Portugal Trip : Day 1

Day 1, 13 August: We awoke at 04:00 in Sibbe. At 04:45, we were on our way in our little VW Polo to the Brussels Airport, 128 km (79 miles) away. Fog slowed us down on the Belgian highways, eating up the cushion of time I’d built in. Our flight took off at 07:00. I sat next to an ear, nose and throat specialist named Luc and his wife. The couple is from Ghent, Belgium, a Flemish city. The couple consider themselves Flemish, but they spoke French to one another. Most of the innovations in his industry are coming from the United States, Luc said.

In Lisbon, the skies were bright, the weather warm: about 27 C (80 F). We welcomed the sun, not only because of the contrast with the fog earlier, but because the car we rented had air conditioning. It was another VW Polo, this one a station wagon.

We drove out of Lisbon to Sintra, 27 km (17 miles) west of Lisbon, near the Atlantic coast. Upon arriving in the Estef a district, we met an old man, walking with a cane. He had no voice box. He showed us where we could park for nothing, and he told us to beware of thieves, who, he assured us, are not Portuguese but foreigners. The gentleman said he was 81. Never smoke, he rasped. I understood so much of what he was saying that I said later to Cathy, they ought to lump Spanish and Portuguese into one big language and call it Iberian.

We checked in at Pens Nova Sintra. From the terrace you get a good view of the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), perched atop a mountain nearby. We walked to Sintra-Vila and ate in a restaurant called Tulhas, near the information center. Cathy had duckmeat with rice; I tried bacalhau (codfish) in cream sauce. While we awaited the main course, our waiter brought us cheese, bread and olives, which we ate, thinking they were included. We learned otherwise later. Still, the meal was cheap by European standards, and we liked the food.

We climbed the hill to the Moorish Castle. The forest was shady, the climb tiring. The view was what we’d come for, and it was superb. To the west, the Atlantic; east-southeast, Lisbon; east-northeast, a thick haze from the forest fires. Far below, Nova Sintra, and, through our binoculars, the window to our bathroom.

For sunset, we drove to Praia das Ma? (Apple Beach). As the waves licked our feet, the sun kissed the sea good night. We climbed a rocky cliff and watched the gathering gloom. Surfers were trying to ride the gathering waves. The sky, all oranges and pinks and purples. Behind us, Mars, still faintly copper, rising.