“Portugal has a tradition of fado, the idea that one’s fate or destiny cannot be escaped, and it’s the name given to a form of traditional Portuguese singing that’s been given UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage status. You’ll often hear fado in bars, cafes and restaurants – melancholic songs of love, loss, hopefulness and resignation – accompanied by soulful guitars, mandolins and violins.”
The very reasonably priced IBIS hotel was not as grand as the Conde de Ferreira Palace in Tomar but was in a perfect central location situated on the River Mondego with the historical centre of Coimbra rising up in dramatic style behind it like a sheer mountain face and perfectly placed for a short walk to an attractive and vibrant square busy with restaurants and bars basking in the sunshine.
From there we made our way to the old town and the University district and quickly discovered that Lisbon isn’t the only hilly city in Portugal. Coimbra is built on the top of a hill, not all of it of course, because it is the third largest city in the country but the bit that we wanted to see was certainly on the top of the mountain.
It was hot again and the climb was a bit of a chore but as well as getting our bearings and seeing some of the sites we needed to find somewhere suitable to eat later and after our successes in Lisbon and Tomar there was a lot to live up to. We found one or two likely looking places but none really stood out and then we tired of examining menus and made our way to the very top.
Kim wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about visiting the inside of the University today so we concentrated instead on the exterior and agreed that we might come back tomorrow (a certainty for me but doubtful for Kim). There were some wonderful views from the top and we strolled around the ornate courtyards and admired the Palaces and the churches and the two cathedrals and it occurred to me that Coimbra could easily be tagged the Florence of Portugal.
There was a lot of activity at the University because this was first week of new term – ‘Freshers Week’. I remember ‘Freshers Week’ when I pitched up at Cardiff University in September 1975. With hormones raging in overdrive I thought this was going to be opportunity to meet new girls but I quickly realised that this is the week when second and third year students turn up in force and get all the girls before a new student gets a look in and it looked very much like it was exactly the same procedure here in Coimbra.
University students in Coimbra wear a black uniform complete with a cape, they are known locally as ‘the cloaks’ and if I hadn’t known it was a University I might have mistaken it for a convention of Vampires.
We weren’t going to visit anything today that had an entrance fee so we made our way back to the river and I became interested in a sign outside a small building that was advertising a Fado show, traditional music of Portugal. I was keen to go along but I couldn’t persuade Kim to join me so I bought a single ticket and would return later alone.
On the way back to the IBIS I spotted a small restaurant that looked traditional and welcoming and had a reasonable menu so I suggested that we try this one. Kim agreed and I worried then that my bad luck with recommendations might strike again and I would come to regret ever having mentioned it. As I have said before I prefer to leave restaurant selection decisions to Kim and then no blame can be attributed to me in the case of a bad one.
Later I returned to the centre for the five o’clock Fado show and after only five minutes or so I realised that Kim had made an absolutely brilliant decision in declining to accompany me. I didn’t enjoy it at all, it was terrible; if had had the sense to consult Wikipedia before impetuously buying the ticket I am certain that I too would have rejected the idea…
“Fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia”
… this, let me tell you is music to get seriously depressed to. There was zero chance that I would buy one of the CDs on sale at the entrance. If I could have sneaked out then I would have left there and then but I was in the middle of a row quite near the front and it would have been impossible to leave without drawing a lot of attention to myself. I had no alternative but to stick it out, thankfully it only lasted for an hour and there was the consolation of a complimentary glass of port wine when it finally came to an end.
Now it came to restaurant time and I worried that my poor judgment might continue but it turned out to and it turned out to be excellent, so good in fact that we agreed that we would return there again the following night. Once we find a place we like we don’t like taking unnecessary risks!