It’s not that unusual for us to take to the good ole t’internet to find out how to pronounce places, Coimbra was no exception. Pronounced Keembra it became Quinoa/Keenwa in our lexicon for a few days. Staying at a great spot on the edge of town we arrived, set up, locked the cat in the tin and got the bus into the centre. We just had a bit of a wander and orientation of the University town, coming across “Fado” (not Fargo, the dark humour TV program!) music in the streets, student buskers and a more serious Fado chap in a historic cafe next to the monastery of Santa Cruz, one of Portugal’s ‘Cafe Historicos’ and worth the tourist prices. Fado music is a Portuguese genre, dating back to 1820’s. Meaning “destiny or fate” it’s mournful, sentimental and melancholic unless sung by students who give it a bit more life! We couldn’t believe the outfits didn’t influence a certain writer who lived in Porto for a bit….
Immediately, the few hours wandering of the medieval old town told us we’d be enjoying the time there. Back streets and alleyways, run down, faded buildings mixed with modern restaurants. (Students these days eh, fine tastes?!) The main street was a mix of Sardine Shops, Cake Shops and shops we never see on the High Street in the UK anymore, wool & lace shops and one that just sold bedding. Anyway, great architecture and super tiling! Waiting for the bus back in the rain, we observed the multiple comings and goings of delivery scooters at Burger King, our bubble was burst!
Once it stopped raining (or so we thought) we bussed to the Old Town, like so many places on this trip, Coimbra is an old walled town thus hilly. It was also once, Portugal’s capital city It has two Cathedrals (the old one and the not so old one) The old one, C12th Romanesque, was austere but its faded Porta Especiosa, Renaissance door to you and me, was very unique and grand. Further up the hill was the not so old ‘New Cathedral – Se Nova’. More ornate it had glass fronted treasure cabinets, first we’ve seen, built within the carved woodwork of the chapels. (Not sure if they are called treasure cabinets but they did house the same types of treasures we’d seen elsewhere) The cherubs were a bit disturbing as their painting meant they looked like plastic dolls, Chucky style!
The University area is a recommended zone of town, not only for the harsh 40’s & 50’s buildings but for the famous Baroque Joanina Library. One of the star attractions of Coimbra, the building dates to 1717. Obviously the walls are lined with 60k books from C16th, C17th and C18th but never have we seen a library as incredibly ornate and decorated. nor have we been in a library with its own prison (used for disrespectful students and anyone caught damaging books back in the day)
We also visited the Chemistry Faculty, it’s frightening what I’ve forgotten, it really is, although I do still know my first 20 elements :-). A couple of rooms were a fantastic insight into some science history, mixed with the old lab desks and fume cupboards. Thankfully there was no Sulphuric Acid around for Nick to squirrel away… (you need to get the story from him!)
We noted around town, lots of students in the same get up, uniform style with a long black cape. Knowing there wasn’t any Harry P being filmed we had to ask what it was about. It’s a ritualistic event whereby second year students ‘initiate’ first years with various kinds of customs pertinent to their Faculty, it seems on random days in the year. Unlike the American equivalent, the medics we spoke to said drink wasn’t allowed…. likely story! Anyhow, it made for fun people watching even if all a bit abstract!
Coimbra was a really great place to spend a bit of time, as we’ve been seeing, Portugal has it’s fair share of economic challenges, many buildings in the centre will make it into Nicks ‘Dereliction’ category on his website. There is a lot of graffiti daubing some wonderful buildings sadly. What there is however, is some stunning tiling designs, some the worse for wear but all the same, beautiful. We must mention Igreja de Santa Cruz, a gorgeous place, not ornate per usual but it’s tiling alone took all the glory it deserved. (maybe one of Alfonso’s students did it as part of his initiation?!)
Heading towards the coast, Aveiro is the guidebook cover type of tourist destination of the area. Known as Portugal’s Venice because of its canal structure, it was worth a bus ride from where we stayed next to the sand dunes at Costa Nova, an equally quirky place. Aveiro now thrives on tourism but historically it was fishing, salt and ceramics. Taking one of the colourful ‘barcos moliceiros’ around the canals we admired the Art Nouveau architecture next to the modern day. Most of the older properties were built by returning wealthy emigrants. The modern architecture was really well designed, not feeling the need to compliment the old was its success, it was deliberately different. Salt is still harvested on the salt pans and readily sold to gift thirsty tourists.
It’s an easy wander too, away from touristville and the waterways, the back streets are different, lots of fabulous graffiti and a mix of structures. Some ornate tiled facades as we’ve been seeing everywhere in Portugal, the pretty ‘snowflake’ tiling really stood out. Nearby, accessible via the local ferry is a fabulous nature reserve “São Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve” which was a wonderful, if challenging, cycle among the warm pine aromas.
Costa Nova, a couple of miles walk from the campsite is the hub of the area. Most certainly a second homer place that was alive at the weekend, it’s properties are very uniquely ‘striped’. Yes, for some reason, candy stripes caught on, the resort town thus feeling like a 50’s throwback (in a nice way) It is unspoilt by high rises and tat shops and a real gem of a wander or ride around.
The Jigsaw Spot
I didn’t realise how popular I am! I know I’ve now 963 followers on Instacat (I get some form of treat when I get to 1000!) but I now need to have my own blog spot to keep my fans happy. The last two places the hoomans have stayed have been pretty good, I worshipped the long grass at the sand dune place and caught my first ‘eeek’ of the trip. I was kind and let it go as there’s no fun in not playing with it (or tormenting it I heard the tall one say) There’s been a bit of sunshine so I’ve been able to laze around in the flowers, unusual for me I know as I’m normally up to all sorts. The tall one took me out one day, he said I needed some exercise, but the ground under my feet moved when I stood on it and the wind blew it in my face, and there were these things called shells… I didn’t like it that much so we didn’t stay long. I also made a new meowser friend from Belgium called Nico, he was sweet, while it lasted! I invited him around for a drink of my favourite wine! Ciao meow!