Sunday, August 6, 2017

Coimbra- a city of kings and scientists

The touristing of Lisbon continues! I had planned to go scuba diving in the morning, but Lisbon isn't known for that. My bad. The one dive shop I had contacted failed to tell me they leave from a dock an hour away, and I only budgeted half a day for this. So, instead, as there are always too many things to see in a city, I found a monastery listed as a UNESCO heritage site. What?? I can check off another site and go to mass? Deal! I was disappointed the day before when sitting in the cathedral at 6:30 for the daily mass, but it never came. I figured I must have misread the sign, looked for little chapels it could be in, but no! It never happened. There was a traditional guitar concert half an hour later, so mass must have been cancelled. Huh. 

So this brings me to Friday plans. I woke up early (8 - eeek!) went by the breakfast room expecting a piece of fruit and was sorely disappointed to be eating on the go!! There was a spread with cut fresh fruit, fresh breads, cheeses, yogurts, meats. Oh silly me!! I grabbed a piece of bread (or more accurate - a loaf) and ripped pieces off as I animalistically devoured each bite while walking. How can flour and water taste so good and why doesn't it taste like that in America??

After a confusing exchange with the ticket person to get a train ticket to Coimbra for later in the day.... he spoke great english, but the speaker and glass between us and my ignorance of the travel protocol (I was sure I was in the wrong place) complicated the process. However - I left with a ticket and my bookbag stowed at the train station as I headed to the Jeronimos Monastery via a local bus. I knew this was a big tourist spot, but instead elected for the 930 mass. I guess this is a known fact and tourists try to sneak in to see the church this way, because I somehow went straight to the secret side entrance where a man in a cubano white button up shirt and khackis tried to shoo me away like an annoying fly. I tried every translation for mass I knew and 'misse' was the key. He smiled begrudginggly and said okay and opened the door to a treasure of baroque magnificance (dark art, very realistic and the constrast of dark and light highlights the lighter figure). I can see why this was so popular. Since the mass was in portuguese I had time to admire the brilliance and contemplate the divine through thearchitectural  magnitude, stained glass, massive statues, and painted masterpieces. For funsies on the way out, I went the tourist route and I can see why I was shooed away earlier. There were already hundreds of people in line waiting for mass to end! 

Due to construction and heavy traffic, as I didn't want to miss my noon train to Coimbra, I got on a bus to return to the train station. What took 30 min was closer to 90, and I dozed like a cat sunning in a window. At one point, before reaching the station, the bus turned around. Through my sleepy haze I realized it happened and thought 'how nice', then a few minutes later realized that the water was on the wrong side and we were going back!! Oh no!! A quick google search to confirm, I must have been on one of the buses that only goes half way. Oh no!! I got off the bus and crossed the street to try again, but now I had used the hour of margin in construction traffic, and it was getting dangerously close to departure for the train (and I still had to collect my bag)! After waiting 15 min and no bus in sight, I could have walked but that time had passed too. I hailed an open moped cab, knowing the price would be high but gave a quick prayer of thanks that I could afford it. I also realized if I missed the train I would be out $20, and a few hours, but mostly it woukd ruin my perfectly planned day! The driver was chatty and that greasy kind of charming 'Canadians are the best tippers' - subtle bud, real subtle. He even reminded me to 'not forget the tip' at the end (in addition to overcharging me for the ride), but I was so grateful to be at the station on time I gladly paid this unlikely angel and ran for my bag and train. 

The ride up to Coimbra made me reflect on the differences in our cultures. A few people were on their phones, but most just looked out the window or chatted. There were more female religious around too, though that may just be with my new perspective I look for then and know what to look for - sturdy sensible shoes (likely sandles with a heel strap to keep them on), a slightly oversized cross, 3/4 length pants of a beige color, a solid shirt, and likely carrying a blazer or wool cardigan. Or a habit, though that is more obvious. 

Once in Coimbra, the capital of Lisbon, I went to a second UNESCO site. A royal palace turned muslim fortress, to one of the oldest universities in Europe (1290). Also there was a science museum the university absorbed when the Jesuits were run out of Portugal (1759) - it's the first Jesuit university (1542!) and focused on science and theology. The streets ofCoimbra  were curvier, steeper, and I swear hotter than Lisbon, but also more idyllic (if that can be so). 

The science museum had physics instruments from the 1700's and on. Science teaching instruments were much bigger then! The natural science wing once held the largest and oldest collection of species in the world! It was very creepy walking by so many animals oreserved in jars. The snake room was particularly nightmare/inducing. I am glad there is no 'Night at the Museum' set there!!

The main university was beautiful and afforded great views of the city, though to climb the tower, there were 184 steps up an enclosed spiral medieval staircase as wide as my shoulders. It was claustrophic inducing on the way up, and agoraphobic inducing on the want down! Though I had mixed emotions at the top (uncomfortable from heat, exhaustion from stairs, a slight healthy fear of the height, awe of the view, gratitude for the breeze, anxiety of the sun...), you an see this on my face. 

The university is better known for its library, with so many shelves and dark wood and velvet decoration, that even the painters of the Beast's library in Beauty and the Beast would drool over! Also - the books were really old - these are pages from the 1500's of a scholar from the univsersity. There was also a chapel, a prison to segregate the profs and rowdy students from the loval rif raff if they needed to be imprisoned (ya know - as ya do). 

The best part of Coimbra was they had eduroam - a university service to let you login at different universities. I got free wifi!! With only 200MB for the whole 2 weeks, good high speed wifi is my stuff - I crave it, experience brief euphoria when it's found, and feel crushed when it's time to turn it off again... the new addiction for sure. In between I haven't noticed not using my phone much, but to save batter life I am having to temper each urge to take a photo, recheck my path, confirm the hotel name, even use the phone to type up a blog. I am limited by both the battery and data, and relearning just how addicted I am. 

Okay enough learning. To explore the culture of Coimbra, I noticed there was cork things everywhere. Apparently that's a big industry south of Lisbon, and with so many wines now using those other corks, they are getting more creative. There sre truly neat books, wallets, purses, even watch straps. I really want to get something but have no room in my bag. Guhhh!! 

I was trying to decide where to eat (it was 5:30 pm) and wandered into one restaurant advertising tapas and port, with lovely light music wafting out. The waiter told me I could drink but the kitchen was closed. What!?! Darn my american early eating schedule. I was drawn into one of the pasteleries, as if a magnet or giant vacuum were sucking me in. I had an eclair with the creamiest custard, a cod cake (that I had seen everywhere and was skeptical but realized it was even more wonderful than a crab cake), chocolate milk with actual chocolate flakes and a dark chocolate, low sugar flavor!! All if this for $4. Jeez. This is amazing! I was told to jeep up myelectrolytes while hiking. Hello chocolate milk! 

I walked through the town to the bus station to head to Fatima, clocking another 22,000 steps but only 45 floors. On the way I went by mcdonalds to see what else there was, and in addition to nicer side salads and baby carrot sticks, they had soups! While waiting for my bus, I enjoyed a gelato (store bought... I fear my fresh gelato days are behind me) and white port in the cafe. 

Another great day of exploring, learning, and experiencing. Though a few hours remain in the day to see Fatima, that is best left to another post. 3 buses and a train is enough. 

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