Our visit to Coimbra was an accident. A happy accident, but an accident none-the-less. With a close friend choosing to marry in Cascais, we decided to venture into the parts of Portugal between Porto and Lisboa and Coimbra seemed an ideal location. A little bit of research told us it was a lively university town with an historic past so we knew it was likely to throw up lots of interesting sites to visit.
On arrival, we were presented with a maze of twisty little lanes as we ventured deeper into the medieval old town. Our accommodation was located on the Rua Quebra Costas, a tiny little street filled with steps stretching up towards the Cathedral, filled with shops and vitality. There’s a little jazz bar at the top of the street. Sitting on the balcony with a drink as the music wafts out onto the night air is a wonderful way to begin an evening spent exploring the twists and turns of the medieval centre. Little gems appear around every corner, with students spilling from bars into the streets from livelier haunts and delicious smells emanating from packed little cafes and restaurants. The bar/restaurant Passaporte offers great views over the water and la Bodeguita was one of the best Mexican restaurants we’ve ever eaten in!
As we’re there over the Easter period, we keep missing the opening hours of the Cathedral, so we spend most of our tourist hours around the University. We start off in the physics and chemistry building: it’s a fascinating and eerie place, filled with long, deserted corridors and cabinets stuffed with weird and wonderful taxidermy.
In the main part of the university, the main draw is the Ceremonial Hall. It’s impressively gloomy, but won’t stay etched in my memory for its uniqueness. The Biblioteca Joanina is a different kettle of fish. A monstrosity of a library, with huge bookcases groaning under the weight of ancient tomes filling every available space. Most interesting are the bats that live in the library, existing on a diet of bookmites which makes sure the books are preserved – an ingenious way to preserve the collection! Unfortunately night-time visits aren’t available – I’d love to be in there at night listening to the bats flitting around.
Other gems in the city that we visited were the Igreja Santa Cruz, with its baroque pipe organ and beautiful tiles. The azulejos in Portugal are one of my favourite things – when used on the outside of buildings, they transform even the most mundane streets.
The Se Velha is another delight, with its gothic interior and beautiful cloisters. For a place arrived at by accident, it certainly kept us more than entertained!