The new year is just a couple days away, and for us here at And Three To Go that means that we have been traveling about in this wonderful world of ours for the past 9 months! It is hard … Continue reading
Well, here it’s Wednesday again, and we are leaving for another country tomorrow. The last 8 days felt slow, but went so fast. I am just starting to acclimate and love the amazing city of Budapest, Hungary.
It is interesting that none of us three had been affected by the time changes very much or culture changes either for that matter until we arrived here. We had very few issues in Lisbon, a bit more in Disneyland Paris, and many more here in Budapest it felt like. It felt like a daunting task to be here and now I am sad to leave as it feels as though I have just let the realness of the city in.
There were a couple of reasons that it was hard to get used to being here. The first was the jet lag. For some reason, all of a sudden, the time changes caught up with all of us and the hour difference in time from Lisbon, set us back a couple of days. All three of us struggled with exhaustion, crankiness and headaches the first three days we were here. It was really a bummer, we thought that our mutant powers made us invincible to jet lag.
Secondly, it was the language. Hungarian is…well…a really foreign language. There is no connection to any other words that I know unless they are words that we all have transferred from another culture, such as buffet or manicure. But it took me this whole week just to master saying köszönöm, which means thank you. Its a tough language to understand and speak, I wish I had had more time to practice.
Third, the food here was just okay. We did find some great restaurants, such as a bavarian place, a vegan place, and a buffet that were really good. But these were all not really hungarian places and I am not much of a soup person so I didn’t even venture to try the Hungarian Goulash (I know…shame on me). I will write more in my Friday post about the wonderful restaurants that we did find and love.
Fourth, and last, the prices here are much higher than we expected. Mind you we have been blinded by the wonderful cost of living in Portugal, so it is probably not as bad as say, Paris or London, but it was a bit more expensive for the things we love than we had planned. For example, in Lisbon I paid 20 Euros for an exciting new haircut and here I just had to pay 32 Euros for a trim. (I chopped off all my hair and now sport a pixie cut..who would have thought I could have pulled it off?! But I love it!). Also the food costs her are significantly more than I am used to, about 30-40 euros a meal. It really isn’t that bad, I know, but my stupid expectations get me every time.
Now, after I have said all these things, I want to tell you that I love Budapest, I love the architecture, the weather has actually been sunny for 4 out of 8 days we have been here, and the people are very helpful and friendly. I want to come back and experience some more. Until next time Budapest… viszontlátásra (good-bye)!
Since landing on Portuguese soil, everyone we have met has told us that we NEEDED to spend some time in the Algarve. That the beauty, warm weather and beaches in that area were the best Portugal had to offer. We kept saying that we were going to go, but life here in Lisbon kept us busy for a month or so and the Algarve was put on the back burner.
But our time in Portugal was growing short, we had made definite plans to start traveling again and going south for some sunshine was put back on the plate.
We made the final decision to go and check out this gorgeous destination after Chad got a tattoo from an artist named Pedro that lives in the Algarve and invited us down to check it out. (By the way, Chads tattoo turned out amazing! If you ever want a tattoo in Lisbon, check out Pedro Soos at Queen of Hearts.) Pedro even invited us to stay at his house, but we decided that we would stay in a hotel as Zoë can be rather loud and we hate to inconvenience anyone. Everyone we have met here has been so welcoming and hospitable and friendly, I just love it!
Instead, I booked a room at the Iberlagos Apartments. Despite some bad reviews, the price and location seemed worth the chance.
Chad researched the best way to get down to Lagos in the Algarve, the trains cost about 25 euros a person, and took three hours, or there was a bus, but we were worried about being stuck on a bus with a toddler for 3 hours. We wanted to see a bit more of Portugal, and take our time to stop if we wanted, so we decided to rent a car. The price of renting a car was just a bit more than taking the train, even with the price of gas and such. Although I will say that our jaws dropped when we had to pay 65 euros to fill up our “economy” car. Yikes! Still, even with the price of fuel, renting a car was not too expensive and gave us some autonomy.
