Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.






Portugal: Day 5

by Kathy 27. March 2011 22:40

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<< Day 4: Lisbon: Sintra, via the Mouth of Hell | Day 6: Dinosaur Tracks to Nazaré >>

 

Magical Castles of Sintra and Óbidos

Today we would be exploring the dreamy Pena Palace before heading to the walled castle-town of Óbidos. Our first stop, however, was the contemporary art museum in Sintra.

With map in hand, we drove downhill on a curvy street, away from the historical district.

The map, however, did not warn us that some streets only flowed in one direction. We also should have paid more attention to the page in our guidebook entitled, “Stop And Learn These Road Signs”!

Yikes! What did a white circle outlined in red mean? Or the red circle with a white dash in the middle? We were clueless. Quick, quick! I grabbed our guidebook and flipped to the road sign page. Uh oh! And that was how found ourselves going the wrong direction on a long one-way road, winding downhill. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any cars. And my heart soon resumed its normal slow beat.

The Sintra Museum of Modern Art showcases a collection of international contemporary art from the 20th and 21st century, with works by many artists such as Alexander Calder, Jenny Holzer, Sol LeWitt, Pablo Picasso, and Richard Serra. The primary group of artwork is known as the Berardo Collection. During our visit, most of the museum space was devoted to an exhibit of the Latin American artists within that collection.

No photos were allowed inside the museum. However, here is Ben outside the front entrance:

Genevieve, with some outdoor sculpture:

Sebastian (with his eyes squeezed shut against the bright sun):

After browsing through the museum’s many rooms, we were back in the car, heading to another artistic wonder—the Pena National Palace:

(The above image was from a postcard.)

The palace was built in the 1840’s by King Ferdinand II. (Remember him? He was the same king who renovated the Moorish Castle that we had explored yesterday).

The palace was built on the site of a small monastery that had largely been destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1755 (the same one that leveled much of Lisbon). The name “Pena Palace” comes from the monastery chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Pena, which had miraculously escaped significant damage. Local stories say that the chapel had been constructed in the Middle Ages after an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared on that spot.

King Ferdinand wanted to create a summer residence for the royal family. For the chief architect, he chose a young German baron, Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. With much input from the king and queen, the palace was designed with elements from Gothic, Medieval, Renaissance, and Islamic styles, all of which combine to form an enchanting whole.

The parking lot for the palace was down a fairly steep hill from the entrance. Before hiking up, Genevieve and Sebastian wanted to play in the extensive gardens:

Their favorite part was a hedge maze, where they would have happily played for hours if we had let them. Here is Genevieve, popping up from a hiding spot in the maze:

Although there was a shuttle taking visitors up the hill, we chose to walk. Well, 3 of us walked. Sebastian hitched a ride:

The walking path gave us some great views of all the different architectural aspects—the domes, the turrets, the clock tower, the wall crenellations, the arches. There were so many intriguing details!



Here I am with Sebastian and Genevieve at the entrance:

One of the interior archways had a grotesque gargoyle above it, sitting in a clam shell, with feet that transformed into fish tails, and hands that grasped the branches of a tree that seemed to be sprouting from the back of his head.

The palace was full of symbolic details, but I am not sure what that gargoyle represented.

We loved all of the little turrets, some of which we could climb:

This one had a beautiful domed cap:

The top of the clock tower was peeking over the curved wall, and we noticed that the clock face has no hands.  Was this more symbolism?

Another view of the palace:

There was a small café with outdoor tables on a large patio:

We sat in the sunshine and enjoyed some ice cream:

(Sebastian really does like his ice-cream! He just didn't like the sun in his eyes for a photo.)

On the way back down the hill, Sebastian and Genevieve ran ahead, and then perched themselves on a bench so they could pretend that they had been waiting for us “such a long time!” (This is a favorite “game” of theirs, and Ben and I always laugh and play along.)

The drive north to Óbidos took a little over an hour.  

In one valley, there were tall apartment buildings on the outer edges of what appeared to be an old town with smaller dwellings:

Along the road were huge wind turbines—much larger than the ones that we generally have in California:

Óbidos has been described as “Portugal’s most romantic medieval village.” The buildings were indeed beautiful, and it didn’t take much imagination to transport ourselves back to the 13th century when King Dinis gave the entire town to his bride, Queen Isabel, on their wedding day.

