On the train from Lisbon, Portugal, to Seville, Spain

Wednesday, December 19, 1928

Today is one of the most enjoyable I have had, and in all my wanderings I have not seen a more thoroughly charming place than Sintra. [Hall spelled it Cintra.] The train arrived at ten. After stemming the descending wave of guides, etc. (I must look prosperous in my glad rags), I took the winding road in the wake of Sintra’s lone trolley-car. Soon, rounding a bend, the most picturesque [scene] greeted me. Across a ravine is the village, built on the side of a high, steep, rocky, wooded hill. Far above the town along the rugged summit, one can see the old walls and ruins of the Moorish Castle. Farther back on an adjacent hill is the fine Peña Castle, commanding a marvelous view of the beautiful rolling country, little white villas far below, and of the faint blue ocean in the distance, gradually fading into the misty infinite. Facing the town plaza is the National Palace, romantic in its setting far above the surrounding country. Its fountains, its Moorish arches, windows, doors, the fancy stone decorations, the two tall cone-shaped chimneys, all add to the charm. Entering the large sunny plaza you see a small hotel and numerous stores and houses richly decorated with designs in many colored tiles, blue being predominant. There are the several loafers or old men lounging on the stone benches in the sun. Occasionally a barefoot woman slowly walks up the street leading a protesting donkey. The usual mob of guides immediately descend and pester you for a while. When they have given up, the loafers try their luck at bumming cigarettes. (I am writing this every time the train stops which is plenty. Now 4:40AM and it’s cold as blazes. There are about 10,000 currents of cold air coming through this old box-car. Wonder if I’ll ever spend a warm night again.) (Not to be misconstrued.)

There is a friendly and peaceful atmosphere about the place. As you look up into the wooded hills high above, you can see interesting towers of private villas protruding above the trees. Or perhaps half a villa can be seen, its white walls and colored roof shining in the bright sun. One escudo gains you entrance to the National Palace after the ticket seller has tried to sell you a dozen different kinds of souvenir booklets. A very obliging Portuguese guide meets you at the door and from then on it is up to you to translate Portuguese into English. The Palace is of Moorish architecture. Once within, you are transported back to the 15th century. Many delightful courts, the arched doorways, balconies overlooking broad rolling plains, the splendid glazed tile paintings which form the lower half of the walls of most of the rooms. These are mostly done in shades of blue and deep red. Each picture has a historical significance. (5:40AM—14 hours to go. Gentlemen of poverty circulating about car trying to get warm—including HL.) The ceilings are richly decorated.— (6AM) —Several rooms are named after the animal whose picture appears in each panel of the ceiling, such as swan, pigeon, etc. (If I don’t get some warm weather soon, I’m going to take a boat around the Horn or to South America near the equator.) There is a nice large shower in one of the courts. It is in a room enclosed on three sides by blue tiles, the fourth being open to the court. The water streams out from the whole surface of all three walls. Some of the rooms are most elaborately designed. The kitchen is of great size, the roof consisting of two tall funnel-shaped chimneys. Some of the furniture must be nearly priceless. Beautifully carved desks inlaid with ivory, marble tables all inlaid with fancy designs, an old iron treasure chest, huge glass chandeliers and dishes from all countries. Some of these latter are of crystal ornamented with gold—and heavy?! There is also a large crystal window, and chandeliers and mirrors of pure crystal.

Leaving the palace I walked along the shady winding road out of town. The luxuriant ferns, palms, and all kinds of plants grow in great profusion on the hillsides. High walls along the roadside are all moss-covered. The villas, of Moorish design, are all surrounded by attractive gardens. I walked to a point where I could see the Quinta de Monserrat, a gorgeous Moorish-styled palace with gardens famous for their beauty. At two I presented myself at the home of the Condessa de Castanheira. She is a very delightful lady and interesting. As she had a meeting at three, we walked half way to the Peña Castle, where I left her and continued alone. It was an awfully pretty walk up the steep road through the woods. Gigantic boulders were everywhere showing above the thick tangle of underbrush. Passing through a gate I entered a small courtyard of the Palace. It is exactly as you have always imagined a castle from storybooks—a drawbridge, high walls, the many turrets and towers, and the graceful Moorish lines enhancing the charm. Peña Palace was built in the 14th century by James I on the site of an old Moorish palace, its older part being in a Moorish style. It is fascinating to climb about the walls and towers, or to wander in a small courtyard higher up, from which you can see probably 60 miles. Far down the wooded slope lies Sintra. Way out over the plain to the north, 15 miles, is Mafra, famed for its magnificent monastery, which cost the equivalent of 4 million pounds to erect in 1717–1730, bringing the country to the verge of bankruptcy. To the east is a line of big wooded hills stretching to the sea. To the west nothing breaks the broad expanse. Dozens of tiny white villages dot the plain.

Close by to the north on a neighboring rocky hill, stands the ruins of an old Moorish castle, once a mosque. Few towers and some of the walls are all that remain of this once formidable stronghold. Many shady walks run in all directions through the great park about Peña Castle. It is a hard place to take leave of. I took the path to the old ruins and after getting past two locked gates, was stuck by the third, right under the towering walls. So I climbed out on the huge boulders under the north wall overlooking Sintra. The view is equally  beautiful here. Byron called Sintra “a glorious Eden;” Southey extolled it as “the most pleasant spot on the habitable globe,” while according to a Spanish proverb, “to see the world and yet leave Sintra out is verily to go blindfolded about.”

Returning to the Condessa’s house (only once getting lost on the way) I arrived just as she was returning from her meeting. We had an enjoyable tea, talked of travels, language, and some of her Russian friends, princes, etc. At 6:30 I left to take the Express back to Lisboa where I changed my outfit; and now here I am one hour out from Lisbon and 21 more to go to Seville. Thank goodness the train isn’t crowded. Same old hard seats and cold, though!!  $7.80.

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