Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sintra and Cascais Portugal

We had spent Christmas morning and part of the afternoon in Lisbon and let me tell you there wasn't much going on. We attended a noon mass at Basilica da Estrela (built in the late 18th century and equipped with space heaters and little boys rolling their Hot Wheels on the pews.). The day was cold and rainy and being short sighted we didn't stock up on food for a proper lunch.

I had been in contact with Sandra, a new friend who we met through the Couch Surfing website. We made plans to meet up later that afternoon in Sintra (about a 40 minute train ride from central Lisbon). Her description of the tiny town was spot on. It was like walking into a fairy tale; it had a castle, a palace, forest, fog, and all that was missing were the elves. To say the least the area was a magical and having someone like Sandra showing us around made it even more special. In our two visits there I felt like we've only scratched the surface and thus needs further exploration in the near future.

We weren't sure what we were in for when we met Sandra at the train station, the town seemed sleepy mainly because it were Christmas and there was only a handful of people roaming the streets. The afternoon would entail a good deal of walking around the main part of town, up the hill to a castle, and conversation. Pictured above is city hall. 
Sintra National Palace (Palacio Nacional)
The contrast between our first and second visit was pretty remarkable. When the town is awake and places are open, it is pretty flooded with locals and tourists. 
The path above the Sculpture Museum (Museu Anjos Teixeira) is lined with a variety of sculptures by several artists. 
Sintra is a town of fountains pouring out water from a natural spring. Although the signs advise not to drink any, we saw people pull up to them in their cars with several plastic containers. Sandra said there is usually a line. I guess the trick is to go during off peak times such as Christmas. Later in the evening we sampled a mouthful from this Moorish fountain. 
Fuente de Pipa (The pipe fountain) had barely any H2O to offer, but it sure looks pretty.

FYI, The grass was greener on the other side. 
Several years ago Ana met my friend Noal for the first time in San Francisco. One evening he took us on one of his epic walks around the city which included a dimly lit path up a hill. She had an irrational moment where she thought he was going to turn into a vampire. Fortunately for her that vision was never realized. On the way up to Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) we passed by the former residence of Hans Christian Andersen (Hansel and Gretel). There was no one on the path besides us so Ana and I naturally figured that Sandra had a plot to get us lost in the woods and eat us.  
Since Sandra didn't end up eating us, we at least thought we might find a fairy or a unicorn. No dice amigo. We finally reached the gate to the castle only to find locks on it. We headed back down the path and took an alternative route also to discover another locked gate.
We finally made it back into town only wanting to see more Sintra. We took the train back towards Lisbon and parted ways with Sandra. She wished us luck on finding a place open for dinner, we settled for an Indian meal at a Chinese restaurant.  
We stayed in contact with Sandra while we were in Porto, we told her that another visit to Sintra was a must and asked her if she wanted to hang out with us again. She was game. The first stop was the Toy Museum. We probably spent more time here than at the Louvre in Paris. Four floors filled with mostly vintage toys.
Egypt is never too far away.

Dear Santa, Please bring me a toy bar for Christmas.
The contemporary exhibit consisted of musical instruments. 
Paper dolls and pecking metal birds.
I couldn't get the right shot of the actual Smoky Joe toy. Overall the toy didn't look like much fun...I suppose if you stole a pack of matches from mom and dad and lit the couch on fire then you might be in a for a good time and potentially a beating.  
Nothing says hours of fun like horse and cart.
Open wide little bear.
He does laundry too.
Before Smoky Joy there was My Village Is On Fire play set.
The dolls were on the top floor along with the toy repair center with boxes of doll heads and body parts...the stuff slasher films are made of. 
The estate of Quinta da Ragaleira. We didn't make time to go in. Reason no. 53 why we must return to Portugal.

Pena National Palace sits on a hill above Lisbon overlooking the town. It is said that it can be seen from Lisbon. The structure is an intentional eclectic mix of neo-Renaissance, Gothic, Islamic, and Manueline feels and looks like a stew of Portuguese architecture. Pretty or not, I couldn't help but feel like I was stuck in an M.C. Escher's dream.   

The Palace at a distance.
To our left

To our right
The kissing cousin to the Belem Tower.
At the entrance gate we received a map to the palace and surrounding park/forest detailing the paths and hidden sights. The statue of the warrior is the protector of the palace.

Queen Sandra ordering "Off with their heads" in the most pleasant was possible. At the point when we were the furthest away from our car it started to pour rain. Short story even shorter, we got drenched as our undies had enough water to float a small vessel. Again in a display of kindness Sandra took us back to her place where we could change our clothes and offered us her room for the night. Later we all went shopping for winter clothes at a mega sports store.
The evening ended with delicious veggie lasagna at o Pizza
In wasting no time, the following morning's mission was devoted to taking in a little Cascais (about 25 km west of Lisbon). It reminded me of La Jolla. If you have time the town offers free bike rentals as a means to explore. 
The Cascais Mermaid looking out to the sea keeping fishermen safe.

Boats in the marina.

At the gate of Marechal de Carmona Park and Condes de Castro Guimaraes Museum.
When the birds see you coming around the corner they hope you are packing food.
In addition to birds chasing you down and a farmers market, there is a big pair of feet.

Back of the Condes de Castro Guimaraes Museum and on the road to Hell's Mouth.
The mouth of hell.
Hell's Mouth even has a bar.
Just a typical building on the way back to the car. 


  1. Hey! I ain't no vampire! I am sucking down some Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale. Yum.