To get inside the walled town, however, we first had to find the entrance. It took us a bit of searching, and finally a phone call to our hotel.  The entrance was tucked away next to the main castle on the northern end.

The castle:

The castle has been converted to a hotel, and we would have liked to have stayed there; however, they did not have any rooms that could accommodate our family of four. We ended up finding a wonderful bed and breakfast that turned out to be one of our favorites of the entire trip—Casa das Senhoras Reinhas.

As rain speckled our windshield, we navigated our way to the hotel down the cobble-stone main street (Rua Direita):

Almost all of the buildings were white-washed, with trim of cornflower blue, golden yellow, or leaf green. Our hotel was in a block of yellow:

The skies were clearing, so we headed up the nearest steps to reach the walkway along the top of the castle wall.

The walkway was a bit sketchy, with a 2-story drop off of one side.

As a parent, I found myself looking at that “fine line” again between keeping the kids safe and giving them freedom to explore. The kids were pleading to walk along the wall.  After some discussion, we set down certain "rules"--no running, walk close to the outer wall, stay away from the edge, and stick with one parent at all times.  Ben and I each took one child.

I had Genevieve, who was really great about following my running mantra to her (“Stay against the wall!”) even through the few parts that had a short safety wall on the drop-off side, as shown below:

Sebastian was known for having what Ben and I called “happy, skippy feet”, as if they held so much joy that they just had to dance all over the place.  So Ben walked against the inside edge with a firm grasp on Sebastian’s hand.

The walk along the wall is one of the things that Genevieve and Sebastian remember vividly from our entire trip to Portugal. They found the whole experience to be incredibly exciting.

I thought that it was pretty amazing myself!

A view out over the red-tiled roofs:


Genevieve:

We climbed down from the wall to take a closer look at Santa Maria Church, with its beautiful old bell tower:


Sebastian:

During peak tourist season, the streets can get pretty crowded with tourists. But today there seemed to be only us:



We stopped at a medieval-themed tavern for some snacks and drinks:


Sebastian was inspired by the hanging weapons to do some pretend sword play:

I loved the old doors on many of the buildings:


In my artwork, I use doors to symbolize choices, and I incorporated the last set of doors above in one of my paintings. Here is a section of that painting, showing the doors on the far left:

After our break, we continued our trek on the walls:


Occasionally, we would stop to peek over the wall at what lay beyond.  On one side stood an old windmill that looked abandoned:

Far below was a church with a cemetery:

Agricultural fields stretched westward:

The tile rooftops were so fascinating with their colors, lines, patches of lichen, and even plant growth:

This old rooftop had a hole, as if someone had chucked a heavy object through it:

Genevieve was getting very comfortable walking so high up in the air:

(As for me, I was getting more comfortable with having her walk so high in the air.  Well . . . what I really mean is that the words “die,” “death,” and “plummet” were no longer floating through my brain.)

I was really glad that we had taken this walk together as a family. It was a special experience. But I was also glad when we made our final exit, down this lumpy trail:

Genevieve and Sebastian still had some climbing energy, which they used to scramble all over a large expanse of rock.

And we all marveled as the setting sun lit up the rain clouds:

Back to our cozy room at the inn:

We had experienced two incredible places today—Pena Palace and Óbidos. Either setting could easily be the back drop for a magical fairy-tale. With a happy ending, of course.


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<< Day 4: Lisbon: Sintra, via the Mouth of Hell | Day 6: Dinosaur Tracks to Nazaré >>

Comments (2) -

5/11/2011 9:17:05 AM #

Veronica

I have one photo of exactly the same set of steps... and, probably some of the same doors....I, too, loved the old doors and windows..... ..you seem to have wandered to many spots we never did see in Obidos... ....isn't it amazing....and those tiny streets. ...  
We really enjoyed our visit to Portugal... and I'm enjoying it again seeing all your photos...

Veronica Canada | Reply

5/11/2011 1:30:51 PM #

Kathy

Veronica, it sounds like you enjoyed Obidos as much as we did.  How funny that you and I took the same photo of the steps!  And the doors were indeed lovely.  Our favorite part was walking on top of the town walls--very exciting for the kids.  Thank you for taking the time to post your comments!  Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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