Sintra, Portugal

February 25-26, 2000

On the train to Sintra a guy about my age kept staring at me. I looked at him and asked, 'do you speak English?'

He did and we enjoyed a little conversation. He was a refugee from Kosovo, had lived in a tent for two months, then found work in Portugal for about 8 months. He believes things are settling down in Kosovo and will return in a few months. He got off a stop before mine. We wished each other the best of luck on our journeys and departed.

Off the train, I picked up a map and directions to the hostel at the tourist office. I was told few people actually walk about there since it is on the highest point of the hill. I figured I´d give it a shot and get a chance to see what was on the way up.

I was about where I thought I should be, but there was no hostel in sight, just a colorful palace. I asked someone there where the hostel was and they told me I had to go all the way down the hill and walk up at the next right turn. (at least that's what I thought was said)

There was no way I was going to walk up that hill today with this huge pack. And why was it so huge anyway? For one thing, I had a sleeping bag and mat for a future project in Spain... hey might as well put them to use!

At the small café in the parking lot, I had some food and played with the dogs and got to know their personalities. Maybe one would curl up on my sleeping bag tonight and keep me warm. The café closed I found a place to nest before dusk and set up my secret camp. It was a clear sky and there was a walk in drainage tunnel (at first I thought it was a secret entrance to the fortress) that served well as a bathroom. It was great to have the spelunking head lamp with me to find the end which went back quite a bit.

My bed was behind a wall near the road on a bed of soft wandering jew plants. The puppy dogs had forgotten I was a friend and decided to bark for hours at me. I stared them down and waited until they got bored and went to sleep. Then I did the same, or at least tried too.

A bunch of yokels parked their truck on the other side of the wall and continued to howl, chat, sing and make out for hours while I lay silent in the bush. Now I have a travel tip: don't camp so close to the road.

Morning came and I was greeted with song birds and a shimmering palace just within the reach of my stretching arms. I packed up and jumped on to the wall to be greeted by the Portuguese dogs of war.

I stared them in the eye again and they got out of my way and let me through. I brushed my teeth and someone popped out of a taxi.

It was a Brazilian businessman who spoke English and only had an hour and a half in Sintra to do some sightseeing. I hid my pack in the cave and we wen´t around the gate. The taxi driver had told him that just explain that you don´t have time to wait for it to open since you have to catch a train if they find you. We were stopped half way there and he explained just that and we were assured it was no problem at all to explore.

On the way back down, I saw the hostel... it was only about 200 meters from where I slept! I made reservations and tanked up with much needed water and a modest breakfast of bread and cheese.

I returned to the now open palace and toured the inside. It was fantastic! Although 500 years old, it was used up to about 50 years ago and had comforts you won't find in the old castles. The outside walls were from a coloring book: yellow, red, blue and white. The inside was more traditional and was furnished with the most impressive pieces I have ever seen.

After the tour, I blazed down the hill towards a much older Moorish castle. I must tell you that Sintra is a hiker´s dream! Lush growth of ferns, wandering jew, yucca, Ivy, thickly barked trees, flowers and oranges are all around little trails.

The castle was a maze of walls, steps and stone sofa beds. I only found one room left with a roof... either it never rains here or a lot has washed away with time.

Back to the hostel, I had some cool roommates... a teacher from England on a skiing vacation, an Alaskan studing in Spain, and a traveling Slovakian. This was the first bunch of people at a hostel I actually hung out with for a wee bit.

Sintra has made up for all of Lisbon´s disappointments and then some. This place is awesome!

countries list