Day 19: Back to School in Coimbra

Since our trip was winding down in a few days, the decision was made that we’d better start making our way back toward Lisbon. We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing, carefree time spent in The Fig, and squeezed in one more beach side walk before leaving town.

Church of Santa Cruz, which has electrified wires on the facade to keep pigeons off.  The pigeon in the fountain is doing the I'm Not Touching You dance.

Church of Santa Cruz, which has electrified wires on the facade to keep pigeons off. The pigeon in the fountain is doing the I’m Not Touching You dance.

Our next stop was to the university town of Coimbra, located 40 minutes away. We parked (in an outdoor, open lot that was free on Sundays, so no parking ticket necessary), retrieved a map from the TI, and stopped at a town square (Largo da Portagem) for coffee. Being Sunday, most businesses were closed except for a couple important ones: cafes and an ice cream shop.

Buzzing from our caffeine stop, we traipsed all over Old Town in the bright sunshine, noting churches and an interesting double archway (Arco de Almedina) that had two giant squares cut out of the high ceiling. Apparently these holes were used to pour hot, boiling oil on anyone hellbent on attacking the city (mostly the Moors, who were hellbent on attacking most of this region back in the day).

Our next stop was to retrieve Miss Cleo and drive up to the University of Coimbra, the country’s most prestigious school. We arrived at 1:15 but given how devout the Portuguese are about lunch, we had to wait until 2pm to enter (€9/each).

Hot oil holes

Hot oil holes

The University was founded in 1290 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Campus is a mix of super old, beautiful ornate buildings (that were a former royal palace) and super not-as-attractive buildings designed by former dictator Salazar. This guy sure could not leave things well enough alone. First he messed with the Famous Cockerel, and now this. But our visit was centered on the old part of campus, and included an absolutely incredible library (Biblioteca Joanina; no photos allowed, unfortunately) where they use a colony of bats inside to thwart any insects who even so much as think about eating a book. There is also an academic prison located in the basement, and I’m fairly certain it’s a place in which Jim would have been familiar.

As an aside, it’s rumored that J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for Hogwarts from Coimbra, and between the elaborate black capes the students wear and the bats in the library, it all started to come together…

Next up we toured a chapel before going into the elegant Grand Hall that is still used for ceremonies. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be a student here. On one hand, the place is absolutely steeped in history at every turn, students today walk the same halls as students did in the 1500s, and thousands of tourists come by annually to put eyes on this fascinating, renowned university. On the other hand, there might not be air conditioning.

University courtyard

University courtyard (and former palace)

It was getting later in the day and we needed to hit the road and head south past Lisbon to the seaside fishing town of Sesimbra. Two days prior we’d arranged to rent an apartment through AirBnB and had to meet with the owner to pick up the keys. Once we’d done that, got the lay of the land, and admired the ocean view from the apartment we headed back out to the grocery store for provisions. Actually, we hit up two grocery stores, both the Continente, which is like Wal-Mart, and the Lidl, which is a grocery chain we’d been in many times already. There were two other grocery stores in town, but that would have been downright silly if we had gone into all of them, right?

Back to the apartment we went, feasting on fresh-baked bread, both Havarti and, aaaaahhhhhh, Cheddar cheeses (we found yellow cheese to be as rare as the endangered Azores Bullfinch), salami, ham, olives, and a delicious Papa Figos Douro Valley wine. This was our new home for the last three nights of the trip, and we were settling in nicely.

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