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Trip Report 11 Days: Lisboa, Evora, Alcobaca, Nazare, Batalha, Coimbra, Coimbriga

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We are a relatively fit senior couple with decades of independent travel. Portugal was as easy – or easier to get around as any other European or Eastern European country. (Easier than our recent trip to Croatia, for example.) We had a great time in eleven days with virtually no problems. Everything either met or exceeded our expectations. The food was very good (although we might pass on cod for a while) and comparatively less expensive than other European countries; everyone we encountered in hotels, restaurants, and other venues was friendly and helpful.

With that in mind, I’ll start with some overall practical comments (which I may repeat later) but I want to emphasize them. While much of these are in various guide books, I’ll highlight what worked well – and not so well and not spend as much time describing major sites such as the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos unless I think there’s something useful to say.


One: Plan on spending more cash than most other European countries. We found that many restaurants (even those in guide books) were cash only. We had one minor kerfuffle with an ATM which seemed to resolve itself the next day. I’d used Santander Bank at the airport on arrival, and I suggest taking out a bit more than you might normally. (We kept our bags tight and in front on the buses and trams, and didn’t see feel any personal threats in the evening.) Entrances to most museums are around 6E, and it’s 50% off for seniors – even non-EU, so a Lisboa Card might not make sense for seniors. If you do purchase the Lisboa Card, be aware that it does NOT let you go through the pre-paid line.

Two: EZ Pass, GPS, and local advice on routes: I’m not even sure it’s an option, but you should absolutely have the “EZ Pass” activated on your rental car or figure out how to get one if you’re coming in from another country or driving your own. Many roads that wouldn’t have a toll in the US are toll roads in Portugal, even for relatively short distances. I can’t imagine pulling over and digging around for the toll instead of breezing through the V lane. In fact, we drove on at least one “electronic toll only” road. The only problem we had was the earnest suggestion by an otherwise helpful man at the hotel in Evora who assured us that the #114 that cut diagonally toward Santarem was a very good road. It wasn’t. It was what would be at best a secondary road in the US with a lot of traffic, several stop lights in small towns, zig-zags through larger ones, and at least an hour longer than the terrific new super highway (EU funded?). Portugal is not a rich country, and the locals avoid what are to them expensive tolls. I’m sure he was trying to save us money, but I would have gladly paid the toll instead of the tiring route he suggested. GPS: We used Google Maps, and it worked very well – especially getting in and out of cities. At home, download the areas you’ll be driving in; preview them at home; have your Michelin map handy in case; and go from “Your Location” to “Starred Places.” Instead of the incalculable amount of time spent in the past looking for non-existent street signs and wondering what “sempre diretto” meant at a confusing intersection, my wife/navigator would call out from the phone screen: “300 meters; now 200; now 100; now turn right.” I bought a 20E Vodophone “tourist” SIM at the Lisboa airport to have an emergency phone, but I think we used Google Maps off-line for the entire trip.

Three: We two relatively fit seniors. Fortunately, we’re in good shape because there is probably more challenging walking in Portugal than most countries: Lisboa is steep, and Coimbra is vertical. In Lisboa especially, there are a multitude of tuk-tuks, and taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Take a taxi UP and walk down (not that easy either). We took a taxi from the Museu Art Antiqa to San Roch which gave us a good “tour” of Barrio Alta for about 5E. [I’m not crazy about using the open tuk-tuks.]

Four: If you do plan to use the trams and buses, as soon as you can after you arrive in Lisboa, find your nearest Metro station and buy your Viagem cards. Each person needs his/her own: .50 for the card and you add money to the card. At the Metro station we used (Rossio) there was an exceptionally helpful Metro employee standing near the automatic machines helping us and other folks get their cards and add the best amount for planned travel. Paying your fare (exact change) on the often crowded bus or tram isn’t easy, and when you “zap” your fare with Viagem it’s much cheaper. Add a little extra to be safe, and you can leave cards with unused amounts as part of your tip to the hotel staff.

