Aamir in Portugal

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Monday, 21 May 2001
Today I started with a quick trip to the store after breakfast to pick up some laundry detergent. I managed to find only one that I was familiar with (Tide) and most of the aisle was dedicated to detergent for washing clothes by hand. Apparently washers are still not everywhere here in Portugal. Dryers are even less common because it's cheaper to hang your clothes outside to dry. I got back and tossed all my laundry into a back for the hike to the machines in the faculty dorms. When we got there the woman at the desk recognized Professor Doty right away. That was a bonus because we weren't sure they would let us in. We bought our tokens and headed for the laundry room.

There were two laundry machines and one dryer and they looked really tiny. We each started our loads, but I actually had two loads to do, so I knew I'd be there a while. We went up to the lounge and read for a while. There's actually a pretty good view into the prison next door. Yes, I said prison. It turns out that our first apartment was right across the street from the prison, and the faculty dorms are right next to them. The guard gave me a threatening look when I started to take a picture, so I'll have to try again later this summer when he's not looking. I got done with my laundry at around noon, and I had to haul everything back home so I could hang them up. The dryer doesn't actually completely dry everything, but it does get a lot of the water out.

I met a woman from Boston in the laundry room and we talked for a bit. She's been here since March and her husband has been here since January. We're going to try to coordinate some trips together, and at least try to do dinner a few times before I leave. They've been some of the places I want to go, so I'll be asking lots of questions.

The short, short version of all this is that I didn't get into my office until around 12:30pm. It wasn't a productive or terribly exciting day. The most interesting thing I did was get the information I would need for my trip tomrrow. I decided to stay in tonight and try to get to sleep early so that I'd be rested for the trip.

Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Today I took a break from school and did some travelling. I was really excited last night and I couldn't really sleep. I was up at around 4:30 this morning and I couldn't sleep so I started getting things ready for the trip. I unpacked everything from my backpack and put in the things I would need. I only took the backpack because it was an easy way to carry my phrasebook, dictionary and the guidebook. I also took my rain jacket because there was a chance for rain. Then I sat and read for a while. Needless to say I was pretty excited about the trip. Professor Doty and I met for breakfast at 7am so we'd have time to buy the tickets and catch the 8am train to Coimbra.

We just made it, then settled in for the 40 minute ride to Coimbra. The train ride wasn't too exciting, and when we got there we looked around for the bus stop. There was a bus at 9:05am that went to Conímbriga, and we had to make that or wait for the second (and last) bus of the day. We didn't have a long wait and we were on our way. Here's a shot of Coimbra from the bus on the way out. I made a new page for the Conímbriga trip because it got a little too long to put here. Follow the link below if you want to see the Roman ruins.
Conímbriga TripMap of Conímbriga Ruins
We caught the 1300h (1pm) bus back to Coimbra because the next bus wouldn't be there for another 5 hours or so, and I still wanted to see the city. At around 1:30 we got back to Coimbra and started looking around. We found the main shopping area and looked around for a bit. The best sites are on the university campus. As a matter of fact, Coimbra was Portugal's only university city from the mid-16th century to the early 20th century. After all my walking around at the ruins I wasn't sure if I wanted to make the hike up to the university, however.

In the midst of all the shops I found this church. It's strange how the old and new mix together and you end up with some totally unexpected results. The picture on the left shows the Igreja de Santa Cruz Church of the Holy Cross. No the building's not crooked, I was. The church was built in the 12th century, and the first two kings of Portugal are entombed here. I got one really cool shot inside the church, and it's of the organ. There was also a lot of painted tile around the church depicting significant events and people. I didn't have enough room left in the camera's memory to take more shots, though. I met one of the locals and she showed me around a bit. The picture on the bottom is kind of interesting, and it shows what I meant when I was talking about the mixture of old and new. There's a cafe adjacent to the church called the Cafe Santa Cruz. This picture shows Kasia and I in front of one of the restrooms. The restrooms are actually in what used to be confessionals. I thought that was pretty unique, so I had to get at least one shot. The church and the surrounding buildings all have a sense of the ancient about them, and so do some of the shops along the avenue. It's a little strange to walk into a 700 year old building to look at the latest in electronics. I had time to explore some of the side streets also, because most of the shops were closed for lunch. They were supposed to reopen at 3pm.

