The Mystery and Magic of Quinta da Regaleira- Sintra, Portugal

My second day in Portugal started out at about the same time as the first- that is, way too early at 6am since my body was still adjusting to the time change but it was nice to get a few hours to myself to just chill, send messages to friends and eventually eat a hearty breakfast before heading out to the first stop of the day, the historic estate of Quinta da Regaleira.

Quinta da Regaleria, also know as the Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire” was one of the places I was most excited to get to visit, amid all the many others to be found there in Sintra it seemed to be the one with an air of beautiful mystery that just called to be explored. I arrived right after opening at 9:30am and lucked out to a mostly clear day and no tour crowds to be seen yet. I knew I wanted to explore the grounds and most especially to see the popular Initiation well.

I got turned around a few times because to say the estate is sprawling would be an understatement but eventually I found myself looking down at the inverted tower- it’s a “well” in name only as it’s never held water and was used for ceremonial purposes- and debating if I wanted to walk down the spiraling stairs.

I did eventually walk down carefully and the view from below up was definitely worth it. Getting out proved a little tricky as I followed one of the underground tunnels to a green lagoon area underneath a small waterfall and couldn’t quite figure out where to go from there. There was a path of rocks that led across the bright green water to the other side i wanted to go to and though it seems like a foolhardy idea, in my head this must be the way to go, so out I stepped.

It’s probably a minor miracle I didn’t fall into the green goo but I made it across…. only to see a sign from that side saying to please stay off the rocks. Flushed with mortification I carefully hurried away but unfortunately a couple of people had seen me crossing and were inspired to try and recreate my journey back across to the tunnels. I want to hope they didn’t fall in either but I had disappeared into the trees before they could turn to ask for advice.

After about two hours of just wandering around and exploring the grounds I finally took a break at the small cafe and enjoyed the quiet. The crowds were just starting to come in as I finished my break so I figured I should wrap things up with a tour through the main building and then head on to the next stop which was to be Queluz National Palace.

Sadly though, most of the areas inside the building were closed and all of the upstairs was under renovation so I didn’t get to see much or read up on the history of the estate. That was only a slight negative in terms of the whole visit though because the true beauty of Quinta da Regaleira is really in the grounds, all the hidden gems, odd statues and utterly impossible to resist trails leading to who knows what. I could have easily spent a good few more hours here but the rain I had managed to avoid that morning finally caught up with me and I decided the best bet was to move on and see one more place for the day.

The story of how I met the worlds nicest uber driver and how I got yet another phone number from a concerned Portuguese citizen wanting to make sure I was ok traveling alone is for the next post.

~m

From Up Here the Distance Curves- the Castle of the Moors & Pena Palace Sintra, Portugal

I’ve been in Portugal less than 24 hours and already i’ve had 3 separate people ask me if i’m all by myself, with varying degrees of concern. I don’t know this yet, but it’ll be a well worn trend that will continue until I leave the country and then will happen once more when I return to the USA at which point i’ll get to the level where I almost bare my teeth and hiss like a feral trash possum at the customs agent who asks.

At this point though, it’s just a mild curiosity to me. I’ve traveled by myself before and while in general I did either meet up with friends in the countries I visited or go on guided tours, there were plenty of times I was just wandering around by myself and no one really paid it any mind. Here though, it looks like it’s gonna be a little bit different.

The couple at the Villa house i’m staying at in Sintra come by to introduce themselves the night I arrive and after some questions of where i’m from (the very real surprise that i’m not Portuguese because of my name is something else that will happen a lot) they ask with a touch of concern,Ooh, are you all by yourself?” and then peer around me like there surely must be a companion somewhere. The next morning the guy at the window to get my entry ticket to the Moors Castle does something similar when I ask for just one ticket- even though there’s no one behind me in line as i’ve arrived shortly after the 10am opening time he still looks around and asks,

“Just one? You are traveling alone?”

I say yup, shrug in what I hope is a friendly way because I don’t know what else to say and get my ticket. The guy who scans it at the entrance looks around me to the guy at the window and it’s almost like a comedy bit, the unspoken back and forth and i’m starting to get a little worried there’s some kind of rule about not traveling by yourself in Sintra. He scans my ticket though and after I figure out what direction I want to start first, I start climbing and all the weirdness fades from my mind once I get to the top of the walls .

Maybe I should have realized I’d have an amazing view over Sintra from here when the Uber that picked me up from the hotel started climbing up up up but it wasn’t until I peered over the walls that I had even an inkling of the kind of sightline I would have out over the landscape. It was breathtaking in more ways than one.

