Port, Porto, Portugal

I was in Portugal two weeks ago for a summer school on just about any and all aspects regarding circumstellar disks.* The school took place in a beautiful resort in a small town called Vidago, some 150 km (93 mi) northeast of Portugal’s second largest city, Porto. To get an idea of the luxury that surrounded us, have a look at the hotel’s website: Vidago Palace Hotel.

The school consisted of in-depth reviews by international scientists plus shorter contributed talks on recent discoveries. There was also a poster session, where I presented some of my own research. In between the sessions there was plenty of time to talk to the other participants, which is always a good way to exchange ideas and further one’s work.

In good Mediterranean tradition, the lunch break (more of a siesta, really) lasted over three hours. We usually went into town to eat something at a local restaurant, where they served huge chunks of steak, pork or codfish for half the price I’d have to pay at home. Great country!

On the way back to Holland, I stayed an extra two days in Porto with two fellow students. Porto (also known as Oporto) is perhaps most famous for its port wine cellars, where this special type of wine is stored in enormous oak barrels. The cellars are open for tours, which include, of course, a tasting session. Port wine is a bit sweeter and fruitier than normal wine, with a larger alcohol content. I bought a bottle, which I’ll keep for a special occasion.

Apart from the port wine cellars, Porto has an abundancy of churches, old buildings, and bridges. There are also some near slums, with very poor living conditions. In fact, there is a strong contrast between rich and poor. For example, the brand new, high-quality metro line (built in part for the 2004 European soccer championships) runs right past a block of houses on the verge of collapse. Highways are being built across the country (the total length of highway has increased something like ten-fold in a decade), but very little seems to be done to battle poverty. That’s kind of strange, isn’t it?

Have a look at the pictures I took, and judge for yourself.

* Stars, like our own sun, are believed to be formed from a huge cloud of gas and dust. After the star has formed in the centre, the remainder of the cloud flattens out into this so-called circumstellar disk. If the conditions are right, planets can form from the material in this disk.

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