630-632: Coimbra in 3 days!

 630 – Thursday 16th – Coimbra 1 – Orientation

Coimbra (pronounced Koyimbra) is very special. One of the best places we have seen in Portugal, definitely – well worth a 3 night stay.  2 days of hot sunshine and 1 day of showers and colder – woolly hat weather for that day.  Free parking by the Rio Mondego – lots of vans unsurprisingly – and a short walk to the city centre along the river – free rein for OscarK9…  

Easy orientation walking for day 1 – the Botanical Gardens are a haven of tranquility – and the fountain flowed in the river…a very peaceful evening.  

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The very convenient pedestrian walkway from our parking … a couple of lads were throwing themselves off – they confirmed the water is very cold!  It’s the Pedro and Ines bridge … but I don’t think chilly waters and a very sad love story are connected.

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The Botanical Gardens with the aquaduct. 

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631 – Friday 17th – Coimbra 2 – Town walk

We saw tears and love at the fountains – poor Ines – how can you murder someone twice in the same city?  Monastery Santa Clara, a Lilliputian Garden and an Igreja before the Santa Cruz cafe for wine – and the most beautiful impromptu open air music performance in the square below… 

The old Cathedral and the new – mixtures of Manuellian and Baroque – lots of steep hills and steps – good training for all 3 of us…

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Quinta da Lagrimas Gardens – The Fountain of Tears.  The guide said this is THE spot where Ines was murdered at the behest of her father in law, the King.  The red lichen only turned red after her blood flowed!  I just have to wonder if the mad passion Pedro felt (such as exhumation and making subjects kiss her decaying hand) would have survived a longer and more normal course… I just feel that real love deepens despite learning each other’s flaws and foibles, but is not all consuming.

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But what!?  The Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery claims that THIS was where poor Ines lost her life.  She was buried here until exhumed.  The Monastery had to evacuated as it kept flooding and was only fully excavated and made watertight in the late 1990’s.

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We decided not to pay the high fee to go into the Portugal dos Pequentos (Portugal for the Little Ones), even though the child sized Portuguese monuments sounded interesting.    It was built only in 1940 under the Estado Novo (Salazar regime).  

If we ever end up towing behind Jez – we want a Booze Wagon!

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Igreja Sao Bartolomeu – the site has been used for liturgical use for over 1000 years.

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Originally part of the Santa Cruz Monastery, it became a famous cafe in the 1920’s … we just had to sample a little white wine … 

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The Interior of the Cafe Santa Cruz … the roof was impressive and the stained glass came later.

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Igreja de Santa Cruz:  Interior of the former Santa Cruz Monastery church … handed to the locals as a church after the Portuguese Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1834 … as they’d all got too powerful!  Either side of the alter are the ornate tombs of the first two Kings – Alfonso Henriques and his son, Sancho I.  Another case of a subsequent heir, feeling the existing tombs did not fully dignify their importance and had them exhumed and interred here.  Apparently the bodies had hardly decomposed … not sure how long after death … but no one had to kiss their hands!!!

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The main reason we chose the Cafe Santa Cruz for a wee glass (or two) … some of the students wearing their traditional year 2 & 3 uniform performing beautiful ballads.  Check out the chap doing map leaps.

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Would that be glass number 2, Mr C? ….

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… While O waits patiently.  A pose he seems to have perfected!

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Is it a castle?  No, the Old cathedral – Se Velha.  We did not go fully in due to the costly EUR2.50 each … built under Alfonso Henriques, the first King.  Too small, so a larger church was used …

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… Interior of the Se Nova C16, but owned by the Jesuits, until they were expelled in C18.  Unattractive exterior, but Baroque madness inside … so many cherubs.


632 – Saturday 18th – Coimbra 3 – The University & Museum

Up and at ‘em at dawn – for us, anyway 0730 hours – dog walk and minibrekkie – Oscarusualbrekkie.  Then, we left him in the van alone at 0900 – sorry Oscar.  We know he has left the WSSU Union and transferred to Younight – not Unysign Union – he was unhappy with his subscription level – 5% of his dogfood – per month!  His secretary is no longer Dai – it’s now Hai (you know what’s coming next, folks) Yundai!  Sorry – it just had to be.  It could have been – Toy Yota – or Ma Asda, even.  But not ‘Hill ManImp’. Enough – back to topic, please.

After the sun – came the rain and colder weather.  0930 hours at the University – timed ticket for the Library – anyone could study in this atmosphere – amazing, again.  The whole area of the Library, Chapel and Palace is unlike anything we’ve seen – the top University in Portugal, it is said.  Some of the structures (replaced under Salazar) are very Mussolini-ish but good lines.

The National Museum is on many floors – starting with the Roman Cryptoporticus – underground – at a junction joining 2 main roads – 2 thousand years ago.  Art, paintings, sculptures… maybe a bit much of the dark religious depictions – a la the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence – but of it’s time.  Small discovery – 15th Century alabaster – much favoured for sculpture – best supply in Europe – England – and specifically – Nottingham! 

3 course lunch across the river – under outdoor cover – heavy rain at times – we were dry, luckily.  We did the menu proud – eh, Katherine? (Yes, I over ate – mine and J’s leftovers!)

