When I galavanted around Portugal my route, again, was:
- Faro (Tavira day trip)
- Aveiro (Costa Nova day trip)
- Lisbon (Sintra day trip)
Coimbra is really something. Definitely worth a full day here. There is the oldest university in Portugal along with some twisting alleyways and a cool view of the layered town from the bridge.
Rumour had it that the famous Old (Joanine) Library in the University complex was unreal. I didn’t hear rumours, I just read some blogs, which are basically the same thing. I arrived quite early, right when the university opened. You need to purchase tickets from the main ticket place. That was super vague but I only have the building circled on a map, but I will try to find its name. There were maybe 2 people in front of me when I got there around 08:00. I walked past a few hours later, around 11:00 and the lineup was out the door, probably 50- 100 people.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy a ticket just for the library. You need to spend 12.50 euros on an entrance ticket. At the time of purchase, you are given a strict time slot to enter the library. I think they are about every 20 minutes and they usher you out on time. The ticket gives you access to a couple other areas of the campus but the library is by far the best part of it.
The ticket includes Saint Michael’s Chapel where I spent less than 5 minutes (you need to knock on the big door to enter) along with access to some rooms, what they call a “palace”. I put it in quotes because it is a wild guess if it is a palace, it could just be an office, I don’t know. I lasted about 10 minutes inside because I have an attention span of a crow. The science wing of the campus is also included but it opened a little later so I didn’t go.
The library is stunning. I can’t show you because you can’t take photos inside, but believe me. Top-notch. I pictured Gandolf reading some old manuscripts at one of the tables. Fun fact: there are bats inside it to eat the insects that destroy the books. They put cloth over the books to prevent the bat shit from damaging them. The circle of life is beautiful.
Another treat is the botanical garden within the University campus. It is free to enter and has an aqueduct near its entrance.
I hopped on a train from Coimbra to Aveiro, which was 5.35 euros. I purchased the ticket at the station but I checked the train schedule online first so I knew which time I wanted. The prices online and in person at the ticket counter were the same.
Every country seems to have “[enter city name]” is the Venice of [insert country name]” Portugal is no exception. Aveiro is the Venice of Portugal. You can take a gondola down the water a little ways with a generic schpeel (probably not a word but just go with it) about the farmers who used the boats. I was more impressed with the guide who recited everything in Spanish, Portuguese and English back to back. Not really worth the price tag since you can walk the route and see the same sites just as easily.
You can also bike it using free bikes from this little shop near the mall called BUGA. I did and the bike was outrageous. Wobbly, falling apart and beautifully free.
I did a day trip to the beach area called Costa Nova. I caught the bus at the stop near the big traffic circle, the bus says Costa Nova on it in big letters on the front so you can’t miss it. But as to the timetable, it is a bit more Portuguese-y. My hostel gave me a list of times it stopped there and it was about 6 minutes late but that is provided that the times she gave me were correct. It costs 2.40 one way and it is worth every penny. I had seen pictures and was nervous I would get off at the wrong stop but as soon as I saw the houses I requested to get off, as did everyone else. The beach is gorgeous here, less windy than other beaches I had been to and my god, THE HOUSES. Cutie patooties.
Porto main sites are pretty self-explanatory (apart from THE bookstore, which I have to explain in its own post) so I will mostly serve up another type of main. Main eats.
I’d Tapas That
Taxca has cheap-ish tapas. Seafood stew was 3.50. There were sandwiches but in general not many options. The food was overall good, not mind-blowing but good. I had a not-so-good house wine that was sparkling and red, which I am ashamed to say I couldn’t even finish. To top it off, it was kind of expensive at 3.50. Beer is apparently the way to go here at 1.50.
So Majestic, Like a Gazela.
Gazela Cachorrinhos da Batalha is super cheap and delish. Tiny space though, so be prepared to get elbowed or have a kid run into your legs while you stand there and eat. Skip the olives since they weren’t great but everything else spot on.
Can’t Control Yourself Any Longa
Conga has these unreal mini sandwiches called Bifana Empao and they are priced deliciously at 2.20. I walked in and nearly broke their ground, not because I was nick-named the Crusher when I was 3 but because I hit the metal dividing pole causing it to crash on the ground. Proper scene. After that embarrassment, I bought two of these Bifana’s to go, wanting to high tale it out of there. The guy behind the bar was like are you sure you want it to go, you can eat it at the bar and I was like no, no it’s fine. Super lovely people here. After about 3 seconds of sitting on the park bench trying to mow down the Bifana, I understood why he asked if I wanted to eat them at the bar. They are as messy as a four-year-old with crayons and a white wall. Exquisite sandwich. A tad spicy but my spice tolerance is salt so I think everything is spicy.
Casa De Pasto O Golfinho R. de Sá de Noronha 137, 4050-526 Porto, Portugal. Imprint this address in your memory so when your phone has died and you are wandering the streets you will still be able to find it, like following the Star to Bethlehem.
Francesinhas was the dish that I knew needed careful consideration before choosing where to go to get it. The hostel worker gave me an option and I had bookmarked a few prior to my trip so it was a decision I didn’t take lightly. Casa De Pasto O Golfinho is on a couple best lists and based on the price-to-rating ratio, I went with my gut and my empty wallet. It is a small place with maybe 5 tables of four and 10 stools by the bar. I arrived 20 min early on a Saturday from when it opened, half expecting there to be lineups. I get super panicky since I have also had the ill fortune of food places being closed. I’ll find a place online, see some pictures, look at the menu and decide what I’m going to eat, only to rock up to the restaurant door, salivating, and discover they’re closed.
My gut was spot on. I will describe the Francesinhas now so look away if you are hungry or don’t want a spoiler.
SPOILER: The dish arrives. To the untrained eye, it seems like some sort of grilled cheese on a bed of tomato sauce. But you could not be more wrong. There is a latticework of cheese blanketed over the bread, housing a layer of meats. The cheese blanket is tucked in tight like when you put a child to bed, this is so the heavenly sauce didn’t soggy the bread core too quickly. The sauce. Oh, that sauce. Can it even be called a sauce? Angel tears are maybe more fitting. Just the right dashes of spices. I ordered fries/ chips to soak up the remaining heaven. I almost rationed it while I was eating. Each dip was carefully swooped on my fork so I wouldn’t over-indulge and take too much at a time. I was walking towards the pearly gates with my sauce but half my chips still remained. With impeccable timing, the owner comes around with a gravy ladle and poured a waterfall of tomato-based bliss into my almost empty dish. I could have found nirvana or it could have been a food coma. Still unsure.
My 50cl water (. 80) and Francesinhas with chips (no egg) was 9.10.
Delicious meal. Delicious price. The one my hostel recommended was Brasão Cervejaria Coliseu Baixa. It was rated slighter higher but it was also $$ instead of $. I read comments saying the Francesinha and drink were 15.00-20.00 euros.
Side Notes Not Food Related
If you want to visit the vineyards somewhat near Porto, I didn’t go myself but a local said even without a car you can go to Pinhao train station and you’ll be within walking distance to find a boat tour.
I went into Palácio da Bolsa. Contrary to my belief, it is not a bag museum like we have in Amsterdam. It was a cool building, one room, in particular, is spectacular. You must have a guided tour and they are time slotted depending on the language offered. The tour is about 30 minutes in total.