So early in the morning, a couple Mondays ago, we took the metro to the airport and picked up our rental car. We excitedly got Zoë settled in her car seat and headed out to what we thought would be a couple of hot sunny days on the beach.
There are a couple of options when driving in Portugal, you can take the back roads, or the toll highways. If you take the toll roads it costs about 30 Euros and gets you to Lagos in about 2.5 hours. We wanted to take the slow roads so we could see what the country side looked like, it only took about 3.5 hours and it was fascinating to see the small towns and landscape. Portugal’s landscape is so similar to California, especially northern California. We felt like we were home. The way was fairly simple and we only took a wrong turn one time that set us back about 10 minutes. The signage along the way was pretty easy to follow, and google maps helped us out as well.
We arrived in Lagos, to the address of the flat we rented and found a horribly dilapidated building that looked like a mix between a prison and a crack house. It just didn’t seem right, the pictures didn’t match what it showed on the web, the description of the place according to other patrons reviews didn’t match either. It didn’t have any signage to say it was the vacation stay rentals that I had found and decided on. I started to freak out a little on the inside…if we were staying in this building, I would never live it down.
We stopped and I ran inside a restaurant and asked where the Iberlagos Apartments were and was massively relieved when the helpful woman told me they were down the way a bit.
We reached the apartments finally (after having to stop one more time for directions) and realized that the address they had on the website was incorrect (obviously) and that the grounds of the apartment complex looked well-maintained. I breathed a sigh of relief and we set out to find the reception office. It was a little hard to find, but we finally noticed the tiny sign that said “Recepção”. We checked in and were shown to an apartment with an amazing view of the pool, grounds and beach below. It had a small patio, which was exactly what I wanted.
The apartment itself, was small, a studio with a murphy bed, a small kitchen, and a bathroom with 2 showers (couldn’t figure that one out). It was musty, like no one had been in the apartment except to drop off the clean linens in quite some time. Regardless, it was clean and I was happy that it had such a beautiful view and direct access to the golden sand beach below.
The only unfortunate thing about this trip was that the weather was cold, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and windy. Yes, yet again, the cold weather was following us. We decided not to let it get us down and put on our swimsuits to go down to the pool. I was there to work on my tan, and I was going to even if I froze doing so.
There were two pools, an adult pool and a large kiddie pool that had a Super Mario Brothers looking toadstool waterfall in the center for the kids to run through. The water was freezing, but Z wanted to walk around in the water and luckily she has a loving father that is willing to suffer for her.
We were told by the “lifeguard” that we needed a pass to enter the pool area, so Chad ran and got the pass (it would have cost us 4.50€ a person otherwise). Then he told us that we were not allowed to use the lounge chairs without renting them either. We laid in the grass for a bit and then the cold got to all of us and we headed back to our apartment.
We went to the grocery store and picked up some local cheese, meat, bread and wine and had dinner on our apartment patio. Zoë went to bed and Chad and I sat bundled up in our warm clothes and took pictures of the sunset from our patio. It was a great start to the trip. I prayed that the weather would improve the next day so we could have some fun together.
The next morning Z woke us up bright and early and we headed down to town for some breakfast at about 8:00am. It was only about a 10 minute walk, a beautiful seaside walk. I loved it! Not only did I love the walk, but the weather was already warm! It looked like it was going to be a hot day!
We ate some breakfast at a cafe, it was really nothing special and headed down to walk by the water. All along the way there were kiosks of people selling tickets for boat rides to see dolphins or to the grottos, or for fishing trips. We stopped and talked to a few of them and decided to get tickets for a sailboat trip out to the ocean, with a speed boat trip through the grotto and sea caves. It was 2 hours long, 15 euros a person (Z was free) and the sailboat was fully fitted with a restroom and bar.
We were supposed to check in to board the sailboat in 45 minutes. We only partially rushed home to get our things, thinking that the walk back to the apartment was quicker than it was.
As I was putting sunscreen on the babe, Chad tells me we are supposed to check in at that moment! We ran around, threw some stuff in my purse incase we decided to swim, and ran to the car.