Now there’s this bar on the north side of the river – we have some minor difficulty passing it without stopping (our third visit in 3 days!) – no such problem this time!  We met a birthday girl – Hannah and her family – all much taken with our boy, Oscar – who isn’t?

Back to Jez for R&R – a fabulous time in Coimbra.



Porta Ferrea (Iron Gate) – the entrance to the old part of the University.  C17, topped with the female figure of wisdom two kings either side – Dinis and Joao III; the founder and a major investor / developer.


Entrances off the Paco das Escolas to the Library, Chapel and Palace.  Originally the Royal Palace of the first King Alfonso Henriques.  

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No pix allowed in the library, so an internet image.  Joao III was asked for a new room for the expanding library … he liked to large things up (he had Mafra built with its amazing library) so he gave them a whole new building on several floors.  The upper is the show case with every artistic feature from coats of arms to chinoiserie paintings, the middle is plain for more serious study and the basement is the academic prison.  Yep,  Universities administered their own law, but students could only be interred for a week.  I wonder what penalty non submission of homework would warrant?


St Michael’s Chapel C15- the organ (2000 sounds) and the beautiful tiles stand out.  Nice that the chapel is still in use – there’s a service every day at midday.  


Inside what was the Royal Palace – the Sala dos Capelos or Ceremonial Hall.  Originally the Throne Hall, this is where the University holds its official ceremonies, such as awarding Doctorates and opening the academic year.  A bit intimidating for the candidates, but this is where PhD oral examinations (viva voce) are held.


The Private Examination Room with 38 past Chancellors images.


 The Bell Tower 1753 is the highest point in the city.  It is 15 minutes slow and of its three bells one is called the cabra – the goat.  So named as first year students had to prance like goats at the end of the day or have older students pounce on them.  Students have removed it’s clanger to prevent it reminding them to go to bed and arise in time for studies!  This courtyard originally had all the classrooms off, but under the Marquis of Pombal, the number of faculties was increased from Cannons, Law, Letters (grammar and philosophy) and Medicine. 


Salazar had many of the old buildings replaced with these square edifices in the 1940s.


The Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro is housed in what was the Bishop’s Palace.  It sits on top of a Roman cryptoporti – being atop a hill, the Romans needed more level land for a Forum, so they built a two tier archway support, which has been excavated.  The rest of the museum included some of the best stone and wooden sculptures … really well laid out.


Inside the cryptoporti.



Some of the finest Alabaster – all the way from … Nottingham.


Life size terracotta 12 apostles that had been made for the Santa Clara convent.  


View down to the old Cathedral.


Lunch and the grey skies and rain have returned.

622-624: Prisoners and Murdered Lovers

 622 – Wednesday 8th February 2017:  Penitents of Peniche

AM and K leaped into action – running shoes and kit on and Oscar at the ready – off they went for a 4km run – the furthest she has run for weeks/months?  I (excuse coming up, James?) rested my brawn, brain and back!  As the parking area was free – quite a few vans – we decided to stay 2 nights and enjoy the area.  We walked into town after breakfast – coffee and custard cake…  I had slept badly so I retired to have a sleep catch up – K and O has a marathon walk – about 11km in all.  Afternoon – I had revived myself and we perambulated to Dictator Salazar’s notorious prison for his political prisoners……  Oscar’s thoughts ringing in our ears “They’ve blankety blank left me again in the van – I’m no political poisoner – I vote Plaid Crumbly in Wales and the Deservative Party in England”!  We can see an Omail going to the Union, again…

A truly grim reminder of what happened only about 40-50 years ago – and not just in Portugal…

The town Lace Museum was a gem – including a very informative film with English sub titles.

Supper was sardines, we think, bought from the fisherman who knocked at the door last night.  He tried to sell us a massive bag for EUR10, but what would we do with that much fish?

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Peniche women supplemented the household income with bobbin lace making.
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The rocky cost had massive waves breaking with a periodic ‘boom’ as they hit the rock.

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Oscar and I had the odd shower from the spray.

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I was so close to the Lighthouse, I kept going …. it looked closer than it was and then there was the rest of the peninsula to walk … fine on a non-back-to-running-day.

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From the light house viewing platform, I could see the nature reserve islands of Berlenga.

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The approach to the Fortress – this was the sight Salazar’s political prisoners would have first seen of their new ‘home’’.  Originally a C16 castle, it has also seen service as a refuge for soldiers from the Boer War, a temporary home in 1970’s for refugees from newly independent African Portuguese colonies and now the town museum.  The council seized a vacant moment in the 1980’s to locate the town museum here.

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Visitors were ‘received’ by the prisoners here.

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Some of the prison cells overlooking the exercise yard.

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A number of inmates effected an escape in 1960, but we could find out very little as most of the info was only in Portuguese, except that Alvaro Cunhal went to Russia and was the Head of the Portuguese Communist Party.  He later served in the government.

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Drying fish in town.

