A friend asked me what the women pictured on the beach in Nazaré were doing.

Sardines are a staple food in Portugal. As I read on one Web page, “When most of us think of sardines, we imagine tiny skinny, bony creatures compressed into a tiny tin can but in Portugal fresh, succulent sardines measure between 9 and 10 inches – the bigger, the fatter, the fresher – the better.”

In the photo, the racks are being used to dry freshly-caught sardines, which the women then grill over charcoal. The smell is one of the things visitors most remember about the country.  My memories of the sardine sellers are of very old women with wizened features, dressed entirely in black, like something out of a Garcia Lorca play. Portugal was an extremely Catholic country back then (as was Spain, of course). It was like stepping back in time.

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.