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Portugal, part four

May 13th, 2006 (12:59 pm)

The Monday of our visit saw our second visit to Sintra. A lot of people had left early that morning, so it was a reduced party of non-Portuguese that made their way up to Cacem station and then westward to Sintra. Meglorien's family had invited the wedding survivors to a picnic in the gardens of Monserrate Palace. The palace in its present form was built in the nineteenth century by Francis Cook, a linen merchant with business in India, hence the design of the palace. The garden is older, but is most associated with the eighteenth-century West Indies plantation owner, writer (of the Gothic novel Vathek) and figure of scandal William Beckford. Consequently one can see Vathek's Arch and Beckford's Falls.

The principal attraction for Katy was a cat. The two became fast friends within seconds, as depicted in the series of photographs beginning with this one.

We eventually made our way over to the picnic area where we came to be joined by members of the Meglorien and foradan clans. The newlyweds arrived, complete with wedding attire, for a series of photographs down by the palace; and then food followed. There were plentiful vegetarian leftovers, but Nivetta's attempt to interest one of the park dogs in some backfired - never have I seen an animal look more affronted, as if it had been offered tree bark when it was only interested in the beetle garnish.

After the meal we learned that no Sintra taxi firm would send an empty vehicle up the hill to the park, and while a few cars ferried the less mobile members of the party to Sintra-Vila, most of us walked. Both Pellegrina and I had wanted to see the Palacio da Sintra, the medieval palace of the Portuguese kings, and had assumed that it would be closed; but a surprise meeting with Dame Brisen and Sir Owain confirmed that we hadn't missed last opening, and we had a rapid walk round. The ceilings of the Magpie Room and, in particular, the Galleon Room, were intensely evocative of the court life and self-fashioning of past eras; the Galleon Room's depiction of Portuguese vessels on the high seas and sailing into and out of port vividly conjured the self-assured Portuguese expansionism of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.