Exploring the city of Lisbon
Ivan and I and another couple from Penn State took the cp.pt train from Porto to Lisbon for about 30 euros. You need to make a reservation in advance as seats are assigned. We paid for the express train, which was supposed to be 2 hours and 35 minutes but it ended up being closer to 4 hours. There was free wifi but it didn't work very well so don't count on it if you need to get work done. With half of our day lost because of transit, we decided to immediately head out to see the sights.
I was very hungry since I did not have time to get breakfast in Porto, and at this time, it was already 4PM. As suggested by our AirBnB host, we went to the Time Out Market for a quick bite to eat. It was quite expensive and the food was not too good. I would recommend to stop by to see the market but to eat somewhere else.
After we ate, we headed over to the Castelo de S. Jorge. You have to walk up a giant hill to get there but you can take a tram or electric car/taxi if you do not want to. We chose to walk everywhere and only took the train to far out cities. To enter the castle and gardens is about 8.50 euros and is worth it. I hate paying to see the inside of churches etc., but the views and history were breathtaking. Because I was so hungry, I forgot to bring the camera to take a picture of the view so you will just have to trust me on this one. The moorish castles have several towers and it is quite the adventure to go exploring.
Next to the Castelo de S. Jorge is another great location (Mirodouro da Senora do Monte) with gorgeous views of the city. At first, we did not know the exact name of the church but when we asked someone to take our photo (apparently he was a tour guide), he told us it was the Church of "Maka da Baby", which was his way of telling us this was the Church of Fertility (Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Monte e São Gens). We thought "maka da baby" was funnier and therefore, only referred to this spot as such.
This picture was taken from one of the towers at Castelo de S. Jorge of the park near the church of "maka da baby". The tour guide had suggested that we come back at sunset with a bottle of wine. Therefore, Ivan and I decided to have a picnic with wine and watch the sunset go down over the beautiful city of Lisbon.
Not only could we see the entire city, we could also see the Castelo de. S. Jorge. The lights at night are truly amazing. If you get to the top of the hill before sunset, you can grab beer, wine and snacks at the food truck. The name of the food truck was called wine with a view, which we thought was very clever and catchy.
Visiting Sintra is a must!! This harry potter-like town is about a 30 minute train ride from Lisbon and trains run every 30 minutes. To avoid long lines at each of the castle entrances, I would suggest to purchase your tickets online. You could spend a full day at each castle. Since we only had one day to visit, we decided to visit the Palace de Pena and Quinta da Regaleria.
Once you arrive in Sintra, you are forced to either take a packed bus or to walk up the mountain. Our friends decided to pay 5 euros to take the bus while we decided to walk. I cannot tell you which option is better. We got a good workout walking but the views and gardens were amazing. This was something our friends missed. The walk up was about 50 minutes while the bus was about 20 minutes. I would suggest walking as you have to wait in line to buy your bus tickets and then wait in line to get on the bus. Not only is walking the same amount of time but you can stumble upon glorious finds.
We took our time walking up the mountain and stopped for lots of pictures. When we arrived at the top, we were able to bypass the line since we already had our tickets. Upon entering the gardens of the Palace de Pena, we ran into Dr. Barbara Rolls, who was also vacationing with her family. Apparently, you can leave the country but you cannot leave Penn State! Dr. Rolls, stopped for a picture with us. How many times can you say you have run into one of your committee members outside of the country?
We waited on line to go inside the palace but we were shoulder to shoulder with other people. After 15 minutes, we decided to give up and not see the inside - it was way too crowded. It was hot and there was no way we would see the gardens, palace and make it to Quinta da Regaleria. I was determined to get to Quinta so we decided to roam the gardens. We were quick to find out that not many people walk around the gardens as they all just go to see the castle. If you were to ask us, the gardens were more beautiful and were a better way to spend our time. In addition, our tickets (with the online discount) were 13.30 euros for both the castle and the gardens. I believe it is considerably less if you only want to see the gardens. I wish we would have known.
As if we had not walked up enough stairs, we headed over to high cross, which was on another hill that overlooked the castle. By the time we got there, I think we had walked up 183 flights of stairs (if I remember correctly). Not only we were above the clouds, we could see all a lot of Portugal, both Lisbon and Cascais! We really wished we would have brought lunch to eat up here. It was the perfect picnic spot and lots of other people seemed to have the right idea.
On our way back down, we took a path down the other side of the mountain/hill and got to see different views and landscapes. Since we didn't have much more time to explore the Pena gardens we only stopped at the duck houses, which were tiny houses in the middle of a pond. To me, they looked like something out of a fairy tale. They said that J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for Harry Potter at the library in Porto (which by the way, you have to pay to go see and you have to wait on a long line to get tickets - we didn't do this) but I really think that the scenery in Sintra could have helped her imagination. We checked out one of the duck houses and sadly did not find any fairies or mystical creatures. Please let us know if you go there and find any.
As I mentioned, I was determined to get to Quinta da Regaleria and here is why: When searching the internet for the most unique things to see and do in Portgual, I came across a picture of a well-tower that was built into the ground. The pictures looked phenomenal and I knew that I must see this beauty for myself. When I asked friends who have been to Sintra if they went to this well, they were all dumbfounded and had no idea what I was talking about. Thus, I knew that I would go on a quest to find this well even if it took all day and I was thrown out of the park. Nonetheless, around 25,000 steps later, we came across the initiation well, which was far from disappointing. The online pictures did not do it justice. It took awhile to get the perfect shot, which was frustrating to both me, an amateur photographer, and my partner.
Note: We could not buy our tickets for Quinta da Regaleria online and had to wait online. This took about 20 minutes as this castle and garden were not as popular. The cost to get in was 6 euros, although if you are a teacher or student, the cost is only 4 euros - so make sure to bring your ID! In addition, your ticket is for both the castle and the gardens and no separate option is available. This castle was not crowded so we had no problem exploring it.
At the end of the well, you find yourself forced to make a choice as to which cave tunnel to enter. We thought we tried them all but who knows. It was quite dark down there. Luckily, we had a flashlight on our cell phones. Otherwise, we would have been walking around in the dark as we did not come prepared. A nice surprise awaited for as at the end of the caves, where we found an opening to a small pond fill with ducks.
Again, we chose to walk back to the train station rather than to take a bus. It was 5 euros each time you got on it while our train tickets (roundtrip) to Sintra were about 5 euros in total. By the point, according to my fitbit we had achieved 30,000 steps and 250 flights of stairs. I don't know if I will ever be that active in one day again - but I will certainly try!
Tips for Lisbon