Conímbriga

I am overwhelmed with photos and memories today. We found the right bus stop and visited one of the best archaeological sites we’ve ever seen, including Italy and Greece. It was raining when we left Coimbra and raining when we returned, but Conímbriga had only a few sprinkles.

The excavation is about a meter deep into the surrounding field. Only a small part of the city has been excavated–there is a huge area yet to be explored.

We were impressed with the honesty of the presentation. It was clearly stated and obvious whether what we were seeing was original or restored.

There was already a settlement at least 500 years old when the Romans arrived in the 1st century AD. Remnants of that older settlement are still visible.

Conímbriga flourished on the Roman road between Lisbon and Braga in the north of present Portugal. Portions of the road still exist, complete with ruts.

Conímbriga must have been prosperous. One house had 35,000 square feet. At the end of the 3d century AD, the city was threatened by the Swabians–Christians from present-day Germany, so many inhabitants fled to Rome and those who stayed hastily built a wall.

This wall had a gate on the Roman road.

The iron gate went up and down in this groove.

The wall cut through the rich houses and they were demolished.

The wall didn’t work. The Swabians conquered the city and built a basilica. The Romans fled. The city was inhabited until the Middle Ages.

An aqueduct brought water from 3km away.

Two bath houses have been excavated with the usual underground systems.

For us, there were two highlights. First, the mosaics. Oh, My!! Many in perfect condition with brilliant colors and patterns we’ve never before seen.

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Second, the most complete peristyles we have ever seen. Most were as excavated.

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But one was restored, complete with working fountains. It was covered for protection, but the cover also added to the ambiance and made the setting feel more real.

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There was a basement under the peristyle.

Rooms had plaster pilasters and friezes.

Then there was the museum.

Tableware.

Woodworking tools.

Sewing and weaving.

Fish hooks.

Kitchen utensils.

Architectural elements.

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Tomorrow we will see how Coimbra celebrates Easter. We are facing a lot of rain for our last week.

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Coimbra

We were not ambitious today. It was a pleasant feeling to arrive in Coimbra mid-day knowing exactly where our accommodation was and even what the room would look like.

After a light lunch, we headed to the supermarket. Portugese restaurant food is generally good, but there is a sameness to it–or at least to the meals Roger has been willing to order–usually grilled meet, French fries, rice, and a bit of lettuce, tomato and carrot. I don’t usually order a separate meal because the portions are more than enough for two. Therefore, for the next two days, we will mostly preparing our own food.

So my first photo for today is from the supermarket. A boiled egg in its shell baked into the top of a cake. I’m guessing it’s an Easter thing.

My only other photos are of a narrow street that leads directly to a popular plaza. Guidebooks say these narrow streets date from the Moorish era. We came from the bus station through this in the rain our first day without issue. Today in bright sunshine, there was a creepy guy. We won’t go back.

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Tomorrow we will try to find the right bus stop for the bus to the Roman ruin.

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Guarda

Not a cloud in the sky this morning in Manteigas. You might think we wished for this weather yesterday, but we are glad we did not climb that hill in this heat. Yesterday’s temperatures were in the 40s, which is great for uphill exertion. Roger calculated that we hiked 15 miles and climbed 3,300 feet, most of that gain very steeply at the beginning. A photo of the ridge from town:

We are definitely seeing the effect of the upcoming Easter holiday. Besides the Easter candies in the stores, we are seeing more families with children traveling and more campers on the road.

This morning at breakfast, we met a couple from Lisbon bringing their children to the mountains to see snow. They have both traveled in the US.

We remarked that we had not been able to find fresh milk in Manteigas. The husband hurried to their room, brought us his baby’s milk, and opened it. We tried to decline by saying we only drink milk at night, but he insisted. “I have opened it for you.”

The wife is much more into hiking than the husband. He remarked with a grin that she will never let him forget that they have met us.

We were relieved when the bus to Guarda showed up. We learned that instead of a bus at 12:30 and a bus at 13:00, as the schedule suggests, the bus arrives sometime between 12:30 and 13:00 and leaves at 13:00. We thought this cute little man was waiting for the bus, but he was just resting.

On the way to Guarda, Roger got a few photos of the Serra da Estrela countryside from the bus.

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Guarda looked different, not necessarily better, in bright light. The keep is all that’s left of the castle.

The most amazing thing we saw was a memorial to the doctor who ran the TB sanitarium and who died in 1897. These are all fresh flowers–360° of them. The fragrance was almost overwhelming. This was an accumulation of individual memorials, not just a pretty display. There were also placards with letters of appreciation.

If we read the signs correctly, these sequoias were also planted in his honor.

