Weekend escape to Portugal
Now that I live in Geneva with the Alps at my doorstep, you wouldn’t think I would need to travel anywhere to train… But I can’t deny that sometimes I just feel an innate need to get away. Sometimes my brain just gets blocked and I need to find a way to hit the reset button. I don’t know if it is about escaping (itchy feet?) as much as it is about searching for a new environment to help clear the cobwebs, but either way, this weekend provided the perfect excuse to hop on a plane. It’s too cold in Geneva to comfortably do a run over 2 or 3 hours (for my thin blood anyway) and the snow conditions still aren’t great for skiing. But I’ve been desperate for some long-ish days of training. So, after a quick google search for ‘direct flights from Geneva to Europe’, cross-referenced with google earth to see where there were large amounts of green spaces, I wound up on a solo mission to Sintra, Portugal, less than 24 hours later.
Sintra is a little piece of Portuguese heaven. Just 20 miles west of Lisbon, it is accessible by train from Lisbon city center or directly from the airport via a 60 EUR cab ride (which is the lazy option that I took – I’ll admit it that on a three-day trip, I don’t waste time mucking around with public transport). A UNESCO world heritage site, Sintra looks like it was created out of the imagination of an eight-year old girl. Brightly-coloured buildings line the streets with ice cream shops on every corner. Christmas carols blast from speakers installed in the trees, synchronized throughout the entire town. A castle in fisherprice reds and yellows beams down on the city, viewed high above in the distance through a cacophony of vines and overgrown trees.
When I arrived here on Thursday night, I immediately set out into town to find some food. Outside of tourist season, and outside of Lisbon, Sintra is dead to say the least… but it didn’t take too long before I found myself stepping into a local haunt down a deserted side street. Everything about it felt right: not a tourist in sight (except for me) and no burgers, fries or caesar salads on the menu. Just local dishes served in clay bowls, wine available by the mini gallon, and what appeared to be the Portuguese mafia dining on the second floor. Perfect. Two octopus salads and one cheese board later, and I was ready for bed.
On Friday morning, I set out with no real plan in mind – I wanted to reach the ocean, but didn’t really know the best way to get there, so I just headed West and gave my feet the freedom to choose the exact path. I wound up on some busy roads, but also on some interesting detours through small ‘mountain’ villages and along narrow cobblestoned pedestrian paths in various states of disrepair. When I finally reached the ocean, it was pouring rain – one of those epic downpours where the raindrops seem to penetrate straight through to your bones – but it didn’t seem to detract too much from the day. I was in exploring mode, and a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop me.
Saturday was more successful. I found my way deeper into the ‘dark green’ splotches on google earth, enjoying getting lost on the dirt roads and trails through the Serra de Sintra (Sintra ‘mountains’). (Side note: yes, like a new Swiss snob, I put any ‘mountain’ under 1000m in quotation marks, and this one only reaches 529m at its highest). The Sintra mountains contain a castle and palace at every turn it seems, with the Moorish Castle, the Pena Palace, the Sintra National Palace, the Palace of Monserrate and the Quinta da Regaleira all inside. Another time I will come back to actually spend time visiting these places… on this trip, I was happy to take in blurry versions of the historical sites as I ran past.
As I finish my third – THIRD – post-run meal inside yet another Portuguese local restaurant, I am pondering heading out for a night run to experience the magical silence of this place in the dark. But then again, with the generous sizes of the wine pours here, I’m probably just going to head to bed early… one more run ahead tomorrow before I jet back to the ‘bustle’ of Geneva.
To see my runs on Strava, click here! I am delighted to announce that I was selected by Strava to represent them in the 2017 Western States Endurance Run… follow me as I ramp up my training to get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!