Travelogue: Portugal chama!
Marie Vøllo Brennum and Sandra Stølen, BA Visual Communication students at KHiB, went to Caldas da Rainha as Erasmus exchange students in the autumn semester 2012. In this travelogue they share their impressions from their stay in Portugal.
"The school were we did our exchange, Escola Superior de Artes e Design de Caldas da Rainha (ESAD.CR), is located in a small town called Caldas da Rainha, one hour by bus from Lisbon. Caldas have a population of approximately 50 000 inhabitants. The atmosphere is relaxed and calm, and people are very friendly - there is nobody rushing. The town has a vibrant cultural life, most of it because it isn't a typical tourist destination.
We arrived in mid September; the sun was shining and it was about 30 degrees, not as the fall in Norway. The host institution gave us one month to get to know the school and teachers before we signed up for classes/ subjects. ESAD.CR offers courses in Fine Arts, Industrial Design, Interior and Spatial Design, Ceramic and Glass Design, Graphic and Multimedia Design, Theatre and Sound and Image. We had the possibility to choose courses from all of these different fields. We chose courses from Graphic and Multimedia Design and Sound and Image. Our advice is to choose carefully, and get some advice from the Portuguese students. We recommend the typography class, the animation classes and the multimedia class. It's possible to take a language course before the semester starts. We didn't have the opportunity to go, but would recommend to do so. In Caldas there is a lack of English skills among people, so some basic phrases in Portuguese come in handy. During the three weeks language course the Erasmus students meet and get to know each other. Since we couldn't join this class we took the opportunity to take the same course during the semester by having a couple of hours every week instead.
The school has a student residence in Caldas, which was ok. It was cheap, about 112 euros per month. You get clean towels and sheets twice a week, internet, electricity, and it was always someone who could help you out. Most of the Erasmus students rented a house or a flat, but when it started to get colder and wet during the winter, the houses were hard to keep warm and dry because of the rain and the moisture coming from the sea. The student residence had single rooms and rooms for two; there was a private bathroom, but the kitchen was for everyone. It was located in the basement and with gas stoves, so it was not very practical or inviting. Anyway, it's cheap to eat at restaurants, so it didn't matter that much.
Most of the Erasmus students in Caldas stayed together. We were about 30 students. It was easy to get to know each other, and we had a lot of fun. The school had a good program at the start of the semester. We got a guided tour in the city, all the information we needed and some trips now and then. Caldas have a square in the city where you can find most of the bars (you can buy a beer for about 1,5 euro). The school also had a system for renting bicycles. For 30 euros you can hire a bike and use it the whole semester, and suddenly it's easier to get around and the beach gets closer. We found that not all the bikes were in the best shape; most of them are old, so choose wisely.
Caldas is very beautiful, it has a big park in the center and every morning there is a fruit marked where you can buy fresh and cheap fruits, vegetables, nuts, bread, flowers, and cheese - you name it. It's only 8 km to the sea where it is an amazing beach. It's easy to get there by bus or by bicycle. If you are interested in traveling, Caldas da Rainha has a good access to all the major destinations. It's cheap to go by bus: let's say you want go to Porto, it's a 4 hour bus ride and costs approximately 16 euros. The ride to Lisbon is only about 7 - 8 euros.
Portugal has a rich culture. The architecture is beautiful and everywhere you go there is a stunning building. The buildings are covered by detailed ornaments, and the most stunning ones are from the 1600-century. Bacalhao: there's a lot of it! We recommend to do some research and ask where to go, because the food is variable from restaurant to restaurant. Portugal is famous for the good port wine, and it is highly recommended!
We don't regret going to Portugal and Caldas da Rainha for our exchange semester. The stay was rich in experiences; some bad, but mostly good. We had expected a greater educational benefit of the school; learning more, but it was a lot of hard work anyway. All in all we really enjoyed our stay. Most of the Portuguese students are young and can be a bit shy about the speaking-in-English part, but they are really nice and by knowing a couple of words in Portuguese you get far."