The Mist of Sintra

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It was a Sunday when we arrived in Lisbon. This apartment didn’t have 3 flights of stairs, it had 5 flights. I was thrilled when the apartment owner just grabbed my suitcase and ran up those 5 flights with it.

What an amazing view of the cathedral, river, and Golden Gate-like bridge from our windows, which helped a bit with the all out fear I would be holed up in the apartment for the next two days feeling faint of heart to leave and return only to face the staircase. I realize now that it’s time to admit my limitations and stop thinking I’m 40 years old with no health issues.

After a brief rest with the tall balcony doors open and facing my bed (being up that high has the advantage of no one able to see inside), I heard music, and got up to look down upon a marching band with horses. The guest of honor appeared to be a statue on a horse, stiff legs sticking out, with red ribbon around the horse’s ankles. Jordan and I thought this to be a very nice welcome to Lisbon. Christopher and Kelly were on their way to find the supermercado and also saw the parade. Love these impromptu celebrations when I usually have no idea why they are celebrating.

After that little adrenal rush, I told Jordan we had to go take a walk, stairs be damned, in the neighborhood. Shortly after buying a stuffed fish from the shop across the street, some souvenirs (which included t-shirts for both her and Gabriel), we found the Mother of All Climbing Trees. Jordan didn’t hesitate. Soon after, and as I was just reprimanding her to stop going so high, her parents found us. My son’s horrified look spoke volumes as to what he thought about Grammie letting his daughter climb so high up into a tree. Geez…as if he never used to do the same thing! And he lived to now watch his own daughter follow in his footsteps. Cute, right?

We all walked together to the top of the hill with a lookout, and then hopped a very San Francisco style cable car for a long careening ride (#28) up and down the Lisbon hills. At the end of the line was a gorgeous public park where, since it was warm and sunny, I figure about a quarter of Lisbon’s residents were having picnics, listening to a live jazz band in a gazebo, sitting on benches talking, or playing in the large, well-equipped playground. Jordan was in heaven. We stayed quite awhile so she could work off that pent up energy after the long train ride from Porto.

In many European cities, we have found that they close museums and shops on Sundays and Mondays. We learned that while these Lisbon (Lisboa) places would be closed the next day, if we took the train out of town, about a half hour away was a castle called Sintra. That was the plan.

In the rain on the following day, we made our way down the waterfront, to the TI gazebo (TI is “Tourist Information” where you can pick up free walking maps for the city you are visiting as well as staff to answer questions) to get the city map and then figure out how to get to the subway station, called The Metro. From there we took the Metro to the train station (remember to validate tickets at most stations BEFORE you get on the bus or train), then on to Sintra.

“National Palace (Palacio Nacional)
While the palace dates back to Moorish times, most of what you’ll see is from the 15th-century reign of King John (Joao) I, with later Manueline architectural ornamentation from the 16th century. This oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal is still used for official receptions. having housed royalty for 500 years (until 1910), it’s fragrant with history.” Rick Steves’ Portugal April, 2011

After arriving at the train station in Sintra, it’s a short walk around the corner to wait for the bus to take you up the mountain. It was raining. I went across the street to check out a, what we used to call, ‘junk store.’ Wow, I could have spent hours and a lot of money in that place. Really cool stuff and I could kick myself for not getting the metal knight in full armor for Gabriel. His mother, however, would be on the other side giving me a kick, too, if I had bought it. My daughter is a minimalist, so less is best in her world.

The ride through the cute little town was brief and the ride up the mountain didn’t take more than maybe 15 minutes. It was getting increasingly foggy as we ascended into the clouds and we could not see a thing beyond 50 feet.

We arrived at a gate and paid the entrance fee along with the bus fare for Jordan and I to go the rest of the way to the castle. The Kids were just going to walk in the rain and they were better equipped to do that than Jordan and I, anyway.

At the top, now seeing what would have been a wonderful day of exploring if it was dry and warm, were the castle and the acres of gardens. The walk up the curving dirt road to the entrance was very manageable and felt mystical as Jordan and I rounded a bend and saw this medieval/gothic yellow and red imposing structure before us. I took a lot of photos.

