This will be one of my shorter posts and not because Coimbra isn’t a beautiful place – I just didn’t have the chance to spend more time there. Fortunately travelling there isn’t too difficult. Trains run regularly from the north and south of Portugal to Coimbra – the university city of the country.
I couch surfed while here and what a trek it was to get to the apartment. The first thing I thought of when I saw the layout of the city was Brazil. I am sure most of you have seen the iconic neighbourhoods built on the hills, looking like layers of little matchboxes. I think I took 2 elevators and stairs to finally climb a nearly vertical hill to the apartment building. I had never been so happy to arrive at my destination.
The University of Coimbra is the reason for the city’s reputation. It was the only university in Portugal until 1911 and is one of the oldest universities in Europe, established in 1290. It has many faculties and its architecture is breathtaking. Many students from all over the country study here all year round. When I checked it out I climbed the Monumental Stairs (yes stairs are a common theme in Coimbra) to reach the main road leading to the main university building and square. Either side of the road is flanked by statues and large colonial style buildings. Students wear the customary uniform consisting of a black cape – very fantastical. However, the students are proud to wear their capes and where them everywhere they go.
I had the opportunity to enter the Joanine Library – it is absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the building, but it will be forever sealed in my memory. It possessed everything a library should possess: dark wood shelves, old cloth-bound books, solid wood tables and chairs, stained glass windows, lamps, rich carpeting, and a character that I cannot describe in words. In the basement you will find the student prison (not used anymore thankfully!) and a small museum about the history of the university. The library is connected to the main hall housing the administrative offices and some class rooms. Between these in the main square is the infamous clock tower. These quarters possess a rich history and it was quite moving to be there.
There is a gorgeous garden where the zoology faculty is located. It is flanked by old Roman aqueducts. There is a southern European style house on the premises with a small forgotten garden in the back. In the fall the trees slowly turn a deep orange colour and are reflected in the fountain in the centre of the green space. From here I went to a cantina which is a student restaurant. The food is fantastic for student fare and the service is quick. Picture the high school movies back in the 90s with the line ups in the lunch room and plastic trays- this was exactly that.
And surprisingly I did party while in Coimbra. I heard from my friend Zé in Lisbon that nightlife is great in this little city. We went to a club on the main strip of town. European clubs are great for free cover and inexpensive liquor. You can also meet many international students on campus and in the local bars. One of the coolest experiences was the party in the streets behind the university campus, in the old city. Tons of students were out in their black robes, drinking in the streets. It was so electric.
Overall, I was actually shocked that Coimbra would be so enjoyable to visit. It was a truly enchanting place and I am sure I will go back some day in the future for a little flashback to my younger days.
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