The last few weeks have seen a hub of activity here in Coimbra, ranging from older students baptising the freshers in the river, a week long student festival in a field, Halloween (which seemed very much an Erasmus holiday as the Portuguese students did not celebrate it), my first exam, an afternoon spent at the hospital and a trip to the Algarve, just to name a few. At a quick glance it may seem like studying has taken a back seat. In some ways this is true. However, here in Portugal you need to get 75% attendance in most of your classes just to even sit the exam at the end of the semester. So excursions and hangovers aside, I am pleased to say that I have managed to keep up this record, and as painful as it was some mornings, I made it up the 125 escadas monumentais to my classes.
So here is somewhat of a whistle-stop tour of what I have been up to. I have now managed to upload my photos after what seemed like an absolute mission, something involving a confiscated parcel at the airport. Apparently a camera lead and dry shampoo is a potentially dangerous combination to send by airmail. So here it is, enjoy.
The dreaded stairs, all 125 of them. Those coupled with a 35 degree heat were an early morning death sentence when I first arrived.
Apparently its a status symbol to have the university at the top of the hill, but then I bet Salazar (the genius behind these steps) didn’t walk up them several times a day.
However, once you manage it to the top it is pretty stunning.
Although the architecture is amazing, one of the most striking aspects of Universidade de Coimbra is the role tradition plays in everyday student life. All students, bar the first years, own robes and capes – o traje académico. These are not dissimilar to British graduation robes and will set you back a hefty 250 euros. However here in Coimbra students can wear them everyday (and night) if they so choose. The result is a mesmerising scene of students wondering around the university in huge black, woolen capes – my inner child got rather excited as it was as if I was walking around in a Harry Potter novel! Though I have to admit it is a bit strange when you are in a bar or a club and someone is dancing behind you draped in a cape.
Tradition is also kept alive by the popularity of Tunas, musical groups who play traditional Portuguese music. They are a cross between an acappella group mixed with acoustic guitars. Each faculty has their own tuna, and I can say after being serenaded by one, the music is b-e-a-utiful.
As well as every day life at the university steaming along, the guys at ESN (Erasmus Student Network) have really pulled out all the stops organising all sorts of excursions, cultural visits and of course, nights out. The best by far was a trip to the Algarve in October to catch the last of the summer sun. It was a 3 day long trip, with the coaches leaving at 3am on friday morning. Seeing as everyone decided to pull an all nighter and go out the night before, the buses didn’t leave until 5 and even on the ‘quiet sleeping bus’ the ESN leaders were giving out shots and blasting out the likes of Shakira. Needless to say this set the tone for the whole trip.
However, partying aside, we did visit some beautiful places once we finally reached our destination. We stayed in a town called Lagos, which historically played a key role in Portugal’s naval discoveries during the 15th century. According to my Historia dos Descobrimentos professor, Lagos was the chosen port of Dom Infante Henriques (the royal supporter and pioneer of Portugal’s explorations) and as a result was a hub of activity, with ships departing on new adventures to the unknown and arriving full of precious cargo. But nowadays this has completely changed and town is full of the same resorts and restaurants typical of the Algarve -we actually went to a bar called Joe’s Garage where all the staff spoke English. However, a bit further afield you can still see the natural beauty of this area. We went on a trip to the most western point of mainland Europe and even our hangovers could not distract us from the sheer beauty of the area. It was one of those moments where everyone when quiet and you could just hear a slight gasp and intake of air as the coach pulled up to a stop.
Although I came back knackered, it was such an amazing weekend. So anyone who goes on an Erasmus, regardless of where you go, you really should take advantage of all the ESN trips. They are such much fun, and a great way to meet new people and see different parts of the country. Also they are extremely good value – it cost just 95 euros for 3 days, private apartments, transport, cultural visits, and two dinners with unlimited food and drink was all included. Brilliant.
However, due to said mountain of activity, blog writing has once again taken a back seat. Whilst I have penciled out ideas for entries, I have yet to set down and pad out their skeletons. Watch this space!