May 9-10, Coimbra

Sheila's light head and upset stomach have returned, so we decided to spend the day in camp, hoping that whatever ails Sheila will pass by tomorrow. We discussed the trip and the fact that the cities and towns are beginning to run together in our minds and that old, narrow, cobblestone streets, medieval walls and castles, and cathedral are losing their novelty. I was almost relieved when Sheila said that she did not feel up to exploring Coimbra. We were tired and thinking that perhaps a 4 month trip is too long. I realize now that at least part of my ambivalence was related to seeing and doing too much, too fast and to feeling a sense of obligation to visit places simply because we are here and will probably not get the chance again. The long days of walking or driving eventually sap our energy, and that sense of obligation detracts from the pleasure of discovery.

May 10, Coimbra

Sheila was feeling better. The hills and valley surrounding the campsite were shrouded in mist and the sky heavily overcast but we took an early bus into Coimbra. Perhaps the best view of Coimbra is from across the river. From there the university which dominates the town's culture and economy also dominates the landscape. Sitting atop the hill, the main campus is simple but elegant, looking stately and noble. Beneath it, a warren of old cobblestone streets and stone buildings (mostly residences) cling to the steep slopes. We arrived early, the shop keepers were just opening, sweeping or washing the cobbles in front of the store, cleaning windows, and setting out their street displays. It is graduation week and remnants of last nights celebration litter the streets and stoops, empty beer bottles, plastic cups half full of beer, the smell of stale beer in the air, rolls of paper towels streamed like toilet paper, general litter, students kissing goodbye, and bleary eyed young men still carrying bottles or cups of beer wandering aimlessly. Founded in Lisbon in 1290, the university is one of the oldest in the world (nearly as old as Cambridge) but has been located at Coimbara since 1537. As is our routine, we explored on foot, up one steep, litter strewn, graffiti covered, narrow cobblestone street after another, backtracking until we stumbled on the main tourist walking route. Passing through the Arco e Torre de Almedina, the only surviving gate from the three that once led into the citadel, we entered the old part of Coimbra and climbed the picturesque Rua de Quebra-Costas (Street of the Breaking Back) apparently named from when instead of stairs, the hill was slick cobblestone. It took us to a square dominated by the Sé Velha (an old Romanesque cathedral). We circled around an up, arriving at the Alcaçova Palace perched atop the hill. The palace, has marked the centre of the university since its relocation to Coimbra in 1537. In the courtyard, gowned students greeted guests for the convocation as they had done for over 470 years. Like old Lisboa, old Coimbra seems to be in a state of decay, plaster is falling from stone walls, foundations are crumbling, windows boarded up from the inside are broken, cobblestone streets are potholed, and litter and graffiti are everywhere. Despite the age and decay of the buildings and streets, the political slogans, posters, and graffiti in the streets created a sense of 470+ years of continuity and transition from a community of ecclesiastical dogma to one of energy and committed scepticism.  