April 12, 2014 by mariannat92
Since March, it seems, myself and my blog have been on a bit of a break. Never fear though, oh dear hoardes of followers (hi Mum), I am back with a round up of what I’ve been doing since then, plus a couple of plans for the next 8 weeks!
At the start of March Elaine, Rachael and I took a quick trip to Porto. Now, in Coimbra we had just had a solid two weeks of fantastic weather so we assumed that Porto would be the same. Moral of the story: NEVER TRUST PORTO. In Porto it always rains. It might not last for the whole time you’re there, but it will happen. Just accept it. Unfortunately the weekend we chose turned out to be one of the Yes I Sure Am Going To Rain On You All Weekend variety, so we very quickly adopted a new motto: It doesn’t rain inside!
In keeping with our new motto, most of our weekend was indeed spent indoors. To start off with we headed to the Livraria Lello, the famous bookshop that supposedly inspired JK Rowling’s moving staircases. The shop was absolutely beautiful, as you walk in it takes your breath away. My favourite part, of course, was the staircase – it was so elegant, especially with the deep red paint. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos inside (have a look on Google) and the staff insist on reminding you of this loudly every few minutes and in several languages. This was quite a shame and made it seem a lot more hectic and touristy than we thought it should have done, it made it more of an attraction than an actual bookshop! Nonetheless Rachael and I explored the shop at length and managed to spent quite a lot of money (oops) on a couple of new novels each. If it’s in Portuguese then technically it’s a necessary educational purchase, right?
Next we decided to attempt some sightseeing at the Cathedral. Before we even got inside Rachael’s umbrella had already given up the ghost, which really should have been a sign, but we persevered and managed to spend lots of time dawdling around inside waiting for it to stop raining (it didn’t). The Cathedral is pretty but not one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, and we quite quickly ran out of things to look at.
After this we went to look for a nice cafe to while away some more time. We had good intentions, I promise, but we were so wet and dishevelled that when we spotted a Costa Coffee (the first chain coffee place I’ve ever seen in Porto!) we caved and headed inside for a long relax. How English.
That night we found the bar district and, after quite a bit of searching, found a bar/club with a suitably cracking playlist and some older gentlemen handing out carnival masks to all us young ladies. It was a hilarious night and definitely a good continuation of our adventures during the day.
The next day we hopped across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, the port wine area. First off we stopped for Francesinhas, basically a massive bowl of meat sandwich and chips in a weird tomatoey sauce. Apparently Francesinhas are a Porto delicacy but I’m not really a fan – it was fun to eat, but we couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty afterwards!
It wouldn’t be a trip to Porto without a Port tasting, that’s what we told ourselves anyway, and so to finish of the weekend we went to the Sandemann cellars by the river. When we arrived we learnt that it’s actually impossible just to have a tasting there, so we would have to take a cellar tour too. I was actually really impressed by the cellar tour – it was really professional and organised and so interesting! Plus our guide was dressed up like the Sandemann logo, which was just the icing on the cake… Afterwards we had our promised wine tasting, so yummy! The weekend was absolutely hilarious and we had such a good time – so much better than my first tired & rainy trip to Porto!
We had a proper Pancake Day! There’s not really much more to say on the topic but it was fabulous, so definitely worth a mention. Here’s the Eça de Queiróz crew – Jess, Will, Elaine and myself – ready to tuck in.
In March I finally visited Portugal dos Pequenitos, a well known but pretty weird Coimbra attraction on the other side of the river. It’s essentially Portugal (and its former colonies) in miniature, and you can go inside/on top of many of the buildings.
There’s something about Portugal dos Pequenitos, however, that puts you on edge. I’m not sure what it is, but the whole time we were there we felt a bit uncomfortable, particularly in the African section. A lot of people complain that their portrayal of the ex-colonies is pretty racist, and while we couldn’t quite put our finger on it, I think that may well be true. Nonetheless, we had lots of fun playing in the mini-Portugal section at the back – here’s Jess and I in the mini University of Coimbra.
Also, the place is home to a Barbie exhibition – no explanation, just hundreds of Barbie dolls on display in one of the pavilions. Portugal, you’re weird.
Last month was Florence’s 21st Birthday and Annie & Anwen came back from Spain to celebrate. It was a packed weekend and I for one really enjoyed myself. We definitely managed to pack in a lot as well – we even went to a four hour long Tuna festival.
Florence’s birthday party itself was brilliant too – needless to say there were lots of drinks involved, we had a huge dinner at her house (complete with our very own Oscars selfie!) and we got her what I have to say is my favourite birthday card ever – a laminated A3 photo of her Halloween face…
You’re welcome Flof!
