Sunday, May 4, 2014

A day in Sintra, Portugal

Be warned! This post has loads and loads of images because Sintra is eminently photogenic and includes both Alan's and my pics - mine are the close-ups with my 300mm lens and Alan's are the more wide-angle shots. We spent more money than we would have liked to on a day out, but it was worth it ... and we really want to remember it. I hope you get value here too ... then it will have been really worth while! :-)

18 April 2014
Staying at the Alenquer campsite, about an hour or so's drive from Lisbon, we thought we might catch a bus to Sintra, a town on the edge of Lisbon. There's a bus stop just outside the gates of the campsite. Well, luckily we had free wi-fi at the campsite, so we checked bus routes and times online and discovered that it might not be so practical after all. We would have to change buses once along route and the trip would take at least two hours just to get there. That would mean four hours (or more) in the bus in one day by the time we got back again. Nah. We're too old for that now. So we decided to take Milly as far as we felt comfortable and try our luck from there.

A pleasant drive later we found ourselves in the middle of the town of Sintra, renowned for a bit of a parking problem, but luckily with streets wide enough for buses and ourselves in a motorhome to join the traffic flow with ease. It's a hugely touristy town, having a castle and at least four palaces to show off to the world.

We've learnt in our old age, that taking things calmly, only doing what you can do when you can do it, and taking the time to assess situations instead of opting for knee-jerk reactions, gets you to where you want to be with a lesser share of grey hairs on our heads. Usually Alan parks and I sit in the car, while he takes a walk to find a good parking spot. It worked well in Sintra, and we had arrived early in the day (always a good thing) so managed to find a perfect parking spot where Milly didn't stick out into the road too badly or block traffic. Later on we found the parking lot where most of the motorhomes park, at the lowest point in the town, having turned down to the left of the Town Hall off the main town roundabout

The Town Hall.

Town Hall Tower

 Main square with the Town Hall dominating. We bought gifts in
the shop upstairs in the yellow building to the left. The locals' cafe
where we had such a stunning and affordable lunch is down the little road
between the Town Hall and the yellow building, on the ground floor of the yellow building.

Although touristy, there's still loads of normal, every-day life to be found in Sintra. Like this old dear feeding the birds in a little park square.

A touristy bit ... but who can resist horses and carriages!

Of course we took loads of pics of various old buildings. Here are some of them.

My personal favourite, and taken with my beloved long lens.
It's part of a sculpture in the middle of a small roundabout in
front of the town hall.

A garden in an old house, still occupied.
This was another taste of Portugal's sense of faded glory
and I was really taken with the evidence of love and effort
that had taken place on this small patch in years gone by.

An orange tree in the same garden.

The front door to the house.

This represents myself and Alan. I need lots of cold water
and he can drink, and tries very hard indeed to drink, litres
of the strongest coffee he can find. And whenever we're out and about
it's a given that we'll find someplace for coffee like this. I like the aroma ... from a
distance ... but drinking it would surely kill me. I do though love the atmosphere of
the coffee shops we find - and we get to chat to locals who, in Portugal, are always so helpful
and happy to speak whatever level of English they can. In this cafe a long-haired skinny chap in about his
late thirties even trotted out to another shop to see if he could borrow a map and find out about
buses for us. I had him down as a loner who didn't want to be disturbed, when we first walked
into the cafe, but I was soon proved wrong when he bounded up from his chair to help
as soon as Alan asked a question of the proprietress.

I actually can't remember which building we found this on!
But what the hell, we found loads of Wisteria to photograph too ....

..... and Strelitzia

Hmmm, I think this photograph's in the wrong blog post! I seem to
remember finding this "shamrock" / four leaf clover in the campsite
at Quinta do Covelho a couple of days previously. Never mind,
the point is, I'd never seen a dotted one of these before!

This one's a favourite of us both ... it speaks for itself!
Too much Sagres beer methinks.

In need of TLC ... as long as it's not more Sagres beer!

There are quite a few of these blue tiled plaques
here and there.

This is a typical souvenir windmill.

