Greetings from Portugal
Day 1& 2
Grab a glass of Port and let me fill you in on the most recent excerpt of “Edells Gone Wild”, otherwise known as -A girl, her hubs and a suitcase. After 24 hours of torturous air travel surrounded by hacking lungs, germs and exposure to possible future Ebola carriers we picked up our adorable black and white Euro car, a 5 speed with just enough room for one of us to rest an arm between the seats. The sky was a dreary scene with pockets of torrential rain storms plowing through. Frank had every possible deficit thrown at him: lack of sleep, jet lag, an unfamiliar car and country (oh and language), terrible visibility, a cranky wife and a temperamental navigational system. Despite all that we made our way through the city center of Lisbon in bumper to bumper traffic without incident.
After many U-turns, mismanaged roundabouts and crisscrossing missed exits, turns and stops we made our way to the address in our Tom Tom. We arrived at many big, tall towering high rise tenements circa 1973 covered in graffiti and according to the navigational system this was our hotel. Ready to run in with our bags I was stopped by Frank announcing –“this is not it!” But-yet the address matched the confirmation. He then entered the name of the hotel. This took us in a different location buying us another 25 more minutes of travel. We later found out by the hotel clerk that there are 3 other locations in Sintra-all with the same address!
Entering the town of Sintra, I now understood the confusion on Frank’s behalf. It is a beautiful, tight wound labyrinth of streets configured in dizzying crazy eights and loopy turns. The roads are narrow and wind up in a vertically challenged 90 degree fashion. There is Moorish architecture, dotting the tangle of lush greens, ample plush growth, fertile and pungent of rain and earth. Castles play hide and seek in the distance, as if they are a giant peering its intimidating head. A random waterfall on the side of the road stands out like an overdressed girl on a casual date. 12 foot stone walls bookend the slender streets forcing cars to almost hold their breath as they pass each other. Thick, square rocks create a cacophony of sounds as car wheels clunk over them, pedestrians plod their way down them and bicyclists daringly propel down them in whirlwind speed. At one point- we hugged the stone walls as pedestrians, cars and buses all negotiated for equal space and right of way. An impossible situation that only one person ever wins. Our hotel http://www.tivolihotels.com/en/our-hotels/sintra-hotels/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais/the-hotel.aspx off to the side of one such narrow road – is a delightful surprise, mammoth in size, screaming grandeur and timeless elegance. A pleasant doorman ran to my attention, umbrella in hand eager to help in any way as we drove up. The hotel is an 18th century palace with fine furnishings, antiques, and impressive art and décor. We were greeted by a complimentary bottle of Port and some authentic flaky Portuguese pastry that was waiting for us in our beautiful room which had stunning views of the castle. Fighting the overwhelming urge to nap, we instead showered and took advantage of the weather turn as the sun began to emerge. We set out on foot –the weather was mild, with the smell of rain and wet soil in the air. We made our way into the main village took in the scene and just people watched.
We settled on a restaurant called Laurence http://www.lawrenceshotel.com/ . As far as food goes in Sintra, it tends to be rather touristy and overpriced. This restaurant is part of a hotel. The hotel is nestled in a lush forest with beautiful gardens. The building is well preserved and is full of character. The service was good. The portions were somewhat on the measly side. I had gazpacho, which was spicy and could easily pass for V8, if not in a soup terrine. Frank had a fish soup, that appeared a little on the watery side. My meal was a very unmemorable tortellini dish. The vegetarian options were disappointing and few to choose from. Frank had a fish dish that he seemed quite pleased with. Unsatisfied with my meal, the restaurant did redeem itself with a lemon tart and lemon sorbet that was sublime.
We made it back to our room, just in time as the heavens opened and the rain down poured all night.
This morning we awoke with the faintest of birds singing and sun streaming through our floor to ceiling windows. This room is so spectacular that it not only has 1 but 2 showers in the bathroom and 2 sinks. Pretty swanky, huh?
We arrived for breakfast in the large open dining room, with a beautiful spread of delicacies. There were tantalizing sliced fruits in every shape, color and size, exotic and indulgent, mouthwatering pastries and hot filling eggs, bacon and breads. No one else was there yet and the waiter treated us like royalty, awaiting our every need. From there, bellies full we took a hop on-hop off bus to The Castle of the Moors http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/parques-jardins-e-monumentos/castelo-dos-mouros/ . Perched up on a mountain top are 1000 year old ruins of a Moorish castle. Now, I must admit, although I have a lifetime membership at LA fitness and may even walk that treadmill 4 times a week like it is nobody’s business- these hills have really challenged my endurance . My belief was that the bus drops us off at the top of the mountain. WRONG! The bus disembarks you at the bus stop, and then it is quite a walk up jagged rocks and uneven stone, with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean all along the way. Old people, smokers and mothers pushing strollers passed by me as I gasped my way up to the top.
Next, we took the bus to Pena Palace http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/park-and-national-palace-of-pena/ . This was even higher and more strenuous to walk than the castle. It’s a “Disney-esque” palace built by “crazy” King Ludwig’s cousin. Nestled high up on the mountain, so high it has its own weather system. Bright sunshine, clouds so close you can almost touch them. The views from there are spectacular. Again, getting there was taxing on the joints, straining on bones and a lesson in persistence for me. As expected, I may (or may not- you decide) have complained the entire length of the walk. But, the moral of the story is- all good things must be earned. This I did in fact deserve. Once up there, we took a self-guided tour through the palace. On our way down we sat at a picnic table in the shade and enjoyed a light sandwich we had packed.
Our next stop was the National Palace http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/national-palace-of-sintra/ . An 18th century palace with your usual set of suspects, ball room, chapel, gardens, etc.…. By this time, I was all “toured” out, a full day of walking, climbing “oohing and ahhing.” My brain was mush, my feet shot.
We worked our way back to the hotel and along the route was a place called Cintra Magic http://taylormoorephoto.com/new-works/ . A photo gallery comprised of all photos of Sintra from a very pleasant gentleman who left Canada to live his dream of photographing Sintra in all its beauty. A pretty gutsy dream if you ask me. His studio was situated around beautiful greenery and abundance of vegetation and foliage. If nothing else, he and his assistant were a friendly bunch and good conversation was had.
We made it back to the hotel, rested a bit and decided to have dinner at our hotel. http://www.tivolihotels.com/en/our-hotels/sintra-hotels/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais/the-hotel.aspx was a true dining experience. Once again, the service was impeccable. That 5th star really makes all the difference here and they go that extra mile that most places don’t. A gentleman was playing beautiful melodies on a piano as we dined by candlelight. We were given a complimentary bottle of Portugal red wine which made the meal all that more enjoyable. I had a Caesar salad with all the right components-creamy dressing, buttery croutons and crisp lettuce. Frank enjoyed a creamy oyster soup, presented to him in a dramatic way, as the waiter poured it to him over one sad and lonely-but yummy little oyster. This was followed by an amuse buche- a teaser of sorts. Nothing all that impressive for me, but Frank had some interesting indulgent items on a spoon. Next course was a special made vegetarian risotto for me. It had crunchy, neon green asparagus and a sinfully creamy texture. Bravo, Bravo! Frank had duck. He said Portuguese duck tastes different than USA ducks. Hmmmm, makes sense. We ended on an interesting note recommended by the waiter of pears poached in Sherry and Star Anise; pretty in presentation- again interesting. The verdict is not out on this one. Still debating….
Well, that’s it so far.
Tune in for exciting travels ….
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Greetings from Portugal