Coimbra Portugal : October 2017
Our drive to Coimbra was fairly uneventful and we saw no sign of the fires….until we booked into the campsite and we caught sight and smelt the burnt trees on the slopes behind. Apparently it had been pretty hectic two days ago, when there was a very real danger of the fire reaching the campsite.
The camp site is a municipal , a little tired but good hot showers and a nice size pitch. It’s on the bus route into town and suited us perfectly.
First, a little housekeeping, I did some washing whilst Chris made me a lovely washing line to hang it out, then off to explore. Into Coimbra we went and as we arrived the heavens opened up and it poured. There had been no warning, really! We had no umbrella and no jackets so we felt like real idiots. Chris being the only person in Coimbra wearing shorts and our drying washing doing anything but dry.
I thought a drink in the student area of Republican would cheer us up a little; after trekking up a long steep slope and down the other end I could see Chris was not impressed. Even the pretty university students walking around did not get him to smile much and then when he saw the students drinking out of plastic cups, did I hear about it! But we found a spot and we had a quick beer and a glass of vino, when he was presented with the bill for €2 – AT LAST A SMILE! We headed home to our very wet washing and made a lovely dinner of pasta…yum!
Coimbra is on the banks of the river Mondego and is famous for its University, the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe. It’s the third largest urban area after Lisboa and Porto( as per wiki) but it really feels like a fairly small city with lots of students milling around and a quiet,relaxed feel to it. The historic centre is on a large hill, so we walked up steep,narrow streets and lots of steep steps to reach the famous Joanina University Library, a well known tourist stop. The self guided tour cost €12, which included a tour of the Joanina Library, the chapel of São Miguel, as well as the Royal Palace and the Science museum. We both enjoyed our time so much. We started with the chapel of São Miguel, small but spectacular, we loved the baroque organ and the tiled and painted ceilings and walls. Really quite breathtaking and a definite recommendation.
Next up we visited the library. Here we had a time slot and strict instructions, only 10min on the first two floors and only 15min in the actual library – and NO photos in the library. The bottom two floors were a slightly boring precursor to the main attraction; what was quite interesting were the small and cramped cells of the old ‘Academic Prison’; this is where convicted students and teaching staff were incarcerated instead of them having to mix with the riff-raff in the main city goal. The top floor was really spectacular and seems almost too extravagant and distracting for study, with its rosewood, ebony and jacaranda tables, elaborately frescoed ceilings and gilt chinoiserie bookshelves. The number of people inside disguised me taking a few sneaky pics(Im sorry!). We really loved this odd fact; the biggest danger to old books are the insects that eat paper, so they have resident bats that live in hollows behind the book shelves, at night they come out and eat all the insects – and the books are all safe for another thousand years! Cool hey! Of course the bats do poop , so every night the staff cover the tables and floors with tarpaulins to catch the bat poop, not sure I want to be a librarian there.
The library first opened in 1750 and houses more than 50 000 books, many of which are hand written, dating back to the 15th & 16th century. So we are talking a very old and valuable collection. The other reason the books have lasted so long is the way the library was built. The interior rooms are a completely wooden vault whilst the exterior walls are more than 2 meters thick, helping to maintain a constant internal temp of 18-20 degrees.
We also loved the Royal Palace as it is not just a monument but also a working part of the university, with lecture rooms and the grand hall where they present the doctorates to new PhD’s. The tiles and the painted ceilings just absolutely beautiful, it was really fun poking our heads into lecture rooms where students were sitting and chatting whilst waiting for the next lecture to begin. We also discovered the student canteen and decided this was the place to have a bite. Such a nice lunch, mixed in with all the students, lecturers and ordinary people. You never figured Chris and I for canteen eaters did you??
We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the Botanical Gardens and managed a quick look around the cathedral.
Chris has been promising some retail therapy so we decided to go to the Forum Shopping Centre just over the river. It’s open until 10pm or something. Our bus goes right past it, so it would make sense to take the bus there and back but NO, Chris has a bright idea, “Lets walk”……which we did. Halfway there I could see his uncertainty as it doesn’t look that far away but it wasn’t exactly a “walk to” kinda place. Situated on an interchange and on top of the hill which would be great if you were being driven in the bus. Needless to say we got there, eventually, but Chris is soooo clever as I was so hot and bothered by then I could not be bothered to try anything on. Not even shoes …aaaah! So a quick whip around, a small purchase of fake flowers ( story for another day) and then a rush, rush through the supermarket to buy dinner before we had to catch the last bus home. Listen even the bus trip home was a bit of a mess, as the one we caught only went halfway home, so we had to get off and walk to the next stop and wait for another. But home eventually and now the washing is dry!
The wifi in this camp site was not good, actually non existent so we haven’t quite decided where we are going, but Chris spots an interesting camper stop in Lamego…..Lame where? Next time . . .