Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sintra - Day 14

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Everyone said, "You must go to Sintra
- It's not to be missed!" So I chose to spend my last day in this unusual mix of natural and man-made beauty. The comparison I would make is - if Lisbon is like Los Angeles, Sintra is like Santa Barbara. Only 15 miles NW from Lisbon, the small town features exotic palaces and castle ruins set amid lush, tropical plants and green hillsides. From the tops of the hills are incredible views of the Atlantic. For centuries, it was the playground of Portugal's royalty.
Fortunately, trains to Sintra run every hour from Rossio train station, down the street from my hotel, the Lisboa Plaza. I took the 9 am train  (cost 5 euro RT) since nothing opens before 10. I was blessed with a gorgeous sunny day and no deadlines.
I did the 10-minute walk from the station into town and caught my first look at the National Palace with its conical chimneys. More on that later.
Then I went to the main tourist office to get a perspective on the day. I was also able to buy a combo ticket to the 3 major sights for 25 euro (senior discount). I learned that the 5 euro Scotturb  bus #434 would take me to the sights. 
I decided to go to Pena Palace first, since that is the most visited.
I thought by going there first, I could avoid some of the crowds, but everyone had the same idea. Although I had seen photos, I was blown away by the ornate designs, colors and eclectic mix of architectural styles.
It truly looks like it belongs at Disney World (wonder if Walt ever saw it?) So what is it?
It is a summer palace built for German- born Prince Ferdinand, the husband of Queen Maria II (ruled from 1826-1853) by a German architect. Ferdinand, who was himself an artist and a romantic, instructed the designer to build it using oddities from all over the world and had it surrounded by a park.
The work took place from 1840 to 1885, the year Ferdinand died. 
Interestingly, most of the tourists were focused on posing in front of the various towers, domes and minarets.
Of course, I had to do that, too.

But then I went inside for a delightful tour. When Portugal became a Republic in 1910, it turned the place into a museum, preserving it as it was when the Royal family lived here. 
Foremost on the tour was the dining room,
stuck in a cozy corner with the family's finest tableware and ceiling tiles; the great hall, with a portrait of Ferdinand on the left, was used for receptions;
and the enormous kitchen.
The palace was built on the site of a 16th century monastery so the courtyard was the former location of the cloister.
There are a number of bedrooms around the cloister and from the balcony of one, we could see the Moorish castle in the distance on another hill.
The kitchen led conveniently into the cafeteria, and it turned out to be the perfect place for lunch -- Quiche Lorraine and aqua mineral for 5 euro
Afterwards, I thought I would walk to the castle ruins, but I couldn't seem to get good  advice. I took off on a trail into the woods, but it turned out to be wrong and I had to backtrack up a hill. To avoid walking on the narrow, windy road, I had to ride the bus. But it is only one way and the castle was the previous stop, so I had to ride the loop all over again to get back to the ruins. Fortunately, I was not in a hurry and I enjoyed the walk in the woods. 
The castle was built by the Moors in the 10th century, and taken by Afonso Henriques in 1147, beginning the Portuguese rule.
Although the ruins are dramatic, very little is original. It was significantly restored by Ferdinand II in the 19th century when he was building Pena. 

The views were incredible. Here you can see Pena Palace behind me.
Did I tell you it was windy?!!!
And a great view looking down on the National Palace and city of Sintra with the Atlantic in the background.
Then I caught the bus back to the main square in Sintra where the National Palace is located.
It is noteworthy for its two 100-ft high chimneys shaped like cones over its kitchen.
Of the 3 sights, this one is probably the most historic. Although it dates to Moorish times with lots of Moorish architectural features, most of what is seen today is from the 15th century reign of King John I (remember, he was married to English-born Philippa). Of course, later Kings had to add some Manueline  touches.
We toured all the rooms, but the most notable were the Banquet Hall (also known as the Swan Room because of its 17th century painted ceiling with swans;
the Chapel with its original 14th century chestnut and oak ceiling and mosaic floor that resembles a carpet;
and the Heraldry Room, where the domed ceiling features stags holding coats of arms of 74 noble families and the 18th century tile panels around the walls depicting hunting scenes.
We did go into the enormous kitchen to look up into the cone-shaped chimneys, but nothing else there has been restored. 
There was a lovely view of the city with the castle above taken from a window in the palace.

