The area down Rua Visconde da Luz which turns to Rua Ferreira Borges is a pedestrian only area, full of little shops, bakeries, and other businesses. Yes, it's touristy, but there are also a lot of students and locals milling about. We saw students walking along, on what appeared to be a architectural tour, stopping at various buildings taking notes.
Heading toward the Mondego River, Rua Ferreira Borges ends at a square named Largo da Portagem. Like most of Rua Ferreira Borges, it's a nice place to have a seat and people watch.
The statue in the square is of Joaquim António de Aguiar, three time Prime Minister of Portugal who was born in Coimbra. He's obviously much beloved, right? I mean there's a statue of him overlooking the Mondego River......well ask any local who's statue this is and they'll say it's "Mata Frades", aka the "Friar Killer.” Apparently "Mata Frades" was the Minister of Justice during the reign of Peter IV and issued a law in 1834 which shut down all religious orders and took over their assets.
The views from across the Ponte Santa Clara are the things postcards are made of.
There are also sites to see on this side of the river as well.
After a short nap we headed back up Rua Ferreira Borges and through one of the many gateways of what was once the city walls. The most well known is the Arco de Almedina. See the square hole in the ceiling? This was used a part of the defense system; soldiers would pour hot oil through the holes on enemies who tried to breach the gate.
We headed up the hill to Fado ao Centro, which celebrates Coimbra's unique version of Fado, which I call the soul music of Portugal. Every evening there's a 50 minute show, which we loved. Each number and the history is presented in both Portuguese and English, there's about 40-50 seats, no food, it's about Fado. The folks are very laid back; they let some folks actually videotape the show!
In contrast to the Lisbon melancholic "saudade" Fado sung almost exclusively by women; Coimbra's version is sung by men and tell of social issues, college life, and the such......
The show is well worth it. Instead of grabbing some of the gratis wine after the performance we decided to get dinner. We didn't have anything in mind and just wandered around.....
And no, we didn't eat here....though it was super cheap. We found the specials sign entertaining, "Arroz Chau-Chau" anyone?
I know that diária means daily, but it sounds too much like another word to me.....
It's not surprising that we ended up back here.....
Yep, Ze Manel dos Ossos. We stood in line and waited for the place to open. The guy seated here had dinner here the night before as well.....not sure, but I think he might be a local. He also had the same thing the night before as well which is what we ended up with.
Of course, we started with the gnawingly wonderful "Ossos", simmered pork bones.
We had originally wanted the stew pork with mushrooms, but the had run out, so we went with the classic "Feijao", basically beans, in this case Stewed beans and rice....
Loved the beany flavor, didn't care much for the rice. A nice, hearty, soulful dish. This came with bread (of course) and pork cutlets that had been grilled over hardwood charcoal (I saw the bags of charcoal). I expected this to be tough, but though it was chewy, the flavor was just perfect, nice salt, good garlic flavor, smokiness form the charcoal, doused in olive oil. Simple, but so nice.
Ze Manel dos Ossos Beco do Forno 12 Coimbra, Portugal
We slept well......
The next morning we arose, walked over to Pastelaria Palmeira and had some espresso and pastries.
We went back to the hotel, packed, checked out, walked the one block to Train Station A to catch the short train to Train Station B....what seemed a bit confusing two days ago made perfect sense now! While waiting for our train to Porto, we went and had a nice cup of espresso....standing up of course!
Soon enough we were ensconced in our seats and headed to our next stop....the land of Port Wine, Porto!
Thanks for reading!
In case you wanted a bit more Fado; the late Amália Rodrigues is known as the "Queen of Fado" - you can see why here:
Here's a short video with some performers of Fado ao Centro:
At the end of my last post, I mentioned dreading the loooong steep walk up the hill to the University of Coimbra. There is a "elevador" that you can catch up and down the hill, but it was closed for repairs at the time if our visit. Sigh. Anyway, even though we'd already had a quick look at the University the previous day, I figured that if we were to see one site in Coimbra, it had to be the University and some if its most famous structures.
On our visit the previous day, we came up the opposite way, directly to the "Pátio das Escolas", the main courtyard. This time we entered via the "Porta Ferrea", the Iron Gate afterr buying tickets to the various sites in the bookstore.
There are limits on visitors so, you need to get tickets and times set-up. The University was founded in 1290, so of course many traditions have been established like Queima das Fitas - The Burning of the Ribbons and Festa das Latas (The Tin Can Parade). Entering through the Gate you'll come to the bright and impressive Courtyard. This actually used to be the courtyard of the Coimbra Royal Palace which was turned over to the University by King John (João III) in 1537. The reflection of the sun on white can almost blind you at times. And that is a statue of John III, back to the Mondego River standing isolated in the middle of the courtyard.