After hitting every red light along the way (it seems so cliché that that happens every time one runs late don’t you think?), we made it to the marina. I jumped out of the car to go check in 15 minutes late. A lady was looking for us and told us where to go… Chad went and parked the car, I ran and helped him get Zoë out of the car and the lady ran with us to where the sailboat was already sailing away. Lucky for us, people running late happens often, and they had a motor boat on standby ready to take us to the sailboat.
We made a rather embarrassing entrance onto the sailboat, and after a few moments and some quick instructions from the skipper, we were running after Z, trying to make sure that she didn’t fall over board. She is such a brave little kid, she had no problem getting her sea legs and wanted to help them raise the sails too. It was so much fun to watch her.
After an hour on the sail boat, we hopped on a motor boat to go to the sea caves. It was fascinating and fun! Zoë thought we were looking for Captain Hook’s treasure cave, and she kept calling out for the Lost Boys. It was incredibly cute.
After seeing all the caves, we returned to the sailboat and then to the port. We walked to have some lunch at a restaurant by the dock, I was starving! I had some pretty good typical Portuguese bacalhau (salted cod) and Chad got the most amazing stuffed baby cuttlefish I have ever had. He had to practically put a barrier around his plate so he could eat some without me stealing it off his fork.
We drove back to our apartment and went down to the beach below our apartment. It was the Dona Ana Beach, and it had bathrooms, and a restaurant and bar right on the beach. We laid out in the sun while Z played in the sand. The water was freezing, so I did my best to stay out of it, but my two year old told me what to do, and finally I relented.
We stayed on the beach until the sun went down. It was a great day. Z went to bed and Chad and I spent another night, this time a warm one, sitting on the patio, enjoying our blessed life.
The next day we checked out of our apartment, sad that we didn’t plan to stay one more day, ate breakfast and then started the drive home, more tan and happy than we were when we arrived.
On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped by Pedro’s’ house and had lunch with him and his lovely wife, Vanessa, and their two amazing and smart kids, Lilo and Bruno. I had such a great time getting to know Vanessa, Pedro and the kids. That is one of the things I love most about traveling, getting to know new people, making new friends, and learning more about other cultures. It was truly the best way to end our trip to the Algarve.
We have been back in Lisbon for almost two weeks now and we have spent that time preparing to leave for the next leg of our journey. I love Portugal and am sad to say good-bye, especially to all the lovely people that I have gotten to know. I know we will be back though, we have so much more of Portugal to see and experience.
Tomorrow, we fly to Paris, France, to celebrate Zoë’s second birthday at Disneyland Paris! I am very excited! I will have so much to tell you on Wednesday! Until then, ciao!
This past week Chad, Zoë and I have been doing a little traveling to other parts of Portugal. We visited Porto, in the north, for a couple of days and just got back today from a trip to Lagos in the south. I plan on writing more about these two vastly different cities on Friday in my travel post, so subscribe so you can read all about it.
We got back to Lisbon today to a huge city wide party. Tonight is the Saint Anthony Festival, which starts in the early evening and continues all night. And it is going on in every neighborhood, currently the song “What a Feeling” is playing loud enough on the street below that we can hear it perfectly in our fifth floor apartment. People are laughing, talking, singing along to the music. It sounds like a really fun night.
I have to say I am a little jealous. I am incredibly blessed that my amazing daughter is in bed and, pardon the cliche, is sleeping like a baby through all the noise. I will not jinx myself and say that I wish she would stay awake later…heck no, I would never wish that…I enjoy my evenings while she is asleep. Sometimes though I do miss being able to go out on the town after dark. Especially when it is right outside my front door.
I sit here and think how I wish I could go outside with everyone else, and then I realize how much more I have seen of the places we have been because I do not go out late at night. Not only that, but it also helps to be woken at 6:30 or 7 am everyday so i get the most time possible to partake in real life in the cities we have visited. A special thanks to Zoë for being my little human alarm clock.
