Aamir in Portugal

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Day 1:   Monday, 7 May 2001
OK, so now I'm in Portugal. I arrived in Porto, Portugal on Monday at about 3pm local time. For those of you in the US, that works out to 10am EST. After a little trouble at customs (they wanted to make sure I wasn't selling any of the robots I brought along to work on my research) I found the correct bus to get me from the Airport to the rail station.

The bus dropped me off a couple of blocks from the rail station and the driver gave me directions on how to get there from the stop. I got to the ticket counter just in time to miss the train I was supposed to get a ticket for. I was hoping for a high-speed train with only one other stop so that I could get to Aviero without too much confusion. I ended up taking the long train which stopped at about 11 places before I got there. Fortunately, someone on the train spoke enough english that I could tell her where I needed to be, and she made sure I got off at the right place.I ended up waiting for a bit at the rail station in Aviero because I arrived about 45 minutes after my ride, Professor Luis Almeida, expected me. I finally managed to contact him and he picked me up to take me to my apartment. By the time I got to the apartment it was around 7:30pm and he was late so he had to leave. Unfortunately, he told me that most places close around 7pm. Well you know me, stubborn to the end. I went out and wandered around until I found a place that had something I could eat. Dinner my first night was homemade bread ("Grandmother's bread") and a bottle of mango juice.

Day 2:   Tuesday, 8 May 2001
I slept pretty well last night which isn't surprising since I had been on the move for something like 30 hours with only about 2-3 hours sleep on the plane. I got up and ventured out to find my way to the Departmento de Electronicas e Telecomunicaciones. It actually wasn't a long walk, only about 10 minutes. After a quick tour of the buildings, I had lunch with Luis (Professor Almeida) and went home to finish settling in.
I wandered a little further from home towards downtown and found a place where I got some more of that wonderful bread, butter and some sandwich materials. That was dinner and I even saved some for lunch tomorrow. Kind of a boring day since all I have to do is work on some programming I brought with me and settle in. I don't have an office or a work area on campus yet, and I don't have any idea where I'm going to be teaching this week or how much time I'll have. Oh, I took some pictures with my digital camera (Thanks to the folks for that!).
The first two pictures above show my bedroom. The next three are shots from different angles of my living room. It's a three bedroom, one bath place with portable electric heaters, gas water-heater and oven, and a dorm-fridge.

One other thing, it's a little colder here than I ws told. It turns out that the weather this year has been very strange. They're still getting rain, which is strange by itself, but the highs are barely hitting 60o - 63oF. That would be fine except that the winds here are pretty strong coming off the ocean, and the water is very cold. I'm wishing I had packed another flannel shirt to use as a jacket and a few long sleeve shirts. The nights are still getting down in the mid to upper 40s. Everyone keeps telling me it's supposed to warm up. I'll believe it when I feel it.

Day 3:   Wednesday, 9 May 2001
I got up right on time but I was a little slow getting out of bed because sometime during the night the heater went out (you can see it on the floor near the window). I closed up the windows then hopped in the nice warm shower, dressed and headed out. I got an office today (actually squatted is the more appropriate word). There are two other PhD students sharing the space. I've got some pictures of them and the office as well.
It took quite a while to track down and get things set up so that I could hook up my computer to the network and go online. The connection is VERY SLOOOOOWWWW. I get much faster speeds on my modem at home. Apparently there is a problem with the outside link. I understand the frustration. We've run into the same problems at UF.
Anyway, once I got set up, I worked for a while on one of my summer projects. Tomorrow I hope to get moving on my thesis work. Hopefully I'll also have a classroom and lab to see and begin setting up. Actually, that's more important right now because I'm supposed to give the first lecture on Friday.
I also spent a couple of hours wandering around the city today. I get a little farther from home each time. The thing that stands out the most is how old everything seems. It's not old in a bad way. It's just that the streets are narrow, the buildings are close together and you get a feeling like you've just stepped into the past. I actually almost got lost in the downtown area, but I managed to find a familiar landmark . . . a Portuguese Chinese Restaurant! How could I forget something like that. As much as I wanted to go in and have dinner, I had a dinner date already lined up. I found my way home and got ready to go to dinner, but that's another story.