(Btw you don’t have to take Ubers to get around Sintra, there’s a local bus that runs that will get you to pretty much everywhere you need to go but i’d read multiple advice posts on blogs and forums that said Ubers were pretty inexpensive so thats the route I went. Personally it worked out great for me but I did want to point out that there are many ways to get around Sintra that don’t involve getting in strangers cars.) 

The Sintra National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and The Monserrate Palace are all visible from up on the castle walls and while I can’t quite suggest you make the Moors Castle your first stop in Sintra given I was so freakin tired after climbing all over the walls I wanted to do nothing but roll myself the rest of the way down, I really can’t think of a better way to be introduced to all that Sintra has to offer than from up here.

Pena Palace beckoned in the distance, and I half considered just going on over there next as it’s a short distance away from the Moors castle…but my legs were trembling and given I had spent the day before up for over 24 hours traveling from Dallas -> Chicago -> London -> Lisbon and had not yet managed to eat a full meal, a quick trip back to the villa to change out of my sweaty clothes and maybe pop a Tylenol or two sounded like the best plan.

I would come to slightly regret this when the weather turned gloomy and visibility at Pena Palace  became it’s own kind of special struggle, but the guy who picked me up to take me back down the mountain was super friendly and happy to tell me about Sintra. He did, of course, ask if I was traveling by myself but we had a really good talk about why this kept being asked and in his opinion as a pretty frequent Uber driver and tour guide in Lisbon, it’s just rare for people to travel by themselves there and people probably just wanted to be sure I was ok. On that note, he offered me his number so that I would have someone to contact in case I had any questions or needed help with anything and while I never needed to do that, it was still incredibly nice of him to offer and I took it in good faith. This would not be the last time an Uber driver gave me their number and while generally I don’t accept people giving me their numbers, no one in Sintra ever made me feel weirded out or pressured by it and as a younger girl traveling by herself, thats a high compliment.

By the time I made it back up and to Pena Palace, the weather had gone from somewhat sunny and clear to downright moody and difficult. Given I was staying in Sintra for 3 full days, I knew I could have tried again on a less foggy day but to be honest, I had almost been tempted to skip the palace altogether as the photos I’d been seeing of it just weren’t calling to me. Ironically this is actually the most popular of all the castle and palaces in Sintra and though my expectations weren’t too high, I have to admit I ended up pretty charmed by it when I paid it a quick visit that afternoon.

Though there’s a shuttle bus that takes you from the entrance area up to the palace everyone that day was just walking up and so I followed along rather than stand around in the rain. Surely it can’t be too long of a walk, I remember thinking and while that was correct, the straight march up to the colorful entrance of the palace walls left me hurting a bit especially after that mornings excursion.

The history of the palace is interesting, especially when you consider its legacy starts out in the Middle Ages when there was only a chapel constructed on the hill dedicated to Our Lady of Pena, up to the 15th century when a monastery was constructed by order of King Manuel I. It remained as such until the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 reduced most of the monastery to ruins, after which it remained unoccupied until 1838 when King Ferdinand II took an interest and purchased it and the surrounding lands. Giving the commission for rebuilding to Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, the Romantic style palace as we see it today was built. Though I’ve read and been told by some locals it was built to rival the Neuschwanstein, I personally can only say the resemblance is minimal given all the other touches of architectural style at play here (especially the beautiful neo-Islamic influences).

As you can tell from the photos here, I didn’t really get to see all too much and eventually the rain started just pouring to the point where I knew if I didn’t start heading back down I might come to really regret it. What I did get to see though, was honestly very beautiful and I think I enjoyed it better shrouded in fog and rain, the bubbly bright colors muted and calling attention to the structures and shapes. Also, having read many reviews on TripAdvisor on how very very crowded it can get here, I was more than ok with weather if it meant minimal crowds.

Legs trembling a bit and umbrella out at the ready, I started my walk back down towards the main entrance where I would get a ride from a friendly lady who didn’t speak much English but happily communicated to me in Spanish that it was a very rainy afternoon wasn’t it? Laughing as I tried hard not to drip all over her seats, I heartedly agreed.

~m

Here We Go! (Sintra, Lisbon, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, London )- EuroTrip 2018/2019

Castle of the Moors, Sintra Portugal

It started simply enough, with the idea of visiting my friend Julia again in Germany and maybe also going to Prague finally, as it’s one of the European cities i’ve always dreamed of visiting but I hadn’t been to yet. Of course, it’s me, and if you read the title of this post you can see it didn’t turn out quite like that.

