Portugal – Day 6 – Sintra & Cascais

Today I explored the beautiful areas of Sintra and Cascais. I had a delicious breakfast at the buffet at my Myriad hotel. It was one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had. After having breakfast I checked out of the hotel, and took the metro to pickup my rental car, Citroen 308. I quite enjoyed driving it, because I love driving manual transmission, and it had a square steering wheel, which was super comfortable to drive. I wish more cars took real world ergonomics into consideration. Most people drive with a hand at the 12 o’clock position, so having a square steering wheel is nice.

I set off towards Sintra area, with a quick stop at a gas station for a coffee. The drive took about 30 minutes, and had a bit of congestion for 5 minutes or so. First stop was the Palace of Sintra. The Palace of Sintra, also known was the Town Palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portgual. It was utilized as a royal residence from the 15th to 19th century, before becoming a museum. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudejar architecture styles, due to the extensive time period the building was built over. The oldest surviving part of the palace is the chapel, which was built during the reign of King Dinis I around 1281. The palace chapel has a tiled floor with tiles in the apse laid to resemble a carpel. The walls are painting in patterned square that look like tiles, and depict the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. The ceiling is constructed of wood and is decorated in geometrically patterned latticework. In the late 14th century, Portugal was conquering strategic areas in North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula, and established central trade routes. With this massive infusion of wealth, King John I ordered the large-scale Palace of Sintra project to be built. Most of the current day palace dates back to the era when King John I ruled. The most noticeable features are the twin chimney towers, that can be seen from miles away. The rooms surround the central courtyard are also from this period. The Arab Room is covered in elaborate motifs and blue ceramic tile work. The Swans Room’s ceiling is covered in painted swans. The Magpies room has 136 painted magpies holding a rose and scroll with the words Por Bem (For the good). 100 years passed, and King Manuel I made some additions to the palace, which included the Coat of Arms Room, a room with a hexagonal roof with paints of deer and the coats of arms of 72 noble families. This also saw the transition from Gothic to Renaissance art styles. In 1755 the palace suffered damage during the Lisbon Earthquake, however was quickly restored. The Palace of Sintra remained in use by the royal family until 1880. In 1910 the palace became a national monument. In the 1940’s the palace underwent major restoration.

After exploring the Palace of Sintra I walked about 45 minutes uphill to the Castle of the Moors. The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in Sintra, about 25 km Northwest of Lisbon. It was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle was constructed on an exposed rocky outcrop, which provided the Moors a strategic view along the coastline and surrounding lands. In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle and became rulers. The castle was left for ruins and was eventually overtaken by dense forests. In the 1800’s King Ferdinand II was mesmerized by the natural and serene setting of the castle ruins, and ordered the site to be restored. It was partially restored.

Further along the uphill path is the Palace of Pena. After another 30 minutes of walking I arrived at the Palace. Park and National Palace of Pena. The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle located on the top of a hill in the Sintra mountains above Sintra. It was completed in 1854, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1995. The castle’s history starts back in the middle ages when a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of Pena” was built on top of the hill above Sintra. In the 18th century the monastery was severely damage by lightning, and the following Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 essentially reduced the monastery to ruins. The chapel somehow escaped significant damage. The ruins remained untouched until King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the old monastery, and surround lings, including the Castle of the Moors. He transformed the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family. The current Romanesque style building was constructed between 1842 and 1854. It would have been completed sooner, however King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Mari II decided to make some extensive changes in 1847. After the death of Ferdinand the palace was passed onto his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, who then sold the palace to King Luis. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.

After a 1.25 hour walk back to the car I drove towards the coast and checked out a few areas, including a few beaches, a lighthouse, and an abandoned hotel.

Last stop before returning the rental car was Cascais. This is a beautiful small city on the coast.

The Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, originally known was Sebastian’s Tower, was built in 1900 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. It became a museum in 1931. This beautiful building has neo-gothic and Revivalist architecture styles.

Palacio Seixas is a small two-storey neoclassical palace that was built in 1900 on behalf of Carmen Graziella Castilla da Rocha. In 1907 Carlos Seixas, an industrialist, purchased the house. In 1997 Instituto Camões purchased the house.

Casa das Historias Paula Rego is a very unique museum in Cascais. The building was designed by Souto De Moura, who was chosen by Paula Rego. The building consists of two pyramid-shaped towers, and red-cloured concrete. The building consists of four wings of different heights and sizes, a large exhibition space, a 200 seat auditorium, a shop, and a café.

The Citadel of Cascais is a set of fortifications that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend the Cascais coastline against attacks on Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The citadel consists of Santo António de Cascais, the Fortress of Our Lady of Light (Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais), and the former Royal Palace area. In 1488 a fort, known as the Torre de Santo António de Cascais, was built to provide resistance on possible military attacks on Lisbon. In 1594 the fort of Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais, designed by Italian Captain Fratino, was ordered to be built by Philip I. The fortress continued to undergo upgrades until 1755, when it was significantly damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake.

