Sintra on a Sunday

Friends and family have asked about Portugal, “Is it crowded?” My answer has always been, “There are people everywhere, but it’s not crowded” Until, that is, I got to Sintra.

I knew I was pushing my luck by going on a weekend, but due to travel schedules, museum closures, and nonrefundable hotels I had now booked onward, there was no other option. It was go on a Sunday or not go at all. Another of Portugal’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites, Sintra is known for its beautiful setting, romantic ambiance, and fantasy-like architecture. There are palaces perched on hilltops, Moorish castles, flower-lined paths through lush gardens. It’s the Number One day trip outside of Lisbon, and often listed as Portugal’s number one tourist attraction. Everybody says, “Be sure to go to Sintra! You’re gonna love it! Don’t miss it!”

It’s only half an hour from Lisbon by train, leaving from the cavernous Rossio Train Station, which adds an additional reason I want to go. It’s literally outside the door of the hostal where I am staying, not more than 50 footsteps. So it’s a kick to walk out the door and step onto the train without ever leaving the building.

Beautiful Rossio Train Station. Look at that gleaming tile floor!

Palácio da Pena, or Pena Palace was once a monastery, but fell to ruin after the 1755 earthquake, It remained in ruins until 1854 when King Ferdinand converted it to a palace as a summer residence for the royal family.

A word of warning, it’s a bit expensive to visit Sintra as one must pay for the train, then pay for a tourist bus to reach the main area of attractions, then pay for another bus if you don’t wish to climb the steep hill up to the castle. Then pay for separate tickets to visit the grounds versus the palace. And the Lisboa Card does NOT HELP here beyond a slight percentage discount on admission (same discount as for senior.)

While beautiful to photograph, I must be honest in saying it was probably my least favorite tourist attraction.

They say the clock tower can be seen all the way from Lisbon on a clear day.

Social Media has dictated so many changes in our lives, changes that seem to be doubling at the speed of light, particularly for those of us who can remember when a phone was just a phone. I have ranted in the past about how things like “listicles” (articles listing “Top ‘X’ places we must see in 2019.”) are funneling tourists, creating hot spots. (And I use the term “hot spot” to mean like a blister on a worn callous, not as the “in” place to be.) But it’s not only changed things geographically. It’s also changing things culturally.

For example, I seem to be one of the few travelers who actually uses a camera these days. I’d say one out of 100 take photos with a traditional camera, while the other 99 wave their smartphones or tablets into the air, trying to see the image over the crowds, pinching and spreading to get the photo into frame. Have you ever noticed how much longer it takes to take a photo on a phone? First, there is the swipe, followed by the selection of sizes. Then there is the tapping to achieve the right lighting and focus on the face, followed by multiple attempts at hitting the right button, particularly if you are taking the photo with someone else’s phone. It’s not as quick as one might think.

But then comes the part that sends me into a rage….the review stage. The arms come down, the head goes down, and the subject rejoins while they stand there hunched over the phone, oblivious to the fact that they are still blocking the “feature” while they do post editing. Pinch and spread the photo into frame, crop, change the filter, pull up the Instagram app, type in a catchy caption, make up a few hashtags, and tag the subjects. All while standing in front, blocking the fountain, castle, palace, statue, whatever.

Whereas with a traditional camera, settings are often preset making it possible to step into the spot, get the subject reasonably within frame, tap the button, and step aside to let others have their turn.

One must purchase an additional ticket in addition to price to enter the grounds to go inside this palace. Well, I have come all this way…

Some areas were not destroyed during the 1755 earthquake. This cloister, another popular photo spot, was one that remained intact.

Clock tower was completed in 1843. (Note another photo shoot in progress in cloister below.)

Note all the bedrooms have rib vaulted ceilings, typical of the 16th century Manueline style.

Bedroom of Ferdinand II.

Royal toilet, aka the true “royal throne.”

Sites like Instagram and Facebook have not only changed the way we take photos, they’ve changed the subject matter as well. I really hadn’t thought about this much until my frustrations in trying to photograph the palace at Sintra. Since it’s a fairytale-like setting, I began to notice young women engaging in a type of “cosplay” where they were posing like princesses wearing sundresses with long flowing skirts, vintage straw handbags. I even saw one woman posing in a sheer, ankle length tulle skirt. And of course always the ubiquitous wide-brimmed Instagram hat.

These young women typically work in pairs, switching roles while one is the photographer, and the other is the model. There are poses looking whimsically up at the turrets, one hand on the hat while the other hand holds the skirt hem or straw bag. There are those who pose from the back view, their tresses flowing out of the hat brim. Sitting on the majestic staircase looking pensive with ankles crossed, elbows on knees. Sunglasses slid down the nose while looking coquettishly over the shoulder.  And then they reverse roles.  It’s fascinating if you stop long enough to observe.  And you will have plenty of time to observe while standing in the midday sun, waiting your turn for these photo shoots to wrap up so you can grab a photo of the actual palace itself!

Note the young woman in upper left corner. She seemed to be in the frame everywhere I went.

