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

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

La Push, Hurricane Ridge and a Goodbye to the PNW- Seattle, Washington

What do you do when it’s your last vacation day and you realize there is still just so much too see? Do you rationalize and prioritize and make plans for when you can come back? If you’re a more logical person than I, then yes, that would be exactly what you would do. If you’re me and/or you’re traveling with me (and you love me too much to explain why this would be a bad idea) you try and fit in everything you want to see in one day and get in the car and go.

Such was the case on our last day in the Seattle area. We had seen a fair amount already and the plans had been to spend our last day exploring the city, maybe hitting up a couple of bookstores and just relaxing. But after visiting Vancouver, I hadn’t been too enamored with Seattle in comparison (no offense to Seattle of course, we all have our favorite cities) and felt my heart calling out to go back to the mountains and for one last view of the ocean before we headed back Texas. So the morning of our last day we packed up the rental car and headed off to the first stop of the day, navigating to the Hurricane Ridge visitor center inside of Olympic National Park.

A leisurely 3 hour drive from downtown Seattle made all the better by the beautiful landscape and perfect weather. We didn’t intend to do any hiking or really much of anything that wasn’t just looking around in awe at the view once we got up there. Beautiful green mountains spread out in front of us and I honestly think the only comparable view i’ve had in a national park was when we visited Rocky Mountain Natl. Park, and even then there were no gorgeous bay views. We couldn’t stay too long as we had another 2 hour or so drive to make it to our next destination but on the way down back towards Port Angeles we still stopped at almost every lookout to take it all in, get just one last taste of this park we knew we’d have to come back to explore further one day soon.

La Push was the last destination of the day and the most exciting for me as I had looked up photos of the area the night before and kept showing them to the bf like, “Look! Isn’t this just amazing! We gotta go!”  till he said yes yes it was very nice  and agreed we would go even if the drive back from there to Seattle would be slightly painful. We arrived just a little before 5pm, later than we’d wanted but still excited to find our way to the beach. Parking by the trail for Second Beach we made our way into the forest for the short hike to the beach, less than a mile and pretty easy in most parts. We mostly only encountered people coming back so we hoped we had managed to avoid the more crowded part of the day and by the time we got close enough to hear the sound of the ocean and smell that familiar salty air there was more than a slight giddiness to our step.

Just beautiful, I honestly could have stayed there all day, walking along the sand with my feet getting splashed by the cold water and my jeans rolled up to my knees but we knew the sooner we started the 4 hour drive back the less we would hate ourselves the next morning. And so, with just one last look we clambered over the driftwood and headed back to the car and, after brushing ourselves off as best we could, we put on some music and started the long drive back.

We decided to take the south US 101 route back rather than head back up to Port Angeles again and just enjoy the views of the coastline. Passing through all the sleepy coastal towns (Humptulips!) and various signs for public beaches, thinking back on the past few days and all we’d seen and done, I knew that we had to come back for a much longer stay if not just somehow make a permanent move.

It wasn’t until almost midnight when we made it back to the hotel and as we walked from the parking garage over to the entrance, we passed by the Space Needle, all lit up against the dark night sky and we stopped there for a minute to look up. Tired and sweaty, the bottom of our jeans covered in sand and our shoes muddy as hell, we looked up at this landmark of the Pacific Northwest and felt just overwhelmingly content with the way this trip had gone. Maybe not perfectly planned, but more than perfectly adventurous for us.

~m

Stanley Park, A Steam Clock and Tim Hortons- Vancouver, Canada

“Whaaaaat! Where did you get that??”

The question is thrown at me loudly, breaking the early morning atmosphere of the break room and I look down at what i’m holding, what the lady who’s talking to me is staring at. It’s a stainless steel travel mug emblazoned with TIM HORTONS across it in happy red script. Her enthusiasm to discuss this makes some kind of sense then, given I live in Texas and you can only get Tim Hortons in Canada.

Lets step back about two months before this interaction (and about 6 months from todays current date because life has managed to truly mess up the timeline of my blogposts lately) back to when the bf and I were driving up from Seattle to Vancouver, having learned only then that the day we would be visiting any part of Canada for the first part was to be on “Canada day”, a federal holiday comparable to the 4th of July for Americans. I wish we could say we planned it that way on purpose but to be honest we planned this trip like most other trips, that is to say, on the fly and with only minimum research. Perhaps with a little more insight, we might have avoided the long wait at the border crossing and anticipated the heavier traffic in the city but in the end it worked out for the best and we got to see downtown Vancouver lit up with pride.

