Well if we thought yesterday was a ghost town – check this out! You couldn’t even see across to the other side of the river!
We packed our bags, had our brekky and waited out the front of our hotel for our tour guide. As we were sitting watching the vans pull in, pick up their passengers and drive away, Jenny noticed our bags being loaded into a car. I got up and asked the hotel chap, Bruno who said, very confidently I might add, “This is your driver.” So our bags were loaded and we hopped into the backseat. I introduced us by name and asked his name in return. He seemed confused as to why I would need to know his name and stammered “Luis?”. He didn’t seem very friendly or that keen to chat and when Me Jenny started up with the small talk about the weather, we realised that he didn’t speak any English. Something definitely wasn’t right, so I asked Luis to stop the car and I pulled out our tour confirmation to show him our destination, etc….. he said, “No, I go to airport.” I replied, “Not with us Luis, back to the hotel por favor.” We had to drive around the block and as we arrived there stood a sheepish Bruno along with our worried looking guide. I jokingly asked Mr Sheepish, “What are you doing sending us to the airport?” He replied, “The driver didn’t have a name for his passengers, only that it was two women. I thought it was you.” – Here tip No. 1 – maybe don’t assume and No. 2 – Double check that Luis, the non English speaking driver is in fact your English speaking guide BEFORE you get into the car!
All ended well my friends, so no need to panic.
Our actual guide was named Goncalo and he was very knowledgable about the Aviero & Coimbra areas where he was taking us today. He grew up around Aviero and went to the university in Coimbra – so hands on experience.
We arrived in Aviero which is is famed for being “The Venice of Portugal”. Now, we’ve had one guide who said when we told him we were going to “the Venice of Portugal”, “Oh come on!” and another guide who responded with “Oh Jesus Christ, Venice?” So, we were a little skeptical before arriving and we were semi right to be. It was a very pretty town, I’ll give it that, but Venice? I’m with Guides 1 & 2 on this one. However, Guide 3 happened to be the one we were currently with, and he was proud as punch to show us his town….
The other thing that Aviero is famous for is it’s salt farming… I don’t know, do you ‘farm’ salt? Even so, there is a big salt industry here.
Goncalo dropped us off in the middle of the town while he found a park and we popped into this church while we waited. It was lovely and old and lovely….. until we got to this 2015 monstrosity in pic 2! Apparently the old organ, which was an amazing gothic number high up on the wall, broke and instead of having it fixed, they replaced it with this one. In a new church, I might have been ok with it, but I just didn’t feel right about this mismatch of old and new. Lucky it has nothing to do with me and I’ll probably never step foot into this church again…. and it probably sounds awesome.
Then we took a wonder down into the historical old town….
We found another church – I can’t see us getting sick of churches at all…. This one was quite lovely and very fire safe as well. Instead of lighting a candle to say a prayer, you popped a coin into the machine and a fake candle lights up – win/win.
Each place we’ve been so far have claimed to have invented a particular delicacy – usually made by nuns who lived in town’s convent….. funny thing is though, they are all exactly the same. They make an egg yolk cream with yolks, cream and sugar and they used the egg whites to starch their white habits. Then they use flour and water to make the a mixture (not unlike the wafer you receive at mass) and fill a wafer parcel with the egg yolk cream. They are very sweet and although I’m happy to taste them – they are not my favourite.
Goncale stopped us out the front of this place – I thought it was a chemist at first… where he treated us to a taste of an ovos moles…
The one on the left is what we tasted….. but the one on the right looks delicious – only because it looks like custard, but it’s the egg cream. False advertising if you ask me.
Next stop was over the bridge where the Portuguese gondolas, called barcos moliceiros ferried passengers around the canals.
