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Happy 30th to my beautiful wife @caitoni - you're one year closer to the age you act (90).

Mike’s Next Adventure

Banff, eh.

A Portuguese Panda and the Queen of Sintra

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Metro to Lisbon airport to pick up our awaiting chariot in the form of a Fiat Panda that’s about as aerodynamic and agile as a living room with wheels, filled with Oprah clones.

Bones: “When was the last time you drove stick?”

Me: “Three years ago.”

Bones: “Oh boy…”

Me: “Weeeee!”

*sputter, jerk, stall.

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You get a car you get a car you get a…Panda!

Once the Panda aligns with my pro driving style, I basically get laughed off the freeway by aggressive passer-bys as we very, very slowly leisurely drive towards Cascais for a quick pit stop. This is vacation and I don’t care if the rental car doesn’t have the testicular fortitude to go the actual speed limit, or, if I inadvertently miss the cash side of the toll station and barrel through the easy-pass lane, guaranteeing ticket issuance of a 25 euro fine. Stupid Panda…

After Cascais, we continue north on N247 along the coast through small villages, past stunning beach scenes where monstrous white-capped waves pummel the Iberian shore. We make a left on Estr. do Cabo da Roca and  finally hit an end point, literally, at the street namesake, Cabo da Roca — the most western point of the European continent.

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This place may sound/look familiar, as a Polish couple recently attempted to take selfies right by the cliff. Unfortunately, the two stumbled over the edge plunging to their death as their children watched. This terrible circumstance keeps me from poking Darwinistic fun of my Polish heritage. Poor kiddos.

The Real Disney World

In researching things to do in Lisbon a town called Sintra kept coming up as a ‘Must See’ attraction. Well, Sintra isn’t in Lisbon, but it’s close enough for a 35-minute train or Panda-ride from Lisbon and 30 minutes from Cabo Da Roca in the west, and absolutely worth it.

We grab a room at OH Casa, just down the street from the train station. The old guest house is really cute, the rooms are comfy, the decor unique and fun, and you can pour your own drinks from the bar overlooking a relaxing fenced-in garden.

Every morning, the owners whip up a lovely traditional breakfast including Pasteis de Nata – flaky custard pastries that loosely translate in English to ‘mouthgasm’. Oh, there’s an oil painting of a guy with a Motörhead patch on his sleeve in the common room = home.

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Motorhead, Comfy, Font-porn, Hey, Bones!

We walk up a steep residential back roads of Sintra to Pena Palace, a revamped 20th century UNESCO World heritage (all of Sintra is pretty much UNESCO) site with history dating back to the middle ages.

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A UNESCO World Heritage Tri-Truck.

The pictures below don’t do it justice, but Pena Palace is one of the coolest sites I’ve been to. I mean, look at the color(s)!

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Funny, this is actually how my dining room looks.

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Reppin’ Sintra since 1840, yo!

Just down the road, along a winding path through Pena Park —which is filled with some seemingly displaced fauna in Sequoia, ferns, and some Asian varieties—is the Castle of the Moors, or what’s left of it.

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Currently, the Moorish Castle consists of a bricked wall with tremendous views, remnants from the 8th Century during the era of Muslim Iberia. But I can’t help consistently looking off the the south to the flamboyantly stunning Pena Palace. If the Moorish Castle is John Tesh, Pena Palace is Liberace! It’s not that the Moorish Castle isn’t incredibly beautiful in its own way, it’s just that everyone knows the real party is at the top of the hill.

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Can you turn it down up there?

Do the Moorish castle first when in Sintra.

Walking back down the mountain, the lady and I happen upon a small tapas restaurant called Nau Palatina. This cute unassuming restaurant serves up the best grilled octopus in Portugal (possibly the world?) and an amazing shrimp dish, but the real winner here was a savory lamb dish swimming in spicy chili pumpkin sauce. Getting hungry just typing about it and it’s only 7am.

Forgot to take pictures of food but Caitlin did get a pic of me trying the lamb…

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I’m the guy in the hat…

Sintra truly is a fairy tale-esque land inundated in palaces and castles and monasteries, but as lovely as offerings are, my castle and palace attention span (CPAS) is limited to about three sites, so we chose the last destination wisely heading to the gem of the crop, Quinta da Regaleira.

