Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). Ah, how I loved this place. It's located above the town of Sintra, and is certainly the oldest castle or palace there. Sintra is actually lousy with palaces: The Sintra National Palace, which is in better shape and more beautiful, the neoclassical Seteais Palace, the beautiful Pena National Palace and the palatial villa Monserrate Palace. You'll notice I didn't take pictures of them.
No indeed. For me--and my parents, because my Mom loves Medieval history and my dad is a war geek--the only royal residence we wanted to see was the stoic, grim ruins so far up into the mountains that it's about a half-hour walk from the nearest bus stop (outside Pena Palace), through a requisite foreboding forest, up a trail that combines the modern and ancient paths, with moss growing on the trees and boulders and where once the footsteps of knights and peasants may have been.
Ruins of a church on the way up to the castle, which post-dates the Islamic Moors, but is nonetheless ancient.
Almost at the entrance to the castle's courtyard.
In other words, it was a pretty long haul, but so freaking cool.
This was a view of the upper part of the castle from the lower ruins. The Castle was enormous.
And looking down.
My dad took some great video (the breathing sound is him, the almost static sound is the flag snapping like mad in the wind. It was quite warm in the sun, but almost windy enough to be painful):
And this is my dad, looking heroic on the battlements.
It was difficult explaining to Javier what it was that we were looking at (he especially had trouble with the fact that there were walls in a forest), though eventually he seemed to get the idea of entropy, how eventually everything will
Mom and I chose to walk down the mountain back into Sintra, while my dad, who would probably drive to cross the street if he could (he blames all the marching he did in the Canadian and British Armed Forces), took Javier with him on the bus. We met up outside the Museu do Brinquedo (Toy Museum), then of course took Javier inside, where he very much enjoyed mommy carrying him around so he could actually see the exhibits (he liked the cars especially). They were having a special anniversary of Playmobil exhibit, which was fun as well, while I contemplated how many thousands of dollars it would actually take to get Javier the comprehensive collection. We left with a new toy car for him. Of course.
The little cafe in the ground floor of the museum had the most interesting and odd hot chocolate experience I've ever had. It was far more like a hot chocolate pudding than something you could drink, and came in almost any sweet flavor imaginable. I wish I could remember what it was called.
We went home on the train back to Oriente.
I think, aside from the very groovy condo, my favorite part of Oriente was the cable cars (teleferico), which went from one end of the park to the other, along the shore of the river.
These had been made as part of the Park of Nations because who doesn't like riding in a metal gondola with a great view? Here's another picture:
The white building on the right with the red umbrellas is a bar. I took this picture standing on the wooden boardwalk which is out on the river and directly underneath the cable cars.
Javier would have lived on these things. We went on them every day, at least once. I don't even want to think of how many euros we spent just going back and forth, though it was worth it because it made him so damn happy. I, naturally, would be beset by nightmarish visions of the gondola falling off the cable and plunging down into the shallow water below, because that's how I roll.
Javier, it turns out, is a bit of a daredevil. I discovered this, much to my joy and chagrin, at the indoor amusement park at the Columbo Mall in Lisbon (hey, turns out it's the biggest mall in Portugal or Spain, and used to be the biggest mall in Europe. I didn't know that. Wild). This is the mall where the video of Continente was taken, by the way. Jav and I only saw maybe a quarter of it, and it was beautiful, overwhelmingly large and very, very orange. The amusement park was in its very own section and looked like this:
The red thing is the roller-coaster attached to the ceiling. Which we went on twice. I had to hold onto Javier to make sure he didn't fly out of the car, but boy, did he love it.
Unfortunately the picture doesn't show the kiddy rides behind the walls on the floor, or the mass of machine rides--you know the ones, where you put coins in and then the car or horsey or whatever moves back and forth? Like this one, though this one was at the Zoo:
I have no idea what these are called.
The kiddy rides were very much the same as you'd find in any traveling midway in the US or Canada, but you had to pay for everything with a plastic card you loaded up with euros either via a human cashier or via a typically obfuscatory machine. I tell you, normally I have a pretty good instinctive understanding of how bank or ticket machines work, even given the occasional language barrier, but I swear there's something about the Portuguese mind that is completely alien to North Americans. But the cashier was very nice and fluent in English.
(I have a funny story about those riding machines. Javier loved them, naturally, so he ended up playing on them a lot. One day, Sandra took Dom, Javier and I on a tour of Lisbon, and one of the things we saw was a beautiful, old Catholic church. The church was typical in the sense that it was highly ornamented and had several deep, somber alcoves with statues of saints or showing the suffering of Jesus. There was one of Mary lamenting over Jesus after he was taken down from the cross, and she and her son were clothed resplendently on a dais set in one of the raised alcoves. One could actually look at it up close up by taking a small set of stairs that wound up and behind the alcove where the diorama was. There was also a silver collections box for donations to the church, with an obvious slot where one was meant to drop the money.
Well, Javier looked at the diorama of Mary weeping and her bleeding child, looked at the collection box, and then pointed at the statues and said, very seriously, 'dat moves'.
