Trip Start Nov 09, 2007
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The day began with more baggage drama. I rang the airport again, they told me it would be delivered this morning. An hour later I rang them again and told them the courier had not contacted me. They said they would ring them and ask them to call me straight away. Hal an hour later I rang them again. Still no bag. They would contact the courier again. Half an hour later I rang them again. Finally, at 10:45 with my plans to visit Sintra today in some doubt, the bag arrived. Hooray!! I put on a fresh shirt and we headed off.
To get to Sintra we needed to get to Sete Rios station on the Metro where we would be able to link up with the train service to Sintra. Luckily for us there is a new Metro station at Santa Apolonia only 5 minute's walk from our apartment. This was a good opportunity for us to work out how to get to the bus station, which is also at Sete Rios. We managed to work out how to use the ticket vending machine (well sort of) and ignored the line of people developing behind us. The Metro station is gleaming and new, but I guess it won't be too long before it ends up grubby like every other Metro Station in the world. It was nine stops to Sete Rios and the journey took about 15 minutes. From there we walked to the bus station to ask about buses to Lagos on Sunday, then we returned to the train station to buy our tickets to Sintra. Return tickets for all of us was just 10 euro.
The journey out to Sintra travels through the suburbs of Lisbon and is not very interesting really. Even when you get to Sintra station there is little to indicate what a special place it is.
We arrived at Sintra station and immediately found the tourist information desk, which is located within the station itself. We were given a map and some advice on how to get around. The first thing we had to do was walk about 1.5 km to get to the historic centre. The walk passed through some lovely lush vegetation and was very pleasant although the day was much colder than we had anticipated.
Sintra was the summer playground of the kings and queens of Portugal and there are many palaces and stately buildings here. The most impressive of these is the Palace of Pena, built in an imposing position high on a mountain overlooking not just Sintra but also the surrounding countryside, including the Atlantic coast in one direction and Lisbon in the other.
We started our conquest of Sintra by looking through some of the shops. Because Jess was freezing (we had earlier agreed that it was too hot for her new flea market coat) we found a wonderful shop selling hand knitted jumpers and ponchos. We found a grey and black poncho that looked fantastic on Jess and also would be something she could wear in Portugal where it is not cold enough for her coat.
Then it was time for some lunch. We found a nice place - there are plenty - and decided what to do next. We didn't have a lot of time (mainly thanks to the bag delay) so we thought we would focus on the Pena Palace. For 4 euros you can buy a ticket for the small bus that takes you up the mountain. You can get off at any of the stops along the way and the ticket takes you back down again so it is good value.
There are two main sites above the town. First is the Moorish castle. This is a castle that was built by the moors when they held this part of the world, around 900 AD. Later it was taken by the Portuguese and later still it fell into disuse and became a ruin. It was rebuilt in the 19th century by the king at the time who had the idea of 'restoring' the site (but that really meant rebuilding a lot of it) and so what remains now is a fascinating structure to explore. There are lots of places to investigate and we all had a great time running around the walls, hiding in the towers and looking through the battlements.
When we had seen it all, we walked back to the bus top to hop back on the bus to take us to the Pena Palace, five minutes further up the mountain. This amazing place, described as the finest example of Romantic architecture in Portugal (and who am I to argue) started life as a monastery but took its current form in the 19th century. It's a lot of fun to explore and the interior of the palace is one of the best examples of decorated rooms to explore that we have seen. To get to the palae we had to climb from where the bus dops you off up to the top. It's a quite a big climb and we were tired by the time we reached the palace at the same time as the shuttle bus from the bottom arrived at the top. Grrrr. We consoled ourselves with the notion that we had not only saved ourselves the 1.50 euro fare, but that more importantly it was healthier for us.
We spent about an hour exploring the palace, commenting on whether the queen or the maid had the nicest room (opinion was divided) and walking around narrow paths on the exterior of the palace. But then it was time to go, so faced with the long climb down discretion took the better part of valour and we snuck onto the shuttle bus. Because the fare covered up and back down, no one asked us for a ticket or collected a fare, so we felt very sneaky getting down for free.
We looked around the gift shop at the palace gates while we waited for the bus to return us back down the mountain to Sintra. When we exhausted this option we just waited in the cold for the bus. It took more than half an hour and was in no way based on the schedule that it was supposed to keep. On the plus side it took us straight back to the train station so we could jump straight back on the Lisbon train. Reaching Sete Rios, we changed to the Metro and made it back to our local station.
On the way home we decided to go to the local café that we had spotted selling chicken and chips, Portuguese style. Very yummy, but we bought too much based on a communication problem. The ma said 'do you want half a chicken and chips' and I said 'yes' thinking he must have mixed up the words and meant a quarter chicken and chips ( I mean, who could eat a half a chicken?) and sure enough four halves of a chicken together with mountains of chips arrived for our enjoyment. Now, it turns out that I can eat a half a chicken. Fancy that!
We staggered home in the cool of evening and I caught up a bit with the blog. At one stage we heard singing in the Beco and looked down to find a group (perhaps a church group?) parading through the alleyways, with people hanging out of windows throwing money down. It was quite quaint.
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