Beautiful Sintra and the Park and Palace of Monserrate- Sintra, Portugal

The day started early as my body had yet to regulate itself to it’s new Portuguese time zone and I was up at the painfully early hour of 530am. The sun hadn’t even risen yet and to be honest I laid in bed for another good hour just being lazy and reading through texts my bf (who was still back home in Texas) had sent me the night before and browsing tumblr. Finally though, I got up and started to get ready for the day which I knew would be lengthy as I had booked a tour through WithLocals for a full day of sightseeing in and around Sintra with a lovely lady named Silvia.

She would be picking me up at 830 in her van and then it would just be me and her for 8 hours, the agenda being very loosely situated around exploring the town of Sintra, checking out one of the castles or palaces there, driving out to Cabo de Roca and then ending the day at the fisherman village of Cascais. Or at least, that was the plan but of course, you know with me things rarely ever go to plan (but I will say even before I start, this was one of the most amazing and fun experiences I’ve had and except for one unfortunate turn of event on my part, there’s nothing I would go back and change).

After stuffing myself full of the delicious breakfast that was brought to the room (cheese, ham, pastries and strong coffee), I was just wiping the crumbs off my shirt when there was knocking on my door and I was informed Silvia had arrived- she was lingering behind the housekeeper, a friendly smile on her face that turned down for a sec when she spotted my bare arms.

“Ooh make sure you grab a jacket or sweater, it can get a little cold!”

Grabbing my jacket and bidding a goodbye to the housekeeper I rushed out, ready to start the day with Silvia. She introduced herself and her white van and seemed to have enough enthusiasm to power 10 pep rallies. Basically, she was lovely and any indecision I have about spending the whole day with her was erased by the time we were heading up the mountain road to find a good parking spot from where to explore the twisty streets of Sintra.

We grabbed coffee and pastries at a local cafe while she got to know me a little better and gathered our plans for the day- she was of course delightfully puzzled as to why I was traveling by myself but didn’t press me with questions and instead asked what palace or castle I had chosen for us to visit that day. I had picked the Monserrate Palace to leave for last, both because it seemed like the one with the least amount of walking required (maybe it’s silly but I didn’t want to embarrass the hell out of myself huffing and puffing to a seasoned veteran of the area while clambering around the Moors castle or making our way up the steep climb to Pena Palace) and because it was the one I was least interested in- that way if my guide had turned out to be a dud, it wouldn’t ruin the trip for me. Silvia was more than happy for us to make our way to Monserrate after touring Sintra, though she advised she didn’t know too much of it’s history as overwhelmingly people usually asked her to take them to Pena Palace. As she said, “It will be a fun change from the usual!” 

After finishing up our coffee and pastries we set out to walk around the quiet streets of Sintra, the town still just barely waking up and making it the perfect setting for us to take a leisurely stroll while I snapped photos here and there as Silvia told me some of the towns history. We walked to the Palácio Nacional de Sintra which would end up being one of the major sites I didn’t make time to visit (something to do next time I visit) and from there walked around the central square of São Martinho in the historic centre.

I wish I could recount every detail Silvia told me regarding Sintras history, as it’s truly fascinating and contains so much intrigue, speculation and drama that I could easily see it spawning an HBO series but, my brain is only so useful and when presented with the choice of memorizing historical details or taking in one of the most enchanting towns i’ve ever visited, the choice was clear. What I do remember is Silvia telling me how Sintra’s popularity has waxed and waned through out it’s existence but it’s never completely disappeared, it’s particular appeal to the rich as a retreat allowing it to endure even after the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Personally, if I had the means, I know I wouldn’t hesitate to at least vacation here every chance I got, never-mind constructing yet another grand estate to the join the overflowing bounty of already existing ones.

After spending about an hour and 1/2 in Sintra we made our way to Monserrate, the palatial villa with gorgeous landscaped gardens that was constructed to it’s current design in 1863. It’s a bit of a walk from the entrance down to the palace itself but the day was lovely and the gardens are beautiful, an interesting mix of rigid landscaped areas with more wild spots interspersed here and there. Once you catch a glimpse of the palace though, there’s nothing else that will grab your attention- though all of Sintra seems to be influenced by Romanticism and Moorish Revival architecture, even after having seen the rest, I was moved to silence by the gorgeous mixture of the two here.

Though the palace is empty of furniture and collections, there’s more than enough to take in. From the ornate ceilings, carved columns and the abundance of interactive information available about it’s history, I’d say there’s enough to see within the palace to justify a visit. When I visited with Silvia there were about maybe 3 other groups of people and we had plenty of time to just marvel at the details in the architecture and read the infographics regarding Francis Cook, the English merchant who owned the property and engineered it’s construction. Eventually though, we were ready to head out and Silvia guided me to the gardens to make our way back to her van, our many other planned stops for the day clamoring for attention.

We stumbled upon the ruins of an old chapel on our winding way out, and of course I had to wander inside and take a look, Silvia taking a seat on a log outside to catch her breath a little. She was amused by my enthusiasm for ruins of any kind, especially with how I had enjoyed the ornate opulence of the interior we had just left and then gamely thanked me for giving her a good idea of something to potentially show other visitors one day. We left, a little sweaty from the walking but laughing and energized for our next destination.

~m

The Rococo Splendor of Queluz National Palace- Queluz, Portugal

Coastline view of Cabo Da Roca

(Lets gloss right over the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this blog in like half a year and also that i’ve since gone on yet another trip which will probably take me a couple more months to get to and… dive back into the adventure that was Portugal)

“You haven’t been to Cabo da Roca yet? But why not!”

