iToday was a very busy day. We started off by visiting the Buçaco National Forest and it’s attendant palace. It seems the forest is the site of an important battle in 1810. There are trees in the forest from all over the world.
We didn’t get much time here, because we had other places to visit – one of them being Coimbra, a university town, known for it’s university and excellent library: the Biblioteca Joanina.
When we arrived in Coimbra, however Pedro made his usual speech about following him as quickly as we could – and once again we were presented with a regional treat, this one a custardy confection covered in pastry and powdered sugar. I love everything about the picture here, how he’s got one sweet in each hand and everyone’s smiling faces as he explains the treat’s origin and about the bakery he ordered them from. We were given time to have lunch – mom and I opted for bakery goods and some espresso before exploring the newer part of Coimbra.
It was an exceptionally hot day, and when we went up to the older part of the city where the University was situated I felt a little faint seeing some of the students in the traditional black robes – much like the ones the children in Harry Potter wear. It was the beginning of the year so there was a bit of hazing going on, as we experienced as some of the older students were prompting new recruits to do silly things in the square.
I was thrilled that we got to go inside the library this time. We were not permitted to take photos inside, but let me say that it’s exceedingly awesome. There are little circular staircases hidden in the corners for access to the upper floors, and each of he cabinets are locked. You are only permitted to take volumes from the library with special permission and can only use the special reading rooms in an effort to preserve the books, some of which are terribly old. Founded by King João V in the 18th C its full of intricate woodwork and gilt. As Pedro was lecturing about it, he paused and said “You may see things in here, just out of the corner of your eye, that might make you think that there was something wrong with your lunch. But this is not the case, there really is a family of bats living in here.” They live inside to help control the moths and other insects. They are permitted to come and go as they please and the little bit of bat guano seems to be a small price to pay or such natural pest control.
Our next stop was Conimbriga, which shares its name with Coimbra, the latter being the spot the Romans fled to when they left Conimbriga. Why they left seems to still be a bit of a mystery, but the ruins in Conimbriga are fascinating. They are some of the coolest I’ve sen by far, since the water system seems to be in perfect working order. They have done a little restoration work and for a coin you can turn the fountains on. These clever Romans used water to cool their villas, and the fountain system was at the centre of the house.
Many of the mosaics are still mostly intact and there are walk ways above so you can get a good look at them. This is only one part of the city that they’re slowly unearthing here and there is a little museum at the top of the hill. Very worth a day trip if you ever come out this way.
After this was a visit to Tomar, which features heavily in the history of the Templars. This is one of the neater fortresses I’ve been to, partly because my teenage self had a bit of a love affair with Templar history, but also because it was very obviously built over a series of years, added to, partly demolished and then altered by different occupants. One of these little additions was sort of hidden by a later one, a very intricate Manueline style window. It was also one of the places I could imagine people living. I find it harder in some of the places we’ve been because there are pieces of it missing, but not so here.
And buried in the centre of it all; this tiny, opulent little chapel, covered in gilt and intricate woodwork. I especially loved the inner square, it was tiled with just the tiniest slant, so any rainwater would drain into the central cistern. There was evidence of swallows nesting in the walk ways and window ledges.
Our next stop was the ever-strange-to-me Fatima. Now Fatima only exists because of a vision that three little shepherd children had of the virgin. The last time we were here, we visited the house that these little children had lived in, which has now been enshrined, for obvious reasons. Nowadays, Fatima is a religious centre to which people make pilgrimage. There are two churches, the older one, which is currently closed to the public for restoration, the central chapel, which was first erected in the time of the three children, which is now under glass – I kid you not. And then there is the modern one, which is actually quite spectacular – and not just because it is a church. It’s entirely self-sufficient as it makes use of solar energy to both light and produce electricity. What it does not use, is used for the town. It’s an engineering feat of some merit, I wouldn’t imagine and big is a very small word for it’s insides. There are walls that can come up to make the inside more intimate for smaller congregations, but they were all down when we went inside. It felt sort of like a lecture theatre except for the gaunt looking Jesus and the massive golden mural at the front.
Somehow I felt it was a tiny bit rude to take photos inside, or of the pilgrims walking on their knees to the central chapel. I suppose this place is odd to me because I was not raised to be religious and I can’t feel the same wonder that others obviously did.
Tonight is dinner in the hotel, and then off towards Lisbon again with some interesting stops in between.