Portugal, Guimarães and Car Rental Issues

Castle at Guimarães

Early next morning I picked up the hire vehicle, a small black Smart Car and once I had become more or less 10% accustomed to the secrets of the automatic gear box we set off east out of Vila do Conde.

On the advice of the nice lady at the car hire office we planned to drive twenty miles or so inland to the city of Guimarães which in a survey published annually by the Portuguese newspaper Expresso  is ranked second in the country’s most liveable cities.  As might be expected Lisbon is rated first and Porto only third.  As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known fondly as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’.

I was enjoying driving this nifty little car but after just a few miles there was a problem.  I always get a problem with hire cars.  I am the most unlucky car renter ever.  No one gets as many issues as I do with hire cars.

A warning light started to wink at me.

I am never completely sure what all these dashboard symbols mean, my first car in about 1974 had just two warning lights – one red one for an overheating  engine and another orange one for low oil pressure but now there is a dashboard with as many flashing lights as the control panel of the Starship Enterprise.  I looked around for the road map to place over it so that I couldn’t see it!

But I have seen this one before in a hire car in Ireland.  One of the tyres was suffering from low pressure so we pulled into a service area, I had a look round and in the only engineering procedure with which I am familiar kicked each of the tyres in turn as you do in these situations and as they all seemed fine to me we just carried on and ignored the irritating little light as though it was an itch that couldn’t be reached and scratched!

Guimaraes Castle

I was glad to arrive in Guimarães without the embarrassment of having to call the emergency services and heading for the old town we eventually found a street with some vacant parking spaces.  To be honest, I am not very good at parking at the best of times, the next time I change my car I am going to get one that does it for you, intelligent parking I think it is called, but the Smart Car at only nine feet long and with no boot and no bonnet is surely the easiest car in the entire World to park.

If it is I did my best to prove that it isn’t.  I don’t like reverse parking, I especially don’t like reverse parking up hill and after I had found a space that I was confident that I could get into I proceeded to make a complete dog’s dinner of the simple procedure.

Lurching, lunging, backwards, forwards and after five minutes or so a small crowd of bemused bystanders were starting to form an audience, people were calling friends on their mobile phones to come and watch, newcomers were using doorsteps as terracing, people were peering over their balconies and I worried that soon we would need crowd control barriers.  It was only with Kim’s assistance that I eventually managed to squeeze it into a space that I have to admit would easily have accommodated three Smart Cars.


I nonchalantly acknowledged the assembled crowd with a casual nod of the head as though to say ‘that’s how to do it’  and the giggling subsided and  it started to disperse and then I tried to explain to Kim that the problem was that parking an automatic car without any form of clutch control was almost as difficult as landing a lunar module on the moon.  She wasn’t listening, she was unable to communicate on account of suffering a fit of uncontrollable laughter.  She said that next time I park a car she is going to make sure that she is wearing a corset so that she doesn’t split her sides.  Kim is always helpful and supportive like this in these situations!

After she had calmed down and recovered  her composure we walked through tidy streets and open green spaces without high expectation of Guimarães but we found a street map that indicated a Castle, a Palace and a UNESCO World Heritage site in the old centre and so we walked to the top of the city and into the grounds of the twelfth century fortress.

In 1881 the castle was declared the most important historical monument in this part of Portugal and in the 1900s a lot of work went into its restoration.  We went inside and were struck by the fact that they hadn’t spent a lot of the renovation budget on basic health and safety.  The Castle is a disaster waiting to happen, with uneven surfaces, irregular steps and almost completely without handrails or safety barriers to prevent visitors accidentally slipping off of the high battlements and becoming a permanent addition to the rocky foundations below.

Guimaraes Castle

After the castle we visited the Palace and without any explanation there was free admission today but where an officious attendant still insisted on issuing tickets and someone else insisted on checking them.  Inside the Palace of the Condes de Castro Guimarães there was a small museum containing family portraits and other paintings, as well as furniture, china, silver and gold objects and local prehistoric finds.  At just half an hour to walk round it was the perfect size for a museum and without crowds of other visitors to slow us down we wandered from room to room practically by ourselves.

