We left Porto after breakfast to head toward Coimbra. On the way, we stopped in Aveiro. This little town is on the coast, with much of the town lining a lagoon. It is known as the “Venice of Portugal” because of the many boats that traverse the canals. They were originally used to harvest seaweed.
We strolled around the old quarter and were particularly enchanted by the houses that are striped in vivid colors along the canal.
The fish market had some of the freshest fish around. The shops have a large selection of unique salts in a variety of flavors that are found in this town. I bought one with Mediterranean seasoning and another in a ceramic salt sellar that will be prominently on or dinner table.
The pottery unique to this area was in many shops. I love them but it would be impossible to bring any home and Jim thinks they are creepy. Oh well…
The skies finally opened up and it started to rain. Time to leave and head to our next stop, Guarda.
Guarda is on a mountain top, almost 3000′ above sea level, in the Sierra de Estrella mountains. Its unique location as a castle and fortification provided a 360-degree view of any oncoming invaders. It even has an old Jewish Quarter, long since abandoned. There were three synagogues in Portugal at one time, one in Porto, one here in Guarda, and the other in Lisbon. The only sign that there was a synagogue here is a Jewish star on the street, but no building left. Our guide pointed out a small plaque on some houses near the front door (coincidentally where a mezuzah would normally be hung) that indicates that this home houses people who were Jewish but converted to Christianity. Whether they practiced their Jewish culture and religion in secret while outwardly being Christian is subject to discussion.
We arrived in Coimbra in the late afternoon/early evening. After getting settled in our room, we ventured out to get dinner. A few blocks away, we found Il Tartufo, a large, charming Italian restaurant. On one side of the main room was the open kitchen, and on the other side, a woman was making fresh pasta. She worked for hours making gnocchi, lasagna noodles, and a variety of other shapes, different ones each night. Her skill and diligence to make the best pasta was awesome.
We ordered orrechete (ear-shaped pasta) with an incredible pesto sauce, a salad and vanilla gelato that we shared. It was a treat for the eyes and mouth. There were many outdoor cafes, all full. We returned to the hotel very happy. The weather even cooperated – the rain ended.
We walked around town and noticed some really beautiful buildings near the central square. Also, there was a canned fish store, selling tins of sardines, cod, and tuna. This is very popular in Portugal, although I think it is mainly a tourist destination.
We are tired and ready for bed. Tomorrow, we will be visiting the University of Coimbra.