Thursday, April 25, 2019

Cernache to Coimbra

Some days you win, some days you lose. Today we won.

As people in the dorm began to stir, around 5:30 am, we could hear the rain pelting against the windows. Since we only had a short walk today, 12 km, we decided to stay put for a while to see if the weather would improve. When we headed out around 6:45, the rain had stopped and everything was bathed in a soft morning light.

We stopped on the way out of town for a coffee and croissant at the Pastelaria where we had dinner last night. The place was packed with event volunteers for today's Freedom Day celebrations, and energy was high. We passed band stands, food truck vendors, and many volunteers with brightly coloured vests as we walked the light-strewn streets out of town.

The path took us up into the hills almost immediately, down a very wet but well used forested track. The sheer variety of different tree species in Portugal left us amazed once again.

We passed through several small villages, and then entered the suburbs of Coimbra. The Way took us through wealthy looking neighborhoods with views of the city, the river, and the surrounding hills. The passing rain showers gave the landscape a softness and depth that lent extra beauty to everything.

On the final approach into the city we passed an old Roman aqueduct which had been partially destroyed to allow the highway to pass under it. It was sad to see something so old dismantled, but at the same, we got a nice view of the cross-section.

As we walked the edge of town we stopped for a quick coffee and pastry, and then continued a little farther until we came to the Convento Santa Clara. We stopped for a tour of the church and cloister, which was well worthwhile!

There was an event going on in the church which made it a bit chaotic. We were still able to see the coffin of St. Clara, and admire the highly ornate and gilt interior of the church.

Although I have never been a fan of gilt churches, the cloister was very simple and peaceful, and I greatly enjoyed that.

We continued down the steep slope into town without any clear idea of where we were going to stay. Just before we came to the bridge into the city center we passed the Santa Clara Guest House. On a whim we decided to ask if there were any rooms available. The extremely nice hostess told us we could leave our bags and return at 2 PM to check in, and she gave us a map of the city, and some recommendations for where to find vegetarian food for dinner.

It was about the rain, so we quickly ducked into the first cafe we found, which turned out to be a falafel place. We each had a plate of fresh falafels and a huge salad!! Since we have been craving vegetables, this was amazing!

After our impromptu lunch the sun came our , and we set off again, only to immediately find the Monastery of Santa Clara. The monastery itself had fallen into ruin, and the cloister had been partially excavated. There was also a museum and interpretive center, which helped explain the architecture and history of the building. We spent quite a bit of time exploring that beautiful place.

By the time we were finished it was beginning to rain again, and it was 2 PM, so we headed back to the guest house to check in. We had long hot showers, which left us feeling cleaner than we've been in a while. After that it was time to cross the bridge into the city center.

We began by wandering up the main street, which has many rather touristy bars, restaurants, and shops, and which is closed to cars. In doing this we stumbled upon the Igreja St. Tiao, and were lucky enough to get inside the simple, peaceful interior.


From there we entered the gate to the old city, and climbed up the steep, narrow cobblestone streets to the hilltop. Although we didn't know what our final destination would be, we arrived at the old cathdral, and then made our way to the University of Coimbra campus. This is the third oldest university in the world, and parts of it are open to tourists. We visited St Michael's Chapel, the Royal Palace, and the Museum of Natural History, all of which are on the grounds.

It was very enjoyable, even though we messed up and missed the tour of the library. As we waited in the internal courtyard it began to pour hard, with the wind driving the rain sideways. When it tapered off, we hurried down the steep streets towards our accommodations.

On the way back to the guest house we decided instead to stop at Bellini's, a pizza place on the main street. It had a beautiful view of the square and the river beyond. We enjoyed a vegetarian pizza and a couple of pints, followed by a very elaborate dessert that looked like chocolate spaghetti covered in white sauce, but which was actually ice cream.

After dinner we headed back to our room to put on some extra layers to ward off the evening chill, and then headed back up into the old quarter to see it lit up at night. The narrow streets looked shiny and polished by the rain, and reflected the coloured light very romantically.

We headed up the street until we found a restaurant/bar at the side of a church where there was a three person band playing traditional Portuguese Fado music. The room was full of people eating, drinking, and singing, and the music was hauntingly beautiful. We passed a few hours listening very happily, and being grateful for a truly wonderful day on the Camino.

We headed up through the old town on our way home, past many small bars and eateries still open and full of people. It was a lovely ending to a wonderful day.

Accommodations: Santa Clara Guest House
Distance: 12 km 

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