From the castle we followed the cobbled Rua de Santa Maria, that didn’t look as though it had changed a great deal since the Middle Ages, down into the heart of the old town, where there are superbly restored historic buildings including a former sixteenth century Baroque convent of Santa Maria, now serving as the City council offices.

Guimaraes Portugal Kim

At the end of the street were two delightful squares with outdoor cafés and balconied houses, Praça de Santiago and Largo da Oliveira.  At Largo da Oliveira is the Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, with a Gothic shrine standing in front of it. There are many legends about its origins, but a popular story says it marks the spot where Wamba, elected king of the Visigoths, refused his title and drove a pole into the ground swearing that he would not reign until it blossomed and then as if my magic it sprouted immediately into spontaneous bloom whereupon he happily accepted the crown.

We walked right the way through the delightful streets of the old town and then reluctantly left Guimarães, one of the nicest places to visit in Portugal and returned to the car.  Fortunately it was a whole lot easier getting out of the parking space than it was getting in and we drove out of the city and made our way to nearby Braga.

Guimaraes Balconies

55 responses to “Portugal, Guimarães and Car Rental Issues

  1. Sounds like a great day in the end. My dad wouldn’t let me take my driving test until I could parallel park.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We, I shan’t ask for parking lessons from you, Andrew!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s all done with mirrors. I usually back into a parking place and parallel parking comes easy once one has driven a Suburban (about 19′ in length) for some 30 years (I now drive a smaller vehicle – a Highlander).

    But, that’s neither here or there. Unless one has the practice, everything one tries is difficult.

    The place, at least, looked interesting. I like the idea of a death-trap for tourists. If they can’t watch where they are doing, they shouldn’t go anywhere. Still, I would have liked to see a bunch of teenagers negotiate the place while (that’s the same as whilst for you Britts) texting on their phones. Great fun and opportunity for viral YouTube videos.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Hee hee . . .I made the switch to automatic about 10years ago, and have never looked back. Just love it, and as for parking the best way to get over it is live somewhere where you have to parallel park. I lived in Cowes for a few years and soon learnt to park both sides of the road and in spaces the size of a matchbox – otherwise it was a 20mile hike!!


  5. and in all my waffling about parking totally failed to comment on the beauty of Guimarães – sounds and looks wonderful. And the H&S issues seem familiar, we’ve noticed though things are improving in castles in the south so maybe one of these days the north will update too!


  6. I too hate parking and require at least enough space for a juggernaut lorry.


  7. I think parking is harder now because cars have such silly letter-box sized back windows. I never used to have any problems, even in my mini-van. But what leaves me really in suspense is wondering what happened about the warning light on the dashboard – or did you just return the car with the road map still in place?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I got an automatic fail on my first driving test for a “dangerous action.” Apparently, something very bad happened when I tried to parallel park. I’ve blocked it out, but something tells me the driving examiner will never forget.


    • There was no parallel parking in the UK driving test when I tried mine. I would surely have failed, I hated reversing, we had to reverse around a corner without straying across the road. In my test the examiner stopped and told me to reverse into a narrow alley with brick walls either side. The added dimension of the walls made it was so easy I couldn’t believe my luck!


  9. Many people when faced with a parallel park simply find another spot. I enjoyed the immense castle walls….impressive.


  10. I am so encouraged at your parking story and some of the comments! It’s not just me then.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. All in all it seems like you had a great time. I’ve never driving a smart car befor but they look liked they’d be fun to drive.


  12. You reminded me about the castle. I’d quite forgotten the ‘irregularities’. It’s a lovely city, which I squeezed in between Porto and the Douro 🙂 🙂


  13. I thought at first you were pulling our legs re the parking but obviously not.
    As a professional driver I’d be inclined to recommend that any licence that you hold that allows you to control a vehicle be immediately cancelled. But then that’s just me.
    I must now admit that when I went for my driving licence in February 1954 I was required to parallel park my vehicle in a space that allowed 1 yard at the front and 1 at the back; I failed miserably. I had never been taught how to do that.
    Come to think of it I hadn’t had any driving lessons either. I’d bought a car and my mate showed me how to drive forward through the gears and how to get the car into reverse to get it out of our driveway, . That was the sum total of lessons, 10 minutes. I then drove the car around for a couple of months before deciding I’d better get a licence. The copper who took me thought it was hilarious my attempts at parking, but thought I was okay to drive and gave me my licence.
    From 1976 until 2001 when I retired I drove over 2 million kilometres around Sydney and NSW.
    When I taught my 3 children to drive I emphasized the reverse driving skills required. They can all drive as straight and fast in reverse, with confidence, as they can in forward. My wife who was in her mid 40’s when she got her first licence is equally skilled.

