We decided that our first out-of-town excursion from Aveiro should be to Coimbra....so early one morning we were on our way to the train station - which we've discovered is only an easy 15 minutes walk away. Although the beautiful "old station" is still standing - a more modern one is now used - hopefully at some point, the old one will be refurbished.
Trevor received his reduced priced seniors ticket, but unfortunately, having forgotten my ID, I had to pay the full price of just under €6! The "slow" train takes just under an hour, announces every station, and is a great help with our Portuguese pronunciation. Along the way we passed many miles of cultivated land and some agricultural co-ops, but there were also a lot of old, derelict industrial buildings.
The train station in Coimbra is situated right downtown alongside the river Modego.......so we quickly got established at a table in one of the main squares. After eating a hearty breakfast of hot and salty Tosta Mistas (toasted ham & cheese sandwich), accompanied by strong, hot coffee we were ready to go......this is a city that will make you fit - there's a lot of walking up very steep hills!
Coimbra was the medieval capital of Portugal for over a hundred years - it's also been the site of Portugal's greatest university for over 500 years. Set atop this beautiful historic city, the whole university area, founded in the 13th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Included in this designation is the Rua da Sofia and the upper part of the city. The views from the top are lovely - the multicoloured houses seem to cascade down the hillside, with the river far below. The university area is stunning!
Deciding to start at the top, we wound our way up through the narrow, cobbled streets - sometimes pleasantly surprised when we turned a corner and found that the street opened up into a small square.......always with a café to rest and refresh, if needed! We were told by our host in Aveiro, Felipe, the whole area of the upward climb is known locally as "back-break hill" - certainly an appropriate title for it! There are, of course many historical sights along the way.
Located at the top, close to the university, we saw the Sé Nova (the new Cathedral). Built over a period of years between 1598-1698, it was originally a Jesuit church until the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal. At that time Cathedral status was transferred from the smaller (and older) Cathedral - which is located further down the hill.
The façade on Sé Nova features four Jesuit saints on its lower half, while the top half - which was completed in the 18th century - is Baroque, and has large statues of Saints Peter & Paul. The inside of the cathedral has gilded woodwork & the stalls are made of exotic wood, decorated in bronze....they were brought from the old cathedral, along with the early 16th century baptismal font. A modern side gallery displays some interesting old confessionals & other religious treasures.
We entered the Paço Das Ecolas (The Schools Palace) - an area of some gorgeous 16th-18th century buildings - all set within the the blindingly bright, and huge, Patéo das Escolas (the patio/courtyard). Along with the original Royal Palace, there's a clock tower, the Sāo Miguel chapel and the Joanina library. Unfortunately summer always brings crowds to any major tourist attraction - and this place is no exception. Entrance fees are packaged to include various combinations of the buildings....and the buildings are crowded! Entrance to the library, which was our main interest, cannot be seen on its own - and "groups" are admitted every 20 minutes - so we decided to "give it a miss" - shuffling through with a crowd, on a hot day, is not for us.
This vast area is made up of beautiful buildings on three sides, with a lovely view over the city and the surrounding hills on the fourth + a huge statue of D. João III (King John III of Portugal) in the centre. After becoming King at the age of 19, John ruled for 36 years, extending Portuguese possessions in Asia. He colonized Brazil and secured a monopoly on the spice trade in India - resulting in his nickname as "The Grocer King."
We left this lofty area and slowly made our way back down - taking a different route & different streets along the way. We saw cafés on streets so narrow that only 2 small outside tables were possible. We walked along a street where "banners" of gauzy material were strung across their width for decoration......and also streets where the feelings of the students of this city are prominently spray-painted on the old walls.....one frequent opinion that's mentioned is of the landlords who have evicted them and their fellow students - replacing them with higher paying tourists!