Five: We debated whether to take a taxi or Aerobus from the airport to hotel in Baxia – especially since the bus stops right at out hotel on Municipo. The folks at the airport TI said the Aerobus was the best option. The woman at the Aerobus “kiosk” outside said the next bus would arrive in five minutes. It arrived in about 25 minutes, and since she didn’t have the whatever to take fares, everyone had to pay the driver. And “everyone’ became a bus full as a flight must have unloaded. It took about 20 minutes more for everyone to pay and get on. Maybe we saved five Euros, but it was an annoying start to the trip. As I said earlier, the taxis are inexpensive (about 10 – 12E) from Municipo or Comercio to the airport.

Finally: Get to the airport early for your departure. We had a very quick check-in with United; security wasn’t too bad; but passport control was the longest and slowest line we’ve ever encountered. With only a quick stop at the bathroom, it was almost two hours from the front of the airport to loading on the plane.

Following are the highlights of our trip.
Lisboa: Three and a half days.

First half day
We arrived at our hotel (Alma Lusa Baxia Chiado) in the Praca Municipo in late morning and after a light lunch, explored the streets of Baxia. We headed first to the great river front (with rock sculptures) along Targus River front walk, then inside the Praca Commercio to admire the statue and the grand arch. After a light lunch we ran the gauntlet of restaurant touts on our way to the Praca da Figueira – mostly taken over by buses and what we now saw as dozens of “Tuck-tucks.” A few meters to the west was the lovely “heart” of Lisboa – Rossio. What a lovely urban place with its grand towering statue of Dom Pedro and two fountains. Its most amusing feature was the black and white block pavement that gave the impression of walking on waves. We looked around Rossio and then out the corner to the Rossio train station with its wonderful Art Nouveau façade – especially the tulip-shaped doors. (Nothing inside.) We walked up a few yards to see the Art Deco façade of the theater and the Champs Elesyee type buildings. We also ducked down into the Metro station where a very helpful staff member walked us through getting our Viagem cards. After the station we walked around the lovely Opera House and over to the still fire-ruined Church of San Domenico. A baroque interior still showing the effects of the fire. We had a great first night tapas dinner at Prata 52 with a rounded up tip for 38E.

