An amateur travaller talking about her modest travels. A wannabe globetrotter with a purse full of butterflies but with great passion for exploring!
An amateur travaller talking about her modest travels. A wannabe globetrotter with a purse full of butterflies but with great passion for exploring!
The trip to Madrid turned out to be the last big trip before the end of my Erasmus period. Well, it was certainly a great way to start the New Year!
It was a trip that we started talking and dreaming about when we first got to Portugal and settled in in our new flat. Only, we were going to Madeira to start with. The prospect of having to celebrate the New Year whilst admiring a spectacular firework display was very enticing. Unfortunately, as time drew nearer we realised that we would not be able to fund the trip. So that’s when Madrid came up as an opportunity. Not to mention we just happened to have a friend who lives there and ‘mad’ (but awfully kind) enough parents to let 6 of us stay in their small flat for two nights. But as previously agreed, two of the group had to stay in a hostel (one of the couples that is) which somewhat helped… I suppose.
Full of enthusiasm, we left Coimbra in the morning of 31st December to travel to Porto where we were due to fly from. Excluding all the travelling from Coimbra to Porto and then from Porto to the Airport on the underground, the waiting, the check-in and more waiting, the whole plane journey took under an hour. We landed just as the sun was setting over Madrid, reflecting in the glass of the skyscrapers. A fabulous view of which I did not take a picture… We were greeted by our friend and then hopped on the underground for another long journey (our friend lived at the opposite end of the metro line in Alcorcon), at the end station we had to get a bus to the nearest stop to her block of flats. Once in the flat we relaxed for a while and got ready to leave again for the centre of Madrid. We wanted to get to the Puerta del Sol square, where geared with alcohol and grapes we intended to celebrate the New Year. We were hoping that there would be a concert or something, but our friend told us that nothing like that was planned to take place (turns out however there was, but at Plaza de Cibeles).
Never mind. We had a stunning time at Puerta del Sol! But even if there was really no concert happening that would not have been surprising. The Spanish have a tradition of celebrating the New Year together. Old and young. The whole family. The young would only leave to go out and meet friends after midnight. The participants in huge gatherings like the one above are usually foreign. And it was true, we were surrounded by foreigners, but there were Spanish people around too. Another tradition the Spanish keep is the one in which at midnight they eat twelve grapes (one for each stroke of the clock). It is believed that this will bring good luck all year round. Well, we certainly were equipped with grapes and even though we might of choked once or twice, we got them all in safe in our tummies. It was a funny bit, but it felt very genuine. One disappointment, however, was the lack of fireworks! And we were promised some! There were some before and after midnight, but not right on the dot. Well, I suppose people were far too busy munching on their grapes. As much as we wanted to stay a little bit longer in the square and merge in with the general content we had to get back on the underground train to Alcorcon. The new year jubilant atmosphere continued in the underground and it never really left us all night on the streets as we were walking and in the club where we finished the night off. It was not a massive club, but it was a very nice one, and the music choice was excellent! I wish I could remember the name of the place and the location, but I could not point it on the map to save my life! Certainly, a great find! We left after 4am (which some might consider very early, but we did have a long journey behind our backs). Back in the flat we stayed up until 7am before we went to bed after a long conversation of patriotic nature. The 1st Jan 2012 we spent inside, recuperating and saving the energy for a long day of sightseeing tomorrow!
The idea of going to Monsanto (a.k.a. The Most Portuguese Village) came when my father read an article about it and sent it to me. He really thought it was worth going there as it had the most unusual architecture. I couldn’t agree more. It certainly is one of the most interesting places I have been to. But before we got there we had organise the whole journey. Monsanto is situated some 4 hours drive away from Coimbra and very close to the Spanish border. Not to mention it is quite difficult to reach by public transport and so we had to go by car. Luckily enough, our closest Portuguese friends agreed to take us there as they had never been there before themselves. So we had ourselves a ROAD TRIP!
