суббота, 27 февраля 2016 г.

Sintra. The Pena Park (31.10.15)

To get to the Pena National Palace you first need to enter the Pena Park. There are two types of entrance tickets: the one which allows you only to walk in the park and the one which also includes the visit to the palace. We realized that we hadn't much time because it would get dark soon. We had to save not only the time but also the forces since the railway station lied half a kilometer below us. That's why we took the ticket of the first type.

The Pena Park is a vast forested area with lots of sights situated inside. We restricted ourselves to a couple of them: the brightest one and the highest one.

In the previous two posts you saw the first of them, the colorful building, from the large distance. Finally, we reached that miracle.

What I liked about park entrance tickets the most was that they allowed going everywhere except entering the interior of the building. Things might be much worse if the palace was encircled by a fence so that we couldn't scrutinize it closely. Luckily, many attractive spots near the palace walls were legally available for first type tickets holders.

Want to meet the ocean inhabitant in the mountains? Just look above.

It is a Triton trying to scare everybody who gets into the open space from under the decorated arch:

If you walk in the opposite direction, the sea god looks less threatening (though still irritated by crowds of tourists) and more recognizable:

Walking in the Pena Park, you can take delight not only in the beauty of the palace, but also in all of the wonders you left far behind. To feel the connection with the previous post, take a look at one of its main objects on the photo below (pay attention to its right part).

All the way, we were ascending higher and higher, but the summit was still above us. However, from the Pena Palace it became visible. Moreover, the most attentive of you have already noticed it. If not, take a look at this photo one more time:

That is Cruz Alta (the High Cross). More precisely, that is its replica, because the cross itself was severely damaged by the lightning strike in the end of the previous century and currently is located near the park entrance with its parts joined by metal rods.

There is a lot of buses near the Palace of Pena. No buses go to the High Cross. Almost no tourists ascend there either. On the way to the cross and back we met only four persons, i.e. even less than on the hiking trail (which appeared to be more challenging). Don't copy lazy tourists' behaviour if you ever find yourself in Sintra. Otherwise you'll miss too much. "Bonus locations" are hidden everywhere ;)

Finally, here, 529 meters above sea level, is the main checkpoint.

It's the highest point of the whole mountain range. It's the place of the indescribable feeling that you are above everybody for dozens of kilometers in every direction (plane passengers shouldn't be taken into account because they cheat by using an aircraft ;) ).

You are above everything in your field of vision. That means that the glance in every direction provides you with an unforgettable experience.

In September 2014 after visiting Paris I called the capital of France the most luxurious place I've ever seen. Luxury is a kind of beauty. There is also another kind of beauty, which has hardly anything in common with luxury. That kind, the romantic beauty, is what Sintra (and especially the mountains of the Moon) is all about.

We had time to see a lot of the Sintra landmarks. But there are still many of them which we hadn't time to look at: the Capuchin Convent, the Sintra National Palace, the Palace of Monserrate. Moreover, I wished we had more time for exploring Quinta da Regaleira, the Pena Park and Sintra itself. That town became a must return place for me. Besides it, there are only two places in Europe I would like to come back so much: Venice and Paris. I have no doubt that this Portuguese town named after Diana the Huntress (Cynthia to the Romans, hence Çintra) deserves such a considerable company.

воскресенье, 21 февраля 2016 г.

Sintra. The hiking trail and the Moorish Castle (31.10.15)

While Quinta da Regaleira is easily accessible on foot, other Sintra landmarks are located quite high. That makes most tourists reach them by bus. They don't even realize what an impressive part of the path to the top they miss! Only a few tourists (out of thousands visiting and the Pena Palace every day) prefer the hiking trail. We are among them.

The hiking trail through the mountains of the Moon offers you not only to strengthen your feet. Certain details make the ascending unforgettable.

Miraculous sceneries are everywhere:

Lots of surprises await you along the trail.

Want to play a role of a queen? Here are your throne and your crown, Your Majesty!

Need to relax after the tiring part of the ascending? What about the lovely corridor, so unusual for the forested area?

