What have the Romans every done for us?! Provided a rather marvellous stop on the way to Coimbra; that’s what.
There is a place about 30 mins south of the town called Conímbriga, which was once a thriving Roman town and is now a well preserved bunch of Roman ruins. It’s outstanding feature is the amount of very well preserved mosaic floors and how clear the layout of the buildings is. It is easy to feel a strong connection with our forebears at a place like this and I thoroughly recommend going if you find yourself in the area.
Coimbra itself is an old University town, on a hilltop with cobbled streets…… (You see the theme here?) As we had seen one or two similar towns we decided to do something a bit different and kayak 18km down the beautiful Mondego river. It was a Saturday and the guy we met from the tour company built our expectations up by telling us that his company was taking 200 people down the river and another company was doing similar. ‘It will be chaos’. We asked the reasonable question if it was an unusually high number, but no, it is always very busy on a weekend in July or August. We decided that chaos was obviously their business model.
Once on the water, it was bloody funny to start with. Think the Dunkirk flotilla meets the Monty Python sketch about the race for people with no sense of direction. For the first 20 minutes it was carnage, with people going sideways across the river, capsizing and getting stuck in the bank . Human soup…. and lots of the humans are stupid. Let’s not forget that we were going downstream so all you had to do was sweet fuck all and you would eventually get to your destination.
Fortunately, 18km is a long way and there is plenty of river so we soon found ourselves often alone in a beautiful and peaceful environment. We stopped for our picnic on the bank, and a beer at bar on a river beach and had a lovely day. I would thoroughly recommend it. On a weekday.
In the evening we managed to get some really great food at a small place called The Fangas Mercearia Bar before having a wander around the old town. We came across the annual Onion Festival that featured a bunch of stalls selling onion related food, a big stage with nothing on it yet, but I am sure would have soon featured onion related entertainment, in front of which old people sat either waiting for said entertainment, or merely waiting for death. One man bucked the trend and he was dancing with an imaginary partner to an imaginary band. We didn’t stay long.
We then wandered back home, up the same hill we had walked down due to the lack of any other options. Somehow I was in trouble for the steepness of the hill. Somethings, I will never understand.
Before we left, we managed to have a bit morels an explore and realised that we could have spent a couple more days there as we had only just scratched the surface. The university is incredibly handsome and impressive, there are some fascinating old buildings and some great old churches.
We did pop into one old church, the 10th Century Se Velha in it’s cloisters there are two stone graves side by side. A rather grand one to some nobleman who had a load of cash, and a very small one, to a man who had dedicated much of his life to encouraging religious tolerance, diversity and inclusion. It seems we have been getting it wrong for a very long time.