In my explorations of the side roads I saw someone painting in a little corner. I actually stopped to watch for a bit, then moved on. On the way back down the street Professor Doty and I stopped and talked to her for a bit.

Meet Kasia. She's here in Portugal from Poland. She was studying architecture here, and after she finished that degree, she decided to roam around Europe to paint for a while. Professor Doty decided to head back, and I decided to stay and take Kasia up on her offer to show me some of the sites. Professor Doty took this picture just before he left to catch the 4pm train.

So I hung around and watched Kasia paint as we talked about the things we had seen here and our impressions. She's been here for about 3 months just exploring the country and before that she travelled all over Europe. After she finished her painting (right) we walked around the city and she showed me the campus. It's pretty amazing. Some of the buildings are built in that
functional-but-ugly 50's style, but a lot of them were very intricately detailed. I especially like the open plazas that a several of the buildings have. We also stopped for coffee at one of the local student hangouts. She's been to a lot of places here in Portugal and Spain, so we're planning to organize a few trips to go see more of the country.

Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Today was the big MicroRato (micro rat) competition. This is a robotics contest that's been held yearly for the last 6 years or so. The students design and build autonomous robots to navigate a maze and find a beacon at the center of the maze. I was able to take a lot of pictures because I brought my computer over so I could download them as I went. I actually took over 100 pictures. I spent the entire day at the competition and didn't get back home until around 11:30pm tonight. I'm just going to post all of the pictures on a separate page for you to see. That way you get to see what I did.
Micro Rato

The competition was in the gym and all in Portuguese, so between the echoes and the cheers I really didn't understand much of what was said. Professor Doty was one of the judges for the competition, so look for him in the pictures. She's now teaching at another university in Portugal. A lot of the designs looked to have a similar design approach (similar to what Doty uses) and it turns out that a good bunch of the teams were led by former students of the Professor's.

I also got to see Stella, one of Professor Doty's first students over here. We met once before when she came to give a talk at UF, and this time I got to meet her son. That's Stella and Lucas on the left, and that's Lucas tying my shoelaces together on the right.

I also got to try a few new things to eat. For lunch I had Arroz Polvo which is rice with octopus. It was pretty good. The octopus had a texture just like chicken. And no, it didn't taste like chicken, it tasted more like jambalaya. I also tried some samosas, which are an indian food imported here when the Portuguese established colonies in India. Anyway, take a look at the pictures to see what I was up to all day and if you have any questions, drop me a line.

Thursday, 24 May 2001
I didn't do anything too exciting today. Basically I spent the day (and most of the night) trying to get caught up on everything I haven't been doing the last two days. I'll have to finish the other things Friday. I had lab from 2-6pm, followed by a little time getting things ready to work on for Friday. Basically, nothing worth writing about.

Friday, 25 May 2001
Yet another exciting day in the life of Aamir! I spent a beautiful day inside trying to fix the brains of a dead robot. I still haven't gotten everything completely working, but I'm getting closer. I did make some plans for part of the weekend, however. I got in touch with my friend in Coimbra and she's going to show around the city of Coimbra on Saturday, so I'm heading down there tomorrow morning to spend the day there. Oh, I tried something new for lunch: Sandes Panados com tomato e alface e maionese which is a Panados sandwich with lettuce, mayo and tomatoes. It turns out that panados is a type of processed meat that popular around these parts. It tasted kind of like a lot of the chicken sandwiches I've gotten at fast food places in the US. Not bad, but the bread it came on was great. I got back from lunch and decided to snap a shot of one of the security guards who keeps everything running here.

I've got some pictures here of the students in the robotics class. As I said before, Professor Doty teaches the theoretical part of the class (the lectures) while I'm taking care of the practical part. You can see the students working hard on their projects.

