Portugal Road Trip – Part Three


IMG_0434Coimbra is a university town in the middle of Portugal that deserves its own entry in this blog, even though we only spent part of one day there.

Way back when (1131 to 1255) it was the capital of Portugal. It is the fourth-largest urban area in Portugal (after Lisbon, Porto, and Braga), with roughly 150,000 people.

It’s one of the few towns we visited on this trip where we didn’t go to a castle. The main one in or near Coimbra looks to be Castelo da Abrunheira, but from what I can see on the internet, it’s pretty derelict.

Like most towns and cities in Portugal, Coimbra is chock full of ancient buildings, twisty/turny roads through hilly areas, and lots of history. Much of that history is centered in the University of Coimbra, which was founded in 1290, making it the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world. Its historical buildings are classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

So that was where we spent most of our time.

The first four photos are the views from the university grounds.


The next two are from a walk we took in a nearby park.

And this next one is of a building… just in case you’re reading this in braille and can’t see the photograph.


And now on to the University of Coimbra!

IMG_0436This is a panoramic shot of the main square in the university. The buildings here offer three very interesting tours of some cool historical stuff, as you’ll see below.

IMG_9625This is the front entrance (used as an exit) of an amazingly decorated old library, which you’ll see the inside of below. Note the smartly dressed cape-and-tie students.

IMG_9666This is a church on the University grounds. You walk past it to get to the science museum, the inside of which you’ll see below.

IMG_9624This is a statue of King João III, or as his close American friends from New Jersey called him, “King Johnny da Turd.” Actually, since he ruled from 1502 to 1557, there was no such thing as New Jersey. But they woulda called him that had there been, I’m sure of it. Of course he might have had them beheaded if he thought they were really saying “turd” instead of “third,” so maybe it’s a good thing New Jersey hadn’t been invented yet.

IMG_0444We’re not from New Jersey and we speak a little Portuguese, so we don’t call him King Johnny da Turd. We call him King João the Wow. During his reign he colonized Brazil (earning him the nickname of “The Colonizer”, which sounds like a great TV show), and led the Portuguese to become the first Europeans to make contact with both China and Japan, which led to a lot of tea, which ended up in Britain, which resulted in them invading –and this is true– 90% of the world’s countries. By 1913, the British Empire ruled over 412 million people, which was almost a quarter of the world population at the time. I’m sure all that happened because of all the caffeine in the tea. So see, the British Empire was all Portugal’s fault. 

IMG_9631We’ll call this the Door of the Day since I can’t remember where it was exactly. Looks a little holy-ish though.

IMG_9621You walk through this to get into the historical inner square of the University. I’m guessing the clothing at the top is the result of college dares, hazing, or perhaps it’s actually the underwear of the workers who were installing the grate but kept falling off, except for their underwear which tended to get snagged on the grate. Then no one wanted to move any of it because, you know, it’s men’s underwear, which should never be touched by anyone but the owner, their wives, or their mothers, and even then only with a lot of mental griping as to why men are so stinky.

On closer inspection, maybe they’re socks or handkerchiefs. Oh well, this is what you get when we travel without a guide.

IMG_9620That’s where the door is from the previous photo in case you were thinking I made all that up.

IMG_9627You can walk down these stairs to go into the library, unless you have no legs, then you have to roll.

IMG_9630This is the central square. It was all once a royal palace. In fact, the first one in Portugal.

IMG_9622This is the Via Latina, erected in the 18th century. My high school Spanish would translate that as “The Road of a Latin Woman” (even though “via” is more of an Italian word), but I’m guessing that’s not what it really means, especially since we’re not in Spain or Italy… or Kansas.

IMG_9623This is simply called “The Tower.” And of course they would have built a phallic building right next to a Via Latina. Anyway, it was built in the early 1700s, and has bells that still chime plus a staircase all the way to the top. We didn’t bother going up because we’ve walked up plenty of ancient spiral staircases over the last few years, and we’re two years older than we were two years ago, as you probably are as well.

IMG_9664This is a picture of a red car. An old building just happens to be behind it. In all seriousness, red cars are a little bit of an exception in Portugal. It’s something I noticed when we first got here: almost all the cars are either grey, silver, white, or black. Dunno why.

IMG_0441A view across the square.

IMG_0442A view from the square, overlooking the Mondego River, which is the longest river located exclusively in Portuguese territory. It begins its journey from the Serra da Estrela mountains, which we visited and you can read about later.

