The Monumental Palácio Nacional de Mafra- Mafra, Portugal

“Oof, you know I think we’re a little lost.”

Those words usually inspire a flurry of mild anxiety in me no matter who says them but, for some reason, as Silvia peers at her phone on some random bumpy backroad near a town who’s name I can’t pronounce, I just feel a sense of calm descend over me.

We had left the beautiful Palace of Monserrate  about two hours before this, stopping at a couple of view points along the way, most notably the Miradouro das Azenhas do Mar (the observation deck area pictured above) where we had wandered along the coastline for a bit, just chatting about the area and our plans for the rest of the day. Already Silvia had guided me around the lovely town of Sintra and toured me through the grounds of Monserrate, as well as a couple of other stops after that. But we were at a bit of an impasse now, because she still had me for next 4 hours and we weren’t quite sure what to do. Usually people picked another larger palace for her to take them to, like Pena Palace, and/or hadn’t already gone to Cabo da Roca but of course I had to be different and while she still had her last stop of the day planned, the fishing village of Cascais, she really wanted me to get the most out of the day with her.

“Ok, hey! Do you want to go to Mafra? Mafra Palace? I think you will like it.” 

I had actually looked up the Palace of Mafra on my first day in Sintra and had been interested but unfortunately it was about a 40 min drive from where I was staying and I really didn’t think the effort of trying to get out there and back would be worth it. But, if Silvia was offering to take me, why not?

And thats how we found ourselves driving along the quiet road towards Mafra, occasionally doubling back when a road sign told us we had gone the wrong way and jotting down phone numbers of any properties for sale in the area (her husband works in real estate and after I saw her take a photo of a “for sale by owner” sign, I kept my eyes peeled for them as well, a new kind of roadtrip game to play). It should have been slightly stressful, not really knowing where we were going and traveling with someone I had never met before but, honestly? It was the most relaxed I had felt in weeks. This of course, probably had something to do with the fact that just two weeks prior my whole department at work had been laid-off and I was the only one kept on from a team of about 30 people. A shocking turn of events to be sure, but once I had landed in Portugal I had been determined not to think on it, not to move on from it exactly, but at least not linger on the unexpected hole blasted in my work life. (Obviously there is something to be said for being lucky enough to not only keep my job but be able to then jet off to Europe on a preplanned trip and I really can’t overstate that enough for having enabled me to keep some semblance of calm about the whole thing and not just flip a table on the spot)

Chatting with Silvia about Portuguese culture, her family and my plans for the rest of the trip as we watched the landscape change from coastal to hilly farmland, winding our way through quiet towns to whatever Mafra would hold, it was the best kind of escape I could ask for.

Built between 1717 and 1755 during the reign of King John V, the palace was constructed per a vow the king made in 1711- in summary, he would order a great convent built if his wife gave birth to an heir. As Silvia told me, the vow must have really worked because the couple went on to have not only their first child María Barbara but an additional 6 children beyond that. Though it was originally meant to be a convent only large enough to house 13 Capuchin friars, due to the immense influx of wealth received from Brazil (a Portuguese colony at the time), construction was vastly expanded to have enough space for 330 friars. The original design was also altered to include state rooms, so in the end the proposed convent ended up serving as hunting retreat for the king as well due to it’s proximity to the royal hunting preserves in the area.

It’s hard to really explain the size of this palace in terms that can be visualized. I could tell you the front façade of the palace is over 250 meters long and stands high above the surrounding town buildings at a not inconsiderable 68 meters. I could tell you there are over 1,200 rooms built around the central awe inspiring basilica, not to mention the rare books library that houses over 30,000 books on it’s shelves. All these things don’t really make you feel the true size of how big this place is though- how tiny you feel inside- especially when you and tour guide seem to be the only people wandering in and out of rooms, only the occasional other visitor seen far ahead of you.


We spent about two hours there, slowling winding our way around from one end to the other, taking in the sumptuous gorgeousness of some rooms and the almost stark emptiness of others. I think we saw one other person visiting while we were there and I could almost imagine what it would have been like to wander these halls as if I lived there, no one to disturb me as I walked down the long halls. Silvia apologized many times for not knowing too much of the history of the palace since she rarely visited but I was just thankful she had brought me and made sure she realized I couldn’t have asked for a better guide for the day.

The library was the most memorable place in the whole palace, at least to me. The day we visited was sunny, allowing golden light to spill into the deep rectangular room, the shelves packed from end to end with books as far as my eye could see and though the area was roped off to prevent damage to the library, being able to take photos and some moments of video was enough for me to cement the visit as a complete and happy success.

We ended the trip with a visit to the giftshop so I could grab some postcards for friends as well as a book on other rare book libraries in Portugal (you can bet this inspired many ideas of future trips once I read it) and then we were back on the road towards Cascais.