Casa de Santa Maria was a luxury private residence in Cascais. It was built in 1902 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. He originally built what is now the Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, and later on commissioned this building as a wedding present for his daughter. Raul Lino designed the building, which was built by materials only found within Portugal. In 1914 the building was sold to engineer Jose Lino Junior, who was the older brother of Raul Lino. He expanded the building by adding parts at each end, with the architecture being designed by Raul Lino. In 1934 the house was acquired by the Espirito Santo family. In 2004 the building was acquired by the Cascais Municipality.

Santa Marta Beach is a beautiful small cove with a sandy beach located behind the Marina in Cascais. The views here are simply incredible!

The Santa Marta Lighthouse was built in 1868 on the site of Santa Marta to provide light for navigation of ships. It originally had a fixed red light, given by a dioptric lens. It was later replaced by a fixed-light catadioptric system in 1908. In 1936 the tower height was increased by 8 metres, due to new buildings in the area that were impeding existing light. In 1949 a foghorn was installed. In 1953 the lamp was electrified, and even included a backup system. In 1964 a generator was installed. In 1981 the lighthouse was modified. Further upgrades occurred in 2000.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I explore more of Lisbon.

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Cambodia – Day 2 – Angkor Wat Sunrise & More Temples

Today I woke up very early at 4:30am for a 5:00am pickup to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sunrise wasn’t too spectacular because it was a bit cloudy, but it was still nice to see and get a reflection of Angkor Wat against the water in front of me.

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After watching the sunrise I went and got blessed by a Buddhist Monk, who put a fabric bracelet around my right arm, which symbolizes good like. After being blessed it was time to get some breakfast. I ate a small booth that was setup on the northern perimeter of Angkor Wat; delicious scrambled eggs and some coffee. The mosquitos were brutal here and I didn’t have any anti-malarial pills, but I ended up being okay.

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After breakfast it was time to visit more temples. First stop was Banteay Kdei, also known as the Citadel of Chambers. Banteay Kdei was completed between the 12th and 13th centuries. The complex is in very rough shape due to the poor quality of construction and poor quality of sandstone that was used in the building of the temples.

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Next up was Taprom. Taprom was completed in 1186 AD. When it was found it was found to be in excellent condition due to the trees growing out of the ruins and jungle surroundings protecting it. Taprom was used for the filming of the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. I absolutely enjoyed my time at this temple and liked it even more than Angkor Wat!

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After Taprom we walked through the forest to Ta Nei, a temple dedicated to Buddha, which was built in the late 12th century. It was in fairly rough shape and quite overgrown with trees.

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It was time to get some lunch. We stopped at a place called Ta Keo Khmer Food. I had some local soup and a coke zero. The soup was absolutely delicious. I ended up abandoning the coke zero because a swarm of wasps had surrounded my can.

After having lunch I walked across the road to the Ta Keo Hindu Temple. Built in 1000 AD, Ta Keo Hindu Temple was the first temple to be built entirely of sandstone by the Khmers.

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Next stop was Tonle Om Gate (South Gate), a beautiful gate with a head sculpture sitting inside the sandstone gate structure.

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After passing through the Tonle Om Gate we made a quick stop at the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform to view his victorious returning army. The 350 metre long terrace is covered in intricate carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

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Next stop was Baphoun Temple, which was built in the mid-11th century. The temple is three-tiered and also adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace that houses a swimming pool. My tour guide told me that when he was a child he would go swimming with his dog inside the pools. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size and site instability it collapsed. By the 20th century much of the temple had collapsed. Restoration was started, but then abandoned in 1970, when civil unrest broke out. Over 300,000 pieces, which were carefully labelled, were abandoned. In 1996 restoration began again under the guidance of French architect Pascal Royere from EFEO. The restoration took 16 years to complete.

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I also noticed some monkey’s playing around on my walk from Baphoun Temple to Bayon Temple. I got some great shots before one of the monkeys started getting aggressive with me and coming after me. The tour guide dropped a water bottle to distract the monkey so we could escape.

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Bayon Temple is an intricately detailed temple built at the end of the 12th century. The Buddhist temple had 49 (now 37) towers with faces on all four sides. This was my favorite temple of the day.

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It was getting late in the afternoon now, so it was time to head back to the hotel. I relaxed for a while by the pool until it was dinner time. I decided to try a vegetarian restaurant called Yuan Sheng Vegetable Restaurant. It was fairly good food, but I don’t think I could be a vegetarian as I like my meat way too much.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Cambodia adventure and explore even more temples! Tomorrow is my last day of my Vietnam / Cambodia adventure. The remainder of this summer will include hikes I have completed, as well as weddings / family portraits I have been hired for.

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