Bicycle touring central Portugal, a pilgrimage of sorts

Beira felt very different from Algarve and Alentejo.  The rest of our bicycle tour, sort of paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Coimbra to Lisbon, was once again very different from anything we had already seen in Portugal.  Traffic was heavier, the hills were steeper, and the scenery wasn’t so beautiful as it’s generally a more built-up and populated part of the country.  The monuments, however, wow! — it’s one UNESCO World Heritage Site after another.

We arrived in Coimbra from Penacova via a short, easy, scenic ride along the Mondego River, blissfully not realizing what a challenge the riding would be the two weeks to follow.  It’s the historic University of Coimbra buildings that comprise the UNESCO site here.  We’ve now visited six World Heritage sites in Portugal (with more still planned…), and the University of Coimbra is the only one where I could say “disappointing”.  The star attraction is the Joanina Library, but it’s pretty small, and you only get 10 minutes.  I had high expectations remembering the phenomenal library at El Escorial.  The Coimbra University sites’ 12.50-Euro-entrance fee, more than double the entrance to most of the monuments, is steep.  The roads in Coimbra are steep too, and the university sits on top of a hill.

Here is the main square at the university, Patio das Escolas:

IMG_20190420_092615 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190419_173055 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the (historic) entrance to the library (no photos allowed inside):

The entrance (or in our case, exit) to the Joanina Library by bryandkeith on flickr

Coimbra’s steep hills make for some nice cityscapes.

IMG_20190419_151959 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190419_170847 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190419_185222 by bryandkeith on flickr

The highlight of our time in Coimbra was walking around the old part of the city.  There are a number of wonderful squares.  Here are Largo de Portagem and Praça 8 de Maio.

Largo de Portagem by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190419_183834 by bryandkeith on flickr

If you missed the main attraction, you can often find an azulejo to substitute.

IMG_20190420_152354 by bryandkeith on flickr

Igreja de São Tiago by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190420_152551 by bryandkeith on flickr

The Old Cathedral by bryandkeith on flickr

Coimbra is named after Conímbriga, the most intact Roman city in Portugal.  Like visiting Mérida I knew, coming from Turkey, I ought to have low expectations for this Roman site.  I guess I can say we were very lucky to visit Conímbriga on Easter Sunday.  The site was closed so I stepped over the chain and saw the ruins in about 10 minutes.  Normally they want 4.50 Euro/person for this??!!

IMG_20190421_142631 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190421_142855 by bryandkeith on flickr

At this point we were following the pilgrimage route south to Fátima which, in the other direction, is the pilgrimage route north to Santiago de Compostela.  We stayed at a fun, busy hostel in Tomar where, I believe, every guest (except us) was walking to Santiago.

IMG_20190421_121647 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190421_152311 by bryandkeith on flickr

The blue sign on the left says “Fátima”:

IMG_20190422_102913 by bryandkeith on flickr

We followed the Aqueduct of Pegões for a little as we rode into Tomar.

IMG_20190422_180037 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190423_145747 by bryandkeith on flickr

The aqueduct supplied water to Tomar’s star attraction, The Convent of Christ, another World Heritage Site.  When the Portuguese took this land from the Moors, the Knights of Templar established Tomar on the site of the Moorish fortress.  For the first half of our visit the dreary rainy weather made photography a little difficult, but we enjoyed one incredible cloister after another.

IMG_20190423_115153 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190423_123904 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190423_130620 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190423_131144 by bryandkeith on flickr

Some people would say this Manueline window is the highlight:

The Mauneline Window by bryandkeith on flickr

or in azulejo form if you prefer:

IMG_20190423_194137 by bryandkeith on flickr

while others (including me) are more impressed by the Round Church.  The church is small and high which like the weather I’ll use as an excuse for poor photos,

The round church by bryandkeith on flickr

but check out the artwork on either side of the entrance.  One’s real, and one’s a painting!

IMG_20190423_120657 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190423_120705 by bryandkeith on flickr

Leaving Tomar (on another rainy day) we stopped by the Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais where the Portuguese “founder” of Tomar is buried.

IMG_20190425_121355 by bryandkeith on flickr

From Tomar it was a short distance to finish our pilgrimage to Fátima.  About 100 years ago some children saw visions here, and well, the Catholics investigated, some popes visited, and now it’s the most important Christian pilgrimage site in Portugal (to make a long story short, I’m sure).  Ferda was moved by good energy.  I felt blessed that the rain had stopped (briefly as it turned out).

IMG_20190425_180439 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day, however, our UNESCO-pilgrimage continued, this time to Batalha, a monastery built to celebrate Portugal’s victory over Spain in the nearby (in space) battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

IMG_20190426_125004 by bryandkeith on flickr

Seriously?  It’s one incredible monument after another in this part of Portugal.

IMG_20190426_131327_30 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190426_132504_10_fused by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190426_132907 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190426_133057 by bryandkeith on flickr

So it looks great from the outside, “but is it really worth going in?” you’re wondering.  Well, it’s always hard taking photos inside,

IMG_20190426_145018 by bryandkeith on flickr

then we found this pleasant cloister,

IMG_20190426_143120 by bryandkeith on flickr

but I was absolutely blown away by the main cloister (the star attraction!) with it’s detailed Manueline lattice work in the arches.

IMG_20190426_135637 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190426_144203 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190426_144358 by bryandkeith on flickr

By this time the rain had stopped, the steep roads continued, we found some nice camping, and the UNESCO indulgence continued to Lisbon, but that’s for the next post…

IMG_20190427_081628 by bryandkeith on flickr

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1 Response to Bicycle touring central Portugal, a pilgrimage of sorts

  1. Curt Bradner says:

    Gosh, it was raining there when we passed through that region as well – our tent pole broke outside of Coimbra so we got to know all the hardware and sporting goods stores while we cobbled together a fix – I do remember it as being a beautiful place. Seems like there was a “Poets Hill” near the university?
    Anyway, looks like you’re having fun!
    I’m putting an Electric Assist on Toph’s hand bike and we’re off to do the Loire Valley in
    Sept. I’m guessing you’ll have used up all your EU time by then but if not, think about joining us for a bit!

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