Then there is the cathedral by night–even more imposing than the photo suggests.

Tomorrow the train back to Coimbra. The train station is 4.5km out of town. Because the holiday bus schedule is curtailed, the only bus to the train station is at 8am. We will take our first taxi ride of the trip.

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Manteigas Hike

I was a bit concerned whether this one hike would be worth the time and effort we put into planning it. It was.

We had read tales of other hikers coming here and leaving disappointed because the park info folk speak no English, the trails are poorly marked and the maps are poor copies. Although the park folks spoke not a word of English, they were very friendly and helpful. We were able to communicate adequately. The maps were copies, but were also adequate in conjunction with my phone app’s map. And at least the trail we chose was adequately marked. Best of all, the weather cooperated.

We left town under a low cloud cover, which Roger assured me would lift. It was indeed a stiff climb out of Manteigas, but easy going mostly on a cobbled road.

In 1.5 hours, we were high above town.

As we approached the ridge line, we started seeing Hugh rocks.

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We still climbed as we walked along the ridgeline, but going was easy. It was a different world that we had all to ourselves.

Lunch was a delight–even ice-cold drinks, and the sun came out.

We saw this strange structure from a distance

and climbed up to it.

From this vantage point, we could see Torre, the highest point in Portugal. Considering that it was snow-covered, we were glad we hadn’t tried to climb it. (Look for two domes right of center.)

Then the trail got interesting–as in covered with big mushy patches of snow. Trail markers were obscured and we lost the trail for a bit. We post-holed a number of times–our socks are drying on the radiator.

We got through it, found the trail and followed it down into town, more rock formations and some waterfalls along the way.

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Tomorrow we return to Guarda.

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Manteigas

You don’t know til you get there, and the landscape we have found here in Serra da Estrela is not what I had imagined.

First, I did not realize that Guarda itself would be perched so steeply above the surrounding countryside.

Second, I didn’t expect to see level cultivated fields.

Third, I didn’t realize that Manteigas is in a bowl. This means we get to climb out of the bowl tomorrow. (Best Roger can figure, we will see some of that valley in the distance tomorrow.)

Today, by the time we got to Manteigas, had lunch and checked in, it was too late to hike anywhere, so we poked around town.

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When I see this wall, I admire the flowers. Roger admires the rocks.

We saw loads of cats, but only one let us pet it.

Tomorrow a hike.

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Guarda

The guidebook says that on an overcast winter day, Guarda could be described as “cold and ugly.” Though we started the day in sunshine, by the time we got to Guarda, it was overcast and cold, but not ugly.

Our first task was to nail down our plans for the next few days–carefully, because it is Holy Week. Our goal is to hike in Portugal’s highest mountains, the Serra da Estrela. Guarda, Portugal’s highest city at more than 1,000 meters, is the farthest point to which we knew we would have reliable transportation. The Tourist Info here confirmed that we will have buses this week to and from Manteigas, a village in the mountains, so we will go there tomorrow, then return to Guarda on Thursday so we can return to Coimbra on Friday. All this hullabaloo for one day’s hiking. At least the weather is projected to be good.

The one site we have visited in Guarda is the cathedral, refreshing in its simplicity. It was completed in the 14th century, but it’s 12th century bones are evident.

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I liked the narrow lanes, particularly in what was originally the Jewish Quarter.

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There are also remnants of the medieval fortifications.

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While we were wandering, Roger spotted a large nondescript building across from the wall. It happened to be a large modern shopping mall.

Besides being warm and dry, it had a supermarket in the basement (as European shopping malls often do), so we have fresh milk tonight. Life is good. It also had salted cod, which we have also seen everywhere else, but had neglected to get a photo.

Tomorrow, Manteigas.

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Lousá

Plan B. Plan A was a day trip to the Roman site Conímbriga. Bus was to leave at 9:30. We were at the stop at 9:20, or at least we thought we were. We weren’t, and we missed the bus. However, there was a bus a few minutes later to Lousá, where we had planned to go tomorrow, so we hopped on that one instead. The only kicker was that the trip to Lousá involved hiking and I didn’t have my sticks. I managed, but sometimes felt like a cat missing its two front legs.

There was nothing special about Lousá. We were let off the bus at an abandoned train station. Fortunately, my phone’s gps app led us to the street that led out of town and up the hill to the castle. We kept looking up to the skyline, but when we finally saw the castle, it was actually below us.

The castle is the centerpiece of pretty neat recreation area. It must be immensely popular in the summertime. A river comes down the valley and gets channeled through a “swimming pool” which is created by closing gates. (Note the diving board on the right.)