Forget getting a clean shot off on any terrace, as it was constantly lined with photo shoots or selfies in progress.

Finally, I saw this spiral staircase that had no signage. No one was in it, so I decided to descend. It spit me out outside the palace walls, so I just followed rather than try to re-enter.

I came upon this sign saying I had arrived at the “Gateway to the Pilgrim’s Way” so I followed.(Note path leading down in lower left corner.)

No one was around, so I decided to follow the solitude, feeling relief at having escaped the masses. Seems this would be a way to enter the palace for free, as long as you didn’t mind the massive climb, as the path leads back down to the town.

There are plenty of other sites to see in Sintra also, like this 8th century Castle of the Moors, restored after the 1755 earthquake.

Or the Sintra Palace, also known as the “Town Palace” with it’s iconic conical chimneys over the kitchen.

But honestly, after the crowds, I never made it past the jug of ice cold sangria at Bacalhau na Vila.

I do not begrudge anyone for getting their photos. Or for visiting the places to which social media has alerted us all, and made us feel like we’ve got to get there now, or miss out on living our best lives. But for goodness sakes, when you are at Sintra on a Sunday, snap the shots..then please…step aside!

18 thoughts on “Sintra on a Sunday

  1. I love the internet and all it brings to my fingertips, but there are so many unintended consequences.

    Thank you for enduring the crowds to bring us so many gorgeous pictures of places that I’ll never see in person. YOU are our National Treasure! ;->

    Virtual hugs,


    • Judie, I am always so pleased to see you show up in my comment box! Hope you and Gary are making it okay in the summer heat!

  2. You’re my favorite ranter. I “heard” every frustration and saw it in the photos…SO many people, everywhere! Thank goodness, you were able to amble off to capture a few photos without faces. Can’t tell what dish you were having for lunch but that jug of sangria was a gorgeous sight.

    We are taking off for the Outer Banks this weekend and, not be negative or anything, I’m not much looking forward to the trip. Why? Overpopulation. What a drag. Can’t even get excited about walking the beaches and venturing out into the surf when I have to be concerned about man eating sharks and flesh eating bacteria (which, I am convinced, *does* have something to do with overpopulation).

    But, I am interested in learning more about the feat of the Wrights Brothers and seeing a lighthouse or two. And, of course, there’s always Mai Tais and crab and shrimp, oh, my! I’ll be setting an early alarm clock (in my new little cramper) to try to beat the crowds. Ain’t it a shame one has to utilize tactical skills in order to enjoy natural wonders these days?

    • Oh, the OBX! Now it is me with travel envy! One of my favorite places in the US. No doubt I am too late with this reply, but there is a full moon tour at Hatteras Lighthouse tomorrow night if it’s not sold out already. Crowds, yes, but worth it! I look forward to hearing how the trip went.

    • Lisa, not only hogging the view, but what really gets me riled is when they stop dead center in the middle of the sidewalk to answer a text, no doubt! gggrrr!!!

  3. Lets team up and become “influencers”. We’d make a great team and we could switch off as photographer and model……. The world will never know what hit them! In fact I just bought some NF shorts – yeah baby!

    • Maureen, if only the size on the NF label of all four pairs of pants in my backpack read “S” instead of “XL,” no doubt my trip would be sponsored. LOL!

  4. You have a “nice” way of ranting 🙂 I also noticed the same thing about tourist photographers on their little smartphones (I have a camera like you) and their constant finger swipes and mistakes and re-do’s. I don’t give anyone “private space” to take a photo of themselves, we’re all in tourist territory and in my opinion, anyone can walk and pose anywhere with other tourists. So what if other tourists are in another tourist’s photo? I totally ignore everyone including those young posing girls and families and couples and walk by them, aside them, in front of them, behind them, let the photographer wait for me to exit their photo frame if it’s that important. And they too are in my photos, because that’s real life! And by the way that little private path downhill looked wonderful!

    • Terri, I am not sure why people in my photo frame annoy me like they do. It’s like a chipped windshield…I can’t get past the “chip” to enjoy the view!

  5. Sometimes you just have to go ahead with a bad idea! Like others here, I wonder if the private path led you back into town peacefully? Or is that something we need to learn for ourselves?
    Keep trucking on!

    • Hi, Jim,

      Yes, it was a very peaceful path. I only encountered one small family, but otherwise had it all to myself. Worth the unplanned exit!

  6. The name Sintra itself makes me think of peaceful and relaxing thoughts. What a beautiful area! I can just picture those tourists take pictures in front of the palace, kinda makes me laugh!

    • Thanks, guys, for sticking with me. Hope you are making some good progress up there. I am behind in my blog reading…you guys are going to have an entire village built before I get caught up! 😉

  7. Re: the Instagrammers. Did you see the news article announcing that selfie sticks are pretty much banned in Florence IT? Didn’t come a moment too soon.

    • Tom, I had not heard that. I just fell in love with Florence all over again!

      I was in Livraria Lello, Porto’s famous tiny jewel box of a book store, and there was a woman in there swinging a selfie stick around 360 degrees. A store employee came up and told her to put it away. I could have cheered!

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