Atlantis Alumni

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of Sintra And Portugese Fado

Our last day in Portugal was a busy one.

In the morning we took a 45 minute train ride to Sintra, a beautiful resort high up in the mountains. Taking a local tourist bus we were driven to the Castle of the Moors, anold fortress that provided spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The ruins, dating from the time of the first king of Portugal, were restored in the 19th century.The 19th century was the height of Sintra, when millionaires from the country and around Europe built castles and palaces on the hillsides.

Our second stop was at the colorful Pena Palace, turned from a 16th century monastery into a Victorian Age, multi-roomed showplace by King Ferdinand. The lavish and excessive furniture and decorations were still in tact, and the palace attracts throngs of tourists from all over.

After a lengthy luncheon in the center of town, we went to the Palacio Real, or Royal Palace, a great 16th century structure with fantastic chimnies that resembled cones or witches ' hats. The decorative tile work and gilt ceilings were the best we saw on the trip, though fewer tourists visit the Royal Palace.

Jim picked out our next attraction, the Toy Museum. Though it did not have a large collection of toy trains (Jim's special hobby) the museum had such unique items as Nazi toy soldiers from the WW II period. The founder of the museum was there, rolling around in his wheelchair, and he spoke proudly of his collection. He had spent 50 years building up the collection, and had more toys in his house in Lisbon. When I told him how much I enjoyed the German figurines, he pointed out how two small figures in a toy limousine, made to represent Hitler and Mussolini, were different heights, with the former a couple heads taller than his Italian counterpart!

Our last attraction in Sintra was a recently opened palace with extensive gardens full of grottoes, wells and fountains. The 'Quinta' was no longer furnished, but it had been designed by Manini, an Italian stage designer and architect of the mid-19th century, and had recently been classified as a Unesco World Heritage site. (If I had been on the Unesco committee, I'd have chosen the unique Royal Palace instead, but the Quinta was fantastic.)

After taking the train back to Lisbon, we headed back to the Bairro Alto for dinner (note the different spelling from the Spanish 'barrio', though it means the same.) We went to a Fado cafe, where tourists are jammed next to each other at long tables. The restaurant featured two guitar players and three singers of fado songs; one woman was quite good and Jim bought her CD, which is fun and a great musical memento of the trip.

The next morning we flew back to Philadelphia on a sparsely populated US Airway jet. Now we're back on Fire Island, but still have fond memories of a spectacular and busy journey though southern France and a few days in Portugal.

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