“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I still have to go, the more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough; to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” Anthony Bourdain
I was to meet my sister in Porto in a few days, so I took the opportunity to stop in Coimbra. I booked at Hotel Domas. Their information stated that it was across the street from the train station. Perfect, I thought. It will be easy to catch the train to Porto. After a couple of hours of travel Lisbon, I arrived at the Coimbra station. Everyone got off the train. This was a good sign that I was in the right place. Wrong. I walked towards the street and looked for the hotel. Nothing. I couldn’t see anything that resembled a hotel or a restaurant. So, I walked a bit further to the taxi stand. I asked a taxi driver where I would find the Hotel Domas. He said that it was downtown Coimbra. I explained that the hotel was supposed to be across the street from the train station. He said that is correct, but it is Coimbra “A” station. I needed to take another train to that location. So I took a taxi to the hotel. It was a 10-minute ride. Much easier.
Coimbra is home to Portugal’s most prestigious University and its first. The University is located on a steep hilltop. I decided to walk. I was not sure how far I had gone, but I was huffing and puffing my way up. I met a couple coming down and asked them if this was the right road to the University. They responded, yes. I asked them how much further. They said, “oh, you are about halfway.” Oh wow. So, I took a few minutes to catch my breath and take a picture of part of the steep road. Once I arrived, the view and the University’s buildings were astonishing. It is still traditional that students attend class in black robes and capes. They also have a set of rites and practices called the Codigo de praxe. Some of the rites and practices have been changed, such as curfew. It was 6:00 pm, but now it is set at midnight. The 16th to 18th-century buildings, all set around a vast courtyard, makes an impressive setting. I would feel very inspired if I were to study there.
One of the main attractions at the University is the library. You pay a small fee for tickets and wait for about 20 minutes as only about a dozen people in at a time are allowed in. It is beyond description. You are not permitted to take pictures but can buy postcards of the library in their store at the University. As for the rest of the University, you can explore on your own or with a guide. Allow time to explore the University and beyond. There is also an attractive garden down the street from there. Well worth the effort.
I always like to try local food and restaurants that are not set up for tourists. I asked the staff at the hotel, and they recommended a restaurant only a couple of blocks from the hotel. So off I went to find the restaurant. I followed their directions down a narrow street only to find myself in an open area with a table and two chairs in the middle — nothing else. I looked around and could not see a restaurant. Upon further inspection, down an opening, I saw a meat display case. As I got closer, I spied a restaurant on my right. This was not a tourist destination. I took a seat and explained to the waiter what I was looking for, something authentic. I got my wish! I was served this wonderful meal of lamb that had been braising all day in a broth. Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t fully understand everything he was saying about the dish. My mouth waters just with the memory of it. The only sad part was that the portion was so big I couldn’t finish it or take it back to my hotel.
I decided to go to a Fado concert. It was very different from any of the shows in Lisbon. Men in black capes, usually university students, traditionally do the singing. It was very good, but I preferred the Lisbon version.
Portugal dos Pequenitos is a theme park that has doll-house size buildings that are versions of Portugal’s famous monuments and buildings. Obviously, I am not a child, but I had a fun afternoon exploring the buildings and the garden. The children I saw were having a blast. There is a small store where you can purchase drinks and snacks.
There are quaint shopping areas and other sights to see. But, I did not have time in my two days to see and do everything — next time.