Coimbra University, Portugal, March 2018

One of the highlights of any visit to Coimbra is the Universidade Velha, or Old University.  Coimbra University is one of the oldest academic institutions in Europe and probably the most important university in Portugal.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a beautiful and historic University and well worth the visit.

When we set out for Universidade Velha, we knew only that it was on top of the hill that makes up Coimbra’s Old Town.  Unfortunately, we chose the hardest, albeit most picturesque way, to approach the University.  We entered through the Torre da Almedina and climbed the steep series of stairs known as “the backbreaker”, Rua Quebra Costa.

Rua Quebra Costa is picturesque.  Entering through the Barbican Gate and wound our way up the path toward the Torre.  Just after the gate we came upon a beautiful sculpture celebrating Portugal’s national music, Fado.  After passing through the Torre we found another beautiful piece of artwork, a bronze statue called “Tricana de Coimbra”.

We struggled up the steps, passing the Old Cathedral and the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, stopped to catch our breath at the New Cathedral, and eventually made our way to the Old University.  It was a trip worth making, but only once.  Next time we’ll take the bus to the University.

The Universidade Velha is centered around the Paço das Escolas, or Patio of the Colleges.  This was once the Royal Palace of Alcáçova and, beginning in 1131, the home of Dom Afonso Henríques, Portugal’s first king.  Almost every king of Portugal’s first dynasty was born here.  Interestingly, the first Portuguese king not born in the Palace was Dom Dinis, who founded the University in Lisbon in 1290.

We entered the Paço das Escolas through the Porta Férrea, or Iron Gate.  Designed by 17th century architect Antonio Tavares, the gate was the first major architectural work following the University’s acquisition of the Royal Palace in 1537.  It’s an elegant structure, with figures representing the University’s major schools at that time, Law, Medicine, Theology and Canons, as well as figures honoring the two kings who figure so prominently in the University’s history, Dom Dinis and Dom João III.

Porta Ferrea
Porta Férrea

There’s a second entrance to the Paço das Escolas located next to the famed Biblioteca Joanina.  The Minerva Stairs were built in 1725 under the supervision of Architect Gaspar Ferreira.  The stairs are still one of the main entries into the Paço das Escolas.

Once through the gate you’re struck by the beauty of the Old University.  Two things stand out over all others- the bell tower and the statue of Dom João III.  The statue, designed by Francisco Franco and erected in 1950, shows a dignified Dom João III looking towards the Palatial home of the University since he ordered it moved to Coimbra in 1537.

University
The Old University

The bell tower is the patio’s most prominent landmark.  Known as “the Goat”, it was erected in the first half of the 18th century and is the work of Italian architect Antonio Canevari.  The bell, which calls the students to class, rings 15 minutes behind the other clock towers in Coimbra.  The purpose of the delay is to keep from confusing the town’s inhabitants and the University’s students regarding the various duties signified by the bells each day.

The tower is roofless; it once doubled as an astronomical observatory.  Visitors can climb the tower; I’m sure it provides phenomenal views of Coimbra, but we chose not to make the climb.

The main attraction, for many people, is the Biblioteca Joanina.  One of the most beautiful libraries in the world, it was a 17th century gift to the University from Dom João V, for whom it is named.  Four huge columns frame the front doors of the baroque structure, but this is not where you access the library. Tours of the library start at the bottom of the Minerva stairs, where you enter the Academic Prison.  It’s the last existing medieval prison still existing in Portugal and was in use until 1832.  Originally the prison for the Royal Palace, it was later used to hold students who committed disciplinary offenses.  By the way, the university had its own legal code, separate from the general law of the kingdom.

Student Jail
The Academic Prison

After a quick tour of the academic prison we’re allowed to climb the stairs to the middle floor, called Depository 4.  This is now a museum.  Originally, only librarians and the Royal Prison Guard had access to the floor (the guards accessed the Academic Prison from here).  Access to the books stored in Depository 4 were restricted to a select group of staff.

