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September 16, 2016

On my second (and last) day in Sintra, I visited two extraordinary palaces: the brightly colored fairy-tale majesty that is the Palácio da Pena and the Palácio de Monserrate, an extravagantly (and exquisitely) decorated 19th-century estate blending Moorish, Indian and Gothic Portuguese architectural styles, which was the summer retreat of Sir Francis Cook, an English textile baron.

Palácio de Monserrate

Interior, Palácio de Monserrate

Monserrate features a beautiful botanical garden (of which I sadly only had time to see a small fraction) with non-native plants from all over the world arranged according to their geographic origin.

The chapel on the grounds of the Palacio de Monserrate, one corner of which has been entirely overtaken and suffocated by this incredible tree

The Palácio da Pena is thought of as one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romantic architecture not just in Portugal, but the world. It is surrounded by a forest and gardens—from which the castle is visible from all parts, apparently—that contain over five hundred species of trees also originating from the far corners of the earth.

Palácio da Pena, with tourists (of course)

As with all the other buildings I have loved so far in Portugal, the Palácio da Pena has many a hand-painted ceramic tile (known as azulejos).

As with all the other buildings I have loved so far in Portugal, the Palácio da Pena has many a hand-painted ceramic tile (which are known as azulejos).

Another view of the Palácio da Pena

I think whimsical is a good word to describe this castle (other than fairy-tale).

I think whimsical is a good word to describe this castle (fairy-tale being the other obvious choice).

As you can see from these too-up-close photos, I did not get a chance to see for myself (literally) whether the castle actually *can* be seen from everywhere in the gardens. This is because, sadly, due to the previous day’s rain (and not in some small part to mismanagement of time (aka laziness) on my part, I was left with only enough hours in the day—if I was going to see both palaces, which of course I damn well was—to basically do a shoot-and-run. My companion for the day’s adventure—Tauna, a lovely Aussie trauma nurse who lives in Hawaii—and I therefore were forced to become (thankfully temporarily) what she referred to as “terror tourists.” Honestly, we spent most of our time at Pena waiting for *other* tourists (terror and otherwise, but mostly terror, in our terribly impatient opinion) to get out of the way of our shots. If you want to see one of those great, iconic shots of the full castle, you could, of course, google it and see many, but I humbly suggest that you rather view such a photo here first, on this great website I discovered last night (when they liked my post; thanks, guys!), Salt of Portugal.

Yet another view of the Palácio da Pena

So, yes, once we’d seen and photographed everything we possibly could at the castle (the fabulous views will have to wait for when I post my entire photo album), we were off to make our way to Monserrate—which, with an accident that put all traffic to a standstill such that we got off our bus and started walking (until we got back to town, where we found a tuk tuk; they have tuk tuks here!)— we also barely had any time to see. After our photographic and just general love-fest with the house, we were in a hurry to leave, but I did some quick time recalculating and decided we had 20 minutes to see the gardens (which I policed very strictly, believe it or not; I *had* to make my train), after which we were blessed with yet another instance the good travel luck/karma (depending on if you asked me or Tauna) we’d had that day for the most part, when the every-half-hour bus we needed to catch (or walk an hour back) appeared about one minute after we’d crossed the street from the palace to the bus stop to check the schedule. (It was almost quarter past the hour, by the by.) Phew!

And so I made my train and then my bus and arrived in Porto by 11:30pm (Arrived about eight minutes ahead of schedule and my hostel is four minutes from the bus station . . . nice). So tomorrow’s photo(s) shall be of Porto (and not just of me drinking it, though that will happen at the end of my self-propelled five-or-more-hour walking tour, you can count on that!).