We crammed a lot into a 12-day trip. We are both tired and happy. I forgot how exhausting tourist travel can be. Don’t want to miss anything!
Speaking of that, as I mentioned, Saturday, we were going to head to Sintra. I had read that the train leaves every 30 minutes. Hmmm, that turned out not to be the case. It may be true that there are trains every 30 minutes, but they leave from different stations. They only leave once an hour from Rossio station, where we were. Two bits of advice here: Use the machine to buy your ticket instead of waiting on the long tourist line. You can also buy you ticket in advance. Since it is a commuter train, it’s good whenever you ride.
We had just missed a train, so instead of waiting 55 minutes, we decided to hoof it up to the Castelo de São Jorge, which we could see from our AirBnB. We had a 5:0 food and drink tour and we didn’t want to rush it. You know me, so you know I would hoof it, but you don’t have to. There are elevators that take you a lot of the way if you know how to find them. Or the tram 9which we didn’t take at all) or cabs, which are pretty cheap in Lisboa. The castle is a 5th Century Visigoth fortress that was expanded by the Moors in the 11th Century.
Sometimes a surprise can be more stunning than something you were looking forward to: no expectations. That was the case here. Aside from the fabulous views, there were peacocks everywhere. We wandered for about an hour or two and then figured it was time for lunch. The Portuguese eat a lot of cod and one of their iconic snacks is a cod cake. We stopped at the touristy place at the top of the hill and bought a couple. Sure, we paid a bit more, but we were hungry and it was right there. Vacation money!
Next, we hit a wine shop that has a nine-generation lineage of wine seller and got advice on a couple of bottles of tinto verde for Jake to take home and one bottle we planned to drink as we sat on the terrace for our last night. We also went to Livraria Bertrand, the world’s oldest bookstore — open since 1732 — where I may have purchased a Pepa Pig book in Portuguese.
We took a short break so I could rest my weary ankles and then headed out to meet up with the food and (alcoholic) drink tour. I made a grand entrance by slipping and falling (very gracefully) to my hands and knees. I don’t think I have mentioned, but the sidewalks of Lisboa are made of small, uneven squares of limestone. Very slippery! Birks in need of resoling are not a good choice. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself and off we went.
We started with ginjinha, which you can buy from little cafes and drink on the street IF you want to drink it. To Jake and me, it tasted like cough syrup. It is made with ginja berries, which are kind of like sour cherries, but it’s sweet and syrupy. ate (another) cod cake and learned that the one Jake had with cheese was not traditional, although it was quite tasty. The snack shops, where many Lisboans grab a quick lunch, sell many different handheld foods. João, our guide, took us to little hole in the wall places and that was great. We tried sparkly wine, tinto verde, and red wine along with the food.
At last, we had the famous pastéis de nata, an egg custard in a crunchy shell served warm and gooey. Yum!
After the food tour, we headed over to a neighborhood that was supposed to have a kind of roving street party with a woman we met on the tour. We did find a festival, but it wasn’t really our kind of music and after wandering some more, we called it a night.
Sunday: Our very last day 😦
We did make it to Sintra (one of 1,154 UNESCO world heritage sites) and it was worth it, but first we had brunch. We arrived at Quase Cafe in the windy narrow streets of Alfama just before it got really crowded and waited only a few minutes for a table. Jake and I did really well ordering a savory and a sweet breakfast. This time we got pancakes, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheesy pesto toast. It was a lot of food, but definitely fortified us for Sintra.
Once again, our timing wasn’t great, and we sat on the train for about 30 minutes. It did get a bit crowded and there isn’t AC so we were glad for seats, especially since masks are still required. From the train, we got on the Hop On, Hop Off bus, which has three different circuits around town. We headed for Pena Palace, mostly because it was at the top and we figured we would work our way down. If you are like me and you get seasick easily, you will not like this bus. Entry to the parks is not free, but you can buy combined tickets if you know where you want to go. Pena Palace is in a park that is worth exploring. I would say you can skip going inside the palace. It’s OK, but there are plenty of other castles and grounds to explore.
In fact, our favorite part of the castle was the Sentry Walk. The castle is built on the highest hill in Sintra and the view is spectacular. We also enjoyed wandering the gardens, which cover about three-quarters of a square mile and where five sequoias ordered by King Ferdinand are thriving among other trees from abroad.
I was very reluctant to get back on the bus, so I missed going to the westernmost spot in Europe. Oh well, next time. We took a TukTuk instead and had a much more enjoyable ride with an interesting driver. You can do a whole Sintra tour in a Tuk Tuk, but you can also take the buses or walk to a lot of spots (if you don’t mind hills). The driver dropped us in the town of Sintra, which mimics many other old European towns with narrow streets filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, and recommended we go to Quinta da Regaleira, which he said belonged to Freemasons. Carvings attest to that and an affinity toward Knights Templar and Rosicrucians. One cool feature are the initiation wells. Tourists can start at the top of one of them and walk the circular stairs all the way to the bottom, where the floor is a compass and Knights Templar cross. How the wells were used is a bit of a mystery, as you might imagine with those groups.
After exploring the grounds there, we were ready to head back. Bad train timing again, but we realized we could get on a train that was leaving in a couple of minutes if we didn’t mind taking the Metro from there. Better than waiting 50 minutes! So we hopped on, but when we hopped off, we found that the Metro was closed because of a strike. Luckily, Lisboa is full of cabs and they aren’t expensive, so we grabbed one and were back in no time.
Things didn’t turn out exactly as we planned for our last dinner. We wanted a restaurant with a view, but after some fumbling around (mostly by me), we didn’t like the place we chose and ended up at an Indian spot with a terrace that faced away from the view. Oh well. I accidentally ordered giant beers, so when we got back to the apartment, we didn’t really drink that much wine, but we did raise a glass (see below for pics of our last night). It was really good, though. Definitely no complaints!
We figure that we walked more than 80 miles and up and down hundreds of flights in our 12 days. The weather was beautiful, if a tiny bit hot in Barcelona, and all three cities are worth a visit.
Monday, we took a cab to the airport (less than 10€) and had an uneventful (thankfully) trip home.