Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Adventures in Portugal: It's a Wrap!

Ericeira. I love this shade of blue.

Happy December, Everyone! How did NaNoWriMo go (assuming you signed up)? For all those who gave it a miss this year, I hope you had a wonderful November all the same. For my part, I'm happy to report I made it the full way to 50K with a few words left over, finishing around 7.00 PM on the final night. My secret strategy was to get up half an hour earlier, go to bed half an hour later, write through most of my lunch hour, and then have a massive marathon session over Thanksgiving. Somehow this seemed to work. I won't be editing or revising the results for a very long time, but they'll be there in their shiny new binder for when I'm ready to do so. One day.

In the meantime: back to Portugal!

Our next stop from where I left off in my last post was Ericeira, a charming surf-town, full of long scenic walks and beautiful sea views. I especially loved the residents' use of the color blue which matched the sky and sea exactly:

The town square made for a great rest stop:

Before we came across this stately inn right on the beach where we decided to stay for the next two nights:

I especially loved my room with a view where I could easily curl up on the window ledge for reading and sketching:

Our first morning in town we awoke to fog and clouds, but we were still eager to wander the grounds after breakfast. . .

. . . and to then take off for a day-trip to Sintra, a place famous for its fairy tale palaces and villas and Byron's accolades describing the city as the most beautiful place in the world. I'm sure he didn't have the same amount of tourists and traffic to contend with that we did, but the despite the crowds the town center still managed to retain a romantically gothic ambience that I loved right away. We even found a sweet place to park (for free!):

As soon as the car was safely stowed, we started walking through the twisty-turny neighborhoods:

And then saw the sign to The Moorish Castle. Out of the blue, my husband decided he couldn't live without seeing The Moorish Castle. As he put it, this would be the only chance in our entire lifetime to see one. Ever.

I wasn't one-hundred-percent convinced that it was the best place to spend the day, but I agreed to give it a go, so off we went. As with many of the signposts in Portugal (e.g., the famous monoliths), there weren't exactly what you'd call directions on the signage, or any description of how long or treacherous this walk/hike might be. All we knew at this point was it would be uphill, and involved cobblestones--serious cobblestones that must have been there since the time of the Moors from the looks of their uneven surfaces. 

Undaunted, we began the ascent. After about fifteen minutes, we began to wonder where the castle was. Surely it was up here somewhere? More climbing. An hour later we met some people coming down the hill.

"Is the castle up here?"we asked. They gave us what can only be described as looks of deep pity.

"You're about a quarter of the way there," one of the men said.

Uh-oh. Decision time. Keep going, or give up? We kept going. The cobblestones turned into steep stone stairs designed, I'm sure, to keep marauders at bay. An hour, or two, or three, I have no idea anymore, we got there. Almost. We still had to buy tickets costing the equivalent of about twenty dollars to get in. I couldn't have said "no, too expensive" if I'd wanted to because by now I was ready to absolutely perish. I was desperate to eat and drink something--anything. We asked where the tea rooms were. "To your right." Off we go--nearly to our deaths as we followed the ticket seller's directions and carried on up and up the castle ramparts. Where there was nothing but sheer terror. No railings, no real or level steps; nothing at all until I refused to go an inch further. 

"There are NO tea rooms on castle walls!" I told my husband. "They didn't build them that way." By now he had to agree with me. The only trouble was, how to get down and out of here? I clung to the rail-less wall with my fingertips and dared one quick photo to prove I'd made the trek:

Legs shaking, hearts pounding, we got down to the castle courtyard. And guess what? The tea rooms were: TO THE LEFT. THE LEFT. Not the right. And they were out of tea. We were grateful for the coffee they did have, and the fact we could grab the last two muffins in stock before preparing for our descent back into town. This time we took a different route used by the tour buses, which was both shorter and far more dangerous as we had to avoid being run over every few minutes by the biggest buses I have ever seen

Finally back in town, we emerged onto this wonderful sight. The Quinta da Regaleira and what will forever remain The Place I Would Much Rather Have Gone To, but it was too late in the day and we still needed to get some real food. Castles behind us, we found a great little outdoor restaurant serving vegetable spaghetti that was so good I've made it at home twice already.

