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Portugal Day 6: Batlioteca and the Footsteps of the Romans

overcast 69 °F

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Walking up to the University of Coimbra was a bit of a climb, but we were able to get there pretty quickly using a direct route up stairs.
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Many of the buildings at the university date from the mid twentieth century, and were built under the rule of António de Oliveira Salazar, the dictator of Portugal who had been a professor at the University. These buildings, our AirBnB host told us, are controversial because houses were demolished to build them. They have a very uniform feel, and seem to form an imposing entry towards the old square of the University.
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Views of the old square, which is located in a former royal palace.
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Us in the square.
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The first part of our tour: knocking on the door of the chapel.
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Inside São Miguel chapel. It was a royal chapel but is now used by the university. They have masses regularly, which prevents tours from going through, but we were able to go in.
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A striking picture of the courtyard.
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The Joanine Library, which also includes the Academic Prison. The prison was used when students and faculty were convicted of crimes in order to prevent university scholars from having to associate with “common criminals.” The lower level of the library is used for storage of older books. The upper level is the room where students would have studied, and where there are beautifully decorated shelves and paintings. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures in that room. It is also famous because there are bats that eat the insects that could damage the books. The bats live behind the shelves and eat moths and other insects at night. Pieces of paper are set down on the tables to protect them from bat guano.
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The inside of the royal palace. One large room is used today for students who are defending dissertations: there was a student doing so when we toured.
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Some last views of Coimbra before we left. Also, a couple pictures of our car and our AirBnB.
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Next we visited the Roman ruins of Conimbriga. Coimbra is named after Conimbriga (in Roman times Coimbra was called Aeminium, and was renamed when Conimbriga was razed by the Suebi and the residents fled to Aeminium.
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The ruins are fascinating: baths, houses, mosaics, and other buildings.
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The Roman influence continues, in the form of gelato.
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We then drove to Porto. We are staying at the House of Sandeman, located immediately above their tasting room and port cellars. Our room is very nice and comfortable, despite the somewhat creepy painting.
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Porto is beautiful. At night, it feels like a city for making plots and schemes.
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We went out for dinner and a couple drinks. Catherine tried bacalhau com natas (cod with cream) for the first time, and really liked it. It was a beautiful night of talking and walking near the river. We can’t wait to see more of Porto tomorrow.

Posted by danielcatherine 12:40 Archived in Portugal Tagged palace bridge university port royal porto library bats chapel romans coimbra gelato conimbriga sandeman Comments (0)

Portugal Day 4: A Marvãolous Adventure

sunny 80 °F

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We started our day by taking a taxi to the airport. We saw the somewhat less fashionable side of Lisbon on our drive, but also got nice views of the river. When we arrived at the Europcar office, they appeared to be closed. There was a sign saying that we should go to the office in the main terminal, so we did. Once we were there, they were very helpful. They didn’t have a car with WiFi like we had ordered, but they did find us one with a built-in navigation system that was a little larger than we had originally booked. We set out from Lisbon towards the east, heading first for the former Templar castle of Almourol.

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Before we arrived in Almourol we stopped in the little town of Tancos, where there is a restaurant called Restaurante Almourol. We strolled around the grassy area by the River Tagus, then went to the restaurant. This was an adventure all its own.the restaurant was very nice, but no one seemed to speak English. I told the waitress “Não falo Português” to which she replied “Mas percebes bem” and continued in Portuguese. The menu also was entirely in Portuguese. We ended up using Google Translate, which yielded that one of the menu items was “bunny” and that another was “potato punch.” So that was unhelpful. We ended up just ordering. We got fried river fish with rice and beans. Neither of us usually eat a lot of fish,but it was a good meal.
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Some views across the river to the towns on the other side. There was a beautiful view from our restaurant.
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The castle was a fortress used by the Knights Templar during the crusades. It formed part of a defensive line along the Tagus during the Portuguese Reconquista. It is a beautiful castle, and it’s fascinating to see how it would have been when the Tagus was the dividing line between the Christians and the Muslims.
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Some amazing views around the castle. We were able to climb the staircases and look out from the walls. The river is much narrower on the northern side of the island. It seems like a very defensible position since it is surrounded by water, but it is obviously better protected from the south, which of course is where the Moors were.
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The castle as we left in the boat. We missed the boat we were supposed to take, but thankfully it came back a few minutes later.
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After that, we went further East to the walled hilltop city of Marvão. It is near the border with Spain and had been used to defend against invasion. It is beautiful, and reminded us quite a bit of San Gimignano in Italy. There are narrow streets, hills, ancient fortresses and churches, and a cafe that sells gelato.
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The curious kittens of Marvão.
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There is a beautiful garden near the castle made up mostly of hydrangeas, Catherine’s favorite flowers. The garden has a beautiful view of the surrounding area, and you can see the surrounding valleys in Spain and Portugal.
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More of Marvão.
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A tactile model of the city.
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Gelato from the cafe.
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Given how close we were to Spain, we decided to go in. There was a former border checkpoint that was entirely unmanned, and the only signal that we had left Portugal and entered Spain was this sign. We went in to a gas station and got some snacks, and it was intriguing that all of the packaging was in Spanish. The linguistic nature of the border is fascinating: the cashier at the gas station spoke something that sounded like Portuguese to locals at she knew, but perfect Spanish to strangers.
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We then followed the GPS to Coimbra. Our AirBnB host, João, was waiting at a cafe. We met him and found a parking spot, then got everything set up in the room. We then met João at the tapas restaurant across the street from our flat. He gave us advice about what to do in Coimbra: he was a wealth of information about the city and the various things we could see. He left us to have a late dinner and listen to the singing of the Hungarian university officials in the next room (there is a sports competition between European universities going on in Coimbra).
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Our dinner, including a bottle of wine from our waiter’s hometown in the Douro valley.
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Our dessert: lime pie and a 1985 port.
We spent a long time visiting with our waiter, the Hungarians (who bought us a round of a Portuguese liqueur), and a few others who stayed in the restaurant late. We learned some Hungarian drinking songs and chatted with the waiter about the town, life in Portugal, and numerous other topics. It was a wonderful night. We went back across the street to our room at around 4 in the morning. We feel so lucky to be able to have these adventures and talk to such interesting people!

Posted by danielcatherine 03:56 Archived in Portugal Tagged castles fish adventure rice port wine kittens tapas coimbra lime beans talk marvão almourol Comments (3)

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