Our original plan was to rent a car in Porto, drive inland to Coimbra for a night, then drive further inland to stay at a mountain town called Monsanto for another night. After reading a few blogs, and then a few more blogs about the driving and parking experience in Portugal for the inexperienced, we decided to stick to places we could access by train and save our Portuguese countryside tour for another trip.
After seeing drivers thread the needle through the narrow streets of Porto, we were certain driving here might not be our thing, like, ever.
At this point in the trip, Jack jettisoned off to visit with friends in Vienna for a weekend. He left his luggage with us to drag along all over Europe. I don’t know who okayed this arrangement, but it made us reluctant to try to hike into the medieval city center from the train station to find our lodging.
Our flat was on the 3rd (i.e. 4th) floor of a little home at the top of a hill paved with ancient cobblestones, so I’m glad we weren’t tempted to hoof it. The taxi ride there was an adventure all on its own, but we arrived safely.
We had amazing views at this place, too.
One of the travel habits we developed a few years ago was booking tours early in our vacation. Airbnb experiences are listed in virtually every town we visit and make it easier to book opportunities (after vetting them beforehand at our leisure) than ever before. For trip to Coimbra, we scheduled a walking tour with Samantha, a former Erasmus scholar and law school graduate of Coimbra University (located just behind the Sé Velho in the photo above). We were the only ones in our group.
Samantha had fantastic stories about being a student in this very student-oriented town (which reminded us a great deal of our University of Idaho days). She was able to point out locations for a free Fado show, her favorite restaurants and markets, and her experience moving here as an expat from Italy.
The craziest coincidence about being in Coimbra right at this moment is that it was also the anniversary of the 1974 liberation of Portugal from the dictatorship. It turns out our own flat was once the residence of a famous singer-songwriter, Jose Alfonso, whose song was used to signal the start of what became known as the largely bloodless Carnation Revolution.
It was the military that rose up against the regime after years of colonial war in Africa stretched resources thin and sparked dissent. The coup was planned over the course of months. Once the signal given, soldiers in Lisbon advised residents to stay inside their homes. The Portuguese people being … well, Portuguese, interpreted as a sign they should gather in the streets to check out the action.
One young woman was carrying an armload of carnations ordered by her boss to celebrate the opening of a restaurant. She saw the soldiers passing and heard the announcement and began passing out the flowers, which the soldiers put in the muzzles of their guns.
Which turns out to be the story behind the room names in our building (Coragem: courage, and Liberdade: liberty) and also of some of the decor for our building.
While our lodgings were gorgeous and comfortable, they were also right next to the Sé Velho square where university students enjoyed what sounded like a great party Saturday night until at least 4 am, and then the commencement of the April 25 celebration of the revolution the following night.
So, overall, an enlightening, if somewhat tiring experience, with a great story. My favorite. And also the reason I always travel with ear plugs.