This journey is completely different from Chad and I’s pre-baby travels, and for the better I think. Zoë has made every part of this adventure acutely more special and fulfilling. I not only get to experience different and wonderful cultures, but I get to see how they enthrall and excite Zoë. It is a better feeling than I can even describe.
So I willingly give up my night life (despite being a tiny bit envious), because living on the road with my toddler, is the most exciting and worthwhile venture I could ever undertake. Being a mom is rad, that is all I can say.
I am off to bed early…Good night all!
It is the small things that change my day, either negatively (like my day last Wednesday…please try not to judge me harshly for my whining) or positively.
Today was a day where the small things have affected me positively. It has been an absolutely wonderful day! Thank you God!
We haven’t really done any touristy type things so far this week, Zoë and I have been playing around while Chad has tried to get all of his work accomplished before we head to Porto tomorrow for two days. I am very excited to see a new part of Portugal! This week has pretty much been a normal week, except today was amazing!
It may seem insignificant to some of you, but yesterday I finally found a salon where they have a waxer! The only kind of hair removal I had found here so far was laser hair removal (scary!), Nair, and a good old fashioned razor. Sorry, but none of these are for me, I need some beeswax and a couple of fabric strips to get rid of my unwanted hair.
So, back to the salon…Not only did the receptionist speak decent english (thank goodness, as my portuguese is still sub-par to say the least), but it’s literally two blocks from our apartment. I immediately made an appointment for myself to get the god-awful excess hair removed from my body. I have not been waxed since we were in Curacao over a month ago. For those of you that know me, you know that I am not really that hairy of a lady. I honestly do not have to shave my legs more than once every month or so (I really do realize how blessed I am by this). But my eyebrows and underarms…that is a whole other story. After letting my underarm hair grow for over a month, let me just say, I looked like I should have been at Woodstock. I finally caved and shaved them. It was a sad day for me, but it really had to be done, I could’t wait any longer and wasn’t willing to try the laser on such a sensitive area of my body.
I am now a hairless and happy woman! The esthetician was professional, personable and proficient in her work. It was so nice to be pampered for an hour today. I left feeling like I was walking on air, although that could have been the 10 pounds of hair I left behind.
Another thing that made this day wonderful, was that Zoë did not throw one tantrum all day, actually listened to my instructions, and we had a great time playing all day long! It was eye-opening to me how much her moods affects mine and vice versa. I guess I should get used to that fact, two females living together can cause some serious turmoil…poor Chad. Now I know how my parents felt, well just slightly…they had three girls and a boy…there were about 10 years there that someone was going through puberty in that house. That, to me, sounds like hell on earth…props to you Mom and Dad!
Chad and I have made some plans to leave Lisbon, we have booked and completely planned our next two destinations, which is very exciting to me. It is bittersweet though, I really love Lisbon. If Thailand doesn’t work out for us, I already told Chad I think we should consider coming back to Lisbon to stay.
The next two destinations are so different from where we expected to go, but God has other plans for us obviously. And I love that we are blessed to be able to do all this. Life is good. God is good. Now I just need to make sure my attitude stays good. Thanks for staying with me through the good and bad times my friends!
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. James 5:13
This past Tuesday, we decided to check out one of the oldest standing structures in Lisbon. The Castelo de São Jorge, or Saint Georges Castle, is an imposing fortress that stands on the highest hill in the city. From pretty much anywhere in the city you can look up and see this awe-inspiring piece of history staring at you from amidst the trees surrounding it. This castle calls to be noticed, and I have heard it’s call since we arrived here. Finally, on Tuesday, the weather started to change for the better and we could make our way to check it out. I was so happy! Sun and history, can you really ask for anything more? That’s a rhetorical question guys…
The weather was warm (probably about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so a little cold still to me) and Chad and I needed some physical activity so we decided that we would walk to the castle. Like I said, it is on the highest hill in the city, but to our amazingly toned legs (kindly given to us by our four flights of stairs to our apartment) it was a refreshing little jaunt. Okay, so I am exaggerating a
lot little. But really the hike up the hill was not all that horrible. It was a steep incline, but in all only took us about 15 minutes from start to finish. And to top it all off, all that wonderful exercise made it so I could eat ice cream later without the normal guilt I usually suffer with eating sweets.
