Monday, October 12, 2015

Last day in Portugal

Fountain in Rossio, Lisbon
Yesterday, I made a trip to the west of Lisbon, to Sintra and vicinity. Sintra is a resort town that was once a get-away place for royalty (Moorish, Portuguese, and others), but that is now a popular destination for the unwashed masses. Some half-dozen palaces sit in and atop the steep, woody hills around the village, connected by narrow, winding roads clogged with tour buses, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Upon arrival at Sintra, by the morning train from Lisbon, I signed on to a bus tour with a company whose name I can't remember. It was a hop-on/hop-off gig. That is, you can ride the bus around to the various sights, get off at any place that appeals, see what you will, then hop back on the bus when it comes around again. 

To visit all the sites in Sintra would require a Herculean effort, even had I more than the one day I'd allotted for it. I've found that, even if you're a meticulous planner (which I am not), travel often requires snap decisions. You make a choice and you go with it, for better or worse. So, realizing that there was more to see than time to spend, I took the advice of a tour guide and selected the Palacio da Regaleira as my first destination.

The mansion of Palacio da Regaleira
Palacio da Regaleira is an estate built by the wealthy eccentric Carvalho Monteiro in the first decade of the 20th century. Monteiro wanted an estate that reflected his many interests, including alchemy, architecture, and other fields of study.

Ornate lintel in the mansion
The resulting grounds are a a paradise for Dungeons and Dragons players. A maze of grottoes, towers, tunnels, and ponds, with an impressive if diminutive chapel in the midst. I spent a good hour and a half exploring the many narrow, spiraling staircases and meandering paths and found the experience to be rewarding, although at times my patience wore thin. At every turn the path was choked with umbrella-bearing tourists, cliques of people standing about, fiddling with their smart phones, fiddling with their cameras, getting in the way.

Moss-clad turret
It rained, off and on, as I made my way around the grounds and I was footsore by the time I made my way back to the bus stop to await my tour bus.

Along the path

Spiral staircase descends to caves

Grotto/duck pond

Intricate architecture
The bus took me further west, passing several castles along the way. I intended to ride up to the last stop on the route, where the Pena National Palace awaited. It is Sintra's premier tourist destination and said to be quite beautiful.

Sights along the way
But before the bus came there, we emerged from the densely wooded hills, onto a windswept open highland that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean: Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe.

Lovers at the beach

Lighthouse in the fog

Rocky Portuguese coast

Windswept highland

Rugged and rocky


Cabo da Roca

The open vistas and the mild temperature were so inviting after close-in Lisbon, with her narrow streets and endless row houses, that I made a snap decision to get off the bus and enjoy the view of the Atlantic in lieu of visiting Pena Palace. I learned long ago that, as a traveler, you should always assume that you will return one day. It relieves you of the pressure to see everything you want to see and allows you to enjoy the things that you have time to see.

And so, I spent another hour or two hiking around the heights above the vast Atlantic, enjoying the sea air and the relative solitude. I had a lunch of bread and fish soup at the restaurant and then caught the bus for a ride to the train station, thence back to Lisbon. Pena Palace will have to wait for my next visit.

Today is my last day in Portugal. This time around anyway. Tonight I catch the night train to Madrid, there to visit El Prado and El Escorial and see what I might see of that grand city.

In a matter of hours, I'll say farewell to Lisbon with her pastel-colored houses and brick streets. It's been good.

1 comment:

A Borrowed Life said...

Thanks for a great reead