IMG_0435Unlike a lot of university buildings I’ve seen, this one does a very good job of being labeled. It means Faculty of Medicine, in case your mental faculties are waning.

Biblioteca-Joaninat 2The first part of the three-part tour was into the Biblioteca Joanina. They didn’t allow photography in the library itself, so I had to steal a couple of pictures off the internet. I wanted to do that because it truly is an amazing place. We just stood and gawked in awe at the number of old books and the grandeur of the rooms.

Biblioteca-JoaninatIt was built in the 18th century, and is now a priceless National Monument.

IMG_9638The floor below the Biblioteca Joanina is a depository of many other old books, some of which are gigantic in size.




IMG_0448Inside the complex is a small chapel, as usual, ornately decorated.

IMG_9661This is a courtyard near The Tower. I’m guessing it’s called The Courtyard.

IMG_9668We wanted this table for our dining room, but apparently it’s not for sale. Bummer. When I tried to explain to them that “priceless” means there’s no price and so therefore it’s free, they just looked at me funny, as the Portuguese often do.

IMG_9643It isn’t every day we find a door customized to fit my large American bulk.

IMG_0445They apparently hadn’t learned about blueprints yet.

This is an assortment of floor, wall, and ceiling decor Carolyn found especially interesting.

Near the University complex is a science museum that isn’t so much dedicated to science as it is to the history of the dedication to science. In other words, their displays were mostly of the things that were on display way back when. So it’s a sort of museum of old science. We found it interesting, except…

Carolyn on displayOnce again, Carolyn found herself trapped inside a display case in a museum.

Carolyn on display closeup

Here’s a close-up. To get her out of there I had to explain that sure, she’s old, but she’s not that old. Once they checked her ID, they let her out of the case. Whew! Crisis averted! I keep telling her to stay on the beaten paths, but she’s an explorer, that one.

IMG_0464This is a whale of a picture. I wrote that on porpoise.

IMG_0470Whales are so ginormous, it’s almost hard to fathom. Get it? Fathom? Ha ha! No? Anyway, I found it interesting that recently scientists discovered the prehistoric bones of a four-legged whale in Peru. I wonder if it turned into a very large frog later. In any case, this one had already evolved past the leg thing, saving the female whales untold millions in razor costs.

IMG_0467Fierce pussies aren’t afraid to use their teeth and claws.

IMG_0465Even in death, these animals can’t get away from their herd mentality. Oh deer!

IMG_0455This room contained all sorts of old scientific instruments. Don’t know how they sounded in an orchestra, though.

IMG_0463If that isn’t one of the weirdest skeletons ever, I don’t know what is.

IMG_0456Lots of old taxidermy, although today they call it Uberdermy.

IMG_0461These skulls demonstrate why I avoid being bitten by animals with big teeth.

IMG_0454The museum used to be a place of learning with seats designed to keep you wide awake because they were so uncomfortable.

IMG_0459When you’re dead, he’ll pick your bones.

IMG_0462Guess he picked these clean too. But seriously, those are freaky long arms. As humans evolved from the apes, I think the friction from the ground is what shortened our arms. However, they definitely had an easier time clipping their toenails, so I’m not sure this whole evolution thing is all that smart.

IMG_0458Not all genetic accidents lead to adaptations in species, otherwise we’d have two-headed animals all over the place. On the other hand, if a human developed that way and one head was a right-winger and the other a left-winger, it sure would be entertaining to watch them argue! Or what if one was religious and the other an atheist? The religious one would go nuts worrying that his other head would land them both in hell! That might be quite an issue for conjoined twins!

IMG_0460PPeregrine Falconeregrine Falcons are near and dear to me because I developed a limited edition scrimshaw knife set back in the early ’80s which highlighted their status as an endangered species. Their decline was largely due to the extensive use of DDT, something my very conservative boss at the time scoffed at; he thought DDT was awesome. Fortunately, they didn’t listen to knuckle-headed anti-environmental conservatives like him back then, and so the cessation of the use of DDT allowed this magnificent animal to recover enough to be taken off the endangered species list in 1999. Maybe my little collector’s item helped with that!

IMG_9669Here’s another table we wanted to buy as well. But again, not for sale. Haven’t the Portuguese heard about free enterprise? Sheesh!

Well, that’s it for Coimbra. That was a long entry! Thanks for sticking with it and getting all the way to the end, honey. By the way, what’s for dinner?


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