pathway for cyclists, runners and walkers alike, starting at North Beach in Nazare (as far as I know) and runs for a long stretch almost to Figueira da Foz. It's at least 60+ kilometres and is about a 4 hour bicycle ride through gorgeous coastal natural beauty. It passes right through this stunning town along the way.

I'm sure I'll find the opportunity to do a cycle through this beautiful landscape at some point. For that though, I will need an e-bike. Because it's more convenient.

Oh yes, and it has this old lighthouse in the town, called Penedo da Saude, which relates to a very old and sad love story. So sad, that I will spare you the tears. I would prefer to end this blog post with sarcasm and humour rather than boring stories about conspiracy and death sentences and a kings ang.... apologies, I'm rambling again.


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