Sunday, May 22, 2016

End of CIEE program, Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Coimbra

Finally, I have caught up enough that all of the pictures and events from here on out are from the current semester. As I think I said elsewhere, I ended the program around December 16th and went back home for a month and a half, returning at the end of January. I haven't traveled too terribly much this time around, but I have taken two trips that I will share now.

The first one was a weekend trip I took to the north of Portugal to the Douro River valley. I had read on another person's blog that there was an almond blossom festival going on, and also that there was a lot of paleolithic rock art and a national park. So, I hopped on a bus and took the 6 hour trip north and west to get there. Now, this area is in fact extremely beautiful. It is very mountainous, and the main area for grape cultivation in Portugal. There are river cruises all down the Douro river from Porto, and although I didn't go on one, I am sure that they are 100% worth it. However, Vila Nova de Foz Coa is DEAD. Do not go there!! And definitely have a car if you are going to try to travel around this area because it is in the middle of NOWHERE. Unfortunately, I didn't have a car. No, I got essentially trapped in this small town for 2 whole days (would have been more but I left early, eating the cost of my final night there). To add insult to injury, it was a bit too early for the almond blossoms, and the "festival" was nothing more than a street filled with the cheap carnival stands selling cotton candy and hot dogs that you would see in any small town in the US.

Nevertheless, I got to visit the local market where all the farmers sell their goods every week on Saturday mornings (I got a HUGE bag of fresh almonds for only 9 euros) and again, it was beautiful area. If you are interested in the rock art the national park in which the museum is situated is stunning and you also get to travel to some beautiful areas if you choose to go on one of the guided tours (I only did one but there are tours on multiple routes at different times of day, including ones at night that are available when the weather gets warmer)

Here are the pictures:
Saturday market

Can you see it? Carved picture of an ox

Olive trees

Playing cards
Market again

I seriously could not face another night there. When I packed up the people at the hostel I was staying at were acting a little put out, but I was determined I was going to salvage the weekend and got on the only bus of the day going towards Coimbra.


I LOVED Coimbra. I have no idea why but whereas everyone seems to prefer Porto, I preferred Coimbra by a lot. It is a much smaller city, and it is definitely a university town, but I found it to be very endearing. I stayed in a hostel that was in what had previously been an old mansion. Plus, there were more almond blossoms there since it's farther south:

Anyways, I got there in the evening on Saturday and had dinner at a place called "Quim dos Ossos", because I heard they had good "bones" and was thinking it would be something like oxtails. Nope, it was like stewed pork ribs, which were very tender but almost impossible to eat with knife and fork. As always when I go to small neighborhood places, I was shocked how cheap everything was. Not even kidding I got a main meal with water, sides, and a glass of wine for about 5 euros. 

The next day I just walked around everywhere. First thing in the morning I took a walk up the hill to the university where I unfortunately ran into this lot...

It was called "Feira dos Lázaros" and it apparently happens once a year. These people dress up all in traditional clothing, go to the square right outside the university, and sell traditional goods. They even had a food truck and a dessert stand (where I spent all my time and money):


As you can see I went a little crazy...

I seriously bought so much stuff there. I tried the rice pudding, almond/walnut cookies, fried pumpkin fritter, pumpkin break with nuts, orange cake, nut roll. and probably more that I am forgetting. I ended up eating next to these two old men who were drinking wine and eating bread and bacalhau fritters. They were extremely nice and offered me part of their food, which I tried and it was very good. I offered them some of my many cakes but they weren't interested.  By the end I felt sort of bad but, it was probably worth it.

Walking around...
Public park


Another little park

Downtown is full of these little alleyways

At the end of the day I decided to visit the University of Coimbra. It's a beautiful campus, and although there is an entrance fee of around 8 euros, I enjoyed it:

Faculdade de Letras
For some reason there was some filming going on of these two people dancing the tango

An auditorium that I think is still in use

Ok so this was the best part. This is the old library from the outside:

This is it from the inside (it was against the rules to take pictures but I took this one before I knew that so I might as well put it up):

This library was absolutely gorgeous. All of the old books were still chained in their original cabinets (chained so that they wouldn't be stolen)... and when I say these books are old I mean REALLY old. As you can see from the picture there were upper balconies with even more bookshelves that you could reach though little doorways with staircases in every corner. The set up was really cool because you could walk underneath the balconies and there would be a tunnel effect where you could look from one end of the library to the other. Something else really unique about this place is that they have a colony of bats that they maintain in the building in order to control moths and other pests. Every night someone comes in and covers all of the long, wooden reading tables with a tarps to protect them from the bat poop. True story. 


This picture is really random but I like the design. It is the ceiling just outside of the university prison. That's right, students could be arrested for skipping class, among other offenses. They would be thrown into prison where they would have to stay in solitary confinement in a little cell. While in prison they were still forced to go to class everyday. It was a different time.  

D. Joao III

Weekend saved!!!

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