On the Sunday Annie, Anwen, Carolina and I had a trip to Coimbra’s stadium to see a special visitor… Annie’s brother George, who was fighting in the European Cup for UK Judo! It was George’s first European competition, so it as really exciting to be able to watch him and we found ourselves getting more and more involved in the actual judo as the morning went on – so we were absolutely thrilled when he won 3rd in his weight group! There he is on the far right.
Overall I loved the weekend and it was so nice for us all to be back together again! Not too long now until another reunion (more on that later!)
Porto Take 2: Mum & Dad Back in Portugal
A couple of weeks ago Mum and Dad came back to Portugal for a weekend, and this time we decided to visit Porto! At first it seemed that we would manage a sunny weekend for once but, almost the moment they emerged from the metro, it began to rain – of course! So to start off our trip, we went across the river (via an umbrella shop) to visit the port cellars. This time I thought we should try a tour I’ve never done before, so we climbed up the hill to Taylor’s.
Taylor’s had a very different style of tour – it was much more casual and the group only had about 15 members. The main thing was it felt very much like they were functional cellars – not so at Sandemans, where everything seemed polished for the tourists’ benefit. Here we got to try three different ports too, and the tasting room was dressed up like a safari lodge or something – very nice!
That evening we went to a traditional Portuguese restaurant near to the river and then had a wander around on the Ribeiro looking for a bar. We never found one, but we did find this fab view!
The next morning… dum dum dum… the sun came out! This is honestly the first time I have ever seen Porto sunny, and to celebrate we decided to take a boat tour on the Douro. We chose a 6 bridges tour, where you go inland past 3 or 4 bridges and then turn back around and carry on almost until the coast. It was great to see Porto from the river – it’s actually quite beautiful in the sun!
During the boat trip, Dad spotted a cable car taking people down from one of the bridges to the riverside of Vila Nova de Gaia and insisted that we walk over the top to catch it. I was so glad that we did as the views were fantastic. Next we caught the cable car down and stopped for lunch, before crossing back over and catching a sightseeing bus all around the city – even up to Matosinhos beach, miles outside on the coast! It was good to get out of the city to the outskirts a bit, as I’d always assumed that Porto was quite small – boy, was I wrong!
That evening we stopped at a brilliant Italian restaurant near to our apartment for a long pizza dinner – such a nice treat as (gotta whisper it, sorry) I don’t actually really like Portuguese food. Then we got a bit of an early night ready for our train to Coimbra in the morning.
The next morning we went for breakfast, or in Dad’s case pasteis de nata, and quickly popped into São Bento railway station for a look at the azulejo murals. Then we trekked over to the main station for our train down south.
Mum and Dad had already seen the main tourist attractions in Coimbra so our time here was a much more relaxed affair than last time, so much so that I didn’t actually take any photos! I had two exams in the following week so after going down to the river for lunch and a coffee, I spent the afternoon studying at home. That evening I wanted to take them to a restaurant near to my flat, where they make a really good paella (hard to find Spanish food anywhere in Portugal!) However, when we turned up it soon became clear that I had forgotten something important… The Barcelona vs Real Madrid match. We then spent an hour or so wandering around the city looking for a restaurant without a TV before finally ending up in the same restaurant I had taken them to last time – another Italian restaurant, where Florence & her parents were also having dinner that evening! We had a lovely meal there and then popped out for quick drink. The next day we didn’t get time to do anything together other than lunch, but it was still great to see them again and was a good end to a really fun weekend.
So what’s up Next?
This time tomorrow I will be off to Spain for a two week holiday! First off I’m visiting Annie in Huelva for four days of sea and sun, and Anwen & a couple of her friends from Granada will be joining us on Tuesday night. Then, on Thursday, we are going to Seville to see the Easter processions! I really can’t wait, I have always wanted to see Seville’s Holy Week and it will be great to go with all my friends (Florence, Giulia and Giampaolo will also be there by this point, woop!). After a couple of nights there we’ll be carrying on to Granada, where Anwen is now on Erasmus, where I’ll be ’til the next Tuesday – hello 4 days of free tapas. Finally, on Wednesday morning I will be meeting up with my grandparents in Lisbon for a holiday (one day of which is the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s anti-fascist revolution!), and will be with them until Sunday, my Grandpa’s 80th birthday! I’m really looking forward to the whole thing, it will be a fantastic Easter break.
It hit me today that once I return from gallivanting, I’ll only have 6 weeks left in Coimbra. We’re definitely making the most of the time though – in May we have the week-long Graduation festival, Queima das Fitas, a huge, beer-soaked music festival that Coimbra is famous for. Hopefully Natalie, a good friend of mine from uni who is studying in Lisbon, will be able to visit for part of it, so that will be fantastic! Finally, at the very end of classes, my brother Bruce is coming for a week’s holiday, in which we’ll be visiting Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto (phew) – I haven’t seen him for ages and he’s never really been to Portugal, so I can’t wait!