(4th April to 10th April).
After our extended time in Tomar we planned a series of short stays through The Beiras region. First stop was to be the university town of Coimbra.
Leaving Tomar we had a tranquil drive through woodland and green countryside reaching the outskirts of Coimbra by the early afternoon. The free camperstop was located on a public carpark over the river from the peak of the old town where most of the old university faculties reside.
We decided to relax by the river for the afternoon as the weather was getting quite hot. The river banks were a feast of activities with teenagers showing offs with dives into the river amongst shoals of canoeists from the nearby water sports centre. Once after a brief pre-loading in the van (warm vinho verde, yummm) we ventured off over the modern foot bridge that spans the Rio Mondego.
Old town Coimbra in the distance contrasting with the modern footbridge
Passing all the classic old town sights and feeling particularly unfit as we scaled the steep Rua Quebra Costas (back breaker street) we reached our destination Praca de Republica. This square is known to be the centre of most of the students social activities and is lined with bars and cafes. It is also the location of the student union which is open to the public. It seems though that being a student in Coimbra is taken very seriously and commands a certain responsible behaviour and interestingly they all wear their capes and caps, even at night, managing to look like extras from a Harry Potter movie. Once installed at a square side bar we looked on at some sort of student initiation that was taking place at the centre of the Praca. This involved a form of hide and seek combined with a series of clapping rituals, all quite unusual and strange to the onlooker. Overall it seemed innocent and respectful unlike some of the initiations at universities closer to home that involve copious amounts of alcohol and degrading debauchery (something that obviously I have never taken part in……..!?!)
We finally did make it into the student union bar where over twenty years of time came crashing down on me – wow we felt old and completely out of place. To try to shake this sinking feeling off, after a few cheap drinks, we skulked out of the Union building back to van, only stopping to pick up a doner kebab and fries from a mobile take away van enroute (upon reflection, I am now wondering if that much has really changed….!)
On the search for some tranquillity after our night out in Coimbra we were coast bound again choosing Costa Nova, just south of Averio. Delightful Costa Nova was certainly peaceful with a great vast beach and a town whose buildings were painted in colourful stripes resembling vertical sticks of rock. On the evening we managed a sunset backed bike ride to Praia da Vagueira and then to the lighthouse at the village Barra in the opposite direction.
Stripey wooden clad houses at Costa Nova
It was at Costa Nova where we learned about ‘moliceiros’, which are traditional flat bottomed wooden boats that are used to harvest seaweed and fish in the nearby shallow waters. These boats have an interesting shape with a tall ‘winkle picker’ type hull which is often painted in bright colours.
After one night at Costa Nova, we left making a city centre drive through of the canal woven Aveiro (dubbed Portugal’s little Venice) to arrive at off the beaten track Bico. This small twenty house one cafe type village sits on the edge of the Ria, a shallow coastal lagoon. At Bico, moliceiro’ boats are in constant use by the local villagers to catch fruits de mar and seaweed. The lagoon is also rich in bird life and to Sharon’s delight a flock of flamingos were feeding in the lagoon just off where we were staying the night.
Moliceiros, tens of these could be seen in the morning heading off into the lagoon to do a days work. A touch of the modern way was that they were hooked up to small out board motors. I found the boats and the life that surrounds them fascinating.
In the evening we walked into nearby Murtosa where we took a drink at the only bar. This bar seemed to be a throw back from the seventies with a series of faded posters and newspaper cuttings documenting the sporting exploits of the Porto football club hanging on cigarette stained walls. On our return to Bico village we stopped off at the local cafe to meet a local handy man and two young local guys in their 20/30s. Through our conversation we learnt that these two guys were fishermen on the moliceiros proving this traditional method of fishing is still commercially used. One thing that struck me was that these people were not ‘play acting’ at their chosen livelihood, maybe to increase tourism or some sort of weekend hobby (in nearby Aveiro the molicieros are used to ferry tourists around the canals, Venice style). Nor were they completely out of date people lost out in the sticks clinging onto some dying way of life. These were normal young men enjoying a cold beer after a days work wearing contemporary fashion and sporting full sleeve tattoos, footballer style. I suppose this shows me how often preconceptions can be way off and that we really don’t know how people live.
Sunset forming over the harbour at Bico, our place for the night
Nearby coastal Torreira was our next destination after only one night at interesting Bico and this stopover choice was driven by our now need for services. The motorhome stopover here was free, located in the grounds of a Chapel and boasted not only toilets but also barbecues and wooden table benches in the gardens.
Parked up at the free aire in Torreira. It was well sign posted and had full facilities and more
Feeling now quite rested after our three quiet nights on the Beira coast we were ready to change region and our pace of life as our next stop was to be the vibrant city of Porto in the Douro.