My last free day was spent in a drizzly, windy and tourist-filled town called Sintra. Don’t get me wrong, it was still beautiful, and I saw things that aren’t even close to anything I’ve ever seen before.
Sintra is a very easy 30-minute train ride from Rossio Station in the center of Lisbon to the last stop on the Sintra line. This area used to be a summer retreat for royalty and the aristocracy, so the city is littered with huge mansions and estates plus a few palaces.
The Portuguese transportation system is very modern, probably due to the infusion of EU money in the last few years. However, it seemed to me that most of the tourists still opted to participate in tourbusapalooza because this was the only place during my whole trip that was overrun with tourists.
When the train pulled into the station at Sintra, I knew it was going to be a wet and unpleasant day, weather-wise. It wasn’t raining hard so I decided to take the 10 minute walk into the center of town. Along the walk, you can already see Sintra National Palace (Palacio Nacional de Sintra) topped with Madonna’s Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra.
Sinta National Palace
Plus, the street leading into town is lined with sculptures like this:
Heart sculpture on the way to Sintra ville
The Sintra National Palace was my first stop. It is the only remaining royal palace from the Middle Ages. One of the unique things about the palace is that many of the rooms have their own themes.
The Swan Room was used for banquets and other functions and is beautifully decorated with white and green tiles, animal shaped tureens and a ceiling painted with swans (of course).
The Magpie Room has a ceiling that is decorated with magpies but I found this intricately tiled wall and fireplace to be most stunning.
Many of the windows of the palace presented views of the Moorish Castle, which I would visit later on in the day.
The piece de resistance was the Stag Room. It was absolutely exquisite, decorated floor to ceiling with blue and white tiles and painted coats of arms and stags. It was also overrun with tour groups. I patiently waited until the tour groups cleared out, giving me a few minutes to enjoy the room with only a few other travelers. Of course, another tour group quickly descended upon the room.
One of my main goals of this trip to Portugal was to see some examples of Moorish architecture. I was in luck because the chapel of the palace was done in Moorish style.
While there were many more rooms I wish I could share with you, I will leave the palace at the kitchen. This place was huge and stark. Guess the royals need a lot of space to feed the richies.
The dreary weather was getting to me at this point so I gave up on trying to wander around looking for something good to eat. Instead, I opted for something quick and sugary. Cafe a Piriquita is famous for their travesseiros. Travesseiro translates to pillow, which is appropriate for me because I love my pillows. They are almond and egg custard filled flaky goodness. I grabbed a couple of pastries and a drink and was on my way to my next spot.
I had originally had grand plans to do a lot of walking but my feet were cold and my nose was runny so I took the bus, waiting with the rest of the tourist folk. My destination was Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). The castle is more fort than what one normally thinks of as a castle, and it castle dates back to the 9th century and offers panoramic views of the city along its high, winding walls.
While the views were remarkable, I had thoughts of the winds whipping me off a ledge, so I wound up cutting my visit to the castle short.
Does it look windy to you?
The castle also gave me a peek at the prime real estate that exists in Sintra. Look at all of the big houses! More like mini castles.
My final sight in Sintra was Pena Palace. The same bus I took from Sintra ville can take you to the gate of the palace but then there is still a ten-minute walk up to the palace.
Pena Palace is a odd mishmash of different style of architecture and colors. Photos weren’t allowed inside the palace so there will only be exterior shots. The interior showcased rooms decorated in Victorian furnishings. And similar to other sights I visited in Portugal, the Palace had rooms dedicated to Asia and the Middle East.
I reached my limit of walking around in the cold so I took the train back to Lisbon.
I enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Servejaria with some beer and seafood. If you haven’t figured it out, oil is important here, just look at my octopus.
Coming up will be a wrap up of the rest of my trip to Portugal.
My second day took me by tram to Belem, where a heavy concentration of historical sites can be found. Plus, it has sweets. I missed my tram stop so I had to back track a few blocks for my first taste of the very popular Portuguese pastry pastel de nata (aka pasteis de Belem). Casa Pasteis de Belem has been making these egg custard treats since the 1820s. They originated at the Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos, which I visited later that day, in the 18th century. To anyone who has ever had dim sum, they might look familiar. Apparently, dantat is a derivative of pastel de nata, which makes sense since Macau was a Portuguese colony.
Enough of food history, these pastries look similar but they do not taste like dantat. The crust in particular is much more crunchy and flaky than the dim sum version.
A bica (espresso) and two pasteis de belem
My first historical site of the day was the Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum). The museum was created by the Queen in the early 1900s as a way to preserve the historical vehicles and share them with the public.
The majority of the carriages were ceremonial but there were also a number of functional examples. Many of them feature intricate carved woodwork.
National Coach Museum
Next was the highlight of my day: Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos. The architecture is a distinct Portuguese late gothic style known as Manueline. Much of the Manueline architecture was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 but the monastery still stands.
Exterior of Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos
Exterior of Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos
The cloister was my favorite part of the monastery and I could see how this environment could be conducive for a spiritual life.
Main chapel on Exterior of Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos
Further towards the water is Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), which pays tribute to the explorers from Portugal’s golden age. The structure was completed in 1960 and two of the explorers included are Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator.
Monument to the Discoveries with 25 de Abril Bridge in the background
A waterfront path leads you to Torre de Belem, which was my last stop on my tour of Belem. These two cows were hanging out in front of a museum along the way.
Torre de Belem is another example of Manueline architecture. Built in the 1600s, the tower was part of the defensive system. Climbing to the top of the tower proved difficult as it was very crowded with only a single stairway to take people both up and down. I eventually made it to the top though.
I was famished by the time I made it back to central Lisbon. I had only had my two egg custard tarts so far in the day, so I took a walk from my hotel to the Alfama neighborhood for the afternoon. The weather was looking ominous at this point but I was still able to enjoy an al fresco meal before the rain started.
