Day 7: Sintra

OK so today was one of the more eventful days, so this entry will be longer than usual.

I started off in the usual way, early wake up, breakfast, check out, and catch a train. As it turns out the train station was only about 2 blocks from my lodging, which is a lot shorter than the 10+ blocks I walked in a circle to get there. I go to reserve my seat on the 8:45 Alfa only to find out that amazingly its second class is full, and I’m forced to take the “sud express” which is just an IC train that skips stops to get to Lisboa quicker. I almost miss the train because I’m unsure if it was the right one since it has no special markings and looks just like any other IC train, and on top of that I don’t see a car labeled with the number my ticket is for. Luckily I jump on right as it starts moving, my bag getting caught on the door, but I free it and find my seat. I got to Lisboa around noon, and set out to try to get to Sintra. As it turns out you need to take like 3 train lines to get out there, but it was worth the hassle.

The tourist office in Sintra was really helpful, the guy spoke good English, and was able to tell me about a bus route that would take me up to the Moorish castle up on the hill, and then to a famous building. There are a number of fairly interesting buildings around town, some that are like castles in themselves. I also asked about a lavanderia for my clothes, which he was able to mark on a map for me. I found the lavanderia easily, but they couldn’t finish washing my clothes until tomorrow… so lame, so I had to take a pass since tomorrow I’ll be in Madrid, and head out for lunch. I found a nice restaurant, and picked the first of three items on the house specialties list, I have no idea what it says. The waiter brings it out, and its a kind of brown rice dish with shrimp and cilantro in it, toped with a raw egg yoke. The waiter then mixes the yoke in with the dish, I console my stomach by telling myself that the heat from the dish will cook any bacteria, but I know that to be unlikely. It actually turned out to be very good, and I ate until I was full. I then set about getting up to the castle. Looking around Sintra, you can tell that money has been invested, the city is immaculate, and there are a number of building projects around. As it turns out past kings of Portugal for hundreds of years have tried to preserve the town’s landmarks. There are also quite a few nice stores and restaurants.

As it would turn out this was one of the highlights of my stay here in Portugal. My original plan was to hike up to the place, but walking around town I see its a long way and very very high up, so I decide that the train was definitely the way to go, which turned out to be a good bet. The road up was very steep and 3 miles long from the outskirts of town, with many blind corners, we even almost hit a small black car that came around the corner to find a big bus right in front of it. There was still a bit of a hike to the castle. When I arrived I found that there were a number of signs telling bits of information about the castle, like that it was built in the 9th century, and after the Christian conquest, was used by Sintra, and would later be preserved by the first King of Portugal. The castle itself is amazing, and its hard to put into words how struck I was. I’m sure by the sheer number of photos you have an idea. Its exactly what you expect of an old castle, on the high ground, with its own water and food stores, high walls with narrow pathways, and look out towers. The view is quite stunning too. Looking out you can see Cascais, and the Atlantic Ocean. As it turns out Sintra for a while controlled Cascais, and would every year light a fire in one of the towers to show its power. I think I took a picture of that sign. You could walk all around the castle walls, looking out over the lush green scenery of Sintra, and see some of the interesting mansions and palaces. There is just something fairytale about this sort of place, though walking along the narrow walls carrying all of my gear was a bit hair raising at times. I could really feel how much better of shape I’m in from this last week, I didn’t feel nearly as winded as I expected climbing up the many stairs. I expect when I come home to be thinner thanks to the weak dollar diet, and a bit stronger too haha.

After exploring the castle I went back to town, passing up a tour of one of the local mansions because it was 6 euros for entry, which seemed a bit excessive. I kind of wanted to go see the Monserrate gardens, which are supposed to be pretty nice, but the place is 4 km out of town, and I didn’t see any buses that headed out that way, plus with my plans to hit up Belem before my train out of Portugal, I figure I should get moving anyway.

After more train hoping I found myself heading to Belem, where I bumped into an American couple in their 30s who were coming back from Belem, the guy had his book out and showed me that the tower was closed Sunday and Monday, and today being Monday, meant I couldn’t but look at it from afar, which doesn’t interest me much. Also as it turns out the station is a long ways from anything of interest in Belem, and would be a good 20 minute hike in itself, so doing that just for a look at the outside of the tower from behind a gate didn’t catch my fancy much, so I decided to just ride out the train past it for a brief look before returning to Lisboa-S.A station for my hotel train. As it turns out the tower looks a lot less impressive than in its pictures, and the town itself was a bit seedy. So as much as I would have liked looking around for the place that sold those perfect custard tarts, it seemed best to move on. In retrospect I probably had time to try to get to Monserrate, but as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Instead I find myself at my last Portuguese train station with more than 2 hours to kill. I was alleviated from my boredom a little when I met 3 Americans my age here at the station on a similar trip to me headed in the same general direction as me buying tickets to Madrid for tomorrow. They want to spend a lot of time in Spain, which doesn’t interest me much, and will be passing up Eastern Europe, which I’m hoping to do a brief tour of, otherwise it might have been fun to travel with them. Well so long Portugal, it was fun~!

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