Friday, August 4, 2017

Days 16 & 17: Headed west and exploring town

Day 16
Bolstered by the success of our trip to Sintra, Sarah and I figured it was time to explore farther afield that the Lisbon city limits. So, I went online and rented us a car for the day with the idea that we'd head back toward Sintra, but check out some of the outlying sights we'd missed.

If this trip has taught me one thing its that I've gotten fussy enough that, when push comes to shove, I'd rather have my own vehicle and control my own itinerary, rather than be beholden to the schedules of public transportation. Hoping on a subway to ride a couple stops down is one thing, but navigating the queue, waits and confusing tickets for an hour train ride is another.

Anyhow, we awoke "early" by our standards on this trip, loaded our bags and hiked down the hill to the car rental. Getting the car was simple enough and -all things considered- navigating our way out of the city wasn't that bad either. We rapidly discovered that, while the narrow streets of the old town may we crowded and confusing, once you got outside of downtown, the highways and country roads of Portugal were smooth, coherent and blessedly clear of cars.

So, in no time we were nearing the coast, and entering Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, our destination: Cabo de Roca... the westernmost point in continental Europe. This was something that had been on Sarah's list since the beginning, but which I was also keen to check out. We'd already been to the northwesternmost point of the continental United States and the southern tip of Africa (I've also been to the southeasternmost point of the US), so it sounded good to check another extreme region off our list.

As we wound our way toward Cabo de Roca, more and more motorcycle seemed to roar past us, lane-slipping and passing us with increasing regularity. As we neared the lighthouse on the point of Cabo de Roca, it became apparent that some sort of motorcycle rally or meet up was happening, and literally hundreds of motorcycles filled the parking lot. But, as impressive as their sheer numbers were, the stark and cloudy cliffs of Cabo de Roca were even more impressive.

Sarah and Stella... as far west as you can go in Europe, without falling all the cliffs behind them.

Sarah's commented that, as much as she understands the appeal of a good sunny beach, she prefers the stark isolation of a windswept coastline, and I have to admit that I generally agree. The point itself had an obligatory snack bar and stone cross demarking it, but the most stunning part were the sheer cliffs plunging down to the sea below and the sense of being at the "edge of the world."

After taking that in, we noticed a path winding down into a valley, and then rising to the next bluff. Feeling adventurous, we began climbing down, but after reaching the lowest point of the valley, and climbing up the the other side a bit, we realized we'd probably bit off more than we could chew, with just sandals and only a little water, so we turned back to the more well worn section. Still, it was nice to get some of that sense of isolation, by stepping away from the crowds (and motorcycles) for at least a bit.

"Let's go check it out!" The path looks steep. In reality, it is. And, despite the wind and clouds of the coast, hot and tiring. A nice little side exploration though.

Climbing back into the car, we realized we needed food. Following the road down the coast on our maps, we saw the town of Colares, and figured that would be a good place to grab some food. So, we plugged it into our Garmin and headed out. Unfortunately, as we neared the town, we realized our Garmin had a strange idea about where the town actually was. After it tried to make us pull and impossible 345 degree turn up a narrow alley, we parked and decided to try walking up the alley.

That walk, a half more or so later turned out to be a dead end as the road turned into a rustic road, then a dirt road, then a dirt path.

"I think this path with get us to town." No. It doesn't.

Returning to our car, we consulted Sarah's phone and drove a short distance to where it said Colares was. There we found a small network of buildings, but nothing looking like an organized town. After wandering in a circle there, starving, we ducked into a rustic restaurant serving chicken they were grilling outside... and it ended up being one of our favorite meals of the trip. Simple, but excellently cooked and seasoned chicken with a cheap beer. As I commented, "sometime where you need to be is not where you intend to be."

We left "Colares" happy and full... though still not entirely convinced we had ever actually gotten there.

Since the kids had been troopers so far, their reward was another trip to the beach. We'd read some good things about the beaches outside of Ericeira, so we continued our drive north, along the coast. As we made our way into Ericeira, my heart sank a little. It was obviously a European resort town where the buildings were all cookie cutter condos and the roads, while modern and wide, were packed with the cars of European vacationers looking for a weekend of sun.