Saturday, 26 May 2001
I headed out nice and early for my day trip. I gave Kasia a call before I got on the train (actually I woke her up) to let her know which train I was taking. I got into Coimbra just after 9am and headed out for the Santa Cruz Cafe, which is where Kasia and I agreed to meet. I got to the cafe and ordered a garroto, which is about as close as I've found to the coffee I'm
used to. When Kasia got there we sat and watched some of the people set up for a fair. The local folklore society was out having a celebration with music, food, the works.
We walked around and checked out the food they had, then decided to try some of it. We got something that resembled a pudding that was a local speciality, and a sweet bread that was a lot like sticky buns. They were both good, a nice sweet was to begin the day. After breakfast, we headed out across the river to see the other side of town, Santa Clara.
We started up the road in Santa Clara and got to see some pretty amazing examples of the ancient architecture. The city started as two independent cities, Coimbra and Santa Clara, but over time the cities grew together. We also came across some other tourists (although we did our best not to look like tourists) who mentioned that there was a wedding in progress at the top. You see, there's a large church at the top of the road, and the wife of rulers of Portugal is entombed in it. It's a strange, but true story. There was a great view from the top as you can see from the picture on the bottom right.
I didn't expect to see a tank next to a church, so we decided to investigate the building next to the church. We were met by armed guards when we tried to go in, and we found out that the building is a military barracks, but that's all they told us.
We headed back to the main part of Coimbra then walked around looking for a place to have lunch. Can you read the wall? There were a lot of these expressions of free speach on the walls in this area of town. Apparently the local communist party wasn't terribly happy with ol' Slick Willy a little while back.
I was interested in seeing the Buçaco Forest near Coimbra, but Kasia told me that the Jardin Botanico in Coimbra was better maintained, so we worked our way over there. On the way we passed through some old parts of a Roman aqueduct (left). You can see where the orginal still stands, and where they've restored it.
We finally worked our way over to the gardens and stopped for a drink before exploring them. The gardens were pretty well maintained and we walked around looking at some of the unusual plants. Then we found the area Kasia said was the best part, but it was closed off, and had signs warning people to stay out.

I wanted to see what was back there, so needless to say we jumped the wall and headed down the trail into no-man's land. Here's a really cool tree we ran across. it's pretty old and not all of it would fit in the picture, but those are all its roots in the foreground. Travelling along we found this little temple, but it was locked up. So far the closed off area has been much cooler than the public area.

Moving along we came to a big bamboo forest, and I began to understand why Kasia used to sneak in here to jog in the mornings. It was nice and cool there, while everywhere else was starting to feel like Florida. Pretty cool effect with the sunlight and the bamboo don't you think? (bottom right) Trust me, it's even better in person. I didn't realize how many plants I though were strictly tropical will grow here. I've seen citrus, mango, papaya, and lot's of others. There was one flower I had never seen before (left).

Kasia told me that one of the strange things about the gardens is that you can actually get out right in the city. Well, we found the way out, but the gates were locked and this time the walls were a little too high to jump. Can you see the surprised look on her face?

We eventually worked our way back to where we snuck in, and got out just in time. One of the park attendants was headed our way, but he didn't see us hopping back into the public area. The perfect crime! It was getting late and Kasia had a painting to finish so we headed back to get her painting supplies, after which I got to see the scene of her next materpiece. I can't wait to see the finished product! I left her to concentrate on her painting, then some work she had to do (she's still got to pay the bills somehow) and headed for home.
It took me a little while to get back to the train station because on the way back I took a wrong turn and ended up headed in the wrong direction. After a little backtracking I found my way to the train station. and got my ticket for home. I was a bit tired but I headed out to a book fair (I didn't know what it was until I got there, actually) in progress near my hotel in Aveiro. I hung around there and checked out the happenings then headed home for a little rest.

Sunday, 27 May 2001
Today I spent a nice relaxing morning sleeping in, then made a sandwich for lunch. Not much is open on Sundays, so it's easy to make it a relaxing day. I headed out to walk around for a while, then settled in the park to sit under a tree and read. Later in the day I polished off a cantaloupe milkshake then headed across town to another park to see if anything was going on there. Usually there's something interesting at one of the parks. I sat and watched as what looked like half the firefighters in Portugal went by with bands playing, and all their old and new fire trucks leading the way. It was an impressive sight. I settled in and just enjoyed the rest of the day, then went to meet Professor Doty for our usual Sunday dinner. This time we went to the chinese restaurant about a block away. It's Doty's favorite chinese restaurant here in Aveiro.

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