Monday, December 19, 2016

Spain to Portugal for the Knights Templar

We ventured out into the Salamancan cold in search of breakfast.

I chose the Café Novelty on the Plaza Mayor because it sounded like a local institution. Founded in 1905 it is the oldest cafe in Salamanca. During Spain's fascist years it was renamed Café Nacional.

We went with the ham toast and the churros with hot chocolate.

Turns out churros dipped in hot chocolate are delicious. Who knew. The hot chocolate was really thick and reminded me of warmed up chocolate pudding.

Back out on the  Plaza Mayor we looked at some of the stone images of famous Spaniards that surround the square.

The majority I hadn't heard of but I spotted Spanish Conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro who destroyed the Aztec and Inca empires respectively.

We read that the image of fascist dictator Francisco Franco's image is actually made of plastic so that it's easier to replace due to frequent vandalism. Sure enough it looked like someone had smashed a bottle of wine on it.

Then we hit the road again for the 3 hour drive to Coimbra, Portugal!

Similar to Salamanca, Coimbra, Portugal is a college town. The primary site that we were there to see was the University of Coimbra, Portugal's oldest university established in 1290. The students here are also apparently fans of Harry Potter because their formal dress consists of a black suit and cape. We were able to spot one wearing this despite the school probably being on winter break.

Driving in the old city was nerve wracking. The cobblestone roads got so narrow both of us could have wound down our car windows and knocked on doors on either side of the street.

While walking down the narrow streets we sometimes had to do some creative dodging to avoid becoming street pizza.

The University's Palace Gate.

King João III moved the university to Coimbra.

The University's São Miguel Chapel.

The chapel's organ was serious.

The examination room. All of this grandeur has me wondering if it would have made me a better student. Failing a test is one thing, but failing a test while wearing a cape in a castle would be devastating. 

We ordered the realest Portuguese food that Restaurante O Trovador had on offer: I got the cabrito with is a roasted goat kid and Lydia rocked the rojoes a avozinha which was roasted pork in white wine. Mine didn't have a whole lot of meat to it, which is always the main problem with eating children.

We saved the best for last: Biblioteca Joanina.

One of the measures the library takes to keep the books safe from bugs is allowing bats to live inside. Every night the staff covers the tables with leather to protect them from all the bat poop.

Student graffiti was everywhere.

We hit the road yet again and I tried not to hit any houses/people on my way out of the winding maze.

Our final touristy stop of the day was the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Portugal. It was formerly a Knights Templar stronghold.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time reading about the Knights Templar, but I'll just give you a few bullet points. The knights became by some measures the first multinational corporation. The pope elevated the knights to the point that they only answered to him, so they could move through borders at will and ignore local laws. They built strongholds all over Europe and the Holy Land. In addition to being a fearsome force of Crusader shock troops they sort of invented the checking system. Pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land faced many dangers along the way from robbers and other unpleasant killing things, so they would give their money to the local knights in say, Tomar, Portugal, and get a slip of paper in return. Then when they made the trip safely to somewhere like Jerusalem they would retrieve their treasures from the local office. Cool huh?

Well the knights grew rich and powerful until the point where they were an irresistible target for the king of France. He pressured the pope to turn on them, and their leaders were burned at the stake and all of their treasures were seized in all of the countries that they operated: except in Portugal. They were protected and changed their name from Knights Templar to Knights of the Order of Christ. The knights were headquartered here, at the Convent of Christ in Tomar. Boom.

After all the excitment we drove another hour to our next Airbnb. I passed out at like 6pm due to jet lag much to Lydia's chagrin.

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