February 13 - 16, 2020
We took a 3-night break from biking in Coimbra and were all needing it, finding great comfort in Pedro Ramos' very cool house in Santa Clara, across the water from downtown Coimbra. We were not only welcomed by Pedro himself, but also by the Holy Queen Isabel who stands right above the garden of Pedro's house, blessing us all.
The Holy Queen, together with the Holy Grail, is also featured on the Municipal Coat of Arms. Portugal is also down as the Land of the Grail (Port-u-Gal - Port Au Grail). In Tomar the Grail is thought to be connected to the Templars and some think it was hidden in one of the castle/churches of Portugal. In Coimbra, the Holy Grail of the Quest and the Serpent, symbol of wisdom, refer to the famous University.
This medieval city centered around, of all things, a university - the University of Coimbra, which sits atop the city like a crown.
One of the oldest universities in the world, it was inaugurated in 1290.
Prior to that, Coimbra was the seat of government for the first kings of Portugal, who fought and conquered the Moors in the early 1100s. Though such a long time ago, those battles are alive in the minds of every Portuguese. King Afonso Henriques is considered the first king of Portugal and ruled from the top of Coimbra along with those ruling after him. He's a national hero, a mix of George Washington and Obama...
Of little interest to the boys, Tracy booked a tour for the University, soaking in the ambience of 800 years of learning and yearning, fighting back ignorance of the dark ages. I think it's easy to take for granted what our universities have done for the quality of our lives. Coimbra, in its early days, had its own police force, as it was routinely attacked by zealots and those accusing it of consorting with devils and mingling in the dark arts. Kind of how universities are now under attack... A highlight is the Biblioteca Joanina, an ancient library with 60,000 books from 1400-1800 collected from all over Europe. The top floor is called the Noble Floor, off limits for photos and a jaw-dropping palace of books.
The Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra was created in the 18th century to complement the Natural History and Medicinal Studies. It didn't seem to be looked after as actively as likely once envisioned. We enjoyed our stroll around and practiced life drawing.
Sol appreciates the humongous 'Ficus Macrophylla', 'Meraceae' originally from Australia. The tree dropped a seed in front of our feet. We took it as a token of gratitude and encouragement to continue to look at what miracles can grow out of a single small seed!
Fado de Coimbra
Since it was Valentines Day, we negotiated a date with the boys and had a night of Fado at Fado ao Centro. Fado is a uniquely Portuguese music, sad and longing. Described as "saudade" in Portuguese. When sung in Coimbra, it can only be performed by current or former students of the University, wearing the traditional black robes of students. When walking the campus even today, you'll see students dressed in black robes.