The last week has been a whirlwind of sightseeing and activity. Between the two cities of Lisbon and Sintra, we have seen three castles, one museum, countless churches, several squares, many vantage view points, three gardens, one monastery, one tower, and many monuments, plus climbed a mountain, saw a fado performance, and had yet another poop encounter with a bird. It’s exhausting just writing all that out!
Not to worry, I won’t go into all the details of everything we did, just some of the highlights.
To begin, we left Lagos, located on the southern coast, and travelled 302 km inland north to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other European capitals, such as London, Paris and Rome, by centuries. It is a port city at the mouth of the Tagus River and spread over seven hills and crowned by a castle.
Of all the sites we saw here, two stand out for me; the National Azulejo Museum and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.
The word azulejo means tiles, and they are found everywhere throughout Portugal; on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary homes, schools, restaurants, bars, railway and subway stations. The National Azulejo Museum traces tile making from its introduction by the Moors through the Spanish influence and finally to the development of Portugal’s own style. Originally tiles were made with geometric designs but over time other subjects such as religious art, major historical events, etc. were introduced.
I did a lot of reading about the places we were seeing before coming on this trip and one of the things I really wanted to see was a style of architecture known as Manueline. It is unique to Portugal and is named after its patron, King Manuel I (1495 – 1521). Manueline Architecture is said to symbolize the zest for discovery of that era and is hugely flamboyant, characterized by fantastic spiralling columns and elaborate carvings and ornamentation. Carvings can be of anchors, seaweed, and rigging mingling with exotic animals. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, is a monastery built in Manueline style and is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. I was not disappointed, I loved it! After seeing so many monstrously large churches with an abundance of paintings and gold gilded everything, it was refreshing to see a more Spartan interior with essentially the architecture being the centrepiece.
Besides sightseeing, we also went out to a Fado House to enjoy a dinner and fado music. Fado music, unique to Portugal, originated from troubadour and slave songs and conveys an expression of longing and sorrow, literally meaning “fate”. The music can be sung by women or men and is accompanied by the guitarra (a flat backed instrument shaped like a mandolin with paired strings) and the viola (acoustic Spanish guitar). I enjoyed the music, definitely better than traditional Spanish music (in my opinion).
After five nights in Lisbon, we went to Sintra, located 30 km northwest of Lisbon. Sintra is much smaller than Lisbon with a population of 25,000. I loved Sintra!! We only spent two nights there but could have spent more time as there was so much to see.
Traveling with Sanford, there is always a mountain somewhere to be climbed, and that mountain on this trip was in Sintra. Note – Sanford refers to it as a massive hill, but I beg to differ. There was a reason to climb the mountain and that was because there were two castles up there, Palacio de Pena and the ruins of a Moorish Castle. There was a walking trail and I have to say it didn’t take us all that long, maybe an hour and a half and we were on top. Both were interesting castles, but two other sites stood out more for me, so I won’t go into detail about these, I’ll just include a picture of the mountain.
Like Lisbon, there were two sites that really stood out for me here. The first sight, the National Palace of Sintra, which surprisingly didn’t involve climbing a mountain, is located in the historic centre of Sintra. It is visible from afar by its two massive white conical kitchen chimneys. This palace began life as a primitive Moorish fort, and was extended and improved from 1281 to about the 16th Century. Of particular note are the distinctive and ornate ceiling paintings on many of the rooms, from which said rooms derive their names, e.g. Crown, Mermaid, Magpie, Swan and Galley. The most famous of these rooms is the magpie room, which has paintings of magpies representing the gossiping and scheming of the queen’s ladies in- waiting. It was because of the description of the ceilings that I wanted to see this palace. I was not disappointed.
The second site I would like to mention is the elaborate and extensive gardens surrounding the Quinta da Regaleira, an extravagant 19th century gothic mansion. The gardens are filled with decorative fortifications, wells, grottoes, mystic religious symbols and a series of secrete passages and caves. The central feature of the gardens is an “initiation well”, a 27 metre deep subterranean well down which one could descend via a monumental spiral stairway. It is said that this well was at one time used for some type of cult ceremonies. It was an amazing journey to the bottom.
And finally, my bird encounter. I have lived the first sixty years of my life without ever being pooped on by a bird, and now, just over 1 month past my 60th birthday, I have been pooped on twice! While in Sintra, as we were about to go into a restaurant when I felt a large drop hit my head. It was raining at the time but this felt a little more substantial than just rain. I touched my head where it had hit and when I looked at my hand I saw the now all-to-familiar green colour on my fingers. I had been pooped on!! I’m hoping that was my last encounter with bird poop, but they say bad things happen in threes…….
Next stop is Coimbra and Porto.