Driving North

Yes its been a couple days since I wrote because I was either too tired, or enjoying myself too much, to write.   So a bit of catchup is in order.  I am swinging in a hammock in our ‘tree house’ with a glass of wine so it’s now it’s time to catch up!

Coimbra

We said goodbye to Nazarré on Monday morning, and had a longish drive of almost 2 hours to the city of Coimbra.  We had to complete a quick tour of the city since we had a tour to Roman ruins booked later in the day.   Coimbra is an important city in Portugal because it once was the capital, and it now houses the oldest university in Portugal (and 9th oldest in the world).  Founded in 1290, and relocated a number of times by demanding kings, it finally ended up in Coimbra, in the premises of the Royal Palace, on the highest point in the city. 

We quickly toured the Royal Palace, and the Chapel with beautiful tiles and ceiling. 

What we really came to see was the Joanine LIbrary, which holds 60,000 volumes in a fantastic baroque-styled room with beautiful paintings on the ceiling and of course floor to ceiling book cases.  I had to break it to Bill that we could not have a library this big in our house.  There were no pictures allowed so I can’t really share the beauty (nor the slobbering by Bill).

We were told by our guide in Sintra that it is believed that the capes worn by the students in Harry Potter were inspired by the cloaks worn by the students at Coimbra, since J K Rowling lived for a while in Porto.

Conimbriga

We took a guided trip to the town of Conimbriga, south of Coimbra to see the ruins of a Roman city.  When conquered by the Romans, in 139 BCE, it was already a built up settlement.  The Romans added to it, including walls, baths and some very large homes.  The town was abandoned between 465 and 468, when it was invaded by Sueves. The city was destroyed, and its inhabitants dispersed, including some taken into slavery  So we saw a lot of old stones, but the archeological work suffers from lack of funding, so there is a lot more to unearth. What had been excavated was impressive to see.  We could imagine a couple very large houses, complete with indoor fountains and courtyards.  I always love to see the mosaics in these places.   I marvel at the amount of work it takes to make these works of art.    And parts of the wall and gate were visible which gave some form to the piles of rocks.   Unfortunately, the guide was less than impressive, so besides providing us with the transportation to the site, there was no value-added  over and above what we could read ourselves on the plaques around the site.  

Yesterday we took an easy day.  We were supposed to visit a battlefield, but we decided we needed to slow the pace a bit.  So we took the toll-free route from Coimbra to Guimarães, a drive of almost 3 hours.  We did this not only to save the almost $40 in tolls but to venture along some of the smaller roads to see more of the countryside.  It was slow going due to the many towns we went through, and more significantly, the number of large transport trucks that were also taking this route, I guess to save the tolls.   I’m not sure I would do it again, but it was a good experience. 

Guimarães

Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal because Afonso Henriques, who went on to be the first king of Portugal, was born here.

Of course there is a castle, from the 10th C, on the hill.  It was not a large fort, but you could tell its age by its square fortifications.  Inside the tower was a small exposition that quickly and clearly told the history of Portugal which is really just a series of invasions. 

The restored Dukes of Bragança Palace, built in the style of a French chateau, has a museum showcasing furniture, tapestries and weapons, all which were tastefully displayed to be appreciated.   Being almost fully restored it was easy to understand what life was like in the 15th -17th centuries.

Our home for the night was a highlight for us.  We stayed in a medieval mill building, complete with the original stone walls, the stream running under our private courtyard, and views of the medieval bridge outside the door.  It was incredibly charming, including the host who could not speak English but somehow we communicated.  The visit was made complete with a delivery of fresh bakery  bread on our doorstep in the morning.  A great way to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary!

This morning, before continuing on our journey north, we spent a bit of time in the old town of Guimarães.  It is your ‘typical’ medieval town with winding, narrow streets, but this one had a different feel.  It has a harmonious, well-preserved feel, evident in the graceful iron verandas, granite balconies and porticos, mansions, arches connecting the narrow streets, and smooth paving slabs rather than cobbled streets.  It was still a bit sleepy when we got there after 9am but we enjoyed the walk through the streets.

Parc Nacional Da Peneda-Gerês

Then we made our way north to the Parc Nacional Da Peneda-Gerês.  This park borders, and extends into, Spain and is the only national park in Portugal, created to protect the various flora and fauna of the area.  We wanted to explore this area, and hopefully do some hikes.   We mostly drove today and realized that even though the distances are small, the time to drive is large because the roads are incredibly windy and very steep (1st gear in our small car) in some areas.  We reached an altitude of 870m and enjoyed the natural beauty and views (albeit a bit cloudy).  We found a couple waterfalls, had our picnic lunch beside one of them.  There are some lovely old towns that seem rooted in medieval times, but we like will not get far enough north from our base near the town of Caniçada.  But we thoroughly enjoyed the day, even feeling at home with the moss-covered trees and “broom in bloom”.    

There is a big lake/reservoir in the area, upon which we look from our ‘tree-house’ home for 2 nights. 

Having passed through a couple towns closer to the lake and further up the valley, this area is a summer playground for those that need to escape the city to the ‘wilds’ of the forest.  There is a spa-town, Gerês, that was chock-a-block full of hotels and guest houses.  The roads were quiet, but our BnB owner told us he is ‘getting ready for the rush’ of summer.

So tomorrow we will explore a bit more of the park, hopefully getting in a hike to some spectacular place.  Stay tuned.

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