Days 4 -5: Lisboa to Coimbra
(See Photos in HOME: COLLECTIONS: PORTUGAL DAYS 4-5)
Our drive today will take us from Lisboa to Obidos (60 miles), Caldas da Rainha and Foz do Arelho* (10 miles), Nazare (10 miles), Alcobaca (10 miles). Batalah (15 miles) and end in Coimbra (65 miles). Basically, we are going to drive up the coast then turn inland at Coimbra.
We arrive in Obidos in time to stroll the main street (all tourista shops), some side streets (all the same as they have been since the 1200's), have their famous ginja (cherry liqueur in chocolate cup) and scoot just as the tour buses dump hundreds of anxious shoppers into this itsy bitsy town.
Next we're off to the area Liz Wickert told us to check out for her. We drive around the town of Caldas da Rainha, no longer the lazy seaside town of Liz's experience but a snappy, contemporary, up-scale designer shops type town where your might take a condo for week (versus a tour bus stop).
We found the old farmer's market - the kind where probably the same lady has been selling vegetables to the same locals forever. We seemed to be among the only ones not best friends with everyone else there. I suspect THAT was the culture Liz had in mind from her time here.
Barely 20 minutes away is the lagoon - Foz do Arelho. Not a tour bus in sight. There is this little cafe by the beach where we grab a simple lunch. The folks at the next table are from Phoenix! and have rented a house for the month. We chat awhile. Watch old guys fishing. Walk on the beach. What to do with out time is our only decision day to day. This day we think hanging around the beach for a little while is it.
We do have to eventually move on though, as we want to be in Coimbra by dinner. We take the coastal local road instead of the highway, and reach Nazara. This might have been an old fishing village, but now it is new upscale seaside resort. It looks like Santa Monica. No need to stop.
We're off to Alcabaca.
We get there just as 10 gigantic buses start to unload at the suggested sites area and decide to move on. We're not having much luck today out-running the big tour buses but I guess we are all interested in seeing the same parts of Portugal -- for now, anyway.
Batalha. Delightful. And the monastery here is (a) us and maybe 10 other tourists, (b) a real wow. From our guide book: Classified World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this Gothic monastery was the result of a vow made by King D. João I to Santa Maria da Vitória, in order to celebrate the victory over Spanish troops in Aljubarrota Battle (on August 14th 1385). It is the most exquisite exemplar of Gothic style in Portugal. (See photos)
The drive to Coimbra is easy. Finding our hotel is another story. As promised in our directions book the entrance gate is well hidden. We went past it 5 times and finally saw some people walking and just followed them.
This is one AMAZING hotel. QUINTA DAS LÁGRIMAS is a historic medieval palace just across the river from the main city of Coimbra. The current structure is 18th Century though a modern spa and indoor/outdoor pools have been added. The restaurant is actually a rarity for Portugal - a Michelin star (one star, but that's pretty amazing, right). Outstanding.
Coimbra was the first capital of Portugal mid-12th Century and in the Age of Discovery (15-16th C). It was the center of art of especially manueline and renaissance works. Middle Ages to 20th century construction are all mixed together, with winding stone-laid streets.
High up is the University, so we start our day at the top. This is a plenty impressive university, founded in 1290, with academic traditions that are compared with Oxford. Many of the current structures were built in the 18th C, including the Baroque University Tower library that is on everyone's must-see list. Unfortunately that means EVERYONE, so the line to get a ticket to get in a tour discouraged us away.
Instead we went to the Museu National Machado De Castro. This was originally the Bishops Palace. During the Middle Ages it was built on top of the Roman forum (dating from 1st C), and the remains of that and excavations since then are displayed in the basement (see photos). We could have spend all day in here - the collections are enormous: religious, archeological, jewelry, paintings, tapestries, tiles, ceramics etc.
We left the museum and spent the next hour in and out of small side streets and ended at the bottom level of the city at the municipal market building. Three floors - fish, cheese, breads on the top floor; vegetables on the second floor; fruits, flowers and some handicrafts on the main floor. The smells and sounds are awesome! We get some cheese and bread and head off to roam some more.
Finding our hotel now is easy - we grab a cab :)
Dinner is on the river (Pornguesa). It's one of those delightful, off the beaten path places that offers two dishes - a meat something and a fish something. We shared the fish-something -- fresh caught, grilled seabass and farm fresh vegetables. (I'm getting better at the fish thing.)
Tomorrow we leave for Porto
2. If you happen to enjoy tours of buildings, great. You can spend all day every day with self-guided or guided tours of museums, important buildings, monasteries, churches, convents etc. But each of these towns has so much to experience just winding your way through the streets.