Most people choose to take the bus or even a taxi up the hill (obviously they do not have our
now strained and tired awesomely powerful legs). It is up to you which way you make your way up, but do it! This has been my favorite site so far in Lisbon.
The price to enter the castle is 7.50 euros for adults. The castle admission includes a museum filled with ancient ceramics, run of the castle garden, getting to see the archaeological dig with walls dating from the 7th century BC (I immediately thought of my dad…I got to see something over 2000 years old dad!), and the most amazing view I have ever seen of Lisbon city. There are many hills and photo spots that I have passed by without a thought, but the view from Castelo de São Jorge, just breath-taking. Our pictures do not do it justice.
When you are in the castle, you have pretty much the run of the whole area. You can climb stairs up onto the outer walls (which I did for about 10 minutes, but for some reason my fear of heights kicked in and I had to get down) and take more pictures of this beautiful city.
The castle that stands right now was built in the 14th century over remains of a fortress that was built in the pre-roman era! The grounds and castle walls are impeccably maintained. There’s a fancy looking restaurant that serves dinner and a cafeteria/snack bar if you need a bite to eat or just a coffee. Zoë loved running around and looking at the peacocks that run (and try to hide from all the crazy kids on school field trips) around the garden.
We spent a couple of hours running around the castle and imagining ourselves as royalty. It was a perfect amount of time to see everything and was one of the funnest afternoons so far. I would definitely recommend that you check it out, there is something in this castle for all different kinds of interests!
If you would like more information about the castle check out these helpful websites: GoLisbon, Wikipedia, Castles.Info, and Viva Travel Guides .
Here are a few more photos for you (did you really think I could leave you without a picture of Zoë?)
There are many who would say that I am suffering from what are called “first world problems” when I say there some frustrations that come along with traveling. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly blessed and know that I am living many people’s dreams right now. And because of knowing and realizing these things, I struggle. I struggle with my own negativity when all I get to do by myself is go grocery shopping (no more girls nights for this lady). I struggle with missing my friends and family. I struggle with feelings of being an awful mother, toting my daughter around the world away from all that she knows in her short life so far. I struggle.
There are not only rainbows and happiness in this world, and unfortunately, I am the first to point out the bad. I have been trying to keep a positive attitude and acknowledge God’s blessings on me and my family. We have been granted the opportunity to take this amazing journey, and have been blessed in every instance. I should be walking around with a perma-smile on my face, singing praise songs and exuding joy, right?
And yet, sometimes, the small things weigh me down and make me forget the good.
After dinner tonight, we went to the grocery store, just for a couple of things. I always feels as though I need a Xanax after grocery shopping here in Lisbon. For some reason, they are always restocking the shelves in every crowded aisle, while waxing the floors with the big floor waxing thingy (why wait until the store closes for that right?). I am not a person that needs a 3 foot space bubble, but I sure love to be able to get my groceries and get out of the store without so much stress and craziness.
Then as I check out with my toilet paper and tampons (sorry all you men out there!) I was unable to pay with my visa since it was under 20 euros and had to hold up the whole line, while I trudged to the ATM in the corner of the store, to get cash for my purchases. I don’t know if I have ever been so red faced.
Tonight, Zoë fell asleep but wouldn’t let me lay her in her bed for over an hour, she kept waking up. I tried to be patient, I tried to enjoy the cuddle time. But in the end, my humanness and fallibleness makes me hand her off to Chad to rock back to sleep. And she is still awake, an hour and half later. This makes me sad and frustrated. Why can’t I be the patient, ever calm and loving mother that I want to be? I want to be better.
Seriously, I am not that high maintenance! I promise! But, sometimes, on nights like these, I feel like an old towel that has been cleaning the toilets for too long and just needs to be thrown out.
