Once Upon a Time in Sintra

Once Upon a Time in Sintra

Ever since I was a young girl I’ve had a fascination with fairy tales, princesses, and castles. I blame it on Disney’s expert brainwashing. But, for all of my European travels, I’ve actually visited relatively few actual castles. And the ones I did see turned out to be more like military fortresses than the elegant palaces of my dreams. So imagine my delight when I googled “day trips from Lisbon” and discovered Sintra, a town near the coast dotted with royal retreats, estates, and castles. Needless to say I was sold.

All it took was a 1 hour train ride (don’t get me started on the ticket purchasing process… you need to up your game Rossio station) and an accidental hike up a mountain. #worthit

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Introducing beautiful Sintra and the Pena National Palace!

We arrived in Sintra on a picture perfect winter day (that honestly felt more like Spring) and instantly got swept away by the magic of this town. We could barely take a few steps before we HAD to stop for another photo. Progress was slow.

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Sintra National Palace

We had done our research in advance and knew that of all the castles and palaces in the region, the Pena National Palace was the one we wanted to see most. According to google maps, the pink and yellow palace was approximately a 30 minute walk from the main part of town. Easy.

We started walking up the hilly roads along with many other tourists. But, as we continued up the cobblestone road, our fellow travellers started to dwindle until it was just Megan and I left. We initially didn’t think much of it until it became clear that google maps was a BIG FAT LIAR. This was no 30 minute hike. But we soldered on… (a) because we kept hoping we were almost there (b) because we were too cheap to pony up for a bus pass, but mostly (c) because there really wasn’t another choice. We were alone out there.

At least we had pretty castles to motivate us.

Castelo dos Mouros

Castelo dos Mouros

Pena National Palace!

Pena National Palace!

We did eventually make it to the ticket office where we purchased a park pass for €8 which gave us access to everything except the inside of the palace. Cue epic fairytale photo shoot.

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Sintra was such a worthwhile day trip. My feet may have been throbbing but my camera was full and I definitely got my castle fix for the next year or so.

Do you love castles as much as I do? Any recommendations?

Highlights from Lisbon, Portugal

Highlights from Lisbon, Portugal

From the very first evening wandering the streets of old Alfama, I knew that I was going to fall hard for Lisbon. This city has everything I love about Europe. Narrow winding streets. Grand Squares. Beautiful vistas. Awe-inspiring monuments. I had high expectations for my inaugural trip to Portugal and it did not disappoint. Lisbon is quintessential Europe and a city that deserves a spot on every traveller’s bucket list.

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We jam-packed so much activity into two days that it’s hard to choose just one highlight… so here are a couple of my favourite spots in the city.

Praca do Comercio

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One thing that Europe does better than anywhere else is expansive plazas. In Lisbon, the Praça do Comércio is not only surrounded by gorgeous and brightly coloured buildings but it’s also situated on the Tagus River. A square that is also a waterfront? Yes please.

Belém

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This region of the city is home to not one, not two, but three UNESCO World Heritage sites. So obviously it was a must see.

(1) The Tower of Belém

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(2) Jerónimos Monastery

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(3) Monument to the Discoveries

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Jardim Botânico da Ajuda

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Every once in a while you stumble across a place that isn’t on any must-see tourist list and then ends up being one of your favourite spots. That’s what happened to my park loving travel buddy Megan and I when we stumbled across this completely empty garden with beautiful river vistas. It looked like it fell straight out of a Jane Austen novel and was such a lovely reprieve from the crowded tourist sights. We may or may not have staged an hour long photo shoot…

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Castelo de São Jorge

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What would a trip to a European capital be without a hilltop castle visit? The Castle of St George is an 11th century, Moorish castle & royal residence strategically positioned high on a hill with stunning city views. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in during our visit which inhibited the view but definitely added a level of mystery quite fitting to playing in such a fortress.

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I could have spent weeks exploring this city that clearly has so much more to offer than the conventional sites, but I know that a return trip to Portugal is in my future. This trip was just a teaser for what’s to come.

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Departure Lounge: Portugal & Spain

Departure Lounge: Portugal & Spain

I am finally doing it! I am actually going to visit one of my Top 5 Dream Destinations – PORTUGAL!

Most of the time, my next travel destination is rarely the place I want to go most. That may seem a bit strange but there are a lot of factors to consider when you’re a part-time traveller… for example:

(1) Other people. Am I visiting someone? Am I travelling with someone? This can majorly affect where you go. I probably never would have visited Colombia when I did had my friend not been living there at the time.

(2) Budget. This probably goes without saying but some of the destinations of my dreams are really expensive. I’m looking at you Scandinavia and Australia!

(3) Time of Year / Weather. Call me wimpy (I certainly do) but I am not the least bit excited about the prospect of winter in Iceland. I can usually deal with the extreme heat (and I have – Egypt, Vietnam, Texas, and Italy in summer!) but cold weather makes me quiver like a baby Chihuahua. Not cute. I prefer to travel when the weather is nice and the crowds are less hectic.

So yeah… it doesn’t actually happen very often that I end up going exactly where my heart desires… until now!

On Boxing Day 2014, I am heading to Portugal and then on to Spain with my new favourite travel buddy, Megan. We met in Vietnam a few months back and we are deliriously excited about our next travel adventure. We have limited time off work/school so we chose to split our time between two world-class cities: Lisbon & Barcelona. They are both coastal cities with a mild winter climate… and I’m crossing my fingers for sunshine! Barcelona is known to be a really fun, party city so I’m hoping they show us a good time for New Year’s Eve!

The countdown is on!

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Lisbon to Barcelona