The One with Sintra, Portugal

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I'm kind of bitter about this whole day - if that's not an enticing introduction, I don't know what is :)

On Monday, since virtually everything is closed in Lisbon, we took Rick Steves' advice and headed out for a day trip to Sintra (SEEN-trah). I was so super duper excited to see the Pena Palace up close and in person (not my photo).
To get there... first we took the metro a couple of stops to Rossio. 
Then we walked to the Rossio train station - the circa-1900 facade of Rossio Station is Neo-Manueline.
A train leaves for Sintra every 20 minutes. The innards remind me of King's Cross in London.
We hopped on the train and found a spot to sit. 
What do you do when there's nothing to do? Take silly selfies of course!

The train ride was 40 minutes and we got a small glimpse of the Moorish Castle ruins up and above the train when we got off.

On the short walk from the train to the bus I saw lots of enticing tilework.

Theeeeen we hopped on a bus for about a half hour that took us nearly to the top.

The drive on the bus was CRAZY scary. Roads that narrow just should not be driven on. AND, by the time we got off, it was pouring rain, super foggy, cold, damp, and pretty much miserable. We couldn't see a thing as far as views or even the castle in all its glory.

But let's back up. Sintra - just 15 miles northwest of Lisbon, was the summer escape of Portugal's kings. Those with money and a desire to be close to royalty built their palaces amid luxuriant gardens in the same neighborhood. Lord Byron called this bundle of royal fancies and aristocratic dreams a "glorious Eden." For centuries Portugal's aristocracy considered Sintra the perfect place to escape from Lisbon, and now tourists do too. It's a mix of natural and man-made beauty: fantasy castles set amid exotic tropical plants, lush green valleys, and craggy hilltops with hazy views of the Atlantic and Lisbon (though, we wouldn't know, we could barely see three feet in front of us because of the fog and rain.... grrrrr). Here are some pictures from the internet of what we were SUPPOSED to see. 
Rather than wait for yet another bus to take us directly up to the castle, we just walked. All-in-all it took about 3 hours from when we left the apartment to when we finally reached our end destination of Pena Palace.
This is what we could see. Yes, pretty cool, I'll admit.
But this is what we were supposed to see. 
And this is what we saw. SCAFFOLDING! AHHHHH! 
This is what we were supposed to see. 
And this is what we saw.
Chris argues that the fog gave it a mysterious look and all that. But I wanted what I had seen on the internet. It's Europe though - I have to accept that the weather is unpredictable and sights are always under construction because they're so flippin' old. 
The magical Pena Palace sits on a hilltop high above Sintra, above Moorish Castle ruins (which we couldn't see. Have I said that yet? :). In the 19th century Portugal had a very romantic prince - German-born Prince Ferdinand. A contemporary and cousin on Bavaria's "Mad" King Ludwig (of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof and Herrencheimsee fame), Ferdinand was also a cousin of England's Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband). Flamboyant Ferdinand hired a German architect to built a fantasy castle, mixing elements of German and Portuguese style. He ended up with a crazy Neo-fortified casserole of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets, Manueline carving, Disney playfulness, and a tile toilet for his wife.
The palace, built in the mid to late 1800s is so well-preserved that it feels as if it's the day after the royal family fled Portugal in 1910 (during a popular revolt that eventually made way for today's modern republic). This gives the place a charming intimacy rarely seen in palaces.
Even though outside was miserable as all get-out - inside was warm and dry and we got to walk through room after room of fanciness.
Jane saw these bathtubs and said, "I wanna take a bath!"
I loved the textured ceilings.
Built-in church.
Whatdoyouknow - tiled rooms :)
Queen's bedroom. Or maybe the King's. I can't remember. But it's nice!
Wood furniture beyond the valley of cool.
Decorative chandelier.
My favorite room - cuz it's PINK!
Ceiling highlights. 
The kitchen.
We were pretty hungry at this point so we got some snacks from the palace cafe. And no we did not eat outside.
The rain was relentless. There was SO MUCH MORE we could go and do and see but the kids were miserable stuck in the covered up stroller and I was mad A) because it's impossible to hold an umbrella and a camera and a screaming child with only two arms and B) we spent a good chunka change to fly all the way to Portugal and I was upset the day didn't go according to plan. So I gave up and we all made the loooooong trek back to the apartment where we spent the rest of the day holed up. 

If we ever go back... 
I want to walk around the lush Pena Palace Park (not my pic). 
I want to see the Moorish Castle ruins (not my pics).
I want to visit the National Palace (not my pic). 
And I want to see the views from the top of the Pena Palace (not my pic). 
I do hope we get to go back some day because I don't feel like we did Sintra justice at all! Crossing my fingers and toes :)


  1. Love the post AND the pictures (even the ones you took! :) )

    I would love to watch your kiddos reading through your amazing blog 20yrs from now - remembering the fabulous yrs they lived in Europe. I'm sure this post will have you guys laughing (then if not now- LOL)


  2. So awesome! LOVING the silly selfies!!!!

  3. Yeah, the weather didn't cooperate with us that day... Oh well. I still liked being with you!

  4. Oh I remember the disappointment I felt when I finally made it back to DC last summer (2013) with my family and there was scaffolding on both the Washington monument and Lincoln memorial. But I am going to make a silly scrap page about it I think. :)

  5. The trip was still a great adventure! Loved seeing the castle built by a relative of accounting for taste. thank you for the travelogue.

  6. Awww man, I hate that the weather ruined the outside views for you guys! But I love the photos you snapped inside! Those rooms are gorgeous!

  7. Oh my, nothing is worse than a perfectly planned vacation not going as planned. The Pena Palace is still cool from what you DID see, but I definitely feel for you girl! Crossing my fingers you get to go back too, because all those other things look incredible!!

  8. I really hope you can go back because Sintra is just a dream when the weather is good! I would also recommend Quinta da Regaleira which is an amazing gothic palace, with a huge garden that is so fun to explore for kids and adults - it has waterfalls and underground tunnels, and towers to climb and wells to go down. You need to go!


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