Yes, I know I sound like a spoiled brat, I know that I sound like I am unappreciative, but if I gloss over the bad and just give you all the greatness (which believe me, is a massive amount of great times), you may end up feeling as I do. That you cannot feel down and frustrated sometimes. That you should always be happy and eager to undertake the new cultures that envelope you. That you are unappreciative for the blessings you have been given, if you have a rough day and it gets to you. Simply, that you must always be happy while traveling.
I cannot lie to you, my friends and family, there are rough days when abroad.
But in the end, the good days do outweigh the bad. And this one little day will just be chalked up to culture shock and a traveling learning experience.
Until tomorrow, I will have a glass of amazing Portuguese red wine and try to relax, while trying not to cry, and pray to God to get me through my negative attitude. Because this is all part of it, the journey we have been given, and I relish the experience, both positive and negative. God will see me through this.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very things I hate. Romans 7:15
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Many of the museums here in Lisbon offer free entry before 2:00pm on Sundays. So last Sunday we decided to take them up on their offer and go to the Museu de Marhina (Maritime Museum). Chad and Zoë have a real love of “dada boaps”, as Zoë calls any kind of watercraft, and I love all things history. We were all exited to see what the museum had in store for us.
We got a late start, but because of my intense need to eat often (its biological really!!) we decided to stop off at a famous Lisbon landmark for food on our way.
The Pastéis de Belém is known throughout Portugal as the birthplace of the lovely little pastries for which the restaurant gets its name. The recipe for these little cakes of deliciousness date back to the 19th century when the monks at the nearby monastery needed to make a little extra cash. These pastries are made by other bakeries and are at every cafeteria and snack bar, but it’s well known that the original bakery’s are the best. The take away line always curves outside the restaurant and is known to take at least a half hour of waiting to buy these tasty pieces of history. I thought that was the only way to try the real pastéis were to stand in that long line, which I was hesitant to do. I know, my fellow foodies are disappointed in me right now, but standing in a long line with an impatient and hungry toddler sounded like hell a possibly unpleasant experience.
Lucky for us, a kind Canadian gentleman, that we met on our trip to Sintra, told us that there are rooms and rooms of tables that you can sit at in the bakery and get the pastries served right to you! The tables are first come first served, but the service is quick and the tables turn over so that you never have to wait as long as the take out line.
We sat and had some meat pies and finished our meal with the lovely, sweet, buttery custard pies. I am glad that we got to try the real things, they were scrumptious. I wish I could send one to all of you!
After we had filled ourselves up with yummy food, we quickly walked to the Museu de Marhina because it was getting very close to 2:00 pm. We slipped in with just minutes to spare.
The museum was filled with extremely detailed models of ships and (mostly replicas) of paintings of maritime war scenes and famous navy men. And we mustn’t forget portrait paintings of the very famous Portuguese explorers, such as Christopher Columbus (who actually was hired by Spain as were a couple of other Portuguese explorers). Again, most of the paintings, costumes, and weaponry were replicas it seemed, which deadened the experience for me a little. I love being close to real history, and the fact that most of the artifacts were actually more recently rendered facsimiles made it less awe-inspiring.
There was a huge area at the end of the tour that housed some of the actual royal ships and boats. That was pretty fascinating. That room also held some early airplanes and steam engine vehicles that were fun to look at.
All-in-all, I would recommend the Maritime Museum if you really love anything to do with boats and the military use of them. For me, it was just a little boring. If you want more information on visiting this museum, check out this website.
The winners of the day were definitely my tastebuds, having a chance to be enthralled by a tiny little custard pie. I may have to go get some now… Until next time!
Last week was cold, rainy and windy. Definitely not my favorite type of weather, in fact I get quite cranky and moody when I don’t get my natural vitamin D (which, unfortunately, Chad and Zoë can readily attest to). One of the main thoughts in our minds for planning this trip was (and still is) to follow the sun. Last week we were shown that we have no control of the weather…I know, it was surprising to me too!
Sunny days are here again though! Or should I say happy days, because that’s what they truly are to me. We have now had three days of glorious warm sunny weather that gets one up off their butts and moving (my butt is totally thanking me too, it can only take so much pressure for so long).
