That Time We Went to Sintra (Part 2)…Thinking on Heaven.

After reading Part 1 of “That Time We Went to Sintra”, you might be wondering why we put all the time, effort and money into making these epic family pilgrimages happen —  afterall, they do tend to resemble Survivor far more than a relaxing family vacation.

My simple answer is that those extreme conditions that we usually find ourselves in while on pilgrimage are actually quite good for us.  They really are.  They act as a great test for where we are in our spiritual lives.

Those humble moments of realizing you are not behaving like the “best version of yourself” remind us that we could be a pretty awful person without God’s grace.

Truth is, we need God, and the sooner we come to terms with that, the better.

So we’re going to keep on trying to travel on family pilgrimages.  Somehow, they bring us closer to God and closer to each other — which makes them worth it in the end.

If you read Part 1, you know that one of the worst moments of our trips, became one of the best moments of the trip.

We were all so agreeable after our reconciliation that we decided rather than hoofing it any further, we would wait for the bus to take us to the Pena Palace.

Off to the Pena Palace

We walked to the bus stop across from the Castle of the Moors and waited.  Each bus that came by was full of tourists, packed in like Portuguese sardines, but there were few people getting off — it’s like they were all privy to some secret we didn’t know.

At one point, there was a handful of Australian girls that tried to cut the line and this tough Englishman shouted, “Oy, back of the line girls” to which they pretended to have no idea what he was talking about.

For the most part, everybody else was incredibly polite and congenial.  After an hour of waiting, It was a great feeling being allowed to board that bus!  And that feeling lasted for about 30 seconds, until the bus stopped around the corner at our next stop:  the Pena Palace.

That’s right, it was literally around the corner from the Moorish Castle and we could have made it to our destination in about a 3 minute walk.

Well, that was dissapointing. 🙁 But no matter, we climbed out of the bus and climbed up to the Pena Palace.

Please tell me we didn’t just wait an hour for a 30 second bus drive….

The castle’s history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, construction occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

A monastery was built on the site , and for years, it remained a small, quiet place for meditation, housing a a few monks. The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 reduced it to ruins, but the chapel escaped without significant damage.

In 1838, King Ferdinand transformed the remains of the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.  The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night at the palace before leaving the country in exile.

The palace soon became one of Portugal’s most visited monuments and is now an UNESCO world heritage site.

It was another relatively steep hike to get up to the Castle, but it was nicely shaded and had gardens to enjoy all the way up.
A great entrance!

It is most definitely one of the most imaginative royal palaces I have ever visited.   It’s pretty quirky, but that makes it perhaps even more worth the visit.

Here’s a few more exterior shots:

An archway before the main entrance…
The colors and textures were amazing.
Here’s a panorama to get a better feel for the diversity of architecture…
This was across from the entrance to the inside…
This guy reminded me of the Irish Greenmen
This was on the other side of the “greenman” and led to an inner courtyard with amazing views…

Perhaps the best part of the Palace was the surrounding beauty.  Almost every balcony and window looked out over the lovely valley below.  It was definitely worth a visit.

Hey, I know them!
Another enchanting view…

By the way, I am always hesitant to buy the audio tours, but they are always a great way to take these sites at your own pace and gain extra knowledge that will help you and your kids to appreciate it more.

Now a few views of the inside:

The Sacristy of the original chapel...
I’m guessing this was quite the extravagance for the time.
Obviously the kitchen….
Look at that detail on the ceiling…
The Portuguese love their tiles.  The entire dining room is covered in them.
One last look and then off for Sintra town.

After spending a few hours walking the castle grounds, we caught the bus down to the city.

We managed to find a lovely little outdoor restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal with a generous sized Sangria.   After all that slogging around, I would say it was the perfect way to end a crazy day :).

