At university, I began studying Portuguese, along with Spanish. Few British universities at that time offered truly Latin American courses, which obviously had to include Brazil and the Portuguese language.

As part of the program, students were required to spend their summers taking courses at universities in Spain and Portugal. In my case, it was the summers of 1970 and 1971. While it meant I had no opportunity to go the Isle of Wight concert and see Jimi Hendrix’s last appearance (I was studying in Southampton, opposite the  island), I did have some memorable experiences. I remember spending time in La Coruña, León, Salamanca, Madrid, Barcelona, Oporto and Coimbra.

Franco still ruled Spain but his regime felt enlightened compared to the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. I was surprised at the marked difference between the two countries. Portugal felt dark and oppressed; it was much more backward.

I was able to visit places near the universities where I studied and one memory that really sticks out is a weekend I spent in Nazaré with some other British students. The coastal town is now a popular holiday resort but back then there were few foreigners to be seen.

I found the following photo on Wiki. You can see how the town is split into different sections by the cliffs. A Praia runs north along the seafront, while O Sitio (the original settlement) sits atop the hill. A funicular, or cliff railway, transports people up and down. An excellent collection of photos of the town is to be found on this flickr page.

nazare

There is also a funicular in Oporto and several in Lisbon. I have always made a point of riding on any that I come across. There is one in Bogotá, Colombia. The last one I traveled on was in Rio de Janeiro, up to Corcovado (the huge statue overlooking the bay).

There is a very old bullring in Nazaré, atop the cliffs, and while I was there I went to a Portuguese bullfight for the first time. Bullfighting in Portugal is very different from the Spanish version and the bulls are not killed. This Web page has some good photos and a first-hand account of a bullfight in Nazaré.

The horseman shown below is a cavaleiro (the Spanish equivalent is the rejoneador). The horses are beautiful and trained in dressage.

portuguese_bullfight

The most curious aspect of the bullfight was the eight-man team of forcados. They stand in a line and the one in front taunts the bull until it charges. He then leaps on to the bull’s head and tries to grab it round the neck. The rest of the team pile in and immobilize the bull completely. A bit like a rugby maul.

forcados

I can still see an image of the town in my mind’s eye as I made my way back to the funicular. The see shimmered in the moonlight and the lights of the town shone like jewels. My visit left a deep impression.

Just as growing up in Bermondsey after the War in many ways allowed me to experience Victorian London, between 1965 and 1971 I was able to experience Spain and Portugal before they were dragged into the modern world.