Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sintra, Portugal—Day 271

Today I caught the train to Sintra, a beautiful small town (and Unesco World Heritage Site) just 45 minutes from Lisbon. I headed to the train station where the train was supposed to leave from and found it to be closed and, along with another older British couple, were redirected to a different train station to catch it from there which meant back tracking on the metro.

I made it to the station and hopped on the next train to Sintra, arriving just as the sun was coming out. After taking a slightly wrong detour from the train station, I made it to the main road and walked to the historical center where I came upon the most gorgeous sky combined with beautiful hillside historical homes on lush hillsides.

I walked along the main road and came upon the Palacio Nacional de Sintra which has two huge white conical kitchen chimneys which distinguishes the palace from any other building I have ever seen before. The palace itself was beautiful both on the outside and on the inside as I discovered by taking a tour of the rooms.

After visiting the Palace, I went out and, after running into the British couple again, sat down to wait out the torrential downpour that had begun. Clouds and fog poured in and my hopes of heading up to the castle ruins on top of the mountainside overlooking Sintra were, well, ruined for a bit since it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to see any views once I made it to the top. So I waited for a while for the rain to let up and finally decided to start walking once I put on my rain coat and set off with my umbrella. Luckily the bus pulled up right as I started walking so I hopped on, not really knowing where it went, and was pleased to find that it was taking me right up to the top of the mountain! The rain was letting up and the blue skies were coming in just as we made our way up the mountain (which was quite an adventure since the bus driver seemed to be going at a terrific speed for such a huge bus and such a small windy road—let’s just say my eyes were shut and my grip was tight on the seat) and I decided to get off at the Palacio Nacional da Pena which is just above the Castelo dos Mouros (the castle ruins) and then had to take a tram up to the Palace. The Pena National Palace is the craziest building—looks almost like something form a fairy tale slash Disney concoction but I found it fascinating. It was built in 1840 by a Prussian architect and is all sorts of amazing colors and has all sorts of crazy embellishments to it. The inside is just as neat, with the rooms remaining in their original state as to when royalty lived in them which is quite interesting.

After visiting the Palace, I walked back down through the Pena Park back down to the main road that the castle ruins were on. I had to take refuge at various points from the rain that had started up again but made it down modestly soaked. I then walked a little ways back up the hill to the Castel dos Mouros (the castle ruins) and walked around the grounds for a bit, clamoring up to the top to look out over Sintra down below.

I then walked all the way back down to the town center via a footpath at the base of the castle ruins and headed back to the train station after resting my feet for a bit. The train took me back to Lisbon (where I missed my stop but luckily it was the second to last stop so I just went to the last stop where the train turned around again and took me back) and made it back to my hotel. I dropped off my heavy backpack and set out in search of dinner, this time walking down to the main Rossio area instead of taking the subway. The downpour started again and so I rushed into a Brazilian restaurant (the kind where they have the meat all on display and you say—I’ll have a piece of salmon and they go whack off a chunk of salmon off of the fish for you right in front of you) and ate to my heart’s content before heading back to the hotel.