We wandered around, looking coffee and eventually found our way back to the Sé Velha square and the Cafe Oasis. A few locals sat in the small cafe, an avuncular proprietor leaned on his glass display case beside an impressive looking professional coffee machine. We succumbed to the temptation of coffee and pastries. A middle-aged man sat at the window reading the local newspaper, two others sat at a one nearby, and three women occupied a table by the door. The proprietor nodded a greeting, the women returned our nods of greeting, and we took a table by the wall. The man at the window occasionally read something aloud. A brief discussion with the owner and the other men would ensue and he would return to reading. Two women chatted, occasionally joined by the third who mostly knitted. We did not understand a word, but the men appeared to be discussing sports and the women’s tone and gestures clearly spoke of someone not present. Working our away around and down the hill, we discovered the local market, a relatively new, multi-level concrete structure. Inside we found a multitude of stalls, many unoccupied, many nearly bare. Unlike markets at home, their contents are on open display, not behind glass counters. Not only can quality be judged by sight, but by smell texture, and firmness. The aromas of fish, meat, fresh fruits, spices, and flowers enhanced the experience of the market and spoke to the quality of the product. It was for us an unusual but intriguing design, and we were surprised and a little disappointed by the empty stalls and small inventory. We wished we could have visited on busier day. Outside the market, six large (2 m x 3m), beautifully executed contemporary azulejos (painted tile) murals of old Coimbra lined the cement retaining wall along the street but they were beginning to crack and fall away. Electric buses hummed past, a few students still garbed in cap and gown, elderly shoppers, and young men and women (probably students) were scattered along the sidewalks. Walking up the street to the Plaça Republica, through a tree lined promenade of sparkling fountains, large shade trees, and grassy areas, some buildings on either side were undergoing gentrification. Some were in an extreme state of decay, others were gutted, the facade refurbished but the interior an empty shell, still others finished and now occupied. The gentrification seemed to have stalled because we saw no work being done even on the refurbished shells and the completed ones were already beginning to look worn. At the plaça, small groups of students, some wearing black academic gowns, sat on the cobbles eating McDonald’s lunches. We looked for a place to eat but aside from Mc Donald’s and Pizza Hut, we could find only bars. Continuing back up the hill, we came upon an old Roman aqueduct, followed it a while but found no restaurant, gave up and descended rather precipitously to the river, surprised by just how high we had climbed and still hungry. Back near the bus station, we had lunch and then attempted to board our bus. The driver indicated that he was crossing the bridge, would circle around, and pick us up on the other side of the bridge approach. We waited and waited, sweating in the sun, which had emerged around noon, sweat soaked clothes clinging to our bodies and finally, finally, the bus arrived, same bus, same driver! My feelings about Portugal, Lisboa and Coimbra in particular are changing. Clearly the country is in economic trouble and shows it much more than did Spain. Sheila is uncomfortable with the lack of "maintenance"  decaying buildings, litter, graffiti, unkempt campgrounds, etc. but I am beginning to feel more comfortable with it. I find it more gritty, perhaps more interesting than clean prosperous Barcelona, or the immaculately renovated Medieval residential hill towns of Catalonia. I think, perhaps, that we have done Lisbon and Coimbra a disservice by leaving so soon but we are feeling citied out and need the country to rejuvenate.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map The ancient university crowns Coimbra. Morning goodbye, Coimbra Commencement, University of Coimbra Commencement, University of Coimbra Public market, Coimbra Murals decorate the Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes. Students gather over MacDonalds and Pizza Hut take-away.

