Getting off the bus just before one in the afternoon I kind of knew where I was and I kind of knew where I was going.
While booking my hostel a few days earlier I made certain to closely check the city map. Coimbra, like every other city/town I had been in Portugal, is a labyrinth of curved cobblestone streets and alleys. Mix in the hills of this city and you have a maze of switchbacks for cars and pedestrians alike that are never-ending, never wide enough, and seemingly always busy.
Everything is narrow (especially on the hillsides) and there are staircase shortcuts all over the place. Confused is often the word of the day in a new city. Sometimes you’ll find street signs near the corners of buildings but not always. For someone like me that (with a map and a landmark) can find anything, this is very frustrating.
I knew the train stations were along the River Mondego and had hoped the bus would drop me off near there as well so I had an idea of where I was. Luckily it did! The University of Coimbra (founded in 1290 and one of the longest continuously run universities in the world) is on a steep hill next to the river. Knowing my hostel was near the top of the hill on the way to the university AND near an old church all I had to do was go up and find the church. Easy right? Once I started walking I didn’t think so anymore!
The bus dropped me off a couple of kilometers from where I needed to go but in an area with 6 story tall building lined streets. Effect: I couldn’t see the hill I was walking toward. After going the direction I ‘thought’ I needed to for about 15 minutes, and passing a few old churches along the way (they’re everywhere in these old Portuguese cities), I eventually found a sign pointing the way to the university. Following this alleyway and a few more signs I emerged in front of a very BIG old church. Noticing a street name on a building across the plaza I walked down the hill 30 yards and looked around the corner of the church….. Yahtzee!! With my 30 plus pounds of gear I felt like I’d been walking uphill for an hour!!
So after all the streets, alleyways, stairs, churches and a few street signs I found my hostel in less than 30 minutes and only had to backtrack 30 yards. ……EASY!! Just like I thought.