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March Break Abroad: Thank You, Lisbon, But...

March Break Abroad: Thank You, Lisbon, But...

Day Highlights

It was time to get an experience outside of Lisbon to see other perspectives of the Portuguese landscape. What better way to explore Portugal than by visiting the nearby resort town of Sintra, located in the Sintra Mountains, also known as the Mountain of the Moon.

We were lucky enough to be going against traffic as we left the city because we were using one of Lisbon’s busiest corridors, particularly during rush hour. Our city guide, Lourdes, relayed the story to us of a man in a Ferrari and a man on a donkey leaving the same location at the same time to head into Lisbon. The donkey won the race. True story! The Prime Minister of Portugal organized this race in 1993 and it made headlines across Portugal.

Day 3

Arriving in the town of Sintra is no easy feat for a bus, but our transport captain navigated through the winding streets with ease. We had the opportunity to view the estates throughout the town as we ascended higher and higher into the mountains. First stop: Pena Palace.

Pena Palace was once a summer home to Portuguese royals. As we navigated through the halls and many rooms of the palace, we got to experience what it would have been like for many of the royal families that visited the palace during the summers of the 18th century. With romantic architecture, and extravagant interiors, we were able to see how art, fashion, and architecture came together to influence this popular destination.

After the palace, we made our way to Quinta da Regaleira, where we got to see the Renaissance-style manor, and explore the gardens. Along the way, we saw the way Roman myths, legends, and Catholicism influenced the grounds. Statues and images of Roman gods were seen throughout the gardens, and influences from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy (in particular, the Inferno) were seen at the Portal of the Guardians, one of the entrances to the Initiation Well.

Like in the Inferno, the Initiation well is a descent into the self. As we descend, we are encouraged to think about our lives and descend further into our minds. The circular structure is fascinating and to walk down, and it becomes even more calming as the sounds of nature above ground get drowned out by the slow trickling of water dripping through the cracks like a slow, meditative waterfall.

Once we’ve reached the bottom of the well, we can walk through the caverns that wind through the garden’s depths before emerging back into the light of day with a view of a waterfall and grotto. The juxtaposition of the cold interiors of the tunnel with the brightness of greenery from the gardens was quite stunning to compare.

Time for lunch in the town of Sintra! Students were able to indulge in pastel de nata, seafood platters, cod fritters, and other delicious foods in their exploration of the winding alleys. They also managed to find some adorable sardine pens to take back as souvenirs!

The last stop of the day is the Castle of the Moors. Originally built by the Arabs in the 8th century, and later conquered by the first Portuguese king, the castle stands among the clouds (quite literally as we were surrounded by low-hanging clouds!) and offers spectacular views of the ocean, the distanced Lisbon, and the natural landscapes of the mountainside.

Students were able to walk through the winding paths along the castle’s exterior walls, walk the depths of the cistern, and get lost in the dreaminess of the clouds and untouched walls.

This was along day in the sun and included visits to many timelines throughout Portugal’s history. It was a great introduction to the many influences on Portuguese architecture, art, and culture, and how these artefacts still remain to create the landscapes we have come to know so well over these last few days.

Goodbye, Portugal, it’s been great getting to know you. Next stop: Seville, Spain!

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