The British Museum and A Walk Around The City- London, England

There’s a lot of cities that have been featured at one time or another at the top of my ever changing bucket list. London has definetly been one of those that has come and gone, never firmly staying on there for long enough to really make the time to visit. Nothing against the city of course, if anything it’s probably a product of knowing too many people from the rest of the UK who have never had much to say in favor of London. An old friend from the south of England just sort of shrugged when I asked if it was worth visiting, another from Manchester advised the Lake District was a much better venture and the most enthusiasm someone living in London itself could give me was “Sure yeah, there’s a bunch to see I guess.”

When we planned out this trip, starting in Sintra and then adding in stops on the way, of cities I’d always dreamed of seeing like Prague and Budapest, we decided to add London as the last stop on the journey, both as a sort of cherry on top of major European cities visited and as a low pressure way to end the trip since neither of us was overly invested in trying to see everything London has to offer.

And London does indeed have plenty to offer. Though I can’t say I fell in love with the it the way I did with Lisbon, there is a vibrancy that is unique to the city and I can easily understand why so many people consider London a personal favorite and visit time and time again.  We spent the most time at the British Museum (because of course we did, if there’s a giant museum around you can bet thats gonna be my first stop of the day) and then we did a self guided walking tour around the most popular sights of London before finishing up at what I think is probably the single most touristy thing we did on the whole trip, the London Eye. We lucked out and happened to ride up just as the sun was setting though so, honestly, it was incredible and one of the highlights of the day. Seeing London spread out below us as the sun set a brilliant orange on the distant horizon? Perfect way to end the day.

The British Museum

Trafalgar Square

Buckingham Palace

Westminster Abbey

Palace of Westminster

View of River Thames

View from the London Eye

All in all London was a perfectly satisfying way to end the trip and while i’m not sure if we’ll ever visit the city again given all the other places i’d dearly love to venture to, it definetly held it’s own place as one of the great cities of Europe.
~m

Ruin Bars, a Chain Bridge, and Chimney Cakes- Budapest, Hungary

We took the train from Prague to Budapest, out of a bit of a romantic notion of getting to travel across the countryside and while the ride was decidedly long it was still much more enjoyable than stuffing ourselves into tiny budget airline seats (especially when sometimes it feels like the crew might just push the plane off the runway in an attempt to save some fuel).

It was well into the evening when we arrived and after doing a quick currency exchange (from Czech koruna to Hungarian forint) we caught a taxi to the Airbnb we would be staying at on the Buda side of town, just across the river from the beautiful parliament building.  We could see it shimmered a brilliant gold above the dark waters of the Danube and even though it was freezing we huddled out on the apartment balcony taking in the view. Finally though, it was time for rest as we had an early morning planned the next day, a one on one tour of the city with a local.

The next day Brian and I bundled up and got ourselves ready for 4 hours of walking around and exploring the multifaceted history of Budapest. We met up with our WithLocals guide Andras the next morning at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), which was honestly a pretty perfect place to start a tour. Andras was an incredible guide, both for his knowledge of the city’s history and his insight into more modern topics- as a local journalist it was fascinating to get his opinions on local politics and some of the governments most recent controversial laws that had been passed (less than a week after we had visited, massive protests brought much of the Pest side of the city to a standstill).

Andras took us to countless places, starting on the busy metropolitan side of Pest and then over to the more quiet Buda side where we parted ways near Matthias Church.

Hősök tere  (Heroes’ Square)

Interior Details of the Széchenyi Thermal Baths

 Interior Detail of the Hungarian State Opera

Ruin Bar (near Dohány Street Synagogue)

View from across the river of Buda Castle

Várnegyed (Castle Quarter)

Mátyás-templom (Matthias Church)

The Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion)

The sun was setting by the time we parted ways with Andras, with him wishing us the best of luck on the rest of our trip and us thanking him for a lovely time. I can honestly say we wouldn’t have seen half of all the places he took us to and it was invaluable to get the opportunity to explore the city with a knowledgable local, so thank you Andras! After saying good bye, Brian and I stayed in the area a little longer just enjoying the amazing view over the city and wishing we had more time to spend here.

After heading back to our Airbnb apartment to drop off the bag of souvenirs I had picked up and also some groceries, we took a breather and then decided to head back out into the city again, crossing the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge for the second time that day, back over to the Pest side of the city to do some utterly touristy things like ride the Budapest Eye, check out the Christmas market by the incredible St. Stephen’s Basilica and share a yummy kürtőskalács (chimney cake).

Eventually even the temporary sugar high wore off though, and our sore feet reminded us we’d basically spent the whole day walking. We had plans to wake up early the next day to head to Vienna for a day trip so it was definetly prudent to head back and get some rest but we did get some lovely views of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge as we walked across it one last time and in the near distance, the positively glowing Parliament building.

An almost completely perfect day in Budapest even if our feet were pretty much killing us by the time we made it back to our apartment. There is a mysteriousness and almost dark elegance to Budapest that’s hard to describe but, I can honestly say I don’t think any city has enthralled me more. All it’s hidden areas, the deep history steeped into it’s buildings, the unexpected Art Nouveau touches in the architecture amid the more gothic of structures, the modern clash of political turmoil atop the ancient history of this city by the Danube… even just the intensely different vibe from one side of the city to the other, it would be hard for anyone not to fall in love with Budapest, even just a little.

~m

If you’re interested in having your own local guide when you visit Budapest, this is the WithLocals link you can use to get $15 off any private tour you book through them. And nope i’m not sponsored by them, I just honestly loved being able to use them and legit can’t praise the guides I had enough.

Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral- Prague, Czech Republic

There was an excellent crispness to the air that morning, something due to both the winter season and something that was unique to Prague. The Airbnb apartment we were staying in was up high enough that when I woke up that morning I had a chance to pop open the bedroom window to peek out over the red-orange rooftops around us and just take a moment to let it sink in that we were really in Prague. Just a moment, and then I was closing the window so I wouldn’t catch a chill leaning out in just my sleep shirt and then it was a rush to get ready, prepare a quick breakfast  and call for an ride to take us to the Prague Castle complex.

Known as one of the largest ancient castles in the world, it makes sense that its also one of the most popular places in Prague to visit and as such we probably should have shown up earlier to  beat the crowds but honestly, though it was certainly the most crowded place we visited on the whole trip, it wasn’t too bad and we really enjoyed our time here. Though by this point in the trip I’d been to more than a few castles, palaces and grand estates, visiting this castle was definitely a highlight of the trip, both for its unique structure and the many many interesting buildings open to visit inside.

You could probably spend the whole day visiting inside the complex, especially with the Christmas market they set up inside the courtyard by the Golden Lane where you can grab a cup of hot cider to warm up your chilly hands (it was so so so very cold being high up on the hill, even dressed in warm layers).  We didn’t visit every single building and area but we did get the Circuit A ticket which allowed us access to most all areas so if you have the time, I would definetly recommend getting that one.

(Ticket info here )

St. Vitus Cathedral

St George’s Basilica

Old Royal Palace

Golden Lane

Rosenberg Palace

I think we probably the most time in St. Vitus Cathedral and St. George’s Basilica but thats to be expected given how my interests lean towards the gothic and divine. Everywhere else was really interesting to visit though and for the most part, much less crowded as I think the majority of people only really visit the cathedral and the Golden Lane. All in all we spent about 4 hours here before we finally decided it was probably time to exit and head on down to explore the rest of this side of the river before heading back into the old town.
~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

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