A mere 50 minutes by train away from where I live (Coimbra), Aveiro has long been on my list of places to visit since arriving back in Portugal. On a very recent weekend, with the sun beaming down brightly, I decided it was finally time to head up there for a little walk.
Aveiro is known in places as the ‘Venice of Portugal’ – a nickname thrown around quite freely (I’m sure I have heard Birmingham referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’) – and is situated next to both the Atlantic Ocean and a large lagoon. A canal stretches through the city, thus providing it with its nickname.
I walked west from the train station down what seemed to be the main avenue before realising a more picturesque sight awaited me on a parallel street that ran alongside the canal. The way to go was handily set out on a map just outside the train station.
I met the canal at the point where the shopping centre starts. The canal can be crossed at this point by walking across the ‘Friendship Knots Bridge’ (Ponte Laços de Amizade). The bridge lives up to its name in a display of colour and light.
I remained outside and continued down the canal, resisting the charms of the nearby discount clothes and food court, until I had reached a large roundabout (also at the end of the shopping centre) – also known as ‘Praça General Humberto Delgado’.
The roundabout has views looking both east and west up and down the canal. It is from here that you can also see Aveiro’s main attraction: the ‘Moliceiros’ (Gondola boats).
Each boat has its own style. It seemed that many of the boats had a picture of a Portuguese cultural icon on one side (Eusébio, Amália Rodrigues) and a somewhat risqué-postcard-style picture on the other side.
I continued further along the canal until I turned back slightly on myself and met another section of canal that stretched out in front of the seafood market, although this section of canal was somewhat less picturesque (it was closed, possibly being renovated, and smelled a bit foul). This area seemed to be surprisingly lively, though, and I found out why about ten minutes later.
I was fairly close to the ‘Capela de São Gonçalinho’, a small church that on this day was surrounded by people. There was also an extraordinary number of cakes on sale, and they seemed to be of the same style – a hard, bread-like cake coated in what seemed to be a white meringue (or something similar). Assuming these must have been part of a traditional cake market or something similar, I continued toward the crowd before realising why so many cakes were for sale.
On top of the church was a steadily moving set of people who were throwing cakes down at the crowd below from bags. The people below were nudging each other in an attempt to catch these cakes, with some people showing real dedication since they had brought tall nets!
Looking for some insight into what was going on, I moved nearer to the church and found an information board outside. I had, by complete coincidence, stumbled across an annual tradition that happened to be taking place across this long weekend.
The plaque told me that these cakes were known as ‘cavacas’ and they were all thrown as a part of a tradition that involved a ritualistic climbing up the church. The people below were certainly competitive, using everything from plastic bags to umbrellas to catch the falling cakes!
Having successfully managed to dodge the falling cavacas and not getting my skull split open by them (they seemed hard – there was certainly an impact when people missed and the cakes fell straight to the ground!), I took in some of then smaller streets before heading off for a snack (not a cavaca).
My first visit to Aveiro was perfectly pleasant, and I may well come back when the weather is warmer. Bumping into such a strange tradition was a big bonus, so don’t forget to head there around the weekend closest to January 10th to see it for yourself!