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At the Lace museum there were some superb examples.  To keep the skills being handed down, there is a Lace Making School with classes for all ages.  I watched an older lady deftly spin and twist the bobbins.  Not for me … too complicated – I’m still regularly unpicking my jumper

623 – Thursday 9th February:  Touristy Obidos

Question for our reader(s?) – how many of you have stripped stark naked and showered in a supermarket car park?  That many?  Well, we did it (showered, that is!) in the Intermarche car park – do we need to say it was in the van?  Otherwise, we might have seen the inside of the Penichenciary…  K arranged more philaundering as we bathed….

All motorhome services at Intermarche as well – fully serviced and cleaned – we set the compass for Obidos.  Our overnight parking App showed a nice small aire with services right beside the town – and a ‘trace’ of UK vans – well, if 2 is a brace – why not 3 for a ‘trace’.  One motorhomer chap turned out to be a Chicago Cubs fellow-fan.

Oscar accompanied us to the town – simple and lovely (yes, Oscar – you are lovely) – lived in and lively. Lots of Ginga sellers but nowhere to sit outside for a nip. Nice walking around the perimetre and at last we saw some tables outside for a glass of vinho – just as we finished, the rains came down – hotfoot back to Jez.  It rained cats and dogs (where does that come from, Oscar?) during the night – prompted by my cooking? Maybe not. I produced (eventually) a Risotto for 2 very small people (Lilyputian portions) – not my finest culinary hours!  It will get better, James…

Sleep – and rain…

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Porta da Vila with C18 tiles and the initial evidence of ‘touristy’.

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All along the street the sour cherry liqueur Ginja was being sold.  There are 3 main producers locally, but none were offering tours – I had emailed two!

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Walking the walls was an option, but not one that J agreed to take!  Something to do with heights and lack of barrier.

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The Pousada occupied the castle at one end of the town … liked the look of the dining room window, but that was as close as we got, given a main dish was around EUR31!

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Is that my boy coming in for a cuddle?

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A number of book shops in the town; this one inside a church.

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The Pillory is docrorated with a fishing net, the emblem of Dona Leonor (wife of Joao II) to commemorate the fishermen who tried to save her drowning son.  The Santa Maria church is where the future Alfonso V was married to his cousin, Isabel in 1441.  Not remarkable in that, except that he was 10 and she only 8!

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Inside more beautiful blue tiles and the wooden celling was painted by Josefa de Obidos in 1661, unusually a female painter when the only ‘careers’ for women were wife, mother or nun!

 624 – Friday 10th February:   Alcobaca and Porto de Mos

Alcobaca has the largest church in Portugal – the nave is 60 metres long and 23 metres wide – really simple design – very effective.  The Cistercian monks developed into a more corpulent community a special door led to the refectory – if you didn’t fit through – you fasted!  K could fit – our slimmer of the year, Katherine.  The sheer scale is immense – royal lovers buried side by side – murder, intrigue, heart eating, decomposed hand kissing – just like the Conservative Party Annual Conference in Somethingbourne…

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Another impressive exterior.  Building started in 1178 and the monks were given a lot of land to farm.  40 years later the monastery estate had become one of the richest and most powerful.  At one point there were 999 monks, not sure of the significance of the 999, and a whole new cloister wing was built for novices.

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The church interior is refreshingly simple.

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Tomb of Dona Ines.  There is a matching one for Dom Pedro – a true Romeo and Juliet story.  Pedro fell in love with one of his wife’s ladies in waiting, but even after he was widowed, his father Dom Alfonso IV forbade the marriage, as Ines had Spanish connections. The King ordered her murder unaware that the two lovers had already secretly married.  Two years later when Pedro succeeded to the tHorne, he exacted his gruesome revenge … he ripped out the hearts of the murderers and …. ate them!  He exhumed Ines and crowned her body and then …. made the court pay homage to her by kissing her decomposing hand!

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Liking the Manueline style.

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Whilst the monks ate they were read biblical scripts from this pulpit.

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J won’t you come closer to the edge, dear?  No, don’t … you’re not insured!

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Squeeze in!  If the monks didn’t fit through the doorway, then were put on a starvation diet.  Having said that William Beckford (British artist and bon viveur, who owned Monsarrate in Sintra, which we visited) was shocked at the ‘perpetual gormandising … the fat wadling monks and sleek friars with wanton eyes …’.

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The massive kitchen chimney … Beckford wrote ‘the most distinguished temple of gluttony in all Europe”.  Under scaffolding there was a pool diverted from the Rio Alcoa, which provided not only water for cooking and washing, but fresh fish.

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The Cloister of Silence.  The lower part from 1300’s and the upper Manueline from 1500’s.

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Nightly bivouac in a free parking (alone) outside the Porto de Mos Bombeiros – fire service – will they test the sirens during the night?  K walked to the Castle while I cleaned a bit and deleted some photos – and guitar practice – fingers are getting the hard skin that I need – to play at the Old Oprey – not!

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The C13 castle – much restored so that it has a Disney-esque look.  The green roof tiles are echoed in houses’ doors and shutters.

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I followed the signs to the castle spring … sadly neglected and abused.

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Sao Antonio chapel – shut, but I peered through to glimpse the C17 tiles.