Unfortunately, a perfect day from start to finish was not to be as I ended up having to cut the last part of our trip short due to some unexpected nausea and stomach cramps. I promised Silvia I would much rather just head on back to my hotel than have her try and cart me around Cascais- that though I would have loved to see it with her, it was no great loss to save it for a future trip. She was of course accommodating and even stopped at a gas station before she dropped me off to buy me a water and some Sprite to settle my stomach which I honestly just love her for. We hugged tightly as we said goodbye outside my hotel and I thanked her profusely for an amazing day, promising to leave her as high of a review as possible on the WithLocals site I had booked her through.

I ended my day sipping Sprite out on the patio connected to my rooms, one of the house cats sitting above keeping me company, reading about other beautiful libraries in Portugal and already dreaming of coming back to visit them one day.

~m

Btw, if you’re at all interested, this is the WithLocals link you can use to get $15 off any private tour you book through them (and I in turn would get $15 to use as well, which hey, thats nice). If you do end up going to Lisbon and Silvia is available as a guide for a tour you’re looking at, I can’t recommend enough that you book her. She was so knowledgable, friendly and just one of the loveliest people i’ve ever met and I honestly would love to go back and take another tour with her. (No i’m not sponsored by them btw, I just honestly loved being able to use them and legit can’t praise the guides I had enough)

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

Wooden Masks, Colorful Frescoes, and Rain Soaked Violins- Mittenwald, Germany

I woke up that morning to the sound of soft rain and my phone buzzing with unanswered texts and WhatsApp messages. It was my last full day in Germany and I almost didn’t want to get out of bed , just to prolong the time I had left. But Julia would be arriving soon to pick me up so we could make our way to the days adventure so lounging around in bed really wasn’t an option. Besides, when had time ever stopped for someone?

An hour later I was downstairs, checking out and receiving my complimentary chocolate and then shortly thereafter I was running through the rain to get to Julia’s van. We drove around Garmisch looking for somewhere to stop in at for breakfast (and coffee for me) all the whole wondering if the rain would ever let up. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t)

Breakfast was procured at an amazing little cafe and I had what felt like my 100th cappuccino of the trip (more about that in my last post) and then once more, we set off into the rain.

Our first stop of the day was the Werdenfels Museum, in the Partenkirchen section of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The history of this town is pretty interesting, especially considering that for most of their respective histories, they were separate towns, with Garmisch in the west and Partenkirchen in the east. They were forced to join together in anticipation of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games by Adolf Hitler and while they still remain recognized as one town, each side retains its own unique identity and atmosphere. Julia and I mainly spent our time in the Garmisch part but that morning we ventured over to the other side.

Definetly the smallest of museum i’ve ever been in, but also one of the most interesting. Julia and I spent about two hours here, walking around the small rooms and up creaking wooden stairs, taking in all the items on display . One section we stayed in front of for a while was this room that held a case displaying wooden face masks. These, she explained to me, were face masks people wore for the Fasching festival, which I later learned was a bit like Carnaval, basically a pre-lent celebration.

I thought about those masks a lot after we left, the history behind them, and frankly also just the way they managed to be wonderfully artistic while also being slightly terrifying. It didn’t help that Julia noticed and said, once we had left and were in the dimly lit underground parking garage, “It would be really scary if you were in your car and looked out and a person in one of those mask was just outside, but also kind of funny too- how would you describe them to the police.” In either case, the museum was very interesting and there were so many great items and pieces of art and history to look over that even if I might have had some small nightmares about those masks later, I didn’t regret the visit.

After a morning spent indoors we were ready to breathe in some fresh air, even if the rain still hadn’t let up. Julia suggested a quick trip over to the town of Mittenwald and off we went, curling our way in her van towards what ended up being another dreamy fairly-tale like town.

A town famous for its painted houses and violin making history, it’s also well known for its colorful church of Saints Peter and Paul. We of course had to pay it a visit.

A beautiful interior matches the almost exuberant exterior and even the rainy day couldn’t diminish the way it stands out even amid all the other brightly colored buildings. Very few people were inside that day and so we got to gaze up at the frescoes in relative peace and quiet, sheltered from the rain outside. It was the last church we visited on my trip there, and while I can’t say it was my favorite (given the almost literal dozen I visited) it definitely holds a special place and if you’re in Mittenwald or even in the general area, I highly suggest you make the visit.

We walked around a bit more after that, the streets quiet and mostly empty apart from some other intrepid sightseers. The air smelled just like it had when we were in Ramsau, clean and crisp but with the scent of woodsy burning firewood drifting over us. Eventually though, even the comforting smell and brightly colored buildings weren’t enough to distract us from the way our feet were getting rather cold and how time was rapidly moving towards afternoon.

And so, rain still falling, we headed back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and then later, back to Geretsried so I could repack and get ready to finally head off to the trips last destination, Paris.

~m