I photographed this windmill outside the shop where we found some little gifts for Ferne and Mathias who are bravely looking after our not-so-well 90 year old Mum for us. Although it's not something I would buy, I'll cherish this photograph as a reminder of the old windmills which one day will be hard to spot on the hillsides. These days ol' Don Quixote and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, would have a hard time on their holidays to Portugal ... the modern windmills and wind farms would prove a tad too much for him I'd guess.

The lady who owned this souvenir shop was, again, so helpful. She pointed out a stunning lunch place for us, where the locals go, away from the tourist run. For about €8.50 each we squished in to a little, fully packed cafe, touching elbows with our neighbours, with absolutely no room for me to take pics, and were presented with a large bowl of what tasted like potato and squash soup, a big plate of incredibly tasty "lamb" (I think more like mutton tail), rice, chips (they were sooooo flavoursome) and veg for me; fish, rice and veg on the same size plate for Alan, a beer or a cooldrink each, a custardy creme caramel pudding, and coffee. Alan drank my coffee. So by this time it was his third coffee within a couple or hours. He was buzzzzzzzing! And loving it. The cafe was so noisy, happy and jam-packed ... people were having to pass things, like baby pushchairs, over the heads of other folk to get in and out. We were absolutely stuffed, had the best time ever, and rolled out of there to continue our walk around town and our visit to the Pena Palace.

Hmmm, this is a rare one. Alan fears for his life if he ever photographs me
but I had just bought this lovely straw hat to shield me from the hot sun ... and
I'm a sucker for yellow scarves, so that is a newby too. I suppose we had to record that.

Just before lunch we had found out where the Pena Palace was ... right at the top of the very highest mountain there ... and had taken into account the hot weather and existence of arthritic ankles on at least one of us ... and spoilt ourselves by booking a tuk-tuk ride to the palace. I've never been on a tuk-tuk before so felt it was well worth the treat. The Pena Palace was the reason we had headed for Sintra in the first place. In January or February this year, Ferne and Mathias had visited the town and taken some lovely shots of the palace, in all its colourful glory ... and we wanted to see it for real.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Andrea, was a delightful chap who had lived in Sintra for most of his life, having taken his youthful years in his hands when he joined his pals to shimmy up the rocks to see if they could get into the castle and into the palace without paying. Evidently beer helped and none of them fell to meet their Maker. He sped along the cobbled roads, with all our bits wobbling and jiggling, stopping off first at an entrance to the huge parks which surround the palace.

 The entrance to the park

 Ancient steps leading up from the park entrance.

Yeah, well, another miracle. A pic of me.

We didn't go much further into the park as that wasn't the point of the tuk-tuk ride, and the park is really huge, but these fellas made just those few minutes there really worthwhile for us. They're the guard cockerels who live on the ledge above the park gate, fed by the park superintendent. They appear to be fairly aggressive so we were pleased they couldn't reach us! Each one is rather grandly named, although I can't remember the names Andrea rolled out while we stood there.

The Ruler of the Guard Cockerels.

Is that a fierce look or what!

Climbing back into the tuk-tuk we wound up and up as the mist rolled in more and more above us. Evidently the mist in Sintra is well known and unique to the area. Guide books tell of it's local reputation as the Queen's Fart as it hangs and swirls mysteriously, sometimes just as a single cloud in the sky, above the castle!

This is the only castle in Sintra, not to be confused with the
four palaces in Sintra.

 The castle walls are ancient Moorish walls, and are all that was left after the 1755 earthquake which destroyed most of the town and pretty much devastated Portugal.

This was our first view of the Pena Palace as we rose up
on cobbled roads to get there.

 On the way we stopped to gawp at the multi-million euro
houses that sometimes change hands but usually just
remain on the market forever because no-one can afford
to buy them. This one is sometimes mistakenly known as
Johnny Depp's house ... but he doesn't own it, it was simply
the setting for one of the movies he made. Alan thinks the name
of the movie was "Black ......" something-or-other.

This is the entrance to one of the many tunnels penetrating the mountains and extending under and beyond the town for some kilometres. They were dug by the Moors in their search for the best way to access and use water. There are literally thousands of these tunnels.

