Higher Learning

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Portugal  , Beiras,
Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Apparently there's a saying in Portugal that suggests that 'Lisbon plays, Porto works, and Coimbra learns’ (not exactly the catchy simplicity of "where’s the beef" but it’s supposed to be an accurate portrayal of each cities character?). DH is always looking for opportunities to fire up her cerebral cortex’s, so the centre of higher learning, Coimbra, was the first designated stop on our cross-Portugal adventure.

To call Coimbra a university town is to do it a significant disservice- learning/teaching activities have been taking place here since the Late Middle Ages- with its decline as the political centre of the Kingdom of Portugal, Coimbra began to evolve into a major cultural centre, helped by the university formally established here in 1537. The University of Coimbra, the oldest in Portugal, and one of the oldest in Europe, attracts many European and international students (10% of the students are international).  Built in the 18th century, the Joanina Library, a Baroque library, is the most notable landmark of this ancient complex- the interior has have one of the most elaborate we’ve ever seen (library or otherwise), but for reasons known only to the bureaucracy, no photography is allowed so our many blog followers (all one of you) will need to close your eyes and imagine three great rooms divided by decorated arches, walls covered by two storied shelves of gilded and painted exotic wood, and the fabulous painted ceilings, The library contains about 250 thousand volumes, namely works of medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy and theology. You can still smell the smoke from overworked brain cells lingering in the air.

Not everything is a testament to a higher intellect. In days gone by the Mosteiro De Santa Clara-A-Velha was built on the banks of the river – a river that was prone to flooding, so this magnificent gothic place of worship and study had to be abandoned after damage caused by, surprise, surprise, repeated floods. In a lesser version of “what-were-they-thinking” the townsfolk recently constructed a pedestrian bridge with a slightly odd art deco style. Good idea and great way to cross the river except that the coloured Plexiglas is easily damaged and smashed by the drunken morons that are, unfortunately, a part of every urban landscape particularly university towns. And Coimbra was our first exposure to off-centre sport of kayak basketball- we initially thought that this spectacle must be the tragic result of students being pushed too hard in their midterms but a quick Google search confirmed that it is indeed a real sport that I’m sure will be another bizarre Olympic event before long.

The rest of the town was a walk through history and, like Porto, crossing the river resulted in some amazing cityscapes. As early as the Middle Ages, Coimbra was divided into an upper city, where the aristocracy and the clergy lived, and the low city by the Mondego River, where most commercial activities took place. The city was encircled by a fortified wall, of which some remnants are still visible.  The core of the old town was a series of interconnected pedestrian-only cobblestone streets which made for a very enjoyable visit. Getting dinner was a bit of a challenge given that the restaurants didn’t even open until a time at which DH (where the D stands for Do Not Disturb) likes to be dreaming about her former crime-fighting days- not sure we’ll ever get used to eating as late as most Euro’s do.
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CarolC on

Here is Oz it's called Kayak Water Polo!

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