HEADING HOME

As George famously sang, “All Things Must Pass”, and even amazing winter breaks come to an end. Mine ended this morning and I had to catch the train again back down to Lisbon for my flight back. The ride is a shade over 2 hours and deposited me at the Metro (city subway) station, next to the train station. A little hint – trains are “comboios” and a station is “um estacao”, the two are used interchangeably and this can be confusing.

The Anjos Metro stop

I got off at my Metro stop and stopped for a great lunch before going to my hostel. Google Maps said it was 15 minutes walk, and it might have been if I weren’t dragging my broken luggage up a steep hill the whole way. Took me 45 minutes. This was 3.00 pm and I would need to be at the Aeroport for check-in at 3.00 am. I crashed for a few hours and decided that if I was going to be bored waiting for my flight, I would like it better at the aeroport than waiting until 2.30 am and hoping my taxi showed up. Once again, I dragged my broken luggage (handles crapped out), this time down hill for more like 20 minutes.
Back on the Metro, I was back on a train and at the aeroport, where I am writing this, by 11.00pm.

The rest of the trip was a nightmare, with baggage mix-ups, delays and more. I’m now back in Renfrew, catching up on sleep and family.

As we say, Ciao,  e amana (so long, see you tomorrow)

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FINAL DAY HIKING

My last day offered all kinds of options. It was a beautiful blue sky day and I wondered about more exploring in the Old Town or maybe checking out the Botanical Garden. My walking person won out and I chose to go looking for the section of the Camino Portuguese that runs through Coimbra. (The full route starts in Lisbon and ends up in Porto where we picked it up last year.)
I went to the Camino Ways site and got their map and thought I was all set. Oh, sure! As a veteran peregrino I should have known better. I went to the place indicated in the map as the turning point in downtown Coimbra, right next to the train station. The place where the trail should have been was being dug up and renovated. If I could have waited a year or so it would be beautiful. Now it was piles of rocks and construction equipment. I walked along parallel to it for a few miles and eventually found where it actually became usable trail.

One of the entrances to Couphal
I walked along that for a mile or so and came to a sign where you could either continue on the Camino route or enter what was called the Couphal Mata National, that is the Couphal National Forest. This was around 200 acres of woods, rivers, and walking trails. The Camino route looked boring, so I changed plans and went in there. Excellent choice!
This place featured easy and flat walking trails that passed two rivers (the famous Mondego that defines Coimbra, and another called the Velha, the Old River) and had pockets of wildflowers, swamp and a few historic buildings.

I spent over 2 hours exploring this park and could easily have spent that again by going down some of the other sidetrails. Very nice and hardly a soul about, other than a few joggers. All this less than an hour from the edge of Coimbra.

COIMBRA OLD TOWN

Once I wrapped up the major writing project I undertook on this trip, it freed up a bunch of time, so I decided to spend the better part of the day and evening exploring the Old Town of Coimbra. I had been on a structured tour of the University and the fabulous Library a few years ago when Judy and I did the Duoro boat cruise (highly recommended), so I didn’t want to repeat that this time. It was interesting to see how much progress they have made in the rehabilitation around the main campus over these years. Still a fair bit to do.

A view from the University down the hill into the Old Town

I was struck by how much we did not do back then. There is a huge amount of exploring to do, with wandering down narrow streets, viewing several religious buildings and dining in some of the sidewalk cafes.

I had a snack here early afternoon and went back for dinner.

The highlight of this day/evening was finding the Fado do Centro stage in the heart of the Old Town. Fado (if you don’t know) is the most characteristic musical form of Portugal, with its unique guitar, the luta, and its mournful and emotional song style. In Coimbra the style is the two guitars and one singer, all male. (In the Lisbon style, women singers are present) The Fado do Centro is a not-for-profit promotional organization which promotes this musical style and offers nightly live shows. The show was two shows, in fact. There was the musical part which was wonderful. I am a big fan of fado, and the performers were excellent. The other part was a multi-media show, behind the performance, plus some narration by the hostess. This explained a lot of the origins of fado, the styles and the themes. I knew that the Coimbra style was men only but through the show learned that this was because the main theme and history was that fado was songs performed by men at the windows of their potential sweethearts.

Just to the left of the tree is a sandwish board indicating thhe entrance to the Fado ao Centro stage.
I bought the CD on sale and I expect it will feature in whatever multi-media show I do when I get back home.

Lots of fado vids on You Tube, if you haven’t heard it before.

