Thursday, 22 October 2015

Two days in Aveiro

Thursday 22nd October.

We arrived in Aviero yesterday after an uneventful drive from Estarreja. There is a parking area here for motorhomes 40.64411 -8.65870 and whilst it is only a two minute walk into town the disadvantage is that it is 25 metres from the A25 flyover and hence a little noisy! The town has had an interesting history; once a vibrant fishing and shipbuilding port this activity was devastated when the river mouth silted up but in the beginning of the nineteenth century canals were dug to drain the marshes and there is now a system of lagoons stretching some 40kms north and south creating salt pans and the opportunity to harvest seaweed. Salt is still collected nowadays but the main industry today is tourism. We found the tourist information office which is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building of which there are many in the town, not least one of the museums shown below.

Armed with a map we set off first to wander around the narrow streets of the old town and then to the town museum housed inside the fifteenth century Convento de Jesus. This was one of the most breathtaking museums we have ever visited. The baroque chapel is simply stunning.

The town was also known for its fine ceramics and although the factory is now closed examples are to be seen in the main and side chapels within the convent museum.

The museum also houses works from the rococo period such as this sculpture of the holy family.

We spent a couple of hours in the museum and each room and exhibition was truly amazing. Many of the exhibits relate to Santa Joana, the daughter of Afonso V, who lived in the convent in the mid fifteenth century. Barred from becoming a nun due to her royal station and her father's opposition she was determined to escape the material world, or possibly an unwelcome arranged marriage, and later beatified. Her marble tomb is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship.

Aviero is laced with canals and footbridges and so, after a visit to the Cathedral which is an impressive architectural example of the incorporation of the original building and the new addition, we took the canal boat trip, complete with serenading guide.

The Cathedral.

Our serenading guide.

Today we set off to have a look at the salt flats which start just a short distance from where we are parked. There is a museum which is comprised of a series of QR codes on wooden posts but as we have both deleted our scanners from our phones as we never used them (!) they weren't of much help to us. But there was a shack where we could buy bags of salt and the wizened guy there showed us the mounds of salt drying under tarpaulins, explained that the salt was harvested in July and August when the water in the pans evaporated in the heat and sold us a bag of salt.

The salt pans.

Back to town for a coffee and cake and as we sat watching the world go by we heard what sounded like several hundred sports fans descending upon us singing and shouting their teams praises. In fact this turned out to be freshers day for the local university. But a freshers day unlike anything we could imagine. Garnering bits of information from the locals and some of the students we gathered the following information. The freshers are dressed in a variety of uniforms indicating their course or fraternity. Different coloured T shirts, smocks, dungarees etc. Some had pottys on their heads, some had funnels. These freshers were accompanied by older students, in formal frock coats and gowns, carrying various shaped staffs. They are marched or run around the town all the time singing and chanting only pausing when groups are given lectures on goodness knows what by their elders. There are also various humiliating exercises being carried out which, in some instances were a little disturbing but nevertheless it all seemed like good fun. There was hardly a police presence to be seen although there was plenty of ambulance action and I expect there will be considerably more of that tonight as more drink is taken. The number of students was reckoned to be about 10,000! And although some of the locals were muttering and raising their eyebrows it was all very good natured with no trouble and must be a massive boost to the economy on this day each year. Special trains and buses had been laid on to bring them to the town and, hopefully, take them all back safely.

A couple of student groups.

There are some excellent restaurants here, mostly specialising in sea food and shellfish, some with eye watering prices but we found a nice place in one of the squares and enjoyed our lunch as the various student groups marched and trotted to and fro. I say enjoyed however I didn't make the best choice. The waiter explained the various dishes one of which was tripe with white beans. In all my years I've never had tripe but when the waiter explained that it was a typical Portuguese dish and a speciality of the house I said I'd give it a try. Try I did but, let's just say I won't be trying it again. Phil said her fish was lovely.

We've had a couple of great days here in Aviero, a lovely town with lovely people. A special mention to the lady in the tourist office; every time I've spotted something or had a question I've popped in and asked her a question "Why do many shops have bicycles in their windows?" - "It's a themed window display competition". "Who are all these young people in bizarre clothes?" - "It's a freshers day tradition, the older students welcome the new ones". Every time I went in she smiled and waited for my next question, a lovely lady.

Finally, a city sculpture that made us smile.



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