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Heading North to Guimarães

Updated: Apr 8

Oliveira Square, Guimarães (photo by author)

In week 35, the rains followed me on a work road trip to the north. I’d sat aside a few days to focus on a project and could think of no better place to work than the tiny, historic town of Guimarães.

In Search of an “Old Man Bar” in Guimarães

As I headed up north to Guimarães, the rains followed me. However, I planned to work most of the trip so that was not a problem. I checked into an apartment in the center of the Old Town with a beautiful view of the monastery turned hotel on the hill that I stayed in years ago on my first trip to this picturesque UNESCO World Heritage town.

My first morning I headed out to find a café where the locals go. Typically, I call these “Old Man Bars”, which is my name for a no frills, place where locals greatly outnumber tourists. The first café I arrived at, while mostly no-frills, looked a little touristy. As I stood considering it, I noticed two old men standing nearby, staring at me. When I looked over at them, they smiled knowingly and pointed across the square to a nondescript café. Hooray! How better to locate a proper Old Man Bar than have two old men point it out to you!

A Small Corner of a Portuguese Toast Menu

A Small Corner of a Portuguese Toast Menu

At first glance, the café looked small with only three tables. However, upon entering, I found a room in the back full of locals. The room was plain, with decor that had not been updated for decades which added to the appeal for me. It was the perfect place to become my morning Old Man Bar.

In addition to eating a minimum of two carbs with every meal, Portuguese people like to eat only carbs for breakfast. There are numerous ways to consume your morning carbs, all various forms of toast usually slathered with butter. I would not know where to begin to order toast in a Portuguese cafe as there is never a menu. Locals just come in and order. I think most cafes will just make whatever you want or more likely, the needs of the Portuguese are so simple it’s easy to serve them whatever they request.

However, my new morning Old Man Bar had a convenient list that outlined all the various options in both Portuguese and English. This handy little menu, ever-present under the acrylic plastic table top, allowed me to really become a local and order toast with my galão. It is not that I need to start an all carb breakfast habit but I decided to allow myself to indulge while in Guimarães.

The Sports Bar

When wandering around Guimarães the first afternoon to get my bearings, I stumbled upon a delightful find…a sports bar! Before you dismiss this as nothing special, you must understand that the concept of a sports bar in Portugal is as foreign here as having a meal without at least two carbs on your plate. However, there on the square to my delight, was “Martin’s Sports Bar”. I asked the guy at the door if they would be showing the local game tonight between Braga and Rebordosa. He said he was sure they would put it on as nothing else was happening that evening.

Later when I returned, I asked them to put the Braga game on. What seemed to be the senior statesmen of the group, said firmly “They aren’t playing tonight” and turned away from me. I insisted that they were playing, showing him the game details on my phone. With a very annoyed look on his face, he turned the game on at the expense of the news, aka war coverage. A few men that were about to leave, got beers and stayed.

I could have taken a cab to Braga or Rebordosa for about 20–30 euros and these chumps didn’t know there was a Portuguese Cup game on. This odd attitude of not wanting to turn the games on at the local sports bar continued. When I arrived on Saturday to see my game, the bar was fairly empty. Every TV had the war coverage on. While I like to keep updated on that tragic event, sometimes I think it is okay to skip it for a few hours and indulge in a little sports viewing.

When I asked the bartender to put the game on, he said he would have to ask. He walked away, with a concerned look on his face. A man sitting nearby was reading a paper, so he interrupted him and asked if it was okay to turn the news off. Um, the dude was reading a paper, with his eyes focused down, away from the TV. And as a public service announcement, you are a SPORTS bar, not a NEWS bar.

Finally, with the game already well underway, he completed his checks to make sure everyone with their back turned to the TV or their eyes focused elsewhere, were okay with changing from news to sports. In a sports bar.

So much for my initial excitement of finding a sports bar in a small, northern town.

Room with a View…and a USO (photo by author)

USO: Unidentified Smelly Object

When I was first settling into my Guimarães apartment, I noticed a foul smell in the kitchen area. It was coming from the sink, where the trashcan was stored underneath. I moved the trashcan out to the terrace and poured bleach down the sink. Nothing helped and the smell lingered.

After two nights, and several lame excuses from my hosts, I demanded my money back and headed to check out nearby hotels. The hotel on Oliveira Square in the Old Town would normally carry a price tag that was more than I wanted to spend but being the off season it was more in my target budget.

When I arrived at Hotel Oliveira, a friendly young woman greeted me. I explained my dilemma and she offered to show me the room she had available. It was on the top floor so unless a group of mischievous teenagers crawled on the roof to drink beer, smoke ciggies and blast their tunes, there would be no neighbor noise from above. The room was perfect and included a spacious bathroom and bathtub in which I imagined myself soaking the cold out of my bones from all the rain.

After confirming the room met my not so high standards, i.e. there are no USOs, (Unidentified Smelly Objects), we went back downstairs to talk price. After she kindly considered the trouble I’d had with the stinky apartment, although no fault of her own, she offered me a very good rate for the three nights. I thanked her, gave her my id and credit card and went upstairs to settle into my stink-free room.

Afterwards, I was going to head out to work in a cafe but as it was rainy and cold, I took the kind lady at the front desk up on her offer of coffee in the library. I took my coffee and settled into a comfy chair by the French doors that looked out onto the square. I worked while listening to the sound of the rain on the window, resisting the urge to curl up in a blanket and take a nap.

Finally, I had found the perfect location to focus on my project.

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