Travelling to new places is always about self discovery. Finding out why you view certain things the way you do, breaking misconceptions and realising there is no such thing as ‘normal’. What you consider normal may be weird to someone else and by going in with an open mindset, a sense of wonder always seems to follow. During my summer of travel and much needed soul searching I visited Amsterdam. I came alone for two reasons: 1) I needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of adult life in a busy city 2) travelling alone forces you talk to strangers and create your own adventure.
As a street photographer I abide by the classic ‘3 Second Rule’. You have 3 seconds to run up to someone and ask for a photo (or take it discreetly). Anything more means you’re overthinking and the spontaneity of the moment has passed. In Amsterdam I literally jumped off the tram to photograph a girl I saw in the distance and through subsequent conversations I was staying with her a month later in a small Portugese town called Coimbra. Funny how these things work out.
I came at a most opportune time as Portugal made it to the final of Euro 2016, while the end of academic year celebrations were in full flow. Coincidentally, University of Coimbra (founded in 1290) is Portugal’s oldest and most distinguished university, and a third of the city’s 35,000-strong population are students. Before parting ways and starting the next chapter of their lives men gather on the steps of the old 12th-century cathedral and perform a fado. It’s sad and beautiful at the same time and reminds them of the upcoming end of their graduation. It’s time for them to leave the city, their colleagues and friends so feeling melancholic is to be expected (watch here).
Built on a hill, Coimbra wears its royal palace as a crown. Braving the walk to the summit you’re enveloped by a building that was inhabited by monarchs from the 12th to the 15th century, before becoming the home of the university in 1537. The city is filled with winding alleyways, adorned by colourful dreamcatchers with a splash of pastel pinks and yellows thrown in for good measure.
Walking through Coimbra felt like a dream. Knowing that you have no obligations, no expectations (apart from those pesky ones you put on yourself) really allowed me to enjoy the city. Without any prior research I challenged the city to impress me and impress me it did. Charming people, botanical gardens, melancholic songs that will stay with me for the rest of my life, you literally cannot put a price on that.
Capa negra de saudade
One of the most distinctive traditions is the use of the academic costume of the University of Coimbra. A black suit and cape worn on special occasions by the students, which was adopted by other Portuguese universities across the country (Source). No surprise then that J.K. Rowling found inspiration in the black capes during her well documented time in Coimbra. The Joanina Library also served as a source of inspiration for the great hall and other iconic Harry Potter ‘landmarks’ the fans know and love.
Maybe I had the same water as J.K. Rowling but it felt as if the city put a magic spell over me. Inspired by Coimbra and my energetic hosts I decided to write a little poem that hopefully resonates with a few of you. Worrying about the future is a source of so many anxieties but from personal experience things tend to balance themselves out. Living in the present is the only thing you can be sure of so make sure to enjoy it. As Bob Ross put it:
“There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents“.
A Poem for Coimbra
As you play the game of life
the stumbles you must overcome
The ups and downs, they must exist
for you to feel as one
Don’t fret, relax, lie back and breathe
Your soul will be your guide
For trust you must and open up
to the voice that’s deep inside
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