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Harry Potter


The University City of Coimbra

March 2, 2014

Coimbra Vista View, Central Portugal

When I look at the pictures I took of Coimbra, and mostly those of Coimbra University, I feel as I still need to pinch myself to realize that the places I have visited were actually real, and not part of a Harry Potter’s movie set. It might sound like a cliche, and I might not be the only one to feel like that, but walking through the University halls and courtyards, running into students wearing their typical uniforms of black robes, patterned with colored patches and symbols, made me wonder if I was about to meet Harry and his friends in the next corner.

Truth is, when I mentioned this similarity to the University tour guide, she confirmed my thoughts and told me that J.K Rowling used to live in Porto for a few years and was inspired by her visits to Coimbra, which later were transcribe in the Hogwarts Aesthetic, including the uniform.

Coimbra is known as the Medieval Capital of Portugal for over a hundred years, and the University, which is considered one of the greatest in the world for the past five centuries, plays a significance role in the Portuguese history. In 2013 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of the notable University buildings include the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Cruz, the Royal Palace of Alcacova, which housed the University since 1537, the Joanine Library with its phenomenal rich Baroque decor, the 18th century Botanical Garden and University Press, as well as the large ‘University City’ created during the 1940s.

As the University is situated on a hill overlooking the city, there are a lot of students dorms/fraternities called ‘Republicas’ down the hills, each Rebublica holds a different facade and its residents’ characters. There are currently over 24 Republics in operation, with almost all of them grouped in the Council of Republics (CR), which meets the request of any of the houses that compose it and take its decisions unanimously. A friend of mine, who used to be a member in one of the Republicas few years ago, told me there is an unwritten rule that whenever an alumni is coming to Coimbra, he can stay in his original Republica.

I visited the University at the end of February and the streets around the University were quite calm. My guide rest assured me that this time of the year was not really portraying the University atmosphere. ‘If you can’ she said, ‘come and visit us in the beginning of May, at the end of the second semester for the Queima das Fitas festival’. This festival, (The Burning of the Ribbons) which represents the end of the Academic year, is one of the biggest student parties in all Europe and it lasts eight days, a day for each of the University Faculty. It includes a parade of the University students, sport activities and the historic night-time Student Fado serenade (Serenata Monumental) which takes place in the stairs of the Cathedral in front of a crowd of thousands of students, alumni, tourists and visitors.

One of the highlights of my visit to Coimbra (which turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Portugal) was getting this special opportunity to photograph the Joanine Library from the inside. When the University tour guide opened the heavy doors that lead inside the library, I was at awe. And yes, I had to pinch myself and soak in all this beauty. While I was taking pictures of this beautiful Baroque Style Library, I had to remind myself to give my eyes a rest from the camera’s viewfinder, to really absorb this beauty.

The Library, which was built in 1717 during the reign of King John the 5th, (you can see his majestic portrait below) is located on the ruins of the former Medieval royal prison. The magnificent interior (stone floor patterned with geometric motifs, plaster ceilings decorated with allegorical trompe-l’oeil paintings and real gold leaves decorating the shelves) clearly connected with the Portuguese Empire of that period.

When I climbed the narrow steps to the second level of the library, just to have a better view and to understand its enormous amount of books, (57,000) the University tour guide leaned toward me and whispered that behind these shelves of books there is a real school of bats (!) that keep the moth away. (Harry Potter, remember?) At the same breath she mentioned that the library contains an amazing collection of 15th century Judaica, including the Abravanel family Bible and documents of the Coimbra Inquisition.

After taking a great amount of pictures of the library, we walked outside through the Via Latina, right into the Great Hall of Acts, where most of the Academic ceremonies are taking place. This is where grad students and Doctoral students are presenting and defending their thesis, where the official opening of the Academic year is taking place and where ranks of honors are given to particular people. I could only imagine how does it feel to be a student in Coimbra University, presenting his thesis under the investigating eyes of Afonso Henriques, the King of Portugal, portrayed on a large canvas on the wall.

To show respect, hierarchy and admiration, the students must sit lower than the eye level of the faculty.

Each faculty of the University is defined by a different color. The Faculty of Medicine, for example, is characterized by the Yellow color, and the Yellow Room (walls lined with yellow silk wall paper) is where the meeting of the constituent bodies of the Faculty took place. The paintings on the walls are of 19th century Rectors of the University. The Coimbra Faculty colors are: Forest Green- represents the University, Red is for Law, Yellow for Medicine, Royal Blue for Humanities, Sky Blue and White stand for Sciences and Technology, Purple is the color of Pharmacy, Red and White is Economics, Orange represents Psychology, Brown is for Sports Science and Black and White is for the Student’s Union. These colors, by the way, will be presented as patterns or patches on the students robes, bags and notebooks.

I highly recommend to take a guided tour when you visit the University of Coimbra. Whether you are a Harry Potter’s fan or not, the stories, the facts, the additional information you get to hear, are somewhat better than the movie.