As per her repertoire, Jordan said she was hungry. We found a deli, rather than go into the restaurant. I felt soggy. Jordan looked even soggier. We were not fit to be inside a restaurant. Christopher and Kelly soon found us and we all ate lunch at a small crowded little counter with only two stools for all 4 of us. The Kids had brought French bread and salami, as is our standard low budget fare (not knocking it…great way to save some bucks rather than eat in overpriced tourist spots).

We walked all over this amazing place. Unfortunately it was yet another location (like the library in Porto) where photos were not allowed inside but suffice it to say that the furniture was as magnificent as the architecture. There was also a team of experts diligently restoring various pieces of stained glass, tile work, etc. The antiques in here were invaluable.

Jordan had another meltdown as she reached her boredom maximum and poor Kelly was ready to lose her mind. I didn’t envy either of them and I could understand both of their frustration. They went outside.

After exploring every inch of the exterior perimeter while inside a cloud of mist, Jordan and I headed back on the bus to the exit gate at the bottom where we waited longer for her parents than I would have liked. They had taken a detour on the way back and spoke with some guy in a building who had a model of the grounds and was sharing his knowledge with them. I didn’t blame them, on the other hand, I now had a very bored and fed up 3 year old who was now playing hide ‘n seek with me, in the non-kid friendly souvenir shop, where pottery and tiles stood stoic waiting to be bumped into and smashed to only a smattering of what they had once been. It was pouring outside so there were very few options, the restrooms being the other choice. (We left without owing any money except for the couple of small trinkets we bought.)

Later, back in Lisbon, we found a restaurant not far from our apartment where Jordan showed off a whole new line of bad behavior as if it was the spring edition of “Jordan Wear and Tear.” The food was not great, the beer was ridiculously expensive, and Kelly had to take Jordan screaming back to the apartment before we were finished eating. It had been a very long day.

The next day I offered to stay behind with Jordan as they went to Bellem. I wanted to check out the ancient flea market in our Alfama neighborhood and just take it easy before we flew back home the next day. As Jordan and I descended the 5 flights of stairs, we walked up the hill (passing the souvenir shop where we bought a few things a couple of days before and where the owner was standing in the doorway recognizing us and giving Jordan and I kind words of greetings (this is one of the great aspects of renting apartments in neighborhoods when traveling). Halfway up the hill, as Jordan wanted to climb the old knarly tree again, I realized I didn’t have my camera. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave behind my camera on my last full day in Europe.

So, quite begrudgingly, we returned to the building and climbed the 5 flights of stairs again. I was wiped out. It felt like the last 3 weeks had fallen square on my shoulders and I didn’t have any strength left. My nerves felt shot. I couldn’t find my camera. My stomach was upset. Jordan was racing around. Everything felt like it was careening out of control.

And then it happened.

I was in the bathroom when I heard a high pitched screech. I came out and looked down the hallway into my room and saw that the previously closed balcony windows were now wide open and what I could see of the narrow balcony was empty. I started running down the hallway while I called for Jordan and there was no answer. I yelled for her as I went racing to the balcony. No answer. In my panic, I imagined Jordan going over the edge of the balcony and falling to her death like poor Eric Clapton’s son. As I rounded the bed frame (with the bad Feng Shui corners that kept gouging us) innocent faced Jordan came walking back into the room from the balcony. I grabbed her, far from very gently, and told her to never go out there again without an adult (which we had already warned her about) and to answer me when I called her name. She had never seen me so angry so the both of us broke down in tears hugging one another. I didn’t feel like going anywhere by then.

I still hadn’t found my camera and was only mildly consoled by the fact that most of the photos, except Sintra, had been backed up on Christopher’s camera. However, it was a relatively new camera and the thought of it being lost, along with my eyeglasses, just made me feel sick. But, after looking again, I found it under a backpack and told Jordan we were getting out of the apartment, pronto!

We asked for some directions at the top of the hill where there is a stunning view at a very popular overlook, and then hopped the cable car to the flea market. We had to jump off at the last minute with the help of a tall man lifting Jordan high in the air to place her gently on the sidewalk, me squeezing between the boarding passengers, and the driver yelling at us. We were supposed to exit from the rear of the cable car. Oops. We kept walking at a fast clip to the church where the old lady sitting next to me (this time old means very much older than me) had told me the flea market was located.

I was going to redeem this day come hell or high water. And I certainly did, as you will soon find out in the next edition of this too-long-and-too-wordy blog.

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