Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Days 14 & 15: Sintra and the Tile Museum

Day 14
Two weeks of traveling!

We figured that Friday would be a good day to get out of town, so we got moving early and headed toward the Rossio Train Station, in central Lisbon. During out tuk tuk tour a couple days previous, the driver had explained that during WWII and after, because of Portugal's neutral status, the station and neighboring hotel had been a common meeting place for spies (even hinting the Ian Fleming had paid a visit or two), so I was intrigued to check head that direction.

Rossio Train Station. Cloaked in mystery and subterfuge, and now going to take us to go see some quaint village.

While the outside of the station features a fanciful art nouveau entryway, the interior has been remodeled to a more midcentury style. Thankfully, the lines for the tickets weren't nearly as long as the ones at the Cais du Sodre station, and we boarded a train that was (also thankfully) not crowded.

Soon, we were speeding out of the Lisbon, passed it's epic aqueduct, toward the comparative greenness of Sintra and it's surrounding regions. The train was quick and uneventful, and soon we were dumped unceremoniously with a legion of other tourists at the Sintra train station, a kilometer downhill from the historic town center.

Sintra. The Palace of Pena and Moorish Castle lie hidden in the clouds above. 

The walk up to the town center was on a winding road lined with craft vendors and tuk tuk operators, but it was also pleasant and tree lined and a welcome departure after a week in the city. Reaching the town center, we (like the other tourists) began looking for something to eat. Sarah had the smarts to suggest we push on, up hill, and through some side streets; which rewarded us with a restaurant that wasn't already crowded with tourists and seemed to be making a little extra effort in the food department. While the actual food didn't completely amaze, they were coming at things with some thoughtful ideas (smoked cheddar and tomato salad served in a sealed jar filled with smoke) and presentation (a lot of the food items were served in ceramic pots), and the location was peaceful.

Sarah and some artfully presented lunch. 

With food in our belly, we realized that the hike up to the palace (which is the centerpiece of any visit to Sintra) would probably be beyond the kids, so we hired a tuk tuk to run us up there. There were cheaper options, but the lack of hassle was worth the extra money, and the kids enjoy a good tuk tuk ride.

The driver dropped us off claiming (with an unknown level of truthfulness) that the main entrance to the palace would be a longer wait, and entering through the lower garden entrance would be easier. That ended up being a good solution for us, because the remaining 1000 meters or so were winding through a shaded forest, past ponds and ruined garden features to the lower reaches of the Palace of Pena.
Sarah points out duck castles and whatnot in the gardens below the Pena Palace. 

A first peak at Palace of Pena, as we make our way up from the gardens below. 

The multi-colored palace, which adorns the cover our of Lonely Planet did not disappoint. After refueling the kids with cold water and a donut, we first made our way around the perimeter wall, a narrow, vertigo inducing pathway which circles the main building. At first, it proved to scary for Otto, but after Stella and I made it around once unharmed, he mustered his courage for the entire family to make a second lap.

Possibly the only photo of all four of us, so far. In one of the onion-top domes surrounding the palace.

Next it was inside. Dating only back to the mid-19th Century, the palace is still in really amazing shape, and Portugal is in the process of restoring it to reflect how it looked when the royal family fled to Brazil in 1910. That meant that while some rooms were still obviously undergoing restoration, other rooms, such as the queens quarters and smoking room, displayed an amazing decadence in the Romantic style.

After exploring the interior it was back down through the garden, passed the ponds, and onto another tuk tuk ride down the hill. If it had just been Sarah and I we would have tried a second site, like the Moorish Castle or the Town Palace, but the kids were running out of battery power and craved gelato.

After grabbing some gelato in town, and letting Sarah sample the locale pastry, it was back on the train to Lisbon. At home, as reward for our active day out, we let the kids rest and play in the apartment; while Sarah made a delightful pasta dinner. All in all a fun day, and Sarah and I both agreed that while we like the bustle of the city, we also both need the green and relaxation that come from smaller towns; and could have easily spent a second day in Sintra, at least.

Another late-night attempted to get the quint-essential streetcar photo (this one by Sarah). 

Day 15
We'd heard that Lisbon had a good flea market on Tuesdays and Saturdays (both from the owner of our apartment and the tuk tuk driver), so since it was Saturday, and just around the corner, we figured we'd check it out. Hiking up to it, we were impressed by the size of it, spreading over several narrow streets. It looks to be divided into equal thirds of arts and crafts, interesting and authentic antiques and just random junk. Refreshingly, it was surprisingly free of the tourist tchotchkes we'd been seeing in too many stores.

The Lisbon flea market, in the shadow of the massive mausoleum. Definitely some treasures hidden amongst the flotsam and jetsam. 

After exploring it for a bit, we made our way over to the Church of Sao Vincente de Fora. In some ways it was actually more impressive than Lisbon Cathedral, including an organ that it considered one of the best in Europe. Outside the church, in its entry arches, a woman impressively sang opera music. Her voice echoing through the surrounding area.

After checking out the church, we poked into the courtyard which serves as the adjacent monastery's entrance. Cool, with flowers lining the walls, it made for a nice rest, and place for me to name more pigeons.

After going home and regrouping, it was time to head to the Tile Museum, something that Sarah and Stella were excited to do, but Otto and I were a little more ambivalent about. Rather that trying to navigate the buses, we decided to try to walk, which is a decision that quickly became on of this trips sweltering death marches, as we hiked down effectively one long, shade-free street.

Arriving at the museum was a bit of a revelation though. After very little but concrete and sunlight, we were greeted by an entrance enveloped in bushes and trees. We walked in and paid surprisingly small entrance fee of 5 Euros for all of us.

The Museum proved to be surprisingly empty, which would make you think that it was also surprisingly underwhelming, but -quite to the contrary- it exceeded all of my personal expectations.  The tile collection as both large and stunning in it's detail, plus there was all a large and opulent church as it's centerpiece that -frankly- was more beautiful than the other churches we'd visited to far.

Stella strikes a pose in front of one of the rooms. You can see some of the tiles behind her. 
The centerpiece of the Tile Museum, this amazing church. Presumably it was the original purpose of the building, because it didn't have a whole lot to do with the tile work in the other rooms. But: Stunning in it's detail. 

After exploring the entire museum, and taking photos of all the bizarre mythical creatures featured in it's temporary exhibit. We retired to a palm tree shaded courtyard garden, next to the museum sack bar. While the kids ate ham and cheese sandwiches, and played with the turtles and goldfish in the nearby fountain, Sarah and I enjoyed a little white wine and the rare period of peace and quiet.

The turtles are complete unaware of what the kids are planning for them.

Rather than make the death march back to our apartment, we decided to risk a bus ride. After waiting a short bit, and watching the kids play "chopsticks" we were relieved to have a near empty bus show up.

Back at home, we decided to let the kids pick dinner, which meant returning to the view point restaurant we'd eaten at on our second night. That was fine by Sarah and I because we had enjoyed the previous dinner, and appreciated that our slightly longer visit to Lisbon was allowing us to revisit places we liked. Dinner was happy and successful again, like our day.

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