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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Coimbra Explored on Foot and by Stomach

After our previous day of rest we decided on an early start for our day of exploring Coimbra. We grabbed a taxi for 6 Euros and headed up to the university which is perched on the highest hill in town. Our driver was true to the Portuguese taxi code of getting your passenger to their destination as quickly as possible up the narrow windy roads. Today we only "almost hit" 3 people.

When we arrived at the top there were already many tourists and students gathering for the day. It must be strange being a student at a university that was started in the 1200's and has hundreds of tourists milling about each day. This was the first week of classes and many students were partaking in orientation tours themselves. THeir guides were older students dressed in traditional black capes, ties and black pants or skirts. It felt very medieval.

We paid for our tickets and also secured audio tour speakers which helped us enjoy the historical aspects of the place. Although it is always strange to hear a British voice guiding us through Portuguese or Italian sites. The main square is surrounded by medieval buildings and opens up on one side to show a great vista of the surrounding town. In the middle of the square there is a large statue of one of the university's early benefactors.

Highlights included lots of great art; an ancient library which was used until about 50 years ago; a prison for wayward students; a court for academic disputes and best of all - we got to peer through a window and see an actual Doctoral defence in progress. THe defence was in a large church like room with spectators (likely family) sitting on pews; a judge like figure in robes presiding from a high chair and about 7 people adjudicating from a high bench on the side. All of these judges were dressed in academic robes. In the middle of the room sat a middle age man at a small desk and he was doing most of the talking.Off to his side was a young woman in regular clothes. She didn't seem to talk much. We remain curious on how their process works. It seemed much more intimidating than MI State.

After our tour of the University we walked over to the National Museum and saw amazing 16th C religious art, including the famous Black Jesus. There was a modern looking restaurant at the museum with a fabulous view, but we did not taste their food.

From the museum it was a pleasant walk DOWN through windy narrow streets (glad we didn't try walking up). There is a large church/monastary which we visited quickly and tasteful shops. We bought a 2 CD Fado collection along the way down. They have nightly Fado performances and Port tastings. We also saw some fun installation art - umbrellas lining one street.

The clerk who sold us our tickets for the University tour recommended a local restaurant on the river. He said it was more expensive, but very good. It was a bit hard to find because it is not on an actual street, but part of a small shopping building that sits in the park and right on the river. Strangely it is named the "A Portuegesa". When we found it we knew this was going to be special. Our waiter had a huge personality and ensured we had a delightful experience. We decided to sit under some umbrellas right at the riverside. From our table we could see a solitary swimmer in the river and ducks underneath our feet. After looking at the menu he took us inside to view the fresh fish and explained our many options. The fish was so fresh they almost squirmed. We had choices of Skate, Grouper, Dorado, Sea Bass, Sole and Lobster. We chose a Dorado and they weighed it and told us the very reasonable price for 2 people. With our waiter's help we selected a local white wine and had an informative discussion about Portuguese wine. He then brought out a special bottle of red wine and poured us both a taste, instructing us to let it breath for about 15 minutes before trying it.

When the Dorado appeared it was perfectly grilled (on charcoal) and the waiter expertly filleted it into two pieces. It was delectable and one of the best we had had on this trip and perhaps anywhere. I did express my disappointment in receiving oiled potatoes instead of fresh fried chips - but this was rectified quickly with a smile. The chips were also great, as was the fresh salad. We really enjoyed this restaurant and our waiter. When the meal was just about done we finally tasted the red wine and it was worth the wait. Medium bodied, nice complexity and deep ruby colour. We liked it enough to order it by the glass at our hotel later in the evening. Thanks to the producer's marketing it was only 3 Euros a glass!

It was a quick 10 minute walk across the river back to our hotel. We took a quick rest at the pool and then met our new Ohio friends in the lounge to catch up on our days. We ended up joining them at the hotel's restaurant for a light dinner. The staff (with the exception again of the Sommelier) continued to disappoint with their lack of attention and warmth. A huge contrast to our lunch experience and again evidence on why they no longer have their Star. For the high price the food was just ok.

And so ended our last night in Coimbra. David and Charlotte we hope to see you again real soon.

1 comment:

  1. Dorado -- Piri Piri, Dupont west of Lansdowne, about $24 for a whole fresh fish. White wines too...