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A Wonderful Month in Nazaré

As my time in Nazaré was coming to an end, I enjoyed soaking up every last moment in this quaint town by the sea.

People standing on the beach in Nazaré at sunset
Beach Soccer at Sunset in Nazaré (photo by author)

The Angry Sea Has Followed Me to Nazaré

One night, instead of winding my way home through the quiet back alleys, I chose the seaside route. I was wearing my Manchester City jersey and the team had just won a big game against Tottenham. Usually when I am wearing my jersey while walking along the waterfront, I get stopped to discuss the game with some of the local bar and restaurant owners. After the big win I was definitely up for a chat.

As I turned onto the waterfront walkway, I noticed things were eerily quiet, even for a Tuesday night. Most of the cafés and restaurants were either shutting down or closed. Everything was calm…except the sea. I stared out toward the water but could see nothing but darkness. In Nazaré, the beach is wide and at night it can be hard to see the ocean from the walkway. 

All I could do was listen to the sound of the waves as they crashed relentlessly in the distance. It sounded as if the ocean was angry, perhaps at my boldness for walking the waterfront after everyone else had headed home. Or maybe the sea here is a Tottenham fan? 

I half expected it to pluck me from the safety of the sidewalk, and claim me for the depths of the waters, never to be seen again. 

As I listened to the waves, I thought back to my time in the Azores Islands. There the sea is always present, reminding you that it has you surrounded. I really felt its strength as it was the winter and the water was often quite rough. I loved driving around the islands with the sea always at my side, reminding me it stood between me and the rest of civilization. 

While at times it felt overwhelming and even a little lonely, there was also something about it that was incredibly calming and peaceful. I developed a respect for the sea like I never had back on the beaches in the US. 

Tonight, here in sleepy little Nazaré, the sea was reminding me once again who was boss.

People standing on the beach in Nazaré at sunset
Playing Football on the Beach in Nazaré (photo by author)

Life on the Beach 

Back in the daylight, the sea was calm and the wide beach was full of activity. Families and friends camped out on the sand to enjoy some time in the sun. There was no rush to grab a spot early in the day as there is plenty of beach for everyone.

Also on the beach, there are several football fields where players practice and play games from morning to night. They are usually men's or women's teams, but my favorite time is Saturday morning. That is when the little tykes take over the fields. Watching their amateur efforts reminds me of watching my nephew play t-ball when a win for him was actually connecting bat to ball. If the ball fell right in front of home plate that did not dampen his enthusiasm. There is a similar vibe here as the little ones challenged each other in jerseys with the names of their favorite footballers proudly displayed on their backs. I wondered as I watched them, who was going to be the next Ronaldo?

When special events happen, there is no problem. Simply build a stage right on the beach! There is plenty of room for all!  It is almost like the beach is its own little part of Nazaré, zoned for a wide variety of events.  

In addition to all of that local activity, I’ve watched a larger stadium being built. At first, I did not know what it was. Then I read about a big European beach football cup that was to be played right here in Nazare. Sadly, I’ll be gone when that happens. 

Needless to say, I love sitting by the water not so much to enjoy the sea but to watch all the activity here in “Nazaré West”. I guess that makes my beloved streets in the alleys “Nazare East”.

A woman holding a styrofoam box full of fish on ice.
Selling Fish on the Streets of Nazaré (photo by author)

My Favorite Morning Café…and the Winner Is…. 

One morning, with my usual morning café closed for my last week in Nazaré, I headed to another spot that had piqued my curiosity. I noticed this nondescript little café during my wanderings in the back alleys. The place is located deep in the narrow maze of streets, in the heart of “Nazaré East”. I ordered a galão and settled into a table outside.  

The café is situated on a bend in the tiny road that forces the buildings back just enough to leave space for a mini-praça, or square. The café has a deck with three tables of four and a few tables of two just below those. The table I chose was the only one off to the side so I could watch all of the happenings. Soon the space outside was a lively theater of activity. 

The locals filled the tables, including many I recognized from my usual morning café. There were new faces as well, including a young woman with the cutest little Portuguese kid with a head full of curls. The child, under the watchful eye of Mom, used the little square as a playground. An occasional driver would creep slowly by, mindful of what it might come upon, as the narrow street was closed to all but the cars of local residents. Often as cars passed through the narrow street, they would be forced to gently swipe the edge of the ice cream sign outside the café. 

The lady who ran the café, was always running about, delivering orders and cleaning tables. Occasionally she would smoke a cigarette outside or just disappear into the alleys. No need to worry about her shop. No one was going to bother anything. They might help themselves and leave the proper payment on the counter but likely they would wait patiently, until she returned.

One day, an older woman came by carrying a box of fresh fish on her head. She stood on the little square and shouted into the café which was returned by the owner inside. It had been sometime since my days in the Alfama, so I was a bit rusty and did not recognize this at first as normal conversation.

Soon the shopkeeper came outside, and the woman took the box of fish off her head and sat it on the street. The lady from the café made her choice. After payment was made in exchange for the fish, they parted ways with a friendly goodbye. The woman put the box of fish back on her head and headed into the alleys to resume selling. The café owner disappeared inside to put tonight’s dinner into the refrigerator.

I never went to another café. I had found my spot.

The author standing with the view of Nazaré town and the beach in the background.
Could I Live Here? (photo by author)

We Have A Contender!

As I enjoyed my last week in Nazare, I spent a lot of time reflecting on how much I love the vibe here. I love it all. The older women in their traditional dress. The beach vibe is not so overwhelming as to mute the feeling of normal life. There are several bars with multiple TVs so I have my choice of places to watch football games. The sunshine always manages to make an appearance despite some rainy days. And most pleasant of all? Portuguese is spoken here so I can continue to learn the language.

I had become quite taken with Nazare. It amazed me how much I had enjoyed my time in a town of 15,000 residents. How far I’ve come from the girl with an apartment in the middle of New York City with its 8 million residents.

It will be interesting to experience life in the next stops down the road and compare them to Nazare, the first place I’ve felt like I could be truly happy living.

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