Day 4:   Thursday, 10 May 2001
Today I had a little trouble waking up because I didn't get much sleep last night. Once I got moving I found Luis and we went to see the clasroom that we were able to get. The theoretical part of the robotics course will be taught in the classroom, and the lab portuion of the class (which is pretty much my job) will be in different rooms. I will be using this classroom tomorrow (Friday = sexta-feira, pronounced sAyshta fAyra) to introduce the students to the electronics they will use and to briefly go over the projects they will be doing.
I also finally got the electronic "brains" of the robots that the students will design around, but I have to extract them from the old robots they are in and make sure they still work. I've spent most of today working on learning Visual C++ and continuing to figure out why my network connection is not working right.
I got some pictures of the two students with whom I share an office. The one on the left is Ramon, who is a PhD student from Cuba. On the right you see Rogerio, from Brazil. He's got an advantage since they also speak Portuguese in Brazil, although it's a little bit different from continental Portuguese.
It's almost 8pm now (I'll explain the normal schedule here in a minute) and we'll be going to dinner soon. Afterwards, I'm going to go out and see some of the night life. Apparently Thursday nights are the fun nights. Most students go home for the weekends on Friday and Saturday, so the campus and the town is very quiet. I'll let you know what happens tomorrow. By the way, there is SWING in Portugal!
The schedule here is pretty interesting. Most places start work and open up at 9am, then close up at 12:30pm. Then they re-open at around 2pm (after lunch and a nap) and stay open until 7pm. There is a quiet time until around 10pm or so while everyone eats dinner and rests up. At around 10pm people start going out to see each other and have fun until late into the night. All in all, it's a little different from what I'm used to, but as the saying goes, when in Rome . . .

Day 5:   Friday, 11 May 2001
Before I get too many questions about it, let me let you know that I didn't make it out to the downtown area last night. Much as I hate to admit it, I actually got a little lost when I was going to meet the people I was going out with. Things looked a little different in the dark, and somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn and ended up in some small streets and alleys. It took me a while to find my way back to a landmark I recognized, and then I found my way home. By then, it was too late to start over because they were already supposed to be downtown by then. I'll see if anything's happening this weekend, but if not I'll try for next week.
It turned out to be a beautiful day! It started off looking a little gloomy, but it didn't take long to brighten up and just be a great day. I think the temperature got up to around 67oF or so, but there was still quite a breeze. I took a few pictures this afternoon of the area right outside my office. The University is right near the ocean, actually on an inlet from the ocean. The picture on the right doesn't really do justice to the view. I'll have to try for a better one tomorrow.
I spent a good chunk of the day today working right next to a window where I could see just how nice it was outside. I wasn't my usual productive self because I kept looking outside and wishing I was there. It's too bad today was my first class. I'll tell you how that went a little later. I actually broke down and went outside for a short break or two to just sit out there and listen to everyone else speaking Portuguese. I'm slowly picking things up, but I have to watch myself so that I don't say things in some of the other languages I'm dangerous in. I'm actually able to understand bits and pieces now when they're speaking slowly. Speaking will come with time.
OK, I've been walking past this thing every day now, so I finally took a couple of pictures. I'm not sure what it is, but it reminds me of the random things that seem to pop up around campus back home. It's got its own little plot of land and even a few decorative plants. The shot on the right is a close-up from a different angle.     Anyone have any ideas?
My class went OK. It turned out that the room I was supposed to have has another class in it at the same time, so we moved down the hall. I was able to meet the students and show them some of the basics of what they would be doing. I still don't have all the parts they will need for their robots, but there are people trying to dig them up for me. It's looking like classes will be on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 3-6pm, which leaves the rest of the week open for exploring. I'm going to try to be good and get some work done so that I can graduate sometime soon and get a real job, but other than that I plan on exploring more of this town and the nearby sites. I actually found out about a trip that one of the other departments is arranging to go see several sites in southern Portugal. I need to find out how to get in on that.
When I got home I opened up my balcony doors and I was rewarded with a pretty neat site. I can actually hear the birds doing whatever birdy things they have to do and although it's not an ocean view, I like it. Pictures don't really give the full effect, but at least they give up a little idea. I'm in a 3rd floor apartment facing south (I think). The front of my building looks a lot like the ones you see. I'll have to get some pictures of the little bakery where I get the bread and little treats that are going to make me fat if I don't start getting some exercise.
When I got home I opened up my balcony doors and I was rewarded with a pretty neat site. I can actually hear the birds doing whatever birdy things they have to do and although it's not an ocean view, I like it. The two pictures here are looking left on the balcony. The roses smell great and I didn't notice at first, but those roses aren't just on the balcony. The bush starts in the yard of the first floor apartment! (see picture on right)
I think tonight is going to be a pretty quiet night. I'm planning on going out to eat dinner soon. I'm going to see how I do on my own, but I'm bringing a dictionary and my little phrasebook (That's been remarkably handy! Thanks Sarah!) If anything exciting happens, I'll update the log. Until then, chão!