It was all very well planned as we agreed to meet them in their home village Miranda do Corvo and then set off to Monsanto via Castelo Branco. We got up early enough and got the bus from Coimbra to the village. We were met at the bus station by our friends who looked rather hungover… Later we learned they hadn’t really slept much as they were partying hard all night long. Well, it certainly promised to be a great journey, if not maybe a little bit dangerous. We were a total of 9 people in two cars. Thankfully, we did not have any major trouble on the roads apart from our friend nearly taking the wrong turn and the other one driving a bit over the limit. One thing we were concerned about was them being alert, but it was all fine as we reached our first stop at Castelo Branco.
None of us new much about the town and as much as I would have liked to have a good walk around we could not afford to do so. We sat in the sun at a local cafe and enjoyed a few minutes of relaxation before we set off to climb a very steep hill leading to a fortress at the top. Since we were fans of semi-demolished ancient fortresses and castles we simply had to have a look at it. Even though there was not much to look at up there, the view was worth the whole effort.
For those of you visiting Castelo Branco a useful tip: visit the Garden of the Episcopal Palace ( Jardim do Paço Episcopal)- apparently one of Portugal’s most beautiful baroque gardens. We drove past it but we did not have the time to go back as we were very tight on time. What an unforgivable miss.
However, it was Monsanto that was on the daily agenda so once we were off it was not very long before we reached the Most Portuguese village. It felt great once we were parked and out. We took a little breather before we went exploring, but some impatient people like myself could not wait for the others to organise themselves so I slowly started walking away. Luckily enough, I got followed. Ultimately, we formed two groups.
Perched on the side of the Monsanto mountain and built in-between gigantic boulders, Monsanto is quite an enchanting little village with a genuine Portuguese atmosphere nestled between it’s narrow and cold streets. The building restrictions enforced in the village have helped for the preservation of this unique ambiance. Monsanto is a living museum in its own right.
What is particularly fascinating about Monsanto is the way it has come to be. People have showed great imagination and persistence in turning the huge granite rocks and daunting caves into living spaces.
A Home in the Rock…
… or on top of it!
I was in complete awe of what I saw. An ensemble of unique architectural thought. The ancient inhabitants did not dig into the rocks but worked their way around them which resulted in building the most unusual structures. I would have loved to go in one of the houses. All of them are unique both exterior and interior-wise. The narrow streets of Monsanto lead visitors up and down the village. We went up as far as we could get and reached the top of the mountain where laid an ancient castle. Sitting on the very top of the mountain felt very liberating. Wherever we looked around the view was far from pleasing- an endless delight to the eye. It felt like one of those places where one could sit hours, penetrating the view and indulge in philosophical thought.
Part of the Castle walls
Monsanto from above
I did not want to leave this remarkable sight, but we still had more to see of Monsanto. We were all in high spirits and walking on the tiny streets felt like a game and the village like a labyrinth. It must have been the Monsanto air!
I was surprised to find out that there was a souvenir shop open, bearing in mind it was a Sunday. But that was exactly what I needed. Apart from all the pictures I took I fancied a small memento to remind me of this wondrous place. It was then I learned about the Marafona. It is a doll whose body is made of two small branches in the shape of a cross and which is clad in colourful cloths. She has no eyes, no mouth, no ears and no nose. It is a souvenir unique to Monsanto and it is used to celebrate fertility on the Festa das Cruzes- an annual event held in Monsanto in May. According to local belief, the marafonas are put under the bed of newly married couples to help them have healthy children and happiness and placed over the bead to protect one from temptations at difficult times. So I decided it was the perfect souvenir to bring back with me as it was unique… like Monsanto itself.
Marafonas (I do not own this picture)
More of Monsanto
So as the sun was starting to set we all met at the village cafe where we warmed ourselves up with a nice cup of tea (I must admit, it was warmer at the top of the mountain than in the village, but we can blame the granite boulders for that). It was a long day and we still had a long journey ahead of us, but tiredness could not overshadow that lingering feeling of delight one gets from a great day out. And in addition to it all we got to witness yet another spectacular Portuguese sunset.
It was not long after the trip to Salamanca that we got an offer for another one. In fact, we got three different offers for the same trip, but I won’t get in to details about that matter.
