The Charming Idiosyncrasies of Portugal with my Father

My father and I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal on a lazy, sunny afternoon:

12004936_10207856604471686_1876349285516393720_n-825x510.jpgIn the airport Hertz, I bought and drank a very good pear juice:


We did not get to see Lisbon the first day in Portugal. Instead we drove directly to Coimbra, where my father’s physics conference was to take place. We parked the car in an absurdly cramped parking lot and checked into the Vila Galé Coimbra. The room had a great view of a beautiful pool and the River Mondego:


We had dinner with my father’s colleagues. There was a Goan-American professor who I think was married to the European woman sitting next to me, a petite Italian lady, a graduate student and a mechanical engineer and his wife. Conversation about how much easier it is for kids to spend their parents money than their own sprung up. My father mentioned how my sister tells him to not waste money, somewhat struck by her concern. I had the insight to connect the dots and mention that that’s her and my inheritance, to which the other professor laughed. The mechanical engineer discussed specific details of the experiment hardware which went over my head. He also talked about experiments being built in China, and some unreasonable expectations given material constraints.

My father’s hotel room was a perfect mild environment in which to test my concept of a digital nomad. I had reliable internet and a more convenient setup than a traditional youth hostel. Initially I attempted tourism during the day followed by work in the evening, but this left me far too tired for work. So I adjusted the schedule such that I’d complete half the work in the morning, go tour around, and complete half the work in the evening.

The first day, breakfast included Portuguese cheese, a croissant with jam, a hard boiled egg, and a glass of milk.


I visited Biblioteca Joanina of the University of Coimbra. This university was the only university in the Portuguese speaking world into the 20th century, and therefore has great importance in Portugal and Brazil. There was a statue of King John III who was very important to Portugal:


The main highlight of the this university was its age. Despite its age, the university students seemed mostly occupied with the study of natural sciences. This view may be biased by the fact that my home base was between the Departmento Fisica and Chimica. The Biblioteca was quite richly adorned with gold plated wall ornaments and filled with books mostly dealing with religion or navigation. I sneaked in on a Chinese tour where a Portuguese lady spoke in English which was in turn translated into Chinese. The tour guide placed an emphasis on historical good relations between Portugal and China — particularly through colonial Macau. The ceiling personified the four continents of Portuguese colonial presence — Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The Biblioteca itself featured wood from India and Brazil. There were bats in the library. A book was more valuable than a human life in the library’s prime.

The following hall is where Ph.D. exams are still held which is absolutely fascinating to me:


I noticed an authentic Portuguese worker painting:


There was also an academic prison. I was thinking about whether “academic prison” is an oxymoron. An educated person should be educated in ethics as well — the terms ethics, moral philosophy, and moral relativism ran through my stream of consciousness.


I took a very narrow walk up the clock tower from which there was a great view of Coimbra:


After that, I walked downhill to the famous Point de Santa Clara through narrow cobblestone streets. There was an interesting narrow long stairwell perpendicular to the windy road that I was walking down. I decided to take this shortcut down to the Point:


I noticed an ad for an English Coaching Centre:


and of course the Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Nova (New Monastery)


along with Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha (Old Monastery)


Then I went to Portugal dos Pequenitos and witnessed the influence of Portugal on its colonies. The country clearly prides itself on its vast empire to this date.

Monument to Portuguese Guinea Bissau — one girl at Portugal dos Pequenitos knew English and gave me the somewhat vague but still helpful English pamphlet:


Monument to Portuguese Goa, India:


Interestingly the Portuguese put a cross on the Hindu gods:


This reminded me of an observation my father had made a year earlier about Christian church’s in Kerala having dwajasthambams.