We drove back to Ericeira for a second night, and then we were off to Lisbon, the final stage of our journey:

Lisbon was one of the places where I had pre-booked a hotel and in a very clever place (if I say so myself): right across the street from the airport. We planned to be in Lisbon for two nights, and because our flight home was scheduled for 7.30 AM, it couldn't have been a better spot. Best of all, we didn't need our rental car, didn't have to worry about parking, and we were able to use the airport metro to get into town in a matter of minutes. A real win-win. We were also able to buy tickets in the hotel lobby for two days on a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus which truly was the very best way to see Lisbon with its steep and narrow cobbled lanes:

Great views from the top of the bus!

The bus traveled far and wide, taking us to so many places we could never have seen on our own.

Best of all, just before we hopped on for the first leg of the ride, I discovered a bead shop--the only one I saw in the whole of Portugal. It was incredible--exactly what I had hoped to find. I bought all kinds of little silver charms of ships and starfish, enameled bunnies (no idea what I'll do with bunnies, but they were super cute), as well as several hand-blown glass "focal beads" that will look great matched with something else some day! 

When we did get on the bus, we found it came equipped with ear buds and a recorded commentary (in English and a dozen other languages) interspersed with Fado music--the Portuguese national soundtrack. What a way to travel--I completely zoned out and absorbed the music, the sun, and the colorful city-scape. 

We explored the city this way for two days, hopping off when we wanted to eat lunch in an outdoor cafe or have afternoon tea in an upstairs Art Nouveau bakery. On our last evening, we thought we'd take a break from the bus in exchange for a river cruise. There were many, many choices of ferries, yachts, and mini-ships, but the Arca was the one for us! 

Unfortunately, by this time my camera batteries had died, so I've had to borrow a photo from Trip Advisor to show you why we loved this little craft: 

The Arca is a replica of an ancient Polish vessel of the type that sailed through the rivers of Europe with cargoes of wine, sardines, and other supplies several centuries ago. Feeling like Pirates of the Caribbean, we sat outside on purple velvet cushions close enough to the water to dip our hands, and were served with great conversation with the captain and our fellow passengers, along with our choice of complimentary wine or beer. And because this was the last cruise of the evening, the captain extended the trip so we could watch the sun set on one side of the boat while the moon rose over the other. He turned off the engines and let us drift while we all sat in total awe and silence. I will never forget how pink the sky was, or the sound of the water lapping the hull as a soft breeze blew overhead. It was a beautiful way to end our trip. I don't have photos, but I do have my sketchbook:

Lisbon sunset.
Lisbon moon-rise.

And then it was back to the hotel to pack. The next morning I was up at 5.00. We simply walked to the airport, had a breakfast of croissants, juice and coffee, and then learned:

We couldn't go home!!!! We still don't know what the problem was, but for some reason we couldn't get onto our flight. The best we could do, the airline said, was go to Madrid and figure it out from there.

Long story short: we flew to Madrid only to learn there were no flights to Albuquerque for two days. At first I went into total panic mode, but then when the airline said they would put us up in a 5-star hotel, provide food vouchers for our meals as well as our transport, we were like, heck, yeah! Who wants to go home anyway? We even had several, still unworn, changes of clothing suitable for the much-cooler Madrid weather.

Peeps, this was the absolute best surprise trip ever. The hotel was in a quiet neighborhood, our room had a balcony overlooking a park with a fountain, and the metro station was only a short walk away. The first thing we did after resting up was head into town and the Prado--a place I have dreamed of visiting ever since my university days when I majored in Spanish Literature (bet you didn't know THAT about me, LOL!).  After seeing as much art as possible, we next found the Madrid equivalent of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus and crammed in as many sights as we could. Without my camera, and being far too busy to sketch, my only pictures of the city are some postcards. (One is of a goat in a stone barn. Not exactly "Madrid" but I liked it.) The rest will have to stay in my memory until it makes its way into a few paintings, sketches and stories for the future.

After two full days, we then flew home with no further incident. Guess the universe really wanted us to see Madrid!

So that was my trip to Portugal and very unexpectedly, Spain. Thank you so much for reading. Until next time, Happy Holidays!

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