Spain and Portugal
September 16 - October 4, 2014
In the afternoon Alberto took some of us on a walking tour. I liked all the unscheduled tours Alberto provided (and the ice cream, pastries, liqueurs, etc.) We numbered about 20 this time and we all piled into one tram for the short ride to the Alfama district. This area is the oldest in the city and consists of narrow lanes constructed like a maze. The Alfama was somehow spared in 1755 when 90% of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake, measuring between 8.5-9.0, or by the resulting tsunamis and fires.
Our group dinner that evening was at Casa do Alentejo, a restaurant that was a short walk from our hotel. The non-descript entrance is easily missed, but once inside it is surprisingly beautiful. The meal itself was simple, but it was the surroundings that made the evening special -- that and the company of my fellow travelers.
One last time for a day's outing on our bus, and after breakfast we headed to Cascais and Sintra. Along the way we drove by beautiful, stately homes -- clearly an area where the wealthy live. Our stop in Cascais (pronounced kash-kysh) was short and that was fine for this small, seaside town. Originally a fishing village, it is now a popular vacation spot. We stayed long enough for me to wander just a bit on this gorgeous day and pick up another custard pastry.
We then traveled to Sintra, a Unesco World Heritage Site. This is another ancient city that was inhabited long before the Romans called it home. It was easy to be overwhelmed with the history that had been all around us these two weeks. The Portuguese first occupied Sintra in the 12th century. The plague (also called the Black Death) came to the region in the 14th century pushing the area into decline. The Royal Palace was later built out of the ruins of a Moorish palace and Sintra became a summer destination for royalty and those who clung to their hems. The village also has the fairytale-like Pena Palace at the top of a hill.
We were given the choice of spending our time on a group tour of the Royal Palace or walking around the village. I chose the palace tour, giving me a little time to walk through a few shops and have lunch. I had planned to return to Sintra on another day to tour the Pena Palace, but my plans were thwarted.
Once back at the hotel Annette and I took a long walk up the major boulevard. That evening we had our final group dinner at the hotel. We said our farewells early as some people had flights departing as early as 5:00 a.m.