We were quite excited when we signed up for the trip as it promised a day jam-packed with great experiences: from having a ski lesson on the dry slopes (well, we actually thought there was going to be real snow… pretty optimistic for beginning of December), visiting the dog sanctuary to see the famous Estrela Mountain Dog, which is a special Portuguese breed, to reaching the highest point in all of Portugal to admire one of those utterly captivating and timeless Portuguese sunsets.
Well, sadly enough, only the first thing actually happened.
It was quite a disappointing trip with regards to organisation. Or may be we were just unlucky enough to be in the second bus and having as a leader the president of ESN Coimbra, who was drinking all the way though the trip (no surprise there really).
Moonscape: A high drop
Getting there took a while as we had a change in plan. We were meant to go and visit the dog sanctuary first but, as it turned out, we went to have skiing lessons instead. This was great, indeed, as I really wanted to have a go at skiing, only that we had to wait ages for the first group to finish (not to mention the instructors had to have the longest lunch break ever!). It felt like a complete waste of time and so me and my friends decided we had enough and went to get our ski gear. Once we got them we went to the smaller slope to have a go. One of my friends was more experienced so she guided us, but it wasn’t long before a staff member saw us and told us to wait until the instructor came back. The sad thing was, the first group left and they probably got to see the dogs and ascend the top as well.
So by the time we had finished with the lessons the sun was starting to descend. The most infuriating part was not knowing what followed. We spoke to the group leader as we wanted to leave as soon as possible so that we can reach the top on time to see the sunset. He kept promising us in his drunken voice that we will make it, but it never happened. The darker it got the more agitated people became and I think, everybody knew that once it was dark there was no chance of getting to the top of the mountain. And so we headed back somewhat disappointed.
Sunset: We were hoping for a better view…
It was then when I took a great dislike to the President of the ESN. By freeing himself from any responsibility he ruined the day for most people in the group. Not to mention I had to look after his beer and give him my phone to ring his girlfriend. I swear, when she’s around everything is much better… oh well… This was the last ESN trip for me and I certainly had better trips to look forward to.
Nevertheless, visiting Serra de Estrela (The mountain Range of the Star) was certainly a great opportunity to see what Portuguese mountains were like. The ascend was difficult and slow and gave one an adrenalin rush as you looked down at the rocky slope, praying you would not end up rolling on it. But after all it would have been absolutely spectacular if we reached the highest point in Portugal and admired this beautiful country from a bird’s perspective.
I feel quite lucky to have been on this trip. Not only was it a great opportunity to visit Spain for the first time, but it was also the best way to reach Salamanca. Getting there proves to be far easier from Coimbra, than it would have been if I were in Madrid or South of Spain, for example. The trip was organised by ESN and it promised to be a an experience of a lifetime… as always. We had to leave early in the morning on 12th November so there was no time to lose. Nevertheless, every great Portuguese organisational effort requires the element of lateness, which, naturally came as no surprise. Once we were going, however, it was all fine… except for the fact that it was simply a CRAZY journey! I felt quite silly to have decided to try and get some sleep on the bus. I should have brought a bottle of wine and joined the 24 h drinking group that was on board. Having barely sobered up from last night’s party, people bravely opened their bottles and shouted out “Saude” (Cheers)! It was the first time I realised how much Brazilians drink. It was the discovery of the day! It got quite worrying when people started walking up and down the bus and dancing. Well, a bit of spillage and no major breakage, but I must admit it certainly wasn’t a ride to forget (nor was the journey back!).
And whilst the view on the bus remained the same, the view outside began changing as we approached the Spanish border. The green Portuguese hills gradually got replaced by a much rockier landscape (or should I say moonscape). The interesting thing was that it changed drastically as we entered Spain. Vast green and yellow planes- my eyes felt revived! It was a peculiar sensation as up to that point I hadn’t realised how much I actually missed flat surface. My gaze could run and nothing could stop it, no hills, mountains or trees. It was fabulous. Soon we reached Salamanca.
