Getting to Sintra which is just to the west of Lisbon was harder than it should have been. Our GPS is set to avoid toll roads as we don't have the mandatory device for the automatic toll booths in our van. So it was a long and complicated journey around Lisbon which took hours and hours longer than it should have.
Eventually we arrived in Sintra along with, it seems, everyone who owns a car. The place was packed and there was nowhere to park even if we had wanted to. Our destination was actually the Palácio Nacional da Pena, a palace right on top of a steep hill. We started to climb the hill as the now-cobbled road got narrower and narrower, steeper and steeper. Hundreds of people were walking the route and we wondered if we would just be turned back when we got to the top. But eventually we saw cars parked by the side of the road and we ventured on. Quite near the top we found a space big enough for the van. Only 1km to the entrance! From where we were it wasn't too bad a climb, though we reckoned we would have taken at least two hours to walk the road from the town.
We bought our tickets and chickened out of the last steep climb from the entrance gate to the palace itself and splashed out on a trolley bus fare which shuttled us and hundreds of others to the top.
And what a bizarre palace it is. Built in 1840, it wouldn't look out of place in Disneyland. Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria would have approved. This architectural confection was built on the remains of a 16th century monastery and the old stone buttresses can be seen supporting the building from underneath. Granite boulders lie under and around the structure and stick out of walls in odd places. Inside, the rooms are quite small and the ceilings quite low (for a palace...). The furniture is an eclectic mix of refined and classic mahogany, inlaid or with intricate barley-sugar twists or cotton reel turned details, of highly carved Indian teak, of highly polished Chinese lacquer. The kitchen is huge room of copper pots, scrubbed tables and wood stoves. The place looks lived-in and homely - a change from the sumptuous, though sterile, grand palaces elsewhere.