Saturday, January 10

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We started the day with a big buffet breakfast in Coimbra, and after our first night of really good sleep, it was perfect. After breakfast, we drove to town to explore and see the university.
Coimbra was built on this huge, steep hill. Instead of regular old sidewalks, there were steps everywhere. Lots and lots of steepness and lots of steps.
Also in Portugal, all their sidewalks are done in this fantastic tile. All hand-laid, with tons of different patterns. It was everywhere we went, just incredible. On a somewhat related note, a lot of building facades are also covered in tile. So cool.

Andrew loved all the graffiti we saw.

Coimbra is known for its university, but Andrew and I decided to just walk around town instead of visiting it. We loved all the great views of the rooftops. So beautiful. We bought a traditional (or so we hear) Portuguese tile for Sarah. It’s lovely, with lots of blue and white with spots of color in the design. I hope she likes it. The weather was fantastic, too. Warm enough that we could enjoy walking around. Before getting back on the bus, we got some delicious pastries and sat out in the sun.

Next, we drove about 30 minutes to Batalha. Frankly, there wasn’t much there. We saw a big, gothic-style cathedral with lovely stained glass making gorgeous reflections on the stone. But other than the stained glass, we weren’t impressed with Batalha. We didn’t really see anything besides this cathedral and the two or three shops that surrounded it. We did stop at a little bread and cookie kiosk thing, and the nice lady there gave us samples of cakes and cookies. We bought some small coconut cakes from her.

After Batalha, we drove another 30 minutes to Fatima. Nice views along the way, very green. Lots of orange trees and vineyards. We went to a wine-tasting at this little place with barrel tables and stools. We got to try red table wine, two kinds of port, almond liqueur, and coffee liqueur. It was a nice little wine-tasting, but very quick. We were only there maybe 20 minutes, including the eight-minute video we watched. Andrew and I bought a bottle of sparkling wine for only 4€. We haven’t had it yet; I’m sure we’ll drink it sometime soon. Maybe when we can’t find a good place to go out to.

We started our outing in Fatima with lunch with Mark and Natalie at this circular restaurant on the second floor of a building, overlooking a shopping square and gardens. Had very tasty food—mushroom pizza and roast chicken, good bread.

Fatima’s claim to fame is that sometime in 1917, there were all kinds of religious visions there, and people said they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Our tour director, Paul, told us it was in the news and everything. The town sells these body-part-shaped candles, and they say that you light them for spiritual help. Like they had candles shaped like feet, or arms, or kidneys, or intestines, and if you had stomach cancer, say, you might light a stomach-shaped candle and pray for healing. We even saw boob candles.

So we were there because of all the religious history and to see these two gigantic cathedrals. One old and more classic-looking, one newer and very modern looking. In front of the modern cathedral, there’s a cool steel crucifix with a stylistic Jesus. It looked amazing in the sunlight. Hope my pics of this turn out well.
There’s a long marble path that leads to the candle-burning area where people crawl on their knees to get there. We peeked in the cathedrals, but because our lunch was long, we didn’t have a lot of time before we had to be back on the bus.
If you squint and maybe tilt your head,
you'll see a man who was actually crawling
on his knees down the path.

Next, we drove about one and a half hours to Lisbon. We had about two or three hours to kill before dinner, so Andrew and I walked to a nearby bullring with a shopping center underneath it. I bought a kickin’ yellow watch there.

Dinner was part of one of the optional excursions. This one included a city tour and traditional Portuguese show. Tons of cabbage in the traditional Portuguese food—in the soup and in the casserole thing. The show was pretty good. Lots of singing, dancing, in the Fado style, which was described to us as a sort of melancholy, bluesy style of music. It didn’t sound very bluesy to us, but was nice, with lots of guitar music. After the show, the bus drove us around town for a bit before heading back to the hotel.

The hotel, by the way, is awesome. We scored a room on the top floor—the tenth—with a large balcony and views of the city.

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