Why haven’t I been to Portugal yet?

Nick, a loyal MR reader, asks:

Well, Portugal is one place I’ve never visited – and I
believe you’ve never been there; why is that? As a gormand &
traveller it appears to have everything – influencing the world’s
cuisine (from Japan to Brazil & back) & with a beautiful,
unique (if rather mournful) musical cannon… Is there a reason you’ve
never been to Portugal? 

The first reason is intertemporal substitution, namely that I often wait for people to pay me to go places.  In general this factor leads small countries, especially with Romance languages, or in geographic corners, to be visited late.  The small country has a bigger place in your mind’s eye than it does on the conference and lecture circuit.  The American Midwest ends up being overvisited, as does New Orleans, and Nova Scotia ends up being undervisited (I want very much to go there). 

If you are invited to a lot of talks and conferences, your non-work travel should avoid centrally located hub cities and focus on poor corners, such as Albania and Yemen.  You’ll get to Paris and London anyway.

That said, I have an invitation to Portugal for this April and I will be going.  Since I’m not sure I need to go twice, I am glad I waited.


Have you been to Newfoundland, perchance?

Don't forget to give details when you come. I suspect you have a loyal readership in Portugal and we would like to attend whichever even you're coming to. Also, if you're staying in Lisbon and need to be shown around, just write me an email.

I'm also in for beers and discussions about the Economy, in Lisbon :)

I lived in Portugal for a year. Besides the southern beaches, I’d recommend seeing the Alfama for sure ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfama ) & if you have time, Óbidos, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%93bidos,_Portugal ).

Good answer - thanks!

I'm also a Portuguese occasional reader. Let us know where you're going to. If you're coming to Lisbon, I'd love to attend your event (if open, o/c).

Lisbon is one of europes thankfully under-visited places, like Vienna with a similar melancholy (in a very good way) flavour: catholic post-imperial, closer somehow to Voltaires musings on the earthquake than the blogosphere - and like Vienna best appreciated on one of its marvellous long tram rides. As well as the food, the music and the sheer beauty of that extraordinary language, it has great art collections: the Gulbenkian (now there was a capitalist) and the National Gallery with one of the greatest of Hieronymous Bosch's works in an often empty and rather spooked setting, and of course the original cafe making the straight from the oven original of those little custard tarts that stalely loiter in the worlds delis, the evocatively desolate site of some mid 1980's world fair; the mad monument to henry the navigator.....

I did something similar last year, speaking at a conference of mathematicians interested in mathematics education at the Gulbenkian Foundation. My wife came along, and we spent about a week there, with a short side trip to give a talk at the university in Coimbra. It's a great city -- a more picturesque San Francisco. A great city for walking, with wonderful food (although they served bacalhau at every official dinner). I got a transit pass that covered the streetcars and made good use of it. A colleague gave me a novel set there, "A small death in Lisbon" by Robert Wilson that was primarily interesting because it managed to mention most of the places we went. The Gulbenkian Foundation museum is very nice, but I was most taken by the Ancient Art museum, which has a fascinating collection of art from Japan picturing the first Portugese arrivals.

The oddest part of the trip came after I gave my talk, which was the first keynote address of the conference. The other attendees one by one made short speeches. I furiously scribbled notes and tried to respond to as many as I could when there was a pause, but later learned that this is the custom and there's no expectation of a dialogue or any response. Your experience may vary, but this was new to me.

If you do go to Coimbra (a beautiful medieval university town), let me know. We met the university librarian, who was a fascinating guy and who gave us a really interesting tour of the campus. I'd be happy to try to put you in touch -- I think you'd find him interesting.

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