First full day

Our first full day had a couple of bumps. Thinking to double-check our Google map directions, the young woman at the desk told us to take the #15 Tram from Corpo Santo to the Belem Tower to purchase a combination ticket that would let us go around the line at Jeronimos Monastery. The stop for the Belem Tower is actually two stops beyond “Belem.” We got off with the small tour, and over the footbridge to the park behind the tower. We saw a new ticket booth, but it was closed, so we went to where a long line was forming. And it was a long line to buy tickets, and next to us was the pre-paid and tour line. We waited and finally inched forward as early tours came out. We moved forward again and waited and waited and waited and waited. At that point we probably waited 30 minutes – added to the 30 minutes it took to get to that point. Finally, we were let in to buy tickets from the one person selling. We walked up the first flight of stairs, looked in the first level and then out onto the wide battery terrace for views of the river and surroundings – a bit better than what we had seen while in line. It was okay, but not worth the hour or so in line.
We then walked up to the main road and waited about ten minutes for the #15 tram for the ride back to the monastery (too long to walk comfortably). Still huge lines, but we went to the front and indeed were ushered right in. Later we wondered whether we should have waited in line at the monastery and simply taken the bus or tram to Belem to view the tower from the park – which, from our perspective is 90% of the experience. We did stop second-guessing ourselves and went right into the spectacular double-floored cloister. I won’t go into a description of the monastery except to say that it was a highlight of the trip – a not to be missed.
After the visit, we walked along a street of restaurants with lines, table in the sun, and not appealing menus until we spotted a “patisserie” chain for delicious baguettes of tuna and salmon– all for 9 E.
Refueled and refreshed, we headed through the park for the unsigned entrance to the Coach Museum. (Lisboa and other cities could use more signs.) Fortunately, there was a tour bus at the curb, so we figured that this was it. It was.
Up the elevator into a huge room with two ranks of fantastical coaches. They were a smash and signed in English so that we got a good idea of which King, Prince, or Cardinal had owned them. While not necessarily high art, the design, the carvings, the features, the painted doors and panels – and some with elaborate fore and aft groupings (gilded or bronzed) were stunning. And around the corner at the end was the beginning of another huge room of coaches. As we moved along chronologically, there were children’s coaches, roundabout coaches, single coaches, “taxi” coaches, hunting coaches, and lastly an early omnibus coach. Overall, it was a different aesthetic and historical experience – definitely a three star venue.
We exited out the back of the museum, and once on the “main” street immediately spotted a #15 tram. We hopped the tram which had vacant seats for a much more pleasant ride back to our area. We sat at the kiosk tables in the Praca Municipo for relaxing and refreshing iced coffees. A terrific dinner that evening at MOMA Grill- 50E. Cash only.
Second Full Day in Lisboa
After breakfast, we took a taxi through modern Lisboa to the lovely Gulbenkian Museum. It is a great 1960s architecture building. The first couple of rooms were small but exquisite objects from Egypt and Greece. Shortly after, we entered a very long, open gallery with an astounding collection of Middle Eastern objects – first some silk and velvet wall hangings, several carpets, and then one of the largest and most beautiful display of Persian and Turkish tiles (including many wall panels) plates, bowls, and a multitude of other ceramics we’ve ever seen. It seems to be the heart of the collection. From that long gallery, we entered an area of mostly French Louis XIV furniture – lovely but not something that held our attention. From those galleries we moved onto some Renaissance paintings (not many but several good ones) and following onto more 19th century, mostly French (many Corot, some good Manet; a couple of Monet) all enjoyable but nothing unique.
We had a couple of delicious salad plates in the cafeteria that opened out to the gardens. After lunch, we strolled a few paths before deciding to head off to the National Museum of Azulejos. Out onto a busy street, we saw a taxi within minutes, and took a long ride around the top of the city and down to the Museum (7E including tip). It was a knock-out! It went chronologically around the cloister of the convent: first with some early tiles and very good explanations of origins and uses in English. From early decorative motifs, we moved into figures and narratives – largely a Portuguese phenomenon – at least perfected into the elaborate and large narrative panels – religious, pastoral, as well as genre. There was an informative video in one reconstructed room depicting some early works but mainly focusing on contemporary uses of tile –especially in metro stations and public spaces. There was a bit on restoration as well.
We next walked into the baroque church with its narrative lower register panels. Into a small cloister with a contemporary set of ceramic “blocks” by a Japanese artist. Upstairs, there were many more large narrative works along with a view from a large upper choir (the only other one we’ve ever seen was at Jeronimos Monastery). Room after room had lovely and varied panels. Upstairs there was the great long panorama of Lisboa before the earthquake – not only aesthetically, but historically important as one could identify so many buildings that remain or were destroyed in the earthquake. Super. A very disappointing dinner at Solar dos Presuntos.