After coming back from our 5 day trip to Seattle/Vancouver last July a flight alert came through for a pretty cheap flight to London and after a quick discussion with the bf, we snapped up some tickets. Now, I get a few more vacation days a year than he does so we decided, hey how about I go ahead without him for a week or so and then we meet up in Prague? I’d traveled by myself in Europe before and while it hadn’t been exactly smooth sailing, I’d rather travel than not travel so, why not.

(Btw, just a heads up but this isn’t the whole post for this trip, if you’re not a regular follower of this blog then you may not be familiar with my other “Here We Go” posts so lemme link them here for you:

Here We Go- EuroTrip 2017
Here We Go- EuroTrip 2018 )

The Initiation inverted tower at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra Portugal

Queluz National Palace, Queluz Portugal

Interior of the Palace of Mafra, Mafra Portugal

Inside part of the National Azulejo Museum, Lisbon Portugal

I’d seen a number of blogposts and instagram photos of the beautiful palaces and castles of Sintra and this combined with how affordable Lisbon seemed inspired me to choose it as my first destination. I left on Thanksgiving and though that was slightly depressing, being up in the air traveling by myself on a day usually spent with loved ones, it did give me two extra days I didn’t have to use PTO and considering my stomach gets severely messed up on long flights, i’d rather not be regurgitating turkey for the next few days all over Portugal.

Though i’ll write about it more in depth later on, I do want to say that in Sintra I met so many amazingly kind and interesting people who made my stay there seem all the more magical. And once my 3 days there were up, I moved to a central hotel in Lisbon for the rest of the stay and was just incredibly enchanted by how amazing this city is and just how much history is saturated in every city block, how every viewpoint is just breathtaking. If I had to pick a country that I just know I have to come back to, while Italy used to be the #1 spot, I think Portugal has taken it now (which is so unfortunate because I’ve spent the last year and 1/2 studying Italian and known exactly 3 words in Portuguese)

Praça do Comércio, Lisbon Portugal

View over the Alfama Neighborhood in Lisbon Portugal

Old town in Prague Czech Republic

Eating a trdelník in Prague Czech Republic

After the many, many (many) adventures I had in Portugal, I ended up missing my flight to Munich where I was meant to meet up with my aforementioned friend Julia because sometimes I have the best luck in the world and sometimes life just kicks you in the teeth a little bit. But, I did eventually make it to Prague though, and while the adventure I had in the airport there is something else to write about, at least in the end I met up with the bf, both of us very ecstatically happy to see each other after 10 days apart and ready to begin our travels together from Prague to Budapest to Vienna and finally London.

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague Czech Republic

View over Prague from the Prague Castle

How to survive the long train ride from Prague to Budapest

Interior of the Szechenyi bathhouse in Budapest, Hungary

Inside a ruin pub in Budapest, Hungary

Bazylika św. Stefana and a Christmas market in Budapest, Hungary

Exterior of Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria

The mumok museum in the Museumsquartier Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna

Buckingham Palace London, England

Super touristy but super worth it view from the London Eye

Arriving back in the US, at Newark

Allll the souvenirs

I have very literally over a thousand photos, both that I took with my camera and on my iPhone (these here are all from my phone cause i’m a lazy little blogger sometimes, don’t judge) so it’s…probably going to take me a bit to go through everything and put together comprehensive posts but, i’ll be getting on that here in the next week or so.

Till then- not drowning in my coffee cups yet,
~m

Sainte-Chapelle, Jardins du Trocadéro and A Goodbye- Paris, France

A paradise of color, an ecstasy of diffused light all encased in a gothic masterpiece over 750 years old- that is the marvel of Sainte-Chapelle.

I’m getting ahead of myself though, because the day actually started at another church, Notre-Dame. The plan had been to wake up early enough to make it there before the crowds descended but we woke up rather late and by the time we had taken the metro line down, there was a line that snaked from the entrance over a bridge and then possibly even further beyond. It was honestly the longest line for an attraction/point of interest I had ever seen and though we weren’t exactly pressed for time, neither the bf or I really felt that it would be worth the wait when there were so many other places to see. We also really doubted this would be our last visit to Paris so, we trundled off a bit chagrined sure, but not with too heavy a heart.

The next destination on that days list was Sainte-Chapelle, a church the bf had picked out and I knew absolutely nothing about( this would be key later) and luckily it was situated only a short walk away from Notre-Dame. We were a bit smarter here and the bf managed to buy us skip the line tickets and we were inside and through security in less than 10 minutes.

