26 October 2014 - Boarding the Queen Isabel!

Today was an early one again as I had to meet up with the Uniworld group for the transfer from Lisbon to Porto for 8:30am.

The drive to Porto to board the ship takes about 3 hours however we made a stop in Coimbra along the way. Coimbra is one of Portugal's oldest cities (it already was an important municipality in Roman times) and is home to one of the world's first universities.

It was the capital of the country from 1139 to 1256 and its university was founded in 1290. Today this impressive university is still one of the world's most illustrious and the city's biggest attraction. 

Surrounding it in the old town are fine old churches and narrow streets standing on a hill overlooking the Modego River. Down by the river is "Baixa" (downtown), the commercial heart of the city, with lively cafes, pastry shops, restaurants, boutiques, and other shops leading to Comercio Square. In a corner of this square is the Church of São Tiago, with a plain 12th-century façade, but in its interior is an exuberant Rococo alterpiece in gilded wood. 

On another square nearby is the historic Santa Cruz Monastery, containing the tombs of Portugal's first two kings. It was founded in 1131, but its flamboyant arch at the entrance dates from the 18th century. Inside is an ornate pulpit and the elaborate tombs of the kings, as well as impressive cloisters in the Manueline style, designed in 1524. 

The museum is just steps away from the Old University. Entering through the 17th century "Porta Ferrea" ("Iron Gate"), one finds a courtyard known as "Patio das Escolas". On the north side is the actual Old University buildings, on the east is the observatory, and on the west is the small University Church. Built between 1517 and 1552, the church has a 110ft high tower, and an adjacent museum of sacred art. Inside the church itself is a Mannerist altar, tiles decorating the ceiling, and a dazzling organ. Most impressive of all is the baroque library, one of the world's most resplendent. It was built in the early 18th century with rooms rich in gilt and exotic wood, and lined with 300,000 books. 

The tragic love story of Pedro and Inês
Although he was in love with Inês de Castro (a Galician noblewoman), Pedro, son and heir of King Afonso IV was obliged to marry Princess Constanza of Navarre. When Constanza died, he went to live with Inês in Coimbra, but the king disapproved and wanted to put an end to the affair. Believing that her family was a potential threat to the Portuguese throne, he had her murdered in Coimbra's Quinta das Lágrimas in 1355. When the king died, Pedro succeeded to the throne and took revenge on the two killers by having their hearts torn out. Revealing that he had married Inês in secret in Bragança, he had her corpse exhumed and crowned. The court was forced to acknowledge her as queen by kneeling before her on the throne and kissing her decomposed hand. 

Their tombs are now in Alcobaça's abbey, where, at Pedro's wish, they are placed foot to foot so that when they arose on the Day of Judgement, the two lovers would immediately see each other. Both tombs carry the inscription "Até ao fim do mundo", "until the end of the world." This dramatic story of love and revenge has been an inspiration to a number of writers and poets in Portugal and elsewhere in Europe. 

After our visit of the University and the library we had a nice Portuguese lunch before we headed out to our final destination, Porto and the boarding of the Queen Isabel riverboat. 

The ship is quite beautiful. There is a pool on the top deck, a panoramic dining-room, lounge and bar and the cabins are just beautiful.

                                 Here is the view from my cabin

This was a long day so after a very nice dinner I headed to my cabin for an early night.

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