The first thing one would notice is the Catedral Vieja which stands out in the distance. As we drove through the town it struck me that it did not look at all like a Portuguese town (no clues as to where I got that idea from, but I did expect some similarities). But there weren’t any. Salamanca looked pretty, organised as a town, clean and polished. Some of the buildings in the newer part reminded me of the ones they have in Britain. Salamanca was very much European. We did not go straight to the hostel where we were staying. Instead the driver dropped us at the city centre from where we went to Plaza Mayor where we were scheduled to meet our tour guide. Even though I am not a big fan of enclosed squares, I quite liked Plaza Mayor and, as the tour guide later mentioned, it is considered as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
Plaza Mayor- obviously not the best photo taken of the square!
I really enjoyed the guided tour through the old part of Salamanca. Our guide was a very knowledgable man who demonstrated great love for his town. One of the interesting things about Salamanca is the colour of the buildings. They have a very particular, soft, amber-gold colour which is due to the nature of the rock they were built from as well as the climate. No wonder the place is known as the city of gold. On the walls of the university one might notice writings in red. And those were in fact written in blood. Not human, of course, but bull’s blood. Our guide described an ancient tradition which PhD students were obliged to fulfill in order for them to receive their diploma. It had three parts to it and the last one involved organising a bull fight. The student had to kill the animal and then write their name on the wall. Judging by the amount of names written on the walls of the university, it must have been quite a common practice.
A Harry Potter deja vu- the writings in blood…
This tradition, however, was not continued, but another one was. On their first day at university all first years are taken to the main gates which are richly decorated (ridiculously richly decorated, if I may say so!) . What they have to do is find a single frog which is sitting on a skull. Well, there were plenty of skulls there to be seen, but no rock. It was a funny moment as we were all standing there and looking for it. Naturally, everybody was looking at the highest point of the arch. Our guide, however, said that it was in the lower section. I was quite pleased to have been one of the first people that found it! It is indeed very small! But according to legend, if you find it quickly and without any help, you will pass all your exams. As part of the walk we visited Catedral Nueva and Catedral Vieja one of which was slightly damaged by the 1775 Lisbon earthquake. This was visible on the inside of the cathedral. On the outsidfe, one could see that the tower of the cathedral was slightly leaning to the left. In relation to that the Spanish in Salamanca have an interesting tradition. Every year on 31 October, people gather in front of the cathedral and a man climbs up to the very top where he starts singing. This is done in memory of the earthquake and in hope that the event will not repeat itself.
Try finding a tiny frog on a skull on that facade!
Our tour ended just as the sun was setting and so we hurried onto the bus and set off to the hostel. We were sorted into 10 bed bedrooms. We had plenty of time before dinner so some decided to rest. It was, after all, an exhausting journey and quite an eventful one. Even though we all had to be ready by 9 pm, it wasn’t the case. Our group leaders rushed us, but, hey, there’s always the odd one that will hold you behind. The bus drove us to the restaurant, which proved a very nice one despite having the elaborate ‘LOW COST’ sign on it. The atmosphere was great and despite it being a bit quiet at the beginning, this quickly changed as we were going through the usual drink-it-to-the-bottom songs. Dinner was lovely, nothing really Spanishy, but it was very nice. In a addition to a great dinner our leaders wanted to make sure we had a good taste of a Spanish night out which included bar crawling. However, my friends and I quickly separated from our group as we joined a friend of ours who lives and studies in Salamanca. It was great meeting her and she was was willing to show us around the best bars and clubs despite being ill. And so we were off for a really good night out. We gave it a kick start with a shot called diablo verde (green devil) which is basically absinth . I swear I stopped breathing for a bit. Serves me right for being so alchaholically-untrained. Shot after shot, bar after bar, and we were really having fun! I simply cannot remember to how many places we went, but they were all great. I quite liked Spanish night life to be honest. One good thing is the music they played, the other- the fact that you didn’t have entry fee or compulsory consumption. All a plus! We didn’t stay out too long. We were at the hostel just after four. After all we had to save some energy for tomorrow. But it was just such a good night!
