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?

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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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2014: A Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review

W h a t.  A.  Y e a r !  I can’t believe that it’s actually time to say goodbye to 2014 and what has been my best travel year since 2006. I somehow managed to squeeze 18 trips into the past 12 months and I did it all while holding down a full-time office job. That’s right people… you CAN travel the world without quitting your day job. To celebrate the end of an absolutely incredible year, here’s a review of my 2014 travel adventures.

1. New Orleans (January)

I began 2014 with a bang and a kiss (teehee) while watching fireworks over the Mississippi River in New Orleans! This is definitely one for the record books and redeemed a holiday that I had pretty much given up on. Now it’s my new mission to celebrate NYE in a new city every year! photo-3 2. Victoria (February)

One of many weekend trips to Vancouver Island to visit my best friend (guest blogger Katie Smith) – it was cold. So cold that the fountains in front of parliament froze over. You don’t see that everyday.

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A less cold weekend back in Victoria to visit same friend… yeah, I’m awesome that way ;)

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4. Lake Whatcom (April)

Only the single best girls weekend ever! Okay, that might have been the wine talking but seriously, we had a great time checking out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and relaxing by a very lovely lake.  IMG_0652 5. Winnipeg (May)

At long last, I made my first trip back to Winnipeg in nearly four years. I used to go all the time (to visit family) but with domestic flight prices soaring, it’s a rare occurrence these days. Lucky for me I have connections and when my WestJetter friend hooked me up with 40% off – I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to catch my dear cousin (the actress!) on closing night of her musical. IMG_0932 6. Las Vegas (May)

VEGAS BABY!! Okay, so maybe my long weekend in Sin City wasn’t exactly what movies are made about… but it was fun! I hadn’t been since I was a teenager so the adult version was a whole new experience. IMG_0829 7. Vietnam (June)

My first trip to Asia and I chose Vietnam (by way of China) and decided to go all by myself too. Well, I didn’t end up being alone for long as I made a lot of great friends on the road. Two weeks went by all too fast as I sweat (holy hot batman!) my way up the coast enjoying beautiful beaches, amazing food, and fascinating cities. IMG_1144 8. Lac Le Jeune (July)

My first (real) camping trip was a roaring success! My expert camper friends planned a perfect two days in the Central Interior where we basically just lazed around the lake and ate. Summer in BC = Bliss! Lac Le Jeune 9. Kelowna (August)

Last year’s annual mother/daughter(s) weekend took us to Whistler Village where my sister-in-law and I took the plunge by bungee jumping for our first times. This year we headed to wine country for a perfect weekend of boating, drinking, touring… basically living the good life! IMG_1616 10. Whistler (August)

When my friend Katie casually mentioned that she’d never been to Whistler before, I hung up on her and called a hotel immediately. Whistler is an annual summer retreat for me and I’ve been at least 15 times. So, I was thrilled to show off this little resort town and all of the off-season activities it has to offer. IMG_1801 11. Tofino (August)

This trip! The trip that I never thought was actually going to happen. First we were going to Alaska. Then we were going to Hawaii. Then we ditched the idea completely. Then we were back to Alaska. But, by the end of it all, we settled on Tofino/Ucluelet for our first family vacation since 2007.

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12. Sunshine Coast (September)

When my friend Kendra got a job in the seaside town of Gibsons, I knew that it was finally  time to take a trip to the beautiful Sunshine Coast. We spent a perfect final weekend of summer driving up the coast and feasting our eyes on the impressive Skookumchuck Narrows!

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

13. Prince George (September)

Not the most glamourous destination on the list but it was travel and a new city. This work trip took me the furthest north that I’ve ever been in Canada and I got to squeeze in a quick visit with my friend Mel. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find impressive old growth forests nearby and a lot more activity than I would have initially guessed in such a remote community. This really is Beautiful British Columbia from top to bottom.IMG_2156 14. Boston (November)

One of my favourite benefits of traveling is the great people you meet along the way. Megan and I became fast friends while visiting Vietnam earlier this year and we were already googling flight prices between Vancouver and Boston before we even went our separate ways. I knew right away that I wanted to see New England in the autumn and I lucked out with an absolutely glorious weekend of blue skies and radiant fall colours. The Northeast is definitely a region I am eager to explore in more depth.IMG_2484 15. Seattle (November)

A frequent stomping ground for concerts, shopping trips, cruise departures, and cheap flights over the years, Seattle has become a second home in many ways. And now, with my family’s recent obsession with the Seattle Seahawks, we have more excuses to go and more love than ever for our sister city on the West Coast.  IMG_2506 16. Victoria again (November)

Back to Vancouver Island again… this time for some pre-Christmas festivities in sub-zero temperatures. Note to self… start visiting in summer from now on. Brr…

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17. Portland (December)

When I found out that my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily were moving from the mid-West to the weirdest coolest city in America… I couldn’t start scheming fast enough. One weekend was barely enough time to get a taste of what the city has to offer so expect many more adventures in Oregon in the months and years to come!

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18. Lisbon (December)

When the office shuts down over the holidays, why not celebrate in… P O R T U G A L ! This quick Euro trip reunites me (once again!!) with my Boston Bestie, Megan. We are spending the final four days of 2014 in beautiful Lisbon… and the travels don’t stop there! Follow my adventures into 2015 and see how (and where!) I ring in the new year!

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2014 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones): USA / VietnamPortugal

States Visited: 5 (2 new ones): Louisiana / Washington / Nevada / Massachusetts / Oregon

Plane Rides Taken: 12 (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were heavily discounted by family/friend discounts, two were paid for by work, two were almost covered entirely by points, and the remaining four inspire me to keep looking for great deals.

Other Modes of Transportation: 10 ferries, 3 overnight trains, 3 buses (long-haul), 1 motorcycle, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 16 (YVR, MSY, SEA, YWG, YXS, LAX, BOS, AMS, LIS, BCN, BLI, LAS, CAN, SGN, HAN, MCI)

Beds Slept In: 26. Of those, 10 were hotels, 7 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were sleeper trains,  2 were house rentals, one was an Airbnb apartment rental, one was a bed & breakfast, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

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