The students of Coimbra love their university and their city - they even have their own type of Fado music. Originally sung in the oldest parts of Lisbon and Porto, Fado is sad and melancholy. Men, dressed in black suits, sing of the miseries of life, love-affairs, politics, "the old days" - and of people already dead. Women, also dressed in black, sing of death & lost love.
In Coimbra the young students, using both the classical and the traditional Portuguese guitars, sing of the anguish of not being able to capture the heart of their chosen loved one.....and they also sing to impress them! The Fado has also become, in this city, the official music of the goodbye songs of students - expressing their sadness at leaving behind the "best years" of life after studying there. One song declaring that "Coimbra has more charm in the hour of parting."
The students of Coimbra celebrate the end of every year with a traditional ceremony called the "Queima das Fitas" - burning of the ribbons. At this ceremony, new students are allowed to wear the traditional capes and gowns for the first time, and are given different coloured ribbons for the different faculties in which they will study.....Science, Technology, Law, Humanities, etc. On the occasion of their graduation, students burn their ribbons....apparently all get drunk.....and only the students seem to know what happens to the ribbons in between these years!
While resting and enjoying a beer at a "jazz café" that is perched halfway up (or down?) to the university area, we realized that a day trip cannot do justice to this city - and certainly is not enough to see all the gardens, museums, churches and historic places that Coimbra has to offer. Knowing this, we spent the rest of the day just wandering around, enjoying it all.
Later in the day, as we made our way to the train station for our journey back to Aveiro (while happily licking our gelato-filled cones), we decided that we would probably return to Coimbra......we did!
Before returning, though, we spent the next few days + the weekend enjoying Aveiro. We did, of course, spend many hours walking around its streets and along the banks of the canal. We discovered that although the modern shopping centre, The Forum, takes up a large part of one side of The Central Canal, the streets and squares behind it are just as charming as the more populated ones on the other side of town......a peaceful escape when the crowds are at their height!
One late afternoon, while enjoying a beer at a café in one of these beautiful, quieter squares (which I cannot find the name of), we had an interesting conversation with a man who joined us. Retired now, originally from England, he had lived in Aveiro for over 2 years and had worked out of his home country for over 20 years before that - 10 of those years in the Baltic area. Needles to say - he had some very interesting stories to tell......he also told us that he speaks no other language but English!
Also on the "other" side of the canal we saw some areas that have whimsical fish decorations dangling from nets hung above the streets - the nets apparently were hand crocheted by some of the local ladies 2 years ago (according to our English resident).
While in this area we visited the Iglesia de la Misericórdia, which dates from the 17th century. This church, although small inside, is probably the best known church in Aveiro. It has a large stone entrance and the whole façade is covered with tiles. The walls inside are also covered with tiles - which together with the wooden choir stalls, covered with gold, is lovely.
We've learned that entrance to many museums in Portugal is cheap - and for "seniors" often free - Aveiro is no exception. We visited the Aveiro city museum, for free, one hot afternoon, when the air-conditioning felt good!
This museum is in a building along one of the main streets in town. With an Art Nouveau façade it displays the origins and traditions of Aveiro, including the two main industries of the region - fishing and salt production. With a very modern interior, the museum is split into 4 areas - history, identity, dynamics and people. Although interesting - the contents of this museum are sparse - and it's not a place for a long visit. Some items of interest worth mentioning:- a traditional cloak, worn on cold days, by workers at the "salt-pans," 10th century figurines of the wives of fishermen (carrying fish) and a tapestry showcasing the many aspects of local trade. An example of a traditional Moliceiros was also on display.
In a gallery at the end of the museum area, there was also a small collection of modern art and pottery - something that we've seen frequently in Portuguese museums. One item there was an interesting artistic interpretation of the Ovos Moles (pastry eggs), with a "nod" to Aveiro's salt production. Last story of this place.......while passing through the lunch-room area, in order to find the toilet facilities of the museum, we encountered a small group of men who were finishing their lunch by sharing a bottle of prosecco.....seemed like a fine idea to us!