We had only allotted a day and a half for Vancouver, though obviously you could (and should) spend a bit longer here, especially when you include the surrounding area. Not wanting to overextend ourselves too much, we picked Stanley Park and the Gastown area of downtown Vancouver to check out with the time we had, choosing a Hyatt to stay in. We made the most of our time by driving through part of Stanley Park as soon as we arrived, to get a feel for where everything was and making note of what we wanted to come see early the next day when it was less crowded (due to the aforementioned holiday). After marveling at the green gorgeousness and bay views, we headed towards our hotel, a 5 min drive that took almost half hour because gods above you will either use public transportation in Vancouver or you will regret every even looking at a car- not thats a such a terrible thing to be honest. After checking in and decompressing we headed back out to explore the nearby streets, find cool cheesy souvenirs for friends and take in a little more of what the city had to offer.

The sun didn’t set until well past 9pm that night and the boyfriend and I kept looking out at the skies both marveling and slightly freaked out until the fireworks started up somewhere by the bay. Rather tired from the days traveling we opted to stay in for dinner and order room service, complete with a cheese/dessert plate I would soon come to regret ordering the next day.

Up and at them early the next day, we checked out and loaded up our things in the rental to go wander around Stanley park for a few hours before we started the drive back to Seattle. I hadn’t finished the dessert and cheese plate treats we had gotten the night before, so rather than throw them away (because room service is many things but cheap isn’t one of them) I stashed them in a handy plastic bag and figured I would munch on them during the day….which would have been a grand plan if the boyfriend hasn’t been worried we would get arrested for trying to cross back into the US with loose fruits, nuts and cheeses. All my attempted soothings were for naught however and after we explored some very beautiful areas of the park, I ended up sitting hunched over in the passenger seat hurriedly stuffing my face with cheese, crackers, sweetened fruits and candy bites like a desperate dumpster diving raccoon so as to convince the bf we would not have reason to get violently arrested at the border crossing.

(The park really was very beautiful though, and apart from this face stuffing incident, a wonderfully peaceful oasis that I would really love to visit again.)

A goodbye to Vancouver it was, but not a good bye to Canada yet, because as we were leaving the outskirts of the city I suddenly remembered-

“I need to find a Tim Hortons!” 

“…Why ?” 

Because! You gotta do it if you visit Canada!” 

He was dubious but I insisted and so we found the nearest shopping area, pulled up alongside the cleanest cop car i’ve ever seen and got out to go buy some Tim Hortons coffee. This is where I saw the gleaming beauty of a stainless steel travel mug and bought it, positive it was the best souvenir of the trip even if the bf wasn’t so convinced. Months later, sitting at work in the breakroom, I would be vindicated when a transplanted and slightly homesick Canadian walked in, did an actual double take  and then promptly lost her shit at seeing the mug. She asked to take a photo of it and grilled me on where i’d gotten it and we commiserated on how very very unlike Vancouver any part of Texas is.

On the drive down to Seattle, I saw a Round Table Pizza coming up on the GPS and after asking if the bf had ever eaten at one and confirming he hadn’t, we took a small detour for lunch. I spent the better part of my teenage years growing up in the Bay Area of NorCal and Round Table Pizza was irrevocably linked to those years- birthday parties, after school cool kid hangout area and just really frikin good tasty pizza. After just one slice, the bf agreed it was amazingly good pizza and worth a detour (though perhaps not as good as pizza we made a 2 hour detour for in Zion ).

Loaded up on carbs and still buzzing from coffee a bit, we made it into Seattle just around 4:30 and proceeded to find a parking spot near Pike Place Market and aimed towards a shop just nearby that had a name that caught both our eyes, Robot Vs Sloth. After we both dropped a probably ill-advised amount of money on unspeakably cute stuff that just spills over with that west coast Seattle vibe, we headed on down to the market where we wandered around a bit, bought some fruit and finally I ended up on the lower level in a bookstore where I could have spent hours browsing through the haphazardly stacked books if it hadn’t been closing up in 5 minutes. The owner was super nice though and I managed to grab a book on the evolution of Pacific Northwest art in the region before he closed for the day and was ready to head on out when I saw just across from it, another store that was still open that captured my attention.

