Digging in the history of Coimbra – Portugal

From Braga my trip continued to Coimbra, the third largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and Porto. Coimbra is split in two parts by the river Mondego, which gives an extra charm to the city.  The central area is very complex and rather small but very diverse. Basically you can walk on the riverside and when you feel like, you just cross the street and you are in the old town, where plenty of cafes,restaurants,shops and the most important buildings of the town are all together just a few steps from each other. 

  
The main shopping street is wide and well circulated at any time of the day and evening, but the narrow side streets give the city actually the real bohemian style. What I noticed immediately is the cultural aspect of the place. As you wander from one narrow street to another you can’t miss the big number of art galleries and rustic style shops. It’s an enriching experience walking around in this city. 

The highlight however is of course the worldwide famous Coimbra University, dating from 1290 and being one of the oldest universities in the whole world and the oldest in Portugal.

  
Parts of the university can be visited and if you are lucky you may enter by coincidence with an organized group and find out interesting info from the guide who speaks perfect German with a very pleasant Portuguese accent. Her German is perfect, but mine isn’t even close, but I definitely understand the part when she says the library was built in the 18th century, contains aprox 250 thousand volumes from fields such as medicine, law, history or science.  She also mentiones no photo, ups, to late for that, this view is priceless…

  
History is an interesting topic for who’s passionate about it, for me a little of it’s enough and I had my portion for the day. Coimbra has more to offer and what really satisfies my taste, litterally, is bifana. Bifana is the Portuguese version of the simple McDonalds hamburger, but way more tasty and I like to believe that also much healthier. It is pork steak on bread with the optional addition of cheese and bacon. Simple as that, but I guarantee you will lick your fingers after it. Tip: get it take away and chill in the park on the riverside and not only your stomach will be happy but your eyes will brighten up while watching the sunrise or sunset or just the birds flying above the river Mondego.

  

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Discovering the deepest treasures of Portugal – Peneda Geres National Park

Once discovering the existence of Peneda Geres, I knew I need to check it out. That’s why I included Braga in the first place in my itinerary. Braga is relatively close and it’s a good place as a base if you want to visit the national park, though if you have more time on your hand, better spend a few days in Geres itself. Let’s see how did it all happened…

I didn’t feel my trip rushed at all because I did it all in my own rythm,  which can be at times really intense and exhausting for other – hence traveling solo works so well for me – and just spontaneously decided spending only half day in Geres. Basically the day started very early in Braga, where I had my bus at 7:15 am. It was still dark and just a couple more people on the streets when I was trying to figure out my way to the bus station.

  
Obviously I never have a map, I don’t need it and frankly, I’m not even good with it, it makes me more confused then I am. Relying on locals suits me much more and surprisingly even with all the language barriers you could imagine it works out perfectly eventually. So it happened that early morning too, when I picked a random public bus driver and asked him directions. He spoke a few words in German but the information didn’t help me much because apparently the bus station was too far to make it in time there by walking. I was like: oh,no!!! I’m gonna miss the bus! That’s when I discovered the genuine Portuguese good will. The bus driver literally drove the bus with a few more passengers in it on a different route all the way to the bus station I needed and I catched my bus in the last minute. It was the most impressive thing I experienced! Nobody complained about the change and his face was all brightened when he saw I’m in time for my bus. Wow!

The day continues with other surprises, this time from our beautiful nature: it’s sunrise time.

  
In approximately one hour Geres is reached and I’m all energized to discover it. At the supermarket where I buy my water and food provision, they speak great English and point me to the trails. Hiking goes well until I reach a point that leads through the forest and I continue my way very brave, though it’s like a jungle and the trail is hard to follow cause all kind of plants with pointy leaves stick to me and I start to don’t see the path anymore. For a minute I become the prisoner of the naughty plants and getting rid of them is quite a work. I decide returning before I completely lose my way, here there’s nobody to ask for directions, and my whole body feels like I had some kind of Chinese massage with those sticks they sting you with. Funny feeling – those naughty plants!

My hiking adventure failed, but instead I found a cute park, which was not a bad replacement.

   
   
In Geres you can do shopping, relax at the spa, eat and drink in the few restaurants they have there. But if you really want to see something nice, aprox 5 km away there is a gorgeous lake. Transportation can be problematic if you rely on the buses and your time is limited. So I took a long long walk, which didn’t seem as long thanks to the breathtaking view along the way.