The highlight of the library is the magnificent “Book House”.  The top level is a series of three chambers with two floors.  72 gilded book shelves hold about 60,000 priceless books, including a copy of Camões’s Lusiads from 1572 and a Latin Bible from 1492.  Each room has a fantastic ceiling painting and at the far end of the third room is a beautiful painting of Dom João V.  It’s so beautiful that I can’t imagine anyone actually reading in the library.

1024px-Biblioteca_Joanina
By Trishhhh (Flickr: DSC_5156) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0
There are two colonies of bats who live in the library.  Their job is to eat the insects that could harm the books.  We didn’t see any of the bats, but there are plenty of places for them to sleep during the day.

I’m sure that some people stop their tour after visiting the Biblioteca Joanina, but those who do are missing out.  Next door to the library is the Capela de São Miguel, an ornate Baroque and Manueline chapel built in the 16th century and remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The altarpiece dates from 1605 and in 1663 the interior was covered with tiles.  There’s a magnificent baroque pipe organ, built in 1733 by Friar Manuel Gomes to replace the old one, that consists of around 2,000 pipes.  The organ is still used on special occasions.

St Michaels Interior
Capela de São Miguel

The chapel is full of outstanding religious artwork, including a painting of Our Lady of Conception, the patroness of the University, and another of Our Lady of Light, the patroness saint of students.  It’s a beautiful structure.  I was inspired enough to try out my limited knowledge of the Portuguese language.  “A capela é muito linda,” I told the student at the door.  I apparently used it correctly, because he smiled and replied in English, “Yes, it is.”

After a quick break in the cafeteria for a snack and a glass of wine, we moved on to the Royal Palace.  The entry to the Royal Palace is the Via Latina, a magnificent staircase built during the late 18th century.  It seems to be a popular spot for selfies or group photos, depending on whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  We’re not really into photos of ourselves so we climbed the stairs and entered the Palace.

Via Latina
Via Latina

There are several really nice rooms in the Palace.  First up was the Arms Room, which houses the weapons of the former Royal Academic Guard.  The weapons are used today only for formal academic ceremonies such as the opening of the school year and the awarding of PhDs.

Arms Room
The Arms Room

Next to the Arms Room is the Yellow Room.  Each school has a different color.  Coimbra’s School of Medicine’s color is yellow.  The Yellow Room is where the School of Medicine’s faculty gather for events.

Yellow Room
The Yellow Room

The Sala dos Capelos, or Great Hall of Acts, was originally the Palace’s Throne Room.  Today it is the space where most official ceremonies are held and where PhD oral exams are conducted.  It’s a magnificent space lined with portraits of all Portuguese kings except those who ruled during the sixty years when Spain ruled Portugal.

Great Hall
Sala dos Capelos

The Private Examination Room was once the room of the King of Portugal.  This is the place where graduate students held their Doctoral exams.  Traditionally, these were private exams and were done in secret and at night.  The paintings lining the room’s walls are portraits of former rectors.

Private Exam Room
Private Examination Room

After a visit to the second-floor balcony overlooking the plaza we made our way back down to the Paço das Escolas and took in the view of the Mondego River and Coimbra from the far end of the plaza.  The Universidade Velha is just a small part of the current University, but it’s a huge part of its history.  There was so much more to see- the Botanical Gardens, for example- but we’ll have to do that on our next visit to Coimbra.

Paco dos Escolas
Paço das Escolas

 

Piedmont Farm Tour, North Carolina, April 28-29, 2018

A chicken on a leash, a herd of bison and a Burmese farmer sowing rice; these are just a few of the things we saw when we visited some of the farms on the 23rd annual Piedmont Farm Tour.  The farms ranged from tiny but productive urban farms to rural farms of more than 100 acres.  Over two days we visited 9 of the 45 participating farms and, I think, learned something from each of them.

Our tour began on Saturday.  The first stop was Ninja Cow Farm, a family-owned farm in suburban Raleigh.  We knew when we got out of the car that we were at a “different” kind of farm.  Several girls were greeting visitors, and each either had a chicken in their arms or on a leash.  In nearly sixty years this was the first time I’ve seen chickens on leashes.  Ann Marie got to hold one of the chickens and you could tell they were used to being cuddled.