Day 6:   Saturday, 12 May 2001
Last night was a very quiet night here for me. It started to rain and I decided to wait it out before going anywhere. I ended up falling asleep just after midnight, so nothing really exciting happened. I got up this morning feeling pretty good, so I went for a short run. That's the first time I've been running in some time, and I got some strange looks. Several people stopped me and asked who I was running from. It took a little while to explain to them that I was just running for fitness (especially since I didn't have my Portuguese-English dictionary with me). I think they thought I was insane. It felt really good though because it was shaping up to be a nice day. I couldn't have been more wrong.
It's been raining all day. It started kind of slowly just as I was about to go exploring around the town. I had actually planned to spend the entire day exploring the town and taking in everything I could. I waited and went out as it looked to be slowing down so I could get some lunch (it was around noon by then). Well, the rain picked up and by the time I got home I was pretty cold and wet. Yep, the temperature dropped again, and I still don't have an umbrella. Everyone keeps telling me not to worry about getting one because it's not supposed to rain any more this summer. If it's clear tomorrow, I'm going to try to find one.
In general, today has been kind of gloomy and my mood here seems to reflect that. I think I'm just bored. At least at home I can call someone and just chat for a while. The nearest phone here is a pay phone on the next block. OK, back to the story.
I actually just came back inside from another attempt to get out of the apartment and I'm soaked again. It's almost 5pm now and almost all the shops shut down a few hours ago, so there's not going to be much to see until late tonight. I've got a case of cabin fever right now, but I think I can wait to go outside until I dry off and warm up. I've done quite a bit of reading today. I've already finished two of the books I brought with me and I'm about halfway through the third. That leaves only one more to last me the summer. I'm not sure where all this time is coming from since I'm actually getting more work done than I usually seem to be able to do back in MIL.
I hope the weather clears up so I can go check out some of the night-life tonight. I'll be on my own since the people that I know are all gone home for the weekend. If anything exciting happens I'll let you know.
Things are looking up. I finally saw the sun for a few minutes, so I went outside for a nice liesurely walk. I really needed that! I actually found what I guess would be called an outdoor mall. This time I even found a grocery store. That may not seem like much, but I've been living off bread, butter, cold cuts and nice, cheap student cantina food. What I wouldn't give for a nice, hot home-cooked meal right now. I'm living on a budget until Professor Doty gets here, but then I should have enough money to try my hand at Protuguese cuisine.
The people here are pretty friendly but I do get a lot of strange looks. I guess there aren't too many Indians in Portugal. I tried to go to the chinese restaurant I found a couple of days ago, but they weren't open. On my way back from the grocery store it looked like they were opening though, so I think I'll try it out later this week.

Day 7:   Sunday, 13 May 2001
I went out for a little while last night but things seemed to close down ealier than usual because of the rain. I guess I haven't found the good nightspots yet other than some of the local bars I pass on the way downtown. Most of the folks in there are a little older than the crowd I'm looking for.

Today was a much nicer day than yesterday. I spent several hours just walking around trying to make sure I could find my way around. It threatened to rain several times, but it never got started. It even warmed up a bit.

I started by heading out on campus to see if I could find my way back to the cantina where my friends usually hang out. I got side-tracked exploring a very strange area of campus. There's this big open plaza with a couple of sets of stairs going underground. When I went down I found another place to eat (I'll have to try it out on Monday) and a little mini-mall of school supplies, electronics, the first Coke machine I've seen here and lots of other fun things. I was surprised to see one of the machines had everything from chips and candy bars, to sodas and beer. Nothing was open of course. The entire campus was deserted the entire weekend, almost like a ghost town.

Anyway, as I found my way towards the cantina I started seeing a few people, and when I got there, the line to get in was extended out the door. I decided to hunt elsewhere for food, so I kept walking. I found my way to a main road and started following it intending to go home and grab my camera (I still forget to bring it with me). I ended up someplace new, and eventually worked my way to a stadium. I think there was a fútbol game getting ready to start. I kept going and made a note to find out when the next game was. After some more winding roads and paths, I found my way back to the outdoor mall. I almost didn't recognize it because this time I came upon it from the other end and on the second level.

After some window shopping I decided I should grab something to eat. Actually I wandered into the food court and realized how hungry I was. I decided against the MacDonald's and Pizza Hut and went for something new. I decided to try the Israeli food restaurant. I ordered "frango menú" which I think roughly translates as a "chicken combo". It was a type of curried chicken in a pita pocket with some lettuce and a good sauce. It also had some pretty good french fries and a drink. It really hit the spot, and I decided to continue my meanderings.

On the way home I tried a way I had never been before and found a great park. I walked the footpaths for a while, then headed home to grab a book and go back. I returned with a book and found a nice spot on a hill to read and watch/listen to the people around me. I've been listening to whatever I can to try to understand what people are saying. They tend to talk a little faster when they're not talking directly to me, so I think it's a better way to learn the language.

After hanging out there for a while the ever-present breeze started to feel a little chilly even for me. I decided to make a last circuit of the park before heading in. I got back home to do a little homework and throw something together for dinner, and now I'm finishing up this log. Oh, I finished the book I was reading, so now I've only got one more left. I'm going to have to find a bookstore around here to get some more books.


Aamir in PortugalOn to Week 2


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