portugal: a foggy & crowded sintra

It seemed it was impossible to get to our hotel in Sintra late Thursday afternooon.  The GPS led us to one-way streets going the wrong way. We drove around in a huge circle and tried in vain to call the hotel for guidance.  When we finally got through, we were informed that the GPS hadn’t caught up with the town’s recently altered street configurations.

We checked in at Chalet Relogio Guesthouse, and then walked downhill into Sintra-Vila proper.  Sintra is a fairy-tale town with pastel-hued manors and villas; it has enticed, over the centuries, moon-worshiping Celts, castle-building Moors, and Portuguese royals bent on impressing with over-the-top palaces and gardens. Dewy forests teeming with moss and lichens grow with exuberance on the rippling mountains.

I had come here in July of 2013 on a solo trip and had experienced moments of wonder, especially at the Castelo dos Mouros.  I had insisted my husband would love it.  I couldn’t have been more mistaken.  I hated it the second time around. Maybe we should never return to the same place twice.

That first evening was vaguely promising. It was gloomy but not raining, and we could see the 9th-century ruined Castelo dos Mouros up on the hill.  It was the last view we would have of it.  On clear days, to climb on its ramparts is to discover sweeping views from Sintra’s palace-dotted landscape to the gleaming Atlantic.  However, there was no point in climbing it the next day when the fog was so thick we couldn’t see our own noses.

We shivered in the main square beside flaming patio heaters while imbibing in beer, Sangria and olives at Adega das Caves. We wandered around the town, admiring the Palácio Nacional de Sintra with its twin conical chimneys.  We took a long walk to the non-touristy part of town to find Restaurante Sopa d’Avo, a local Portuguese eatery that I had loved in 2013.  I ate the same thing I had five years ago and it compared favorably to the first: Leeks a Bras – “Leeks mixed with tiny French fries and involved in scrambled eggs.” The woman owner was thrilled that I’d returned to her restaurant after five years and that I’d written about her restaurant in my blog.

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Our only view of Castelo dos Mouros.  This was my favorite place when I visited in 2013, but we didn’t bother to visit this time because of the fog.  If you’d like to see my favorite place in Sintra in 2013, you can visit: sintra’s castelo dos mouros.

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the only view we’d have of Castelo dos Mouros – courtesy of my husband

The Palácio Nacional de Sintra, a World Heritage Site of Moorish origins, was first expanded by Dom Dinis (1261-1325), enlarged by João I in the 15th century, then renovated again my Manuel I in the following century.  We didn’t go inside this time, but if you’d like to read more about it, you can check out my account of my first visit in 2013: sintra: palácio nacional de sintra.

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The fabulous breakfast spread at the Chalet on Friday morning didn’t lighten the dark mood that descended on me when we woke up to a blanket of thick fog. Intermittent rain made the fog doubly uninviting.  We bundled up in layers and raincoats and went outside to try to catch a bus to Palácio Nacional da Pena.  Several buses passed us by, but we luckily caught a ride with a tuk-tuk.

Rising from a wooded peak, Palácio Nacional da Pena can be the stuff of fantasy, with its carnival of onion domes, Moorish keyhole gates, and coral and lemon crenelated towers.  According to Lonely Planet Portugal, “Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, the artist-husband of Queen María II, commissioned Prussian architect Ludwig von Eschwege in 1840 to build the Bavarian-Manueline epic.”  I didn’t know who any of these people were, and by the time I was finished with the horrible experience of visiting here, I could have cared less.

We stood in a long line, not clearly marked, and found after way too long that this line was for people already possessing tickets. We tried to buy tickets on our phones and finally met with success, but by then we’d given up our spot in the ticket-possessing line and had moved to the non-ticket line.   We moved back to the end of the ticketed-tourist line. Slowly we got in through the gate.  Then we joined another slow-moving queue to walk through the palace, mainly just to escape the pouring rain. The crowds were herded through at a snail’s pace. There was no way to push through quickly, and no way to go back.  We were stuck for the duration.  The only thing I enjoyed was staying dry for the time we were inside.

When we finally escaped Pena Palace two hours later, we walked around the Parque da Pena, a garden filled with tropical plants, redwoods and ferns, camellias, rhododendrons and lakes.  By then we were walking through a light drizzle. We saw swans, a Western Red Cedar, the Fonte dos Passarinhos, a High Cross, and Lake of the Shell.

It was nearly 3:30 by the time we got warm and cozy in a restaurant in town, Tasca Saloia, for a much-needed lunch.

A hoola-hooping busker entertained us as we walked toward Quinta da Regaleira.  There we stood in another line, but luckily it wasn’t too long. There, we wandered through the dense foliage of the gardens, checking out fountains, grottoes, lakes and underground caverns. It was no longer raining, and the fog had lifted just a little, but we didn’t have much patience for sightseeing by this time.

Instead, we went to seek dinner at another place I’d eaten in 2013, Culto da Tasca, but sadly it was closed.  On our way back to town, we dropped into Restaurante Apeadeiro, where we immediately turned away the bread, olives and cheese, which were never free offerings but ended up as items calculated on the bill. The owner snatched them away as if insulted. After that it took us forever to get waited on.  A talkative English-speaking Portuguese guy next to us was full of advice about what we should order. We could only see the heads of the barmaids because the floor was sunken behind the bar. The barstools were so tilted they looked like they’d topple over backwards.  An inebriated pregnant-looking guy in an orange t-shirt kept wandering into the bar from the back room and looking around absently and then plodding back.  Mike and I started laughing and couldn’t stop.

In this strangely askew place, the meal was surprisingly good: garlic bread and soup for Mike and prawns fried in garlic with French fries for me. We slammed down nearly a whole bottle of wine and then caught a taxi in the rain back to our chalet.

I couldn’t wait to move on from Sintra the next morning.

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If you’re curious as to how Palácio Nacional da Pena looks on a sunny summer day, you can check out my first visit in 2013: sintra: palácio nacional da pena.

Parque da Pena is a tropical garden filled swans, lakes and special monuments.  The High Cross was built at the highest point on the Sintra hills on the order of San João in 1522.  Ferdinand II replaced it with a larger cross, and when that was destroyed by lightning in 1997, it was finally replaced with a replica of the original in 2008. Lake of the Shell was probably built in the 16th century by monks and gets its name from a small niche overlaid by shells. The Western Red Cedar is a 35-meter-tall tree with a pyramidal canopy.  The lower branches curve downwards toward the soil where they take root before suddenly returning to a vertical position. The tree was utilized by indigenous Indian populations on the northwest coast of America, with its roots used to make baskets and its bark clothing.  It also took on medicinal and spiritual properties.  Fonte dos Passarinhos, or Little Birds Fountain, is the entryway to the Garden of Camellias and the Queen’s Fern Valley.

We were some very miserable tourists on this day.

After visiting Parque de Pena, we went back into town, where we had a lovely lunch at Tasca Saloia.

Quinta da Regaleira was created by Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini under the orders of Brazilian coffee tycoon, António Carvalho Monteiro, also known as Monteiro dos Milhões (Moneybags Monteiro), according to Lonely Planet Portugal.

My visit here in summer of 2013 was so much prettier: sintra: quinta da regaleira.

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Quinta da Regaleira

Walking through town in the evening and the askew Restaurante Apeadeiro.

*Thursday-Saturday, November 1-3, 2018*

*Friday steps: 20,222 (8.57 miles)*

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“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.  In this case, one of my intentions for my trip to Portugal was to pick five random verbs each day and use them in my travel essay: 1) try, 2) compare, 3) calculate, 4) experience, 5) slam. √

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, July 8 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, July 9, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!