Category Archives: Out and about

Postcards from Coimbra

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Coimbra_Panorama

Portugal’s third largest city and home of Coimbra University which was established in 1290. Still a small city by world standards with a population of around 140,000, but big enough for us to feel like we’re visiting the “the big smoke”. As you would expect for a significant place with a river, fertile lands and a decent hill to build your castle and town on, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christian rulers have all been here. It was the capital for a short period of about 100 years before Portugal moved south. Well, expanded south as the Moorish empire was in retreat and Lisbon became the centre of power.

Set on a steep hill, it’s a lovely place to wander, even without the draw card of the university. The most spectacular part of the university is the ornate Baroque Joanine Library (click Learn More at the bottom of webpage) that has carefully selected timber and a colony of bats to control the book-eating insect population. Thick walls clad in timber and a castle-like door ensure the humidity is constant and the temperature is always 18-20ºC.

Coimbra is also a useful place within easy reach that has huge DIY stores as well as exotic foreign foods like smoked paprika and jars of sambal olek. You’d think smoked paprika wouldn’t be so hard to find living on the Iberian Peninsular, but in small-town central Portugal, any ingredient other than salt is considered outlandish. OK, I exaggerate. But only a little bit!

Anyway, this was meant to be “postcards”, so here they are:

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Streets to keep you fit

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Nothing says go away like this imposing city gate. With a confined courtyard in front it isn’t the place to start arguing with the guards.

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The university

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Impressive takes-a-shot-in-any-light interior photo courtesy of Sarah’s old man. There seems to be a gadget reversal with baby-boomers and their offspring. Before composing a photo, my mother now has to decide if it’s the mega-zoom midsize, the underwater compact, or the mini iPad.

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Postcards from Leiria

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Our first visit to the regional capital of Leiria. Sounds like: “Lay-ree-a”. About an hour’s drive from us and as we are in Leiria district, I guess it’s our capital, despite not seeming to have any governmental connection to the place. It’s an elegant small city of 60,000-ish people with pleasant parks, a decent amount of pedestrian streets in the old town, a castle on a rock, a river and for added bonus points, a veggie restaurant. This was a street wander just to soak up the place. No castle or museum visits, so this time you’ll be spared the history and useless facts. Enjoy the postcards.

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Aldeias do Xisto

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Aldeias do Xisto are villages built from shale and are usually found precariously clinging to the side of a mountain. They were inhabited by hardy people who eventually abandoned their homes when the cold and damp became to much to bear. Or possibly when increasing wealth allowed them to move to drier flatter lands where it’s not certain death if you slip off a path on the way to your 45º field. In recent years government grants have encouraged people to return, restore the lovely buildings, live and set up business such as hotels and restaurants.

There are 27 villages mostly across central Portugal between Coimbra and Castelo Branco. We’ve only seen a few and some are pleasant to wonder around and others are deserted and a bit contrived. I’ve never been a fan of places where their entire reason for existence is to serve the needs of the likes of us. The tourist. When the “gifte shoppes” out number the practical things like corner stores with fruit and veg, hardware stores, a paper shop and a café with an old boy talking to himself in the corner, it no longer seems genuine, merely a theme park.

This is Talasnal. Very pretty with spectacular views. Really if you live on the side of a mountain and you don’t have a spectacular view I’d be asking for my money back!

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Oh and if you don’t like stone buildings, look away now.

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Why all the portrait photos? A space issue. Despite the altitude, fresh air and spectacular views, the streets are pedestrian-only and very claustrophobic in places.

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An IPA for me

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Caminha artisan beer festival, sorry “ArtBeerFest”, is the oldest in Portugal. This year was it’s 3rd! A beautiful granite town on the northern border with Spain with several squares perfect for an outdoor festival. Beer, food and entertainment rolling from one square to the next right in the middle of town. No fencing off and no entrance fee. You buy vouchers plus your glass at a tent and trade them for beer at each stall. The helpful lady at the voucher tent said “you pay us then we give you our money”. Over in the corner was a row of pedal operated taps to wash your glass so the next beer you try isn’t sullied by the residue of the previous one. I’m staggered at how civilised this is, considering at home I might go from a wine to a beer in the same tumbler without a washing it or grabbing another glass. At least I don’t drink beer from the bottle, that’s primitive.

Especially in hot weather, I’m not offended by a glass of bubbly dry lager from one of Portugal’s two big brands, but if I’m going to get all wine-snob about beer, it isn’t “real” beer. It’s just a summer romance and not a serious long term relationship. Luckily there’s a growing trend here for “artisan” beer, although that term is a bit like “world” music for me. So let’s just say a growing trend for micro breweries brewing all sorts of interesting beer. Influences come from all parts of the world and anything goes in terms of flavours as there doesn’t appear to be a creativity-stifling ancient tradition that must be adhered to.

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The same could be said for the entertainment. My favourite group. Think, that annoying master of ceremonies from Fifth Element singing in a hip-hop style with African drums, um, and the African drums are plastic tubes played with flop-flops/thongs. Woo ho, madness! Doesn’t matter, have another beer.

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What the?! Now it’s thumpy eastern European brass in 7/27 time or something.

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Yes, yes pretty lights and a DJ doing duff-duff now it’s late. The old boys who were sipping a couple of beers for over an hour have long gone and now it’s da yoof and being Portugal young families with little children who will without a doubt, out last me. Suevia what’s that? A beer of course and a Germanic tribe that invaded and settled in what is now Galicia, north western Spain and northern Portugal sometime around a long time ago. They eventually merged with Visigoths and now are the tall Portuguese with beards.

