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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.
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 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.
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.
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!).
September 15, 2016
I spent the better part of the afternoon today exploring the somewhat surreal, somewhat magical grounds of the Quinta da Regaleiro mansion and gardens in Sintra, Portugal, the brainchild of Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini, who appears to have been hired to bring his fantasy to life, no expense spared, no idea too over-the-top. The guy had clearly read a lot of fairy tales as a child. And then graduated to Knights of the Templar adventures. (Apparently the main house is full of Knights of the Templar symbols for those in the know. Which I am not. Sorry.)
Here you will find many a fountain and grotto, as well as several underground tunnels—not all of which are shown on the tourist map, including the one from which the Labyrinthine Grotto above gets its name. It somehow hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about the origin of this lovely grotto’s name—any more than it occurred to me to wonder who Leda was when I went to Leda’s Cave.
So perhaps it is fitting that, since I never bothered wondering, I found out the answer purely by accident, and not without a bit of luck. Which I needed, because a few minutes after I’d wandered into a dark cave tunnel armed with nothing but my camera to “light” the way, it was looking like I’d have to turn around, as it was so dark I didn’t even know if what was in front of me was more tunnel or I was about to walk head-on into a dead-end wall. But then rescue came in the form of an Aussie mom-and-daughter pair wielding a phone flashlight, which enabled us to continue walking—somewhat precariously at times, as the further we went, the wetter it got (which should have been our hint right there)—and find out where the tunnel ended, i.e., at the grotto at which I’d taken the above photo about fifteen minutes earlier.
So, yeah. The whole place is pretty crazy. But also pretty. But also, yeah, kind of a nutty dream movie-set of a place.
Unfortunately, it was also a pain in the ass that it rained most of the time I was there, and when it got heavy I had to sit on a carved stone bench under a carved stone overhang for an hour and wait it out. (I know. First World problems.) The silver lining, however (Hey, how many times does one get to use that in the context of actual rain?), was that when the rain lightened up enough for me brave leaving (with my sun hat turned rain hat and my linen shirt damp and useless against the cold), I again passed Waterfall Lake, which had been my first stop at the Quinta three hours earlier, when it had been so full of pain-in-the-ass tourists (I know. How dare they?) that it was impossible to get a photo without them marring it. With the rain falling, it was now blissfully empty. So, Mother Nature taketh away, but she also giveth, and the above photo is proof. Obrigado, mãe.
Below is the mansion, in which, presumably, the man who let Luigi Manini’s imagination run wild—Brazilian coffee magnate António Carvalho Monteiro, aka Monteiro dos Milhões (Moneybags Monteiro. Of course.)—and his family lived.
Lastly, I give you the view from the top of the admittedly pretty incredible “Initiation Well” (before the rain got heavy enough to scare away the majority of us tourists, unfortunately).
For all these sights, but especially the latter, the interweb’s photos are far superior to mine. So I suggest giving it a google if you want a better idea.
Tchau! (Yes, that is really how it’s spelled in Portuguese. Obrigado yet again, interwebz.)