Two days ago, we decided to go to breakfast (we usually eat breakfast at home) and boy, what a treat! We went to a little chain bakery called A Padaria Portuguesa and I finally let myself try the amazing looking pastries that are everywhere here in Lisbon. I had two buttery and sweet probably very fattening treats that were reminiscent of donuts back home, but were lighter and less oily. I hope to learn the name of them and let you all know, but when ordering them, I just pointed to the prettiest ones in the display case.
After that deliciously gratifying breakfast, we decided to walk around our neighborhood a bit. Our exploring has subsided a bit since the weather had been so bad. We both wanted to see what else was near us. As we walked up the hill and looked around, we happened upon a park, with a playground! We have a park within walking distance to our house! I was so excited, maybe even more excited than Zoë, this was a place that I could bring our wonderful little ball of energy while Chad works at home! Not only that but I could bask in the sunlight while she plays!
We have now been to the park twice and my mood has greatly improved, as has Zoës’ and Chads’, because we all know that a cranky wife/mother makes for some hellish days. I am one blessed lady to have a great husband that puts up with my “lack of sunshine mood swings”. I am sure that he prays daily for sun and a happy wife.
Here are a couple pictures of Zoë playing in our park! Til Friday, sunny days to you (and me)!
All photos were taken by Jenny (c)andthreetogo.wordpress.com
This past Wednesday we were going to go the beach to work on our fading tans. Alas, our plans of having sunny and warm weather throughout our whole trip were dashed. Wednesday (as well as the rest of the week) was cold and windy. I mean like in the 60’s cold (I knew I should have brought a snow suit on this trip). For those of you that use Celsius, that is 16 degrees. Brrrr… It was unacceptable blustery uncomfortable weather. That is all I will complain about the apparent early summer freeze we have experienced for now.
There was one positive side to the cold and having to miss the beach. The Pena Palace in Sintra.
Through very little online research Chad was able to find out that the easiest way to get to Sintra was by train. We went to the Rossio train station here in Lisbon, paid the four euros each (Zoë was free) and hopped directly on a train that would take us to our destination in 39 minutes. Zoë loves trains, as do we, and the ride went by quickly.
We disembarked from the train and were in a quaint little town that immediately makes you feel like you are in a real life Disneyland. The clean little cobbled road ways, the colorful and well-maintained buildings constructed in the 19th century, the sculptures and tile work each way you turned, all that were missing were the princesses and background music. And to top it all off, the castles, one within the town of Sintra that is more modern, The Palácio Nacional, and the oldest one in the area, the Moor Castle, which looks down on Sintra eerily.
The castle that we were in Sintra to see was up on the other side of a mountain, concealed from the town below, The Pena Palace.
I just want to give a little history of the castle before I go on about our day…
The site held a monastery that had been all but destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Queen Dona Marie II and her king consort Ferdinand II, loving the beauty of the area, contracted Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege in the mid 1800’s to build and design a palace that looked like an “opera” around the remaining chapel that still stood. So it is actually a bit more modern of a castle than I had expected. If you would like to know more about the history and construction of the “Feather Palace” I would suggest the Pena Palace website, the wikipedia page, and gekkoportugal.com.
There are many different ways to travel to the palace, including a public bus, private tour buses, and even tuk tuks. We checked out the tuk tuks, because of our love for the fun little taxis from Thailand, but the prices were rather exorbitant starting at 45€ for a hour and a half tour. We opted for the cheaper public bus at only 5€ a person. The public sightseeing bus #434 stopped at the trains station, the old town center, the Moor Castle and the finally the Pena Palace. It was a great deal as they picked up every 15 minutes or so and you could hop on and off at any stop throughout the whole day!
A quick note about the bus trip, the road to the sites is steep, windy and sometimes cobbled. If you have ever had issues with motion sickness, I would definitely suggest taking dramamine before this ride. The drive only takes about 20 minutes, but I am sure that it could be a day killer for any one who gets car sick.
