Coimbra on a rainy afternoon

The fast train from Lisbon stops at a station called Coimbra-B, a little away from the center of town, but very much inside the town of Coimbra. When we got off the train it was pouring. We had to take a train into the main station of Coimbra, and we got ourselves quite wet trying to do this. It was still raining half an hour later when we reached Coimbra. We’d chosen to stay in an apartment very close to the station, and we managed to do it with one umbrella between me and The Family.

The apartment was very nice, and even nicer because of the great wifi connection. We made ourselves a couple of cups of hot tea after drying off. The rain had reduced to an occasional drizzle, so we ventured out to do a little shopping for breakfast. At this time of the year the markets in Portugal are full of wonderful cherries, nectarines, strawberries and peaches. We saw, but did not pay much attention to a fruit which I later found was called a loquat; if we’d known the story of the imaginary insult behind them, we might have bought some. We shopped for jam, cheese and a ham, and then walked into a bakery for some bread. Our breakfast was arranged.

Waiting in the rain outside Ze Manel dos Ossos in Coimbra Table at Ze Manel dos Ossos in Coimbra Zany decor at Ze Manel dos Ossos in Coimbra

Dinner was another matter! We’d read of a tiny local restaurant called Ze Manel, famous for "bones", and decided to go there. We were warned that it is very tiny and unless you are there at 7:30 in the evening, when it opens, you may be turned away. We lost our way slightly in the maze of streets which makes up Coimbra’s baixa (lower town) and reached immediately after it had opened. All three tables in the kitchen were taken, and there were two Portuguese families waiting in a queue ahead of us.

Since the families seemed to be negotiating with the manager (first photo above), we decided to wait. The manager went away. Nobody left. So we waited and peered into the kitchen with its steaming pots. Soon another door opened, and the manager beckoned us into a staircase. We trooped up and into an extra room which they apparently keep for such times. We had a lovely table by the window (middle photo above), and left the long tables to the two families. The room was decorated with a bizarre collection of things which restaurants in Portugal manage to bring together: this had pens, medals and watches (last photo above).

One thing to remember about restaurants in Portugal is that they will often put down bread, cheese, olives, and even a little extra dish on the table. These are not free, but are charged. Usually the price is not high,Two portuguese cheeses but it never hurts to look at the menu to check the price of the "cover". This place had two different cheeses, one of which was the cured sheep-milk cheese which I’d encountered just the previous night. We looked at the menu as we had the cheese and olives. We ordered osso (bones), which we thought was a soup, and a fish and a meat dish. Although the food was wonderful, this turned out to be a mistake. The other families ordered only the bones, and they got the soup and piles of delicious looking bones (with meat on them). We marked this down for another meal.

Igreja da San Tiago in CoimbraCoimbra, like Lisbon and Porto, stands on a river. All three main towns are at a height and the lower town which has grown up on the banks of the river is called the baixa. After dinner we wandered through the maze of narrow alleys in the baixa, deliberately avoiding the motorable roads. They were well lit but completely deserted: tourists as well as locals were still busy with dinner. We came across a couple of churches, which were closed at this time, before we wandered back home. The weekend will be long.