Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 189: Sintra: The Ultimate Day Trip from Lisbon

I still haven't finished watching Zeitgeist because Portugal has been demanding all of my attention. I spent all of yesterday touring around Porto with a group of CouchSurfers lead by a local named Fernando. I've met some prolific CSers but nothing like this. Fernando has hosted over 1,200 people! His tour was as enjoyable as it was exhausting. I couldn't believe a 63 year old could climb hills that fast. I met some outstanding CSers and look forward to keeping in touch with them. After these shenanigans yesterday I'm tired and taking today easy, walking around Porto with my laptop and book, blogging and sipping on Niezsche. Speaking of blogging...

One of Sintra's two palaces, the Sintra National Palace.

If you don't like climbing hills, don't come to Portugal. Lisboa is famous for its seven hills and Porto's geography is like a closeup of an angst-y teen's face. As if I hadn't punished myself enough, before I left Lisboa I took a trip to Sintra, a quaint nearby town known for its castles (built on top of hills).

Anywhere good enough for a king is good enough for me. Over the years a number of Portuguese kings have lived and vacationed in Sintra and as soon as I got off the train it was easy to see why.

First sight when getting off the train was the Moorish Castle.
It was built on top of a hill for maximum protection.

Sintra is slightly less than an hour's train ride from Lisboa and a return ticket costs around €4,50. Combined admission to both the castle and palace will run you €14 and bus tickets to keep your spleen from exploding while you climb the hill are well worth the extra few euros.

One of many small stone structures around the castle.

While I'm sure there are more, I know of three main sights to see in Sintra. There's the old stone castle, Castle of the Moors, the King's Palace, Pena National Palace and a second palace, the Sintra National Palace, built in a classical Portuguese style. We saw the Moorish castle and the Pena Palace, along with its exquisite gardens, but after that we were pretty tired.

"We?" Yes, I had the good fortune of exploring with another CSer from the Ukraine. Her name is Yulia and she is lovely. The day before we loafed around Lisboa and now we found ourselves immersed in the lush green views and royal history of Sintra.

The weather was simply great. I was thankful.
At least if you had to stand guard you had a nice view.
Precarious stone steps.
Yulia made fun of me for taking so many photos...
...I said she didn't take enough – we found a balance between the two of us.

Looking out over the coast of Portugal to the ocean was worth a visit alone, but experiencing the inside of the palace was my favorite. I wish I had photos to show you but they didn't allow photography inside. After crossing the drawbridge and walking up yet another hill, we entered a courtyard and began to tour getting a first-hand glimpse of the lifestyle of Portuguese royalty.

The Pena National Palace as seen from the Moorish Castle.
I couldn't decide between the two photographs. 

Excess. Detail to the extreme. We admired room after room with exquisitely painted ceilings and traditional Portuguese tile work. The furniture was phenomenal. Every room was decorated differently, some full of silver, others full of wood. Some housed paintings that King Carlos I created. I couldn't help imagine not only what it would be like to live in this castle (cold in the winter), but how being surrounded by such masterfully made objects would affect your personality. Similar to how listening to classical music makes you smarter, being surrounded by such tasteful objects from a young age, one would have to glean something.

Architectually, the castle is a masterpiece.
It was originally built by the Germans.
I loved the multi-colored walls, crenelations, and gargoyles.
A lonely statue on eternal watch.
Not sure who this was supposed to be. Kind of looks like Drew.
Time doesn't matter when you live in a castle.
There were these lovely little flowers growing in the stone nooks.
We walked around the edge of the castle for an excellent view.
Yulia was so happy.
Here's the Moorish castle from Pena National Palace.
I love the light in this shot, maybe I'll paint it.
"Yes ladies, he's single!"
A great place for the King's morning coffee.
Many windows meant plenty of light inside.
After the tour I snapped a quick pic. Nice view.
A panorama from the Moorish Castle.
Huge panorama from the Pena National Palace.

My favorite pieces were made from teak wood and beautifully carved with all of these holes cut in them creating a beautiful negative space. I couldn't fathom how long it would take to make one of these pieces, and there was an entire set of tables, chairs, dressers, and book cases. Influenced by my countless hours spent in Pratt's metal shop, I also imagined what it would be like to be a craftsman making works for the king. Infinite attention to detail, being able to make everything perfect because money was no issue. The complete opposite of our consumer society today.

The garden/jungle in front of the palace was amazing.
Walking through I felt like I was in Fern Gully
I enjoy seeing different types of trees in different climates.
It was amazing, I'm sure it had to be planted on purpose.

The combination of the scenery and having a traveling companion was refreshing. It's been nearly seven months since I've left home and I'm experiencing an odd mix of homesickness, excitement for being alive, and loneliness. I'm loving every second of being in Europe but I miss my friends and family. Oddly enough, I know when I return to the States I'm going to miss Europe and traveling. I can't think about this anymore or I might go insane. I suppose I'll just enjoy my beer. Thanks for reading, everyone, means a lot.


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