When we had arrived at the crest of the mountain at the entrance of the Pena Palace, we were confronted with ticket booths. I had figured there was a charge to enter the grounds, but was honestly unaware of the cost. Yes, that is how I research..pretty much half way. It is one reason that I always make let Chad look into what we are thinking of doing, that and my infernal laziness incredibly busy schedule. There were a couple of options as far as ticket purchase, you could get a ticket for just the palace grounds and garden which I think was 10 €, but we really wanted to see the interior of the palace too, so we paid 13.50 € each. I thought the price a little steep, and they did nickel and dime you a bit. For example, you could walk up the rest of the way from the entrance to the castle for free, or you could take the tram for two euros a person. But I think I could say in all fairness, that all touristy historical places I have been to do the same thing. You were given a map for free, and you could download an app on your smart phone for free to listen to a tour as well. At least they said you could, we couldn’t get it to work, but I did see people who apparently were using it.
Halfway up the steep hill that we were walking up for free, I started to regret saving the 4 euros for the tram though. Chads positivity saw us through pushing our almost 30 pound toddler up the steep cobbled road in our not so sturdy stroller, because the walk only took about 10 minutes. I think I probably complained for at least 7 of those minutes…I really have to work on that.
Anyways, as we came upon the palace garden and outer walls, I was again struck with how Disneyland must have been designed after castles like this. The pink, yellow grey and green walls interspersed with tiles. The defensive fortifications mixed with the purely cosmetic decorations.
Disneyland also might have been coming to mind because Zoë had been singing “Hi ho hi ho” the whole time we had been in Sintra. I do not know why she thought we were going to Snow White’s castle, but it was pretty cute and appropriate actually.
Despite the cold chill of the wind whipping through our thin summer clothes, we slowed down and took in the entrance to this amazing and somewhat schizophrenic structure. The gardens were beautiful and showed off each decorative motif perfectly. The view was breathtaking, you could look over Sintra all the way to the ocean over 17 km away. I could go on and on about the grounds of the castle, but I will let Chads wonderful photos show you.
The interior of the palace was a mixture of different decorating influences, including islamic, arabic, renaissance, and medieval. The way around the rooms were clearly directed with signs telling you where to go next and was clean and actually quite quiet (must have been because it was a weekday). The walk through the rooms begins with the formal dining room, complete with the full dinner service and tea china. From there you are led through the king and queens bedrooms, sitting rooms, and bathrooms. Surprisingly the lived in rooms were quite small, having just enough room for a bed (about 5 feet long and the width of a double mattress presently), a desk and a chaise lounge or settee. What stood out most to me was the almost unreal view out of the windows in these rooms. Unfortunately we were not able to get a good picture of the view from the windows, but believe me, its worth the trip to the palace just for that. It was overwhelming how intricate all the furniture and accoutrements were in the rooms.
My favorite area of the palace was the chapel, which was the last remaining part of the monastery left after the earthquake of 1755. It had the most vibrant and clear stained glass windows I have ever seen. It also housed a complex wall sized retable carved from marble and alabaster by Nicolau Chanterene, showing seven periods from Jesus’ life and death. The interesting thing to me was that Jesus and the scenes were depicted as though they were in the renaissance period (which is when the sculpture was completed). Regardless of its historical accuracy, it was awe-inspiring to look at.
At this point, Zoë felt that our time was up for walking around slowly and we had to walk a bit more quickly through the remaining rooms, including a room filled with stag heads and the great hall.
Our walk ended at the gift shop, which offered many different types of souvenirs that were reasonably priced.
We walked around the outer garden for a bit longer and took some more pictures and headed down the hill again to the bus stop.
You would be so proud of me, I didn’t complain once on the walk down the hill! I felt like I had turned a proverbial corner.
We hopped back on the bus and walked around the old town center, ate some dinner and went home, exhausted, but happy and feeling like we had had a great experience.
We will definitely be going back to Sintra to see more of the town, as well as the other castles, before we leave for our next destination. I would definitely recommend checking out the Pena Palace if you choose visit this wonderful country, you will not regret it!