Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sunday, June 19th Driving to the Beach/Afternoon and Evening in Coimbra

Today we decided to drive to the coast - Figueira da Foz - a beach town we had read and heard about.  We chose the free road versus the toll because we wanted to see all the little towns along the way.  We were truly rewarded by passing thru small villages, beautiful scenery and Voila, around a bend lo and behold, in the distance, on a small hill, was a Castle!!  Funny thing, Howard had said he'd like to see just one castle and here it was.
We found ourselves at Montemor-o-Velho, a castle dating back to 990AD.  Many battles between Arabs and Christians were fought here.  We were free to wander the grounds and even though it was Sunday we had it almost to ourselves.  In the church, originally built in 1095 but reconstructed in the 16 century, a Baptism was in process.  We peaked in quietly and moved on.  Many parts of this Castle, which also housed the Royal Residence of the 13th century, was well preserved.  The views from the Castle Walls were beautiful, rice fields, wetlands and country side.  We drove around the town outside the walls through its narrow Medieval streets, 19th century houses and flowers blooming everywhere in the fields and the window boxes.  This was a wonderful surprise on our way to the coast!.


We left here on a little country road and continued to Figueira de Foz.  After driving thru the beautiful countryside we reached the ocean, what a beautiful sight!  The huge Atlantic Ocean was all in front of us!  We drove along the coastline to see the town a little before we parked our car to walk on the beach.  From the street to the water was at least a 5 minute walk, the widest beach we've ever seen.
We enjoyed walking along the edge of the water getting our feet wet and me, of course, looking for shells and rocks.  Without realizing it we had walked quite a ways but luckily for us the walk on the sand back to the sidewalk was about half of what we had walked down to the water.  Now we were hungry (walking on sand will do that to you) and wanted to find a place to eat.  We got back to the area with restaurants and shops and started looking at menus.  Many people were sitting outside and eating their favorite "Sardines".  We decided we didn't want to work that hard for our meal.  They had a wonderful Vintage Car Show that we strolled through on our hunt for lunch.  We finally decided on a Italian restaurant, it was packed with locals, of course good sign.  The food was good and reasonable, for Portugal, but the olives turned out to the most expensive of our entire trip!
Have I mentioned that you pay for everything that is put on your table?  The bread, the butter, the olives etc.  Up until now it had been reasonable but today we were shocked - our little nibbling of Olives cost us $6.00US.  Next time we're in Europe (wishful thinking here) we'll be sure to ask at every restaurant.

After lunch we drove back to Coimbra via the Toll Road, it was only about 45 minutes away.  As I've mentioned before even the toll roads are beautiful here.
Back in Coimbra we drove our car to our side of the river but instead of going back to the hotel we parked along the river so we could strolled across the Pedro and Inez Walking Bridge.  We walked across the river admiring the beautiful views and on the other side we found the restaurants we had read about but couldn't fine.  The were down right along the river but not visible from the road on that side.  We checked out menus and decided we'd eat our last dinner in one of these.
We kept walking along the park, men were sitting outside playing dominoes, small kids were riding their miniature cars and Mom's were pushing strollers.  Just as we were arriving across from the main plaza (we  were heading to the University) the River Boat was starting to fill up with people.  We had seen this Boat on the river while we walked across the bridge and commented what a nice experience it must be.  Spontaneously we walked up the crew and asked if we could also board, they said sure!  It was mostly a Tour Group of Spaniards, it was nice to hear a language that we understood.  It was a very nice, relaxing, beautiful boat ride.  We went cruising for about an hour and we enjoyed seeing the town from the River.

Back on land we walked through the Historic area following the signs for the University.  It was all up hill, narrow, winding streets but due to our perseverance we made it to the top!  School is out for the summer so we didn't see any students. Mostly we enjoyed seeing most of the campus from the outside of the buildings, beautiful architecture everywhere.  The U was founded in 1290, originally a Royal Palace when Coimbra was the Capital.  The views from up here were wondrous.  After walking around as much as possible and seeing what was opened we proceeded to walk back down.  We wanted to explore so we chose a different route down.  Meandered through the narrow streets until we found stairs that we thought were going the right way, down!!  Fortunately for us, they were going the right way but they were the steepest stairs we'd ever walked on.  We ended up across the street from the park that we needed to walk through to cross the bridge and back to our car.  We needed a nap so we could return tonight for dinner!

It was late so we decided to drive over the to the restaurant on the other side of the river.  It was a nice evening, 10pm and still light out.  We enjoyed our dinner at the Rock Cafe, the food was good, the views beautiful and the owner very personable.  It was a lovely, last evening in Coimbra!


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