September 12, 2021

Palacio National – Sintra

Dateline Porto, Aveidra, Costa Nova, Pasaitas, Sintra and Lisbon, Portugal.

Today was a long day of bus riding down the length of Portugal from Porto to Lisbon with a number of stops along the way. You would think that would be an interminable journey, but Portugal is about 2/3 the size of Alabama so it was a slightly shorter drive than Birmingham to Mobile. It’s just as well as it was another night of somewhat indifferent sleep. Apparently Saturday nights in Porto are spent having drunken singalongs in the wee hours of the morning under other people’s hotel windows. I eventually figured out that housekeeping had not closed my windows properly behind the blackout curtains and when I was able to get that issue rectified, it quieted down somewhat. Although I could still hear the serenades and various other noises until about 4 AM.

After breakfast, all aboard the tour bus and the eleven intrepid guests on the tour, our guide, and the driver, headed across the Ponte Maria and towards points south. Our first stop, an hour or so out of town was the small town of Aveida. Close to the Atlantic coast, it has a series of canals which were used in times past to ferry sea products to storage and processing and now are a tourist attraction. We stopped, took pictures, used the facilities as necessary and then a little further down the coast to Costa Nova, a Portuguese fishing village which has now become a summer resort with all the fisherman’s cottages now painted in bright stripes and turned into Air B and Bs. Time to stretch legs. One more drive of a about an hour to another resort town, Pastais, which has a lovely beach, the usual shops and restaurants one finds in any beach town anywhere in the world. Stop for lunch – delicious Portuguese style salted sea bass caught fresh. (Also some sort of spice-pear upside down cake which was also very good).

Portuguese Coast

Then another hour or so, with pretty much everyone sleeping off their post prandial torpor with the exception of the driver, and on to the town of Sintra, just west of Lisbon. Sintra is built on the sides of an extinct volcano (I imagine it belongs to the same chain as the Azores, Madeira, Vesuvius, Etna, and Santorini) and due to its height and its position near the ocean, it receives the Atlantic winds and is considerably cooler than the surrounding area. Here the Royal family and nobility of Portugal built their summer palaces, places to escape the heat, crowds, and plagues of Lisbon. We toured the Royal Palace, a hodgepodge of buildings built over six centuries so no wing lined up with any other. Beautiful tile work, painted ceilings and an enormous kitchen dominated by two huge conical chimneys that tower over the rest of the complex. As we drove into town and I saw the building, I immediately recognized it. My maternal grandmother had an etching of it hanging in her dining room when I was a child. I had completely forgotten that until I saw those unmistakable chimneys appear. I have no idea if Lisbon and Sintra meant something to my grandparents. They were European and certainly could have taken a holiday there sometime in the 1920s from the UK. It’s a story that never made its way down to me.

Then on to Lisbon, where we are staying at the Ritz, perhaps the poshest hotel room I’ve ever had the pleasure to be in. There appears to be some sort of diplomatic group from a French speaking African nation on my floor. Many distinguished gentlemen in expensive suits coming and going and a bodyguard parked on a chair in the hall just down from my room. While the interior is sumptuous, the exterior looks a bit like a 1950s girls’ dormitory from an undistinguished state college. I’m assuming the building was repurposed in some way from a more pedestrian use. The only issue this time around is the electronic lock on the door refuses to recognize my key. They’ve switched it out three times and it still isn’t working properly. I’ve locked myself out twice and the front desk is getting tired of escorting me up with the master. I heard someone futzing with it a while ago. We’ll see if it works in the morning or if I end up locking myself out again.

Lisbon Book Fair

The Ritz overlooks a large city park. Parque Eduardo VII, named after Edward VII of England who helped strengthen the ancient English/Portuguese alliance (dating back to John of Gaunt’s daughter marrying into the Portuguese Royal Family) in the early 20th century. Currently, it is the site of the famous Lisbon Book Fair. If I had done my research properly and realized this was going on at the time I was here, I might have had some copies of The Accidental Plague Diaries sent over and handed them out. I couldn’t do that, but I did have a copy with me and could not resist running down and having some pictures taken with the signage.
It’s the weekend.

News from Covidland has been quiet and it’s late so I’m going to wind this up now. Spending a long day tomorrow exploring Lisbon, then on to Spain to Tuesday…

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