06.12.2012 - 06.12.2012 14 °C
Today was a very enjoyable day, despite overcast skies and a torrent of rain during the last hour of our excursions. Before we set out, we all read the Coimbra tourist bureau pamphlet and selected items we wanted to see. This time, the consensus was to view outdoor sights, concentrating mainly on parks and walking the town streets. Thus, we set off after 'second breakfast' (we're becoming very hobbit like), found rare free parking and walked across a bridge into the town centre. Spirits were high as we spent time exploring the university city of Coimbra. The city was quintessential Portugal, from what we recalled from our previous trip. We traversed the winding, cobble-stoned streets of the old town, literally backing ourselves up against the house walls when a car squeezed by (they never feel the need to slow down either). While the cities are much older and the infrastructure not as well cared for as in Spain, we still saw charming homes with wrought iron balconies, beautiful blue and white wall tiles and a myriad of paint colours.
It was impossible to go very far without encountering a group of university students. As we got closer to the collection of university faculty buildings, each one clearly marked, but giving the sense of their age, we saw several students garbed in long, black cloaks (reminiscent of Hogwarts, the girls would say). We don't know whether they signified first year or advanced students but they certainly added a quality of mystique, their cloaks swirling around them as they turned.
We visited two parks, the botanical gardens and the main city park. Both struck us as very 'grand,' impressive with their huge stone stairs and lots of greenery. However, again, we saw much decay and vandalism (the graffiti in Europe is rampant), a real shame given the history of the places. We saw a total of three other tourists in the parks; I must admit it is a treat to have these places almost to ourselves (it will be a different story come May!).
A highlight of our day was visiting a market where townspeople rented stalls to sell their garden wares; butchers displayed a variety of animal parts (hooves, gizzards, livers, intestines, as well as more usual cuts); older Portuguese women sold their pastries; and fish mongers tempted us with their pungent stock. The kids were not tempted in the least by anything but the pastries so we elected to sit down at a restaurant filled with what appeared to be locals. I selected the youngest server and asked him if he spoke any English ("Fala Anglais?"). He replied 'pequino' (a little) so he immediately became my best friend. He walked me through the menu and we quickly selected what we recognized ('frango' is chicken and' porco' is, well, you can guess). While the food was simple fare, the meat tasted really good: the kids favoured the pork as the chicken was cooked in a red wine sauce and fell off the bone. Fries are a popular side here so the kids had those as we tried the roasted, seasoned potatoes. It also came with a green salad and drinks. When we purchased mousse for the girls and an extremely small and strong after-dinner coffee for Ben, it still came to less than 20 euro ($26). It was fun to try the local fare as a treat.
The last hour was spent traipsing around the town streets, breaking in our raincoats. Abby was on the lookout for an umbrella and didn't blanche at spending 3 euro on it, feeling that was a good investment for the remainder of the day. As we now sit in our cozy cabin, listening to the rain on the metal roof and the whistling wind, it feels good to be warm, filled with hot chocolate and anticipating our supper (even better since it's being made by Hannah tonight and we parents can have the night off).