And the record-holder for surprising the tourist, who wishes to reach the Sintra landmarks, is the vending machine installed in the deserted stone building. Yep, the machine selling snacks and drinks in the godforsaken mountains with a 5-10 persons going past it within an hour. Thus, no queues for the unexpected aid for tired adventurers :)

Apart from tourists, we encountered a group of students practicing in mountaineering. Even though our path was not that difficult, it'd be enough to take a dozen steps aside, and we'd need their climbing equipment to continue the ascending.

Motivation is everything! The trail is equipped with the plans and signs informing you about your current progress. Plans (such as the one on the photo below) are absolutely clear. As for the signs, we were confused when we asked ourselves if they specify the remaining distance or the remaining height to the destination. Food for thought for those who arrange such signs which pretend to be informative.

Time to take a look around.

Have you recognized the Regaleira Palace (in the center of the photo above)? Just estimate the distance we have already covered. Then turn around.

Looks still far away from here but much closer than it seemed from Quinta da Regaleira, doesn't it?

Finally, we are there, in front of the castle built more than 1000 years ago.

Hospitable offer to conquer the castle was accepted without any hesitations ;)

Views from the castle towers and walls are breathtaking!

What makes Sintra so beautiful, is that synthesis of the man-made and natural wonders. Neither the mankind nor the nature alone can create something comparable to this. The higher you ascend the Sintra mountains, the greater miracles await you. The marvelous Pena Palace is our next destination.

суббота, 13 февраля 2016 г.

Quinta da Regaleira (31.10.15)

After spending the first evening in Portugal walking around Lisbon streets without any specific purpose, just enjoying the sights, next morning we took a train to Sintra. The weather on that day was perfect: rainless (which is not a usual thing for this region in autumn) and warm (almost +20°C after around 0°C in Saint Petersburg two days earlier).

When you arrive in Sintra, you soon understand: it is an extraordinary place. Just several hundred meters away from the station, unusual buildings start to attract your attention. And it is only the very beginning of wonders awaiting you here.

Our first destination was Quinta da Regaleira. That estate had many owners, one of whom was entomologist, collector and mystic António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, also known as Monteiro the Millionaire. Quinta da Regaleira owes him its present appearance. Here is what comes into the world when an entomologist a mystic descends from a wealthy family:

The estate is full of symbols related to the most famous conspiracies the world have ever known: Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Knights Templar (even though the last organization is considered as a mystical one mostly due to the influence of a popular culture over the last two centuries), etc. I was sorry for not reading some book about Quinta da Regaleira estate before the travel (or at least, a good article. The one in Wikipedia is good only regarding advertising this place) to learn the motives behind each spot in that park. Just wandering in Quinta da Regaleira is a breathtaking experience. What would it be like if I understood this place?

The park features a system of tunnels and caves, which strengthen the feeling that you have come to a fabulous place. These hardly lit underground passages lead you from one fairy location to another one.

First I was surprised coming across this greenish lake, because I hadn't seen it in the Wiki article. Later I found out that this "necromantic" lake "magically" turns to a normal one in another season.

It was Quinta da Regaleira what prompted me to choose Portugal as a travel destination. More precisely, it was one of the park spots what attracted my attention when I came across a photo of it somewhere on the Web. Even one of that spot names sounds intriguing. Have you ever heard of "inverted/underground towers"? Here is one of them:

It is the so-called Initiation Well linked to the Tarot mysticism. Nowadays it serves not only as a place of interest but also as a junction of two levels of the park. 27-meter spiral staircase leads you to the higher level of Dante's Inferno. Nine circles of hell represented by nine terraces are the main concept underlying the park layout.

You don't feel the power of this place, you don't feel its relationship to dark things? Then just switch the daylight off.

Finally, here is the Regaleira Palace, a nice example of the Manueline, or Portuguese late Gothic.

After what you've seen outdoors before, you won't be captivated by the interior of the palace. Probably, even the two-storied library won't fascinate you much although the concept behind it is amazing: while standing on the upper storey, you see books everywhere, both above you and below, on the walls of the lower storey, barred to the public.

The exciting day in the wondrous town wasn't even halfway through. Still strolling the terraces of Quinta da Regaleira, look up.

