You could say Coimbra is just a college town I guess. Well, a town with a history that goes back to the Fifth century and where the "college", well more properly the University, is over 700 years old, built on the hill that overlooks the city, and whose main square is surrounded by buildings that were once the Royal Palace....oh yes, Coimbra was also the capital of the County of Portugal from the mid-twelfth century, until the mid-thirteenth century.
The University of Coimbra, up steep University Hill proudly overlooks the "Baixa" (Low Town) and Modego River.
You can't miss it. Getting here was kind of interesting, not hard, but interesting. We caught the train from Evora to Lisbon, changing trains at Oriente Station. We got off at "Station B" which is somewhere north of the city. You then transfer to another train which takes you on the short trip to "Station A" which is right on the waterfront. Our hotel was basically right across the street, the Hotel Oslo, which was kind of old, with small rooms, but, in spite of the beds as hard as a marble slab, was good enough for a night or two. Plus, I could open the window and see University Hill above. There was street noise and all that, but this was about as centrally located as you'd get.
Crossing the street, a single lane in both directions, a maze of alleyways and narrow streets winds inward, away from the Mondego River. Here lies Praça do Comércio.
A nice bright open area with cafes and shops. Because of the shape of the square, people claim that this once a Roman Chariot Racetrack. I also read that in the Middle Ages, bullfights were held in this wide open area.
At one end of the square is the Church of São Tiago a small but important church. The architecture is in the Romanesque style. The arches of the side doors are decorated with a scallop shell motif, a homage to the patron of this church Saint James (Tiago is James in Portuguese) whose emblem was the scallop shell.
The church was ordained in 1206. Though it is believed to have been the site of a temple from the 10th century. the interior of the church itself is fairly tiny, much of it paneled in wood.
Up the stairs to the side and you end up in the heart of Coimbra's shopping street the busy and bustling streets of Rua Ferreira Borges and Rua Visconde da Luz.
Many of the buildings date back to the 1900's and are in the Art Nouveau style; curved lines and the forms and ornamentation in tune with "nature". The area is very lively.
Along the way we saw another church down the stairs near the other end of Praça do Comércio. This was the Church of St. Bartholomew. The rather simple looking Baroque style church housed a bright white interior with an altarpiece gilded in gold and marble.
We walked back up, then further down Rua Ferreira Borges toward the Santa Clara Bridge. The Missus had read about Pastelaria Briosa online.
We needed a break and it seemed like a great time to us the "Lisbon Rule" - when you need a break, get a coffee and a pastry. In Coimbra, the pastry of choice is the Pastel de Santa Maria.
So I had a seat and the Missus walked up to the counter to order for us.
And while I really didn't care much for this sweet, almond and marmalade pastry, I also didn't care for the dough....it was nice to have seat and a nice cup of espresso.
instead aim for another Portugal (we were already calling it Pork-u-gal) porkfest.
So, with some reluctance, I pulled myself up to my feet and we headed up the winding and sometimes rather steep alleyways up to the "Old Town". I was just amazed at the fact folks walked up and down these steep hills, sometimes several times a day. We passed a young Chinese girl walking down the hill. I could see the rather amused look on her face as I huffed and puffed past her.
Would I make it without having a coronary? Well stay tuned!