Third full day in Lisboa

With multiple directions from Google and the desk, we headed toward what we thought was the Corpo Santo stop – which we later learned wasn’t – so the 714 bus wasn’t coming. But someone convinced us that the 729 would get us to out stop, and indeed it did. We exited at the un-presupposing stop by the container port, crossed the street and wondered where the Museu dos Art Antiga was. We walked a hundred yards down the road until a young couple informed us that we had to go back and up the stairs and around to the museum. Up, up, and up we climbed and there it was. (What we later learned was the 714 from Corpo Santo came right up to the main entrance on the street above us.) We paid our senior tickets (which made museum entrances very inexpensive), checked our bag, and headed for the third floor and the Portuguese art. It was great!
In the first corridor of the lovely building were many exquisite polychrome statues. Decorated fabric appeared to be a recurring motif, but they were as expressive and finely carved as any we’ve seen. After taking a long look at these along hallways flanking the main staircase, we went into the Portuguese painting galleries. There were many references to Italian and French art at the time, but a clear and distinct Portuguese flavor showed though. It is a large collection, but we were taken by the fine artistry and sophistication of the works.
We went down to the second floor for some unique and outstanding works. The first we saw was the Processional Cross from 1214 – fine granulations and exquisite work overall. And then the Belem Monstrance from 1505!! We have never seen such extraordinary gold and jewelry work in this type of object – or almost any other gold work ever. We spent many minutes marveling at the details done in gold and precious metals: the 12 Apostles kneeling and facing inward toward the host; angels in the next level with Christ; the Holy Ghost dove, and finally God the Father in successive ascending registries – each one surrounded by gold work astounding in its concept, design, and artistic execution. The reliquary of Queen Leonora was also lovely.
We found the two Japanese screens that depicted the travels (including the preparations in Goa) of the Portuguese traders whose path was made easier by the Jesuits who had arrived early – great narrative. And there was a video that animated the panels, something we’d never seen before. Those were the highlight, but there was gallery after gallery of great ceramics and other objects from the colonies and trading countries.
We had lunch in their very nice cafeteria and then a stroll through the lovely gardens admiring the view of the container port along with the contemporary large ceramic sculptures.
After lunch we went through the European paintings galleries. A Piero della Francesca, a Druer, a Bosch, and a Pieter de Hooch were highlights, but there were many very good and excellent paintings overall. This museum holds its own with many of the second city museums of the world.
We had an excellent taxi ride to Sao Roch, through several neighborhoods, and up to Barrio Alto (which with its steep and narrow streets seems to be the best way to see this area). We stopped in front of Sao Roch. We back-tracked a hundred yards to the overlook. Even under construction, we got a great view of the city – especially seeing how Baxia is squeezed between the steep hills on either side.
Back down into the Jesuit church of Sao Roch and more baroque chapels outside of Munich – if not more. The centerpiece was the Chapel of St John with its lapis columns; split marble, gold and precious metal fixtures. It was nonetheless all of a piece (perhaps without the silver hanging lamps). From chapel to chapel we were amused by the dozens of putti; huge amounts of silver and gold gilding – all demonstrating the wealth of Portugal at this time. The preaching “program” of the paintings of the hopefully sainted Jesuits in sacristy were interesting.
Finally baroqued to the gills, we headed down. It’s hard to imagine how steep Lisboa is until you start walking the streets: up is a challenge, but so is down. We ran into a political campaign rally with brass band on Rue Garrett almost in front of Café Brasilia –which was packed and hot. We headed down until we finally got to Baxia. We headed over to Comercio for a café. An excellent dinner at Cantino de Allveriz.


Lisboa to Evora
We had an easy getaway from the hotel. We picked up our rental car at the airport –made sure we were signed in for the ‘EZ Pass” transponder and headed out to the tight series of roundabouts and turnoffs. With a little hiccup, we were on the road to Evora.
The landscape is dry, and after 20 or 30 miles we both thought of New Mexico between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Most notable were pine trees with wide spreading tops with no underbrush, giving the landscape an almost eerie look.
We caught the exit for the 14 and got right into Evora and to the hotel after a short turnaround which the GPS picked up. That’s reassuring. All the staff were very warm and accommodating. Our room wasn’t ready, and we made sure we had all we needed and we headed off into the center of town (with a couple of recommendations for lunch places).
We walked along a pleasant street with nice shops for about ten minutes before arriving in the Parca Geraldo. We took a look around and with confirming directions from one of the local men, we headed up the street toward the Cathedral. Shortly we saw the alley-way for the restaurant and walked up to find a pleasant terrace under the trees. We both had small salads that were good and inexpensive. Refueled, we headed up and up the hill walking by the cathedral to the park overlooking the red-roofed town and out to the countryside.
We ducked into the courtyard-restaurant of the Posuda and then paid (14E) to go into the “private” church and the residence. The church was an arresting example of the use of azulejos forming the bottom register of the side walls. The altar was what seems to be the monumental tiered gold we’ve seen in several other churches and chapels. The private apartments of the grandee. It was okay.
We headed toward the university which we thought was directly behind the cathedral. However, it was down a long hill, and we almost decided to not go. But we made the plunge and glad we did. Down and down, and a little around we came to the entrance. We ducked in and out of the classrooms picking up on the motifs that were signed at each entrance: Latin, the months of the year (great); fishing, hunting, geometry. In each there was a teaching “pulpit” in the middle of the room – an interesting feature. This was delightful and unique, so we were glad we took the plunge.
With our map we figured (hoped) that we could walk around the base of the high cathedral hill back to the praca – and we were right. Finally after walking along mostly narrow residential streets, we came into the 5th of October (where we’d earlier checked out our restaurant for this evening). We took more time to look around the square and read about the features from our guides (e.g. Geraldo on horseback squashing the heads of a couple of Moors). We went into the church at the end of the plaza: more gilded columns, azulejos, etc.
Back to the hotel to our lovely, commodious and functional room before sitting in the beautiful patio with a couple of very refreshing and relaxing lemonades. Up to the room to unpack and relax.
Off to an astounding dinner at Momentos. All in all, this was one of the most innovative, and delicious dinners we’ve had anywhere in a long time. At about 90E a very fair price for this level of cuisine. A great end to a very nice day.

