Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rail Trip Portugal - 3rd Whistle Stop: COIMBRA

Coming to Coimbra, climbing up the extremely steep, narrow alleys covered with - partly slippery.... - cobblestones, you'll feel like walking through some movie set for a dark, scary movie on some cleric or academic mystery. The ancient buildings and walls - massive, majestic, eternal - deem totally surreal; and are absolutely stunning.

Dom João III overlooking his empire of wisdom

But what's this? A rumble, the noise of a thousand hoves trampling, swirling up the fine white sand covering the university's court.

The horde is ushered by a feisty leader yelling orders in the tiny microphone of his headset. He yells, the horde follows mindlessly, showing no mercy, trampling down everything that's in its way. I shield my eyes against the glaring reflection of the sun - and realize that the horde is a group of Asian tourists, all of them equipped with a purple earpiece, some in matching t-shirts, the writing 'have a nice day' on their chests is quite ironic since they are about to ruin mine. Yes, it takes more to ruin my day than a vast group of noisy, ruthless tourists from China.

Unfortunately, there is more. There are more - more groups, more leaders, more trampling, and more yelling. Tourist hordes from all over the planet, all of them equipped with earpieces, following a leader with a headsets yelling in Japanese, German, French.

A lucky moment in the late afternoon - no hordes crossing....

How 'zen' do you have to be to dismiss all this brouhaha and just enjoy the majestic, venerable atmosphere that the buildings and statues desperately try to protect against this amusement park visitors?!

More 'zen' than I am, that's for sure. It's not easy to inhale the grandeur of centuries of culture and knowledge installed, guarded and transferred for centuries at this venerable institution of wisdom.

In the afternoon, it's like this basically everywhere at the historic center of Coimbra; majestic Coimbra that even used to be Portugal's capital from 1139 till 1256.

Sé Velha, the old cathedral, seen from the torre da universidade, the university's tower.

I decide that Coimbra is breathtakingly beautiful, but that the masses of visitors take my breath away. I walk back towards my small guesthouse, located across the train station. To get to the reception and the rooms, I have to climb up three flights of steep stairs in a dark hallway, smelling of old stone and wood. The true Coimbra. Around the corner more real Coimbra: Stores that sell household items like molds to make the traditional 'natas' in different sizes. Boutiques offering table runners and aprons for the good Portuguese housewive.

Cute corners in downtown Coimbra.

Tiny, scarcely illuminated corner bars serving Sagres beer to the workers from the nearby construction site. And restaurants whose menus are not translated into four different languages and in addition illustrated by badly colored pictures of the respective dishes.

At the small restaurant, I discovered only by chance - and maybe by my gourmand-instincts - the menu is handwritten, advertising maybe fifteen dishes, many marked 'do dia', 'of the day'; sounds fresh.

I have sardinhas do dia that come with some potatoes and a big mixed salad. For this meal and the accompanying half bottle of white wine, I'm paying under ten Euro.

The next morning, as I take a walk through Coimbra before leaving on the noon train to Lisbon, I notice that the hordes have left. Portuguese as far as the eye can see respectively the ear can hear.

Nothing fancy - just a real market with real produce.

The secret is, that most of the groups are coming to Coimbra only for a couple of hours, mostly in the afternoon. They visit the most important sights - the Sé Velha, the old cathedral, and, of course, the campus of the old university, shop some souvenirs, join an early Fado-concert - and off they go to...I don't know where, and as a matter of fact I don't wanna know.

If you are 'zen' enough to ignore the t-shirts that wish you a nice day, you actually will have a 'bom dia' in Coimbra.

Sometimes, before judging, you have to look at the big picture - which is easily possible from the torre da universidade.

Did you miss this train? Here you can read what happened at the former whistle stops:

2nd Whistle Spot: FIGUEIRA da FOZ

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Brazil, while travelling, I'll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me.

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  1. Coimbra looks like it has so much in the way of charm and I love the architectural detail and the history of this place. Would love to visit one day (under my own steam that is, not as part of a tour group!). Lovely post.

  2. wow, Coimbra looks lovely. i hope to go there some day. thank you for sharing the tips and your experience.

  3. Your pictures are gorgeous! I love all the history this place has! I really enjoyed reading your post about it!

  4. What a beautiful place. I love how ornate the buildings are. Wonderful architecture, and it does seem like a peaceful place.

  5. omg how amazing- your pictures are simply stunning!

    1. History is such a wonderful thing to experience and I enjoyed reading about Coimbra, somewhere I actually may want to visit thanks to your travel guide!

  6. this place looks fantastic and I really like Portugal! I spent there a whole month with my husband and it was so amazing ;))

    The White Ocean

  7. Love your photos!! Coimbra looks like a really great place to visit. I especially love the little marketplace full of fresh produce!

  8. Portugal is indeed majestic! I wanna see Portugal, too. Our country, the Philippines, was discovered by a Portuguese, though under the Spanish funding, so there's no Portuguese influence here. Too bad.


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