Sintra is known as a “must see” while visiting Lisbon. It’s a 30-minute train ride from Lisbon Rossio Station, a 6 minute walk from my AirBnb. I bought a round-trip ticket and jumped on the 10:01 train 3 minutes before departure. The train was standing room only. I was surprised to see how large the metro area was. Lisbon has a number of satellite cities with large numbers of high-rise condos and freeways. as we got closer to Sintra, it became more wooded and mountainous.
Upon arrival, I walked a few meters to a monument where two women were standing with “free tour” signs. I asked Claudia, the English-speaking guide, if she had any spots left and she said she did. So I registered on the site and we were off at 11:00.
As we started the tour, I met a couple from the Poconos and I mentioned that I was from the Philadelphia area and went to Franklin & Marshall College. Immediately, I heard the woman behind me exclaim that she, too, was an F&M grad; in fact, a member of the first coed graduating class. Nicoletta graduated in 1973 and she and her husband were visiting from Manhattan. She told me that she often meets fellow grads on her travels, which is amazing for a small liberal arts school.
Claudia, like most younger Portuguese, spoke English fluently, with an American accent. I was told that American movies and TV shows are subtitled, which helps them with the pronunciation. They also have the option to study English in primary school, which most do.
Her command of the history of Portugal and Sintra was superb. When visiting one of the few churches in Sintra, she invited us to wander in and then tell the group what we found unusual. Several odd things were reported: the church had no windows, just painted ones, there was a Masonic triangle with golden rays and a pulpit high on the wall with no visible door. This led to her explanation that the church may have been founded in the 13th century by the Knights Templar, thus the imagery. She explained that the Pope at the time demanded that all realms dissolve the Knights since they had grown too powerful for Rome’s liking. The Portuguese king demurred: they simply told the Pope that he had obeyed. What he actually did was change the order’s name to Ordem Christo. We all shared stories of Freemasonry and had a great time finding out that we all shared a similar fascination. I told them that the old East German Communist flag featured a Masonic symbol in the middle.
We continued toward several palaces and grand houses.
Sintra has fascinated writers and poets for centuries. Lord Byron and Hans Christian Andersen were among the enraptured visitors. The city is now a UNESCO site and was a favorite of royals and the elite for centuries. Its location high above the Atlantic provides a much more temperate climate than Lisbon, and the vast forests and misty mountains give it a mystical air.
As the tour ended, we all tipped Claudia and thanked her for a fantastic afternoon. Of course, many of us started introducing ourselves and six of us decided to have a late lunch at a wonderful place called Romaria de Baco. I ordered a recommended cod dish made with sweet potatoes and spinach, which was amazing. Among our group were a Portuguese couple, a Canadian from Montreal, a nurse from Australia and a Welsh nurse practitioner from Southampton, England. We started guessing ages: they ranged from 22 to 32. They were shocked to hear my age. We love compliments! The two nurses left for a tour of the Palacio Nacional da Pena, while the Portuguese couple, Joanna and Pedro, and the young Canadian, Yan, and I went by car to tour the Palacio & Parque de Monserrate, which was beautiful. Afterwards, Pedro and Joanna drove Yan and me to a train station by their house and we grabbed a train for the very quick ride back to Rossio station.
At lunch we made plans to take the train to Cascais, where Pedro and Joanna will meet us and give us the locals tour, since they lived there.
Meeting this wonderful group of young people is one of the great joys of travel and being engaged with fellow tourists and locals. It demonstrates the innate goodness of most people and the human desire to make new friendships and explore countries as a group. We all exchanged Instagram information and Pedro set up a group WhatsApp. Now I’m off to the station to meet Yan and Edith for the train to Cascais!