Coimbra: Day One

The hotel in Tomar was really nice. I went down to the breakfast around 7:30 to grab some coffee before heading to the little hotel gym for a quick workout. As those who travel in Europe know, the breakfast buffets are pretty lavish compared to the meager breakfasts on offer in most American hotels and motels. And, they’re included in the price of the room. Most of them have high quality espresso machines, so I usually get two cappuccinos and two shots of espresso. I crave early coffee, but never drink it later in the day. There were several tours staying at the hotel so the mainly senior crowd had to get up at dawn to head out for the day’s touring. At the espresso machine, several befuddled guests weren’t sure which buttons to push, so I stepped in and did it for them. Hopefully, someone will return the favor for me in the not too distant future!

The train ride to Coimbra was a two-step affair, with a change in Entroncamento. During the second leg I saw some areas that had been burned during the summer’s apocalyptic fires. They looked like eucalyptus trees, which, from my experience living in California, explode during wildfires.

While waiting for my Uber at the Coimbra station, I spoke with a young couple waiting for theirs. I said “you’re from Canada” and they replied “how could you tell?”. I replied “I always can tell” and we chuckled.

When I arrived at my hotel, I was a bit dismayed by its exterior and the fact that it was on a busy street. Uh oh, I though. Noise! When I got to the room, however, it was quite modern and had double glazed windows and air conditioning, so the outside noise was barely discernible. Ricardo, the manager, brought me a fan for white noise.

I wanted to wait till the early evening before heading out so I took a nap. After grabbing my stuff, I walked up an extremely steep hill to the University of Coimbra, one of Europe’s oldest, founded in 1290. It has an enrollment of 30,000 and is one of the top universities. The campus is beautiful and its massive and multi-tiered botanical gardens are far superior to Lisbon’s. In addition to the earlier architecture, the history faculty and the main library are built in the Art Deco monumental style, with socialist realism-type statues of powerful half-naked men and women. Unsurprisingly, these were constructed under Salazar in the 30’s. This style wasn’t at all just relegated to fascist and authoritarian regimes. Examples abound in the US as well; for example, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and the Hoover Dam, to mention a few.

The university district also contains several notable churches, including the “new” cathedral and museums. I’ll have to revisit tomorrow and explore more deeply.

I wasn’t in the mood for a lengthy heavy dinner, so I stopped at a little outdoor place on the walk down to the Baixo, or lower town. It was rather quiet, so I sat near a young couple and we struck up a conversation. They had ordered a salad with figs and other tasty vegetables, so I did the same. They were visiting from their home in the Lake District in the north of England and they’d just arrived from Porto. They felt that Porto is overrated and really isn’t worth more than three nights. They were disappointed that 75% of the buildings in the central area had been built since WW2. They told me they were renovating a 300-year old farmhouse and they showed me photos. Jamie, the husband, was doing much of the renovation himself. We all decided to order a tawny Port but our server, who strangely enough didn’t speak English, thought tawny Port meant tonic and Port. He graciously took that witches’ brew back and brought us what we’d been expecting.

After bidding one another good-bye, I headed home, but was lured into an amazing chocolate shop. I bought some dark chocolate with ginger and another small slab with orange and walnuts. I also bought a bottle of tawny Port, hoping to have a glass with a little of the chocolate. While I was waiting, the young attendant was gift-wrapping some chocolate for a nice couple from America but couldn’t manage to tie the bow, so I gallantly stepped in to finish it for him. The Americans gave me a chocolate bar, which I shared with two American women who were perusing the chocolate offerings. I could comment more about these patrons but suffice it to say that I had a good chuckle after leaving the shop!

I decided to leave the Port for another day since I was afraid that it might leak during travel.

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