Portugal concert and castles

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by

Last Thursday, the entire band flew to Lisbon, Portugal to perform in the second Rock In Rio concert performance this season. Last October, we played the concert in Rio De Janeiro. The concert series also has shows in Lisbon and Madrid, Spain. As is typical for my peripatetic nature, as soon as I landed in Lisbon, I started asking about where to go for an unforgettable experience. We had an entire day off, and I wanted to see what I could! A kind stranger suggests that I visit the Sintras castles. I had no idea what this was, but the stranger said it was a mere 40 minute train ride and that I shouldn’t miss it.  It sounded like the perfect adventure! And an adventure it was!
I recruited a few different people from the Wonder camp to go with me, but since most people don’t sleep as easily on airplanes as I do, only Judith and Lanesha joined me. I got basic directions from a hotel staff person and off we went! First stop, a bank to exchange money. Not so easy.  Apparently banks in Portugal don’t exchange money unless you have an account with them. Sig… After an hour long fiasco of trying to find a bank, we gave up and went to the train station, where we found…guess what?…a money changing business. Why hotel staff didn’t tell us to go to the train station in the first place left us baffled.

Finally, we made it to the train ticket booth. I speak a small amount of several languages, so I pieced together questions in Portuguese about how exactly to get to Sintras. The woman in the booth, started telling us about taking various trains, and started our transaction. But before we could pay, she suddenly stood up and a man took over. We had to start again from the beginning explaining where we were trying to go. Not the first encounter with a ticket booth agent that was bizarre.

At long last, we made it onto the first of 4 trains. At São Sebastiao station, we stopped for snacks and beverages, observing the very Parisian looking town square. The restaurant where we stopped was packed full of patrons, and the smells were intoxicatingly delicious. The Starbucks we ventured  into had a more relaxed and brighter feel than many Starbucks shops in the USA. The windows were tall and the warm sunshine poured in, lightening our mood from the confusion we’d encountered so far.

Next exit point: Sintras! We traded trains for busses, and as we stepped off of one bus, Lanesha was caught off guard by a young man who sincerely asked “Beyonce?” We all giggled as we headed into the town of Sintras and onto the next bus. None of us was prepared for the upcoming hike. I was wearing my Grecian sandals, which have now had their last run. They slipped off of my feet continuously, in protest to the trek I’d imposed upon them. Firstly, we exited the bus too soon.  But the less than cordial bus driver didn’t tell us “you should wait until the next stop”. The first stop was the ancient moorish castle ruins, which closed later than the palace up the hill.  So….we had to walk up the remainder of the hill; cobbled stone road, steep grade, what looked and felt like 1/2 mile, bad shoes. Deep breath! Go!

When we reached the gates of the Palace, we discovered that there was another very intense hike, straight up hill. Thankfully, there was a trolley to transport us. Another unsmiling driver ferried us up to the Palace entry. Looking straight up, the Palace (lastly occupied by King Fernando of Portugal) was an imposing sight. The architecture is orange, adorned with intricate detailing, a palette of colors and structures which offered spectacular views. The Palace is now a functional museum (no photos allowed indoors) and it was fascinating to see the living quarters of relatively recent royalty. They were apparently quite small people, given the height of many of the doors.

After taking the trolley back down the hill, we walked the same route back to the Moorish castle. The ruins are amazing! The boulders that are interspersed throughout the ruins are terrifyingly massive, and narrow steps leading to the top of the watch towers sent our adrenaline rushing. Despite feeling our legs and feet moving into fatigue, we were determined to reach the top. We’d endured planes, trains and automobiles (and even saw a helicopter) and were not going to give up!

At the top of the watch tower, we could see the entire Sintras valley. We were also ducking the attack butterflies. Yes, attack butterflies. Taking in the beautiful view, we were accosted by direct to the face incursions by beautiful, yet fast moving butterflies. They seemed to be directly aiming at our heads. After batting them away for several minutes, we conceded defeat and began the long journey back down to earth.

Once we reached the area where we had initially exited the bus, I stepped inside the ticket building and asked about the frequency of the bus – every 20 minutes was the answer. Remember, we had been hiking on cobbled stone and dirt roads for hours, in flimsy sandals, up and down steep inclines, jarring with butterflies. Not to mention that w had just arrived that morning after flying from California. Next to the ticket booth were wooden benches. Given the proximity to where we’d disembarked from the bus, this seemed a most reasonable solution to our fatigue.