The farm sells pasture raised beef and pork and farm fresh milk, as well as products from farms they’ve partnered with.  They had quite a variety of products in their store.

After browsing the store, we went on a tour of Ninja Cow Farm, led by a young man called Spork.  Again, this is a different kind of farm.  The farm feeds the cattle and hogs produce from the local farmers markets.  As Spork explained, the produce has a flaw, it might be a bruise or a spot, that makes it unsalable.  Ninja Cow makes the rounds each day and collects whatever produce would normally end up in the dumpster and feeds it to their livestock.  The cows and hogs looked happy and well-cared for so I guess it works.

Ninja Cow

Our next stop was the Well Fed Community Garden, an urban farm in Raleigh.  From the road it looks like any other house in the neighborhood, with a few more plants and a small greenhouse.  The garden partners with Irregardless Café, who buys 80% of the organic produce and donates the remaining 20% to volunteers and neighbors.  Garden manager Morgan Malone took us on a tour of the farm.

The garden makes great use of the tiny 1 ½ acre lot.  It was still early in the season but there were rows of lettuce and the greenhouses had seedlings ready to be transplanted.  They also have some hydroponically grown lettuce in one of the greenhouses.  There’s quite a variety of veggies as well as herbs, figs and even kiwi.  They also have a few mushroom logs.  Later in the year they’ll grown tomatoes, melons and squash.  The front of the property has a pollinator garden.

Well Fed Community Farm 1

Our third stop of the day was another small urban farm, this one located in downtown Raleigh adjacent to Peace College.  The non-profit Raleigh City Farm was established in 2011 on a one-acre vacant lot.  Farmer James Edwards gave us a quick tour of the farm.  I asked him what made him want to garden in the middle of the city.  He said, “I just like growing things.”

The tour was quite interesting.  The perimeter of the farm is lined with pollinator attracting plants.  Inside that border, there are rows of lettuce, mustard greens, and a variety of early season produce.  There’s a small fruit orchard, but it was too early in the season for the trees to be producing much.  A crop rotation maximizes production of the tiny farm.

The plants are watered by an irrigation system that starts with the collection of rainwater from the roof of the business next to the lot.  From the collection tank, water is distributed over the crops as needed.  Harvested crops are sold weekly at the on-site farm stand, providing convenient access to healthy, fresh produce for urban dwellers.

Raleigh City Farm

Next up on our tour was Funny Girl Farm in Durham.  This 180-acre farm was the first large farm we visited.  This is where I learned the difference between a high tunnel and a greenhouse (high tunnels have no climate control; greenhouses do).  We also learned a lot about mushrooms.  Funny Girl Farm has around 3,000 mushroom logs and they take mushroom farming very seriously.

Funny Girl Farm utilizes a lot of environmentally friendly techniques in their farming.  They use reduced tillage because it doesn’t harm the fungi that helps the plants grow.  By rotating a variety of crops and using cover cropping between production crops, they manage to keep the soil healthy.  The sell their produce through their CSA or at their on site farm-stand.

Their hens are pasture raised.  Their natural diet of bugs and seeds is supplemented with vegetable scraps and spent grain from a couple local businesses.  Their mushroom logs are cut from trees on the property and can be productive for up to five years.  It’s quite an operation.

Funny Girl 1

Our final stop on Saturday was Carolina Farmhouse Dairy in Bahama.  Carolina Farmhouse Dairy is a Jersey cow farm that produces yogurt, smoothies and kefir which they sell at several area markets.  They’re in the process of upgrading their milk barn, so we saw how they currently milk their cows while seeing how the coming changes will increase their production.  Along the way we got to snuggle a couple calves.  Turns out they like head scratches and neck rubs.

AM and Baby Calf

On Sunday, we headed west.  First up was Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm in Roxboro.  This was probably the best farm tour and you could tell they do it a lot.  We rode around the farm in a covered wagon while the farmer explained buffalo and buffalo farming to us.  It was very interesting.

