The following morning, we braved Lisbon's public transport system (the Myki/Oyster card equivalents are made of cardboard with a chip in them, which is both ingenious and the worst plan ever) and took the train half way across the city to a bus terminal. We managed to locate what seemed to be the appropriate platform for the buses to Mafra, but then an employee who spoke zero English appeared and when we asked in a weird combination of English, Spanish and Portuguese if we were in the right place, she said no and pointed furiously at a platform over the other side of the terminal.
There was about 15 minutes before the timetable said the bus should arrive, so we walked over there to find that the platform information said that buses to Mafra absolutely did NOT leave from that platform and that we'd been right in the first place. Maybe she thought we looked like we could use the walk... Also, we saw a cocker spaniel that looked a lot like our dead dog and briefly contemplated kidnapping it. Well. I did. I'm not sure Dad did...
The trip out to Mafra took about an hour and ten minutes. It's only about 40km, but it was a local bus, so it stopped approximately 5,000 times in the 40km. C and I took advantage of the time to catch up on some reading. because WHY LOOK OUT THE WINDOW WHEN YOU CAN READ?!
Eventually, we arrived in Mafra and made our way to the National Palace.
We got there just in time to catch the end of the church service, which was equal parts awkward and fascinating. And oddly entertaining, as one of the altar boys appeared to be wearing a Batman t-shirt underneath his robes.
From there, we headed into the palace proper to buy tickets, and discovered that they were sold out of English guides. But they had French guides, and the guide was the only thing that included a map, so for a whopping €1, C and I muddled our way through it with my high school French and his Latin/Ancient Greek. It worked moderately well, though there were many occasions on which I wished I had internet access on my phone so I could ask Clément what the hell I was reading.
Anyway, the Palace was built in the eighteenth century and its primary purpose was as a monastery following a promise from some random Portuguese king or other, and then he tacked a palace on the front. Much of the building (which is HUGE) is now used as a training academy by the Portuguese Army. The highlight of the palace is most DEFINITELY the library, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a library nerd. It's absolutely stunning.
TOLD YOU. (That first crappy phone photo really doesn't do it justice, but I had totally the wrong lens on my camera that day)
And not only is it stunning, but it's got all natural pest control and climate control. Basically, the walls and ceiling are false exteriors - there's actually a big empty space between them and the outside walls, which allows the room to warm up and cool down naturally over the course of the year. As far as pest control goes, there's a colony of bats that lives in the library. They hang out in boxes during the day, and at night they're set free to fly all over the place and eat any insects that get in. It's pretty damned nifty. (Although from a conservation perspective, it's probably a nightmare if the bats poop while they're eating insects...)
The rest of the palace was...very unpalace-like. It felt a lot more like a hunting lodge - very basic furniture, minimal decorations (except in the Queen's rooms), and a big focus on the church at the centre of the building.
|"Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" "OINK."|
|The random head in the middle is a nice touch.|
|This horse has eyeball issues|
|Stupidly tall clock with C (who's 6'2") for scale.|
|"What? They were like this when I got here."|
There wasn't a whole lot to the castle itself, which dates back to Moorish times. You can walk around the battlements, which was a lot of fun, and the views are SPECTACULAR. But it's not like you end up walking through hundreds of fancy rooms or anything. It's essentially just a shell, albeit a very imposing shell with a nifty little museum of artefacts from each era of its history attached.
Once we'd finished at the castle, it was rapidly heading towards dinner time, so we found a place nearby with the intention of having drinks there and then going somewhere else for dinner. But once we'd sat down, finding somewhere else for dinner seemed all too much like hard work. And so that's how I ended up having a vegetarian pizza for dinner. One that consisted of peas, corn, carrot, tomatoes and broccoli. It was a little weird, I have to say, but still better than anything else we'd eaten up to that point.
Except the custard tarts. Obviously.
Next time, we head to Sintra to look at more palaces.