Today we carefully wound our way up the steep stairs and tight back streets of Sintra, flattening ourselves against walls as cars came screaming around corners (you may think I am exaggerating here, but I am not, my assessment of Portuguese drivers remains the same, they are insane), past the church Santa Maria to the trails that lead through the lush forest to Castelo dos Mouros. We are all ecstatic to be hiking again and it is fun to explore this climate with new plant species blanketing the ground and strawberry trees, sequoias, and other unknown varieties overhead. We have some serious Portuguese botany learning to do. As we hike through the forest, our imaginations are set loose as we catch glimpses of old walls mysteriously emerging from the thick foliage sporadically, and occasional breaks in the trees provide us with splendid views over Sintra's valley and Palacio Nacional below. Just before we get the castle gate, we came upon the ruins of an old chapel and burial site complete with skull and crossbones. Very cool. Inside the castle gate, we climb up and down the granite stairs exploring all the towers and walls, taking in the sweeping, panoramic view of the valley below dotted with its many palaces and red roofs marching out to the sparkling sea. On a neighboring hilltop, we can see Palacio de Pena, almost Castelo dos Mouros's foil with its vivid colors and extravagant lines, proudly perched like a peacock in all its splendor. As we take in the view, the steep, rugged terrain, jumbled with huge boulders and tangled with thick, overgrown forest, is really quite astonishing. The castle emerging out of the mountaintop, hugging its contours, looks so organic, like it somehow grew out of the rocky landscape, just an extension of the mountain. I really can't imagine how the Christians overtook this castle in the mid-1100's.
Click aqui for way too many photos. It's really hard for me to weed them down.