Sunday, April 3, 2011

Post Heather Sintra

We dropped Heather off at the airport early in the morning and then headed home to gather the children for a trip to Sintra. Sintra is what must function as the Loire Valley of Portugal. The rich and famous settled themselves here, building palaces to reflect their stunning wealth. It was first founded by the Romans who called it “Cynthia” after the moon goddess. We had no idea what to expect but the lush tropical greenery was definitely a surprise. We felt like we had stepped into a jungle. Somebody back in time must have been a horticulturalist because there were trees from around the world on one of the palace properties. They even had Sequoia! It felt like we were back home in the forests of BC, although the foliage was just a bit too thick looking, with lots of vines. Vines really aren’t a BC thing.

The first castle we visited was a Moor castle ruin. It had been a fortress overlooking the town where every year, the castle occupants built a huge fire to remind the villagers the castle was here to protect them. The last occupant was a painter/king who spent quite a bit of time atop the castle’s highest point, capturing the view with his palette. For me, the best part of this castle was the thick jungle look surrounding it.

From here we hiked up to the Pena castle. This had been the site of a monastery until the big 1755 earthquake. After that, none of the monks was particularly eager to stay and the palace wasn’t restored until some years later when one of the Portuguese kings bought up the land and renovated. The result was quite stunning. The palace is painted bright colours and has a distinct Moorish flavour. It was quite different from the other castles and palaces we have visited. For one thing, the interior spaces had much lower ceilings, creating a homey feeling. The castle dining room seated about twenty rather than 144. It felt very liveable. The living quarters were built around a huge interior courtyard letting in light to all rooms. Pena has been compared to Neuchwanstein and other Bavarian castles by Mad King Ludwig but it was the final palace that we thought most reminded us of the crazy king. The whole palace was surrounded by extensive gardens with plants from around the world. We were on a bit of a tight schedule so we opted to skip the garden tour and go for lunch instead.

We had a forgettable lunch in town before walking up to the last palace of the day. This one was the best. It was Regaleira, built around the same time as Gaudi was doing his thing up in Barcelona. Gaudi didn’t participate in this estate but you could see he would have loved it. The mansion was wonderful with a library whose floor appeared to float. The room was poorly lit and when you peered through the door you could see that the floor didn’t reach to the walls and the stacks of books appeared to extend from the floor below right up past you to the ceiling above. It gave one pause. A couple of men stood in the doorway, wanting to go in but unsure how the floor was supported from below. I mean, one wrong step and down you go. What kind of tourist trap was this? We could see a door on the other side of the room and as Tom pointed out, if it was dangerous they wouldn’t have the open doorway. The men wouldn’t move out of the doorway though. They wouldn’t go in but they wouldn’t move to allow others in so I went down and around to get to the other doorway. By the time I got there, Tom was in the room with several others. The floor had mirrors all around the outside, giving one the illusion of a floating floor. Isn’t that neat? My mind is racing with ideas for my library…

There were also extensive gardens surrounding this place and it was fortunate we took the time to explore because there were more exciting mystery features throughout. The grounds were on a hill (isn’t all of Europe?) and there was a well built to take advantage of the slope. You could enter from the top or bottom. At the bottom were tunnels leading to other areas and in the middle were secret doors to get out. The doors looked like solid rock but if you pushed they would spin. We took a video so you can see the Scooby-Doo effect. The view up or down in the well was also quite striking.

When we got to the bottom of the well, we walked through the tunnel to a beautiful little lagoon. The rock had been carved out to create picturesque settings. The water was covered in algae, making it look like a green carpet. There were stepping stones across the water and a bridge over the top. Tunnels led around from one opening to the next and the whole effect was dramatic and exciting. It was like a fantasy come true. We followed the other tunnels to their end but the most interesting place was the well and lagoon. What fun they must have had designing that. In all, this was a great day.

1 comments: said...

Fabulous places! Love the picture of Tom and the one of Rhys...Great talking today and can hardly wait to hear about Granada...Love Mom