Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bats in the Bibliotheque

Greetings from Coimbra!
run down buildings in Coimbra
We arrived here Saturday morning after a short & lovely trains ride (first class) through pastoral environs. Coimbra is a town dating back about nearly 1000 years. It was originally the capital of Portugal and presently is best know for being home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. There is a a winding, walled historic centre on a hilltop surrounding the university (the area where we are staying).
Coimbra Graffiti
We are staying at a small bed & breakfast, Casa Pombal. It has ten tiny rooms surrounding a precarious flight of stairs up four stories. (Dawn & Ron: the climb is like the Biscuit Palace in New Orleans.) Everything is bright and cheerful, including the small courtyard patio, filled with flowers. Our room is in the attic with excellent views of the city & river.
We first visited the university, which is from the 1500s. It was quite impressive. There were ceremonial halls and classrooms that looked like they belongs at Hogwarts, and a lovely church, but the best thing of all was the library, the Biblioteca Joanina. It was the most beautiful library i have ever seen. It was built in the early 1700s and houses 300,000 ancient books in ornate black & gold bookcases inlaid with chinoiserie designs. the ceilings and archways look like something out of a baroque church and there are huge reading tables and ladders to reach the uppermost volumes. The extra cool thing is that it is also home to a flock of bats that that sleep in hidden crevices and come out at night to eat insects that may otherwise destroy the books, so every evening, the floors and tables are covered by the caretaker, who let us in with the use of a giant skeleton key. Very cool.
After the university we meandered along and stumbled across a wonderful street party\market where crafts people sold their wares and other people cooked up tasty treats, which we sampled. There was a DJ and giant cushions on the step on which to relax.
postboxes: Coimbra
We visited so many churches, that i shall not name them all, but they were all beautiful. (At one we even saw people singing and taking communion.)
One thing that bears mentioning is that at the moment it is the Quiemba das Fitas, the festival that marks the end of the university year. There is the usual student revelry (drunkenness), but here the students also have a ritual in which they burn ribbons of the color that represents their faculty (red for law, yellow for medicine, etc). The students are everywhere dressed in formal costume: Long black capes, black suits and many also wear black hats. It is very dramatic, seeing groups of them walking to various parties with their capes flowing behind them.
Coimbra buskers
It was a wonderful day. It is a bit cooler here than it has been in the past week or so, and it even rained a bit last night.
Today we shall explore a bit more and tomorrow we catch a train to Porto.
d & b

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