Following my parent’s path, I decided to choose Portugal for my scholarship. I applied to the famous in Portugal University of Coimbra and after four weeks of submitting my application, I was a happy Socrates Erasmus student. Even though it’s been long years since this experience, I still miss this worry-free time of my life.
I have to admit I was lucky. I arrived to Coimbra in October, after all other students have already attended a monthly course of Portuguese. So everything I would normally have to arrange myself, was already waiting for me thanks to my good friend who found us an apartment and subscribed us both to academic courses.
Our apartment in Portugal was a student-standard place with all the basics we needed to survive. We didn’t complain until the winter came and we suddenly noticed that there was a huge gap between our balcony doors and the floor which let the cold wind into our room. In Portugal, just like in Netherlands, they do not believe in central heating systems. Even though most of people suffer from rheumatism and cough, central heating is considered needless. Blankets, thick quilts and fireplaces are some of the local solutions for surviving winter in cold apartments.
From the very first day and my first walk around the city center, I couldn’t believe I was going to live there for another six months. Nestled about 200 kilometers north of Lisbon and only 40 km from the coastline, Coimbra gained its fame as the “Portugal’s Student City”. About 23,000 of its population are students who come to this charming city to study in its historic University and to enjoy its unique ambiance.
The University of Coimbra dates back to 1930 and is among Europe’s oldest and most prestigious schools. It was truly a pleasure to walk its ancient halls everyday and see its historic fountains ornamented with azulejos (famous porcelain tiles). Unfortunately I didn’t make it to any of Coimbra’s popular student festivals, Festa das Latas ( The Tin Can Parade) that takes place in the beginning of scholar year and Queima das Fitas (The Burning of Ribbons) which is celebrated at the end of the second semester in May. Both have great traditions and include costume parades and week-long celebrations.
Coimbra is also full of historic cathedrals, beautiful lush parks and enchanting cafes. In my memories I see Coimbra through its narrow and steep cobblestone streets, laundry hanging on every balcony, thousands of cats, lemon trees, steep and long staircases, smell of a fresh Galao (café latte) and history on every corner.
My favorite activity in Coimbra was simply walking through its narrow streets and watching the red sunset light on its old city walls. As for the places, this is my top list:
- Se Velha (Old Cathedral). It’s definitely one of the most beautiful buildings you will find in Coimbra that dates back to 1139. I used to go inside when I was passing by and sit for a bit. Very peaceful.
- Clock tower of the University of Coimbra with its renowed library, the Biblioteca Joanina and the former royal palace. (Coimbra used to be the capital of Portugal). There is a beautiful square, which we used to cross when coming back from our classes.
- Rua Ferreira Borges. It’s the main street of Coimbra full of clothing stores, cafes and little shops with women accessories (our favorite!)
- Portugal dos Pequenitos (Little Ones’ Portugal) is Coimbra’s theme park that displays miniature versions of Portuguese houses and monuments, all from the former colonies of the country such as Macau, Angola or Brazil.
- University’s Botanical Garden – a lush park with palm trees and ponds, our favorite place to relax after classes.
To be continued…