It’s kind of a rule when you’re an author seeking inspiration. And not only did I recently descend into the cavernous, spiralling pit that I found . . . I took the five-year-old.
But first things first! This is Part 2 of a recap of the big family trip we took in March to Europe. My wife and I are accustomed to going on long, exploratory trips to build inspiration for our writing (me), acting (Marcie), and teaching careers (both of us), but this is the first sort of epic journey we’ve taken with our son.
Ups and downs—literally and metaphorically
After spending time in Spain, we made our way to Portugal. It was a long travel day that involved a car ride to the airport, then the flight itself, followed by subway hopping to arrive at our hotel, which was just on the outskirts of Lisbon’s main quarter.
Hiro was exhausted by the time we arrived—not just from the travel day, but from all the unceasing days of adventure we had spent so far. Did that make us pause and take a day off for rest?
Our first full day out, we were charging around the city, checking out Elevador de Santa Justa, which is a 19th century elevator that transports you up from the Baixa district in Lisbon to the Largo do Carmo, where you can visit the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo. Hiro was already showing signs of fatigue here, so I went into the archaeological site by myself while Marcie and Hiro rested in the square outside.
I had the time to trek beneath the roofless arches and explore the different corners of the site. The medieval convent was ruined in the earthquake of 1755, and some of it has been restored for visitors to explore. It was a fantastic experience, and the cost to enter was only five euros!
By the time I got out, we could tell that Hiro was fading fast. We headed back to the hotel, and for the next two days his fever bounced around, going up and down and causing us a lot of anxiety. Thankfully, we had a really good farmacia nearby and their English was excellent. I was able to get the right combination of fever medication for Hiro.
A maze, a castle, and some vainglorious chickens
Well, we were forced to hunker down while he recovered. Marcie and I spent shifts looking after him, while the other one of us went out and did our own exploring. I took the opportunity in the morning to visit the nearby Parque Eduardo VII, which featured a long set of decorative mazes. They only went to my knees—so not really that tricky, but I had my notebook with me and it was a good place to sit in the sun and do a bit of writing.
Afterward, I decided to train into the heart of Lisbon and trek up the hill to visit Castelo de São Jorge. It was quite the hike up there, but I enjoyed the switchback streets and all the old sights along the way—including the main weathered and storied doors.
The castle itself was a marvellous experience, offering many breathtaking views. I enjoyed climbing up to the various turrets and rampart walkways. I’m not the best with heights, and the stones of this castle are worn and weathered to smoothness, but there are plenty of railings. Still, I was amazed to see people perching between the crenellations, taking selfies. All I could think of was how simple it would be to plummet off the edges.
I was also thankful Hiro wasn’t with me. He bounces around so much, and has NO fear of heights. My imagination would have been going wild if he had been with me, charging along those narrow walkways and trying to lean out for a view.
After exploring the walls, I made my way back to safety and weaved my way past the peacocks (or as I like to think of them, gradiose chickens) who populate the castle grounds.
Next it was time to relieve Marcie and take some time with Hiro.
A place of palaces
Eventually, after two days of rest and sleep, our little explorer had recovered and we set off for some day trips. The first trip was to Porto, but I’m going to leave that for another post! The second trip was to Sintra, where you can visit palaces and castles.
We had grand ambitions of visiting all the sites there, but we quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen, especially with Hiro (we started to realize that we needed to slow down!). So we decided to focus on two sites: Palácio da Pena and Quinta da Regaleira.
Sintra, like so much of Portugal, is situated in the hills, which means it’s not entirely easy to navigate to the different sites. We opted on getting a bus pass, but found this to be a bit inefficient and quickly realized why so people opted for the motorized tuk-tuks. I will say that Hiro loved the bus rides though—the dramatic winding roads made for a lot of fun, kind of like a rollercoaster ride. His “oohs” and “ahs” definitely entertained our fellow passengers.
Still, busses can only take you so far to the sites. Climbing is inevitable!
Still no photos, please!
Palácio da Pena is branded as a fairytale palace—and we saw why, firsthand.
The brightly coloured spires and turrets and the lavish interiors offer many photo opportunities—though Hiro still fought us on the poses. Marcie managed to capture one great photo with Hiro and I, but when we tried to get a family photo . . . well!
Speaking of “well” . . .
Our next stop at Sintra was Quinta da Regaleira, which features the famous Initiation Well, which was built for ceremonial purposes, to conduct rituals based upon arcane or esoteric beliefs. Really, it’s like a subterranean tower, with a set of stone steps spiralling every downward into the dark and damp. In other words, it looks like a set straight out of Star Wars or Game of Thrones, and I desperately wanted to go down it.
Marcie was straggling, so Hiro and I headed into the well without her. I immediately wondered if I was making the wisest of decisions because it wasn’t immediately apparent how to exit the pit, since it was a one-way flow. This worry was underscored by the woman right behind us who had her baby on her front carrier. She asked me, “Should I take my baby down here?” I pointed out that maybe I wasn’t the best one to follow.
But follow us, she did! Downward we spiralled and the way grew darker and damper. I kept expecting Hiro to panic, but he didn’t—in fact, he was having the time of his life. When the woman behind us bumped into us at one point, Hiro laughed and said, “I just got kicked in the head by a baby’s foot!”
Eventually, we ended up in the labyrinth of tunnels at the bottom of the well and had additional fun exploring them. Eventually, we found Marcie down there and we all exited at the same time, through a cozy grotto patrolled by a guard. I asked the guard if they ever had to go into the cave to find lost stragglers and she admitted “sometimes.”
I have to say that well was one of the absolute highlights of my trips. I’m definitely going to take inspiration from this place in my writing.
I leave you with some of my favorite doors from Portugal.