Bees, Castle and the westernmost point of Europe

Tuesday, 7th September

Finally around 4 am, the noise from the city traffic subsided, or maybe I fell asleep tired.

After getting ready for the day, we had a nice breakfast of coffee, ham sandwiches and a salami omelet at the cafe below our hostel. G, our planning in charge put together a few places for the day, starting with the Hieronymites Monastery, located in Belem. Throughout our travel, while G put together the schedule, I was in charge of finding the roads leading there and back to our respective hostels.

We took the bus to Belem to reach the UNESCO world heritage site and can you imagine, we used the last days bus ticket to travel. How the automated system accepted the tickets, we are still to figure out. Something tells that, a ticket is valid for a period of 24 hrs from the time of purchase or something like that. Anyways Euros saved is Euros earned and we hopped out of bus in from of the monastery with  foolish grins.

This hermitage was built in 1450 and this is also where Vasco da Gama prayed for a night in 1497 before leaving for India. Consequently this place became the house of prayer for all sailors, either travelling out or returning.

There is also the Church of Santa Maria, with its ornate entrance, where lies the tomb of Vasco Da Gama.

After spending playing in the courtyard and experimenting with anchors etc we walked to the sea front. The water was the bluest blue and the sky was clear. A new structure was coming up commemorating the sailors journey from Portugal. Munching on some chips and cheese we decided to move towards Sintra, supposedly a very romantic area, near Lisbon.

A few people misguided us to all directions except that of Sintra. Finally we managed to board a tram which promised us to take halfway to Sintra. As we made ourselves comfortable on the seats in the tram, there seemed to be some commotion in the seats right in front of us. An elderly man who was standing was fighting with a woman who was seated in loud tones. We thought that he wanted to sit while the lady refused to give her seat and suddenly the old man slapped hard the woman and the woman shrieked so loud that the tram stopped. G and I had half a mind of giving up our seats rather than being hit like that. Anyways the lady driver entered the bogey and pacified the man and the woman and made seats for them, after giving some stern warnings.

We got of soon enough and had to take a train to Cascais a small fishing port, which now has become a major tourist attraction. On route we bought some sweet caramelized popcorn. The landscapes changed along the tracks. The high rises and graffiti gave way to elegant bungalows and green shady neighborhood. We got of the train and walked the beach front. The place had the trappings of a total touristy destination with stalls selling trinkets and food by the beach. Kids playing volley ball and generally a happy atmosphere. We wanted to spend some more time but we had to take our bus to Sintra.

Sintra was everything that was promised. We took a sight seeing bus, which took us around the colorful Moorish castle. This castle was from the 8th Century. A castle with the turrets and oak trees, ferns covering the walls and dried leaves strewn across the pathways. A little lake shimmered like a jewel from the reflection of the sunshine. It was so mystical and right out of a dream. We were so excited by being just there, we wished only if we could spend more time there.

We again boarded our bus and moved towards Cabo da Roca. Otherwise known as Cape Roca is about 18 kms away from Sintra and is the westernmost point of Europe.

The cliff approximately 140 mts above sea level, rises out of the Atlantic Ocean. There is a crucifix there with inscriptions in Portuguese, roughly translated as "here where the land ends and the sea begins, westernmost point of the European continent"

The view from there was very ethereal. True to the inscription, it was really hard to make out where the sea merged with the sky. We spied a lonely boat on the water as if sailing towards the melting sun. A mass of red splattered across the horizon. The seagulls were tripping over the sun set it seemed. The moment we made ourselves comfortable on the edge of the cliff a swarm of local insects arrived from nowhere and clinged on to us, the face, hair, clothes all over. We ran towards the fence towards the light house. Miraculously the moment we went on the other side of the fence the insects disappeared. It sure seemed like we threatened their territory.

We spent some quiet moments there seeing the sun go down (but not really the sun set, that would be around 9pm) and then walked to the cafe, where we had a croissant and a chilled beer. Some thoughtful pondering done, we proceeded towards the bus stop, for the last bus to Cascais. The bus journeyed along the curvy roads, playing hide n seek with the beauty across the cliff.

It was dark when we reached Cascais and casually strolled to the beach again, hoping to catch some festivities. But this place was dark with not a soul around. I was adventurous and stepped into the icy cold water. Immediately two icicles formed on my toes and I walked back on the sand with my shoes in hand, making a mess of my feet.

Finally we took the train for our hostel, remembering our day and not remembering our path to hostel. After going round in circles we finally managed to find our hostel and crashed on the bed happy without bothering about the traffic noise.

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