Sandra, naturally, wanted to know why I was laughing so hard. It was a little difficult to explain.)
I don't want to think about how much money I blew at the Colombo Funcenter either, but we had a great time.
While I was there, I also took a Stealth!photo of one of the security guards for the mall:
He looks like he's in the military, doesn't he? These uniforms were pretty typical of security guards in Lisbon in general, except for the Vasco da Gama mall, where they were wearing natty red suit jackets like they were cruise directors or concierges at the Tivoli hotel across the street. And you Do Not Mess with Security Guards. Just look at that ferocious expression!
In general, despite how they take their jobs Very Freaking Seriously (or at least anyone born before 1970 does; amazing how a dictatorship can engender a work ethic), the Portuguese people I met were exceedingly sweet and helpful (excluding the bus or streetcar drivers, and even the women selling tickets for the cable cars were iffy, though I suppose having burly Italian men shouting 'do-ay! do-ay!' with two fingers lifted in the nearly universal sign for 'up yours' every day might eventually make anyone surly). I was a little surprised at how few of them could speak English (not that I expect everyone to accommodate me, just that I've been elsewhere in Europe where everyone's fluent in several languages), but they'd still do their damndest to help you even if the whole conversation had to be conducted in sign language. At Sintra, for example, my dad left Javier in a private daycare for a few minutes so he could use the john, and the women working there were perfectly happy to let Javier gallop around with their charges (of course, they weren't bus drivers. Not that I'm bitter).
Everyone seemed really pleased that I was visiting, and they all adored Javier. Children are kind of like communal property in Portugal. Strangers would automatically pet Javier's head when we walked by, or try to comfort him if he was crying. I even saw a school-aged child reach out and ruff up Javier's hair, just because that's what you do.
Along with the niceness, the Portuguese tend towards the really, really good-looking.
I took the picture of this store clerk because I found the abundance and unusual locations of tattoos very interesting (almost every one I saw was done in black, as well), but isn't she beautiful?
Here's Sergio, who owns the condo we rented:
The only reason I took a photo of him (which he doesn't know, heh) is that I wanted to show you all how remarkably handsome he was. He looks like a movie star, and that's not even unusual.
The Portuguese people whom I saw tended to run short, especially the women. That is, even though I barely made it to five feet, two inches (I think that's 1.53 meters), I suddenly found myself average height among the womenfolk. It was awesome. Dom, at five eleven (1.58 meters) was actually taller than a surprising number of the guys.
While we're here, I'd also like to point out Sergio's hair. Notice how it's parted, and how thick it is? That is textbook Portuguese guy hair. For example:
This is the driver of the tourist 'train' we rode around the Park of Nations in. He was very nice as well, and is pretty typical of what Portuguese men look like. Notice the hair?
Here's a stealthy photo I took of some Lisbon boys.
See? Except for perhaps the amount of curliness, the hair is almost exactly the same. Sandra denied this vigorously, but this really amused me.
Sandra, as I mentioned, was our host while we were in Lisbon. She's getting her PhD in the same field as my husband, and invited him to Portugal as an adviser. This is her and her husband Gwalter (that is indeed his name).
Sandra was awesome. She borrowed a car seat from a friend of hers so she could drive around Lisbon and along the coast, and among other places took us here:
That's Cristo-Rei (Christ the King). Sandra took the picture. If it seems familiar, that's because it is. The story is that a Portuguese Cardinal visited Rio in 1934, saw the giant Jesus the Redeemer overlooking the city, and thought, 'We need us one of those!' It was built between 1950 and 1959, apparently keeping a promise to God since he kept Portugal out of WWII. There's a monastery on the site, and busloads of tourists come up, some of them on pilgrimages. There's also a gift shop selling tourist and religious items, and a cafe. It's not free to go up to the top of the statue, either--it cost four euros to get on the elevator. Being in the presence of Jesus is expensive, yo.
This is Dom, Sandra and Javier in front of the Tagus river.
Sandra and her husband live outside of the city, a short commute away in a village built pretty much to be a sub-division, much like I'm living in here in the US. Though all the houses where Sandra lives are attached together in long lines, and are much larger and more beautiful than the ones in College station. Here's the front of Sandra's house.
Because of the Mediterranean climate, Sandra had fruit trees growing in the small yard at the side of her house. The fruit was delicious, though Javier found the peach pit a bit daunting.
She and Gwalter also have two very sweet dogs, both of whom were rescue strays. One of them had been so abused that she was frightened of people, which is why she's not in any pictures. The other needed an operation to fix his broken leg after being hit by a car. I'm sorry I can't remember their names, Sandra. :( But Javier thought the little male dog was wonderful, and he (that is, the dog) was very patient with him (that is, the child).
I don't know if the dog was quite as thrilled with the game as Javier was, but he certainly let Javier run after him several times.
I have more pictures, but those were definitely the highlights. I'm actually really glad I finally got around to writing about this, because I'd forgotten exactly how much I enjoyed it. I hope Dom has another opportunity to go, so I can see Lisbon and Sandra again.