This was a delicious meal.
The secret to enjoying a family pilgrimage? A lot of grace — and a wee bit of Sangria 🙂

Then a cloak of fog and darkness began to descend upon the lower city.  Everybody enjoyed this refreshing surprise, and it coincided closely to the eclipse in the US — not sure if there was a connection, but it was strangely eery how quickly the sun went down and the fog descended.

My five year old started running around saying she was a unicorn zombie — not sure where that came from, but she is the fifth child, so no telling who the source was of that comment.

The other kids were equally unsure of this dramatic change in lighting and temperature — but as we all survived, I must say it cooled everything off beautifully.

Everybody enjoyed the eeryily foggy night.
Looks like we better head off for the train station…

We had a few more traveling foibles, including almost being left behind in a train car for the night and having to fight our way out of the automatic doors, but we finally made it back to Lisbon.

If you are ever in Lisbon, you can catch a 10pm Mass at St. Nicholas Church most every night.  That’s what we did, and it was an amazing way to give thanks to God for what ended up being a wonderfully lively day.

And that is the end of the time we went to Sintra …but it has me thinking.

I love visiting palaces and watching royal weddings and the lives of nobility, don’t you?  Perhaps it’s because their lives are so different from my own, or perhaps its because I know that they are living a life that we are destined to live.

Jesus himself promised us that He was going to Heaven to prepare a place for us.  Do you ever take the time to imagine the beauty of that place?

God is Beauty itself, so there’s no convincing me that the place that He is preparing for us is not going to be absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful.

If all of this is hard for you to believe, than might I recommend you go to an adoration chapel or a quiet spot in your home and ask God about the place he is preparing for you  — little old, unimportant you.

The truth be told, you are not unimportant to Him.  You are everything to Him, and if you were the only person on the earth who had needed Him to die for your redemption, He would have done it for you and you alone.

Once upon a time, I was mourning an injustice that I saw on earth — it didn’t involved me, so I think I was a bit more objective in my analysis.  I looked to God and said, “How could you allow that to happen? Isn’t that unfair?”

I didn’t hear any words back, explaining why injustice happens, why sadness, why sorrow in this life — I didn’t receive immediate knowledge of all the good that flowed from those bad things — but I believe God did give me one little glimpse of His answer.

For less than a second, the greatest, most beautiful joy filled my heart till I literally thought it might explode. It was only a millisecond, but it was all I needed to understand something that I needed to understand.

In that millisecond I realized that every single sadness and sorrow of my life and the lives of others around me, could be erased in an instant.

Let me assure you, this isn’t a usual occurrence in my prayer time — but sometimes God reaches out to us so we know He’s really there.

It was like He gave me a tiny glimpse into Heaven, and you know what? It was like my heart would have exploded if God had given me more than a millisecond of that experience — which might be one of the reasons why we can’t fully experience that joy on this side of Heaven.

Who am I?  I could be a lunatic and my words wouldn’t mean anything, so don’t take my word for it.  Spend some time with God and ask Him about heaven. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

We’re coming up on Lent.  It’s a beautiful time to think upon Christ’s suffering, but in a world in which so many people have lost hope, I would like to suggest that you also take some time to contemplate Heaven.

Take the time and see how it renews your hope in Christ and hope in the future.  The good news is that whatever you can imagine, God can top it.

I once was fretting to a priest friend of mine because a deep-thinking philosopher told me that there wouldn’t be food or wine or an actual feast in heaven.

It absolutely bummed me out, but that priest told me exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.  He said, “Moira, that’s just one man’s opinion.  The truth is, nobody knows what Heaven will be like, but what we do know is that whatever must be there for you to be absolutely happy in Heaven, it will be there”.

Good answer, Padre!  I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong about the wine and coffee and food I’m just sure will be in Heaven, but what I do know is the the joy will be so great that if God didn’t give us a glorified heart, we would surely die from the sheer magnitude of it all.

One thing we know for sure, He’s preparing a place for you and He’s preparing a place for me…and it is going to be amazing!

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

John 14.2

Have a fantastic weekend!


Sharing over at Kelly’s.

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