Look closely at these two photos and on the mountain peaks you'll notice the large castle (above) and a palace of many different colors (below).

You'll be able to follow us there on foot (if you walk on foot in your imagination), but that is the story for the next time. Stay tuned! 

суббота, 6 февраля 2016 г.

Airport adventures

It is time to switch back to the travel topic and to tell you about the days spent in Portugal in late October / early November. This time even the flights were eventful, so I can't help sharing recollections of them with you.

There is no direct air communication between Saint Petersburg and Lisbon. So I had to choose a transit flight for the first time in my life. Both stopovers were made in the cities familiar to me: Paris and Rome.

Part I. Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport

I know three persons who flew through Paris and whose luggage was lost in that airport (and reunited with its owner only several days after). I don't know anyone who used transit flight with stopover in Paris and got his/her luggage in the destination. If you are such person, then please let me know in order to keep the statistics up-to-date.

Do you think that they lost my luggage as well? Oh, that'd be too easy. They didn't. Actually, they couldn't. I took the necessary precautions and hadn't any luggage but the carry-on one.

Anyway, I still felt a bit nervous about that part of the journey because I had only one hour to get from one terminal to the other one. It had to be achievable (otherwise, they wouln't sell tickets Saint Petersburg - Paris - Lisbon with only one hour between two flights). When 15-20 minutes after the landing I was approaching the desired terminal on the shuttle bus I even started to think that it was easily achievable

Soon I realized how naive I had been: several dozens of people stood in the queue to the passport control. Fortunately, employees of Charles de Gaulle Airport turned out to be very efficient so I successfully passed to the next level of the thrilling adventure "Board the plane in time" sooner than I expected. 

The path was not clear yet: a minute later I ran into the luggage control. It was absolutely unexpected: being a transit passenger I didn't saw any sense in this additional interim check (moreover, on the way back there was no luggage control in Rome). I still had around 15 minutes when I passed this stage as well...  

I was nearly running (as far as it is possible in such a crowded place like Paris main airport) glancing from time to time at the indicator boards telling me "Boarding. Last call" and at the signs assuring me that I'm moving in the right direction. Finally I was there, in the large oval hall with the boarding gates along its boundary. Certainly, my gate was in the opposite corner of the hall which center was crowded...

Five minutes later I felt relieved sitting in the plane. It'd be very sad to spoil the marvelous days awaiting me because of being late for a flight. Note to self: never choose a transit through Charles de Gaulle having less than three hours between two flights!   

Part II, in which the absence of luggage becomes a source of problems. Rome, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport

I had 2 hours 15 minutes this time. There was no crowd willing to pass the passport control and no other obstacles as well. That's why an hour before the boarding I just sat down near my gate and continued to watch "Truffaldino of Bergamo" on my tablet.

When the boarding time came, it turned out that they changed the gate (without notifying the passengers as far as I could see by the behaviour of the others). The new gate was located nearby but out of sight for us who waited near the prevously announced one. Anyway, it couldn't cause any troubles, just irritated me a little.

First thing I had to do was to print a ticket (in Lisbon I was able to print the ticket only for the first part of the route). Before that I had a funny conversation in broken English from both sides with the employee of the airport whom I told three times that I have no luggage, and thus, no bag tag number from the Lisbon-Rome part of the trip. Then I moved to the neighbouring queue (for the boarding). Soon I showed my ticket aaaand... yep, it turned out that they printed me a ticket with some bag tag number! I'm still curious what was in the luggage corresponding to that number :) However, I had to print my ticket once again and here my troubles began. 

It took them merely seven attempts to print a new ticket for me (I guess there was some conflict with already printed tickets). And their system... oh, it was undoubtedly the handiest one I've ever seen. To begin with, it was DOS-like, with command line interface only, and the employee who was trying to resolve my issue didn't seem to feel comfortable with it. But its main feature was that the passport data had to be typed in from scratch after each unsuccessful attempt. Hope they didn't memorize my name and my passport number for the rest of their lives :)

Airline departure delay implicitly connected with myself - achievement unlocked :)

And one more airport I will be cautious to use as a stopover in the future.