OLD AND NEW

Its been overcast and drizzly here all day Tues and Weds, so I limited myself to short walks around the area. Any visitor to Coimbra knows it is the home of the 2nd oldest university in Europe. What we may miss is that the city was already thriving at that time. It was part of the 4th century Roman empire, and survived that, the Moorish and Spanish invasions, as well as the turbulence of Portugal’s own history.

A view looking north, across the Mondego River up into the mountains near Aveiro and  below Porto

At one time it was the most important city in the country. The university dates to 1290. As you walk about you see how central that was, with streets names attributed to various scholars and academics.

A gorgeous building located on the property of the more modern Statistics Portugal offices.

Detail of the decorations.

Back in Renfrew, we thought we had an old house at our former schoolhouse, which was 150 years old. Walking around here you really get a sense of how old the place is. And its not like they bull-doze the old and replace it with new modern stuff. What you see is renovation, re-purpose and new next to old. This is so much at the heart of the European experience. It has always treated its history as a treasure and part of its identity, instead of something to be trashed to allow another new building.

A perfect example of older and newer residential design, side by side.
A good example is the transformation of a former monastery into the regional educational penitentiary. This place (I think) was once a convent of Saint Anne. It was changed into a new kind of prison on the 1970’s after the revolution. Now it takes people convicted of minor crimes and teaches them trades. Like what we might call minimum security.

High security walls surround the prison, the old chapel rises above the profile.

EATING IN, EATING OUT

Part of the hostel experience is the choice of dining out or cooking in the hostel. Each place I’ve been in has been located within easy walking distance of nice and affordable restaurants and cafes. They all have had decent cooking facilities as well. The stove-tops take some getting used to. They are flat black glass with four element circle and a set of cryptic touch buttons, each with its own code-system. You need to learn which one turns the burners on, which raises or lowers temperature and if the whole thing is locked or not.

I got tricked the other day when the display showed [lo], which I took to mean it was starting up and so far was low. It expected it to get to [med] and [hi] after a bit. It didn’t. I asked the hostess and she explained [lo] meant [locked]. D’Oh!


There are good grocery chains nearby, so I can get whatever I want. Fresh, prepared and frozen. I have to limit that because either my stay or my share of the fridge space is limited.

Restaurants are varied, in style and quality. Last night I found a superb all-you-can-eat sushi place called FU89 (why?).

The ‘Beer House’ Restaurant in Funchal

There are a bunch of typical things on most menus. A ‘bolo’ is a sandwich made with a cake-like bread; a ‘sande’ is a sandwich on regular bread, a ‘tosta’ is like a grilled cheese.

A bolo ao frango (chicken sandwich) with crisps and a beer, approx E7.00

The popular fillings are ham or sliced beef, chicken, breaded fish filet and cheese. There are pasta and salad choices. Higher end places have a wider range of choices including all kinds of fresh fish and seafood. Best fish choices have been ‘espada’ (black scabbard eel) and red snapper. They do a curious calamari. These are always served with masses of potatoes and seasonal veggies (now its carrots and brocolli).

A salmon steak with veggies and vnho branco

Its not that hard to find McPuke, Pizza Hut or Subway. I confess (or brag) that I avoided them consistently.

There are always ‘sobramesas’ (desserts) too. The cheapest and commonest is the national treasure, pastella da nata.

My daily fix of chinesa (cappucino) and a pastella.

Cakes, pastries and pies abound. Many streets have a walk-up gelateria. I had a minor glycemic moment one day and was starting to feel dizzy. I stopped at a gelateria and got a chocolate gelatto. Man, did it do the job!

Another time I’ll post about ‘bebidas’, drinks.

CALCADAS

Probably my third favourite things about Portugal (after the vinho and the inimitable style of Portuguese men and women) is the calcadas, the stone pavement that dates back to early Roman times. Mine is a love-hate relationship. As much as I love the aesthetic and the variety of patterns, I know my ankles and knees have not been so appreciative of the “hobblestones”.


All the sidewalks are a basic linear pattern, and I suspect the pattern is functional in showing the edges and safest walking part. In places the sidewalks are so narrow or even disappearing that its easy to find yourself stepping into traffic. The lines help to see this change.
Elsewhere, the patterns grow with the size of the area. In a praca, the images can be pictorial. You can also see a whole praca done as ocean waves.

My favourite street in Funchal was Rua Tavira where the images were large for the space and each one captured a classic Madeiran historical image – wine carts, farmers, ships and so on.


The calcadas are less permanent than our cement sidewalks, so need repair and whole replacement at times. It is common to see a few lads digging up 30-50 stones to repair. Across the street in Coimbra they are re-doing the whole street.