Portugal

After many hours I’ve finally finished editing all my photos from our recent Portugal trip, I took over a thousand! Don’t worry, I won’t inflict them all on you now but I have selected my top 33.

This was our first time in Portugal and our primary reason for being there was, of course, my sister’s wedding (see my previous blog). But aside from that joyous occasion we also managed to get out and about, including one trip to Sintra and two to Lisbon, so here goes.

We stayed at Cascais (pronounced Cashcaish – just think Sean Connery and you’re halfway there) which is a seaside town just west of Lisbon. It has a Goldilocks quality to it, in that it’s not too big and not too small- just right in fact. The beaches were clean and the amenities plentiful, there were plenty of bars and restaurants but it never felt too commercial or sprawling. We had great weather too with clear skies virtually every day, the hot sun made the beach even more inviting and the water was lovely, once you got over the initial cold shock of the Atlantic chill. I found I was acclimatised pretty quickly except for my hands which seemed to take forever to warm up. For about five minutes after diving in I found I was swimming with my hands held aloft out of the water, which must have looked pretty strange.

Sintra is a 30 minute bus ride north of Cascais and was the summer retreat of the Portuguese Royal Family. There are several sites to visit but we only had time for two; the Palace de la Pena and the old Muslim Castle.

The Palace sits on top of a hill and when we got there it was shrouded in cloud, which only seemed to make it more magical – we later found out that it’s common for cloud to mystically cling to that particular hill and the locals refer to it as the Queen’s Fart!

Imagine you asked  an eight-year-old girl to design a palace with a set of brightly coloured crayons, the Palace de la Pena is that design on steroids. It really is amazing, with no expense spared and a real sense of palatial extravagance gone mad.

A short walk away is the old Muslim Castle. This was the opposite of the Palace as it had a strong military reason behind it, was bare stone and pure medieval functionality. It is impressive though and has a fascinating history. The low cloud robbed us of the supposedly best view of the Palace, but added a real sense of mystery and mood to the brooding towers and precipitous walls.

In Lisbon, we hired a Tuk-Tuk and held on for dear life as we raced through the steep streets, stopping at a variety of different Cathedrals, Churches and viewpoints. It was a great way to see the city if you don’t have much time. We also managed to fit in the Timelife Market and the Elevator, which is an old viewing platform, squeezed in between the buildings and reached by a rickety lift. Apparently the whole thing was built by one of Gustave Eiffel’s (of tower fame) apprentices, and you can certainly see the influence – it’s beautiful, quirky and the views from the top are great as long as you’re okay with heights.

Lisbon is a beautiful city, especially the old sections we explored.

From Lisbon we caught the underground Metro and travelled further out to the Oceanario, the second biggest aquarium in Europe. Incidentally, once you get there the whole area has been developed into a very futuristic seafront and you can also see the longest bridge in Europe snaking 17km off into the distance.

The Oceanario didn’t disappoint, with sharks, manta rays, penguins and even two gorgeous sea otters – Clare could get over their “little hands”.

My overriding memory of Lisbon is one of a beautiful place, with warm friendly people, obviously it’s hard to get a real sense of a place on a short holiday, especially when you consider I probably had at least two drinks in me at any given time. But, from my brief experience there, it’s great place and I would heartily recommend it. We had a great time in Portugal, especially magic with the wedding and the time spent with our wonderful family – usually ending the day here, in the Duke’s pub in Cascais.

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So much to see and so much we missed, I suppose we’ll just have to go back.

Chris

 

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Rachel’s Wedding

We’re just back from our trip to Portugal and our main reason for being there – my sister Rachel’s wedding to Neil Gunn.

As well as the wonderful wedding, this event had special significance for me as it was the first time I was with all my Irish siblings at the same time (I‘m not going into the history here, wait for the movie), so we were all looking forward to it, but that’s enough about me, this was Rachel’s (and Neil’s) day.

Most of the guests stayed in Cascais, not far from Lisbon, and we all met at the railway station to be picked up by coach for the 40 minute trip north to Mafra and the Quinta de Sant’Ana where the ceremony and celebration took place. A stunning venue in a beautiful location.

The actual ceremony was fairly brisk, with a reading by my brother Peter, and yours truly, amongst others. Rachel looked stunning, as did the bridesmaids, and Neil looked very chilled – which was nice. The atmosphere was very relaxed all round in fact, with no trace of bridezilla anywhere, considering how much work must have gone into the day, that’s quite an achievement in itself.

Out of the church, a few photos and then a short walk through the town to the Quinta. This place was gorgeous, with the only Portuguese Irish Band I’ve ever heard, wine-tasting, great food and even white doves flying overhead at just the right moment – I have visions of guys hiding around the back waiting for the signal to chuck ’em in the air. It was almost too perfect.

It was great to be with everyone for such a wonderful occasion and I even got a few mentions in the speeches, so I feel especially honoured. The icing on the cake though was the chance to get a photo of me with my Irish brother and sisters after all this time, so it really was a wonderful day – thank you Rachel (and Neil obviously).

You now, we should do this every year!

Chris