My Uber driver Nuno seems very displeased with my answer, but thankfully not in an angry way, more like this is unacceptable and he needs to fix it soon, if his next sentence is anything to go by.

“Would you like to go? We can go right now if you like, it’s good weather!”

It’s not good weather, not really- I had to bust out my umbrella while I waited for him to pick me up on the side of the road just down from Quinta da Regaleira because I’m a dummy who got a bit lost and went the wrong way and then was too tired to just turn around and go back and instead called an Uber while waiting outside some random person’s home. I’m actually starting to feel like I could very easily become a cautionary tale for women who travel alone, and that feeling deepens a couple minutes later when I tell Nuno, yeah why not, lets head to Cabo Da Roca and also take a sweet mint candy from him to enjoy on the drive there.

* Spoiler alert, I don’t get murdered and Nuno was honestly one of the kindest people I met on the whole trip but, also, don’t ever do any of the stuff I do because I genuinely am a thrice damned idiot sometimes …

As I suck on the candy, which is actually really good and helps with the vague nausea you can get while taking the twisty turns down the mountains here in Sintra, I send a quick text to a friend who lives in the Netherlands (anyone who would care in the USA is still asleep) with a photo of Nuno from the Uber app and a msg saying something like,
“Yo, if I don’t text you in like an hour, this guy’s probably responsible”.

They takes it in stride because at this point most people just accept the situations I seem to get myself in. Nuno talks to me about the local drivers, how he dislikes tourist who try and drive around Sintra (you couldn’t pay me do it myself, hence the over-reliance on friendly Uber drivers) and asks questions about my trip. He looks to be in his 50’s, is very charming and while his English isn’t perfect, my own Portuguese is non existent so we try and supplement it with some Spanish here and there. We get into a spirited conversation regarding my last name, which he insists is Portuguese (I will have this conversation about 4 different times while i’m in Lisbon/Sintra) and then we’re out of the windy roads and heading towards the coast, a Black Eye’d Peas song playing in the background on his radio and the rain actually lessening to the point of some glimpses of blue sky.

We make it to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Portugal and continental Europe, about 20 min after Nuno picked me up and pull into the parking lot next to a gigantic tour bus. For a second I wonder if i’m supposed to get out of the car and go wander about because that feels a bit weird but, then Nuno is turning off the car and getting out himself, gesturing for us to walk down together over to the tall stone monument and peer over the cliffs edge. The air is crisp and clean and the water is varying shades of lovely blue. I haven’t seen a coastline like this in what feels like forever and there’s something about knowing i’m as far west as I can be while still being in Europe that makes the unexpected detour worth it.

We only spend about 10-15 min here because I don’t want to take up too much of Nuno’s time plus the rain has started to make a comeback, and soon we’re back on the road headed towards my original destination, The Palace of Queluz. The drive is calm, following the coastline for a while, and Nuno and I chat a bit again about what I have planned for the next few days, with him giving me recommendations for restaurants and advice for parts of Lisbon to visit. He gives me his number while we’re on the highway, insisting that I please give him a call if I need anything or if I get lost or even just for more recommendations and I program it into my phone because even though I know I probably won’t use it, it’s a lovely gesture and lowers the loneliness of traveling alone in a foreign country by about 25%.

After saying our goodbyes outside the rain soaked entrance to Queluz, I step inside to buy a ticket and realized exactly why Nuno expressed mild confusion over my wanting to visit this place. He had been kind when he said people didn’t really visit it much, not when compared to all the other places, but there had been something about it when I looked it up online that made me want to make the time (you know I love me some Rococo) ,and given I had a full day tour the next day to visit everywhere else in Sintra, it just made sense. But stepping into the deserted lobby and then into the empty ticket/help desk area and seeing the genuine surprise on the girl behind the counter when I asked to buy a ticket…yeah. I saw maybe 4 people who weren’t workers over the next two and a half hours I spent leisurely wandering around the gorgeous halls and elaborate rooms, but since I quite like when places aren’t packed to the rafters with people, it worked out pretty well for me.

I can’t recommend for you to visit or not visit, mostly because it would depend on how much time you have in the greater Lisbon area. If you happen to have a couple of extra hours and enjoy late baroque splendor mixed with some interesting Portuguese history, then yes, stop on by…just be prepared for how your Uber driver or literally any local will tilt their head at you if you say you’re visiting (the next day my tour guide for the day was like “Ah..ok, well thats nice then, it’s an interesting place!” and then politely changed the subject to other points of interest). It was interesting to read the Trip Advisor reviews before and after the fact as well, because they’re all filled with pretty much the same kind of experience so, I guess I will say if you like getting a chance to explore places people wouldn’t normally visit, this would be it.

More info about the palace and gardens here.

After taking in the interior rooms and then walking around outside in the gardens a bit, I stopped in at the ground floor cafe for the fanciest glass of freshly squeezed orange juice i’ve ever had (the glass was a delicate sparkling crystal and I kept an internal monologue of “don’t break it don’t break it” as I sipped the juice), I headed back to the main building area to stop in at the gift shop and then back outside to wait for my last Uber driver of the day. This one didn’t offer his number to me but, we did have a lot of fun getting lost on the way back to the my hotel- we ended up passing the same street sign about 5 times to the point where when we finally got to the destination we both let out a very relieved cheer and I thanked him profusely for not just kicking me out of his car and rage quitting. He in turn thanked me for promising to give him a good review- it’s not his fault streets in Sintra weren’t made with cars in mind after all- and wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I finished out the day listening to the calming sound of the rain gently falling outside on the patio and wondering what the next day would bring.

~m

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