Buffalo are quite energetic.  A buffalo, according to the farmer, can jump a six-foot fence if so inclined.  He said that if you can drive your pickup truck into a fence and the fence stops the truck, you’ve probably built a fence that will hold a buffalo.  The pen they use for vaccinating the buffalo was made of the heavy duty galvanized steel you normally see along the sides of the road.

Sunset Ridge 2

Buffalo may look quite docile as they graze in the field, but they’ve never really been domesticated.  You must be very careful when working with them; if one decides to, it can easily overturn a tractor.  When the farm rounds up the herd for health checks and vaccinations, they look for the one who seems most cooperative at that time, get that animal started and hope the rest follow.

After the tour we stopped at the farm-stand and purchased a variety of buffalo meat.  We’ll be exploring buffalo cuisine in the next few weeks.

After Sunset Ridge we headed to Maple Spring Garden in Cedar Grove.  Growing vegetables and herbs using organic practices, this 80-acre farm had some beautiful vegetable gardens.  Sunshine Dawson and Fern Hickey gave us a tour of the high tunnels, greenhouse, mushroom logs and herb gardens.  They’ve been growing organically since the early 70s and sell at both the Carrboro and Durham Farmers Markets.  The herb gardens are new to the farm; Sunshine is using her education in herbal medicine to expand the business in a new direction.

Maple Springs 1

We met Larry and Lee Newlin on our next stop, their Peaceful River Farm in Chapel Hill.  The Haw River is adjacent to the farm, hence the name.  Larry came from a landscaping background, and it shows.  The farm is beautifully laid out to make the best use of the land yet maintain an aesthetically pleasing view.  As Larry explained, they used a farm coach, Tony Kleese, to help them design the layout of the farm.  The twin market gardens were inspired by the Edwardian Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, England.  Larry knows his stuff.  The farm is beautiful.

Lee is the culinary educator and holds cooking classes and farm dinners at Peaceful River Farm.  A cancer survivor, Lee’s research into healthy food is one of the driving forces in the farm’s use of organic practices to grow pesticide-free produce.

Peaceful River’s produce can be found at the Fearrington Village Farmers Market and the Saxapahaw General Store as well as in dishes served at several are restaurants.

Peaceful River 1

Our final stop on this year’s farm tour was the one I was most interested in.  Transplanting Traditions Community Farm is a 7-acre non-profit farm in Chapel Hill. Through a partnership with the Triangle Land Conservancy, 35 Burmese refugee families grow native Burmese crops as well as well as crops native to North Carolina and sell their produce at local farmers markets.

Most of the refugees belong to the Karen and Chin ethnic groups, and fled ethnic persecution in Burma.  Most were farmers in their home country and now farm their part of Transplanting Traditions after working full time jobs, many as housekeepers at nearby University of North Carolina.  The farm provides much needed income for the families as well as giving them a community where they can feel at home.  There are a lot of bamboo structures, including some beautiful hoop decorations.

Trading Traditions 3

One farmer was in the process of sowing drought resistant rice and there were a lot of leaf crops already growing throughout the farm.  Later in the season they’ll grow Bok Choy, Edamame, eggplants, squash and numerous other vegetables for sale, either through their CSA or at the Chapel Hill and Carrboro farmers markets.

It’s quite an interesting operation and concept.  As Project Director Kelly Owensby said during the tour, the farm is now nationally known.  Wherever she goes, when she says she’s with Transplanting Traditions, people say, “hey, I’ve heard of the farm.”  There’s a waiting list of families who want to be a part of Transplanting Traditions and other similar farms have been started around the country.  Transplanting Traditions is an inspiring and interesting place and a great place to end this year’s farm tour.  We’re looking forward to seeing what next year’s tour holds in store for us.

Cafés, Portugal, March 2018

Travel can be stressful, with planes, trains, or even ships that must be caught, unfamiliar roads to follow, schedules to be met and new languages to learn.  It’s nice to be able to slow down from time to time and to stop at a café for a coffee or a glass of wine.  We experienced a lot of interesting cafés and we took advantage of them to stop and relax for a few minutes on our journey.  Here are just a few.

