After a 20 hour snooze (not really, but close), George awoke refreshed! I had just about given up on his getting up and was headed out the door to seek my own adventures. He wanted to go to Sintra, which was on my list of desired sites. I was thinking it was an all-day adventure (which is best) and we were already heading into the noon hour. But part of Sintra is better than no Sintra, so I was all in for the trip.
Sintra is close to Lisbon, only about a 30 minute train ride. Fortunately for us, our hotel is on the backside of the train station that goes there. You might think it would be noisy next to a railway train station, but the trains run underground in the city and we never, ever heard a sound. We simply had to go out our door, walk about 100 yards and we were in the train station.
Another convenience in Lisbon is the type of transportation passes. You can purchase reloadable cards and buy as many days as you like and cover whatever type of territory. They also have a Lisboa Card, which not only gives you transport all over the city, but admission to most of the museums. We opted not to purchase this one, because as decrepit seniors (too close to the truth, I’m afraid), we are entitled to discounts at all the sites, up to 50% off. It was a better value for us to pay the senior price. Hooray for Old Age!
The train trip to Sintra is included in the pass we purchased, so off we went! The train was crowded. Really crowded. Concerned that George couldn’t stand for 30 minutes, and our day was over before it began, I shouldn’t have worried. A young local sprang to his feet and George had a seat. The train makes several stops on the way, and I soon also had a seat next to him.
Because the day was marching on, we had decided to eat in Sintra. As we exited the station, a number of private guides came up to ask if we needed assistance. We have traveled to a several countries where a mob of “guides” come up and it is like walking a frightening gauntlet to get away from them. Lima, Peru was the worst; it actually was a little scary. But these guides had a new shtick. They said they were happy to answer questions and we did not have to hire them. They pointed out restaurants, paths to the castle, how to catch a bus. And if you wanted to hire them, okay. We inquired about taking a bus to the castle high above us. The city is built on a very steep mountainside and this was not going to be a walking experience for us. Hungry, we decided to think out our options while eating.
We were heading to a recommended restaurant, when a charming lady guide approached. She spoke excellent English, and showed a private day tour of Sintra with a coastal tour. George really perked up at the words “car” and “private.” The price was actually quite reasonable and we hired her. She immediately turned and summoned a young, pretty girl and introduced us to Filipa, who would be our guide. George really perked up, because she was quite lovely to look at and very personable. She walked us to another recommended restaurant (they surely get a kickback) and said she would meet us after we had finished lunch.
The restaurant was so darned tasty. We had sandwiches and George had a piece of apple pie. It had a custard topping, instead of crust. Oh. My. Goodness. This was the best pie ever. I was going to take one bite, and ended up having several more. George is always generous about sharing – sadly, it is not a trait I enjoy. Touch my pie? Not a chance, sucker. But I appreciate George’s generosity. He’s a better man, than I. However, I am proud to report that I am still pastry free after 48 hours. I’m not counting the pie bites!
Off to see Sintra! We cruised and climbed the incredibly tiny roads and I tried not to gasp as our driver narrowly missed healthy hikers on their way to the castle. That alone made me happy that I wasn’t walking. We even encountered a couple of motorhomes. Those drivers had to be in a full body sweat.
Up and up to the very top of the mountain. Sintra was the playground for the rich during the past. And it still is. I can’t begin to imagine the price on some of the homes, although they would probably seem like a good price compared to the States. The number of tourists in recent years has driven up the cost of living for locals. They seem inexpensive to us, but their income is proportionally less. Our guide said their home used to cost 200 Euros a month to rent and now costs 400 Euros ($443). It is great value for a retired person coming to stay, or live, but difficult for residents who haven’t seen their income rise at the same rate.
Up to the castle! The grounds of the castle has 500 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and woodland paths. It is a fairyland, fit for Tinkerbell. There is a gorgeous winding path up to the Pena Castle, and I was yearning to take it. But we were already mid-afternoon and there wasn’t a way that George could manage it, so up to the main gate we went. There is still a climb from there, so we took the shuttle, which drove us to the front door. Just envision a bunch of old people elbowing their way onto the shuttle, using canes as weapons to capture a seat. Much like the knights of old defending the castle from invaders.
Even at the doorway, you still climb up into the castle itself. The colors are a vivid orange and yellow, which gives it a surreal atmosphere. It was too much for George, so we found a small guard tower with a bench. It was just over the front gate of the castle and there were removable plugs, presumably to pour boiling oil over unwelcome guests.
What a place, and the views were astounding. I’m not going to bother to put a picture of the landscape; it doesn’t do it justice. I should have done a panorama shot, but even then the emotional feeling of being on top of the world doesn’t translate.
Back down in the shuttle and into our guide car. And George was pooped. We were supposed to tour at least one more palace, but he refused. And I freely admit that I was not feeling very warm and loving at that moment. Especially when I saw the next site from our car.
Filipa was nice enough to pull over and show me a map of the grounds and all the wonderful things inside that we were missing. The gardens have all kinds of secret spots used for Masonic rituals. Oh well, next time!
As George was done with castles, we headed up the coast. Portuguese beaches are simply the best. Beautiful, scenic and the roads easy to navigate. At least where we went! World class surfing is up north, but at every stop there were surfers out riding the waves.
The sun was setting and we ended our day in Cascais, another beautiful tourist town for the better paid people of the world. George really loved this place, but as it was our final destination of the day, that might have had something to do with it. We were originally going to take a train back to Lisbon from this location. As Lisbon has five train stations, we soon found out it did not go back to the one near our hotel. George was totally worn out at this point. Filipa, sweet girl that she is, volunteered to drive us back to Sintra so we could take the train station closest to our hotel.
It was a magical day, even if I was feeling pouty about not being a Disney princess at every castle. With perfect weather, beautiful sites, a great guide and even an old fart who can’t help it, I am not going to complain. Besides, tomorrow he will be really tired and I can explore on my own! Isn’t it just terrible to think that? I had better not look in the mirror…….