Good thing Daddy knows how to drive stick!, the Dr. beamed proudly as we took another sharp turn on Sintra’s curvy roads. It took us at least an hour to find Casa Miradouro from Lisbon. We drove through the narrow stone streets of Sintra with its numerous forts, monasteries and castles and we kept getting lost because of the tight turns we always had to take. We squeezed past tour buses as they were finishing up for the day, halted to quick stops to read the rua signs and re-oriented ourselves several times to find our room for the night.
The Dr. is not big on asking strangers for driving directions–no surprise, he is a guy after all–so I had to go to the tourist office alone to ask Onde Rua Sotto Mayor? The guy at the desk just assumed I spoke Portuguese and proceeded to tell me how to get to where we needed to be in his sh-sh-sh language. All I understood was the word for left, izquierda, because it was similar to Spanish so we went back on the road and turned left on the road across from the office. We will later learn that most of the locals choose to speak French rather than Spanish which is a curious thing to us because Spain is right next door. Almost everyone we met would switch to Parlez-vous FranÃ§ais? whenever we started talking to them in English or Spanish. Thankfully, the Dr.’s French lessons in high school paid off again. (The first was in Cuba, and then in Tunisia.)
Getting lost was worth it when we finally found Casa Miradouro because it was a haven from the bustle of the town center. Charlotte, the proprietress of Casa Miradouro welcomed us to her home as it started to rain. It had been cloudy when we touched down Lisbon with some sunshine peaking through the clouds and I was a bit chilly from my lack of sleep on the plane and felt a cold coming in, but suddenly felt relaxed as soon as we entered the house. The first floor had several salons for entertaining, each one set up with a different style of furniture. Design books were on the modern coffee tables. Cathedral ceilings with ornate details and ceiling to floor curtains gave the rooms an airy feel.
In our room, double doors opened towards the garden with a Juliet balcony that overlooked the town. Our queen-sized bed was covered in plain white sheets and two separate twin down comforters. (How come I never thought of that? No more blanket-stealing during cold nights in bed!) Blue and white tiles in the style of azulejos, an ubiquitous Portuguese touch, lined the bathroom walls. Hot water was aplenty!
After cleaning up, we felt settled enough to take an afternoon walk in the town and check out our surroundings. We walked up and down small hills, through narrow alleys and past bakeries and souvenir shops. We stopped by Lojo do Vinho for a couple of glasses of wine before we walked to the unfortunately named GSpot for dinner. Charlotte had recommended two different types of restaurants and we opted for the more experimental one since we knew we would have the rest of the week to eat local fare.
After a bottle of wine, foie gras, clams with squid-inked orzo and a mediocre sirloin steak, we set out into the drizzly night and walked back to Casa Miradouro. It felt like we had Sintra to ourselves; this fantasy land of castles looming above us. I could only think of Prague where I felt the same way at night but this was less gritty and more peaceful.
Charlotte was up; we assumed she was waiting for us to get in because she turned off all the hallway lights as soon as we bid her good night. We had a nightcap of Port at the bar in one of the rooms and talked for a bit before heading to our bedroom. A few hours later, I woke up with a crushing headache. Sintra’s lights from our balcony made me pause in the dark when I got up to go to the bathroom. Headache be damned, I was falling in love with Sintra’s nighttime lights and couldn’t wait for the next morning when we would begin to see the rest of the country.
The next morning, we enjoyed a very civilized breakfast in the basement. The Dr. and I have never been the best bed and breakfast guests because we’ve never really had good free breakfasts wherever we’ve stayed. The coffee is always weak, the bread cold and the butter like they serve it on airplanes. To our surprise, Charlotte prepared a spread of salmon, prosciutto, salami and ham with an assortment of pastries and fresh fruits. French-pressed coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice completed our morning. We checked out, reloaded our stuff in the hatchback and drove to São Pedro to visit the Sunday flea market before we started our long drive up north.
There was an assortment of colors at the Feira Grande de São Pedro. A cart selling only leitao, roasted pig, was in the middle of the square amidst a barrage of clothing, housewares, fig and olive plants, live finchess and other types of food. I watched a group of older ladies pull a tray of freshly-baked bread from a stone oven and bought two pieces only to discover sausage slices stuffed inside. We just ate, but happily ate again. Besides, lunch was still two hours away.