Aveiro is home to one of our favorite cafés, A Mulata.  It’s a tiny place on Avenida Santa Joana and a block from the Museu do Aveiro.  A Mulata has a nice breakfast and fresh baked goods with a lot of vegetarian options.  It was also a quiet place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.  We like quiet.

Porto’s most famous café is Café Majestic.  Opened in 1921, this art nouveau café was a favorite of British author J.K. Rowlings, who is rumored to have worked on the first Harry Potter book here.  The notoriety that comes with being associated with anything Harry Potter means that the café is always crowded with tourists.  We were looking for a nice quiet atmosphere where we could sit and enjoy breakfast and coffee, and Majestic was not the place for us.

Majestic Cafe

Fortunately, Porto has another iconic café just a short walk from Majestic.  Named for a Brazilian indigenous people, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.  Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.  We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany and, later, stopped there again for dessert and coffee.

Braga has a pair of nice cafés in the Arcada at Praça da República, Café Astória and Café Vianna.  We chose to have breakfast at Café Vianna.  In operation for over 150 years, the café is supposedly where the 28 May 1926 coup d’etat began.  Portuguese novelists Eça de Queriós and Camilo Castelo Branco are said to have been visitors to the café during its long history.  We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast while we planned our day.  Located at the end of Praça da República, it proved to be a nice place to people watch.

Cafe Vianna Interior

Coimbra is home to another interesting historic café.  Located in what was once an auxiliary chapel, Café Santa Cruz has a wonderful interior, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass.  Opened in 1923, it’s another great place for coffee and a snack.  It’s location on Praça 8 de Maio and next door to Igreja de Santa Cruz make the café a good place for people watching.

Mercado do Bolhão, Porto, Portugal, March 2018

One of the more unusual places we visited on our tour of Portugal was Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s famous market in the city’s historic center.  The market dates to the first half of the 19th century, when the city decided it needed a central market for vendors to sell their goods.  In 1914 the current building was opened as the market’s home.  It’s a two-story neoclassical structure with an open courtyard where many of the vendors are located.  In 2006 the market was classified as a place of public interest.

While much of the merchandise is now geared towards tourists the Mercado do Bolhão has been able to maintain the feel of a traditional market.  There are stalls offering fresh vegetables, fish, meat and flowers as well as wine and tourist offerings such as cork products and souvenirs.  The baked goods looked nice and the fishmonger had huge octopi for sale.  One vendor offers live rabbits and chickens.  A few cats laze in sunny spots.

We didn’t experience it, but the female vendors are rumored to use crude language that would rival my own mastery of curse words.  Since the use of foul language is supposed to be a sign of higher intelligence in people, we’ll give them a pass.

I’ve read that shortly after our visit to Portugal the Mercado do Bolhão was moved to a temporary location while the existing building is renovated.  I’m glad that the city values the market so that they will renovate it rather than tear it down to make space for a new venture.  Hopefully the market will retain its unique character when it returns after the renovation.

The Last Day, by Nicholas Shrady

At mid-morning on November 1st, 1755, while many of Lisbon’s citizens were in church celebrating All Saints Day, a massive earthquake struck the city.  As many of the survivors made their way to the city’s quays to escape the fires that were raging after the earthquake, three tsunamis hit the city and swept many of the survivors into the sea.  It’s estimated that between 15,000 and 60,000 people perished in the earthquake, fires and tsunamis that destroyed Lisbon on that day.

1755_Lisbon_earthquake
Unknown, 1755 Lisbon earthquake, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

While many of the survivors were just trying to stay alive, one man, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, a secretary of state to King José I, took charge.  The king asked Carvalho what was to be done.  Carvalho replied, “Bury the dead and feed the living.”

