The view from our balcony –
An enormous ship with the name “CHINA SHIPPING” painted across the side and “Bengato CSCC Shanghai” beneath it in smaller letters sails up the river accompanied by a tugboat that looks tiny by comparison. As it passes, the Sado River ferry connecting Setubal with the resort peninsula of Troia on the opposite shore comes into view. Then a Portuguese Coast Guard patrol boat zips by. As they pass, a container ship loaded not with containers but with three expensive-looking yachts on its deck appears, heading out to sea. And in the foreground, a lone swimmer passes by doing a backstroke.
The passing parade.
Our apartment is on the very edge of Setubal, about a block from the river. Behind us and to our right is Arrabida Mountain, with the old stone fort looming above us. We hiked up the mountain one day only to find the fort closed for repairs for 24 months (we’re told by a local the closing will last a lot longer; certainly, we saw no sign they were working on it). Similar to our trips through the western USA; in places like Mesa Verde National Park, the ancient pueblos were always in some stage of being reinforced to keep them from collapsing. I guess that’s why they call them ruins.
In any case, Arrabida Mountain is the beginning of a national park that runs parallel to the river for about 30 kilometers to the old fishing village of Sesimbra just short of the open sea. There’s a lot to explored in Arrabida, — dinosaur footprints, Neolithic and Paleolithic cave dwellings, artifacts from the Romans, Moors and Medieval Christians, more forts, Sesimbra and the farming town of Azeitao, which produces, we’re told, some of the best wine and cheese in the country.
So far, we’ve just dipped our toes in the park, hiking about five miles in, enjoying deserted beaches and picnic areas along the way. Just like in the USA, we were passed by a number of runners and Speedo-clad cyclists as we went. There’s something comforting about the universality of exercise fanaticism in the world.
The town of Setubal is to our left heading up river. Oddly, it reminds me a little of the river towns I knew growing up in the South. Like any number of places in South Carolina, Georgia or Alabama, the genteel section of town is at one end and the industrial area at the other, complete with a good old paper mill.
Portugal, of course, ain’t Alabama by no stretch. The center of Setubal is a lovely main avenue with a park down the middle, Avenida Luisa Todi, named after a famous opera singer born here. Along the Avenida are ornate public buildings built during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, painted in brilliant pastels (no self-respecting building in the antebellum South would be anything but white or brick red) with orange tile roofs. There are also the Moorish influenced glazed tile walls favoring bright shades of green and blue, and several large parks with fountains featuring Art Deco and Art Moderne sculpture.
Then there are the narrow winding streets – called ruas in Portuguese — lined with doorways often less than six feet tall. I know this because I’m 5’8” and I’d have to stoop to go inside. These are houses where people live; many have clotheslines right on the so-called street with the family underwear hanging on them.
Ruas in these neighborhoods may be ten or twelve feet wide. There are some broader ones, maybe fifteen or twenty wide, lined with fashionable boutiques, that serve as main throroughfares. Take a wrong turn, however, and you find yourself on passageways even smaller than ruas, called travessas.
I’ve tried to find out a translation of the word travessa, but there doesn’t seem to be one. When I asked the young lady at the visitor center what it means, she just looked at me with a pained expression and then started talking about how much she wants to visit the United States. I’m guessing the word means something like “The place for foreigners to get stuck in and wander around all day looking for a way out.”
l can’t see any difference between ruas and travessas except for their size — you can drive on the ruas. Just barely, that is. Most of them have just room for a one-way lane and that only wide enough for a very small car, with a two-foot sidewalk. I suspect there’s an ordinance in this town requiring pedestrians to suck in their breath when a car drives through.
In contrast, we found a travessa the other day that’s, I swear, three and a half feet wide.
Setubal is full of Roman Catholic churches. There are six of them marked on the tourist map, every one of them is grand enough to be considered a major architectural landmark. There are also two convents, one of which houses nuns of the order founded by Mother Theresa, who operate a large orphanage in Setubal. These sisters wear the distinctive habits reminiscent of the saris of India. However, the real shrine in the city sits almost atop its highest point and covers more square footage than any other space. It is, of course, the soccer stadium, futebol in Portuguese.
Setubal is a nice sized walking town, which is fortunate since we’re walking everywhere these days. I don’t intend to drive a car in this country until I learn the language. I want to be able to read the road signs, and I want to know what the other drivers are saying when they shake their fists and scream at me.