Monday, December 7, 2009

An Incredible Daytip to SINTRA

A Disney-esque castle, wonderland-like gardens, beautiful beaches, small towns and being the Western-most person in Europe - all in a day's work in Portugal!
During one of our days in Portugal, we decided to take advantage of a day trip offered by our hostel in Lisbon - and it was a GREAT choice (if you couldn't tell by the teaser line). Bright and early, we made the drive to Sintra, a fairytale town a little over 30km northwest of Lisbon. Lush and wooded, this hilltop location has been home to many Moorish and Portuguese rulers and nobles and has the castles and estates to prove it.

Palacio de Pena
Our first stop was the Palacio de Pena, a fantasy castle set atop a high hill, surrounded by the sprawling Pena Park and Gardens and Moorish Castle. Created by Dona Maria II and Don Fernando II, the Queen and King of Portugal, in the mid-1800's, this palace is still decorated and furnished (in all of its cluttered glory) as it was when the royal family fled in 1910 (click here for more history). This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It's difficult to describe the incredible architecture, gorgeous views of the Portuguese towns and fields and amazing park, so I'll let the photos do the talking (although they don't do it justice either...)

Enjoying the royal view from one of the balconies (above)
Dani, Isabelle, Tom & Zack in the castle courtyard (below)

Climbed up to the "Statue of the Warrior" (above) to enjoy his view of the Castle (below)

We headed back downhill to the quaint town of Sintra below for a Portuguese meal with our eccentric tour guide, Nonno, and our two new Aussie friends. I describe Nonno as eccentric, but I'm not quite sure that explains the whole picture. Whether it was the random outbursts of song and dance (similar to this), the blues music laden with sexual innuendos he played in the car or the strange comments he made (similar to these), it was definitely fun to have him around.

Our next stop in town was Quinta da Regaleira, a beautiful private estate with large gardens spotted with towers, wells and caves connected by a labyrinth of underground tunnels! I felt like a little kid as we giddily explored the dark underground only to pop up somewhere new in the massive gardens (left). This UNESCO World Heritage Site (I know I state that a lot, but there are only 890 UNESCO sites in the world - only 20 in the USA!) was built in the early 1900's for Carvalho Monteiro by the Italian architect and theater set designer Luigi Manini. There is interesting symbolism in the house (right), chapel and park representing Monteiro's beliefs and interests - Masonry, Knight's Templar, alchemy (he had a secret lab!), Rosicrucians. For example, the tunnels represent a trip between darkness and light, death and resurrection.

The Waterfall Lake - we crossed the stepping stones into the underground caves and tunnels (above)
Climbing through one of the unfinished wells (below)

This "castle" (which has access to the tunnels in the center) was home to Zack & Tom in our acorn war. I occupied the tower across from this and we threw nuts at each other and pretended we were warring kingdoms. Yes, we are like little children.(Above)

The tower of Edwardslandia - the victorious kingdom of the gruesome Acorn War. (Below)

Cabo da Roca
We left Sintra and headed for the coast to Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca) - the Western-most point in Europe (therefore, the closest I've been to home in months!). "Where the land ends and the sea begins", it evoked thoughts about the Age of Exploration and a large cross marks the point and greets the ocean. The sheer cliffs, crashing waves and strong winds provided a breathtaking atmosphere for reflecting.

Zack thinking on the edge of the cliff. (Above)

Me and the lighthouse. (Below)

The Coast
After leaving Cabo da Roca, we drove the coast, stopping at a long, sandy beach to enjoy the sunset. There were some great waves - I wish I had a wetsuit and surfboard!

At the beach, jealous of the surfers enjoying the waves! (Above)

A shout out to my Delt brothers back home. (Below)

Literally translating to "Hell's Mouth", this rocky chasm overlooks the endless ocean. Our last stop on the coast, we headed to the nearby beach town of Cascais for some gelato before heading back to Lisbon. October 27th was quite an eventful day (and my brother Paul's 17th birthday - happy birthday from across the pond!)

The front side of Boca do Inferno (Above)
A cross overlooking the ocean at Boca do Inferno at dusk. (Below)

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