Evora
After breakfast we were off onto the quiet streets of Evora. At the Geraldo square, several men were looking over a big sheet with the faces of candidates. Up the 5th of October street where some of the merchants were getting their wares out onto the sidewalk. It was a cool morning, but we knew it was going to get to 90 so by the time we reached the cathedral, we were comfortable. Mass was still being said, so we couldn’t take the tour until 10:30, so we went up to the Roman temple and (why we didn’t realize this yesterday) saw that it was the huge structure wrapped in scaffolding and construction scrim. We could make out the columns through the scrim. We poked around the area, looking out over the town again, and then we popped into the Pousada for a look around.
Back down to the front of the cathedral to wait for ten or so minutes. We went in, purchased our tickets for the church and cloister and went straight down into the cloister. Massive. It is a complete contrast to the delicacy of Jeronimos: fortress-like with what we took to be Moorish remnants in the pierced roundels. We circumnavigated the cloister with very good views of the solid looking cathedral.
Inside the cathedral, a hugely elaborate wood-gilded baroque altar to the pregnant Mary is plunked halfway down the main aisle. Otherwise, the walls are a dull brown stucco covering granite, with white stripes. This is not an attractive church. The main altar was also bare – the cardinal’s seat set right in the middle where one would expect the altar to be. What might have been the main altar, a baroque table, had been pushed forward in the approved modern style. The altars to the left and right of the main altar were unremarkably similar to several already seen.
Out of the cathedral and up the hill to the Museum of Evora (not free as the guide book said, but we weren’t about to argue over a 6E seniors ticket.). Overall, the collection exceeded our expectations. Fortunately, English has become the lingua franca because all the labels were in Portuguese and English. We started with 1st century AD tombstones on the O level, and then went down to -1 for a large collection of artifacts from 4000-3000 BC. Not much on who these folks were, but schist stone pendants were remarkable. Then onto 400-300 BC with clay lamps, some well-preserved glass, and a wide array of finds from funerary sites. There was a nice model of the Roman temple along with more stele and tombstones.
Up to Level 0 again for sarcogophi, tombs, and plaques.
The second floor (Level 1) was almost a cognitive jolt as we were right into Flemish paintings, which caught the imagination of the Evorans who traded with Flanders. There were several decent paintings, but the highlight was a huge retable depicting the life of Mary by a Flemish master. The paintings themselves were excellent – especially in the individual portraits of all the many figures and the way the artist used the narrow space of each panel – bringing the figures to the forefront with losing perspective and narrative. There were several galleries of okay paintings moving from Flemish and Flemish style to Italian Renaissance and Mannerism (again influenced by contact through trade). A long gallery of furniture; and one of silver religious and secular objects rounded out the collection. Although we came across several tours, the museum is not on the route. We speculated about whether Evora was a couple hour stop on the way to Obidos and Alcabaca or even day trips from Lisboa.
We spotted the kiosk in the public garden. It was pleasant, shady, and with a nice breeze. We got a table after a five minute wait and had a couple of good toasted ham and cheese sandwiches while we relaxed, enjoyed the breeze and watched the locals and on their own tourists in the café or walking through the area.
We spotted the Forum Eugenia de Almeida – a contemporary art museum inside what was some grandee’s house. The woman at the desk said that it was free; it was air-conditioned; and it looked as though it might have some interesting stuff – it did. We looked at the twisted metal sculpture in the first gallery and then took the lift to the next level which had several galleries and video rooms: an Egyptian architect narrating his attempts to establish community-friendly buildings; a film showing historical re-enactors (in the first segment talking about the suppression of theater in Cromwell’s reign.). Other small sculptures in small rooms; a long cloth-covered table in the room of the Inquisition. Back down and about to leave, the woman suggested we go out to the garden with its frescoed alcove. All in all a nice end to our tour of Evora.
We took a taxi to Tabula da Naldo for an excellent diner. .We took a taxi back to the hotel, and on this warm evening sat on our balcony for a while. A lovely end to two excellent days in Evora.


