A day off for Max

October 13, 2017 - Lisbon, Portugal

I was feeling poorly yesterday and had already decided on a day off from the relentless touring so when I woke with a head cold this morning the 'sickie' was confirmed. We still went down for breakfast at 7.20am so that Margaret could be ready for the 8am pick-up at the hotel. The breakfast buffet was good with plenty to choose from and the capsule-type coffee machine produced coffee that was real. I think I am getting the hang of these ones. Two espresso capsules in mine with some hot milk and one long black with hot milk for Margaret.

The reduced group of three other couples plus Margaret were collected at 8.10am by a non-English speaking driver. Thank goodness the doorman at the hotel was able to translate and confirm that it was in fact the correct tour. He also helped out the driver by confirming he had the correct group which was now short by one. I waved them off then went back to the room for a bit of journal work and to relax a bit before going out to search through a nearby pharmacy for some throat lozenges. They took a bit of finding and I didn't recognise any packaging but I seem to have got the right thing. It was strange to find throat pastilles with Benzocaine (mild anaesthetic) out on the open shelf and for sale at half price but when I asked for indigestion tablets the assistant had to find those in a drawer behind the counter.

I spent the rest of the day doing a bit more journal work and sleeping, as well as rotating our washing through the patch of sunshine at the window.

Margaret arrived back very late from the day trip but she will need to tell her part of the story.


Our pick-up driver was very surly. The only time he became animated was when he nearly hit a pedestrian at the entrance to the bus assembly area. Her fault as she was looking the other way, and practically walked into the turning bus.

There was a certain amount of confusion amongst the Grayline crowd-wranglers as to which bus our little contingent was supposed to be on, but we were eventually on our way in a large and not-too-full coach.

Our guide was Teresa who gave us a good commentary in first Portuguese and then English. On the way out of town we had a good view of the aqueduct which I had first photographed from the plane, and now captured again through the wire barrier on the bridge we drove over.

The sky was overcast, but Teresa assured us that it was only sea mist and would clear by 11 o’clock, which it did. It made for some fairly dreary photos in the meantime, though.

It’s only a half hour drive through Estoril, past the (apparently) famous casino with its gardens and onto the coast at Cascais (pronounced as if it were two words – cash caish) where we stopped.

Teresa walked us down about three blocks to the water front to Ribeira Beach, a nice little beach on which a kind of beach soccer was happening in a desultory kind of way. I decided to walk up some steep stairs past a rather grand building which had a plaque on it telling me it was the Capitania do Porto de Cascais - the Captain’s Office. But neither he nor any of the many underlings who would have fitted into the building seemed to be at home. There was a large terrace on the sea side of the building from which I could get a good view of the beach, the harbour, and along the coast. After a few pictures of ‘coastline with seagulls’ I walked back past the pretty and very modest Town Hall, and a building which, surprisingly, wasn’t a church although it had a bell tower with two bells.

From Cascais we continued along the coast and past the Fontaleza do Guincho Hotel which is right on the headland above Guincho Beach. When I Googled this beach later I found as it faces directly into the Atlantic, it is subject to swells and wind, making it popular for surfing and windsurfing. I also found it has a year-round water temperature of 19-20 degrees. You’d have to be keen. Even from the bus it looked pretty spectacular, quite long and wide and backed by scrubby dunes with wooden walkways to the beach. It is right on the edge of the Sintra-Cascais National Park so mercifully free of over-development. The weather was just beginning to clear as we drove past, and it must look very appealing in the sunshine. As we climbed up into the National Park we had really good views back along the coast.

Our next stop was at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe. It’s a bit like the Cliffs of Moher, but without such regular formations. I wished Max had been there to tell me about the geology. There was a lighthouse on the top of the highest clifftop and sheer drops down to the large boulders in the sea. We wandered about for a risibly short time, flashing pictures as we went. I learned later from Google that the vast carpet of fat pig-face – no flowers at this season - is an invasive weed and has mostly taken over from the scrubby native clifftop vegetation


And then – Sintra. Well, what can one say. We drove up into the town with what looked like lovely gardens below us on our right, and with sculptures lining the edge of the road. Teresa told us that the council allows local artists to exhibit there. Closer to town are a number of stalls selling local artefacts, many of them made of cork; it’s surprising to see cork shoes, hats and handbags among other things.

On the edge of the little town is the National Palace, home of kings and other nobility since the C15. It is white, a mixture of styles, and dominated by two large conical chimneys. Given our limited time, I didn’t go in, but explored the steep cobbled streets a bit. It was crowded with tourists, and full of ‘gifte shoppes’, so a bit overwhelming. I found a kind of flaky pastry ham and cheese sandwich and a Portuguese tart and ate them sitting in the sun in the palace courtyard.

On the way back to the bus, I walked down the hill past the arty stalls, and found a niche in the hillside with a Moorish tiled fountain

Our next stop was the Pena Palace. ‘You either love it or hate it’ Teresa told us, and most of us didn’t have much trouble deciding which category we fell into. Although perhaps ‘hate’ is a bit strong. It began as a chapel to mark yet another apparition of the Virgin Mary, and later, King Manuel 1 – early C16 – had a monastery built. This was virtually destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, although the chapel survived more or less intact. The ruins, along with adjacent lands, and including the nearby ruins of the Moorish Palace, were bought by King Ferdinand who rebuilt it between 1842 and 1854 in the Romantic style – meaning a mish-mash of every style the German architect Eschwege had ever seen or thought of. It became a kind of weekender for Portuguese Royalty until it was bought by the State in 1889 and, after the Republican Revolution of 1910, transformed into a Museum.

Teresa led us through a bewildering number of furnished rooms, the nicest of which were the restored original chapel and monastic dining room. It felt like shuffling along in the Ikea queue.

There were spectacular views from some of the terraces, and apparently Lisbon is visible on less hazy days.

When we arrived back in Lisbon we were told that the Hop-on Hop-off bus would take us back to our hotel. By this time it was about 6.30, and the trip home – rather underwhelming; the bus was pretty well empty and littered with the day’s rubbish, and the route in the dark didn’t have much to show us – took about an hour.

Max was still very snuffly, but unperturbed by our late homecoming.

We had another nice meal in the hotel dining room, and although Steve and Trish had recommended ordering it in the outside terrace we decided to stay inside out of the cold.


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