We chose not to go on the boat, but instead we stuck out heads into the central fish market which wasn’t huge, but neither is the town…
Below is the church of Saint Goncalinho – it was built in devotion of the Saint of fishermen and each year there is a festival in the honour of the Saint and people would stand on the top of the church and throw down traditional sweet biscuits and thousands of people would stand in the church courtyard and catch them. It sounds quite civilised. However, our guide had a different take on the tradition…. He said that people do indeed come in their thousands and stand in the church courtyard, but then come armed with umbrellas that they hold upside down both as a collection device and also to protect themselves as people do throw the sweet biscuits down, but the biccies are very hard and they are thrown with such force that head injuries have occurred. People get quite competitive and he even said that he once witnessed a father push his own son out of the way, not to save the child from a visit to A & E, but to claim the biscuit for himself. Sounds like fun.
We wandered around for bit more taking in the architectural charm.
- a little bit of old and new…. one is look a little more conspicuous than the other!
- more tiles
- when you haven’t got another place to hang out your washing – (can you see the clothes horse on the balcony?)
- a typical street/canal scape in Aviero
Another thing that this little gem of a town has is 28 Art Nouveau houses…. this being Number 1.
The fog finally lifted and the sun shone through on these two happy faces….
Then it was off to the beach….
Well, Gonzalo said ‘beach’….. instead we were treated to these gorgeous ‘beach’ houses which were situated along a strip of land with the river to their front and the ocean behind. These houses were really lovely. Some were being renovated and some were little cafes. Some are lived in full time and some people use them as their holiday beach house. I asked Goncalo if we were going to see the actual beach which would have meant a turn to the right, to which he said, “Yes, of course” and we turned left…. #lostintranslation and onto Coimbra we went.
Coimbra, Portugal’s former capital before Lisbon, is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra. It was built on the grounds of a former palace, and the university is famous for its baroque library, and its 18th century bell tower.
Here’s Me Jenny thing to figure out what subject she might like to study here….
Because it was the first week of university the students were wearing their full garb, including robes and
initiating welcoming the newbies into their facilities. I love that they wear robes and not just to graduation. I say I love them, but I wouldn’t have like to wear them when I was at uni, but I like the history and tradition of them and also I love that they have a link with Harry Potter…. look, I won’t apologise for banging on about HP, but I think you’ll be safe once we’re out of Portugal – a few more days to go.
Our guide, Goncale was once a student himself here in Coimbra (pronounced Queem-bra) and he told us that when you are given a robe you are not allowed to wash it. You are allowed to hang it out on your balcony to be washed by the rain and dried by the wind, but that’s it! He didn’t know why and for the 3 years he attended, he never asked. Why would you – just one less thing to wash!
The university, as I mentioned, used to be a palace owned by Prince John and is now one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world – definitely the oldest uni in Portugal being founded by King Dinis in 1290! The uni itself moved around a bit – it was in Lisbon for a while, then in 1537 King John III (this bloke below) gave his Coimbra palace to the university and said, “stop moving it around – this is where it will be staying.” To be fair, King John looks a little like Henry VIII.
Our tour started in the chapel which is about a billion years old…..
Then we went inside the uni itself and up to the rooftop for a spectacular view…
Our final and most favourite part of the university was the library – Biblioteca Joanina. There are timed visits to the library with only a 10 minute allotment for each group.
You’re also not allowed to take any photos inside…. so these ones are from the Wikipedia page…
The library has a number of priceless books, one even dating back 600+ years. It is one of two libraries in the world whose books are protected from insects by a colony of bats within the library. During the night, the bats eat the insects. Each night, workers cover the beautiful antique tables and other furniture with sheets of leather and in the morning the library is cleaned of the bat poop.
These were the parts we were allowed to take pics…
Just outside of the library is yet another reference to HP – the Minerva Staircase…. I mean, it’s everywhere!
So after much thought Me Jenny decided that she would study the English language here and I thought I might give medicine or law a crack, after all I’m almost fluent in Portuguese now…
As it turns out they were giving degrees away…. These cardboard cutouts don’t look tacky at all in this beautiful historic palace of a university. Also, I realise that Me Jenny’s face in the hole of the cutout person skills need work – we’ve had a conversation about it.