O_marques_de_pombal,_conde_de_Oeiras
Unidentified painter 18th-century portrait painting of men, with Unspecified, Unidentified or Unknown, artist, location and year. Anonymous portuguese school, O marques de pombal, conde de Oeiras, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

The Last Day, by Nicholas Shrady, is an interesting look at the earthquake and how Carvalho, later appointed Marques de Pombal, took charge, not just of the recovery efforts after the earthquake, but of the country, ruling with an iron hand in the name of a weak king and saved Lisbon and, very possibly, Portugal.  Ignoring those who wanted to abandon the city and move the capital to nearby Belem while, at the same time, battling both the powerful Church and his political enemies, Carvalho oversaw the rebuilding of Lisbon, abolished slavery in Portugal, fostered commerce and rebuilt the military until his political downfall 22 years later.

The book looks at the Catholic Church’s centuries-long control of Portugal that left its citizens in the dark ages, the lopsided trade agreements with England that kept Portugal at a commercial disadvantage and how gold and slaves from Brazil and other Portuguese colonies kept the country afloat while weakening any homegrown commerce Portugal had.  Carvalho, in a frequently brutal way, fought these negative influences on his home country and helped to build it into the nation he believed it could be.  Some of his influence didn’t last; Queen Maria I, successor to Carvalho’s protector King José I, returned much of the power lost under Carvalho to the Catholic Church and the old nobility.  But much of his legacy, not the least of which can be seen in the city of Lisbon, remains.

The Last Day is a fascinating look at the earthquake and the man who saved Lisbon.

Carmo Ruins
The Carmo Convent Ruins, seen from Rossio Square, are a monument to the 1755 earthquake.

Ze Manel dos Ossos, Coimbra, March 2018

My wife and I look upon dining out as an adventure.  We do a lot of research to find interesting and unique restaurants wherever we go.  I had done a lot of research into restaurants in the cities on our itinerary.  One restaurant that came up over and over was Ze Manel dos Ossos, in Coimbra.  The fact that it was just a short walk from our hotel was a bonus.  This would be our dinner destination.

Ze Manel dos Ossos is tucked down a little alley just a block from Largo da Portagem, a central square across from the Santa Clara bridge and a popular for shoppers and tourists.

A light rain was falling when we arrived at the restaurant.  Ze Manel dos Ossos is a very small restaurant with nowhere to wait inside for a table to become available, so we waited in the rain with a young man from Greece and his dinner partner, a young woman from Croatia, and, eventually, a man from Lisbon.  The young man had done his research as well and was not going to give up a chance to dine at Ze Manel dos Ossos.

We studied the menu so we’d know what we wanted when we were seated.  The best way to describe the offerings would be country cooking, or, as Ann Marie called it, peasant food.  We decided on a half order of braised goat and a half order of bean stew with wild boar.

Half an hour later we were all in and seated.

The restaurant is truly a hole in the wall.  The inside is tiny.  The front half of the restaurant is an open kitchen.  The back half is filled with simple wooden tables and chairs and the walls are covered with small pieces of paper- drawings, doodles and poems.  The waiter called our order to the cook, brought us our bread, a great bean and cabbage soup and a stoneware pitcher of red wine, and we were under way.

The soup, as I said, was great.  The goat arrived in a stoneware pot along with potatoes and vegetables.  We poured the wine and the gentleman from Lisbon, seated at the table beside us, leaned over and told Ann Marie that the wine is homemade on the cook’s farm and is very strong, so please don’t drive afterwards.  He was a really nice guy who said he stops at the restaurant whenever he’s in Coimbra.  And yes, the wine was strong, but very nice.

Remember that we had ordered only a half serving of the goat and a half order of the bean stew.  By the time we had finished the goat, potatoes and veggies, we couldn’t eat any more.  We asked the waiter if we could cancel the bean stew and he laughed and said, of course.  But, he reminded us, that was just a half order!

We really enjoyed the dinner at Ze Manel dos Ossos.  The food and wine were really good, the staff was friendly and seemed to enjoy what they were doing, and the atmosphere was one of a kind.  And, best of all, the bill was half of what we paid at many other restaurants on our journey.  Our new friend was on to something.  Ze Manel dos Ossos would definitely be worth another visit the next time we’re in Coimbra.

Three Bridges, NYC, September 2004

I took this photo on a beautiful Autumn day in 2004.  There are three bridges in the photo- the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge