7 Sun, Castle and Cable Car
Cascais is a picturesque small town 40min on the train to the East of Lisbon. Cobblestone paved roads haphazardly stretch behind white houses and grey castles; When we first reached at midnight, the high street around train station was still well lit and teeming with restive tourists. Town center was condensed around a handful of interwoven streets along the coast line: helpful tourism kiosk, Ice cream stands, steamy weather and alcohol made Cascais a very pleasant experience. People were generally quite friendly except the time I mistook a tip box for an ash tray.
Proud peacocks patrolled in a nearby park, curiously squinting at passing jocular tourists. The tourist office at the side of the park offers free bicycles. Be sure to reach the office in the morning to avoid disappointment. There is a really pretty cycle route along the coast and if you are feeling extra adventurous, you could explore the rocky shoreline or the wooden bridge network in the wild life reserve. Lines of tall coconut trees lead to the Cascais harbor where a few white canvas sails and boats lazily dotted on the calm blue water. Along the coastline from Cascais to Lisbon, there are few beaches as small as 50 meters or as long as a few kilometers. Skimpy tourists put up colorful umbrella (you could save 20 EURO if you bring your own), basking under the Mediterranean pristine blue sky. Tanned volleyball players dived in to save a ball while brave surfers fought the ferocious waves deep in the sea. Strong Advice: REAPPLY sun screen whenever you feel or don’t feel like, before you knew it you could be a dozen shade darker than what you intended. Remember how Ross wanted to get tanned? I wasn’t too far from it.
If you are sweet toothed like me, two shops should not be missed: hot chocolate drizzled fresh churros or a scoop of smooth ice cream. Can’t recall the ice cream shop name now, but the long queue in front of the shop will be hard to miss. The churro shop will be just on the opposite side of the road.
There are two very nice local restaurants up in the residential area too. Apeadeiro: aromatic grilled fish was satisfying with crispy white sangria. Somos Um Regalo: Simple salt and pepper grilled chicken was just enough to take your taste buds to a different world.
Sintra & Cabo De Roca
There is direct bus from Cascais bus terminal to Sintra. Three castles overlooks each other from 3 different hills. It is a good hiking up the hills, fresh air under thick canopies of greens. The vividly colored Pena Castle is a must visit. Signature Moorish architecture were well preserved. The ingeniously engineered interlocking staircases and alleys were aesthetically satisfying. A word of caution: the slopes are not for the faint-hearted. Each castle was accompanied with a massive park with landmarks scattered at every corner. Had I knew it at the beginning, I would have definitely taken the tour bus to travel between the hills.
The bus from Cascais eventually reaches the west most point in Europe, in fact the west most point for the entire Eurasia plate – Cabo De Roca – similar to the Land’s End which is the west most point for England. Standing at the cliff, overlooking expansive Atlantic, it was hard not to be impressed by the courage of the earlier travelers.
Lisbon looked so much like the place I was born – Chongqing, China. Hilly, sunny, the whole city is layered with stairs, heat waves bounced off white walls, making it feel like a massive open air sauna. The city felt a bit short of maintenance, but it wasn’t short of tourists who packed all main streets. You wanted to experience how town people of Lisbon went up the hills all the past hundreds of years in that yellow cable car? Good luck with that overcrowded carriage with a thousand of cameras, over reaching selfie sticks and steamy body odors.
Christ statue – I don’t know how it would compare with the Chris in Rio de Janeiro after which it is modelled, but it was nothing short of sublime, a testimony to the marvel of human engineering and devotion. The Chris statue proudly stood a hundred meter height monument on top of the hill, overlooking the entire city and the red suspension bridge across the Tagus river. It is a must visit of the city.
(one of the hidden paths mentioned on the tour guide)
Lisbon is a vibrant coastal city with rich history and culture that would worth days of exploring. But I personally liked smaller Cascais which was more tourist-centric. I initially thought Portugal would just be a “watered-down” version of Spain where things are similar but a lot cheaper. But I found Portugal stands out quite on its own merits. Try the grilled chicken, you will not be disappointed.