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The calm of the next morning. On the hunt for a decent coffee. The cheap hotel had a nice bed, good shower, surround sound snoring from two other blokes and terrible stale filter coffee. Order had to be restored so a café it was. Need a café, oh look here’s one – it was never going to be difficult! I ordered my life restoring elixir, but unfortunately the waitress assumed, I wanted an “Inglês” Americano/long black weak old persons coffee. I remained calm but I had to go inside and ask for a proper Portuguese coffee.

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The town is on a river bank and set back from sea behind dunes and pine trees. Deceptively pleasant because on the beach the wind was bitter. I have virtually zero “body insulating” and the wind cut through me like a 1000 icicles. The winds up here are the same ones that head over the Bay of Biscay and up to the west coast of Ireland and the UK. The beach experience is very similar. I took this photo and lay flat in the sand to soak up the sun while one nutter went in for a swim that would change his voice and other aspects of his masculinity. Feel free to add your own captions, but the scene is basically: (left) “Yeah it’s a phone that takes photos”. “Oh really, we don’t have those in Wales”; (right) “WHY ARE WE HERE?! WHY?” (centre) “Ha, ha what a bunch of pussies, it can’t be that cold in there.”

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Pushing the Bike

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Feeling inspired for a bit of a review of recent doings. The following few posts will be things done over this last summer, or possibly just a collection of random photos that you’ve never seen before. The adventure continues, just not necessarily in logical order!

A bike “ride”. So steep I could barely get my footing pushing the trusty/crusty old bike up a local ridge. Sitting down for a rest here, but decided to move on when I discovered two ticks wandering up my jeans leg.

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Looking back at what I’ve just conquered and feeling like a legend-ette. Was on the bike for only 5% of that climb.

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A flat bit. Another breather and time to take in our wonderful wind turbines. While many countries debate renewable energy and think about doing; Portugal thought and has done. Last year wind power generated 55% of the country’s needs. Combined with other renewable resources, the total was 70%. Spin on that! And generate while you’re at it.

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Downhill now and riding v pushing ratio dramatically improving! This hillside is covered in herbs. Ever been on a bike ride where you smell pizza and curry but there isn’t a takeaway for miles? Made it home with skull intact, but yet another puncture. Much as it pains me to spend money on my bike, I might have to buy new tyres and tubes. They’re getting a bit thin. Apart from the pox of patches, it’s all original and I bought the bike in 1998.

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Shoot from the hip – Lisboa

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Last weekend friends invited us to stay in the apartment they had booked in Lisbon. After the family member who was meant to be in the second room cancelled, there was an opening! We were heading down to the big smoke to collect my mum from the airport anyway, so it all worked out beautifully. In preparation, they’d even organized a sleep-over for Juta the dog. How could we refuse!

This wasn’t a tick-off-the-big-5 sight seeing type of trip, but an indulgent eating and drinking amble through some of the city’s back streets.

In our little hideaway from the world in the “provinces” we realised we’d forgotten that there is much, much more to Portugal than how it looks an how things are done round here. Of course a big city is going to be busy, we get that. Lisbon is a capital city, like most others, with an international outlook and where people buy stuff. Look at all the shops with shiny things! And look at that guy’s suit; his outfit must cost as much as our house!

For a couple of recent converts to the dark side of veggie, or vegan as it’s commonly called, the real eye opener for us was that the veggies seem to have have taken a foothold. Yes – in Portugal! The area we were pottering about seemed like every third café and restaurant was veggie and vegan friendly. Trumpet fanfare please – Portugal we love you more.

As we were to be led from one indulgence to the next, I was conscious of holding up the party if I got carried away and put my photography head on. Aligning lamp posts or waiting for the perfect splash in a fountain was not going to win friends. So the theme of this blog was set just before I took the first shot. The camera stays strapped to the shoulder, no looking through the viewfinder. Set the aperture and let the camera do the rest. See something interesting – click. Shoot from the hip. So pretentious. Enjoy!

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I had a request from a certain lady to recreate this elegant stone work in the garden. Keep dreaming.
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The atrium of a vegetarian restaurant. Eating veggies and feeling like a vegetable in a big green house.
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A pro-life demonstration. Later we saw an abortion clinic with flowers placed at the door. We don’t have to agree, but great respect to civilized voicing of opinions. Nothing smashed and I presume nobody hurt as there were no sirens.
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Love the crazy angles. No beer or wine consumed at this point in case you were wondering.
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Ooh yes, a pair of white plastic framed glasses at 400€ for me.
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An ale house. Specialist beers from Portugal and all around the world. You heard it here: beer and Portugal in the same sentence. That afternoon a new brew by an Aussie and a Portuguese was launched. We had a discussion comparing prog-rock to their new beer. Not an instant hit single, but after a little while the 10 minute drum solo with harps sounds pretty cool. Or something.
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No dearest, I can’t do that either.
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Art Nouvaeu 1890-1910. Inspired by organic forms and structures with extensive use of curved lines. Is it just me or is it getting hot in here?
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Marathon man. In the lead for now…
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Historic regatta or we’re about to convert to Islam again. They’ve come back for Moor. I know it’s a bad joke, but look, knitted love hearts around a sign post!
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No…
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Traction Avant, I bow to you.
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Lofty ceilings with tile art in the metro. Bonkers, but likeable.
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