The Portuguese were also in Africa:




They conquered Timor Leste:


and Macau:



as well as the Madeira and Açores islands:



It’s quite remarkable how mediocre Portugal’s wealth is today (GDP per capita ~$20,000) given how powerful it’s empire was in the past. That being said the UK’s wealth (GDP per capita ~$40,000) is equally unimpressive given the extent of its looting and imperial power. My uncle had mentioned that these empires never expected they’d lose their territories, otherwise they would have invested less there and taken more from the regions than what they had. Nevertheless, Portuguese and British looting is by no means an insignificant deed.


and finally a monument to Portugal herself:


The next day I visited the Liga de Amigos do Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro:


and this church right by it:


The inside was very ornate:


This painting of Christ struck me as something I’d expect it in Antwerp, not here in Portugal — not sure exactly why, maybe the black background:


The influence of the Islamic Moors was also quite evident in the museum, as in Portugal as a whole. Some people even look Moorish (olive skin).

There were some very well lit Roman ruins underground:


A bust of the grandmother of Nero, granddaughter of Augustus was found here:


There was a scary cave:


The mixture of cultures was quite evident in this preRomanesque column — Roman Byzantine tradition, Arabic, Mozarab art, Cordoba Caliphate:


This primitive sculpture of a man was made at same time as Agnus Dei (next) (French Influence):



For those who have read the Da Vinci Code, here is Christ and Mary Magdalene:


It was quite a game determining who was who amongst the attendants of the last supper:


and I was impressed to know Mr. Money Bags was Judas:


I was quite relieved to find these didactic tiles, the first museum artifact that wasn’t directly about Christianity. Museums sometimes can be quite dry and exhausting after a while, making you think why you paid the entrance fee in the first place.


This anthropomorphic bottle container, as J.D. Salinger would say, really killed me:


… as did this pimply Mother Mary to a lesser extent:


The feet of this Indo-Portuguese ebony inlaid drawer are Jatayu-shaped:


Indian, Muslim, Persian, Portuguese influences in furniture, Western conveniences with Indian art:


I then had an eggy Portuguese sweet, the name of which I cannot recall:


That afternoon I did work in the Coimbra University Deparment of Physics Library where for the first time in my life a librarian offered me a cup of coffee. I said no thank you.

That evening I needed to buy headphones and I was sent from shop to shop until I arrived at the “Chinese shop”. The lady spoke Chinese and Portuguese but no English, which really killed me — what a really rare combination.

My father and I did some port tasting:


Late bottled Vintage Port, Extra dry White Port

I loved the latter which was quite sweet.

That night, we took a paid elevator-esque funicular from a cliff off the hill, where the university was, down to the main town. It even had a conductor which was kind of crazy. My father and I went to an Italian restaurant where they served us cheese and bread as an appetizer without us ordering. After I took a bite of these starters, my dad informed me that it’s not complimentary and they charge you for what you eat. I thought that this was absolutely absurd but now I have developed the knack for determining whether a restaurant will charge for starters that are consumed or not — you can just tell by the ambience of the place and the manner in which they serve your starters and observe your consumption of them.

The next day my father and I drove to Conímbriga. I was quite surprised to learn about how deep the Roman influence on Portugal was, given it’s distance away.


My father was particularly impressed by this home of a rich Roman businessman:


My father and I drove the difficult vehicle over to Lisbon. Basically it had been quite difficult to put it in park. My dad also has trouble following Google Maps GPS on the phone, preferring my directions which I was reluctant to give because of my staunch belief in the greater efficiency and clarity of human computer interaction.

We had lunch at a shady falafel place where there was a South Asian looking man who barely knew English whom I thought would know Hindi or Urdu but did not. There was also a very fat Portuguese lady sitting there. The falafel of course was bad. Then we walked passed the Lisbon War Memorial:


over to the Belém Tower, which my father was convinced he wasn’t pronouncing correctly because the man at the falafel shop didn’t know where it was despite it being very important:


On the Belém tower was a notable Indian Rhino Sculpture:


And of course we saw the impressive and surprisingly new Christopher Columbus monument:


next to which there was this:


… here is the statue up close:


The men were quite valiant weren’t they?

We went inside the Jerónimos Monastery and I for the first time and my father for the second time saw the grave of Vasco da Gama. We recalled seeing his tomb in Kerala and apparently his son exhumed him and moved him to Portugal two years after his death and burial in India:




I just got a brief glance of Lisbon’s Commercial Plaza:


And then we left for the airport, returned the car, and were off to Geneva.

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