How I wish we would have dedicated more time to exploring Sintra! The small town of Sintra is located a mere thirty minutes from the bustling capital of Lisbon, yet portrays a vastly different vibe with quiet roads, lush green landscapes, and dense foliage. Palaces dot the Sintra mountains woven together by narrow streets nearly hidden by encroaching forestry. The humid and highly precipitous micro climate yields an emerald and hunter green thicket of branches, with moss creeping up tree trunks and over rocks, with an ever present trickling sound of water with each step. The vegetation seemingly overtakes the palace walls, turrets and domes peeping through the greenery. Unfortunately, the lead colored skies and persistent drizzle pushed us indoors more than we would have liked. We hopped on the tour bus and very rarely hopped off, the chilly air and drenching clothes begging for indoor heat.
The highlight of Sintra is the lavishly colored Pena Palace. Built atop one of the highest hills overlooking the surrounding town, it can be seen from Lisbon on clear days. The palace was built by King Ferdinand II and breathes German romanticism with hints of Moorish architecture. Initially the fog and rain muted the brilliant hues, but after touring the dank and chill corridors inside, we were shocked to find a small ray of sun breaking through the clouds and illuminating the canary yellow, cobalt blue, and scarlet walls of the palace. It is truly unlike any other castle or palace I have laid eyes on, an almost childlike display of colors turning the royalty’s abode into a playground. Our eyes lingered on this unusual dwelling even after leaving Sintra, the palace waving goodbye in the distance from atop the mountain as we drove off into the horizon.
That afternoon, we cruised on over to Fátima. Fátima, a famous pilgrimage site, is where three local children in 1917 witnessed an apparition of “Our Lady of the Rosary.” Now, thousands of people journey to this small town every year. We visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Fátima and the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, amidst hundreds of people fervently praying, singing hymns, and circling the sights by crawling on their knees. A colossal steel crucifix looms over the large main plaza with the religious sights bookmarking each end. Fátima didn’t capture my eye for long. I found the seemingly unending line of religious trinket shops distasteful and most of the architecture, other than the Basilica shown below, oddly modern and out of place. I tend to gravitate towards pilgrimage sights, as my love for world religion pulls me towards epicenters of high intensity emotion and historical significance. I can honestly say that every other pilgrimage sight I have visited, whether it be San Thome Basilica in Chennai, India or Santiago de Compestela in Spain, or various Hindu and Buddhist temples in Nepal, have all impacted my beliefs, incurred admiration for people’s devotion, and fed my own spirituality and enlightenment with the sense of total connectedness among all people as humans. Unfortunately, Fátima left me feeling rather hollow and empty. I was grateful that we had only planned for a short afternoon there before heading onward.
We also made our way to the far south of Portugal, to Lagos, a lovely beach community popular for its rock formations. The sun’s warmth was an absolute gem, as rain seemed to follow us everywhere in Portugal. We gazed out over the horizon as sea foam whipped into the air catapulting over the rocks below, while salty ocean air cleansed our minds and a soft sea breeze brushed away all of our worries. We strolled into the white washed town for lunch, admiring the intermittent bursts of color painting the occasional shuttered window or door.