It turned out to the the Patrick T Kerr Gallery shop and honestly I have rarely seen such amazingly detailed art that still manages to be supremely creative. I tend to shy away from art rendered in precision and usually that means no architects but, this art was so lively and yet fantastically restrained in it’s efficient lines…I loved it and the guy working there must have seen that because he let me browse well past when I think they were probably supposed to close without even hovering. I bought a bunch of prints and postcards, one especially to send to a friend who lives in Paris who I knew would appreciate the work given his own love for the pure logic of mathematics. The man working there that day was insanely friendly and down to earth, even giving me a free signed print as he said, “Well you’re buying so many, don’t you want a perk?”  Which yes my good sir, thank you! I rarely talk about places to shop when I write about traveling (or ever) but if you’re visiting Pikes Place Market, I would definetly make the time to check this shop out if you can.

We ended our time here at the market by grabbing some of the last fresh mixed lemonade a stand was selling out front of the market, they were closing up shop so while we paid for small cups we received large sizes since it was the end of the day. Nice people or just good luck? I’d say a little bit of both probably, and also really good lemonade! We sipped the cool drink as we walked down closer to the docks and the Puget sound, the sun slowly starting to set a golden color over everything.

~m

Wet Feet, No Ponchos and A Forest of Burls- Olympic National Park, Washington

We decided to head up to the Pacific Northwest region of the US on almost a whim. By the beginning of June the stress from spending almost all my free time studying to pass the Salesforce Administrator Certification exam had reached an all time high and like I told the bf, “If we don’t book some kind of getaway for next month I think I’m gonna end up running away to become a hermit in the wilds of Alaska.” Needless to say he was supportive of helping plan something and after some consideration we decided to head up to Seattle and possibly make a day trip to Vancouver as well since we’d never been to that part of the US before and I was very enthusiastic about the idea of heading to cooler climes.

By the time the trip rolled around I had thankfully successfully passed the exam (hooray) and we headed out on 5 days of adventure with enthusiasm and only haphazard plans of what we were going to do- which is pretty standard for us, because who needs plans?

The first day there, out flight touched down around 10am and after grabbing our rental car, we headed east towards the coast on HWY 101. Living in North Texas really makes a person eager to see the ocean, breathe in fresh salty air and hear the crashing of waves so off we went, no actual destination in mind apart from just the vague idea of driving until we couldn’t go further.


A leisurely winding 2 hour drive from SeaTac later found us gassing up at Queets and entering the outer reaches of Olympic National park, and we started seeing signs for trails with beach access. We planned to grab some snacks (and coffee!) at Kalaloch Lodge and then park and walk down to the easy access beach there but, I was curious about those other trails and convinced the bf to have us go back and take a look at where they might take us.

The trail for Beach 2 proved much too muddy and slippery for us, as unprepared as we were to do any kind of hiking, but the trail at Beach 1, the Spruce Burl Nature Trail, while having no cars parked at the trailhead looked level and relatively straight forward and and so, we started on our way.

We had no umbrellas, ponchos or hiking books and there was a steady misting rain coming down on us but we had the trail that leads through the woods, across a wooden footbridge and onto the beach all to ourselves, not another person in sight as far as you could see, just the sound of waves and the water rushing up the sand. It was perfect and though we were pretty soaked through by the time we headed back to the car, I don’t think I’ve been as carefree and happy as that in a long time.

(Fun fact- Neither me nor the bf had ever seen burls as big as these on trees before and there was both wonder and slight fright at the number of burls on these Sitka spruce trees in these woods.)

Instead of heading back the way we came to make it to our hotel in Silverdale, we decided to head north because per the GPS it would end up being the same length of time and we figured, why not see some more of this Olympic peninsula area? Funny enough we had completely forgotten that the town of Forks (used as the main setting in the Twilight books) was situated here and we pass right through and then doubled back to take a photo of the town sign because it was too fantastic an opportunity to pass up.

With that photo souvenir taken, we settled in for the rest of the drive back to our hotel, rain still lightly coming down and the almost everything around us surrounded by lush greenness.

~m