Evora to Alcobaca to Nazare

As I noted above, this was the day we mistakenly took local advice. Almost as soon as we pulled off the large, main highway we feared we’d made a mistake – and we did. The 144 zigged and zagged, slowed through small towns; had us going through multiple roundabouts at the larger ones; followed trucks and slower cars – and took, we estimate, at least an hour or more longer than the ride the A13. We pulled off at a rest stop and decided to skip Obidos and go directly to Alcobaca. The road there was good, and with a little turnaround trying to find the parking lot, we arrived. Down into the square in front of the monastery for a “toast” lunch under a shady umbrella in a breeze.
Refueled, we walked to the baroque (added) front of the church of the monastery. (It was hot making us doubly glad we weren’t poking around Obidos in the heat.) The enormous (largest in Portugal) nave was simple gray, unadorned stone – evoking a memory of Vazely. At the transept, there were the facing tombs of Pedro and Inez – a great story and lovely carved tombs with the angels holding each of them at the ready to reunite them at the Last Judgement.
There were many features of the complex that held our interest, but overall the impression is size. It’s large and all its elements are large. The cloister was nice: neither massive like Evora or delicate like Jeronimos. The hall of the kings with the statutes high along the walls over the azelujo panels depicting the conquest of the Moors, the establishment and construction of the monastery was a highlight. The huge, high and unusual tiled chimney in the kitchen was impressive. The refractory gave us the sense of what was involved in feeding 999 monks and servants at the height of its operation. Overall, it’s an impressive site, and we’re glad we visited.
Up the hill to the parking lot, and with very good directions from our Google off-line maps, we got over to Nazare; down into the old town through multiple turns and roundabouts, and around one-way streets to the front of the Hotel Magic. Dumped our bags, and after a brief nap, we headed to the beach – huge. We walked along the boardwalk and were disappointed that instead of nice cafes, the entire beachfront was souvenir shop after souvenir shop. Finally, we came back to a lovely café at one end with shady umbrellas and a great view of the beach and ocean, where we each had a glass of vino verdhe.
Out a little early to Rosa dos Ventos. An excellent dinner at 49E. A walk back by way of the now deserted sea front to the hotel. This is a quiet town in October. A good end to a challenging day.
Nazare to Batalha to Tomar
Off to Batalha on the very fine highway (the one we didn’t take yesterday from Alcobaca.) The terrain was very different from that around Evora. Here it was hilly, and while not lush, there were plenty of trees (forests even) good dirt and signs of agriculture. If nothing else, we’re seeing a variety of landscapes in Portugal.
Our GPS got us right to the parking areas near the monastery, and we parked outside a row of shops and restaurants and walked the hundred yards to the huge equestrian statute of Nuno Alveres Pereira – conqueror of the Spaniards with the help of English archers.
The front door had multiple arches of angels, doctors of the church, et al. Modern stained glass. Inside the huge church, its English Perpendicular Gothic is immediately obvious. The nave was largely plain as was the ambulatory chapels. We back tracked to the “chapel” to the right of the entrance for the magnificent double tomb of Duarte and Flippa holding hands. -- a square tomb inside an octagonal surround.
The cloister was very Manueline with heavy tracery over and between the columns, ornately carved. Out and around the main church to the “unfinished” chapels – a huge round space with several chapels – a stupendous entrance door (Manueline) and wide massive supports for what would have been the roof of dome.
Back in the Opel Corsa and on our way to Tomar. With a minor hiccup we took the winding road down into town and easily found the large Hotel dos Templorais. We had a room, dropped our stuff, and headed back up the hill to the Convento de Cristo. Fortunately two women were leaving the full small upper parking lot, and we went into the cafeteria for a couple of ham sandwiches.
We missed the sign for the entrance (one more instance of the relative lack of signage in Portugal) doubled back and entered the walk up to the monastery. The overwhelming impression is that of a fortress - which it was originally. The east door was a good example of Manueline architecture, but it was largely encased in the fortress walls. Inside, we saw the first of many cloisters (although several labeled cloister were probably courtyards.) This place was massive: room after room including one dormitory hall one hundred yards long. The other feature of the monastery is its verticality: we went down and down through layers of rooms and courtyards.
The piece d’resistance is the “Corrolla” – a round altar based on a similar structure in Jerusalem. Elaborate paintings on the exterior; multiple statutes around the interior; a gold piece on one side – all in all a unique and spectacular piece. Down and down with a good look at the Manueline window -- a riot of ropes and coral and cork trees and a whole lot of other artifacts around the and surrounding this enormous window. More rooms; azulejos added later; largely empty.