   
    
 
I reached the lake much earlier than I expected, so I guess I walked aprox 5 km?! It was worth it! In the sunny day the water reflected the blue sky and was so inviting that my feet tried it but brrr too cold! Surely I good chilling place though. Quiet and beautiful, great location to connect with nature. 

   
   
Silence is enjoyable, but if it’s too long it’s not my piece of cake and anyways it’s time to catch the bus back to Braga… See you later beautiful lake!

A town full of warmhearted people and hidden beauties: Braga

Braga is located approximately 1 h from Porto, it’s much smaller, calmer, less impressive sights, but much more authentic than any other I visited so far. The first person I got in contact with, Nelson, the hostel owner, welcomed me with the typical Portuguese hospitality coming straight from the bottom of his heart, I could feel that. InBraga hostel, the result of his hard work and ambitious dream,  is one of the cutest, cleanest and definitely the most homely I’ve ever been to.

   
 
Due to the fact that it’s off peak season I get the luxury of having the whole room just for me and myself. However, the weather is friendly once again with me, 23 degrees – wow – and I roll to discover the town with no map, of course, just following the streets in a random order.

 Braga is a small town, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t get lost, though it’s adventurous being lost in an unknown place. As everything is just around the corner, after less than 10 minutes of wandering around in a slow rhythm, I realize I made it to the center cause I see lots of shops, cafes, buildings and people around.

   
    
   
Nelson recommended me to check out the Bom Jesus do Monte, promising me a fantastic view over the city. I have to admit he didn’t let me down! Following the stairs up on the hill under the shadows of the trees, surrounded of the beautiful colors of fall, it’s a pleasure going up to this amazing viewing point.

   
 
The church itself is impressive, a real piece of art, reminds me of a similar version of it I visited a few

 years back in Montreal…Nice times…
But in the meantime we are still in Braga, where after you completed your route up on the stairs you have the option of resting your legs on the lakeside or rowing a boat on the lake itself.

   
 

   There’s a lot to enjoy up there, starting from the view and ending with the artificial caves.

   
   
Braga may not have the reputation of an exciting city, but in my view it has the qualities of a town that worth discovering.

 

 

Porto – Portugal

Arriving to the second biggest city of Portugal was from the first moment a positive experience. I was welcomed by a very generous sunshine and an even more impressive Portuguese hospitality, together with honest smiles and kind words of the locals I met on the bus from the airport to the city center. Though English is only briefly or not at all spoken by the big majority, I found it extremely easy to get around using some Spanish and a lot of sign language. In Porto wine is impossible to avoid, not that I would want to do that, and once tried it’s hard to stop drinking it. A huge variety of local and regional wines are served for as less as 2 euros per glass. No wonder that in the company of my girls on the riverside we made unforgettable memories from the very first evening already.

  
Though it’s the second half of October, while the rest of Europe prepares the winter gear, Portugal still enjoys a short taste of summer: 14 degrees at 10 pm. The view is fabulous, wine is divine, food is great for those who are not too picky?!

   
 
Speaking of food…well…Franzesinha, or Franciska – as I liked to call it, look like this:

  
and tastes like… hmm… cheesy ! It’s an absolute local dish, luckily comes with some fries – in this way I didn’t leave the restaurant as hungry. However, for who likes a toast with meat covered with a lot of cheese, might be tasty. For me: no thanks ! On the other hand, batata de carne – potato with meat- serve me, please, warm is the best! 

  
Yes, it’s 1 euro, nothing fancy but simply delicious and good before and after a wine tasting event. Wine had an important role in my two days Porto adventure and I still think about it with pleasure. Quevedo Port Wine tasting event is just one of the many going on every day in the romantic city of Porto.

   
 
Wine is not the only delicatese you bump into though. We managed to find things that I didn’t except. Fancy some cannabis chocolate?

  
Or your love life needs some inspiration? 

  
I definitely declare this shop my favorite in Porto! 

  
I was distracted several times by the great wine and the variety of chocolates, but a visit at the local market brought me back to reality, thanks to the big bunch of garlic.

  
Porto has the positive vibe, the romantic atmosphere, a convenient climate, over decorated churches and very pretty sights.

   
    
    
  
It’s the city where all you need to do is just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride! Even cats do that…