By now I had pretty much exhausted the day. I picked up another quiche and a croissant and headed to the train station. To my luck, one was leaving in 10 minutes at 5:50. I got back to my hotel about 7 and decided to call it a night. I was quite wind blown from all the hilltops in Sintra and I had put in over 20,000 steps. A great time to pack up and bid farewell to a beautiful country. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Porto to Lisbon - Day 13

Saturday, June 18
Today it was back to Lisbon for two nights to catch some final sights, go on another day trip and get ready to catch my plane home. Mostly a travel day, so not many photos. Don't think I had posted this photo of the São Bento train station from the outside on the right.
I took a cab from my hotel to the station with plenty of time to spare. While I was waiting, I met two women about my age who had just completed the Portuguese Camino from Porto. They were very positive about their experience but weren't very specific on details when I pressed them. One of them had her arm in a sling and said she slipped in a shower in an albergue and broke her shoulder. But they trudged on using a transport service for their phenomenally huge backpacks. The injured one said she had an 8-lb cpap machine in her bag. She must have been fun in the dorms. 
The train ride was great (I had a single seat to myself) and a nice man put my bag overhead. My ticket was 21 euros for 1st class (with senior discount) which included extra legroom, comfort seat and beverage service. Second class was 15 euros. My husband taught me well.
The train arrived about 12:40 and I caught a cab  - only 10 euros - while others waited in a long line just to buy tickets on the metro.  Unfortunately, my room was not ready but I regrouped and headed out.  Only a few things to see and do. I love riding the trolleys so I rode two -- one around the old central city and one in the really old Alfama area.
Then I walked around the area again. It was a spectacularly sunny day (although quite hot) and the views again from a veranda in this old section were beautiful.

That's the Tagus River (also known as Tejo River) in view.
Then I found the Cathedral Se,
which we had missed before, and thought it was the start of the Portuguese Camino. However, later when I photographed these signs,
one of very few I ever saw on the whole trip, a shop keeper informed me that I was wrong. The real beginning is at the small church of Santiago, further into the old section. I found it tucked onto a side street but clearly marked.

However, afterwards I decided to call my exploring a day because I had underestimated the tourist traffic on a Saturday in this area. The streets are very narrow and the sidewalks are almost non-existent. But the worst part is these little "tuk tuks", motorized rickshaws that are like 3-wheeled motorcycles built into a cab.
The drivers would stuff them with people and scoot everywhere, ignoring traffic.
Tonight I ventured out to the Chiado area and had dinner at another historic 1900's era restaurant, Cafe Brasileira.
It was made famous by Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), a beloved poet who was known for using multiple personas in his writings - from a simple countryman expounding on the joys of nature to an erudite scholar pontificating on various philosophies. Because he often met his friends here, he is honored with a statue by the front.
I had one of the traditional tuna salads I often ate on the camino, but the smallest serving of wine was a half bottle. Unfortunately, I had to pass. I did have to find my way back on tiny streets to my hotel. And I have an early morning!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Porto - Day 12

Friday, June 17, 2016
After saying some last minute goodbyes at breakfast, I headed out to embrace the day. First to the city market. I love visiting these in foreign cities because most in the U.S. (as in Louisville) have been sacrificed to progress. 
However, when I visited this market again today, I wonder how long it can hold out. Only about 1/3 of the stalls are occupied and they are very small.
And the types of merchandise people sell have a very small profit margin - especially in the quantities they can stock.
But the unusual things they sell! If you really want fresh chicken, how about a live one!  
Or one recently killed with its head still intact.
This woman is selling basil plants. (They look nothing like my basil.)

People celebrate the Festival of St. John (June 23) by giving basil plants to loved ones with little poems attached.
Who knew that olives and candy go together?
And after tasting "tripe" (cow's intestines) in a stew last night (a popular dish in Porto), I thought seeing it "in the flesh" was less than appetizing.
Then I walked along the nearby streets, admiring the old storefronts,
saw more churches covered with tiles
and stood at the end of Rua Catarina, the street where our hotel is, and marveled at the pedestrian traffic.
My objective today was to ride local transportation.  First the funicular from the higher part of town down to the waterfront. For a girl who doesn't like roller coasters, this view and ride was pretty awesome.
That's the Dom Luis I Bridge again in the background.
Determined to ride one of the San Francisco-style trolleys, I caught one that went to the beach and back.
I use the term beach loosely because you can't really swim in this rough, cold water.
Then I had lunch at a little cafe near the waterfront and decided to take the 50-minute yellow bus "hop on hop off" tour because it would take me to the Serravales Museum, which is outside of town. However, I ended up on the bus for 2-1/2 hours. First the driver did the same downtown route twice. By the time he made it to the museum, it was really too late. But I did get a photo of the giant trowel in front.
The bus did enable me to see some other parts of the city, but none as interesting as the city center.
I enjoyed taking photos of the homes along the way -- the tiny houses that once belonged to fishermen
and the 18th century apartment buildings with their wrought iron balconies, an image that is associated with the city.
After the tour, I walked over the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia. It is where much of the world's port wine is sent to mature. After the port wine is produced in the Douro  Valley, it comes here to age in the "lodges." Consequently, these lodges give tours and tastings, but I passed for today. I did check out some art vendors along the riverwalk. Back to the Ribeira on the Porto side, it was becoming very crowded with tourists and even some kind of motor-cross competition, so I decided to head to the hotel.

Tonight I treated myself to dinner at the famous Majestic Cafe, the circa 1900 hangout for the local intelligencia and now popular tourist attraction.

Had Mediterranean Sea bass and Portuguese wine.
A great ending to Porto.