There were a couple of buildings we wanted to check out. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, so I'll try to do links to other sites so you can get an idea of how the place looks. For me, the one building I just had to see was the Biblioteca Joanina, built by King John V (João V), also know as "John the Magnanimous". One look in this beautiful library and you'll know why he had that nickname.
A walk through the ornate rooms illustrates what a great power Portugal once was. What I found really interesting was the prison under the library. The University had its own police and courts, so naturally it had its own prison for students and faculty.......
Next door behind the facade (you actually enter to the right of the doorway) is Capela de Sao Miguel - St Michael's Chapel. There's a beautiful and ornate pipe organ in the chapel.
Up the stairs of the building that faces John III and down the hallways called the "via Latina" you'll find Sala dos Capelos - The Grand Hall. You'll look down upon what used to be the palace throne room and became an examination room. You can get some great views looking out the windows of the catwalk above the room.
We enjoyed our time visiting the university, but man, I was getting hungry......
So we wound our way back down to our hotel and along one of the many alleyways, on Rua das Padeiras we saw this little shop.
It's pretty easy to see how it caught my eye, right?
Plus, in spite of my lack of linguistic ability.....the big joke is that I can't say much except thank you and hello....but boy can I name the various food items. Leitao was one of those words within my grasp......it basically means suckling pig, and this was Porkugal, I mean Portugal.
It seemed like a nice place to take a break. I ordered a Leitao Sandes - basically a suckling pig sandwich. The Missus decided on some soup, which She really enjoyed....porky goodness one and all.
Soon enough my sandwich arrived.....it was a pretty hefty one at that! The most interesting thing was the glass of, well, something that accompanied my sandwich. A quick taste, I'm glad I didn't chug the thing, and it was quickly identified as pork drippings/sauce/juice/mother's milk, whatever you want to call it. It was on the salty side, though when drizzled on the pork it became "elixir of the gods...or swine". The bread was pretty good, the pork a bit dry and bland without the "juice", the skin on the hard side.
After a fairly restless night of Ossos induced sleep, we woke early, veyr typical for us when on vacation. As with Lisbon, we notcied that folks wake a bit later in Coimbra. The Missus was just raring to go, so we headed off.....
We took a short stop on Praca de Maio taking time to admire the Church of Santa Cruz,which looked so peaceful and regal in the morning. As we approached we could hear a buzzing noise in the silence of the morning. Apparently, the building has electrified wires running around it to keep birds away.
A few blocks away, on Rua de Sofia, we found a little bakery that was doing a brisk business with locals.
The name of the place is Pastelaria Palmeira, so of course I had one.....
I had really gotten used to having that cup of espresso and a pastry for breakfast, that it just the right thing to do.
We enjoyed this place and actually returned the next morning before heading out of Coimbra.
Pastelaria Palmeira Rua da Sofia 13 Coimbra, Portugal
Right up the street on Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes is the local Mercado - Mercado Municipal Dom Pedro V.
Much like the markets in Lisbon and Evora, business seemed slow. It seems that places like this are starting to fade away with younger folks shopping at chain supermarkets.
The place is a multi-level affair, full of little kiosks, the seafood area separated from the other stands.
As you can see, nary a customer in sight. I'm wondering if it was just a timing thing?
I'm hoping it is, since it would be very sad to see a way of life change.......
Mercado Municipal Dom Pedro V Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes3000-303 Coimbra, Portugal
I did take my sweet old time here because I knew there was a steep hill in my future.....
*** This is a long one. I wouldn't mind at all if you just skipped to the food at the end of this post!
I was huffing and puffing up to "Old Town" like a wheezy old train when the Missus finally signaled a stop at this somewhat imposing Romanesque style building that looked like it a church....which, well, since it is Coimbra was one. This is the Cathedral of Coimbra, Sé Velha. The Cathedral is significant since it is the only Cathedral of the Romaneque style to have remained relatively unchanged from "Reconquista" times; the recapture of territory from the Muslims.
The structure is truly imposing, from the fortress like appearance to the battlement like notches on the roof. I'm guessing the folks around here still didn't feel completely safe from the Moors even after they had been chased out of the city.
The Main Chapel, dating from the late 15th century in the Gothic style is austere, but still quite grand in it's own way. Probably due to scale.
I actually found the side chapels to be more interesting. This one is the "Chapel of the Holy Sacrament" and was made by João de Ruão (Jean of Rouen) in 1566. It features statues of Jesus and his Apostles on the top ring and the Madonna on the bottom. I found it quite stunning and just loved the detail.
There are quite a few Tombs in the chapel as well. This one is of Jorge de Almeida who was Bishop of Coimbra in the 16th Century. Like I've said, here in the states, we talk generations and decades....in Europe it's about centuries..... And this one is from 480 years ago......
