21 August 2014
I slept in again, eventually leaving my host’s place for Sintra just before 1pm. I grabbed a massive chocolate croissant at the pasteleria on my way to the train station for breakfast. It was so cheap and so big that I kept the leftovers wrapped in a napkin in my pocket, lol.
Sintra is a nearby town at the other end of one of the train lines from Lisbon. A friend of mine recommended going, as did Rita who said I would need a full day there. Unfortunately, I ruined things a little by waking up so late but I decided to make the most of it anyway!
There were no more tourist maps of the area near the station! I took a photo of one on the road on my walk towards the historical center. I’m pretty helpless and it didn’t do much for me lol, but at least I could figure out how to get to the historical center! The route was full of souvenir shops and peddlers, and lined with pieces of artwork. The core of Sintra was bustling with locals and tourists alike.
I passed by cafes and pastelerias selling queijadas (famous cheese tarts of Sintra). Sadly, I didn’t get to try one! Ah well. I stopped by a place called Cantinho Gourmet for some Ginjinha (a sour cherry liqueur) in a tiny chocolate cup for €1. I absolutely loved it! You drink half of the contents before eating the chocolate cup and consuming the rest of the alcohol with it. Yummmmmy.
After spending a short amount of time exploring the city center, I went up the promenade to Quinta da Regaleira, a massive estate and garden epitomizing the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. With its palace, chapel, towers, and endless number of grottos, tunnels, and wells; it would be easy to spend half a day wandering around here.
I got a student discount (€4; regularly €6) and went on a self-guided tour armed only with pamphlet and map of the place. Brace yourselves for an onslaught of photos:
And here’s a view of Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), which I planned to hike up to later that day:
After exploring the palace, I walked all over the park and gardens:
I walked through a couple of the underground tunnels linking various caves, grottos, the ‘waterfall’ (not particularly impressive), and several wells.
The most interesting was the Initiatic Well, an ‘inverted subterranean tower’ with a spiral stairway linking Heaven and Earth.
I spent a lot of time here and took so many more pictures, and STILL didn’t see everything there was to see. Even the park benches, statues, and gazebos were pretty ornate here. I knew that I spent too long here though to be able to make it to Castle of the Moors or Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena Palace) during their open hours. I eventually headed back to the historical center for some food. I had snacked a lot on my leftover croissant and some crackers so I still wasn’t that hungry. I found a cute cafe where I ordered a codfish quiche and green tea. Codfish is a popular food item here and I wasn’t disappointed with this quiche – so good!
After eating, I decided to embark on a long and uphill trek towards the Pena Palace and Castle of the Moors. I had read that the walk was about an hour long and tiring, but the sights and scenery would be worth it (honestly… not particularly, lol), and perhaps I’d be able to roam around whatever free areas that would still be open to the public around the Palace and Castle. There were a couple of signs on the road early on to direct me to my destinations. They disappeared completely after about ten minutes of hiking and I saw only a few hikers/joggers coming down and the occasional vehicle alongside me.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great deal to really explore around the Castle; or at least I wasn’t feeling up to it after having walked up. Adding to my distress, I had just missed the last bus going down by ten minutes. I really should have opted to bus my way up and walk down for the views. Haha, ah well~
Anyway, I also somehow managed to exit some other route from the way I had come in and made my way down that way. There were neighborhoods so it was great to see civilization at least, but I was a little worried that I could be headed for a different town altogether. o_O I was so tired I almost considered hitchhiking my way down to the bottom, but ultimately was too scared to try. I took photos of a few new things I passed by on my way down:
It turned out I was just going down another route back to the historical center – phew! I stopped by Cantinho Gourmet again to send a quick message to Rita that I would be headed back soon. The owner saw me awkwardly hanging out by the entrance and invited me in. He even got a stool for me to sit on next to the cash register as I fiddled with my phone and customers walked around me to taste the different wines in the store. Haha. Such a nice guy.
It was starting to get late. I found my way back to the train station and had dinner at Cyntia (former name of Sintra) – snack bar, restaurant, and convenience store – just right across from the station.
There was only one other customer there who was drinking an espresso at the snack bar. I sat down and ordered the boiled codfish – codfish hype! I’m not sure if the kitchen was meant to be open at this hour and it ended up taking a really long time for my dish to arrive. This thing was meant for at least 2-3 people! It was nice, though a little bland after a while even with the olive oil and vinegar. I think it was just too much for me. Overall, this probably wasn’t a great day for me food-wise, but I would definitely make up for this in my last remaining days in Portugal. ;)
Luckily, they had WiFi here and I got Rita’s message inviting me back to the apartment for dinner and drinks. I waited on an empty train for almost twenty minutes before a couple of other people came on and we finally started going. On the ride home, I witnessed a fellow traveler get caught by ticket police on the train. The ticket police let him go with a warning and corrected his mistake of buying the wrong ticket for this train. The traveler seemed kind of frazzled and plain lost. He got off at the same stop as me asking if it was Rossio (it wasn’t even close)! I told him to wait at the station for the next train heading there.
I came up to the apartment and greeted Rita and Arnao halfway through a deep dish dinner and having wine. I joined them for wine and shared the happenings of our day. We then moved into the living room for more wine and our travel stories and ambitions. They’re both so well traveled and I felt so inspired to be more adventurous and see more of the world! Arnao was on his way to Segovia to participate in a WWOOF plan for a week, which was pretty much what he had been doing over the summer during his time off as a way to keep busy and be able to travel. We bonded over a mutual love of avocado and street food in Asia, as well as the time he had spent in the Philippines. Rita had spent a couple of years studying in Brazil and then backpacked and Couchsurfed all over South America, showing us really incredible pictures of her time there. She also told us about one really venturesome friend of hers who had managed free transportation on a cargo ship that took three months to get him from France to somewhere in the Caribbean. ….Wow.
We decided to call it a night at 2am and continued to talk a bit while we stood around and brushed our teeth, lol. I stayed up a bit longer to make sure I had everything ready to leave for Porto – my last stop in Portugal – the next morning!
Oh! I also bought these cool cork-based postcards. Sintra in particular is popular for its products made out of cork. These postcards generally sell for €1, but there was a store down a smaller alleyway that was selling them for €0.80 each. Hurray! :)