    Now get out there and practice and if you keep failing had your licence back in! 😈 🐻
    My first car? https://wp.me/p24jhX-fY


  14. That’s quite the picture of the Italian parked car! It looks like it could have been a prank where friends came along and pinned him (her?) in. I remember my first ’64 VW bug that never had a proper oil change. In some parts of the country they call it a Mexican oil change where you add oil when the red light comes on. Seemed the way to do it back then. Even so, that darling little car went well over 100,000 miles back and forth across the country several times and places in between. I’ll admit to knowing enough to treat the next one a bit better!


  15. I like these small cars too. Smart cars is my love and every time when I travel I rent the smart car.


  16. Pingback: Travels in Portugal, Preparation and Arrival | Have Bag, Will Travel

  17. Pingback: A to Z of Balconies – Guimarães in Portugal | Have Bag, Will Travel

  18. You must have given us all the giggles today, Andrew


  19. I was twenty when I took my dIrving test and after a hopeless attempt at reversing around a corner the driving examiner asked me if I would like to try again!

    I did it perfectly on the second attempt and passed my test. Since then I’ve done pretty well, including the eleven years of driving a people carrier.

    Then I bought my Toyota RAV 4×4. It’s no wider or longer than the people carrier but for some reason I have become dreadful at reversing into a parking space.

    It even took me months to drive forward into my garage without several attempts, and I drive round and around the supermarket trying to find a wider space. I’ve no idea why this car has reduced my confidence and turned me into a person who can no longer perform a normal parking procedure. But It is an absolute pleasure to drive.


    • Reversing has become more difficult as rear windows have become smaller.

      I took my test in Cardiff when I was 20 and being hopeless at reversing was certain to fail. I couldn’t believe my luck when the examiner asked me to reverse into a sort of back alley with brick walls either side. Those walls made the job so much easier and I passed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My attempt was mounting the pavement!


      • Not so bad unless there is a pedestrian there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • These days I have a reversing camera – thank goodness for technology.

        Going back to driving an automatic, my last two cars have been automatic, but my husband drove a manual, so I got used to slipping between both.

        Yesterday one of my daughters arrived in her new automatic small Citroen. She’s used to driving my car but said it felt wrong to drive an automatic small car, she felt nippy cars need a manual change, I think I agree with her!


  20. I’d have been just like you with the parking. I’m normally OK at this but automatics terrify me.. But after that, your choice of Guimarães looks inspired.


  21. I giggled through this, then discovered I had read it before! I’m still hopeless at parking. John is better but often needs more than one attempt, at which point I often say (being very predictable) Well done, Reginald Molesworthy! Do you remember him?


  22. Then there is that whole business of traffic backing up when you are struggling with parallel parking! I can do it but only if it’s my only option. As for the pesky engine service light, I’ve learned another use for duct tape. There are other lights to warn me if something is seriously going wrong. Even better, I’ve learned how to turn the light off. You had me laughing this time, Andrew! –Curt


    • Those air pressure warning sensors are so sensitive, just a puff of air can make the difference between a warning light and not.


      • Which is about the same level my sense of humor operates on the issue. The check engine light mainly has to do with oil changes. As if we weren’t bright enough to figure it out. I don’t think it’s used in Europe. Dealers and oil change placed figured out it was a way to get you to come in and spend money. It was not done to benefit the consumer. –Curt


      • We get little reminders all the time about taking the car to the dealer for servicing.


      • Mines on now. I’m going to shut it off. If it’s just oil, which isn’t due for another 3000 miles, it will stay off. If it comes back on, I may have to go in.

        Liked by 1 person

  23. Thanks for the laugh, Andrew!


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