Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Day 3 - Moorish Castle and Palace of Pena

The heat wave still hasn't let up, so we decided to take the city bus up to the castle and palace, rather than the hikes recommended by our hostel guide.  The first stop was Castelo dos Mouros, or Moorish Castle.

This castle dates back to the 13th century, and is a fascinating patchwork of the different peoples and cultures that have occupied it over time.  It was initially built by the Moors, before there was anything known as Portugal, and eventually taken over by various kings as Portugal was created. 
The castle is unlike any other castle I've seen.  It is a wide sprawl of various walls, staircases, and towers.  We wandered around, going up and down various staircases and into towers, looking out over the stunning views of Sintra, imagining what it must have been like when it was full of various peoples over its history.

One particular tower was the favourite place for its most recent king to sit and paint, while looking out over the city... standing in there and admiring the view, we could see why.
Viewpoint of the King

There was a wall which had various stages of construction and re-construction over different time periods; archeological sites where Christian graves were found alongside more ancient granaries that had belonged to the Moors, and other unique little bits of history existing side by side across time.
The next stop was Palacio da Pena, or Pena Palace.  This colourful palace is the poster-child for Sintra - bright and colourfully painted, this extravagant palace can be viewed from many different parts of the town.  We were determined to see it up close, however, so we hopped on the bus and headed five minutes down the road.

With this relentless heat wave, we had no choice but to take things slowly, and constantly buy cold water to keep us going.  After another water and rest break in the shade, we set about trying to find the best viewpoint to the palace.  We had bought tickets only for the elaborate gardens that surround the palace (which could take all day to view properly!) so we wanted to find a good spot to see the palace.

We set off for one good, likely spot - a queen's favourite viewpoint.  Surely that would let us see right to Pena Palace.  Well, when we arrived... it looked like trees had grown considerably in the hundreds of years since this was the queen's favourite spot, so we couldn't really see anything.
We studied the map again.  Well, there was a stone cross up on the highest point of the whole hill... we looked at each other.  Did we really want to climb up that hill in this heat?  Again, if you've been paying attention...
Stone cross at the top of the hill...
exhausting hike but worth it for the views!

At least the access, though long and meandering, was very gently inclined.  We slowly made our way up the path, stopping every few minutes for water and a rest in the shade.  Finally we were there - the stone cross.  I hopped up on a boulder ahead of J and look out.  "Oh!" I cried back to her.  "It was worth it!"

The view of the colourful palace was more perfect than we could have asked for.  As I balanced on the boulders and looked out not only at it but at the rest of the town below, I again imagined what it must have been like, long ago, to live or work in a place like this, and my thoughts wandered.
The Portugal I had been told about as a child - full of history and diferent cultures and royalty and magical buildings - was unfolding before me in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Pena Palace

After Pena Palace, we made our way back to Lisbon to pick up our rental car.  J took the wheel first, and we were both on high alert as I tried to give her directions and help her figure out the roundabouts.  ("Welcome to the country of roundabouts," my uncle would say later).
Somehow (and I really don't know how), we found ourselves right where we wanted to be - approaching my parents' village; Tojal de Baixo.

As we drove into the village, memories rushed back and the homes and roads took on the familiar appearance they always do.  It's that strange feeling again - the feeling of coming home but not quite home.  Someone else's home, that still somehow belongs to me, still carries pieces of me.
We park the car at the house that used to belong to my grand parents and which my mother inherited, but of course it was dark and empty.  "Don't worry, I know where they are," I told J.  My uncle lives down the road, and sure enough that's where I find my mother (who is here on vacation at the same time as us), having dinner with my aunt and uncle.

Sometimes when I see them, I feel as if its been so long... and other times, its as if no time has passed at all.

They had just finished up dinner, but they quickly ushered us to sit down and warmed up dinner for us, all three of them collecting bits of this and bits of that until we had a full spread in front of us.  The food was all very familiar to me, but for J it was her first time trying a lot of things, like rooster stew and beet-leaf soup.

I did my best to translate the Portuguse conversation for her, and we told stories of our adventures at Cabo da Roca and my unfortunate flip-flop, as well as asked him to decipher the various idiosyncracies of driving in Portugal.  (For example, why do some traffic lights change from red back to... flashing yellow?  And sometimes just remain at flashing yellow indefinitely?  Do we go?  Do we stop?  Are we in a state of perpetual traffic light limbo?  Apparently the answer is... all of the above!)

We also watched news coverage of the forest fire that was still raging.  We first heard about it when we got to Lisbon the second time in order to pick up our car; we had alarmed messages from family and friends, wondering if we were safe.

The fire that claimed 62 lives happened a little over an hour's drive from our village.  We are safe, but our hearts are broken for the devastation that is happening while we are here. 

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