Coimbra: Church, Market, Riverfront Walk

As I explained in my first entry on Coimbra, today I had a half day in Coimbra that was not in my original plans. I made good use of it by visiting a church and a market, and by taking a short walk along the Mondego River.

Church of Santa Cruz

Exterior of the Church of Santa Cruz
Exterior of the Church of Santa Cruz

The Church of Santa Cruz (Mosteiro de Santa Cruz) shows a simple, but grand face to the world, if “simple, but grand” makes any sense whatsoever.

The interior of the sanctuary is equally simple, but grand, again if that makes any sense whatsoever. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, come up with your own words. Come on. Do I have to do everything for you?

OK. I’ll give you this. Blue-on-white tiles depicting religious scenes decorate the lower portion of the side walls inside the church.

Entrance to the church itself is free, but I paid €3 to also visit its sacristy, cloisters, chapter room, choir stalls, sacred art museum, and tombs.

Tombs

Tiled walls
Tiled walls

When I paid the ticket seller located in the sacristy, she told me to visit the tombs first because a mass was starting in less than ten minutes and I couldn’t go in during the mass. This confused me.

I thought, “What? They’ve got this decent-sized, simple, but grand sanctuary, but they hold the mass in the tombs room?”

The thing is, when I heard “tombs,” I assumed they’d be in a musty old church basement or maybe off in a side chapel. That’s not where they are.

The altar
The altar

The Church of Santa Cruz holds only two tombs. The remains of Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, rest in one. The remains of Dom Sancho I, Dom Afonso’s son, who was the second king of Portugal, rest in the other. The two tombs are located in places of prominence, on either side of the altar at the front of the church.

To visit the tombs I had to walk out from the sacristy where priests were already preparing for mass, through the front side door they use to enter the sanctuary for services, and out onto center stage in front of the dozen or so people sitting in the pews. Seeing both of the tombs up close required walking behind the altar and across to the other side of it. Then back again to exit.

One of the tombs
HOne of the tombs

Damned right I was going to leave before the mass started. It took me a year to learn my Bar Mitzvah haftorah portion. Even then, I screwed it up when I got in front of the congregation. And my mind was probably considerably more plastic when I was 13 than it is now at 69.

I know I tend to be self-deprecating, but, in this case, I’m sure it’s justified. I really don’t think I could have learned the mass in five minutes in case I accidentally upstaged the priest. I’ve never even heard a mass before.

If I could remember it, temporally inappropriate though it may have been, I’d have chanted the prayer said on lighting the Chanukah candles. But I couldn’t even recite that.

Other Special Places in The Church of Santa Cruz

Some of the choir stalls
Some of the choir stalls

The choir stalls are elegant and made of dark, rich-looking wood decorated with gold paint or gold leaf; I’m not sure which. They are upstairs. The area they’re in overlooks the sanctuary. I could have stayed there to watch the whole mass if I wanted. Yeah, like that was going to happen.

The cloisters surround a square lawn with a fountain in the middle of it. They were peaceful and charming.

The museum was underwhelming. It is two small rooms. One contains primarily vestments.

The cloisters
The cloisters

I could view the other room only through the bars of the door that secured it. The room holds crosses, crucibles, and reliquaries made of what I assume are precious metals. Maybe that’s why they don’t want anyone to get too close. The church is afraid someone might detect that they’re really made of cheap tin. I may be wrong about that.

I also went into the chapter room and sacristy. Then again, I couldn’t help but go into the latter seeing as though it serves as the entrance to and exit from the other spaces in the paid area.

Those rooms didn’t illicit any thoughts in me worthy of writing in this journal, not that that’s a very difficult threshold to cross.

A picture taken through the bars separating me from the treasure room
A picture taken through the bars separating me from the treasure room

Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market)

The municipal market
The municipal market

Coimbra’s Mercado Municipal (municipal market) spans two floors. The lower level hosts mostly green grocers, florists, and butchers.

A food court fills much of the upper floor. Merchants there sell prepared foods to eat at the tables at the centre of the food court or to take out.

There are also a couple of cheese mongers and a few more green grocers on the upper level. Both levels have a few tchotchke sellers.

Market Fish Mongers

Surprisingly, I didn’t at first see any fish and seafood mongers. I say “surprisingly” because seafood is a really big deal in Portugal. I may be wrong, but I think there’s a law here requiring all restaurants to have a minimum of one cod dish on their menus. Some have many.

If there’s a law requiring octopus on menus the authorities enforce it slightly less stringently, but only very slightly.

If I eat any more cod I fear it will influence my DNA and I’ll grow gills. I’m even more worried about eating more octopus. I don’t think the tentacles I’ll grow will fit comfortably in my airline seat for the trip back home when the time comes.

