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Sintra and Setubal
Sintra was the high point of the trip -- practically the first thing we saw! The weather was beautiful, and that helped. The town is old, piled into a steep hill. Of its three castles, it is the Palacio National de Pena that is so amazing. It commands a 360-degree view of land and sea, the entire Estremadura.
Architecturally, it is an eye-opener. In excellent condition, it is quintessentially Portuguese: serpentine pilasters, minarets, crenellated walls, and stone carved into: human figures, fruits, leaves, vines, coral, shells, fish, fowl, beasts.
Where there are not architectural embellishments or carved stones, tiles are inlaid, hand-painted, even embossed. There are mosaics, and turrets. All this, but it is never in the least ornate, always unerringly in harmony with its natural surroundings. I ran out of film early on.
We remarked the absence of guard rails or admission. Climbing around some of the highest, steepest catwalks made my knees weak, and I could not shut my mouth for gaping at the view and gasping at the beauty of it all.
Climbing up to the castle and down again made us a bit tired. Still, we had to try to see the Moorish castle. We saw it, but we didn't exactly run it to earth. We had now been on the go for 28 hours or so. We struggled with the car and found that the reason it idled at a furious 4000-rpm roar was that the manual choke was stuck on full-tilt. Craig unstuck it and turned it down, and we headed for Setubal.
In Setubal, we were tired and desperate for a good rest. We bungled into a castle, out of exhaustion. We paid $100 (US) for our room, and as much for dinner, prices never again to be repeated on the trip, thank goodness. But what a lovely room and dinner. The castle, up above Setubal, is a pousada, a state-owned and run hotel, well photographed, I hope.
No such luck. Only one picture survived. Here you can see that from the ramparts of the pousada, Craig is taking in a beautiful view that I tried to shoot a few seconds earlier.
The dinner of fish and shrimp, on the water, contained three elements that we encountered over and over: (1) The Planalto Duoro Branco, Vinho Seco, 1989, which following vinho verde, made us think of Cy Cantrell ("superbe!"); (2) Cilantro was, surprisingly, the typical herb, at least in this season; and (3) The fish was coated with sea salt and grilled.
One final vignette from that first day, and a portent: we got just a bit lost trying to follow directions given us by the nice clerk at the pousada, for finding the restaurant. We stopped to ask a man in a tobacco store. It is very near, he said, but it is a bit hard to describe just where. And he locked up his shop, jumped in his car, and led us there. Would take no money. He shook Craig's hand graciously, called out the proprietor, and left!
The people in Setubal charmed us out of our shoes and socks, and it is very difficult to find your way! More on that -- much more! -- later. Late that night we had white porto in the bar at the pousada, by a little cellar door that led to a "toon el," said the barman, which after a struggle we understood to be a tunnel, to the village below, for spies! The barman spoke very little English, but cheerfully forged on with us, pantomiming machine guns to signify Iraq and telling us little things about Portugal, until his boss called him off.