The next morning we had to get up early enough so that we could have some more time to explore Salamanca. It was all going quite well until we found that somebody had thrown up in our toilet. This turned out to be a problem as if we did not clean it we were going to lose our 4 euro deposit. Well, as you can probably guess, nobody admitted to it, even though I am pretty sure it wasn’t any of the people staying in the room. I remember hearing people coming in and out after we came back after 4pm, but who knows… well, we lost our money and the hostel gained 40 euros. Needless to say how awfully cross we were at the person (whoever he/she was)! Anyway, once we were at the city centre we were all ok. We had about two ours to enjoy Salamanca. We dotted around, took some more pictures, bought souvernires and got some delicious biscuits from a shop the name of which I cannot remember, but the smell of which I shall never forget… mmm! We met in Plaza Mayor for a group pucture, but as always we had to wait patiently for some ‘lost’ people.
And so we were off for a not so exciting journey back to Coimbra, but a rather annoying one should I say! You’d think the same if you had two drunk poles behind your back who were constanly shouting and every second word of theirs began with 'k', but I shall not mention it as even remembering this makes my ears fill with pain and agony. But overall, I certainly was not disappointed of this trip and had the most wonderful time! We shall meet again soon Spain, but in Madrid!
We were really hoping for some sunshine on our last day in the beautiful Portuguese capital and so we got it… for a while. But I have to say it lasted for the significant part of the day i.e. our morning visit to Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Before that we had to pack our stuff and leave it with the owner of the hostel for safe keeping until our departure later that afternoon. Obviously we kept the roses for last night. It was long before noon when we reached the castle which is on the top of the Lisbon hill. We didn’t have any directions to start with, but just walking up the steep streets did the job for us as we eventually ended up in front of the castle gates. Even though I woke up in quite a rough mood (I could just sense the beginnings of a cold) I soon lightened up. The walk we had around the castle was, indeed, a treat and especially the views we got to see. Out of the many ‘miradouros’ (high terraces from where you can enjoy a panoramic view) this had to be the best one. One could simply sit down on the stone benches and marvel at Lisbon.
Walking all the way up the hill was all worth the effort and would definitely recommend visiting the castle to everyone. The views you will get from there will remain in your heart forever.
Next and final stop of the day was the Lisbon Oceanarium. As it is situated quite far from the city centre we had to reach it by using the underground. We were quite surprised when we exited the underground station as we found ourselves in a completely different environment. The old red-roofed houses in the city centre were replaced by high and modern type of buildings. It certainly felt as though we were in a completely different place. That is when we wished we could have stayed in Lisbon longer as we would have had the opportunity to explore this part of the city.
The Oceanarium was not far from the underground station and so we walked there. On the way we passed through the Park of the Nations, which bears this name, because you can find all world flags placed there in alphabetical order.
Of course we spent quite a long time snapping away pictures. It was about 2 pm when we reached the Oceanarium and we had our bus tickets booked for 5 pm, so we had to hurry up. It was good that we were going indoors as the wind had become stronger and grey clouds had started to gather, which evidently mean it was going to start raining at some point.
I quite liked how the Oceanarium was built and how the exhibitions were arranged. You started at the top and worked your way down in a spiral-like sort of manner. It was more or less the same in the National Aquarium in Plymouth, but I liked it better here. The difference here was that the oceanarium was built around a huge aquarium and so you got to see different parts of it on every level of the building. I was quite impressed even though I certainly wasn’t in the mood to share my impressions as my cold was taking over. I was so tired of it already, I just wanted to get on the bus and leave. In addition to this enjoyment we had to run quickly through the pouring rain on our way back to the underground station. Luckily, I had an umbrella. We went back to the hostel and grabbed our luggage and quickly left for the bus station. We arrived 10 minutes before the bus was due to leave and I queued for another 6 or 7 min to get some sandwiches (I could swear it took forever!). Well, we didn’t miss the bus and we arrived safely back in Coimbra with a bit of sadness, but lots of beautiful and fond memories of a very romantic weekend in Europe’s most enchanting capital.
