Today's entry covers two of the best things about Portugal: its people and Sintra.
A strange thing occurred to me after 2+ weeks here back in July, and I've since had it re-affirmed time and again this past month. I noticed that I did not have one single negative, even slightly negative*, interaction with a Portuguese person - from waiter to surf school owner to stranger on the street.
The people of Portugal are, as a whole, more warm, kind, helpful and easygoing than any nationality I've ever met.
Yes, it's true that no matter which country you're visiting there is a wide range of people from the best to the most boneheaded and everything in-between. But Portugal just feels different.
It's apparent not only when you're a hapless tourist asking for directions or what bacalhau is (it's cod) - and they are very intent on making sure you are comfortable with their answer - but it's even more evident when you quietly observe two Portuguese natives speak with each other. They do so with a genuineness and kindness that makes it seem like instant respect and friendship is accorded to each person, whether they are old friends or just conducting a business transaction. It's in their eyes, their tones of voice, and their faces. It's really something to see. And learn from.
The photos here are from a recent trip to Sintra, a 50-minute train ride north of Lisbon and another world away from the rest of civilization. I had heard it was a magical place, and indeed it was. (Except for the jarring sight of a Pizza Hut when stepping off the train - d'ough!).
Post-Pizza Hut, however, the rest of the slow walk up the mountain was filled with stunning views and fresh air, mostly through a small village and then a winding forest trail.
You can take any number of busses to get you to the various landmarks around Sintra, but as always a walk allows you to see a little more and work off the the pasteis you've been packing away at an alarming rate.
The uphill climb culminates in Palacio da Pena, easily the most unique place I've ever been, inside and out. This is where the magic happens alright.
They began building it in 1839, according to King Consort Dom Ferdinand's wishes. The rest of the history lesson can be read here. You can choose other monumental monuments to see on this vast hill, but the Palacio is a must - it's like stepping into one of your childhood storybooks.
The first half of the pictures below are from the village of Sintra and the walk inside the forest on the way up, and the remaining from the Palacio itself.
*Update: okay, there was one. But only one.
A view of the Palacio's kitchen. Many other rooms were also fantastic, but no pictures are allowed inside. This one was taken surreptitiously, rebelliously. That's how I roll.