We stayed on the first floor of the chapel for a while, because again I hadn’t researched ahead and didn’t know what there was to see here. But then I noticed off to the side, people going up a very narrow dimly lit staircase almost hidden into the wall. We figured why not go check it out?

It’s unspeakable hard to put into words what it was like stepping into that room and having absolutely no idea what you were going to find. Think of it almost like getting a crowbar upside the head- I think my heart actually paused it’s rhythm for a few seconds while my eyes tried to take it all in.

A stained glass gothic marvel is a good one sentence descriptor probably.

I think overall, from start to finish, we probably spent an hour here and we might have stayed just a little bit longer but then a tour group came up the stairs and we knew it was time to head back out into the busy streets of Paris and onto our next stop.

And where was our next stop? Why the Eiffel Tower of course. Well, lunch at a nice little bistro tucked into the street just near by first though.

A picture perfect way to say goodbye to Paris wouldn’t you say?

After spending about 2 hours in the area- sitting on the lawn directly in front of the Eiffel Tower and then leisurely making our way across the street to the overlook provided by the Trocadero square gardens, we took one last metro ride to catch sight of the famous Arc de Triomphe – it’s up to you personally if you would like to go up to the overlook it provides but we really weren’t enthused by the idea of waiting in the underground line when we’d already gotten some pretty amazing views already. Plenty of other people had the same idea we had too, and we even helped a couple take a nice photograph of themselves with it in the background from across the street.

After this, with the weather turning a bit gloomy and potentially rainy, we headed back to our hotel and the promise of ice cream and relaxation before we had to begin repacking everything for the next day’s journey back home. It was an easy and relaxed day to end our whirlwind European adventure and later as we lay in bed eating French chocolates and thumbing through all the postcards and souvenirs we’d picked up, it was incredibly hard to believe we’d actually been to all these incredible places. (It was also very hard to accept we had to go back home to Dallas- which for all its charms can’t honestly compare, at least to us.)

We know we’ll back though- actually we’ve already bought tickets for our next trip in December! There is a lot that’s happened since I began posting about this trip- both because I began back in April and also because of my severe wanderlust that’s only been fueled more these past few months. I usually do an outtakes post at the end of a long series like this one but I think I may skip it this once in favor of a short updates post in the coming week.

Either way a sincere and happy thanks to everyone who’s been reading from the start, popping in here and there and those that just recently joined. This is my very small and personal way to share my love of photography and exploration with people (and hopefully inspire them to explore themselves) and it’s genuinely nice to have a place to come to and recount my stories.

Not drowning in my coffee cups yet,

~ m

To the Louvre Once More- Paris, France

I visited the Louvre for the first time in 2017 last October, and it was at the tail end of a whirl wind two week first time trip ever to Europe. It was a dream come true and I have yet to go to a museum that could surpass it but, there was definetly still a lot to be seen . People asked, “Did you see the Mona Lisa?” to which I would reply no, and i’m quite alright not seeing it that up close and person with 200+ people thank you. The idea that there are greater works of art of be appreciated here was, is and will probably always remain my steadfast opinion.

After a trip that had included a visit to Michelangelo’s David, not to mention the almost countless other works of art housed in the museums and palaces we had visited, there was almost a bit of trepidation that morning that we woke up to head to the Louvre. I was excited to get a chance to see the whole other section of the museum I had missed last time, namely the Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts but I was worried the bf might suffer a bit of art fatigue within the first hour.

Thankfully, this proved to not be the case and it was actually me who ended up sitting down just shortly after taking a walk through the newest department at the Louvre, the department of Islamic Art. After a short break to rest my slightly weary feet though, I was up and happily exploring and learning about the beautiful Islamic art, mosaics and artifacts curated in this section. It actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the visit.

I think in total we spent about 6 hours here, and once again I still feel there is so much left to be seen and marveled over and while I don’t think i’ll be back again anything soon (as in, next year or so) I do very much want to come back, possibly when my French is much better.

We headed back to our hotel to rest up- trust me when is say spending the day walking around a gigantic gorgeous museum and just trying to absorb everything around you can really take it out of you- and relaxed out until night had fallen. At that point, we got our walking clothes out and headed back to the Louvre to catch the illuminated pyramids and enjoy a short evening walk around the area. Off in the distance, before we headed back, we caught sight of the Eiffel Tower illuminated as well and we were almost tempted to take the metro there but, in the end, the fact that a light drizzle had started decided us against it and our very tired feet were happy to head back to rest for the next days adventures.

~m