After finding the hostel and crashing, Sarah and I woke up early (yay jetlag) and headed over to Sintra, a town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our walk from the hostel, we couldn't help but noticing that we were in Europe! Between the shock of seeing so many ethnicities walking around,
and walking through plazas with fountains, blue sky, and only one construction crane (!)we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore. Another funny difference: the train station was historic and profoundbut the train itself was old and nasty.In China, the stations are all immaculate and the trains are state-of-the-art, but no one can afford to ride the nice ones...Anyways, our first stop in Sintra was the Palacio Nacional, which is famous for those two big cylindrical protrusions in the front, as you can see here.The palace proved to be a wonderful introduction to Portuguese history and architectural style. First, everywhere you looked were beautiful hand-painted azulejos (tiles) of various motifs.The one above depicts a hunting scene and is actually painted into a corner of the walls. Sarah and I both thought they were reminiscent of Chinese white and blue porcelain. Turns out, they might have been influenced by China: Portugal had the longest lasting colony in the Far East, Macau, which was recently handed over to the Chinese in 1999 and was founded shortly after Vasco de Gama discovered how to sail to India (I am SO IGNORANT of world history). Here's a gift from the Governor of Macau to the King of Portugal from a while back:It's made of pure ivory and is the largest such structure ever made (according to the sign...but who knows if that is true). And here's inlaid wood, which also looked somewhat Chinese.
During our tour, we ended up in the palace kitchen, where we noticed that the ceiling went up remarkably high.
(Cool seal, right?) Indeed, we were inside the big cylinders. We thought they were some master architectural design, but turns out...they were just glorified chimneys.
After the palace, we walked about an hour on the side of the road (whoops) to get to the Castelo de Mouros (Moorish Castle).Does the castle wall remind you of anything?
How about in this picture?We were joking about how we flew 1/4 across the world to go to the Great Wall! Funny, right?
We then walked over to the Pena Palace, a breathtakingly beautiful castle you could see from the Moorish ruins.The inside wasn't too impressive, but the outside decoration--the bright paint and the blue/white tiles--was so beautiful. And it reminded me a bit of Phoenix and our Mexican house. So of course, I had to take a picture of me in front of it:
After a long, fun day sightseeing, we went to an authentic Portuguese meal, where I ordered fish...which came whole.
Yet another reminder of my adopted country!!
All in all, it was a fantastic introduction to Portugal, and a reminder that, no matter where you are and no matter how different it appears, food, buildings, and culture are far more similar than you would expect.