May 9-10, Coimbra

Sheila's light head and upset stomach have returned, so we decided to spend the day in camp, hoping that whatever ails Sheila will pass by tomorrow. We discussed the trip and the fact that the cities and towns are beginning to run together in our minds and that old, narrow, cobblestone streets, medieval walls and castles, and cathedral are losing their novelty. I was almost relieved when Sheila said that she did not feel up to exploring Coimbra. We were tired and thinking that perhaps a 4 month trip is too long. I realize now that at least part of my ambivalence was related to seeing and doing too much, too fast and to feeling a sense of obligation to visit places simply because we are here and will probably not get the chance again. The long days of walking or driving eventually sap our energy, and that sense of obligation detracts from the pleasure of discovery.

May 10, Coimbra

Sheila was feeling better. The hills and valley surrounding the campsite were shrouded in mist and the sky heavily overcast but we took an early bus into Coimbra. Perhaps the best view of Coimbra is from across the river. From there the university which dominates the town's culture and economy also dominates the landscape. Sitting atop the hill, the main campus is simple but elegant, looking stately and noble. Beneath it, a warren of old cobblestone streets and stone buildings (mostly residences) cling to the steep slopes. We arrived early, the shop keepers were just opening, sweeping or washing the cobbles in front of the store, cleaning windows, and setting out their street displays. It is graduation week and remnants of last nights celebration litter the streets and stoops, empty beer bottles, plastic cups half full of beer, the smell of stale beer in the air, rolls of paper towels streamed like toilet paper, general litter, students kissing goodbye, and bleary eyed young men still carrying bottles or cups of beer wandering aimlessly. Founded in Lisbon in 1290, the university is one of the oldest in the world (nearly as old as Cambridge) but has been located at Coimbara since 1537. As is our routine, we explored on foot, up one steep, litter strewn, graffiti covered, narrow cobblestone street after another, backtracking until we stumbled on the main tourist walking route. Passing through the Arco e Torre de Almedina, the only surviving gate from the three that once led into the citadel, we entered the old part of Coimbra and climbed the picturesque Rua de Quebra- Costas (Street of the Breaking Back) apparently named from when instead of stairs, the hill was slick cobblestone. It took us to a square dominated by the Sé Velha (an old Romanesque cathedral). We circled around an up, arriving at the Alcaçova Palace perched atop the hill. The palace, has marked the centre of the university since its relocation to Coimbra in 1537. In the courtyard, gowned students greeted guests for the convocation as they had done for over 470 years. Like old Lisboa, old Coimbra seems to be in a state of decay, plaster is falling from stone walls, foundations are crumbling, windows boarded up from the inside are broken, cobblestone streets are potholed, and litter and graffiti are everywhere. Despite the age and decay of the buildings and streets, the political slogans, posters, and graffiti in the streets created a sense of 470+ years of continuity and transition from a community of ecclesiastical dogma to one of energy and committed scepticism.  We wandered around, looking coffee and eventually found our way back to the Sé Velha square and the Cafe Oasis. A few locals sat in the small cafe, an avuncular proprietor leaned on his glass display case beside an impressive looking professional coffee machine. We succumbed to the temptation of coffee and pastries. A middle- aged man sat at the window reading the local newspaper, two others sat at a one nearby, and three women occupied a table by the door. The proprietor nodded a greeting, the women returned our nods of greeting, and we took a table by the wall. The man at the window occasionally read something aloud. A brief discussion with the owner and the other men would ensue and he would return to reading. Two women chatted, occasionally joined by the third who mostly knitted. We did not understand a word, but the men appeared to be discussing sports and the women’s tone and gestures clearly spoke of someone not present. Working our away around and down the hill, we discovered the local market, a relatively new, multi-level concrete structure. Inside we found a multitude of stalls, many unoccupied, many nearly bare. Unlike markets at home, their contents are on open display, not behind glass counters. Not only can quality be judged by sight, but by smell texture, and firmness. The aromas of fish, meat, fresh fruits, spices, and flowers enhanced the experience of the market and spoke to the quality of the product. It was for us an unusual but intriguing design, and we were surprised and a little disappointed by the empty stalls and small inventory. We wished we could have visited on busier day. Outside the market, six large (2 m x 3m), beautifully executed contemporary azulejos (painted tile) murals of old Coimbra lined the cement retaining wall along the street but they were beginning to crack and fall away. Electric buses hummed past, a few students still garbed in cap and gown, elderly shoppers, and young men and women (probably students) were scattered along the sidewalks. Walking up the street to the Plaça Republica, through a tree lined promenade of sparkling fountains, large shade trees, and grassy areas, some buildings on either side were undergoing gentrification. Some were in an extreme state of decay, others were gutted, the facade refurbished but the interior an empty shell, still others finished and now occupied. The gentrification seemed to have stalled because we saw no work being done even on the refurbished shells and the completed ones were already beginning to look worn. At the plaça, small groups of students, some wearing black academic gowns, sat on the cobbles eating McDonald’s lunches. We looked for a place to eat but aside from Mc Donald’s and Pizza Hut, we could find only bars. Continuing back up the hill, we came upon an old Roman aqueduct, followed it a while but found no restaurant, gave up and descended rather precipitously to the river, surprised by just how high we had climbed and still hungry. Back near the bus station, we had lunch and then attempted to board our bus. The driver indicated that he was crossing the bridge, would circle around, and pick us up on the other side of the bridge approach. We waited and waited, sweating in the sun, which had emerged around noon, sweat soaked clothes clinging to our bodies and finally, finally, the bus arrived, same bus, same driver! My feelings about Portugal, Lisboa and Coimbra in particular are changing. Clearly the country is in economic trouble and shows it much more than did Spain. Sheila is uncomfortable with the lack of "maintenance"  decaying buildings, litter, graffiti, unkempt campgrounds, etc. but I am beginning to feel more comfortable with it. I find it more gritty, perhaps more interesting than clean prosperous Barcelona, or the immaculately renovated Medieval residential hill towns of Catalonia. I think, perhaps, that we have done Lisbon and Coimbra a disservice by leaving so soon but we are feeling citied out and need the country to rejuvenate.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map