I liked the IBIS hotel in Coimbra and I especially liked the breakfast, it wasn’t expensive but it was expansive and I probably managed to eat rather more than I should have.
In between return trips to the buffet table we debated our options for the day. I wanted to return to the University and take the tours but Kim wasn’t keen so we compromised. I would go to the University in the morning and Kim would find the shops and then we would meet later for lunch.
So we left the hotel and at the busy square went our separate ways and I made the climb to the top for a second time. I went straight to the University to purchase my ticket because visits are timed and I wanted to get in there early. I needn’t have panicked because early in the morning it wasn’t that busy and I bought a ticket for fifteen minutes later.
I purchased the tour which included the Joanina Library and took my place in the line of people waiting for the same time slot.
Built in the eighteenth century it is a National Monument and has priceless historical value being the main tourist attraction in Coimbra. The building has three floors and contains about two hundred and fifty thousand volumes and being someone who loves books this place is a little bit of heaven. The collection dates from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and represents the finest works from Europe at the time on the subjects of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology.
For old books they are in remarkably good condition, I have books in my own collection which are barely thirty years old and are badly foxed and falling apart. This is the result of strict atmospheric control, nothing modern however just down to the original construction, thick exterior walls and bookcases which are made of oak which is a dense wood that prevents boring insects from taking up residence. The books are also protected by a small colony of bats that live in the building and during the night consume the insects that appear that might otherwise damage the collection.
The downside is that the bats make a nasty mess and that is why the library doesn’t open until eleven o’clock. I won’t go into unnecessary details here.
For such a famous building the tour was over really rather quickly, rather disappointing really, the main library room, down to a study room and some exhibits and then down again to some grim cells where in the past misbehaving students were sent to reflect and repent. They don’t use them any more because I guess they would be full to overcrowding every night.
The tour included entrance to an ornate chapel which didn’t really strike me as anything particularly special and then the old Royal Apartments which are now the main celebration and awards ceremony rooms for the University where there were some fine views from the top across the whole of the city and beyond.
After the University my ticket was good for entrance to the Science Museum just a short walk away and determined to get full value for my purchase I went there next. I am not really all that keen on science, at school in 1970 I failed every single science ‘o’ level – chemistry, physics, biology, chemistry with physics and physics with chemistry – the list was endless. The following year I had a shot at the allegedly much easier subject of General Science which it was said that a ten year old with a toy chemistry set could pass but I failed that as well.
After ‘o’ level and if you were staying on at school students were separated into sixth form Arts and sixth form Science. I didn’t have to spend very much time deliberating the matter!
The only thing I ever really liked about science was the Science Museum in London and I remember going there several times as a boy, unfortunately the Science Museum in Coimbra wasn’t nearly so interesting so it didn’t detain me for long. Next to it was a Natural History museum which had an enormous collection of stuffed animals which I imagine can only be of great interest to a taxidermist so I didn’t stay there very long either.
Instead I made my way down from the top of the hill to rendezvous with Kim as arranged stopping briefly on the way down to visit the old (Romanesque) and the new (Portuguese Colonial) cathedrals, nothing special about either of them but both worth a courtesy visit.
Back at the river we met as planned and stopped for a brief lunch before taking an afternoon stroll along both sides of the river with good views of the old city of Coimbra especially from the west bank.
I was dreading the next job which was to go and buy railway tickets for the next stage of our journey to the city of Ovar just south of Porto. I thought that it was quite likely that I would explode with impatient rage if I had to queue at one of those awful ticket machines but it was a lot more civilized in Coimbra and there was a proper ticket office and no great line of people. I bought the tickets and went for a beer in the sunshine to celebrate.
Later we went back to the same restaurant and over a second excellent meal we declared the whole visit to Coimbra to be a complete success and we looked forward to the next day and three days and nights at the Atlantic Coast and the seaside down of Furadouro.