Felt a little sad as I left the Brazilians and went to the train station. After 2 weeks in Spain not couchsurfing, it felt good to be doing it again.
Bought a ticket to Aveiro, a small town that has been dubbed “the Venice of Portugal”. The website where I saw this stated that it was an exaggeration, and so I didn’t really have high hopes, and well, it turned out to be a big exaggeration anyway. But Portuguese towns are extraordinarily well-maintained. This small town has a free municipal bike-rental service, a nice tourist information centre that stores luggage for free, and pretty clean streets. I wonder if all these are reasons contributing to the heavy debt burden of Portugal – for such a small country with a tiny economy (50th largest in the world), it seems like it can hardly afford all these – modern trains, advanced metro systems, clean streets, a strong police presence and well-developed tourist infrastructure.
Aveiro is pleasant enough, but definitely not great. Cycled around for a few minutes and saw the entire town (yes, its really small), then sat down at a bench in a quiet corner by the canal under the clear sunny sky (really a very regular feature in the Iberian Peninsula) and toyed around with my iPod while watching several boats of tourists shuttled around in the canals in Venetian-looking boats.
After spending a grand total of 2 hours in Aveiro, I hopped onto the next regional train for Coimbra. Walked up a series of steep roads across much of town and was actually feeling sweaty and uncomfortable, a sensation I don’t really get a lot on this trip because it has been so cold. Checked into the youth hostel and shouted ‘hooray’ in my heart when I saw how empty it was at this time of the year, at the end of Easter Break, when all the Americans and Europeans return to continue with what’s left of their semester. I hate staying in packed hostels – too noisy, kitchens always full, and you feel terribly self-aware and inconsiderate rummaging through your stuff (better still, inadvertently clang the keys to open the locker or rustle plastic bags) at night or early in the morning to get something – even though I’m not very loud, and some people may be sleeping so soundly they have not heard anything, I still feel like I’m disturbing them, and I don’t like that feeling.
Walked around town and explored the university, but there wasn’t much to see. As university towns go, Coimbra isn’t the best I’ve seen. The view from the top of the hill was good, but nothing fantastic really, and the architecture, while unique, was nothing to call home about either.
The worst thing of all was that it was so empty and deserted. I thought it would be great to visit Coimbra when all the students were still in their hometowns on Easter Sunday, but it turned out to be a really bad idea. The shops were all closed, and the town was devoid of life except for the occasional tourist.
I couldn’t even find any pasteleria open except the few on the square near the railway station that were obviously terribly pricey, so I ended up buying a frozen pizza from the supermarket to heat up for dinner.