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According to Wikipedia, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro had this marvel built with the help of architect Luigi Manini, back in 1904. The castle and grounds are replete with symbolism of the Knights of the Templar, and the Rosicrucians. Secret societies aside, this place has the coolest things ever: an underground grotto.

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The Constant Gardener

Hidden among the crisscrossed trails above is the entrance to the greatest hide-and-go seek spot on Earth. Oh, you don’t have a grotto at your house with waterfalls and a subterranean turret leading you back outside to your massive yard? Peasant! Get off my blog!

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I wish upon the wishing well for a water balloon to fill and fell.

Such wonder brings tourists by the masses —the one downfall of Sintra as droves of fanny-packed day-trippers shuffle about the center of the city. But, the scuffling sky-gazers all magically disappear in the evening when the real Sintra is revealed by the blissful orange sun setting over palace-topped hills.

I know, I sound so pathetically romantic and mushy.

But here’s why: I’d never had Portuguese cuisine before this trip. Port wine, yes, but not the cuisine specifically. Not a bad meal was had in Lisbon, nor Sintra, with those crazy pastries, and tapas from Nau Palatina, I didn’t think it could get any better. But it did. At this place:

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If you want to take a culinary trip to the very core of Portugal, a visit to A Raposa will do the trick. Bones and I are the first diners to arrive, greeted by a (seemingly) curmudgeonly matron, who grumpily points at the menu stand outside and mumbles something in Portuguese. I tell her we have reservations in that awkward ‘I don’t speak Portuguese so if I speak English louder than normal maybe you’ll understand’ voice, and she begrudgingly leads us into a massive dining room.

We’re the only guests (for now) and our hostess lights the table’s candles and brings us her pick of wine after shaking off my hesitant selection. Not sure how my choice compared but her pick is an incredible Douro red (Northern Portugal – seriously, next time you’re in the wine store, grab any Portuguese Reds. They’re amazing.)

I order a sausage appetizer and out comes one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted: black (blood) sausage with a dab of pesto, sesame, topped with a tomato marmalade on a toasted bread square.

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We’re still talking about the appetizer when our main meals arrive (which were absolutely phenomenal). The room, with all 8 tables now occupied with patrons, alit by candles, is suddenly filled by the surprisingly strong voice of our grumpy hostess.

She surprises everyone (literally, some people jumped) by serenading us with a goose bump inducing Fado song. I had never heard Fado before as we skipped all the ‘Fado themed’ bars in Lisbon, but here, in this big room echoing with our hostess’ songs, with flickering candles, exceptional food and wine – this is how I imagined it would look and sound.

Our hostess ends her song, beaming from ear-to-ear as the room erupts in applause. She thanks everyone, bows repeatedly, and humbly accepts our requests for an encore.

Portugal; what’s not to love?

-Mike

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40 comments on “A Portuguese Panda and the Queen of Sintra

  1. What an amazing place. Your pics of the architecture are, well, photogasmic. Keep roaming, Mike, so I can travel vicariously through your blog 🙂

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Pieces – appreciate the love. If you keep reading, I will keep traveling (until my bank account says I need to stop).

  2. mrothwarren says:

    Great post–you’ve definitely sold me on Sintra! It looks amazing.

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, mrothwarren!
      It’s an amazing place; definitely worth the visit.

  3. Miss your stuff. Post more! Never been to Portugal but it looks amazing.

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Battle.

      I will start posting more. Scout’s honor.

  4. susielindau says:

    Looks like an amazing place! Great to “see” you!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Susie.

      Hope all is well with you.

  5. HRH says:

    I don’t have time to read your entire post, but I will read it thoroughly later. I stopped at the point upon your mention of the Polish couple plunging to their deaths trying to take a selfie from the cliff. Please tell me you jest.

    Also, as I scrolled from that point in your post to the comment box, I noticed yet another picture with an old, blue vehicular contraption. That is another beautiful photo, but how do you manage to find these? Perhaps there was a sale on that exact blue paint.

    1. mabukach says:

      I wish I were: http://nydn.us/1uwMHCS. It’s old.

