Sintra


The trip to Sintra was not exactly after Lisbon, but filled our last full day in the city. It requires a train trip followed by a vehicle—a bus, a faux tram on rubber wheels, or a tut-tut, which is a motorcycle modified with a seat and a prayer, the seat being optional. In the US, this vehicle would not be legal to operate in a private garage. So that’s what we hired: adventure

Our pilot Henriké spoke with crisp consonants, rolled Rs, and a proud multi-syllabic vocabulary that gave one unjustified confidence in his ability to drive the narrow curves up to the castle with an inattentive navigation that gave us more face-time than needed. But he’s a charming chap with sound advice as to how to skirt the lines of ticket-buyers who chose the safety of a crowded bus. I hope, against the odds, that Henriké and his vehicle live for many more trips—without us.

The first stop along the way was at ramparts pointlessly defending the trees and hiking paths behind them, but even the Moors must have enjoyed the views easily scaled on the backs of those unfortunates whose whole purpose in life was to move heavy stones up hill until the day one might be dropped, smashing a foot, thus making feeding and care an expendable charity. That aside, the view is lovely.

Just as Henriké had promised, a bored young man at a line-less kiosk off the beaten path sold us tickets to the palace. After a short hike up the last 200 meters, we bullied our way past clueless tourists, our tickets in hand, to enter the walls of this colorful, quirky get-away of a ruler whose family had no vision of their fate. Like Louis and Marie before them, their excesses would one day tear this extravagance from their cold dead hands, but our visit was not about the past. It was about envisioning the future when Trump and his family would be dragged from Washington as unceremoniously.

It galls one to think that Disney continues to enjoy copyright protection for Mickey Mouse and pays nothing to Portugal for the Magic Kingdom. When I look at these tarted up crenelated walls, I see not a fortress, but Joel Grey’s rouged face in Cabaret, the movie. It falls short of garish—certainly not hideous, almost playful, it defies description. The best I can do to label this construction is to call it the marriage of determination with immaturity, vigorously consummated.

The interior seems conventional. When the king and queen established this retreat, various important lords built competing homes on the slopes below in dangerously mockish good taste.

If one travels to Lisbon, failure to visit Sintra would be an affront to bucket lists the world over. For agile youth, the scamper down the mountain, if not the clamber up, will more than justify homage paid to this moorish mishmash. One can always crouch behind I know it’s gaudy and showy, but it’s fun. Who can point an accusing finger at fun? Pas moi.


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