Coimbra to Porto

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Europe » Portugal
May 5th 2017
Published: June 26th 2017
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Geo: 41.15, -8.61024

The weather had changed when we got up this morning. The sky looked threatening and as we met our guide, Riccardo, It started to rain. We first were driven to a lookout from where we could see the city which is dominated by the University. Last night we had seen groups of students in their black suits and gowns, obviously graduation parties.

As we drove back to the city itself we went up to a garden where we were shown stone slabs on which poems were written. Graduating students would write a poem in praise of their learning and pay for it to be erected in this garden, however just as we were looking at them the heavens opened and we all scurried back to the bus. We then drove to the University which is on the top of the hill. The umbrella seller did a roaring trade as we alighted. We sheltered in one of the archways while Riccardo went to get our tickets. We weren't scheduled to visit the famous library until 12 but he managed to change the time so we could go in straight away.

The library was startling in its interior design. It was decorated in the time of Charles 5th and the over the top Baroque decoration in gold leaf is lavish. The walls are covered in bookshelves and the books are protected by "cages". It is still in use as a library and these very old books can be requested for research. One interesting fact he told us was that the silverfish are kept under control through bats! There is a small hole at the top of the entrance way through which the bats can enter at night and they keep the insects under control. They cover the old tables with leather cloths at night so the bat poo doesn't harm them Unfortunately we could not take photos in the library so I cannot show you how amazing it is.

From here we walked to the Chapel of St Michael. This is also decorated in the Baroque style and has a very elaborate pipe organ which seems to cling to the wall. This is also used for Ceremonies to do with the University. We continued our tour by going to the beautifully decorated main hall. We could only peep through the windows into the Assembly Hall as PhD examinations were being held. The final room had the portraits of the Chancellors around the walls. This University is one of the oldest in Europe and was operating in the 13th century. It was originally a religious place but now has many faculties. We then had a short coffee break in the student cafeteria and when we emerged the rain had stopped. Riccardo then took us through the narrow streets of the old town. Here there were student “fraternities” which are called republics and are very antiestablishment. These were very important in the overthrow of Salazar and the reesatablishment of democracy in Portugal. We wound our way down to the bottom of the hill, stopping outside a Fado café where usually we could hear some Fado music but it was occupied with another group today. In Coimbra the Fado is sung by men whereas in Lisbon it is women who are the main exponents. At the main square outside the cathedral (surprise, surprise) we were given the rest of the day to wander. In a side street there was a shoe shop and the prices were unbelievable. I bought a pair of suede ankle boots for 4 -99 Euros and a pair of black lace up shoes for officiating and guiding for only 10! We had a sandwich at Café Santa Cruz, next to the cathedral, accompanied by a bottle of Mateus before wandering around the shops and then back to the hotel for a rest.

That night we did not want to venture far so opted for dinner in the hotel. We shared an octopus risotto for entrée which was very tasty. The octopus was very soft but the rice was rather salty. We were very disappointed by our main courses. I ordered duck with a red berry sauce and Fletcher had pork. His was inedible because of the saltiness of it and mine was dry and overcooked. To compensate the waiter gave us free desserts which were sweet and delicious.

The next morning we left Coimbra at 8-30am and drove towards Porto. Our first stop was in the town of Aveiro which is built on a system of canals through the marshy area. Again the sky was overcast and just as we got into our canal boats for our cruise the rain poured down,. We retreated to a small coffee shop and waited for the shower to pass. We then had a half hour to walk about the town before reconvening back at the boats. This time the sun stayed shining so we cruised around the small canals admiring the architecture of the buildings and the new and old parts of the town.This area used to produce large quantities of salt but not so much these days. At the end of the ride we had about 20 minutes before getting back on the bus. I had seen a lovely clothes shop which had large sizes so we returned there. The dress I had seen in the window was unfortunately too small but I bought two lovely tops which fitted nicely and were not too expensive. A good morning.

We then drove on to Porto. This is a beautiful city, next to the Douro river and it spreads around to the Atlantic at the mouth of the Douro. We were dropped off at the entrance to the old town and strolled down to the river where we had lunch with Rod and Jenny. We met Riccardo and Lucy back at the Palacio de Borstal for our walking tour. This palace was built by the commercial traders of the city to act as a stock exchange. Inside it is very decorative with a courtroom where disputes to do with commercial transactions were aired, as well as formal meeting rooms and assembly places. The last room was the most beautiful, commissioned by one of the queens of Spain and decorated in the Moorish style. Fabulous mosaics adorn the walls and ceilings with very colourful tiles. The next stop was the Church of St Francis. Here we were shown the beautiful side altars and statues of St Francis of Assisi founder of the Franciscan order. We are starting to get a bit churched out but this had interesting decorations and a long history. We walked over the iron bridge and went to one of the Caves for which Porto is famous, this one was Burmester. Here we were shown how they make Port and the cellars where the barrels are kept. We then got to taste a white port and a tawny. We learnt nothing new but the tasting was OK. A brief walk from here were the river boats. After a short break we boarded one of the boats for a trip along the Douro. This was very pleasant and allowed a good look at the many bridges, both for cars and trains that have been built to span the river. One of these was designed by Gustav Eifel. It was now 6pm and the light was still good on a warm evening as we cruised along the water.

We finally drove to our hotel which was situated outside the main city and near the Atlantic Coast. This was deemed a 5 star hotel and we checked in with high anticipation. It was OK. As it was now fairly late we stayed in the hotel for dinner Having been disappointed the night before I tried once again and ordered the duck confit while Fletcher had a curried prawns dish. Both were very good with the duck falling off the bone. A G&T night cap finished a long and adventurous day

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