Category Archives: Postcards
When we woke in the morning, instead of the blue skies that we had become accustomed to there was a thick mist over the river and the city and it didn’t look like clearing away any time soon.
We had planned to have a final hour exploring the streets of Coimbra but after a second excellent Hotel IBIS breakfast the mist had become a fog so we made breakfast last a while longer, waited around for half an hour or so and then made our way to the railway station and waited for the train to Aveiro.
The plan now was to spend a few days at the coast, relax and to take a break from the city visits.
The train was on time and it didn’t take long to get there and as we crossed a spur of the River Boca and looked out towards the lagoons and the Atlantic Ocean we could have been forgiven for thinking we had been transported to Venice because the city has a very Italianate architecture and a waterway full of Gondolas.
Not surprising then that Aveiro is sometimes called the Venice of Portugal.
Other places have their own associations with Venice – London and Birmingham in England are two examples as are Amsterdam in the Netherlands, St Petersburg in Russia, Prague in the Czech Republic and Edinburgh in Scotland who are all sometimes called the ‘Venice of the North’. There is a Little Venice in Michigan USA and another in Bavaria in Germany, there is a casino in Las Vegas designed as Venetian canals and there is even one entire country that is called ‘Little Venice’.
The name ‘Venezuela’ is believed to have originated from the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast of South America. When he landed he saw people living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the country resembled Venice so he named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’. That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!
We thought that we might like to stop a while and explore Aveiro but there wasn’t really time because we had a train connection to make and needed to dash to the Porto Metro line for the train to the nearby city of Ovar.
On first impression we weren’t quite sure what to make of Ovar, it seemed like the end of the World, almost like that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they first get off the train in Bolivia and wondered why they had gone there.
We needed to travel about three miles west to the seaside town of Furadouro and rather unsure and completely disorientated we broke our no taxi rule for a second time in four days and hitched a ride to our hotel, the Furadouro Spa. The taxi dropped us off outside reception and we went inside to register where on account of a nippy wind coming in off the sea the staff were in thick jackets and expressed surprise that we were wearing our summer clothes when, in their opinion, it was so cold. We explained about being from England and living on the North Sea East Coast.
After we had approved our accommodation and settled in, good but not as good as the last three in Lisbon, Tomar and Coimbra we stepped outside to take a look at Furadouro. This didn’t take very long, but we found a restaurant that caught our eye for later on and a nice pavement bar to have a beer and then we made our way to the seafront.
There was a strong wind blowing, towering Atlantic breakers and red flags flapping furiously, rather unnecessary in my opinion because only a crazy person would go into a sea as mad as that. Only half crazy we went into the sea but only up to our ankles with an occasional waist high splash and we walked the beach for about two miles or so.
Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one blue flag every three and three-quarter miles.
It was certainly storming today and as we walked the salt spray splashed our clothes and the wind whipped sand stung our faces.
We could have walked forever along pristine sands between Sahara like dunes on one side and crashing waves on the other but eventually we reached an agreed point and with only more sand and surf stretching out before us as far as we could see we turned around and returned to Furadoura. We hoped the sea might be calmer tomorrow and we might be able to go for a swim.
Later we found a back street fish restaurant overflowing with local people so on the basis that this is always a good sign we requested a table and had a first class meal for a very reasonable price and we agreed, as we always do, that we would come back tomorrow. On the way out we attempted to book a table but the waiter told us they were closed now for an end of summer vacation.
We were having a lot of bad luck with restaurant closures in Portugal that was for sure!
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.
In Lisbon and throughout Portugal no public place is safe from Spray Paint Vandals…
I don’t dislike this…
But I don’t like this…
Where do you stand on the issue of Urban Art or Criminal Graffiti?