No amount of planning could have prepared us for this day

Oh, how we wanted to visit Sintra! Who wouldn’t with the many historical sites that included a palace that looked like it was the set for a Disney movie.

We wanted to get the most from our visit so we did (lots of) research and had a (foolproof) plan for the day. So where did it all go so wrong?

The easiest part was taking an early morning 30-minute bus from Cascais to Sintra. The bus stopped at the Sintra train station, and, as we started to get off, a local man told us to stay and get off at the next stop. We waited there for bus 434 which would take us up to the Palace of Pena. The bus approached – and passed us – a few minutes later. Why didn’t it stop? The bus was already packed full of people. We walked back to the train station, the bus’ first stop, and realized the problem: people were waiting in a line that snaked back so far that the end was never in sight. How many hours would we have to wait in line to get on a bus that comes once every 15 minutes?

Since the choice was waiting for a bus or walking, we chose to walk, straight uphill for 30 minutes. Steep. Our walk ended with relief – only to find us at the end of a line to buy tickets. (Yes, we tried to purchase them online the night before but it refused my credit cards.) Tickets in hand, we joined the line to enter the grounds. We were elated to have finally walked through the gate!

The palace is at the top of the mountain, and the crowds surged forward up the path and steps. Before we arrived at the palace, we found ourselves at the end of a long line (again?!). We were close enough for glimpses of the palace, and one of us would save our place in line while the other darted out to take occasional photos.

The Palace of Pena is not like any building we’d seen before and it’s so large it’s hard to get a good photo that takes in all the magnificence.

The original monastery, dating back to the early 1500s, was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. The monastery, rebuilt and remodeled in 1840 by the royal family, was painted red. Five years later an extension was added and painted yellow. A German architect, Baron von Eschwege, designed this “most notable example of Portuguese architecture in the Romantic period”.

We were still in line when we took photos of the sculpture over the arch. We read that it’s supposed to be Triton, from Greek mythology, the trumpeter of the sea.

We snapped photos of the tiles near the palace entrance as we waited in line.

As we waited under an arch we looked up, and admired those sharply carved teeth.

Finally we entered the Palace of Pena. Almost five hours had passed since we had left our house in Cascais. We thought this would be the end of the line, but even inside the line continued to snake at a maddeningly slow pace – faster when we went by a room to view or placard to read, and slow when there was nothing to see. Finally the line stopped. We waited and waited. YET. AGAIN.

A staffperson walked by. “Excuse me,” we pleaded. “Can we leave?” She was flustered. Finally, after saying she could get us a dispensation based on our age, she escorted us out of that wing of the palace.

Oh, to be free from the endless line!

We walked over to the palace café, which was not part of the palace restricted for viewing, and moments later, we were nibbling little savories and sipping cold drinks on an outdoor terrace.  Joe posed nearby.

Would we visit the Palace again? NO. We struggled to figure out what went wrong or how the day might have gone differently. We had read a great deal before going but nothing prepared us for what had happened. Certainly visiting during high season contributed to a higher than usual number of tourists. Neither the buses nor the Palace of Pena were able to accommodate so many.

We remembered fondly another trip that we made to a different castle and palace in Portugal – at Guimarães.

We found the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza and the Castle of Guimarães (in the photo) a wonderful visit – and wished this visit had been as good as that one.

In the very late afternoon we had to wait in line again but caught a very crowded bus back down to Sintra where we hopped on to a bus that would take us to Cascais. We had missed the 30-minute bus but managed to get on a very crowded bus that took a longer route to Cascais. In the 60-minute swerving ride through the hills and along the coast, Joe felt miserably carsick.

Despite one day gone wrong, we’ve been lucky as we travel to have had so many really wonderful sightseeing experiences. Sometimes, we remind ourselves, no amount of preparation before you go can always prepare you for the experience you’ll have.


August 2017

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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24 Responses to No amount of planning could have prepared us for this day

  1. Jet Eliot says:

    Sometimes the travel adventures can be trying, sorry to hear this didn’t work out. There’s nothing like savories and cold drinks to help wash it away.

  2. Your experience sounds a lot like our friends’ visit last summer, only theirs started with the very crowded trains from Lisbon and having to stand the whole way. What a disappointment as I can see from your photos that you saw just enough to want to see more! As you’ve found out for purchasing tickets online, most places won’t accept an international credit card (other examples are the bus and train tickets) so we’ve found a useful workaround and use our PayPal account. Maybe you’ll find this tip useful for the next leg of your trip! Anita

  3. I agree those lines can be a toll on the trip. Looks like you still get to see part of it and your photos are amazing! Just maybe another time of the year? Who knows?

  4. Five hours and just beginning the tour. Amazing – I would have given up at the 30 minute mark! (well, maybe 30 minutes after the bus ride) Poor Bruce has to put up with my neglectful attitude toward tourist lines. I simply don’t have to see things that make people stand in line. Of course, not studying things ahead of time makes that a lot easier, because I may not know what I am missing 😉 But I am always happy to miss the standing-in-line!

  5. Sintra is truly beautiful, a magical place! My favorite is Palácio de Monserrate 🙂

  6. It’s crazy how overcrowding can really ruin your day! I’ve heard so many rave reviews about Sintra – it’s really good to read about it from another perspective. And very relevant to recent discussions about mass tourism (and the the protests against them) in certain European cities!

    • Thank you! We hadn’t known about those European protests, though we’re aware of Icelandic concerns about tourism. Had also heard that in Venice locals are alerted to when tourists are not in mass and it’s “safe” to go out. Plenty of lovely other destinations where tourists don’t go and would welcome more visitors.

  7. Standing in long queues is not our favourite thing to do either, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.

  8. plaidcamper says:

    The photographic details are a delight! As for your day, well, it sounds awful, and you lasted longer than I could have. Well done on sticking it out for as long as you did, and commiserations for having to endure it!

  9. It’s disappointing to have these kind of experiences, especially while traveling. They remind us not to take a smooth trip for granted.

  10. leggypeggy says:

    Some tourist days just turn out like that. Ours was going to the Potala Palace in Tibet.

    • The hardest ones to accept are those destinations you’ve anticipated for years. All that long distance travel to shuffle ever so slowly in long lines, but we have to take the risk because so many other times it works out well.

  11. icelandpenny says:

    What I admire most is that you kept your priorities straight. You attached value to the quality of your time & thus how best to safeguard it, not to some mindless touching it out. There are times when “giving up” is the smart thing to do.

  12. We tend to hate crowds and try to do the “early bird…” bit but when you have to travel to get to the venue that never really seems to work. Our last experience like your was Versailles (we did expect it to be bad) but the ‘conga line’ snaked forever prior to entry and inside (yes we had purchased tickets online – along with everyone else). However, the grounds were so extensive we were eventually able to get respite out in the fresh air before the ‘sardine experience’ back on the train. Amusingly, a trio of jazz buskers somehow managed to squeeze into the train car and entertain us for part of the trip.

    • When we’re “trapped” in the crowd or in long slow lines and our patience runs out, like you we seek a way to liberate our selves from the situation, and, as you describe, usually something interesting happens. One door closes; other doors open … if you look for them.

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