The first capital of the independent Portuguese kingdom, Coimbra, now the country’s third largest city after Lisboa and O Porto, lies by the bank of Rio Mondego. The city of Coimbra boasts of having one of the oldest universities in Europe, the Coimbra university which was founded in 1290. The city was also the European Capital of Culture in 2003.
COMING TO COIMBRA
A bit disappointed about our visit to Aveiro, we drove further to the south with a plan of tasting the sea. We went to Praia de Mira, a small fishing village, 22 kilometers south of Costa Nova. The drive was uneventful, we were able to park our D’Traveller by the parking area along the beach. We were able to make use of internet service by one of the hotels.
Campsite : Rua Raul Brandao 3070 Praia de Mira (Coimbra)
Coordinates: N: 40.45484 W: 8.80303
The beach of Praia is a beautiful one. It is long and sandy. We had wonderful time taking long walks on the beach, admiring the wild waves we saw on the water. It was low tide and we picked some nice shells, with plan to do some artistic works on them J It was also a wonderful day, the sky was blue, although still a bit cold (reason not to take a swim). We didn’t notice the time during our stroll. Before we knew it, it was already late. So we went back to the camper and headed to our city stop : Coimbra.
Coimbra was only 50 kilometers from Praia de Mira. We left the beach at around 12.00 and arrived in Coimbra at 15.00. Why too long, you may wonder. It was because we made a couple of stops along the way: first in Lagoa for a short fishing adventure, and second was in Lidl for some groceries. There is a good parking area outside the city of Coimbra where we could park our D’Traveller. It is by Parque Verde, along the Rio Mondego and next to some watersports facilities. It is about 800 meters from the city which could be reached by crossing the beautiful Ponte de Pedonal. We stayed here for two days (November 27-28, 2015).
Campsite : Parking, Avenida Ines de Castro 3000 Coimbra
Coordinates : N: 40.19854 W: 8.42805
DISCOVERING THE CITY OF COIMBRA
After having some rest, at around 17.00, we went to the city center, passing the beautiful and colourful bridge Ponte de Pedonal. We were able to get some information at the tourist office which was luckily open until 18.00. Walking to Largo de Portagem, we saw a goup of students dressed in black about to give a musical performance.
That was a pleasant treat for us, being able to see some street music, and a lively one too! Later that evening, we saw the same group at least two times more at different parts of the city. At the end of the long commercial street, we came to Praza de 8 Maio where the Sta. Cruz Church is located. As it was already getting dark, some of the stores are also preparing to close. We walked on some small winding streets on the left side of the Iglesia. It was like a big maze with lots of small shops selling mostly shoes, bags and clothes. And we noticed, it was only a little after 7 pm and the streets were already deserted. Empty….It was also time for us to call it a day.
SECOND DAY: BAD BEGINNING, GOOD ENDING
I might have stepped out of the wrong side of the bed this day. I was not in the best of mood. Anyway, we planned to go to the weekly market (Saturday) somewhere outside the city. But it looked a lot easier in the map than in reality. First, we couldn’t find the right way to the market. We had to cross busy streets with fast-driving vehicles which made me all the more nervous. Besides, some of the streets had no signboards. Luckily, we found someone who explained to us the way and also informed us that the market was only a small one. Reason for us to blast our market plan. We then decided to go back to the center. We walked on really narrow streets, some were steep. The streets were not so inviting.
There are lots of graffiti on the walls, lots of abandoned houses and lots of clothes hanging on the windows to dry. It was a perfect place for filming horror or suspense films like Jack the Ripper. Just add a haunting music and a bit of smoke, and you have it! Finally, we reached Iglesia Sta. Cruz again. We decided to go up and visit the University of Coimbra. Passing thru the old Almedina Arch and Tower, and climbing some steps, we arrived at the Old Cathedral. Entry was 2 euro pp, which we passed. Arriving at the grounds of the University, we entered its premises, going in some of its inner rooms, but not in the tower and the famous library. Those can be visited by paying 9 euro pp. Again, we saved the money for other purposes. However, a small trivia about the Coimbra University. It is said to be founded in Lisboa in 1290 and was transferred in Coimbra in 1537. Its most famous features are the At. Joanine Library which holds more than 250,000 books, the St. Michael’s Chapel and the Tower. There are still a couple of religious buildings which we did not enter because of entrance fees. I don’t know, I find it better to give a free donation than paying entrance fee to enter God’s house.
Anyway, as it was again almost lunch time (13.30), we decided to head to the shopping center Forum which is located outside the city, which we learned from two young women, could be reached even by walking. First, we were delayed by snuffeling around the antique market which we happened to see in Praca de Comercio. It was a rather big market, and hans and I enjoyed looking around it, thankful than we didn’t buy a thing! The start of the way to the shopping center was good; however, when we were getting nearer, the way was alos getting trickier. We couldn’t find a logical pedestrian path; all we saw was busy fast driving vehicles. I was getting hungy and irritated and tired form walking all day. I decided to walck back to the camper while Hans stayed and searched for the way. Afterwards he called me back and we were still able to go to the shopping center. After having a sumptuous lunch, we had a bit of windowshopping. Now going back to the city is another issue. We had to go back before 6 p, as we still had a fado music to watch. We were waiting too long for the bus only to find out that we were on the wrong side of the street; or maybe the driver did not quite understand where we wanted to go. In the end, we just walked back again all the way to the city. Luckily we were just in time before the music performance began.
OUR FADO EXPERIENCE
Fado , which literally means “fate or destiny” is a music genre popular in Portugal. It is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, full of melancholy and longing. There are few bars in Coimbra where one can hear fado. One of these bars is Cafe Sta. Cruz. We went to this cafe which is located just beside the Sta.Cruz Church. It was almost 6 pm when we arrived here; took a good table and made ourselves ready for an evening of Fado. There is no entrance fee here, unlike the other bars. The fado music was given by two guitarists (bandolino) and one male singer which had a haunting and high male voice with strong timbre. It was for us a relaxed evening, though Hans was not so crazy about the music.
After almost half an hour, the music was over, and we left the café and again took a last evening stroll along the dark deserted streets of Coimbra, It was a day, which started on the wrong foot, but luckily ended up right!
SAYING GOODBYE TO THE CITY
The next day, being Sunday, Hans and I went to hear the Sunday Mass in Sta. Cruz Church. After the mass, we still had time to have a cup of coffee and do or last Sunday stroll. It was a fitting way to end our visit to the historic city of Coimbra.