Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
Coimbra, Portugal – April 21, 2014
First a note to express my dismay that the images I had hoped you would be able to enjoy have not posted (consistently) with the rest of the blog. Son Noah has been instrumental in helping me improve my skills in utilizing the WordPress platform for the blog, and hopefully this post will show better results than earlier ones. If I am able to amend earlier posts to include the images consistently, I will post you to that effect.
Tomar proved to be a wonderful location for a recovery day. An ancient city and a home to the Knights Templar order in Portugal of the 12th and 13th century. That heritage is a matter of great local pride and the Templar cross is displayed ubiquitously in that town, including on the cobblestone sidewalks.
The Convent of Christ and the Templar castle overlook the city and dominate the horizon. I strolled up the mountain and enjoyed touring the historic site which is astonishingly well preserved. Here are several images from that visit.
As it happened, my visit coincided with the running of the annual Rali Tomar, and the castle was a waypoint on that rallye. All manner and vintage of vehicles had been tricked out for racing safety and operability and all mufflers had been removed. Among the 40 or so participating vehicles, I saw a VW bug, a Porche 912, and sundry others, but no Fords, Chevys, or Dodges. Sure are a lot of foreign cars in this country.
The Way from Tomar to Alvaiazere is just about 20 miles. It was a long day, to say the least. As I made my way out of Tomar, I came upon two other peregrinos – two Italian guys who looked to be in their 40s – who were studying the same guidebook I carry, albeit a later edition. They were cordial (haven’t met a pilgrim yet who hasn’t been) and we collectively figured out where we were supposed to go next. Sometimes neither the way marks nor the guidebook make clear the path. And there are places where the Way has been re-waymarked to accommodate changes to the landscape or for other reasons. Fortunately Gilberto was able to converse with a local denizen who pointed us in the right direction.
Gilberto and his buddy were intrepid and committed walkers. I kept up with them for a couple of hours, and then decided to chill for a while before pressing on. They had an agenda – to be to Santiago about three weeks before I intend to arrive. Given the choice between taking a break and keeping on walking, they kept on walking. As luck would have it, I caught up with them at the albuerque in Alvaiazere. That proved to be the first true albuerque I stayed at and it was a delightful experience. In addition to Gilberto and his friend, there was a couple from Dublin, Ireland. We had a nice dinner together and in time, Gilberto, his fellow pilgrim, and two other Italian perigrinos appeared at the neighborhood restaurant we had found, and we all had some laughs. Such is the society of peregrinos!
I allowed two days from Alvaiazere, through Ansaio and Rabacal, to Coimbra. There was some good country walking along this route. It was pleasant to be away from asphalt pavement for much of these two days.
Coimbra is an ancient university town and I have had the good fortune to be here for the Easter weekend. On the evening of Good Friday, I attended a mass at the old cathedral which featured classical vocal accompanyment to the intonations of the celebrants. It was lovely. The church was standing room only. On Saturday, I wandered up the hill to the university which occupies a number of blocks each of which houses a separate faculdade. By chance, I happened into one of the churches that are part of the university complex. The Archbishop of Coimbra was celebrating mass that morning.
The seal of the university is recreated in stone cobbles within the main quadrangle.
I have had the opportunity to reflect on some of what I have seen in the three weeks I have been on the Way. Though the people seem to be pleased with life in general, the underlying economic problems are a stark reality. By this time I have seen literally hundreds of old and new houses for sale – the new ones the subject of foreclosures. RE/MAX and ERA signs abound, as do simple "VENDE-SE" pleas written in paint on the sides of buildings, with a phone number to call. Many small businesses are shuttered, likely for failure to pay the rent. Many old masonry buildings are in disrepair or collapse with the pensive "VENDE-SE" inscription affixed. The reality likely is that many of the older buildings have a negative present value. That is, their value is the cost of demolishing the structure and returning the underlying land to some productive use. A sad thing.
Yesterday, using Coimbra as my base of operations, I walked the 22 kilometers to Mealhada, returning to Coimbra in the late afternoon by rail. I’ll reverse that later today and continue north. The long treks are taxing, to be sure, but manageable. Break each piece into its smallest element and focus on each one, without concern for the last stroke or the next stroke. On the Camino, I think that means walk the Way today, one kilometer at a time.
With that, I’m off.