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. 

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