André and his wife own the 'Portuguese for a Day' tour company. Not only do they make a great couple, but they are also dynamite business partners. Filipa generally takes care of the reservations and business end, and leaves the touring to André (most of the time). He's been driving since he was a teen, never had an accident, and was born in the old Alfama section of Lisbon. So he knows his way around. We also discovered he is a professional Jazz Bass player, and has performed all over the world with the likes of Elton John and Michael Bublé. He has also played all over Lisbon, which is why he knows the roads so well. Last year, he decided to stay close to home and begin a tour company with his wife. And we are glad he did!
Our first stop was the Pena Palace, built by Ferdinand II (a Saxe-Coburg and Uncle of Queen Victoria) who married Maria, the Queen of Portugal. In the mid-1800’s, this artist-king built the Pena Palace in the Romantic style at the site of an old Monastery on the tip-top of a mountain in the historic town of Sintra, a half hour drive from Lisbon. Dan and I agreed it was the nicest and most livable palace we have seen to date-which is quite a few! The roads, although winding and extremely narrow, were not an issue for André. He was a master at getting around (or making way) for tour buses and other vehicles which had no business being on the road.
Each view of the palace was more stunning than the previous. It was hard to take a bad photo. We wound in and out of the rooms, looking at the incredibly intricate ceilings, which, in the last few rooms, became faux-finished works of art. One could barely tell they were two dimensional!
The one below is a faux-finish!
There were a few oddities, like their first telephone, pictured below:
And this Asian-looking desk. . .
And this rather uncomfortable looking chair!
When we arrived at the end, this enormous kitchen came into view-one I would covet even today. All the pots, pans, and space one needs to make a meal fit for a king and queen.
Here are a few more shots . . .
Then, we wound our way to Quinta da Regaleira, the summer residence of wealthy businessman Carvalho Monteiro, built in the neo-manueline style by the country's best artists. I would call it a small palace. What do you think?
Here were some of the interior views . . .
We had only ten minutes to tour, since we spent most of our hour and a half on the winding, tree-covered paths, leading to Lake of the Waterfall. . .
Towers and turrets. . .
Next, we had a lovely meal at a local restaurant, suggested by our guide, André. I tried a national dish of salted cod mixed with onions, egg and 'chips' or tiny bits of French fries. Yum! Then we strolled around for a few minutes, walking up (of course), the narrow streets to window shop.
Dan bought a tasty pastry known as the 'pillow of Sintra'. André explained when the kings would come to towns around Portugal, they requested a special pastry made, similar to the pastis de Belem in Lisbon. It all began with monks who spent their time making wine, and discovering the barrels were rotting inside, found a way to seal them with egg whites. What was left after painting the interior of the barrels? Egg yolks! Thus, custard came into being, which bakers used in their delicacies.
Then we ventured to the Westernmost point on the continent of Europe: Cabo Da Roca. Talk about wind! Well, I suppose it's a good thing on a Windjammer cruise. . .
We had a grand tour with André- it couldn't have been better! Our every need was attended to, including a drop off at the Oriente Train Depot, where we thought we had tickets for a 6pm journey to Porto. Not so. It was a mere promise of a ticket. Come to find out that ordering an paying for a specific train trip and having it shipped overnight to the States doea NOT a reservation make. So, we missed our train, and took the intercity route which arrived in Porto at 11:15pm. By the time we made it to our Hotel, it was almost midnight. Dan pointed out we didn't miss our destination. True. And for that I was grateful. He takes the laid back approach at all times. It must be his Italian roots. Me? I'm stil working on patience and trust!