After waiting a good 30 minutes, the bus finally came roaring up hill.  We stood and walked towards the bus, only to watch the driver sneer at us and put the pedal to the metal. He sped right by, without so much as pretending to brake. Stunned, I walked back into the ticket booth to tell the agent that the bus hadn’t stopped. “Well, you weren’t standing at the bus stop”, was her terse response. Um…no sign. Comfortable seating right next to the exit of the Moorish castle. No comments about “make sure you stand at the bus stop and not make the seemingly obvious choice to stay in the comfortable courtyard” when I first inquired about the bus. Where was the bus stop? Down the hill about 200 yards, on the opposite side of the road, with a tiny little sign and print about an inch tall.  Yes! Of course! How could we silly tourists miss those obvious bus stop clues? Oh yeah…and no seating at all for tourists awaiting a bus that takes 20-30 minutes to arrive. Hm… My conclusion, on my personal, non-scientific experience: Ticket booth agents in Portugal are not helpful. Get your information elsewhere!

After another 30 minute wait, the same driver came back around, this time picking us up from the designated “bus stop”. Glaring, but saying nothing, we boarded (I’d been informed that no taxis come to the mountains and the busses stop running at 8pm; we didn’t want to get stuck, so I didn’t give any attitude – though it was deserved). The silver lining is that we met a new friend, named Shukri, who joined us for dinner after having survived the bus fiasco.  Shukri is a hero who works for the Red Cross in very dangerous regions around the world, assisting and caring for people in true danger, so I’m sure he’s accostumed to far more challenging circumstances!

We got off the bus early and found a cute restaurant in the town of Sintras. I had grilled fish, potato and vegetables, a dish which I repeated each night with slight variations. For dessert, we tried pastries from a local baker and then road the train with Shukri back into town. He went his way, after  inviting us to join him enjoying the Lisbon night life).  Declining his offer, we exhausted souls returned to our hotel and went to bed. An adventure indeed!

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed to the venue for sound check, where we found that the weather had changed drastically from the day before. It had been warm and sunny, and now it was a bit chilly and raining. We had the standard sound check, and headed back to the hotel for dinner. I joined Judith, Lanesha and Dwight in the lobby and headed out doors. Outside my window, I had seen that the sun was teasing the earth and sending some rays, so I put on a cute dress and wedge heels.  Bad idea. I wanted more authentic Portuguese food and asked a waiter in a sushi restaurant for a recommendation. However, the waiter only spoke a little English, a little French and a little Spanish; I speak a little Spanish, less French and almost no Portuguese. So our conversation was a pastiche of all 4 languages. I got everything except the spelling of the restaurant correct. He tried spelling in English and the the letters he spoke when spelling the restaurant name sounded like “P-A-E-L-L-A” for “Cafe Paella”. Paella is a Spanish dish, but since he recommended it for great Portuguese fare, I didn’t question him. I told everyone to go on without me, in search of Cafe Paella. I had to return to the room and put on warmer clothes and flat shoes. My feet were still exhausted from the hike, and we had a show later that night.

I returned to the hotel as quickly as possible, changed, and went to the reception desk asking for the address of Cafe Paella. Apparently, there is no Cafe Paella in Lisbon. Uh-oh! So obviously, my friends weren’t going to be there. I walked down the street, looking into every restaurant I could find. No group. I walked towards the Atlantico concert hall, as the waiter had instructed us to, glancing into more restaurant windows. No luck.  Finally, I  walked back towards the hotel, but continuing on the waterfront, hoping that at least maybe I’d find the place on my own. Et voila! I found Cafe Palha, and therein realized my error: I remembered how the waiter had pronounced the restaurant name “Pa-e-zha”. This had to be the place, and it turned out to be only 2 blocks from the hotel.  I should have had him write down the name, given that I’m no expert on the Portuguese alphabet. Oh well. I had dinner alone, a repeat of my previous dinner, just as delicious, and returned to the hotel to prep for the show. It was a beautiful evening, despite the confusion.

We arrived at the venue in time to hear Bryan Adams perform, but missed Joss Stone.  I’ve long been a fan of Bryan Adams’ melodic, anthemic, hyper-romantic music (particularly “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?”, “Everything I Do”, and “Summer Of ’69”), but had never heard him perform live.  He’s a great performer and we were all astonished at the perfection of his intonation.  I didn’t get to meet him, but standing on the side of the stage listening to him sing, engage the crowd, all while playing guitar and harmonica, was a thrill!

As soon as Bryan left the stage, it was time for me to get dressed and prep for Stevie’s show.  I went onstage in my new slinky gown, and jammed with the Master Blaster for over 2 hours.  It was yet another great show, and the crowd was awesome.  They saw me filming with my phone after the show ended and waved to me!  I finally made it back to my hotel room in time to pack and sleep for 90 minutes before heading to the airport to fly to the UK.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 1st, 2012 at 2:58 pm and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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