We left the hotel a little after 6:30 for dinner and strolled toward the center of town. Most of the streets were un-presupposing until we reached the congenial Praca da Republica – a lovely square with town hall at the top of the sloping tiles and St. Jao facing at the bottom: a couple of cafes flanking. We had an excellent dinner (with innovative features) at Abrigo da Alma 37E Cash only.
Tomar to Coimbra
After breakfast we’re off to Coimbriga. With a couple of roundabouts onto the A13 – an “EZ pass” only toll road – an obviously brand new superhighway likely paid by the EU. There was relatively little traffic on these roads, including trucks, which suggests that the Portuguese avoid the toll roads.
As we approached the exit for Coimbriga, I was getting a little nervous because I was down to about a quarter tank of gas. We came up on what the GPS said was the exit to Coimbriga, but we wisely went on – especially as we looked way down into the valley and realized that we would be on a third level road for a long time we made an on-the-spot decision to go directly to Coimbra and see Coimbriga on the way back to Lisboa airport. Turned out to be a great choice.
With a couple of possibly not GPS first choice turns, we got down into outer Coimbra where I filled up. The a lot more turns and roundabouts with the GPS giving my wife meter by meter directions right to the front door of the Hotel Oslo. The immediate area was a bit grotty, but we checked in. Of course at that time, no room was available, and the guy at the desk parked our car. We grabbed out stuff and headed UP to the university. At the Praca Comercio a woman at an optician walked us up to the next long praca and pointed the way to the university – UP.
Shortly into our UP, we passed in front of Fada Centro, and bought tickets for the 6:00 PM performance. Then UP to the Old Se. The cloister was nice but not as remarkable as many others; and similarly the altar was standard baroque.
Out of the SE, dodging a few cars and small delivery vans on the steep and very narrow cobblestone streets. Very steep ups! We finally came to the “square” in front of the New Cathedral, but we took a right up into the middle of the university. With its chronic lack of signage, it took us a bit to find the ticket office, (Later we ran into some folks who didn’t realize they had to buy tickets.) We got the whole package – which made the price easier with the 50% senior discount.
We immediately headed for the crowded student cafeteria and got a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches (6.5E) for a noisy but satisfying lunch. Once out of the cafeteria and the WC, we knocked on the door to be let into St. Michael’s chapel with its several remarkable features: a huge organ with pipes extending out into the nave; azulejos around the base; an elaborate baroque altar; a statute of St. Michael, and an overall pleasing space.
Out into the now hot quadrangle and then into the Royal Palace – which now houses many important university functions. The yellow room is where Ph.D. defenses are still held: the great hall is still employed for the opening and other important university ceremonies. In and out of a couple of other rooms before going down to the “cloister/balcony” where students were waiting to go into the classrooms surrounding the balcony. We peeked into one: wooden tiered seating in a traditional lecture style. We waited on a padded bench for our 2:20 PM entrance to the library.
Down and around to the library entrance in the now very hot afternoon: five minutes in the lower portion; ten minutes in the next; and ten minutes in the final instructed the woman organizing the visit. The lower level was bare walls with photos, so we went as quickly as possible to the next which had many books with several open. And then up to the magnificent main library; thousands of ancient books housed in a magnificent, purpose built structure, oak paneled throughout; naturally temperature and insect controlled (with bats) and marvelous columns holding up each rank of books; stupendous arches leading from each of the three sections; overall an exceptional space.
Back out to the quadrangle, we debated where to go next and headed for the Science Building. But first we decided to take in the New Cathedral. Just when you think you’ve seen baroque, you come upon a place that takes it to the next level. The Jesuits built this as a baroque church so it doesn’t have the plonked in baroque altar we often seen. The main and the two side altars were total baroque gold and silver “masterpieces of baroque. (Sometimes I think a bit incongruent with the Jesuits vow of poverty.)
At this point we’d had it - although it had been a very full day, and we were glad it worked out this way giving us a full day at the university. We decided to walk down, which was not easy but easier than walking up. Suggestion: Next time take a taxi to the university and walk down. Other than the Se, there’s not much to see.
Up to the room to freshen up and then on to Fado Centro. It was wonderful in a room that sat about 60 people so that everyone was very close to the performers seated and standing on a raised platform at the front. It was a superb performance with glasses of Port after.
An okay dinner at Solar do Bachala. (Credit cards accepted .)
A good day rescued by some smart on the spur decisions.

