Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Christmas Day started with a casual ride around Sintra. We didn't have a map, or any idea of the area was laid out for that matter, so we took our chances and headed 'right' from our hotel. There is no road grid here - just twisty, hilly, narrow streets that suddenly take you in a different direction than you started. The single consistent reference point is a castle way up on top of one of the hills. This was an obvious target for two keen cyclists.
Along the way, we passed a group of local cyclists congregating at the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, a beautiful, yet understated, structure that dates back to the 14th century. We followed some signs that promised to take us to the Castelo, and soon found ourselves on a lovely quiet road that switchbacked through a magnificent forest peppered with old palace-like homes. It was cycling heaven. 
As we approached the top of the hill, we passed the remains of a 9th century Moorish castle and Erik made friends with the resident cats. Next stop was the Palacio National de Pena, a 16th century Monestary-turned-castle. The descent was a bumpy old stone road and I was glad I brought my mountain bike.
It was a short ride, and the we headed North by car. Our first stop was Obidos, a medieval castle and town enclosed by stone walls. Apparenty it was a port town in its day - but you'd never guess, as it is 10km from the nearest coast. We walked through the labyrinth of footpaths and atop the wall that surrounded the town - peeking through the crenellated walls. Although tourism is probably its lifeblood, Obidos wasn't uncomfortably touristy - perhaps because it is Christmas or perhaps because it was raining. We tucked in to an unnumbered, unsigned door for a quick ham and cheese sandwich. The restaurant decor was modern, in striking contrast to its exterior and, well, all of what we have seen since we left the Lisboa airport. It felt like we had transported back to the future for a brief moment.
There is no snow here and, apart from the 'hanging santa' decorations that adorn many of the buildings here, not many traditional signs of Christmas. So, the roasted chestnuts that we bought from a street vendor on the way back to the car were a nifty way to celebrate the day.
We carried on north using the toll roads, which seem to operate on an honor system. Erik keeps blasting through the prepay lane, while I sit anxiously on the passenger side expecting to be pulled over at any moment. I'm not sure why this terrifies me - but I'm also not sure why Erik is totally unphased by it. Our perspective on authority is very different.
We arrived in Porto just after dark. It took a while to find our hotel, but it was worth the effort. It's effectively a castle tucked inside the densely built downtown core.
We went for a walk to find dinner and found that the only thing open was a street vendor. Christmas dinner was comprised of a hot dog, topped with ham, corn, lettuce, mushrooms, carrots, shredded potato chips, mayonaise, mustard and ketchup. We finished it off with jelly and chocolate filled churros. Our €2.05 bottle of wine was spectacular. Christmas never tasted so good.


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