At breakfast, I noticed a Portugal guide book on one of the tables, and I thought perhaps Nick had put ours there. He hadn’t. It belonged to Joan, a woman who, we learned, was one of our fellow Rick Steves tourists. She was going to spend the day in Sintra, a town fifteen miles from Lisbon, as were we, so we decided to go together.
From Rick Steves’ Portugal: “Sintra is mix of natural and manmade beauty: fantasy castles set among tropical plants, lush green valleys, and craggy hilltops with hazy views of Lisbon and the Atlantic.” Because Sintra is now “on the map” as an ideal day trip from Lisbon, it is very crowded, but this wasn’t tourist season, so how crowded could it be?
We walked to the train station, where we had to figure out how to use the ticket machine. In New York, Nick and I share one Metro card. This is perfectly legal. Nick assumed that it would work the same way in Lisbon, but after I used the ticket to go through the turnstile, Nick couldn’t get through. We found a train employee, who explained that we each needed our own ticket, even though there was enough money for one more departure and two returns on the ticket I used. Nick had to run back to stand on the ticket line again, which had gotten much longer. With three minutes until the train’s departure time, I was pacing in front of the turnstile, but there was still no sign of Nick. A minute later, he came running up to the turnstile! His new ticket let him through! We ran into the train just before the doors closed. Whew!
We had left Lisbon on the 9:30 AM train, and to our surprise, that was much too late. The answer to my question, how crowded could Sintra be, is: very crowded. Everyone on the train exited in Sintra, and there were many hundreds of people there already. We had a choice of taking a bus to a palace or a castle. We chose the palace, thinking that perhaps we would have enough time to see both. Joan opted to take a bus that passes the outskirts of both the palace and the castle.
It was noon by the time we navigated the bus ticket line, took the bus ride, bought our palace entry tickets, and climbed many hills to enter the palace. We learned that the palace was built by a prince of German ancestry, and the results was a fantasy that mixed elements of both German and Portuguese styles.
The palace had been built on the site of a former monastery. We learned that many current buildings were on the sites of former monasteries and convents. Hundreds of years ago, the king went to the monastery to pray, when he saw Vasco da Gama sailing back up the river after his journey to the East Indies. The king gave thinks by building the castle.
We saw the courtyard, the dining room and pantry, the workshop in which the king dabbled in art, the kings’s bedroom and bathroom, and the queen’s bedroom, dressing room and terrace. The palace was magnificent, and well worth seeing. Amazingly, though, the time was now 2 PM and we had to be back to Lisbon in time for our tour to begin at 5 PM!
Back at the hotel, Joan greeted us, saying that from her bus she could see neither the palace nor the castle. What a disappointment! We sat back and met the others on our tour. There were twenty-eight of us, along with a local guide, Maria. Most of our fellow tourists lived in California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada, which was typical of our earlier Rick Steves tours, because his company is headquartered in Washington.
Our group walked through the Bairro Alto and Chaido again, but we had not been to the same parts of this area the day before. Crowds of locals were out enjoying the evening, many eating dinner, and others doing as we were, walking and taking it all in. Our dinner, at a restaurant called Leon D’Oro, was a great time to get to know our fellow tourists while we enjoyed a meal of salad, mixed grill that included lamb, sausage, bacon, pork and beef, a side dish of rice and beans, and lime pie for dessert, while drinking lots of Portuguese wine.
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