October 22, 2012 – Coimbra and Cascais, Portugal

Today is a busy day. We want to visit Coimbra plus drive over 300 kilometers to our next hotel in Cascais. And it is threatening to rain. But stalwart adventurers that we are, we get it all done.

Bidding a fond farewell to to Amarante with its penis cookies, we hit the road through mist, fog, rain, pouring rain and sunshine to Coimbra. Originally a Roman city, Conimbriga was plundered by invading Germanic tribes in the 400s AD, occupied by the Moors in 711, and reconquered by Ferdinand I of Leon in 1064. In the mid-12th century it became the first capital of the new kingdom of Portugal. The University of Coimbra, whose team is known as the Hilltoppers (just kidding), was founded in 1290 in Lisbon and found a permanent home in Coimbra in 1537. It is high above the Mondego River and gives its students and visitors a real workout getting up to the libe. (Rutgers slang for library)

The U of Coimbra atop the hill

But before we visit the University with its magnificent library, we want to see the old cathedral. We find a parking lot with spaces so narrow that you are sweating before you even start to climb the hill. From the parking lot you cross the bridge and then begin the trek upward, sometimes on slanted cobbled stones and sometimes on giant stone steps. By the time we get to the top we are sweaty and out of breath. Wondering which way to go next, we look up and there is the cathedral. It is constructed in a golden stone and glows in the few moments of sun today.

The old cathedral in Coimbra was begun in the mid 12th century but experienced many renovations. The portal of the cathedral has Moorish influenced decorations. The exterior has fortress-like elements.

Moorish decorative elements

Exterior defensive windows and crenalated top

We go inside and are treated to an interior much as it would have been in the 16th century. It boasts a flamboyant Gothic altarpiece.

Flamboyant Gothic altarpiece

After enjoying our visit to the church and catching our breath from the incredibly steep climb up the hill, we move on to the University area. Our goal is to see the Biblioteca Joanina built in the 18th century during the reign of the Portuguese King João V. It is a fabulous result of form meeting function. The three rooms are tiered with ornate shelving holding 250,000 volumes of great historical value.

Old University plaza

John with King Joao

Mary with Coimbra landscape

Biblioteca Joanina

Interior of Biblioteca Joanina – We are not allowed to take pictures so this is one I got off the internet

Interesting factoid about the library, since this building was designed to be a library from the beginning, the walls are incredibly thick making the interior temperature and humidity perfect for books. Plus since insects are also the enemy of books, they have bats living in the library who patrol the space at night for insects. The tables are covered with leather so that the bat droppings can be easily disposed of. John suggests that guano duty is an undergraduate’s nightmare.

Next on the agenda, a little lunch. We opt for an outdoor cafe and against Portuguese food. We have a small margarita pizza and beer. The added Portuguese touch to the pizza? Olives with pits.

John and beer at lunch

The rest of the drive to Cascais takes a little over two hours. We are staying at the former home of the last Italian king which has been turned into a hotel. The room and bathroom are really nice. (Yay, real shower) But the best part is the view which looks out on the Atlantic Ocean. I am treated to a sunset over the Atlantic Ocean which is weird for someone from the Jersey shore.

Nice room

Great bathroom

Fabulous view!

[The reason there are so many pictures in this post is that the upload speed is lightning fast. After our last stop where I would go to breakfast hoping that my five pictures might upload by the time I got back, this is a real pleasure. I could not control my desire to upload a ton of pictures.]

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