Friday, July 19: After exploring the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio Nacional da Pena, I take the Scotturb bus back into Sintra-Vila. Since I have so few opportunities to get pictures of myself on my holiday, I bought one of those pictures taken by a photographer at Palácio Nacional da Pena. It’s an 8×11″ picture, and quite large to carry, so I decide I’ll return to Piela’s to drop off the picture, eat some lunch and maybe visit the Friday market that Manuel told me about this morning.
Right across from the train station is a little cafe with outdoor tables; there I order a codfish croquette and a shrimp & cheese croquette and sit outdoors to eat. It’s still lovely weather in Sintra and I love being outdoors as much as possible.
After lunch, I walk down the pedestrian walk toward Piela’s and I come across a little market with these enticing figs. I buy four of them and take them back to my room.
By the time I get back to Piela’s, it’s close to 2:30, and Manuel tells me that the Friday market is over. I’m disappointed that I missed it! Oh well, what can be done? I drop the picture in my room, eat a couple of my figs, and head back out to Sintra-Vila to see the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Below, you can see the two conical chimneys, one of which is ugly gray concrete. I thought this was some kind of factory when I first arrived in Sintra.
It is the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal, having been inhabited more or less continuously at least from the early 15th up to the late 19th century. It is an important tourist attraction and is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
According to Lonely Planet Portugal, the palace had Moorish origins; it later was expanded by Dom Dinis (1261-1325), enlarged by King John I in the 15th century (when the kitchens were built), then given a Manueline twist by Manuel I in the following century.
There are some interesting sculptures along the Alameda Volte do Duche on the way to Sintra-Vila.
Even though the Palácio Nacional de Sintra isn’t much to look at from the outside, because of renovations and scaffolding hugging the building, and because of those ugly chimneys, it’s lovely inside. The interior is a mixture of Moorish and Manueline styles, with 15th- and 16th-century geometric azulejos that figure among Portugal’s oldest.
The earliest azulejos in the 15th century were imported from Seville by king Manuel I after a visit to that town in 1503. They were glazed in a single colour and decorated with geometric patterns. They were applied on walls and used for paving floors. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui (‘fear of empty spaces’) and covered the walls completely with azulejos.
The octagonal Sala dos Cisnes (Swan Room) is adorned with frescoes of 27 gold-collared swans.
The Sala das Pegas (the Magpie Room) is painted with magpies on the ceiling. This relates to a story that the king John I was caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by his queen Philippa of Lancaster. To put a stop to all the gossip, he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court.
Another highlight of the Palace is the Galleon Room.
Blazon’s Hall is all ablaze with colorful tiles from the walls to the ceiling.
The earliest surviving part of the castle is the Royal Chapel, possibly built during the reign of King Dinis I in the early 14th century.
Inside the huge kitchen, I can look up into the conical chimneys, but they don’t make for very interesting pictures.
King Manuel ordered the Manueline Hall’s construction.
On the steps of the palace, I can see the pretty town of Sintra-Vila and the Castelo dos Mouros on the hill above.
After exploring the palace, walking around Sintra-Vila, stopping in the central square for a sparkling water and buying a couple of scarves at a little shop, I walk back up to Piela’s, where, once again, I admire the colorful manor houses. At the Cafe, I sit with my computer and sip on a couple of beers while I chat on Skype with my friend Jayne in California and work on my blog. Again, I love how people drop into the cafe, quickly down a beer at the glass pastry case, and then make a quick exit.
Manuel has recommended two restaurants in town that are frequented by locals. He says they’re very good, have vegetarian options and are cheaper than the touristy places in Sintra-Vila. I seek out one of his recommended places tonight for dinner: Culto da Tasca. As I walk to the restaurant, a chilly wind cuts through my lightweight clothing to my bones. The sky is heavy with smudges of charcoal; it looks like a storm is brewing. Inside the restaurant, it’s homey and warm, a welcome reprieve from the cold! The place is brimming with lively Portuguese families.
I order cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms, accompanied by rice and fries and a glass of wine. Bread and olives are included, all for 11.20 euros. This price for all that is unheard of in these parts! And it is simply delicious. 🙂
I return to Cafe Piela’s, where I hunker in for the night, while a cold wind blows outside my window.