That surprise didn’t last. I was about to leave through what I thought was an exit from the upper floor. Opening and walking through the glass doors, I found it wasn’t an exit, but an entrance to a room where the fish mongers are. Thank goodness. Portuguese crisis averted.

More Surprises at the Market

Another thing that surprised me was finding a roofless bouncy castle on the upper floor of the market. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the reason for the bouncy castle. I didn’t see any protesters anywhere near the market.

It occurs to me that only Canadians, particularly people from Ottawa, will get that reference. If you’re not Canadian, never mind.

The Correio • Telegrafo • Telefone building
The Correio • Telegrafo • Telefone building

Another surprise awaited me when I left the market. Across the street sat a building with a large sign declaring, “Correio • Telegrafo • Telefone.”

I had to look up the translation of Correio. It’s “post office.” I guessed correctly that Telegrafo translates to telegraph and Telefone to telephone.

The building appeared closed for today, Saturday, but it seemed to otherwise be in active use.

Huh?

OK, post offices are still marginally useful. So, fine. I understand the presence of a post office.

But telegraphs? Do they even still exist?

And telephones? These days, is there anyone left who has to go into a building to use an institution’s phone service? I don’t think so.

Everyone in Coimbra appears to have a smartphone. In fact, I’ve been in restaurants here where the ratio of patrons to smartphones in hands or on tables comes close to 1:1. And I’m not sure which side of the balance that ratio weighs in on.

Before you call me hypocritical, I have an excuse. I eat alone here. And I use my smartphone to start or continue writing these entries while waiting for my meal. I’m not snubbing a companion when I do so because, after my brother left to return home, I have no companions here.

But I don’t know about the other people I’ve seen in restaurants. I think the couples and larger groups seated at tables hope their exposed phones will provide them with excuses to not talk to the people they’re seated with. I guess the phones in hands rather than lying on tables fulfilled that purpose.

Riverfront Walk

After the market, I headed down to a riverfront park for a walk. I was ready for a riverfront walk. The park wasn’t ready for me, at least, not all of it.

Construction hoarding surrounded about half the park. I walked past the hoarding to the back part of the park, which was open. It offered a riverfront walk just for me. Well, maybe not just me. There were a few other people there. How rude!

A view of Coimbra's old central district from across the river
A view of Coimbra’s old central district from across the river

The Mondego River flowing by the park is urbanly attractive, to coin a phrase.

I walked along along the riverfront to the end of the park and then back to an entrance to a pedestrian bridge. I used the bridge to pass over to the other side (of the river).

Upon passing over, I saw a bright light. It was the sun.

At that time of day the sun was well positioned to cast a glare on the lens of my iPhone camera if I wanted to take a picture of the central district of Coimbra across the river. Fortunately, I found a shady spot where I took the accompanying picture unhampered by glare.

Then, it was time to grab a quick lunch, reclaim my bags from my former hotel, and head to the train station to catch the first of three trains that will take me to Evora.

I didn’t arrive in my Évora hotel until about 7:00 this evening. So, what with settling in and figuring out what to do for dinner (a priority), I haven’t wandered around the city yet. Thus, other than the 15-minute walk from the train station to my hotel, I haven’t seen much of Évora so far.

Just a few comments about that walk. It was almost completely flat as far as elevation goes. I saw a small hill on the other side of town, so I might have a bit of climbing yet in this city.

The area around the train station is, to say the least, uninspiring. It’s mostly industrial. A large, multi-siloed agricultural or industrial structure lumbers just across the street. What residential buildings exist on the route to my hotel are mostly boxy and pretty much all-white.

The sidewalks are paved with stones. When I say stones, I don’t mean paving stones. Nor do I mean stones specially selected for the flatness of their tops. I mean rounded, unworked, random stones held in place by gaps of mortar. Dragging a suitcase over it was somewhat less than fun even though I had only a short walk. I’m amazed my luggage wheels endured the journey without falling off.

The route took me through a rough, dusty public square. When I walked through, people were either just starting to set up or just finishing taking down what I think will be or had been some sort of fair. It was past normal working hours and there wasn’t enough activity for me to determine whether it was going up or coming down.

My hotel is just barely in the old section of town, where the area starts to look much more interesting than what I past to get there. I’m in Evora for three nights. So, two full days. I expect to be a lot more positive about Évora when I explore deeper into the old town. The tour books list some interesting sights there.

Oh, and, thankfully, the sidewalk stones close to my hotel are still stones, but someone either took care to choose ones with flat surfaces, or the surfaces were planed down. I had about a block’s worth of that somewhat less burdensome luggage dragging.