Category Archives: Portugal

Sintra still

A wind has picked up, clouds are starting to fill the sky, the temperature has dropped: must be time to leave Portugal. Today is my last day of leisure on the continent; tomorrow I return to Lisbon and a hotel near the aeroporto in preparation for my early Friday flight to North America. My time in Europe has passed all too quickly, but what a fine time it’s been.

I spent today at Monserrate, a splendid and nearly-tourist-free former palace. (Said to be praised by Byron in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”.) The grounds are comfortably large (about 82 acres) and full of sensual pleasures: smell (roses!), scenery (fantastical trees and gardens!), and sound (wind rustling leaves, sweet birdsong!). And perhaps best of all, I don’t need to be anywhere else but here, which is so nice. So relaxing. So cool.

For a while after arriving I was on the same path as a French family of five, the three children quite young. Each time we turned a corner the kids exclaimed, “Oh wow! Oh wow!” My sentiments exactly.

The property has abundant sobreiro cork oak trees; I’ll remember this place every time I open a bottle of wine.

I learned a new Portuguese word today: escorregadio.

Fun fact: that’s a fake ruined chapel on the grounds!

Here are some photos:

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Sintra, wow extended

With my intense dislike of crowds, and visions of the packed train station from yesterday, I set off as early as I could this morning. I had two places on the visit list, both high above town and near to each other, Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. When the bus to go up the hill arrived at my stop, it was packed, and I had to stand at the very front next to the driver as he carefully drove up the winding, narrow, hairpin-turns road, sometimes having to do little back-up, go forward, back-up, go forward maneuvers at the tightest turns. And this is a normal large-sized bus! On a two way road! Impressive.

Being at the front of the bus meant not only did I have a perfect view of the drive there, I was also first off, first to the ticket stand, and almost first inside the palace grounds – such good luck!

The palace is situated atop a hill on about 500 steep acres, land that was formerly dry and barren, cultivated over the centuries into a gorgeous green utopia. I spent about seven hours here, but could easily stayed many more were it not for the other place on my list (and for which I had already bought a ticket!). Throughout the day I asked Palace employees for their advice on where I should go, and I got tips that proved wonderful.

After the Palace, I hiked over to the Castle, along its ramparts and up and down its towers, giving both my calves and fear of heights something to munch on.

The weather was perfect again. In some places I had a 360 degree view to the Atlantic, the surrounding countryside, and even back to Lisbon.

Lastly, I hiked back into town down a steep six-mile path – this is cliff-climbing country – which sometimes consisted of stone-pavement, and sometimes mud, rocks, too-high steps, and sometimes creeped under overhanging boulders. Ah. May. Zing. I certainly felt sorry for the ill-informed heading up the hill late in the day, in sandals no less.

A wonderful day.

Oh, and I rescued a lost little boy, too.

Here are some photos:


Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Sintra. Wow.

I took the train to from Lisbon to Sintra today. My visit didn’t start well. The train was crowded cheek by jowl. Very unpleasant. When it arrived in Sintra, it took about 30 minutes just to exit the station because of the logjam. My B&B, however, was lovely, easy to reach, and staffed by friendly, helpful people, so yea, and I learned that Sintra is hectic on Mondays because many places in Lisbon are closed that day and visitors compensate by day-tripping here, so I’m hopeful for tomorrow. Sintra is very pretty, and the weather continues to be perfect, so that’s helpful.

Anyway, it was too early to check in, so I set off to explore, and things started to get interesting. The sole reason I chose to come to Sintra is because of a photo I saw of a spiral stone structure in a Lonely Planet Sintra story. That beautiful photo, with the byline, “Portuguese fairy tale” did it for me. So, to make a short story long, the very first place I visited in Sintra is where that structure is! But I didn’t expect that – it was a merely a coincidence that I went there first. Cool!

I did not have the perfect lighting/human free experience the original photographer had, but I got in some happy shots in. The place, Quinta da Regaleira, is a green fantasyland created by rich people with a lot of time on their hands, and we benefit. It’s about ten acres, although it seemed larger to me, set on a hillside, with all kinds of paths, water features, labyrinths, grottos, chapels, and many deep, long caves, some lit, some not, and it was so cool to hang out in the pitch dark with only the cold air and the drip, drip of water. To sum up the place, think: stone, water, greenery, myth. What fun! But I’m gonna stop here, because I think these words are failing. Hopefully, the photos tell the story.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Lisbon, Rio Tejo

I left the hostel early this morning with the intention of walking along the Rio Tejo promenade to the reputedly beautiful Mosteiros dos Jerónimos. The six-mile walk was highly enjoyable and filled with thousands of other folks taking pleasure the perfect weather by running, sailing, roller skating, biking, paddling, snacking on roasted chestnuts, and every other thing people do along a lovely riverside in great weather. A community event was taking place at the large public space, the Praça do Comércio, including a foot race, and as I walked west along the river, swarms of runners passed me in both directions. Along with them, I got to hear the rollicking jazz band playing on the roadside for encouragement. It was a real treat.

At one place, I found a bar called Hawaii; lei festooned the walls, along with Kim Taylor Reese posters!

Sadly, the monastery was packed and the line to just buy tickets was blocks long, so I took a pass. Next visit!

After returning to my neighborhood, I discovered performing arts college students showing off their talents in the streets (to raise money). Good fun!

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Here are some photos. They’re not the greatest, but they give an idea of this Sunday Lisbon outing.


Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Lisboetas are kind

I took a tumble this morning, right in the middle of a busy street. Lisbon’s roads and walkways are paved, oddly, with small squares of tile and marble, making them both slippery and uneven (see corroborating photo of the scene of my misery below). Boom, down I went! People rushed to help me, leading me off the road. A woman, cigarette dangling from her lips, used her kleenexes to mop the blood flowing from my elbow. A couple pointed to my glasses in the street. I turned to look just as a car smashed them, bending the frames. No matter how much I adjusted the frames, my vision was still blurry! When I thanked the couple who told me about them, they looked at me pityingly; I thought perhaps there was blood on my face. I trudged back to my hostel for a bandaging and my spare pair, and when I took off my glasses to try to do more adjusting, I discovered the lenses had been popped out. No wonder those people looked at me weirdly. No amount of frame adjustment was going to help me see better. The hostel folks patched me up, and off I went – gingerly! – just in time to catch my appointment with a walking tour company. As it happened, I was the only person to have booked this time slot, so it turned into my very own personal tour.

The friendly and knowledgeable guide led me through various neighborhoods, up and down the hilly city, pointing out things I would have otherwise missed. I tried ginjinha, sour cherry liquor. I had lunch (fig and Gorgonzola pizza) at a large and lively food court full of Portuguese specialties. And I wandered some more. And I think that’s it for today. My knee and elbow hurt. And I have a bottle of wine and a good fat book, The Little Friend.

Fun facts: Lisboetas are also know as Little Lettuces, and the symbol of Lisbon is a ship with two ravens.

Here are some photos (none from museums!):

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Meeting Lisbon

Lisbon! It’s a big city, quiet for being so large, charming, quirky, and thick with awesome architecture and colorful buildings. The hostel I’m staying in is the Old Chic Funk style. All kinds of people were at breakfast: oldsters like me, oldsters older than me, families with toddlers, hipsters, Europeans, Asians, etc., just as things should be. It’s a building from simpler times, meaning no elevators; my room is on the 4th floor.

Today I walked for miles along wide, tree-covered boulevards and visited the entirely fabulous Gulbenkian Art Museum. Prepare thyself for photos of art!




Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.