After All…it’s London…

May 27, 2012

London, Travel, Oxford Street, Olympic games

The universe is divided into two groups of people: Those who love London and those who love New York. When I was twenty, the guy I was dating back then used to say that there is a defined line between London-lovers and New York-lovers, and one cannot cross that line. Whereas he was a definite London lover, I chose New York. Maybe that’s why we are no longer together. But seriously. The fact I’ve been living in New York for the last 10 years now definitely makes me one who prefers Manhattan, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love London. I do.

I’ve been to London three times; First time was when I was 16 years old. It was a teenager-sweet sixteen-tour around some European capitals. The second time was quite an accident. I met a guy and we decided to meet again somewhere in the middle. We chose London. It rained throughout the whole week of end of May. My third time was two years ago. I was on my way from Tel Aviv back to New York and decided to pass through the British capital to visit my cousin. What started as a five-day trip ended up as 15. I got stuck in London due to the eruption of the Icelandic vulcan on April 2010 but enjoyed an unexpected early summer.

London, Britain, England, Travel

London, England, Travel

London is a touristic city by definition. If you are planning to visit the British capital this summer, bear in mind you would hit the massive touristic crowds who come to watch the Olympics or those who come to celebrate with the British nation the Queen’s 60th year on the throne. If this is not enough, there might be a chance you find yourself standing in a long line just to get in to the Charles Dickens Museum  just in time for the author’s 200th birthday. But wait. There is more. Across town, Warner Brothers Studio Tour will open the Harry Potter studios to all the real fans who want to re-live the films. And last but not least, The Rolling Stones, celebrating their 50th anniversary, might tour again, with a possible finale in London.

London, Britain, Travel, England, Olympics 2012

London, Britain, Travel, England, Olympics 2012

No doubt, London is going to be a hot destination this Summer. If you find yourself in London, and yet, want to beat the crowds while you are there, I suggest checking in some less touristic destinations.


One of my favorite areas I have discovered is Hoxton. Funny enough, I got to this area by chance. I printed a map to follow Banksy’s steps and one of the locations was near the tube’s station Old Street. When I got out of the tube, my first reaction was to go and find Banksy’s famous graffiti Sweep on Hoxton but after asking few locals where I can find it, they told me the only Banksy’s left was the one outside Cargo club in Rivington street. Of course I ran to that direction, however, I was quite disappointed to find out the mural was a bit hidden by some plants. Nevertheless, I decided to walk around this area and I was happy to discover a vibrant district of Arts and entertainment and a large number of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and Art galleries. Not to mention some great walls covered with good graffiti. If I had an extra time in London, I would definitely spend more time in Hoxton, follow more graffiti walls, get in to more boutiques and enjoy watching the crowds.

Directions: Take the Northern line (black color) and get off Old Street Station.

london, england, graffiti, hoxton, Old Street


While Hoxton is a neighborhood of a young and creative crowd, most of them are starving emerging artists, Hampstead, is also a less touristic area, but with a completely a different vibe. Hampsted is known for its affluent residents and a hub for some of the most expensive housing in the London area. I got to Hampsted as it was one stop away from the area I was staying, and every morning while I was taking the tube to the center of the city, I got curious about Hampstead. Besides, someone advised me to check Hampstead Heath which is a great park with one of the highest points overlooking London (great for photography). Strolling around this beautiful area, watching hound dogs running around and kids wearing rubber boots and running into puddles, made me feel like I was in a British movie. Speaking of movies, a lot of British movies have been filmed in this area; ‘Notting Hill‘, ‘Notes on a Scandal‘ to name a few, and all I could ask for was spotting Hugh Grant stepping out from the Kenwood House or walking his dog in one of the streets.

I highly recommend to take a hike to Hampsted Heath and walk around the narrow cobble stone streets. Enjoy a nice lunch in one of the notable and longstanding cafes such as La Gaffe, Gaucho Grill, or Le Cellier du Midi for example, and have a crowded-less shopping experience in one of the main streets.

Directions: Take the Northern line (black color) and get off Hampsted Station.

London, England, Travel, Olympics, Hampsted

Another way to beat the crowds is sight-seeing the city at night. As long as you avoid Leicester Square, Piccadilly circus or Soho, which are all packed with club and theater crowds, it can be a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of Tower Bridge, London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster, less packed.

London is an exciting city. There are so many sites and places to see and visit; I always recommend to check the side streets of a central area because so many gems and photography opportunities are out there. Walk around the side streets of Notting Hill, check out all floors of Liberty, enjoy a theatrical tour to Hampton Court Palace (highly recommended) or take an architectural tour around some of the most interesting buildings in London, such as The Gherkin. (try to time it during lunch break when all the business men in suits are out there).

London is an exciting city. The weather however, might be tricky and rainy at times, but one thing is sure; London is definitely going to be buzzing and hot!

London, England, Travel, Olumpics

London, England, Travel, Olumpics

London, England, Travel, Olumpics

London, England, Travel, Olumpics

London, England, Travel, Olumpics