October 23, 2016:
Friday night we arrived in Lisbon, beat but in one piece. Actually, our travels were pleasantly uneventful. We arrived to steady rainfall, and took a cab to our hotel in the Carmo area of Lisbon, sort of between Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods. It is a lovely area, with steep winding streets paved in cobblestones, with graceful trees lining many quaint squares. Our hotel is in avery old area of Lison which was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1755 which virtually leveled Lisbon. In fact, you can see the remains of the ruins of the Cormo Convent from our window, as well as several castles and palaces on the hills of Lisbon.
After a pleasant dinner in our hotel, the Lisboa Carmo, we hit the sack. Yesterday morning, we woke to find the rain gone temporarily. We had a tour scheduled to take us to the nearby areas of Sintra and Cascais. Once again, we booked this tour with “Your Friend in Lisbon” (yourfriendinlisbon.com) who had given us an excellent experience when we were here three years ago.
First, we headed northwest to the town Sintra to see the two palaces there; the Pena Palace and the National Palace. Sintra was the traditional summer home of the royalty and nobility of Portugal, being a lovely microclimate which stays much cooler that of Lisbon. The area was formerly occupied by the Moors, so the National Palace dates back to that time. As we approached the town of Sintra, we entered a fog bank, which increased as we went further up the mountain.
Our first stop of the day was at the Pena Palace.In the early 1800s, the then Queen of Portugal , Maria II, married a Bavarian prince, Ferdinando, as her consort. Although it was an arranged marriage, the two fell deeply in love. Fernando bought a whole mountain in the Sintra area to construct a summer palace for Queen Maria reminiscent of Bavarian. Since she was continuously pregnant virtually her whole marriage (bearing 11 children), it was obvious she was not going to have time to explore Bavaria herself.
One of the coolest features of the area of Sintra is that Ferdinand completely reforested the mountain with trees from all over the world. Apparently, if you were a Portuguese ambassador in those days, you had to both do your diplomatic duties, and collect trees to send home.
The palace built by Ferdinand is a whimsical collection of architectural features and bright colors. With all those children to please, he also incorporated lots of fun features such as alligator and gargoyle downspouts.
In keeping with Portugal’s Moorish tradition, there are also lots of tiled façades and rooms, and Moorish arches.
Then there is the Triton gate, crowned by its archway which looks like a coral reef!
While we were visiting the palace, the clouds moved in and out, sometimes giving us a brief glimpse of the Atlantic coast.
Then the fog and clouds moved back in and started to pour rain. Hence, we got to see how the fun downspouts really work!
After having survived the fog and the rain at the Palacio do Pena, we went down to the actual town of Sintra, and saw the National Palace of Portugal. From the town you could look up and occasionally see the Pena Palace and also an old Moorish castle on the top of the mountain. You could also see the luxurious country estates built by the Portuguese nobility surrounding the town. Many of these were also built in the Bavarian style, so you sort of feel like you are in the Alps.
The National Palace is more reminiscent of a hunting lodge, and our guide, Elsa, told us that it was considered to be the “man cave” of the Portuguese nobility. In fact, Portugal’s penultimate king, Carlos, kept both his wife and his mistress ensconced in different parts of the house. I thought the most interesting feature of the palace were the immense chimneys in the kitchens which looked like giant dunce caps, but allowed for huge spits to operate over raging fires set on the floor of the kitchen.
Sintra is still a tiny town and as the day wore on, the tour busses and throngs of tourists threatened to overwhelm it. Accordingly, we decided to hop back in the car and head for the coast. We took the coast road down from Sintra (N247) which provided a very scenic drive through the town of Colares (which used to be a wine growing region). The terrain changes very suddenly from forest to beach, and goes through the town of Guincho, which is a very famous surfing town. We stopped in a cute restaurant here right on the sea, but the waves were so big, no one was braving them.
We headed further down the coast and made a stop at the famous blowhole called Boca do Inferno (mouth of Hell). Finally we wound our way back through the seaside resort town of Cascais, which warrants a longer visit in the future.
After a short rest back at our hotel, Jim and I walked through our Carmo neighborhood and stopped for dinner at one of the many restaurants there. However, our guide had recommended a brewery restaurant, Cervercería Trinidade, and we enjoyed an excellent meal there. Tomorrow our cruise departs from Lisbon, and we are very excited to see our new home for the next three weeks!