Sintra e Cabo da Roca

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April 21st 2014
Published: April 21st 2014
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Day three started a bit later thanks to Lisbon's SLE soccer team having won the Portuguese title. We lay in bed for literally hours as young guys screamed/chanted and blasted air horns. I got up naturally around 10 thinking it was dark and dreary, but Chris had shut the shutters so it was actually gorgeous out. We'd also missed breakfast, so we'd have to grab something at the train station before getting on the train to Sintra. Well, the train station ticket window and automated machines were a shitshow - I really hope that things return to low-key with tourists once Easter Monday is over. After waiting 30 minutes in line and missing two trains, I figured I'd have Chris see if he could get through the gate with our metro pass, since a train symbol did appear on it. Well whaddaya know, it worked! Fuming.

The distance to Sintra isn't much, but given how many stops were made it took around 35 to get there. First stop was a bit of food and caffeine at Saudade, a former bakery-turned-café. We had coffees and travesseiros de Sintra, more or less the same flakey pastry we'd had a couple nights prior. Really good and only €5 for everything. Less than 5 minutes away by foot was the historic city center, a cute amalgam of shops and restaurants in old little buildings. All around us were several steep hills upon which most of the main sights were located. It would be a cardio day full of hills and rocky terrain.

The first stop on our list in this UNESCO town was the Quinta da Regaleira, an incredible neo-Manueline palace complex built as a summer home for a noble Carvalho Monteiro family at the turn of the 20th century. You first come across the actual palace, incredibly ornate and surrounded by lush gardens. My favorite part of the structure was the panoramic terrace and highest tower surrounded by gargoyles, most of which were animal hybrids like a half-rabbit, half-dragon. It actually worked despite how odd that sounds. The rest of the complex was honestly breathtaking, with various chapels, towers, and grottos all scattered throughout a beautiful hillside forest. One of the coolest things was a structure called Portal of the Guardians, a fountain and twin towers cut into the side of a hill. Going behind the fountain you find a hidden cave that leads to the "initiatic well", a subterranean tower with a massive stone spiral staircase that leads up to another level. The purpose was apparently evoke feelings of the relation between heaven and hell. We spent a good two hours wandering around before making our next moves.

The Castelo dos Mouros, literally 'Castle of the Moors', was a Moorish castle built in the 10th century by the Muslims that had conquered and occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula. To quote the guide, it "acted as a control tower for the Atlantic coast and land to the north, serving as an outpost for the city of Lisbon. By the end of the 12th century, however, Christians had reclaimed it for Portugal. The castle sits atop more or less a mountain and it was a bit of a schlep up winding stone pathways to reach it from Sintra-Vila, maybe 40 minutes. It was beyond worth it - the castle walls are so incredibly preserved I felt like I was in Game of Thrones or something. You can circle more or less the entire castle, which literally feels like it's up in the clouds given how steep the drop is to the land below. There isn't much inside the walls, since Muslim fortresses served as just that, not residences, but we spent a good hour or so climbing the skeleton.

We had purchased a combined ticket to the castle as well as the Palácio da Pena, so that was next on our list. Believe it or not, the palace is situated even higher than the castle, so it was another 30 minutes or so to reach it by foot. The structure is eclectic to say the least, and is described as "Bavarian-Manueline epic". Commissioned in 1940 by the Bavarian artist husband of Maria Ii, the palace features everything from Moorish arches to onion domes in bright hues of yellow, red, and blue. The crazy whimsical-ness of everything called to mind some of Gaudí's works, but this place definitely deserves a category of its own. The inside was kitschy as well, with various themed rooms and eclectic furniture. After an hour or so of that it was time for a beer at the attached rooftop café and a sandwich to split. It was described as chicken with Dijon mustard on a Viennese-style baguette. It was actually Hawaiin bread shaped like a baguette with pieces of processed chicken. Oh well, we hadn't eaten all day.

That was about all we could handle in terms of major tourism, but I can definitely see justification in staying the night in Sintra, since we didn't have time for the National Palace, Capuchin Monastery, and a number of other attractions. Next time! Instead, we did a bit of perusing around the historic town center, drooling over ceramics and tasting some liqueurs and sampling cheeses and meats for free. A bit after 6 we made our way back toward the train station to make one final touristic stop for the day, Cabo da Roca. 30-40 minutes by bus to the west lay the westernmost point in all of mainland Europe. Though there isn't anything to do there apart from walking around, taking pictures, and gazing out into the Atlantic, it was worth it at least to say you've been as far West as possible. The views were unsurprisingly beautiful, and the whole coastline was lit up by the sun as it started to go down. We timed it quite well, apparently, as the bus back to Sintra came around just as we headed back toward the bus stop.

Back in Sintra, we boarded the train back to Lisbon and were ready to eat a horse given all the of the walking and climbing and hardly any food. We had attempted to eat at a little hole in the wall, O Bacalhoeiro, a few days earlier but passed it up because we wanted to eat outside. Tonight was a bit chillier so indoors was just fine. Bacalhoeiro refers to the fishing boat used to catch cod, so obviously we were getting fish. To start they brought us an octopus salad, which we literally inhaled along with our bread and bottle of vinho verde. €7.50 for a bottle of wine at a restaurant? Excellent. For our mains I got grilled sea bream (actually had no idea what type of fish I had ordered until later research) and Chris for sea bass. Both came with boiled potatoes and salad. For dessert we split a flan and each had a glass of port. As an added bonus they brought us shots of ginjinha, that sour cherry liqueur, so we were feeling great by the meals end, especially when it came to less than €20 a person! By that point it was almost 11 and we were beat, so we called it a night. Tomorrow we head to Cascais on the Atlantic coast and try to finish up Lisbon!

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22nd April 2014

What a Whirlwind Three Days!
Son, you do not disappoint. You've continued the family tradition of cramming into three days what most people couldn't cover in a week. Portugal looks as just charming the second go round. The Moorish influence reminds me a bit of our trip to Spain and that one castle was very " Game of Thrones"

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