(Also, incidentally, but cooler, the roads were packed with vintage Citreon cars, CV2's to be specific. It seems like there was some annual meet up of CV2 owners going on, and one parking lot in specific was overflowing with the charming, unusual looking car.)

Fortunately, punching through town and entering the beach, we discovered something much more manageable. Like the beaches of Cascais, there was a lot of people, but this beach was wide enough, open enough and had enough parking that at no time did it feel over crowded or unmanageable. The waves were bigger and the sand coarser, but the kids were unfazed and happy to have more playtime in the surf.

Soooo excited to be at a beach again. (Really, the kids just think we should have taken them to a beach for a month.)

After letting them play for an hour or so, and after a 45 minute drive back, we dropped off our car and found ourselves back in Lisbon, tired and hungry.

Dinner that night was at a restaurant called La Petit Café. We'd read good reviews about it, and it promised pasta for the kids, so while a little more spendy, it seemed like a good choice. The restaurant was charming and easy going, with a menu of dishes that was a mix of French, Portuguese and Brazilian (with pasta!) that, by not being easily pigeonholed as one of those, and not feeling like it was just catering to touristic expectations managed to just provide really good meals. My Brazilian-style seak was good enough that I would revisit it on a later meal that week.

Photobombed by another random tram, at La Petit Café. 

Day 17
Since Sunday had featured so much running around, we figured that Monday would be a good day to take it easy and stay closer to home. That meant sleeping in, multiple cups of coffee, Otto and I playing some Magic cards, the kids seguing into increasingly rowdy game and some lunch at "home" before finally heading out and about.

When we did finally head out, Sarah had wanted to get some stamps for postcards, so our initial errand was to find a post office and then do some sight seeing around town. After making our way down the hill, and buying more postcards in the Baixa neighborhood, we were given directions to the main post office several blocks away. We made our way there, and then set out toward Bairro Alto, which we hadn't properly seen yet.

We made a quick an impromptu stop to check out the "Sadrines from Outspace" gallery exhibit, which consisted of different artists art pieces created using a common silhouette of a sardine. Clever, and fun to just do something spur of the moment like that.

Sardines. From Outerspace.

Hiking uphill again, we grabbed a drink at a courtyard kiosk, before making our way into the Carmo Convent. The Carmo Convent was a Gothic church whose roof collapse in the earthquake of 1755. At the time, the city didn't have the resources to properly restore it, so they left the ruin standing, with it's giant arches supporting a non-existent roof. Now, tourists can wandering through it, and also explore the attached museum of historical artifacts, including several mummified bodies... which serve as a morbid counterpoint to the biblical symbolism of looking up in a church whose roof is the literal heavens.

Public square drinking is civic drinking.

Literal heavens above, while...

...While very earthly reminders of mortality within.

After that, we peaked around the corner from the Carmo Convent at one of the cities most famous landmarks, the Elevator of San Justa. Build by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the elevator's architecture reflect that same highly filigreed sensibility. Looking at it, and looking at the lines, Sarah, the kids and I agreed that we were happy to appreciate the appearance, without an obligatory ride. So, instead, we hiked several blocks north to catch one of Lisbon's famous Ascensors: Ascensor du Gloria.

The Elevator of San Justa is basically Lisbon's Space Needle, if the Space Needle was a steampunk fever dream built 50 or so years earlier.

Similar in appearance to their famous trams, the Ascensors are simple versions of those built specifically to climb the steep hills of Lisbon's neighborhoods. Fortunately, because little people were getting tired and hungry, there were no lines to speak of, so we paid our Euros and climb right on board. The ride down was fun and novel if also brief, and also pretty much just a service for tourists at this point. But, I still enjoyed it.

If the trams are Lisbon's showboating photobombers, the acsensors are Lisbon's fancifully graffitied little work horse... even if they are only hauling tourists up and down the hills.

After that, for dinner, we made our way back to Time Out's Market, since the kids had enjoyed it, and Sarah wanted a second go at the restaurants there. She and I ended up getting a six course tasting menu from one place, while Stella got a burger and Otto got some salmon ("how do you get your kid to eat salmon?" one nearby couple asked incredulously as he wolfed it down). Then, post gelato, the walk home.

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