Monday, April 19, 2010

Portugal Cruise--Sintra and Fatima

A pleasant day trip from Lisbon is to the quaint village of Sintra a little over 15 miles north of the city. At the center of the city is the Palacia da Villa, a large castle belonging to the royal family of Portugal, even though they are no longer in power. Rain clouded our views, but the structure and its furnishings are spectacular. We were told that most of the furnishings are original, not reproductions, and are an ecclectic mix of Moorish, Gothic Revival, and a wild assortment of other styles.

Lord Byron, the famous poet, once proclaimed Sintra an earthly paradise. Even with our limited views, we could see enough of the lush vegetation in this micro-climate to understand why.

The skies cleared a bit as we left the mountains for the seaside, stopping first at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe. You can see forever.

We ended the day‘s excursion with a stop in the beach resort of Caiscais, a former fishing village and once the favorite playground of the Portuguese royal family. Next door is the more elegant resort of Estoril, home to the oldest, yet very modern casino.

Our stay in Lisbon ended the following morning when we headed north to Porto, stopping en route in the city of Fatima. We were totally amazed with the size of the shrine and and two churches bookmarking each end of the square, which is twice the size of St. Peter's Square in Rome (200,000 packed it at Easter).

You can read about the “apparitions“ appearing to the three children tending their flocks in 1917 via a simple Google search. The shrine itself is in a partially open chapel on one side of the square where a mass was in progress when we arrived. On the north end is the original Basilca and across the square is the 2007-built Holy Trinity, a huge modern church holding 9000 people. A mass was in progress there, too.

Finally, we arrived at the ms Amadouro to the news that the 40 Brits who were scheduled to sail with us could not get out of the UK because of flight cancellations caused by the Iceland volcanic ash. A big disappointment, no doubt, as the rest of us are enjoying our cruise through this picturesque river valley.

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