This was not our destination, though. From there, we climbed steeply uphill

And slabbed around a mountain.

We saw a cute chapel in the valley.

And some rocks so green they seemed to glow.

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Our destination was the schist village Taslasnal, once the second largest village on the mountain. By 1991, it had two people. Now it is slowly being restored. We could see it across the valley.

Approaching the village,and the village itself, reminded me of Albanian villages.

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The ruins were sobering.

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But it was encouraging to see some restoration.

This has to be the strangest cat I’ve ever seen.

There was an organized event of a large group of young people hiking up to the village. Many were huffing and puffing. When they saw us old folks, they took our picture.

Going down, it started to rain, but we made it to the road with little difficulty–the stones were getting slippery. We got a close look at a cork tree.

By the time we got back to town, we were cold. We decided to go to another bus stop that was closer. All day, we had not seen any place to eat, but lo and behold there was a bar. That toasted ham and cheese washed down with pineapple-coconut juice was heavenly.

This evening we got out the map and seriously discussed what to do next, particularly with Easter coming. It is not cool to get caught in a place where everything shuts down. We decided that we will spend Easter right here in Coimbra. We like where we are staying–it has a great kitchen and a large grocery around the corner.

Tomorrow, we will take the train east to Guarda. Again, the town is not the destination, but the nearby mountains.

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Coimbra

It rained pretty much all day, but that didn’t stop us from exploring Coimbra. The day started with watching two guys install a new window across from our room. Much easier than in our wooden buildings. When he saw me taking his picture, he instinctively jacked his pants up.

Two sites were the most interesting. The first was a cathedral with layers of remodels. For example, the tiles were added several hundred years later.

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An archway offset under an archway with a column missing.

More evidence of changes.

Tombs under the pews.

Tomb of the first king of Portugal.

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Next door is a cafe that was originally a church. I peed in the confessional.

The second big site was the university, continuously in operation since the 1500s. The original buildings are elegant.

In the 1940s, dictator Salazar hired Mussolini’s architect to expand the campus.

The original library was built over what had been a prison. The cells were then used to punish wayward students.

The room where theses are defended. It was originally a king’s throne room.

More photos from our wandering:

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The girl to whom Fado music is dedicated.

Speaking of Fado, it is said that a Fado music plays his guitar as if it were a woman.

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Tomorrow, a nearby Roman site.

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Coimbra

With all the good weather we’ve been having, we let our guard down and reserved two days in advance east of Évora. Mistake. We learned last night that rain was settling into the region for maybe a week, so we bailed and forfeited the two nights’ reservations. We returned to Lisbon and headed north to Coimbra. Going through Lisbon, Roger captured the Jesus statue copied from the one in Rio de Janeiro.

Coimbra has been a university town since the mid-1500s. The university occupies the top of the hill.

We are staying at the bottom of the hill. The church in our nearest square is quite old, but got slathered with Baroque.

Narrow streets date from the Moorish era.

The city is visually rich.

But traffic is terrible. Our plan is to use Coumbra as a base for exploring the area, which is much greener than the south.

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Évora

Goodness, considering how many miles we walked today, we might just as well have been hiking. There’s a lot to see in Évora.

Let’s start with trash cans, which aren’t what they appear to be. The trash truck lifts off the square bases, which are actually the lids to large underground containers.

Évora has two city walls–Roman and medieval. The Roman wall is closer in and has been incorporated into later buildings.

Windows on the street show parts of walls of a Roman dwelling.

A Roman bath was uncovered under the town hall.

A Roman gate still has some original paving stones.

Vasco da Gamma’s house. He was was given his commission here in Évora which was then Portugal’s capital.

This has been a shopping street since Roman times. Cork oaks grow here, so lots of cork items for sale, even purses and hats.

Cork bark.

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Palace in the park.

Évora University. Built and run by Jesuits mid-1500s to mid-1700s. Closed for 200 years, reopened 1976.

Tile wainscots throughout.

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Examine closely. Did the monks avert their eyes or did they sneak a peek as they walked by?

Each classroom has a tile motif in accord with the subject taught there. Monks spoke from the pulpits.

Tombs of Christian soldiers who rescued Évora from the Moors.

Boys will be boys.

Detail of 15thC painting.

Detail of gold and silver 16thC tapestry.

16thC organ still plays. Note horizontal pipes.

Ceiling of courtroom where Inquisition trials were held.

Aqueduct from 16thC

More old incorporated into new.

The Cathedral with loads of gold from Brazil.

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The medieval walls which are surprisingly complete.

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There’s more we won’t see in Évora. Tomorrow east to Estremoz, probably in the rain.

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