Friday the 22nd
As a standard rule, the second day we spent in a country is always the best – considering much of the first is often spent on a bus. We were in for a full day in Portugal and a long night as well, hence this Thank-God-its-Friday had us riled up for the adventures ahead. Not to mention that this was the final day of exploring Europe with the full family! The fast-paced tour had played its course much faster than I had expected hence my roommates and I were savouring every minute together for it would be the last of our quality time together for the immediate future. The previous evening had been restful so I was thankful for the reinvigoration guaranteed with my twelve hours sleep. The majority of our group were in the same exhausted state, which was only to be expected considering our days had thus far been packed with touristic exploration, extensive travelling and wild nights!
Picturesque Sintra. The National Palace was a white building with mustard yellow edges. Wide arches lined the residence as windows and doors, and the roof was topped with a set of inverted conical ornaments. This was the last royal residence built in Portugal and sported the Arabic influence of the Moorish population which inhabited Sintra prior to the religious reconquest. During this period of conflict, the Christians demolished all Muslim architecture which could not be appropriated, such as places of worship. The only structure allowed to remain in its original condition was the Palace as this would forever remain the home of the King. National heritage is also symbolised on painted tiles which can be arranged to form larger artworks or standalone bricks that line the walls. Many of these tiles are painted in white and cobalt blue, reminiscent of the Delft’s Blue from the Netherlands. As the Christian conquering in Portugal occurred early comparatively to that in Spain, it allowed for external influences to imprint on the culture and this characteristic art form. Although inspired by the Netherlands, this colour scheme evolved overtime with the Moors and Muslims and is a symbol of the thriving shipping industry – the cobalt even earned its own name, Chinese Blue. The surrounding square was dotted with vibrant blues and pinks and tiles and patterns! We settled down at a cafe for a coffee and speciality pastries. A sweetened cream cheese tartlet called a queijada that tasted like cinnamon, and a pillow-shaped puff pastry filled with smooth apple puree called the travesseiro were perfect accompaniment for my espresso. Delicious! In the few moments of free time we had left, the girls and I explored the souvenir shops and came across ginja: a cherry liqueur served in a dark chocolate cup that warmed my bare skin on this windy day.
Next stop: Cascais. We followed the coastline of this small harbour community until we reached the mall and beach. This city honoured a significant role in maintaining national independence from its neighbouring invader Spain since the 1600s as the ports located here secured the safety of the nation from naval attacks. With its monarchy restored in 1640, the city thrived in the tourism industry which remains the primary source of its income today. From the shopping plaza, we were pointed in the direction of the best peri-peri chicken in Portugal (can confirm) and the pathway through the mall to the beach. Multi-story buildings rimmed the fine sand which was dotted with the bodies of relaxed sunbathers, including myself and my friends. We were given three glorious hours to enjoy the sea breeze by the water, a refreshing change from the unrelenting inland heat of the past two weeks. Reluctant to return to the bus, although we had satiated our lust for the beach with the short hours indulgence, it was never enough for our unappeasable curiosity or longing to travel. My group of friends agreed this area would require revisiting, along with the rest of Portugal!
The final moments of our tour were quickly approaching and the last two evenings were opportunity for a few final family dinners wherein we could sample the traditional cuisine of each nation. Therefore, everyone made a special effort to reenergise with a siesta in preparation of the excitement ahead and also dress their best for this special occasion! It took a lot of convincing to get our trip manager escort a guest of honour to dinner and the club thereafter: the contiki trip mascot Yoda! This plush figure had been with Mikael since his first contiki and had its own seat in the window corner at the front of the bus. Beset with this huge responsibility, I accompanied Yoda on the ferry ride which delivered us to a seafood restaurant at the edge of the pier. He sat with our group of friends as we ate a degustation of tapas: fresh tiger prawns, more prawns marinated in garlic oil, prawn croquettes, fish croquettes, beef croquettes, panko crumbed calamari rings, extra large muscles, seafood and potato fry salad, fresh tomato slices, tomato and prawn bisque, and a main course of seafood paella! That night we ate better than we had ever before. Recounting the variety of food I tasted I am surprised I was able to walk after so many courses – thankfully tapas are similar to a series of amuse bouches which compile in quantity to comprise a satisfying meal! It is a very social style of dining as a series of share plates encourages interaction, both allowing conversation to continue and the meal to last much longer than large singular dishes. Long chatter and delicious food were a great start to the evening, yet it was only early – 10:00! We drank sangria and danced at a rustic bar featuring live music as the night progressed. Regrettably, I had relinquished my grasp on Yoda and later found him kissing all the girls and drinking with the boys (not joking, there are pictures to prove it). Nonetheless, Mikael was amused by his escapades, but I do hope he gives him a bath before they both go on tour again. The hour was approaching 12:30, still early, and time to progress to the next party venue of the evening: Club Urban Beach! Located wherein once operated a shipping dock, its transformed facade made an impression with the club name sprawled in illuminated block letters on the sand and tall glowing streamers dotting the venue front. Upon entry, I was amazed at the series of indoor and outdoor booths as well as an outdoor pool and glass walls overlooking the lake. Never have I been treated to such extravagance in a nightclub as our crew was given the VIP booth and bottle self-service! It was crazy! What a way to end our time in Portugal.