700 Year Old University

We then headed off to Coimbra, which was something more than 1½ hours away, another easy drive with ¾ of our party sleeping.

Unfortunately, once the GPS got us to the “town center” of Coimbra, the place was totally nondescript with no indication where the cute part might be. Eventually, we drove to the university, passing up a miracle parking space because we thought it wasn’t real, only to lose it to someone who knew it was.

We came down the hill from the university and eventually found the cute old city but parking was impossible until we came to a subterranean lot under a very old building. We headed down the ramp. Bad idea. The sign said that the only empty space was three levels down. We went down two levels on an incredibly steep, narrow ramp, with pillars everywhere and cars wedged in tightly together. If the Inquisition had had torture dungeons for cars, this would have been it. Dan decided to not go down further since, if there was a space, the cars were parked so close to each other, the odds of a ding or worse were great. Eitan got out of the car and helped direct Dan back up, with Dan burning up the clutch on the incline, but surviving. How bad was it? Neither Dan nor Eitan memorialized the experience with a photo. Finally, for 30 cents, we exited. The most stressful non-parking experience since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

We then were directed to a space on the street by a guy who had an official-looking plastic badge around his neck, asserting he was a municipal employee who assisted with street parking. Eitan said it was a scam, but Dan tipped him and opened up the back to get his fanny pack out. Eitan was then very uneasy, thinking that people now saw all our cases and the car would be targeted for a break-in. Dan thought Eitan was just having India PTSD, but we decided to play it safe and drove off in search of another space, which we eventually found, and bought three hours of parking.

We walked up many stairs back to the university (where we had not taken the miracle spot that would have avoided all of our parking trauma).

The university is the oldest in Portugal and it has the oldest library, which Eitan informed us is a sight worth seeing. However, when we got there, the first tour we could get was at 6:40, 3 ½ hours away. Dan and Elly quickly said that this wasn’t worth waiting for. This made FOMO Eitan very upset, as he argued that this was a main sight to see here and he simply didn’t understand how we could come so far and not see it rather than driving on to Porto where we would be spending three nights. Eitan then pouted and said, ok, it was up to us. Peace-maker Elly went in line and bought the tickets.

Our obligatory moment of Trip Tension was now over. Everyone relaxed and walked into the old town which turned out to be very cute.

We searched for a restaurant that was open at 4:00, which was hard to do and finally got one down on the river, which was quite good.

Coimbra’s history dates back to Roman times, when it was called Aeminium. In the middle of the12th century, the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, made Coimbra the capital of the country, which it remained until 1255.

We walked more around the city center passing along churches, fountains and shopping streets.

We returned to the car, as Eitan had the smart idea that, by 6:00, spaces would be opening up near the university, and he was right. We found a spot near the earlier miraclespace.

Established in 1290 in Lisbon, it went through a number of relocations until it was moved permanently to its current city in 1537, being one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and the oldest university of Portugal.

On 22 June 2013, UNESCO added the university to its World Heritage List.

Included in the tour was the adjacent palace and Saint Michael chapel, which could be seen at any time. We visited these, which were an indication that Europe has too many palaces! On any other continent, this would be one of the main sights to see. In Europe, it’s just another spectacular palace.

We visited The University’s Grand Examination Room.

Finally, we went to our 6:40 tour of The University’s Joanine Library, founded in 1717. The room was extraordinary, looking like an improbable movie set, with towering shelves containing ancient books. Stupidly, they wouldn’t allow photos, but Dan snuck some.

The building has three floors and shelters about 200000 volumes, of which 40000 are located on the first floor. These bibliographic collections can be consulted, by request, with justification and motives for the need to consultation. Upon approval, the referenced work is taken to the Biblioteca Geral by functionary, where the document can be examined

It’s well worth climbing its tower, which houses the bells that signal the start and end of classes, in order to appreciate the superb 360º view of Coimbra.

With everyone returned to good moods, we got in the car and headed to Porto. Eitan fell asleep for the third time on the day’s rides. The Peugot’s GPS, while a godsend, was surprisingly primitive inasmuch as it didn’t give street and exit names and, indeed, it gave the wrong location of our hotel, depositing us a block and a-half away. We finally found it and got a good parking place, ending our challenging parking day with a positive experience. We entered the quite modern hotel, which was a good mile from the old town. The rooms were clean and sharp, with showers with doors!

We settled in, then Sarah and Eitan went out to dinner (Eitan couldn’t understand how Elly and Dan could go on two meals a day).

Bonus Pic Of The Day: Taking care of a library full of old valuable books is not easy.  In addition to issues of humidity and temperature, the stacks are affected by another “enemy”: papirófagos, insects that survive on paper. But, the structure is protected by being constructed of oak woods, that, in addition to its dense nature (which makes it difficult for wood penetration, elicits an odor that is repellent to these insects. The books are also protected by a small colony of bats, that during the night consume the insects that appear, eliminating the pest and assisting the maintenance of the stacks. Naturally, these mammals require additional care in order to prevent damage to the grains of the wooden furniture. Nightly, functionaries cover the “bufets” (credenzas) with leather towels, and in the morning, the library is cleaned.

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