As far as capital cities go, Lisbon is one that is very easy to get along with. The pace of life is relaxed, the people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the drinks are cheap. In spite of the financial crisis, which has hit Lisbon and its businesses hard, virtually everyone I met in Lisbon spoke of a quality of life they have that they don’t feel any other European city could provide. I could spend endless days ambling around the streets of Lisbon, but if you are in the city for a long while and are yearning for a day trip, there is no better option than the coastal town of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sintra town. Purdy.
Arriving in Sintra, it is not difficult to understand why this town lined with cobbled streets and houses fronted with colourful tiles, is so celebrated – being in Sintra is like being transported into some kind of ancient Portuguese folk tale. Walking around Sintra’s streets and popping into one café after another while sampling the local pastries would be a pleasant enough way to spend a day in the town – but the real star of the show here, is the Pena National Palace.
The Palace has a long history, dating way back to 1355. But at that time it was a monastery and bore absolutely no resemblance to the grand Palace that exists in Sintra today. The monastery went through many phases of construction, was built and rebuilt thanks to the great earthquake of 1755, but was finally laid to rest in 1833 when laws dissolving religious orders led to the monastery’s collapse. And here things get interesting. In 1838, King Fernando II purchased the ruins and started work on a far more ambitious architectural project.
King Fernando II has gone down in history, as above all other things, a romantic. He had extremely eclectic tastes, was well travelled and had an appreciation for art, and he injected every bit of his personality into the building of the Pena National Palace. I am no architecture buff, but even I was taken aback by the contrasting styles that could be found in the interiors and exteriors of the palace. Gargoyle figures next to Arab windows, English gardens outside and Indian furniture inside. A man after my own heart, Fernando clearly was no believer in subtlety and saw no reason why all the contrasting styles he loved so much couldn’t exist together in harmony. It makes me think of when I wear three types of check print and my friends roll their eyes.
Restoring the stained glass inside the Palace.
As well as the style of the Palace, the sheer scale of it is also very impressive (well, it is a Palace) and being taken from room to room by the very competent guide, I got a great impression of what it must have been like to call somewhere so grand “home”. And then I ultimately got a bit pissy because I don’t live in a Palace myself. But the good news is that you can get married there. And with gay marriage being legal in Portugal, that is exactly what I’mma do one day. I will be a princess, and you can’t stop me.