Part II of our enchantingly romantic weekend in Lisbon continues with our return from Sintra and our galloping to Torre de Belem.The time lost in making decisions in Sintra could have cost us a lot as I had the tower on my list for the day as well as Castelo de S. Jorge, but the latter one eventually got left behind. By the time we arrived back in Lisbon the sun was beginning to set. That was our biggest fear as we wanted to see the monument till it was still daylight. Quite a challenge as Belem (the place where the tower is) proved to be quite away from the city center. I was being nervous and hasty and till now I cannot really understand how my friends put up with me. We hopped on the tram which took us the nearest to the tower for the excruciating price of 2.58 euros (or something like that) just one way! We certainly weren’t impressed, but our moods were soon to be lifted. The sun was setting quicker than I had hoped and despite me thinking it would spoil our enjoyment of the tower, we were in for a pleasant surprise…
The tower, built in the 16th century, was classified as a UNESCO world Heritage Site, played a significant role in the Portuguese military defense and is named one of Portugal’s Miracles.
The setting sun had embraced the tower in a warm and gentle hug. The sky was turning from day blue to a light evening pink. We ran to the tower (and I do mean ran) just in time to enjoy majestic view of the tower and we certainly weren’t disappointed. I would even like to think that despite my constant nagging to the others to hurry up we arrived there at the most perfect time possible. It was, i must admit, a very romantic moment. The grandeur of the tower was somewhat softened by the dying rays of the sun, which created a rather mysterious and intimate atmosphere. This was further emphasised by the glorious view that laid before us. The majestic Tagus river flowing into the ocean and a single boat seen in the distance, chasing time, chasing the sun…
We could not get enough of the view but we still had to go if we wanted to see the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in the remaining daylight. The Monastery was not far from the tower so we walked there. It is an impressive building to look at, no doubt. Built in the already familiar to us Gothic style, the monastery was originally the home of the Hieronymite religious order, but today, together with the Tower of Belem and the Monument to the Discoveries, stands as a symbol of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos where lies the tomb of the great Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.
The Monument to the Discoveries
And with this our sightseeing for the day ended. But before we headed back to town we had a short stop at Mc Donald’s as one of my friends was craving chips (Mc Donald’s chips). After that we hoped on the tram again where my friends were brave enough to ride without a ticket, whilst I tried scanning my metro card to see if it worked. And it did. Oh well. Anyway, we were back to see the Portuguese capital waking up from its afternoon siesta. I certainly must admit that Lisbon seems a lot livelier in the evening than in any other part of the day. Come to think of it, we’ve only truly got to know the city nighttime. And while we were enjoying the lights and sounds of Lisbon we were on the lookout for a place to eat. A cheap place to eat, that is. But since it was obvious that, to my friend’s despair, beer was 5 euros everywhere we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal in one of the restaurants in the main street. Waiters were already courting us and offering to show us their menus. We had a choice between the blue or the red tables. I don’t remember how I got to choose where we should eat, but I chose the blue tables, the only criteria being that the waiter was cute! And he really was! Unfortunately, he didn’t get to serve us as we sat in his colleague’s half. And the cute waiter really begged his colleague to let him serve us! Well, he was there still… We had some nice food, including two versions of bacalhau and I must admit that my friend’s bacalhau was better. Being customers of the restaurant we unwillingly became the target of beggars, musicians and people selling various stuff. A man selling flower offered us some but we refused. However… he soon came back to us handing out a red rose to each of us. And he didn’t ask for money! That was surprising. We looked around and we saw the lovely waiter smiling at us. It was all clear… In a way, this gesture made our evening and our stay, very romantic. Our spirits were soaring with happiness and delight as we left for our hostel. Even though it was our last night in Lisbon, tomorrow’s day seemed very promising.
9-10 am Saturday morning. Waking up to the tickling sounds of lively Lisbon. But they were not the unpleasant kind of sounds one would associate with a big city, let a alone, a capital city. They were inviting and pleasing.
It was our second day in Lisbon and I urged my friends to get up fairly early. We did not have a moment to lose. I had a busy day planned for us and so we had to be very organised. Unfortunately, we had to shower with cold water as we didn’t tell the owner there wasn’t any hot one. We were going to do that later on though.
