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

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

Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and A Pantheon-Rome, Italy

Waking up bright and early – or as early as we possibly could given we’d been waking up all past few days at about 5am and desired just a teensy bit of a lie in – we headed out with our walking shoes laced up and then down into the Metro to make our way to the first stop of the day, the Spanish Steps.

On that note, depending on where you are staying and/or going, the Rome metro can be either extremely helpful or… not so much. Thankfully we had booked to stay at an Airbnb literally right next to the Colosseum which also meant the metro was just downstairs from our apartment and there was a line that took us almost right to the Spanish Steps.

Once we arrived, we marveled at the beautiful cascading stairs, snapped a couple of pictures for our friends, debated making our way up to the top and then decided that since it wasn’t the best light, we would see about coming back later in the day given how easy it had been to get there. Besides, we were eager to get to our next stop, the famous Trevi Fountain.

Another landmark i’d love to come back to see at night, the fountain was as beautiful as it’s been depicted on film and about as crowded as you’d expect as well. We sat at one of the benches right in front of it and people watched for a while and contemplated getting a gelato from a vendor nearby as so many others who were seated nearby had done. Eventually we decided against the gelato however, as we had one last stop for that mornings excursion, and the one I was the most excited about, The Pantheon. It was just a short walk from the fountain to it and immensely enjoyable as the streets were colorful that day and it felt like walking down one picturesque corner unto a yet another.

Built in 113–125 AD the Pantheon is a former Roman temple that is now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, and even now almost 2,000 years after it was constructed still holds the title of the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome- which I did not know when we visited and now blows my mind even more. There’s a surreal quality to it, the way it still stands there amid all these other more modern day buildings- even with people brushing past you in today’s clothing you can almost imagine yourself centuries in the past.

Inside, that same feeling is even more inescapable. The mixture of ancient Roman temple architecture and the overlay of Christianity makes for an incredibly arresting sight.

(Side note- the hole you see in the dome in the photos below is known as the eye of the Pantheon and it’s open to the skies- we saw a couple of birds perched there and apparently when it rains it comes through as there is nothing to stop it. The floor is built in such a way however, that water doesn’t accumulate where it falls. Probably still a good idea to avoid standing directly underneath the oculus on a rainy day though.)

I could have spent hours in there honestly, both admiring the surroundings and also people watching- but we had an afternoon tour at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum so we had to get going. We wandered back out and into the present day again and then, once more, back out onto the streets towards the Colosseum.

The Walk to the Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

After leaving the Florence Cathedral and having re-energized ourselves with coffee and pastries, we headed on our way to the Uffizi Gallery. Afterwards the plan was to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio and finish up the day at the Palazzo Pitti.  We were a little worried the weather would turn ugly as we had a couple of stop planned along the way and while we had already endured 3 days straight of rain in Venice with no problem, we didn’t want to do it again in Florence.

Thankfully by the time we reached The Basilica di Santa Croce, the skies had cleared up again to picturesque cloudy fluffs with brilliant blue beneath.

Completed in the 14th Century, Santa Croce is the principle Franciscan church in Florence and is also the largest Franciscan church in the world. While we had been planning the way we would walk to the Uffizi Gallery, we had seen this church as kinda on the way and figured, why not stop by? We didn’t go inside but even just getting a chance to see the beautiful exterior was worth the detour. We sat down on one of the many benches around the square and eventually, only a bit reluctantly, made our way to the next stop on our walking tour, the Palazzo Vecchio.

The town hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is an immensely interesting building thats bursting with history but this was another place we decided to save for a later visit. One of the reasons for this is we’d seen a couple of interesting historical  residence/art museum type buildings already in Venice and we were sure the Palazzo Pitti would have enough to hold our interest in this regard (spoiler alert: it 100% delivered on that). From what i’ve read, the best way to visit the Palazzo Vecchio is to take a tour as there are many rooms and halls that are only accessible via guided tour so, definetly something we put on the list for a longer return trip.

The exterior is incredible in it’s own right and just next to it is the Loggia dei Lanzi (also known as the Loggia della Signoria as it’s on the corner of the Piazza della Signoria where the Palazzo Vechio is situated)  which is an amazing open-air sculpture gallery. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to visit the Palazzo Vecchio, I can’t recommend enough to at least pass by the area, especially if you’re headed to the Uffizi Gallery as it’s a straight shot from there.

After leaving the dramatically beautiful statues behind, we made it to the Uffizi Gallery and were confronted by a rather huge line. We had expected this one however and had previously discussed that if the line here was incredibly long, we would head to the Pitti Palace first instead and finish up the day at the Uffizi Gallery when we came back. This was mainly because I was more keen to seen the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti than any art held inside the gallery and so, we kept walking on towards the Arno river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of Florence.

Taking our time, we made it to the Pitti Palace by around 1pm that afternoon and found no line to get inside- fates way of telling us we had made the right choice by coming here first maybe? Either way we happily headed inside to explore the opulent interiors.

~m

Il Duomo di Firenze and David- Florence, Italy

Our first day in Rome and what do we do? Where do we pick to see, in a city overflowing with a bounty of historically interesting and arrestingly beautiful points of interest?

Why, none of them of course. Instead, we headed off just a little after sunrise via Metro to the train that would take us to Florence.

When we had first started out making plans for this trip, I had asked the bf what cities he wanted to see in Italy and his first question had been, “Which one has Michelangelo’s David?”. And so, we bought a day trip train ticket from Rome to Florence so that we could fulfill one of his bucket list dream items- seeing the statue in person where it’s housed at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

I didn’t have many expectations of Florence and in truth I didn’t think I would find much to catch my interest, but by gods was I proved resoundingly wrong. Starting at the unexpected overwhelming beauty on display at our first stop of the day at the Galleria dell’Accademia and moving out onto the streets of Florence itself to find the Florence Cathedral, I found arresting views and points of marveling interest around almost every corner.

We had gotten skip the line tickets for the Galleria dell’Accademia because every single book or website we had looked through had suggested this (and really I can’t recommend it enough because if we hadn’t gotten skip the line tickets I think we would have been in line to get in for well over an hour) but we hadn’t thought to do the same for Il Duomo di Firenze, mostly because we just didn’t think it would be busy enough to warrant it.

Once again, Florence turned those expectations upside down.

The line for either entrance was massive and we were approached by a friendly tour guide who was still selling tickets for skip the line tours later in the day, which were very tempting. We still had about 3-4 other places we wanted to see though, and at this point I had decided that we would most definetly be coming back to Florence again and for longer then the length of a day trip. With that in mind, we declined to buy tickets and just enjoyed the incredible view of the exterior.

One of the largest churches in the world, the Florence Cathedral- in Italian Il Duomo di Firenze – is also a very prominent landmark of the Florentine skyline and later in the day we would actually get a chance to see it from a much different angle, from across the river while we rested in the Boboli Gardens of the Pallazzo Pitti.

With one last lingering look, we ducked into a nearby coffee shop to fuel up before we made our way towards the next couple of stops on our Florence day trip plans.

~m