I picked Porta d’Alfama because I had read in a number of places that they have afternoon fado on Saturdays. I was to find that this was not true. Oh well, at least the food was good.
I had an octopus salad and the soup of the day.
Octopus salad from Porta d’Alfama
The soup was a traditional leek soup that I saw in lots of restaurants.
Just as I was finishing my meal, it started to rain, so I quickly snapped some photos of the Alfama area. This small alley was decorated with tinsel for some reason.
Alley in the Alfama
I decided to visit the cathedral (Se de Lisboa) until the weather got better. This is Lisbon’s oldest building and dates back to 1150. From the outside you can see two bell towers and the rose window.
Here is how the rose window looks from the inside. ?
I also visited the cloisters which as you can see have been undergoing some excavation.
The galleries surrounding the cloisters feature statues and sculptures dedicated to saints. This was one of my favorite pieces that I saw.
The cathedral was not very busy so it was easy to enjoy its tranquility and beauty.
I spent the remainder of my afternoon souvenir shopping. If you ever find yourself in Lisbon, I recommend A Arte da Terra. This shop features only Portuguese-made items and handicrafts so you can be sure you are supporting local artisans and also taking something home that is made in Portugal.
Before heading back to my hotel, I made a quick stop at Eduardino, another ginjinha shop! Saude! This place is supposed to be the most authentic but I couldn’t tell you the difference. Maybe it’s the plastic cup?
For dinner, I went to Ze Varunca. This is a restaurant that is difficult to just stumble upon because it is off a back street. The restaurant feels very homey and quaint.
One main difference between American and Portuguese meals is that a lot of stuff is brought to your table that you didn’t order and which you are charged for if you touch. If you don’t touch it, you don’t get charged for it. Even bread and butter cost extra. For this meal, I just had bread and my main entree but at other meals, I did eat the appetizers which usually include olives, cured meat or fried things.
Before leaving Portugal, I had to have balcalhau (salted and dried codfish), which is considered the national dish of Portugal. I heard people say there are 365 recipes to prepare balcalhau for each day of the year. It should also be pointed out that codfish is not a local fish, so the national dish is an import!
I had a version that was baked with spinach and cheese. Not my favorite thing in the world but I had to try it.
Casa Pasteis de Belem Rua de Belem 84 1300-085 Lisbon Portugal Porta d’Alfama Rua de Sao Joao da Praca 17 Largo das Portas do Sol 1100 Lisbon Portugal
Ginjinha Sem Rival/Eduardino Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 7 1150-277 Lisbon Portugal Ze Varunca Rua de Sao Jose 54 1150-323 Lisbon Portugal
I just wrote two papers on Portuguese culture, so why not continue my streak and tell you about my trip to Portugal?
I arrived in Lisbon for a few solo days of sightseeing before I needed to get to work. I decided to take it easy my first day since I wasn’t sure how quickly I would become exhausted. That gave me enough time to take some walks around the downtown area.
First item of business: lunch! Beer and seafood were calling my name so I found my way to Cervejaria Trinidade, a 175 year old Portuguese brewery on the grounds of a 13th century convent. This is where I got my first dose of the ubiquitous azulejos (Portuguese tiles).
Then I got to wandering. Everywhere you turn there are….
tiled buildings with tram wires crisscrossing above,
Neoclassical buildings and tiled sidewalks,
monuments like the Obelisk in Praca dos Restauradores,
interesting details in the architecture like the horseshoe entryway of Rossio Station
and statues of dudes on horses.
Two churches were also on the itinerary for the afternoon. Both looked remarkably nondescript from the exterior. One survived the earthquake of 1755 and the other lived through the earthquake and a fire but was never fully restored. I was struck by how, in such vastly different environments, believers can worship. Pretty cool, even for someone who doesn’t believe.
The first was Igreja de São Roque, the first Jesuit church in Portugal, in all of its gilded glory.
Contrast that with Igreja de São Domingos. This is a place that has lived and you can see it in its walls.
Now, that we’re done thinking…What happens to be across the street from church? Booze! I had my first of what would be many shots of ginjinha (sour cherry liquor) over the next few days.
Who drinks this stuff? Old dudes and tourists. Yes, that guy is begging for money outside.
€1.35 gets you a shot with or without cherries. With, please!
A little more wandering brought me to Elevador de Santa Justa. The line was way too long so I skipped out on going up to see the view. The elevator may remind you of another famous structure because it was designed by an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel.
Rounding out the day was a sighting of two guys making a Post-It note mural at the modern art museum,
Now that I’m all growns up, I realize how amazing Torrance is when it comes to Asian food. Yes, I said it. Torrance is kind of amazing. It’s not easy to find a) good, b) authentic, c) nearby, and d) affordable Asian food where I currently live. Torrance has all of the above and a lot of it.
So I pretty much went on a noodle spree when I went home to visit last month.
There were mul naengmyeon (Korean cold buckwheat noodles) from Da Maat.
Then there was zaru soba from I-naba. The last time I had soba was on my honeymoon in Hawaii.
I got the upgraded version that came with a tuna bowl. Yum!
Last noodles of the trip were from Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi (okay, so not in Torrance but Gardenia is close enough). This was my first time here. The staff is super exuberant. The meals are customizeable, so you can select the noodle firmness and strength of the broth. I also added corn and bamboo shoots and had mine without green onion.
That’s it for my oodles of noodles but I’ll tell you about some of the others things I ate soon!
Da Maat 2814 Sepulveda Boulevard Torrance, CA 90505 I-naba 20920 Hawthorne Boulevard Torrance, CA 90510 Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi 2015 West Redondo Beach Boulevard Gardena, CA 90247