What I had planned for today was a visit to one of Portugal’s most romantic and truly enchanting places- the small town of Sintra, where the hilltops are dotted with ancient and fairy-tale like palaces. In the words of Byron himself, ‘The glorious Eden’, this place invites the visitor to indulge in its mysterious atmosphere and it is a must- see for every tourist visiting Lisbon for more than 3 days. It is reachable by train (journey lasts under and hour), but one should allow a whole day dedicated only to Sintra. To compare, we only had a few hours. And as I was the guide in this case I could not get more impatient. We had to catch the train at the Rossio Station and even though I was eager to get there as early as possible, of course, we had to make the routine stop at Starbucks (which is in the station’s building) and a stop for a few morning cigarettes. I was happy when my friends had satisfied their needs as we were then allowed to proceed. Unfortunately, as it normally happens, my worst nightmare came true. What I wanted to avoid most was queuing for tickets, but there we stood with a long queue, only one counter open and the train leaving in 5 min. Of course we missed the early train so we had to wait 20 min for the next one to come. Queuing for tickets was dreadful as me and one of my friends joined the queue for the machines, while our other friend went to wait at the counter. Even though I had the confidence I could work with the machine, it confused me, but with some helped we managed.
And so, we were on our way to Sintra. Thank god! I was relieved and I coudn’t wait to get there. I knew my friends would appreciate it once we were there. As soon as we got to the place we got a map and made our way to the center.
The Town Hall
We walked along a long and winding street with statues, examples of modern art, on its right side. We made a small detour to Parque da Liberdade where hidden in between the rich flora were enormous statues of various animals: a frog, giraffe, lizard, rooster etc. It felt like one was in a fantasy land and even though we were having lots of fun in the park we had to continue. From the distance we saw the towers of the National Palace the towers of which resembled chimneys of a factory. It was not the most attractive of palaces, but it certainly holds a lot of history.
The National Palace
If you look up in the other direction, you could see the remains of an old Moorish castle nestled on top of the hill.
Once we were at the main square we sat down at a cafe. It was then when I noticed how very popular and touristy Sintra was. There were buses full of tourists! It was also then when I realised that the castles were not all at the same place, near each other (no idea as to why I thought it would be like that). The palaces were reachable by bus which was good until we discovered we were waiting at the wrong bus stop. Panic was surging up my body as we ran quickly to the other bus stop. We decided to visit the Pena Palace, the most famous of them all. The bus journey cost us 5 euro and one of my friends seriously hesitated, but, thankfully, we managed to convince her quickly. The bus took us up a very long and winding way making a stop first at the Moorish Castle and then at Pena. We had lost valuable time and we were very tight on schedule, but visiting Pena Palace was one thing we couldn’t miss. We went for the cheaper ticket which included a visit to the Pena park and the courtyard of the palace, but not the building itself. To be fair, I have visited many a palaces and I did not mind missing the interior of that one. For one thing, the park and the exterior were a treat.
The Pena Palace
Built in the 1840s, the palace is rich not only in colours but in its combination of arches, domes, ramparts and turrets. The detail in the ornaments is remarkable and the Arab influence in the architecture of this magical building is quite visible.
After admiring for a while the wondrous construction and the views from its balconies we decided to have a walk around the park. It is, indeed, one of the most beautiful parks I have been to and one can really sense magic in the air. The park is home to a variety of trees and plants imported from the former Portuguese colonies. As the park covered a huge area, we were not able to visit all of its points of interest. We went to the Temple of the Columns, The Queens Table and the Giant Warrior. We wanted to reach the Queen’s throne, but we got lost on the way. The park’s highest point and the highest point of the Sintra Hills is Cruz Alta, which we would have loved to visit, but time did not allow us. There was much more to see, but Lisbon was beckoning us to return and continue our quest.
The Temple of the Columns
There is a lot that remains unseen for us in Sintra which is a good enough reason to come back one day. Apart from The Pena Palace there is The Regaleira Estate, The Monserrate Palace with its astounding gardens, The Moorish Castle and, of course, Sintra itself. I can only hope to have the chance to finish the fairy-tale walk I started in this enchanting place.