This weathered painting alludes to one of the miracles that led to her canonization as Saint Elizabeth. According to the story; Elizabeth was devoted to the poor and sick, often feeding and helping providing for them. One day, the Queen returned home, and found to her surprise the King had also come home. The King did not approve of her actions with the poor. Depending on the version, Elizabeth was either holding bread or coins in her skirt. When the King asked what she was hiding; the Queen, who much like another character from later in American history, could not tell a lie, lower her skirt, and miraculously, whatever it was she was holding, be it bread or coins, turned into roses!
We soon headed back up the hill and eventually passed through this gate.....
And ended up in a courtyard where the extreme whites almost blinded us!
This is the grand courtyard of Coimbra University. All the most well known and important locales within the University ring this courtyard.
The lonely looking statue of King John III stands in the courtyard.
The reflection of the clear blue sky made everything seem so much brighter up here. We'd return the next day and I'll do a more detailed post later on.
Naturally, the views on such a bright, clear clear day were stunning.
We made our way across the campus to the area right above the Mercado (another future post), which you can see in the bottom of this photo.
There's an "elevador" down to Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes where the mercado is located. Unfortunately, it was closed for repairs...sigh....
This meant a fairly interesting steep walk downhill for me. Actually, walking down seemed harder on my legs than the walk up. Go figure....
Remember the young Chinese girl who looked at me puffing up the hill with amusement? Well, we ran into her as we descended. Naturally, curiosity got the better of all parties and we stopped to talk, well not me really, since they chatted in Mandarin. She was from Macao studying Portuguese in Coimbra for a year. Though missing her family, she was enjoying her time in Coimbra.
Eventually we made our way down to street level and back around to busy Praca 8 de Maio and probably the most well known church in Coimbra, the Church of Santa Cruz (Igreja de Santa Cruz). The facade is quite impressive and there's a very popular cafe attached to the church. It also helps that this is probably the busiest part of the pedestrian only shopping area in Coimbra......without a doubt the best place for people watching. You got everything from the women with over-sized designer sunglasses, to the guy with the accordion, to the young man giving his beloved mutt a drink at the fountain in the plaza that fronted of the church.
We spent some time in the church, but by now all I wanted was a short break and a shower.....
We found our way back via the alley-like side streets and freshened up. Soon enough, it was dinner time and there was one place I had in mind.
Located close to the Mondrego River and the Hotel Astoria......
Down a nondescript alleyway, you'll probably find a bunch of people lined up. For what you may ask? Well, it's for a restaurant that's so popular, even the young lady from Macao knew of it called Ze Manel dos Ossos. Don't be surprised if you see laundry hanging a couple of floors above where you're standing.....
If you're confused already, have a look at the menu that's hanging outside the place.
Ready to order yet? Yet never fear.......dos Ossos is here!
Luckily, I had found the place pretty easy....there was an 50 pound hardwood charcoal bag with trash for pick-up on the street and I thought the place had to be close by. We were second in line. The guy in back of us said that he drives to Porto form Lisbon every month and always stops here. He then uttered the two words were heard several more times during our meals here, "very tipico".
The restaurant itself is very small, you'll be sitting elbow to elbow. The walls are amazing with notes written in every language taped to them....this would be, without a doubt, a post-it wonderland.
It's all guys working here......like they decided one day, "hey, let's make a restaurant". Mario is the frontman, he speaks English, and in the wonderfully refreshing way, will tell you when you've ordered enough, as in "it is enough for you, no need to have more!"
When we had planned our trip to Portugal, we had thought of the food being hearty, rustic, and comforting, and places like Ze Manel and Quarta-Feira surely answered the call.
I mean, just look at the bread.....
So......as you can deduce by my post on Capela dos Ossos....Ossos means "bones". The name of the place is Ze Manel dos Ossos and all the locals are getting Ossos, well except for the German couple who insisted on "beefsteak". So of course we got Ossos.
A huge plate of simmered pork bones, simply seasoned, edging on salty, perfect with the house wine. This had us picking through every nook and cranny of the porky, slightly sticky (from the connective tissue), and wonderful pork bones. This was really good.
I ordered the Chanfana, a roasted/stewed goat dish that is from this region.
My response to the first bite was, "whoa", this was nicely gamey, it really tasted deliciously of the pasture with touches of garlic and onions. The meat was pretty tender. The sides were simple, I loved the simple potatoes with olive oil and hated the beans which were cooked to death, which the Missus loved!
It was interesting, most of the customers were Portuguese. The table next to us pointed to out food and said that often heard phrase here, "very tipico".
Ze Manel dos Ossos Beco do Forno 12 Coimbra, Portugal
As I looked up at University of Coimbra from our hotel room, I found myself very happy that we chose Portugal as our destination for our vacation.
I know this post was very long, thanks for reading!
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.
The espresso must have done wonders, since I agreed with the Missus, and decided to forgo lunch. We'd
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!