      I call it Lisbon Blue. A lot of common color palettes throughout Portugal. I like photographer beat up old vehicles for some reason. Weird, I know. 🙂

      1. HRH says:

        Not weird. Instead, you’ve got a beautiful eye for photography.

  6. Erin E. says:

    The dangerous thing about reading travel blogs is that it causes my bucket list to grow and grow and grow. At this rate, I’ll need to live until 80 and make about 5x my current salary to see everything! Any chance Anthony Bourdain will retire soon so I can apply for his job?

    We have Germany/Belgium planned for 2015 and South East Asia for 2016. I’ll have to pencil in Portugal/Lisbon for 2017. Your photos and food descriptions sold me.

    1. mabukach says:

      Ha! Do you need a sidekick? I feel like Bourdain will hang it up soon. His trips aren’t as inspiring as they once were. I mean, the locales are still amazing, but his schtick only goes so far. Your trips sound great, where in SE Asia are you planning to go?
      Seriously Erin, you even considering Portugal because of my words and pics is one of the greatest compliments I’ve received on this blog. For that, I thank you.

  7. And that’s exactly why Portugal is such an irresistible destination. Such great pictures and story!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thank you, Fine Stay. Where have you been in Portugal?
      This is pretty weird, but I was just looking at travel in Slovenia this week, specifically Bled. Saw you’re very close! Maybe I’ll visit soon…

      1. Wow, that really is kind of weird, but it’s also awesome. Bled is such an underrated place that I wish more people would know about.

        We’re 10 minutes drive from Bled. I’m not sure what type of accommodation you are looking for (hotel, inn, guest house, self catering, etc), but if you want and if it’s good enough for you, you can stay here in our apartment. For free.

        1. mabukach says:

          Uros, that is an incredibly nice gesture! I would be a fool to not accept – will let you know when/if I’m in your area. Thanks for the offer and thanks for reading!

  8. Sabrina says:

    I’ll be in Lisbon during Christmas, is it expensive to take the metro?

    1. mabukach says:

      Nope. Super cheap, Sabrina.
      You can grab the Pink Line metro (linha vermelha) and connect to pretty much anywhere in the city.

      1. Sabrina says:

        Okay, good to know. Thank you!

  9. jwelch97 says:

    Wow–this is great, Mike! I’ve been wanting to go to Lisbon for a while but now Sintra is a must

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for reading, jwelch!

  10. laura says:

    i just got back from lisbon (and just blogged about it, too!) but when we went to sintra, the weather was crazy misty and terrible. we couldn’t see anything! your photos are much more enticing.
    did you think cascais was worth spending more time in? a local told us to, but we didn’t have much time.. and in december, we didn’t think it would be worth it!

    1. mabukach says:

      That’s awesome, Laura. Will have to check out your post. Bad news about Sintra weather. It was overcast when we arrived there, but luckily cleared up pretty quick.

      We were in Cascais for maybe 20 minutes. It was a quick stop, walked around the marina, saw a lighthouse, and left. I thought the beaches just north of Cascais were much more impressive than the actual town as there wasn’t much going on.

      1. laura says:

        Good to know! Thanks. I hope to go back in beach weather some day!

        1. mabukach says:

          Definitely, Laura.
          I’m finishing up a piece on Comporta, south of Lisbon. Amazing, secluded beach scenery – you’d love it.

  11. danielahomez says:

    And you will love it more on your second visit 🙂 it’s happen when you stay some days in a special place like is Portugal!

    1. mabukach says:

      I really hope to get back soon! Any suggestions on where else to visit?

      Thanks, danielahomez

      1. danielahomez says:

        Yeap, Cascaes have to be in your MUST list of cities 🙂 so close from Lisbon and it’s wonderful for surfing!

        1. mabukach says:

          Awesome! Will have to check it out next time in Portugal.

          Thanks, Daniela

  12. Tanja says:

    Hi! Sintra is stunning right? And I’ve got some great pics from Cabo da Roca:) I’ll write about it too, I’ll put my first post on Lisbon this weekend:))

    1. mabukach says:

      It really is a beautiful place. Did you ever post on Lisbon, Tanja?

        1. mabukach says:

          Awesome pics, Tanja. Great post!

          1. Tanja says:

            Thank you so much!

  13. eric says:

    Nice post! I hope to visit someday

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Eric! You absolutely should.

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