02 September 2014

The Most Picturesque Town Square in the World

Guimarães, the small city Mom and Marsh and I are staying in tonight, is one of the most beautiful places I've been in the world; made all the more exquisite by how harrowing our journey was getting here today.

We drove here today--the birthplace of Portugal--from Cascaís, which is near Lisbon, and about a five-hour drive. If you drive steadily.

I had forgotten, when I made our plans for this week, that a small country doesn't necessarily mean tiny. I had also forgotten that when Ian and I visited here 7 years ago we had rented our car in Porto--less than two hours away.

Jet lag, general anxiety, gut issues,  some difficulty with maps and road signs and smart-phone driving directions (very stupid phone, in this case); a long stay at a turnpike rest stop for me to sleep the drooling sleep of the internationally exhausted; the necessity for Marsh to then take over driving from me for a time, and then us getting mired down in hilly, cobbled Coimbra's traffic with the poor man at the wheel of a gutless stick shift, with no Portuguese sign-reading skills, and no experience driving in the country that vies with Greece for Europe's most dangerous roads; a refreshing (enough) stroll through Coimbra University's Botanical Garden (Coimbra University is the second oldest university is the world that has been in operation full-time, starting in the early 1200's); a short discussion of whether or not we should forfeit our lodging in Guimarães (still about 2 1/2 hours further along) and try to re-navigate the narrow, winding streets of Coimbra in search of alternate lodging; but deciding ultimately to go on (I had recovered and the drive seemed way easier to me than a search for a room would be the), where we got to experience  insane drivers (I was going 90 with the flow of traffic, at one point, and two Mercedes flew by me going at least 150, one car-length apart, barely able to keep to their lane) . . . where was I?

Well we made it; Mom and Marsh's room looks out over the idyllic square; we covered two cafe tables with local specialties around 8:30 pm (about 30 minutes before the locals started trickling in to eat) and ate them all, and I am delighted to be here :-)

And now I will sleep.

one-fingered on my phone


  1. I looked up statistics on traffic fatalities in Europe. In the late 90s, Portugal had 118 fatalities per million inhabitants per year, which was second only to Greece (with 149) on a list of core European countries. However, in recent years, Poland has taken first place in that set with 109, Portugal was still second at 97, Slovakia third at 94 and Greece fourth at 91.

    However, none of those numbers can compare with Kazakhstan at 219 or Russia at 186. Indeed, in a larger set of European countries, Portugal is 18th and Greece 21st. In general, the wealthier a European country is, the lower the fatality rate is (although Kazakhstan and Russian are outliers with higher fatalities than expected for their GPD per capita).

    Here's the larger set, with traffic fatalities per million inhabitants per year in parentheses:
    Kazakhstan(219), Russia(186), Armenia(181), Georgia(157), Bosnia and Herzegovina(156), Belarus(144), Moldova(139), Ukraine(135), Azerbaijan(131), Albania(127), Lithuania(124), Montenegro(118), Romania(111), Poland(109), Latvia(108), Bulgaria(104), Croatia(104), Portugal(97), Turkey(96), Slovakia(94), Greece(91), Serbia(81), Macedonia(79), Hungary(77), Cyprus(76), Belgium(72), Czech Republic(71), Slovenia(66), Estonia(65), Luxembourg(65), Italy(62), Austria(53), France(49), Finland(47), Germany(43), Switzerland(43), Spain(41), Netherlands(39), Iceland(38), Malta(38), Ireland(35), United Kingdom(35), Denmark(30), Sweden(30), Norway(29), San Marino(0)

    And Portugal is also safer than the US, which has 116 fatalities per inhabitant per year. Worst in the world is Eritrea at 484.

    So stay safe and be confident that Portugal is not that bad in comparison to many places!

  2. I'm assuming there's a typo in that US statistic, as I'm pretty sure we don't all die 116 times in a year!