Coimbra to Coimbriga to Lisboa Airport

The next morning we were out of Coimbra and on the way to Coimbriga on a nice morning with no “re-routing.”
We parked the car, bought our tickets, freshened up and headed for the Roman ruins – which are the remains of a small city. Like the many other Roman ruins we’ve visited we got the plan fairly easily. The thing about the Romans was that they replicated their basic city plan and features all over their wide world: the forum; a temple; the amphitheater; the baths; and small and larger (in this case a couple of palatial) houses with the peristyle after the entrance and then more of less rooms off the peristyle depending on how wealthy the owners. We walked around the well-signed (in English) sites picking out the features. The dominant feature is the wall – a large chunk of which is close to the entrance. But we could see across the wide, mostly flat terrain that the walls that encircled the city probably stretched a mile or two in circumference. And at the “back” was the very deep gorge. The hated Swabbians (?) apparently weren’t deterred.
While we saw nice mosaic floors in some of the houses, the highlight was the covered House of the Fountains which had a water feature that set off an array of fountains (for .50E) with the small water courses and plantings. Here were the best mosaics: well-preserved examples of the usual knot and meander boarders, but also a hunting scene; faces; a bird; and other more intricate works.
We had plenty of time to take in the site at leisure with only a handful of people doing the same. By noon, a couple of tour buses arrived, and it was getting hot. We then went through the museum with a series of well-signed and informative topics: cooking; knives, ceramics, jewelry, wood working, metal working, etc. In fact at lunch we spent most of the time talking about how the Romans brought master carpenters, masons, potters, and other skilled craftsmen with them and likely recruited the locals not only for servants and farmers and herdsmen but also as apprentices and assistants to the Romans.
A nice lunch on the terrace overlooking the rooms and forests at the gorge.
Coimbriga was terrific, and our decision to press on to Coimbra turned out to be the best plan by far: giving us a full day in Coimbra and a relaxing visit to Coimbriga on the way back to the Lisboa airport. We dropped the rental at the airport; got to the Radisson Blu for a surprisingly moderate price; a very good dinner in their restaurant, and a quick shuttle and flight home.

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