Braga, Portugal

Braga

Braga has both a beautiful continental European old-town centre and an everyday world of business and apartment blocks. This isn’t a tourist village. This is a working town in Portugal. But one of the best things about spending time in an ordinary town in another country, maybe a town we’ve never heard of before, is that it is such a reminder of the vastness of the world and the sheer amount of places that everyone calls home and has at the centre of their lives.

It’s what the Erasmus experience is all about – experiencing the richness of European life and culture firsthand.

The Sights

Portugal generally, and Braga especially, are very Catholic and observant of their religion. So you will meet a lot of churches. Whether you are religious or not, churches are unique on the landscape: places that have a tangible link back centuries in time where other buildings just come and go.

Do not leave town without seeing the – “Sé de Braga” or Braga Cathedral. There for nearly a thousand years, a national monument, and the archbishopric of Portugal, it is an incredible building with a long history of architectural styles and additions. Try to get there for a mass or a concert – the only way to properly experience the building.

And then of course you must set aside a weekend day to go visit the Bom Jesus do Monte (Holy Jesus of the Mountain). You can either walk up the 116 metres of steps (millions of steps #exaggeration) or get the gorgeous old funicular railway – but then walk down to experience the burning fires and chapels with statues inside depicting the stages of the passion of Christ. The whole thing is baroque on a mountain side. And if you don’t know what baroque is now, you’ll have an eyeful that will explain it all. The altar in the sanctuary is an entire three-dimensional scene of the crucifixion on Calvary that has everyone looking lifesize – including the campest ever Roman guards.

It also boasts the best views of Braga, so go there!

Internships

The Braga Mob offices are on the map above should you need help. Some of the internships are:

  • The London Institute is an English language school – hosting business administration interns.
  • Adere Minho is a further education and training institute, about 14km out of town in a country suburban area – hosting business administration interns.
  • Elegance is a beauty salon about 3km from the centre of town – hosting complementary therapy interns.
  • The Ascredno Home – Ana Maria Javouhey is an old people’s home about 5km out of town (overlooking the town) – hosting healthcare interns.

Accommodation

Accommodation is in a large apartment block similar to everyone else in Braga at Praça do Bocage. Just a 25-minute walk from the centre of town and close to Braga Parque (which you can see out of the window) and Braga Mob offices.

Shopping, Restaurants & Bars

On the map above you’ll find just a few recommended places:

  • Braga Parque is the large shopping mall in town – quite close to the accommodation (actually in view out of the window), and comes recommended by locals. I didn’t go shopping (#allergic unless it’s supermarkets).
  • Barhaus is a small pub with a friendly and trendy atmosphere right in the heart of the town. Prices, like Portugal generally, are cheap. Purchases are recorded on a card at the bar and paid for on exit (it’s one way to name and shame those who start to have one too many – someone stole mine as a trophy!). Portuguese people drink beer in very small glasses (imperial down south and fina in Braga) so it stays cools and fresh in the sun. Unfortunately, the word for what we call a pint is directly translated as “bucket”: balde (back to naming and shaming) – or if you just agree that you are English/British they know what we up in the islands call a beer. It comes recommended by me. I’ll be back.
  • Anjo Verde comes recommended by me as a vegetarian restaurant and somewhere to have a nice lunch or a mildly posh dinner. Prices are relatively good (Ireland is so expensive anyway). The Anjo Verde or “Green Angel” is vegetarian – so for any vegetarians it will keep you alive while you find alternatives.
  • Don’t miss out on Pastéis de Nata and coffee at the local café where the old people gather in the mornings to talk and read the newspaper. Now every time you eat one from the local Mallow Lidl you’ll be back in Portugal again.
  • Let me know of any other recommendations for the next trip.

Groceries

  • Eating out is relatively cheap, but supermarket prices don’t seem that different from Ireland, so would have to seem expensive to Portuguese pockets. But this was Pingo Doce. So maybe that’s just expensive.
  • There are two Lidl stores in town where you might fare better.
  • Regardless, a trip around the grocery store is a great way to get a feel for a culture and economy. There are some weird looking fish staring back at you in Pingo Doce.

Excursions

Renting a car for me was the best decision. Portugal seems to pride itself on being a bit old-fashioned but actually has a great motorway network. All the motorways are tolled and metred – but not expensive relative to what we pay – for a small fee hire companies will also hire you the electronic tag required for some roads and usable on all roads. Driving in Braga itself isn’t difficult either.

Driving around Braga by car, or arriving from Porto, the scenery is beautiful. It is in a valley in a countryside of rolling green hills (unlike the scorched brown south of Portugal).

Have a look out too for forests of eucalyptus trees which have obviously found a home away from home in the Portuguese climate.

But whether you drive or take the train, you must go up and visit Valença – it is an ancient Roman walled town overlooking the Minho river that is the border with Spain. It’s like something from Game of Thrones. Stand on the battlements and admire the river, the beautiful old and new international bridges and look over at Spain. The bars and fado music are good at night, and apparently, the shopping by day is a major draw for Spanish tourists.

Then walk down to the old pedestrian/rail/road international bridge, either named the Valença or Tui International Bridge depending where you are, built in 1878 (on a Eiffel design – he of the Paris tower fame) and walk into the town of Tui in Galicia, Spain, and into a different timezone.

There’s no mark in the middle of the bridge so in itself it is a joy to not know which country or timezone you are in at any time. Both countries only have their EU signs at the ends of the bridge.

Walk up to the town proper to amaze at just how different a river and a line on a map dividing two countries can make things. This is Spain, not Portugal. There is no blurred line.

At first I was tempted to report back: “I drove to Spain and couldn’t find parking so I left“, but I found a space at the edge of town and had dinner.

If you’re a complete nerd you can stay in Tui until after midnight and walk back into yesterday and be back in Braga before you left. (But maybe that’s just a me thing.)

Valença is under 50 minutes by car from Braga and 2.5 hours by train. It’s a day trip.

And if you were to get in a boat and row south of Cork you’d hit Galicia – so it’s definitely a place to visit. We’re neighbours after all.

Language

Thank you: obrigada from women, and obrigado from men, works wonders with Portuguese speakers who are very generous and forgiving to foreigners.

Bom dia, boa tarde, and boa noite are good morning, afternoon, and night. Listen out for the pronunciation – it’s not straightforward – but it seems like everyone announces boa noite to the whole room when out socialising so it’s something to learn. Olá works for hello and especially one-to-one.


Obrigado.

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