A Weekend in Coimbra

Coimbra is a small city about 200km north of Lisbon. It’s easy to get there on the train, a ride that takes a little over two hours. We found a taxi to our guest house, dropped off our bags, and walked down into the old city at the center. Before we left, we spent some time admiring the home across the street from the guest house. (A note on names – if the word “Alta” is in the name of the place you’re going to stay, you are probably on top of a hill and will spend a lot of time walking up when you just want to go to bed.)


One of Coimbra’s best-known landmarks is the University, founded in 1290, the oldest in Portugal. Still active today, the University has an old world feel despite students with laptops and mobile phones. Most visitors head to the Library first. The entry leads into the prison underneath the library itself. This is a bit special, as universities aren’t known for housing prisons. Apparently in medieval times, the University had its own legal jurisdiction and could toss miscreants into prison. Not like the colleges I went to.

Above the prison, there is a room with lots of books and a Moorish feel. The ceilings are very similar to one seen in North Africa and in places where the Moors invaded. While the architecture was a surprise, the books weren’t.

The spectacular part of the library was another floor up. It’s hard to describe and photography was not allowed. At a minimum, it is the creepiest and most gothic library imaginable. It feels like a bad dream, a truly amazing and unique experience. I am going to look into getting permission to photograph but suspect it will be difficult.

(Photo next time hopefully.)

There’s a lot of religious imagery around the University, even in buildings that may not have been part of the school. Of course the church was the government when it was built so that’s not surprising. There are also places in which the effort that went into building was almost incomprehensible given the tools of the day.

And the buildings themselves were impressive, even afflicted with the overcast wet weather that we suffered much of the time we were in Coimbra.

When it did brighten up and the blue skies appeared, the city was beautiful.

The next day, we visited a famous monastery. As expected, lots of religious imagery, some with incredible complexity. And some just strange. Here’s a slideshow:

Out and about, Coimbra is a Portuguese city, similar to Lisbon in many respects although much smaller. Old and new, places that people could gather, cafes as the center of social life. The old city was dominated by tourists and students but due to heavy rain, occasionally emptied, sometimes the plaza just had one person in it.

We walked at least 10km a day and saw some interesting neighborhoods. On a residential street, three very well-kept houses had a cryptic sculpture in the parking lot in front.

At night, Coimbra’s pedestrian streets are probably busy at most times, but the rain made it more difficult to be out. It did make the street shiny for photographs.

And the old buildings looked alternately elegant and threatening.

The last half day we wandered the edges of the center. The fringes of the old quarter are filled with abandoned factories, apparently from old industries including ceramics and cookie factories that closed down. A lot of retail space is empty also, victims not of Amazon, which has a very low presence here, but of malls and a migration of the population away from the center.

Hopefully I will find a way to photograph inside the library on our next visit.

A Walk to The Valley

A Walk to The Valley

There’s an area close to our home I call “The Valley.” It is a valley, a fairly sudden drop from our rather high perch on a plateau at the top of one of Lisbon’s seven hills. And while it is a valley, I have no idea what it is called. It’s an area with much blight on the way into it, at the bottom, there is at least one farm, the roosters can be heard crowing. Numerous gardens, probably community gardens, can be seen looking down into the valley. Because the land is open, without too many streets, people plant vegetables and flowers. It’s a little early to tell what is growing without getting a lot closer.

The Valley

The buildings that aren’t showing signs of neglect are made of stucco, painted in the pastel colors so commonly seen in Lisbon. Full shades cover the windows early in the morning. Our home has shutters instead of shades; at night in Lisbon, everyone’s windows are completely covered, sometimes all day.

The Valley

Sometimes a worn-out building shows signs of life. Someone obviously lives here and puts out their plants and hangs the laundry outside. Often these are icons of life inside; without them, it may be an empty building behind the façade.

The Valley

Occasionally there are structures that defy how we think of living. The rooms on the end of this building must be strange indeed, definitely not big enough to include more than a single bed, maybe just a child’s bed. They could just be sitting rooms.

The Valley

Some homes are clearly abandoned. It would be difficult to live in this one, and the bricked up windows and doors prevent squatting.

The Valley

Of course there’s graffiti. Although one would expect everything in this area to be covered with wall art, it’s not. There is still respect for the buildings that people live in, and that combined with the rough surfaces of decaying structures makes tagging more difficult. Sometimes it’s just funny.

The Valley

On the way home, probably about half a mile of uphill walk, I find a way to give a broad view without trying another handheld panorama. It’s similar to where we live, with buildings in decent, if not exceptional, condition. Next time out, I’m going to try to get down to the farm, or maybe farms, and see what I can discover.

The Valley



Out and About

Out and About

No rain and clear skies all day! It’s going to rain tomorrow but today was a good day for wandering the city. We took the bus out of our neighborhood and just started walking, probably five miles by the time we got home in the evening. Some nice parks (always called Jardims here), some alleys, and some touristy areas, although not intentionally. Of course the spot with the best view was covered in tourists and it took a while to get up front to take one of those sweeping vista photos.

Lisbon Skyscape

One thing I have always enjoyed doing is shooting into open windows and doorways. In France, this brought trouble, and someone’s housekeeper chased me down the street with a broom. I still can’t resist.

Lisbon Window Peeping

The alleys are always interesting although cars constantly intrude now. When I first came to Europe with a camera – Spain twenty years ago – there were far less cars and most of the time it was easy to avoid modern distractions. Can’t bring back the past though…

Lisbon Alley

I’m sure I’ve said this before, there is food everywhere, and it’s often on display. Restaurants like to show how fresh their seafood is to entice customers.

Lisbon Octopus

Graffiti is as ubiquitous as seafood in Portugal. Almost every wall that isn’t privately owned has some graffiti on it. Interestingly, homes are left alone. Some walls often show their failure to restrain nature, and when that combines with graffiti, it demonstrates the collision of two worlds.

Graffiti Meets Green

An old subterranean church had its door open so I wandered in and down. It felt abandoned, with nobody in it. I liked the light in the stairwell.

Lisbon Underground Church

Tomorrow it will be raining and we have some household chores to get done. Maybe it will clear up a little on the weekend.