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Pena Palace - A Castle That Altered My Perception

Castles and palaces have always been central in fairytales, just like in my childhood stories. However, my idea of living in castles wasn’t attractive. It evoked images of a massive, cold grey mansion located in the middle of nowhere, amidst a snowstorm on a dark, damp winter night. A deserted place with very few inhabitants, haunted by witches and monsters. The animals were crude, and rotten food littered the surroundings, inevitably leading to sorrowful tales associated with the castle.

Despite traveling extensively, I consistently avoided visiting castles due to my imagination, until I came across Pena Palace. During the Thanksgiving holidays, my entire family visited this castle situated in Sintra, Portugal. This trip significantly altered my impression of castles.

Perched atop a hill, Pena Palace greeted us with its distinctive golden and red exterior as we were transported by a bus from the hill's foot to the summit. At the entrance, there was a holiday-decorated cafeteria building with a spacious terrace. Opting to take a break, we enjoyed an afternoon snack. Sitting on the terrace, feeling the gentle breeze on my face, savoring my espresso along with soft background music, I experienced tranquility. In that moment, I felt utterly relaxed, wishing it could linger longer.

Exploring the castle's rooms was a bit tiring until I arrived at the Great Hall, the central space for receptions and entertainment in the 19th century. A colossal golden chandelier hung from the ceiling, casting warm, cozy hues as the afternoon sunshine streamed through the stained-glass windows. The medieval knight sculptures, positioned along the carpet, conveyed a sense of security within the room.

Venturing outside the rooms, I entered the courtyard of arches. Through these arches, I could behold the vast expanse of the Park of Pena, the Sintra Hills, and even the distant Atlantic Ocean. Despite the sunny afternoon, some mist enveloped the castle, adding to its allure. Pena Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site, is considered one of Portugal's most picturesque Romantic architectural wonders. It's listed among the eight most beautiful castles in Portugal and was recently featured in Traveler magazine.

What truly changed my perception of a castle was not merely the castle itself, but my mood, the surroundings, and the emotional connection. Feeling warm, secure, and at ease liberated me from the tensions of daily life. The afternoon snack provided a momentary respite during our journey, and being with my family made the environment more comforting. This trip will forever remain etched in my memory.

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