 Some time later, after another stop to look at some of the very different vegetation in that humungous park (I've pressed some leaves somewhere and will upload them whenever I find them after this trip), we arrived at the entrance to the Pena Palace. At this point we needed to get our wallet out again and choose whether we wanted to just visit the Park (wherein you could get lost and never be found for centuries, it's so big), or just visit the Terrace of the palace, or whether we wanted to go inside as well. You also need to choose whether you want to pay the €3 each for a shuttle bus to take you the last kilometre or so up to the actual entrance to the palace. Alan wanted to see inside so we forked out €14 each (eeeeeekkk!!!!!) less an Old Age Discount for him (hee hee hee) and the shuttle bus to the top. Those damn arthritic ankles cost again!

 The first view as we stepped out the shuttle bus

The following pics try to follow the path we had to take to reach the
entrance to the inner sanctum of the palace.

Detail of the tile-work above various arches and on walls
(above and below)

Tiles and gargoyle

Another gargoyle

Getting closer to actually walking inside the palace

Not another gargoyle. It's that OAP I'm so fond of.
Looking like a slim Ernest Hemingway in his new hat
purchased an hour or so before this pic, to protect that
very fair-skinned head of his.

A really beautiful damp problem.

This entrance from one terrace courtyard to another
is quite some piece of work. Fierce and unmissable.

Inside at last. An inner courtyard.

These tiles are simply amazing. (Above and below)

Camera flashes were not permitted inside the palace, so
Alan did his best to take photos cranking up the ISO rating.

All the beautiful decoration on this ceiling is actually
painted on .... it only looks like moulding.

The Queen's chamber

The other kind of queen's chamber


The Aide de Camp's room

Outside again with that ever-moving mysterious mist
(above and below)

We spent a good hour and a half at the Pena Palace but thought that if we ever get a chance to return, we'd do it earlier in the year, like Ferne and Mathias had, when there were far less other folk around. We're pretty much loners, and crowds are not really our scene. I'd prefer to explore the parkland a bit, rather than wander through guided and roped corridors, crushed against other folk pushing to see what they can see. Great historical stuff there, but it's hard to enjoy and feel the essence of it in that sort of atmosphere.

This was a poster Alan spotted on the wall as we exited the palace.

So back to Andrea and our tuk-tuk. He took absolute delight in speeding as fast as the tuk-tuk could move - and that's pretty fast! - bumping our bones over the cobbled roads while we white-knuckle-death-gripped and laughed our way back to town. A worthwhile treat had been enjoyed.

This is the Royal Palace in Sintra which shows at least three
influences of cultural occupation in the three diffierent types of windows - see
the pic below which shows how the palace was added on to by each
successive occupant. The two tall chimneys added to the statement of wealth
of the occupants by their size. They also served as directional beacons for
finding the way home.

More views of the town as we bumped our way down the hill in the tuk-tuk

Although hot and tired, I wanted to post our gifts to Ferne and Mathias so when we had hauled our mish-mashed sets of bones out of the tuk-tuk and set about rearranging them into padded skeletons again, we set off towards the post office and some tourist shops. About a fifteen to twenty minute slow walk. We posted our parcel but were horrified at the prices of goods in the shop in that part of town, so settled for a rest with a coffee for Alan (another one!!!!!!!) and a chocolate milk for me, with a pastry each for energy.

The walk to the post office where a few artists and hawkers
were selling their wares amongst interesting sculptures.

A public fountain where water from a natural spring
gurgles by for tourists and locals to partake of.
Evidently folk come from far and wide with empty bottles
to fill to take home, using it as holy water.

An expensive part of town!

It was a slow and hot walk back to Milly - a bit uphillish - but we were happy, had had a wonderful day in Sintra, and best of all for that moment, the traffic had eased for an easy exit back to our footies court in the Alenquer campsite.

Sintra has so much to offer for one town, and comes highly recommended.


  1. What a super photo, Lynda!! Really lovely and well done for having it posted ;)
    And Pa, you DO look like Ernest Hemmingway :)

  2. Glad you liked it Nina .... this blog writing takes ages! L xxx

  3. Keep on writing this blog. It's wonderful and the pics from Sintra bring the memories flooding back.

    1. Thanks Marcus :-) I must say that even writing the blog a week or two after enjoying the day itself, brings it back to me and I enjoy it all over again as well - like a second visit! The aim is for it to be the best souvenir we bring back .... just in case it never happens again!!!!!