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Friday, April 13, 2012

Câmara Municipal de Sintra

The next day was another early start - we decided to take the earliest bus at 6:00 a.m. to Lisbon and from there continue with a train to our next destination, Sintra. It worked out well. We went down from our hotel in Evora and immediately got a taxi at the square so we didn't have to drag our luggages to the bus station. Surely, we were early enough and the station hasn't opened yet. The ticket for the nearly two-hour trip to Lisbon cost €12.50 with Rede Expressos. The bus from this line stops at Sete Rios station where you can easily walk to the subway. From Lisbon you could take the Sintra line of the Urban Network. The ride from Sete Rios to Sintra cost 2€ per person and the train goes directly there.

We arrived quite early in Sintra and our hotel, Monte da Lua was conveniently located just accross the street from the small and charming station which is the end of the line. Better yet, we were able to check in early. (we advised them of our early arrival and everything worked out just fine)


This small hotel has parquet floorings, very tidy and nice. It has its charms. The room costs 60 € per night without breakfast. We had the view of the valley, a small private bathroom, a small water boiler for the daily instant coffee or tee and a small tv. Basically next door is a chinese restaurant and accross the street is a pizzeria (pizza hut).


The hotel lies ideally next to the station and despite its proximity, it is relatively quiet. The bus stop was just a few meters away. The old town center is also just about 15-20  minutes walk from there. All buses passing there are going to various castles and places of interest in Sintra. We actually planned to visit a few coastal town on that day but unfortunately we were not able to find the right stop of those busses going to these places so we decided instead to visit the castles first. We immediately got on the bus enroute to Palácio Nacional da Pena. This colorful fairytale like castle along with the Sintra's Cultural Landscape and the sorrounding castle were enscribed to the UNESCO's World Heritage List. We've realized the rush when the bus stopped at the next bend where a throng of about thirty elderly tourists got in, all on the way to the castle. Eventually we had to give up our seats. The zigzag road up was quite narrow and standing in the bus made it a bit uncomfortable. We finally arrived at the entrance of the castle and immediately run for the ticket booth faster than the group of elderly people. I feel so silly.

We've read that the old road up to the castle which is located on top of the mountain is pleasant. You can stop by at some beautiful gardens, but we decided to take the shuttleride up as it was easier to walk down than up. I needed to conserve my energy. One would readily realize that the place is a huge attraction, even for the first time visitor in Portugal. It's already busy even in spring. The castle is on the hill, colorful and unique. It is really impressive.


We first had a coffee at the small outdoor cafe in the castle on the terrace. Why was I not surprised that the coffee I've ordered was actually an "espresso" ? oh meu Deus". While most of the tourist rushed inside to the castle, we decided to first go around. There was the narrow path that rings around the castle building and where it goes down steeply. Since I'm a bit acrophobic myself, I already feel my legs wobbly. I avoided looking down.  I was a bit. The view was really breathtaking.


Then we went inside the castle where you're already cooped up in the pretty narrow stairs and onto the aisle and that's only in April when it is still not the peak season. Imagine being pushed in such a crowded room. Talking about the carrying capacity of the place, it would be good to admit perhaps a maximum of 10 visitors in every 10 minutes.Maybe they would have thought about lessening the crowding already. When we got to the queens dressing room, I was a little bit surprised to see a bust of the queen and couldn't help make a remark about how it looks like Susan Boyle. It seems the people behind (whom I've gathered were english) overheard me and it elicited a quiet laugh. It was quite nice inside but I was happy to be outside again.

We wanted to make the most of our visit to the castle and grounds so it was decided that we climb up to the summit of "Cruz Alta", the high cross which was on the opposite side of the castle. First we come to the "Temple of Columns" and then went further up passing by the "Queen's Table" and the statue of the Warrior on the higher rocks. The summit has a great view of the palace, the valley and the sea. On our way down, we passed by the "Queen's Fern Valley" with giant ferns, the collection of camellias, and then to the fountain of small birds in an islamic style pavilion. The pavilion has a spherical dome with an inscription in arabic. The tiles are similar to those of the main facade of the palace. From there we went by the "Valley of the Lakes" and out to the Gatekeepers's House. There was a small cafe next to it so we decided to take a little rest and got some coffee.


I was already lamenting about my blistered feet but we still wanted to see the "Moorish Castle". It was actually a short walk from the gates. The Moorish fortification dates back to the eight century and was conquered by the then King Afonso Henriques. It was another walk up from the main entrance and we immediately went to the walls which perhaps reminds us of the great wall of china. There were narrow steps along the wall and it got the best of me. My acrophobia was quite perhaps intensified by the strong winds that seems to push me away. Looking down was a bit of a nightmare and I didn't want to go up to the top. My companion was goading me to come up but I refused. Adding to the drama , it suddenly started to rain heavily and became foggy and we're lucky enough to find some rocks to hide under. We realized how far up we were on the mountain and you can hardly see down on the ravine. It was a great experience though, with the weather changed from clear sunny to stormy and foggy. There was not much to see on the ruins of the moorish castle but the experience plus the weather really paid off our efforts.


After the rain let up, we started our descent back to the town. We decided to go down on the other trail way and not the way where we came up. It was still foggy but the trails were properly marked and one can see the efforts in maintaining the place. The road was not too far but it took me a bit longer due to my blistered feet. One can actually take a bus from the entrance to the moorish castle but we took the other way. I thought, what the heck, charge it to experience. Then we came on to the busy street and center of Sintra where the Palacio Nacional de Sintra was also located. We made a little break and ate some bread that we bought in one of the stores. I bought a really delicious Sintra specialty, the queijadas de sintra.


Then we had to find out where the bus to Azenhas do Mar and Praia Grande leaves because we planned to visit the coastal areas. The bus station was at Portela de Sintra which was next to the train station (portela de sintra), a bit farther down the road or one station before the end of the line.

Now that we knew where to go the next day, it was time for dinner and we went just next door to the chinese restaurant. 

It was a very long day and we were asleep in no time.

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