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It’s A Festival Life for Me!

Updated: Apr 8

Locals in the Parade in the Festival of São João, Braga

Locals in the Parade During the Festival of São João, Braga

It’s A Festival Life for Me!

During week 18, I headed to Braga, a small city in the north, where I could work while the month-long party raged on in my Alfama neighborhood. I rented a studio apartment in the center on a quiet pedestrian-only street, where I could enjoy the conveniences of the low-key town while getting a lot of work done. Little did I know…

City of Shattered Dreams

As I walked to my apartment from the train station, I noticed the city center was buzzing with activity. The streets were busy with people and I even saw some dancing in a nondescript cafe. When I arrived at my apartment, my host showed me around my cozy home for the week. I admired the three sets of french doors with beautiful floor to ceiling windows that opened to the street below. I had great views of the old buildings in this Unesco World Heritage city.

Then my host gave me the bad news. The Festival of São João, a lively occasion with multiple stages around town, was kicking off today with the grand finale one week later. That evening the locals would be partying in the streets below my apartment until the sun came up tomorrow. My face gave away the horror I was feeling at hearing this news. My host was not moved by my “Escape from Party Hell” story and actually told me I should just dive into the festival and have fun. The alternative was to be a party pooper and no one wanted that. I considered tossing her off the balcony and onto the street below. Given that Braga jail might be quite undesirable that evening, I resisted the urge.

Battle Damage Assessment

That night, I headed just out of the center, to hide in a dark Irish pub with a pint of Guinness. As I opened the door to the pub, I realized there were only 4 other people at a table in the back. Everyone else was in the street below my apartment.

After drinking my Guinness, I decided to leave the safe confines of the empty pub and head out into the streets to see how bad this was going to be. As I made it back in the center, I was hit by a wall of people, waiting for a parade to come through the streets. I pushed my way through, and made it to the other side. I grabbed a table at a cafe in the middle of the carnage. From my vantage point, I would have a clear picture of my fate.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

The crowd got loud as bands started to pass down the street, coming in my direction. I noticed tall puppets or “gigantone” wandering down the street, some spinning and some targeting people in the audience, trying to get a laugh. As they got closer, I started to warm up to them. I had never seen anything like this. The poor kids that had to keep these puppets towering above the crowds were dressed in heavy costumes in the hot heat. They were managing to enjoy it all so I decided I should too.

After the parade passed, I wandered the town, watching the different bands and groups of people celebrate in the streets. Kids were out late having a good time and none were acting out. Only a few young people were drunk but not out of control. It was a fun, positive environment. I walked to the café in the center to take a break and sit while people-watching. The waiter told me the café was closing! Hallelujah! The town was shutting down at 2am and not sunrise as I’d been told. While I had warmed to the festival, getting at least a half a night’s sleep was a win for me.

Feeling Fortunate

As the week progressed, Monday through Thursday were quite manageable. Thankfully, the bands and the gigantone took those days off and let me work. In the evenings, I enjoyed going to the small square near my apartment for the nightly cultural performance. Locals were there every night, but the crowds were not large. You could easily enjoy a pleasant evening in the square under the twinkle lights that had been strung over the peaceful little corner of Braga.

Friday as I was finishing my morning yoga around 8am, I heard the tapping of drums. I looked down the street to see a band followed by the gigantone heading my way. I was surprised to realize I’d missed them. There was a colorful and lively parade that weekend that ran down my street, with bands, locals dressed in historical clothing and floats that told the city’s history.

Overall, it was an amazing experience. I am lucky I landed with such a perfect location from which to enjoy it all. Braga, I will be back!

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