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Day 3: Porto to Coimbra

This morning it was time to travel on to our next destination: Coimbra. On paper, Coimbra is only a one-hour train journey away from Porto, but in practice it's a little bit more difficult than that. For a start, intercity trains do not leave from the São Bento railway station which we'd visited the other day, but from an out-of-town train station called Porto Campanhã. I hadn't appreciated this distinction when I was booking our tickets in advance online, so our first challenge was to use the ticket machines in São Bento to buy tickets to Porto Campanhã. We were now wiser than we had been at the airport the other day and managed to avoid falling into the trap of buying one ticket with two journeys loaded onto it (although it is still a very easy mistake to make, as that's what happens if you click to say you want two tickets!). There are plenty of suburban trains between the two stations and the journey only takes about 5 minutes, so we ultimately arrived at Porto Campanhã with about 30 minutes to spare before our 10.52 train.

The benefit of buying the tickets online was that we had reserved seats on the train, which turned out to be particularly good news when we saw how many other people were waiting to board it. Happily there was enough space to store luggage on this train and people seemed to automatically sit in their assigned seats, so we didn't have to turn anybody out of ours :)  Soon we were on our way to Coimbra... or, to be more precise, to a station called Coimbra B which is not to be confused with Coimbra A. While Coimbra A is in Coimbra itself, Coimbra B is in a random location somewhere outside it, and the intercity trains only go to Coimbra B. So when we arrived there, we had to wait another twenty minutes or so for a local train to take us from Coimbra B to Coimbra A. It seems like a rather strange way of organising a rail network!

The main journey itself was really enjoyable though. As we left Porto we first travelled alongside the river Douro before crossing it on one of the bridges and travelling along the coastline, where we had brilliant views of sea and sand dunes :)

Our first priority when we eventually arrived in Coimbra was to find lunch. This turned out to be difficult, although not because it was full of fish restaurants like Porto. The main problem with Coimbra seemed to be that it was full of kebab shops! It took a while, but in the end we did find a proper cafe that was serving more appetising food. We sat outside in the sunshine with our cases, while I ate a delicious bolognese pizza and Tim had a steak, which admittedly wasn't quite as good as the one we had in Porto yesterday, but still looked quite nice.

The place where we'd had lunch was in Coimbra's lower town, which is a beautifully flat place.


Unfortunately, I had the impression that the apartment I'd booked was going to be somewhere more uphill. Tim consulted the map and sure enough, this was the road we needed to take.


It's times like this that I'm very glad that we've got cases which are very easy to pull :) We made it up that hill, around a corner, then up another hill, and finally arrived at the correct building. I'd had an email from the owner the night before giving us door codes, both for the main building door and for the door of our apartment, so we were able to just walk straight in. It turned out to be a nice spacious room, though maybe not with quite as many cool features as the apartment in Porto :)

When we stepped outside again shortly afterwards to start exploring Coimbra, we decided to start by walking uphill as far as possible, to get the most strenuous bit of sightseeing out of the way first. Just around the corner from our apartment, we caught sight of this rather unusual entrance to a park.


We decided to explore.


The park was nice and peaceful, but when we got to the top of it we found that we emerged in what looked like a fairly standard residential area, so we retraced our steps and started walking uphill in a different direction; towards Coimbra's university. The university is what Coimbra is best known for. Founded in 1290, it's the oldest university in Portugal and it's situated at the top of a rather large hill.

When we climbed up a succession of enormous staircases to get to the university grounds, the first thing which greeted us was this huge statue of King Denis, who founded the university (initially in Lisbon).


We walked past some of the more modern university buildings...


...and because we were so high up, soon had a view out across the river Mondego and the surrounding countryside.


From there we walked through a gate...


...into the older part of the university, which is really pretty :)


In the middle of a large square, we found this statue of a guy who looks a bit like Henry VIII but who is actually King João III, the person responsible for permanently moving the university from Lisbon to Coimbra.


There were also some more lovely views of the river :)


From the university, narrow cobbled streets lead down through Coimbra's old town.


We soon found Coimbra's old cathedral, which was first built in 1139 at which point Coimbra was temporarily the capital of Portugal. Again, it is a cathedral which looks quite a lot like a fortress.


By this stage we were coming lower down and had some closer views of the river.


We also found some colourful and tiled houses to rival those in Porto :)


Finally we got to the bottom of the hill and found ourselves in one of Coimbra's main squares, which turned out to be just across from where we'd had lunch.


The square was just across the road from the river.


We started walking across the bridge and soon had some lovely views back up towards Coimbra.  The large buildings on the top of the hill are the university.


On the far side of the river, we found the ruins of the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha.


The monastery was built in the fourteenth century but abandoned at some point in the seventeenth century because it kept flooding.


A new monastery was then built further up the hill.


As we walked back across the bridge towards the town, Tim caught sight of an amazing view; the jet of water in the middle of the river was catching the sunlight in a way which made it look like it was generating its own little rainbow :)


Before we started the long climb back up the hill, we wandered around some of the streets in the lower town.


There aren't as many tiled houses here as there were in Porto, but there are still some very pretty ones.


We wanted to try and find again one of the squares which we'd discovered while looking for lunch.


Eventually we tracked it down. This square is home to the Santa Cruz Monastery, which is famous for being the burial place of Portugal's first two kings.


Once we'd admired the monastery for a while we'd exhausted the sights of the lower town and it was time to go back uphill to our apartment again.


Coimbra is a really interesting town, but one of the main reasons we built it into our itinerary is that we want to visit the Roman ruins at a place called Conímbriga, about 17km south of here. We're hoping to do that tomorrow, if we can get the bus timetables to work!

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