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

To the Louvre Once More- Paris, France

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

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

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

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

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

~m

The Forum Romanum and a Goodbye- Rome, Italy

Was this the highlight of our stay in Rome? Long answer no (St Peters Basilica was surreal but my hurt hurt like the dickens to the point it was excruciating to stand and marvel at it all), short answer heck yes. I honestly can’t emphasize how necessary a visit is to the Roman Forum if you are visiting Rome and considering we almost didn’t go ourselves thats saying something.

I think the only real downside to the visit was that because we chose to do this in conjunction with the Colosseum tour (which isn’t necessary but the ticket price for us just made sense), we didn’t have as much time to explore as I would have liked once the tour concluded. But to be fair, I feel like I would need a full day to see it all and I’m more than willing to come back to do so.

Being for centuries the center of everyday life in Rome, the sprawling ruins of the forum are capable of capturing anyone’s imagination and I would almost dare anyone to visit and not be filled with wonder and immense curiosity at the lives of the people who inhabited these spaces.

( For information on how to get there, it’s location- next to the Colosseum it’s pretty obvious but still-, the price of admission and opening hours I would suggest going here. )

After paying my respects at Julius Caesar’s alter (not to be confused with his grave, but where his remains were cremated and where his altar is dedicated ) we headed back down the street to our Airbnb apartment where it was time to pack things up for the next mornings journey to Paris.

After snacking on what will always remain the best tasting strawberries that I’d picked up earlier on our walk back from the Pantheon, I alternated between packing and making sure we were reading for our early departure and marveling at the incredible view from our windows as the sun set and night descended complete with twinkling stars.

I can say with a surety that i’m sure has been expressed millenniums before- there is no city quite like Rome and I would almost say that any first time visit to Italy isn’t complete without at least a stop to the city that all roads lead to.

~m

A Walk Through History in The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

After making it back from our morning sightseeing walk and depositing the souvenirs we (I) had obtained as well as the fresh fruit I had picked up from a market stall along the way, we headed back out just down the street to meet up with the tour group that would be taking us through the Colosseum.

These two photos here- of me and this flag i’m holding-  are rather important, if only because one should inform the other. Through out the whole portion of the trip we spent in Italy, more often then not, I kept being mistaken for being Italian (though I got a couple of “français ?” as well) . And this wouldn’t have been a big deal if I was fluent in Italian but i’m not- even at this point in time as I write this, i’m only painfully awkward at a conversational level. I can understand the language well enough but definetly not enough to speak it when i’m mistaken as Italian by a local and they begin speaking to me rapidly in said language (the look of disappointment in their eyes as I began haltingly answering back in Italian and then was forced to switch to English is a giant motivator in the last few months of study i’ve put into learning the language btw).

So anyways, story time. Me and the bf signed up to take a tour of the Colosseum + the Roman Forum and once we met up with the group at the appointed time and location, we headed on towards the entrance, where the tour guide got tickets on our behalf and once we made it up to the point where security passes you through a turnstile, he would use each ticket to have us go through. When it was my turn, I passed through without incident but when the bf tried to go through, the turnstile wouldn’t turn- apparently there was an error with the tickets.

The thing is, we had signed up for this tour specifically because it was the only way to tour the underground levels of the Colosseum, as you had to do it accompanied in a tour group but also with a licensed archeologist guide that would meet the group inside the Colosseum. This archeologist was already waiting for us at the designated meeting point and as our tour guide was being held up by trying to figure out what was wrong with the tickets, he turned to our small group and said, “Ok, I need one of you to take this flag while I go fix this.” And then, somehow, I ended up being the person who got to lead out tour group down to the meeting point. Which would have been fine, if a bit of a novel experience, if the archeologist waiting for us hadn’t immediately pounced on my when she saw I was holding the flag to begin rapidly talking in Italian and gesturing to our group with questions.

The rest of the tour group jumped in rapidly to correct her and let her know where our real guide was and her response after realizing the situation and mix up was a long and hearty laugh, many apologies and the words “Mi dispiace! You just have that face- doesn’t she just have that face?” and thats the story of how I got to lead a tour group in the Colosseum for all of 10 minuets and was mistaken as a tour guide while sporting a rather old and overly large hoodie I borrowed from the bf (professional attire at it’s finest i’m sure).

I’d like to say the rest of the tour in the Colosseum went without incident but someone actually ended up puking while we were in the underground levels. Thankfully, they were ok, and it was near the end of that part of the tour and even with all this little things I would still highly recommend signing on to take the tour that enables you to visit the underground levels- most especially because you will be guided by an actual archeologist who has been working there in the Colosseum . I’ve never had a tour guide who was as passionate as she was- not only with telling us the history of the Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) but with impressing into us the importance of acknowledging the incredible amount of human suffering that went on there, especially while we toured the underground levels.

This is where people worked, lived, fought and died, I remember her telling us. I had already known the majority of combatants who fought in the arena were generally slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war but there was something about standing there underneath the arena itself as she showed us where the fighters would have prepared, as we were led us across narrow dark hallways where light barely shown through, as we were shown the pulleys and levers that would transport animals up or bodies back down-  there is a difference to reading about history and standing face to face with it.

That white part you see there in this photo above, that is the only part of the arena floor that remains and once again, you can only step out onto it with the guided archeological tour- and let me tell you, that alone is worth the price of admission. Standing there on the elevated platform and looking out over the arena stands is almost enough to transport you, if only for a moment, to AD 80 when the amphitheater was completed.

By the by, it’s worth nothing how impressive it is that given when it was first built, it still remains the worlds largest amphitheatre.

The rest of the tour was impressive, but as soon as we caught a glimpse of the Roman Forum from one of the upper levels and were told that was where the next part of our tour would be, I could barely hold in my excitement. If you know anything about me and traveling, you know almost nothing interests me as much as ruins and here was this impressive sprawl of ancient roman ruins just waiting to be explored.  We said goodbye to the Colosseum and headed on to the next part of our tour.

We walked slowly from the outer edges of the forum, the views of the Colosseum all that more beautiful to me for having been inside, and deeper into the heart of the Roman Forum.

~m