We drove from Pedra D’Ouro to Coimbra stopping at the ancient city of Conimbriga – the largest Roman settlement in Portugal. Google took us in the back way down a narrow dirt road so the ruins suddenly exploded into view. The site exists well preserved because it was sacked in the 400s and the inhabitants were scattered or enslaved by the Sueves and it was never resettled. We spent about two hours walking around the remnants of houses, baths and temple ruins, admiring the elaborate floor mosaics.
Drop a 50 euro cent piece into the fountain machine over the covered, beautifully restored home and you can transport yourself back to what it might have been like. There was evidence of buildings demolished and built over. We realized we humans still do this all the time and Cynthia wondered if they’ll dig up our middle-class cul-de-sac community 200 years from now and wonder in awe at the home’s “open floor plan” layout and X-box with a corpse at the controller.
Arriving in Coimbra (pronounced kween-brah), we discovered that our hotel was nestled about 100 yards into the old city streets which Google maps was, scarily, trying to get us to navigate down; our matchbox car might fit but we opted for the safer route by having Cynthia jump out on the main road (at a slow speed – she’s fine) and head to the reception to find out where we could park. Turns out Residencia Moderna has an agreement with an underground Bragaparques parking garage a block north so we had free parking as long as we got the voucher from reception and handed it to the attendant booth in the garage in exchange for an exit card before we left each day.
Coimbra is a riverfront city in central Portugal and the country’s former capital. It is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra (one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world (since 1290) and it is the oldest university of Portugal).
Coimbra is a great city (really a large town) to wander around for a day or two. Our hotel was near the pedestrian district full of cafes and shops. The main street is Ardo de Cima and may be worth getting a coffee or beer at a cafe in the square to people watch, but we found lots of other squares to enjoy, including a wine break at the Jardim da Manga. One of the most notable sights at the end of the pedestrian zone is the Igreja de Santa Cruz which contains the remains of the first two Portuguese kings.
We had some fabulous food including pizza and a bottle of delicious red wine at Tartufo Pizzeria, suckling pig sandwiches at Joao dos Lietoes (recommended to us by “BB Cabeleireiros /Estetica” where Cynthia had here hair cut and dyed – it was in the same building as the hotel so she figured it was fate) and the best of them all, chicken gizzards at O’ Mimo. Yeah, that sounds disgusting, we never would have tried them, but it’s their specialty and they were fantastic; tender and tasty.
One word of warning: Coimbra is very hilly and puts San Francisco to shame. We discovered this in spades by trying to navigate with Google maps to a laundromat near the university one morning. Standing at the bottom of steps that were mind-blowingly steep and long, double and triple checking Google maps, we painstakingly ascended with sacks of laundry, only to discover (huffing and puffing at the top) that the place was “temporarily closed”. We ended up at Lavagem laundry (another 15 minute hike, thankfully downhill) where the washing machines added soap for you.
Coimbra also serves as a great base to explore some of the sights in the area:
Buçaco national forest – Getting to the forest from the Luso tourist office we, once again, made the mistake of trusting Google maps (instead of the advice of the agent – gee, you’d think we’d have learned by now). Google took us up Rua Forno which was the shortest way but the grade was so steep we feared the car was going to tip over backwards! We paid the 5 euros to park which goes to the preservation of the forest and you can go in and out all day. This large forest is an arboretum that contains all sorts of species of trees and wonderful gardens less than an hour from Coimbra. It was first established by the Barefoot Carmelites, then became a royal retreat and now a hotel. We hiked around the wonderful grounds and made it up to Alta Cruz ( a cross on the highest point) just ahead of a school group. The cross swarmed with kids and we knew when the teachers arrived (several minutes later) when a round of applause erupted from the kids. We enjoyed a picnic of wine, cheese and a random sausage we grabbed from a grocery in town near the Luso tourist office. We hiked down to the palace and walked through the beautiful gardens full of Rose trees (trees 20 feet tall!) and a purple flower promenade.
Aveiro – Averio is the “Venice” of Portugal which used to be a seaweed harvesting town (used for fertilizer) until modern chemicals made this vocation obsolete. Now the boats harvest tourists for a 10 Euro tour of the canals. We did a double take, but if you look carefully at the colorful boats, you will discover less than pious paintings on the back hulls. We spent the morning walking around the quaint town then headed off to Costa Nova.
Costa Nova is a small coastal town famous for its striped row houses. It used to be a fishing village but the fisherman discovered that fishing for tourists (renting their houses) was more profitable. They painted them in order to advertise that it was rent-able. We checked out the wide long and mostly deserted beach and then the lagoon. We saw some guys whacking the mud in the lagoon, but couldn’t figure out what they were trying to whack.. (Google was no help in this case – sheesh!).
A final shout out to Swift Technology for fixing our Windows 10 laptop for 30 Euros.
Check out the gallery.
Off to the Douro region…