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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Braga - Guimarães

In the morning, we started again very early from Aveiro with our excursion to Braga and Guimarães. One can go to those places via Porto with the local transport network, "Urban Services Oporto" with the Aveiro Line and Braga Line respectively, which all go often and cheap. We didn't feel like going with the suburban line which had a lot of stops and obviously takes a whole lot longer. Instead we took the "Alfa Pendular", which is considerable more expensive (14€) but faster. The "Alfa Pendular" only stopped in Porto while the "Suburban Aveiro Line" (6€) has 24 stops before Porto.

The female clerk at the station probably found our idea to ride the Alfa Pendular insane because of the higher price. We perhaps looked like two clueless tourists and didn't know what's going on. Instead she gave us the regular "aveiro line" tickets. We noticed right there and wanted to exchange the ticket for the Alfa Pendular ride. She said it was not possible and with a side comment in a condescending manner like we should have asked for the Alfa Pendular ride on the first hand. There was no use to argue for us so anyway, we had to get on the queue again to buy the right tickets we needed. We decided to use the regular suburban line tickets to Porto for the next day trip. What is the 24 stops anyway? Then again, we didn't notice that the man at the counter gave us the alfa pendular tickets only up to Porto. Probably our pronunciation of Braga was unclear. So it means, we had to change trains in Porto for the suburban (Braga Line) towards Braga. It seems like they want us to avoid riding the faster train

Once in Braga, we decided to go directly to Bom Jesus do Monte, the main reason of our trip there. It lies in Tenões in the outskirts of Braga town on a mountain with impressive staircase. Braga was said to be the oldest archdiocese in the country and probably one of the oldest in the world. It was perfect since the bus stop was conveniently located just outside the train station (Rotunda Estação I) and it showed on the monitor when and which bus is arriving. We took the bus (Linha 2- Destino, Bom Jesus and it cost 1.60€)   which was pretty empty and it brought us directly to the foot of Bom Jesus do Monte. Besides us there was only one Chinese tourist. I didn't want to hike up the 116 meters high baroque stairway, which is basically a tourist attraction in itself, so we had to wait for about 15 minutes for the funicular that just gone up a minute we step out of the bus. The funicular is interesting enough as it is the oldest of its kind in the world. Built in 1882, it races up the 300-meter slope in just three minutes. It is run on a water counterbalancing system where it fills with water to counter the weight of the opposite car, causing it to fall towards the bottom where the water is then let out and then the cycle is reversed.

Arriving at the top, we were right in the mist. The place looks even more surreal and exciting. Not often do you get to see a place such as that and in such a fantasy like atmosphere. The fog gave the place a different aura. You could then see only the silhouette of various statues and the church. After a hundred or so pictures, we moved in to see the church but unfortunately we were whisked away after a minute since they are closing it, but there was a souvenir shop next to it where I also got a collectors coin of the place. We walked around and soon the fog let up, we climbed down the stairs and waited for our bus. Another interesting thing on the stairway are the fountains dedicated to The Five Senses where the water comes out of the different parts of the face (sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste).

At the bottom back at the bus stop, there was no timetable but our guide book says that the bus runs regularly. We waited a bit and yes the bus arrived. We went down somewhere the city center. Looking from the bus, the city looked gray (it was raining) and didn't really look interesting for me so we decided to go look for the bus station  and go directly to Guimarães.

From Braga to Guimarães, one can also ride the suburban train (comboios urbanos, first with Braga Line then with Guimarães Line). But that would take a whole lot longer than taking the bus. We got off near the station in Braga but couldn't readily find the bus station. We were running out of time and we sprinted to the next corner where we thought the bus station could be. It was bit shady and there were some stalls around almost like in a small market back home in the Philippines. Unfortunately, there was no clear sign where it could be. Thanks to the most reliable Lonely Planet, we were  eventually directed to the right place.

We've already picked out a quick bus where the route takes only about half an hour. However, we were running late and threatened to miss the bus. The bus station in Braga, in such situation was not much of a help, because unlike the other bus stations in Portugal, it was more confusing (also not beautiful). It reminds me a bit of the bus stations in Manila. We were there in the hall with several counters of different bus lines with number of varying timetables but no monitors indicating which bus, which platform and destination. We asked at one counter and was surprised to know that it will take an hour to our intended destination. Then we went out and saw at the platform (another) bus leaving for Guimarães. We noted the bus and platform number, run back to the ticket counter, were told that we can get the ticket from the driver, run back to the bus and told we had to get our ticket at the counter. I thought I have a déjà-vu, only that I was fully aware that it happened to me before in Pasay City at the Victory Liner terminal. Hah! Well then we run again to the counter in the hall and asked for the tickets. It was the right bus and right counter now and fortunately the bus driver waited for us. It's a system that I have never understood - you have to have bought the ticket before, but usually you buy it at the counter and get on the bus or buy it from the driver.  Anyway, the worst case scenario would have been like waiting at this shady bus station, got mugged (lol ) or going back to Porto then to Aveiro. But the latter option would have been alright. The ride at last with Rede Expressos (6€) was very pleasant and the bus was very comfortable. We arrived at our destination in no time.

Unfortunately, it was rainy in Guimarães. We have chosen it because it is the European Capital of Culture 2012. Guimarães belongs to Braga district and once was the capital of the land. It is also referred to as the Cidade Berço or the cradle of the nation, the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality". From the central bus station it then goes uphill where you start from the old town, which is by the way a UNESCO's World Heritage Site, to the other two main attractions, the Castelo and Paço Ducal (Paço dos Duques de Bragança) both located at the top of the mountain. We first went into the  paço ducal and was ushered into a modern art installation. It was a clever idea of presentation in an old norman-burgundian ducal palace. Afterwards, we went to see the castle but it started to rain again. It was already a bit late again so we decided to walk back to the town center and back to the train station. The train station was way farther than the town and the intermittent rain keeps on disrupting our walk. We've been walking for a while and thought we lost our way. Fortunately there was a lady police officer and we've asked in a few Portuguese words we knew. She tried to explain in her broken English but somehow we understood that we're basically on the right track. Then a few moments later we've asked another person on the street and well it was confirmed that it was the right direction.

Back in Aveiro, we rewarded ourselves from the long and stressful day with a visit to the mall and picked up something delicious to eat.

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