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Driving, Europe, Montenegro, Travel

Tips for Driving in Montenegro

October 25, 2018
Tips for Driving in Montenegro

 

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Two lane highways and cliffside drives dominated my driving in Montenegro. Knowing me, it was a good thing I didn’t know that the coast of Montenegro was a series of steep rock faces heading into the Adriatic Sea; otherwise, I might not have rented a car. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother me as much as it usually does! Renting a car is the most efficient way to see the Old Towns of Montenegro. Here are my tips for driving in Montenegro and not going over the cliffs.

The Roads

Almost every road was a two-lane road. The only place I went in Montenegro that had more than two lanes was Budva and that was only in the central part of town. Many of these roads were narrow, and you share the roads with tour buses and public buses. These narrow roads started just after Herceg Novi and continued to Bar. Since I stuck to the coast of Montenegro, I am not sure if the roads inland are wider or more than two lanes. The narrow lanes bothered me more than the cliff driving, probably because I couldn’t see the edge or the water from the cliffs in most cases.

Most of the roads I drove on were in decent shape. This is especially true near the towns. However, some of the bridges seemed like they needed some work. Although, none seemed dangerous. Rural roads are not in as good of shape according to the articles I have read.

Due to the narrow roads and the lack of multiple lanes, traffic can be an issue in the towns. I noticed that traffic was very heavy in Kotor when there was a cruise ship in the bay and even worse if there were two cruise ships or if it was a large ship. Most of the traffic was centered around Kotor old town. Getting into Budva was another place I saw lots of traffic. After I left Montenegro, I learned that Budva is a popular beach spot for Eastern Europeans and that explained the amount of traffic there.

The Rules

As in much of Europe, you drive on the right in Montenegro. According to the rules I have looked up, you should drive with low beams on during the day in Montenegro. I only discovered this after I saw people doing it. Obviously, you will want to drive with your regular lights on during the night. I also turned them on when going through the mountain tunnels.

The speed limit varied a lot on the roads and sometimes went down to 30 Kmh in towns. Pay attention to the signs as they changed quickly and the fines for speeding more than 10 Kmh are steep and can include jail time. My GPS beeped at me when it knew the speed limit was changing and I was going over it. Hint, rent the GPS from your car rental company. Seatbelts are required. I did see cops pulling people over, but never saw a radar gun. They may have just been pulling people over to check papers. This never happened to me, though. They also just wave at you to pull over and were not chasing people down in their cars with a siren or lights.

An international drivers license was not required, but I did rent my car in Croatia, check prices here. My advice is to have one if you are planning on driving overseas in any country. They do not cost much, and it is better to be safe than sorry!

The legal drinking limit is very low at .03% so my advice would to just not drink and drive in Montenegro. It isn’t worth going to jail in any country for a drink.

Parking

Parking in Montenegro was a bit haphazard. My Airbnb advertised free parking, but in reality, it was pullover as close to the wall next to the house as close as possible next to the street. It was a good thing my rental car was small and I never saw large passenger cars in Montenegro. Many areas in Montenegro had paid parking areas. At first, I was reluctant to do use the paid parking as usually, it is expensive, but then I saw how cheap it was and I immediately started parking in the paid spots. I never paid more than €3 for parking. In some towns, there was free parking, but it was usually full. In Herceg Novi, I couldn’t figure out where to pay. I asked an official-looking man in the parking lot and I had to go to the mini market and pay and then put the ticket on my dashboard. Most of the other parking was take a ticket and pay on the way out or pay an attendant.

Overall, driving in Montenegro was pretty easy. Have you driven in Montenegro? What was your experience?

Europe, Greece, Travel

Exploring Naxos Old Town

September 10, 2018
Naxos Old Town

 

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Exploring the winding streets of the Naxos Old Town is a wonderful way to spend a day in Naxos, Greece especially after spending the day at the beach. It is the classic white village of Greece, and many locals still live in the Old Town making for an authentic Greek experience.

When you first enter the Naxos Old Town, you are entering the Bourgos area. The Bourgos area is where the Old Market is located. The Old Market is the place to shop and eat in the Chora, the village. You will find a variety of shops and restaurants here.

As you go further into the Chora, you will enter the Kastro area. The Kastro is the area that is still occupied by much of the 13th century Venetian Castle. As you get closer to one of the three entrances, look for signs on the ground or walls that say Kastro.

Things to do in Naxos Old Town

Besides getting lost and finding hidden gems, there are lots to explore inside the Old Town of Naxos. Here are all the things to do in Naxos Old Town.

Naxos Old Town

Shop till You Drop 

Shopping is easy to do in Naxos Old Town, and there is something for everyone. There are the typical tourist shops with souvenirs such as magnets and t-shirts, and then there are clothing stores, jewelry stores, craft stores and more.

Naxos Old Town

Some of my favorite shops include:

– Papyrus Jewelry and Used Books have a huge selection of used books in many languages and some beautiful jewelry as well. I have never found a used bookstore on a Greek Island before.

Pocket Gallery has some stunning crafts and sells bags made from old sails, and they can tell you what boat they came from.

– Morfes Ceramic Workshop makes beautiful and functional pieces. Ask them to show you the magic salt and pepper shaker!

Argilos is the best place to get quality Turkish and Greek towels which are essential when visiting Greek beaches as most hotels will not let you take their towels to the beach. The Greek towels are made in Crete of bamboo.

Jubilee is the place to go if you want really unique gifts such as handmade candles and stone lamps. They also had some Greek made notebooks.

Explore the History of Naxos 

Naxos Old Town is full of history, and you can easily see most of the historic sites in this area in a day.

– Of course, the Kastro should be your first stop. If you want to avoid all the climbing, you can take the elevator. Finding the elevator can be tricky, so here is a link to the Google Map. There is a small fee to take it, but in the heat of the summer, you would pay anything not to climb the stairs. I recommend catching the sunset from the Kastro!

Naxos Old Town

– The Archeological Museum of Naxos is located in the Kastro area. It is housed in a 17th-century Venetian building and has five floors of artifacts.

– Right the edge of the Old Town is the Mitropolis Museum. This museum is the ancient site of Naxos town. It is an open air museum, but you must go down some stairs to get to it as it is below street level.

– The Folk Museum Collection is another treasure to discover in the alleys of Naxos Old Town. The collection is of modern pieces from 1975 to the present and represents the folk art of Naxos.

Eat All the Food

As mentioned earlier, some of the best restaurants can be found in Naxos Old Town. Most of these places serve Greek food at reasonable prices. However, you cannot get the atmosphere of eating at a table in the alley with people passing you by other than in the Old Town.

Metaxi Mas is a beautiful restaurant spread between two buildings with tables in the alleyways. The food is traditional Greek food, and everything I have eaten here has been excellent. If you have a large party, make a reservation, and you might want to eat earlier than the traditional Greek dinner here as I went at nine the other night and much of what I wanted was already finished.

– Located right next to Metaxi Mas is Apostolis. The charm of this restaurant will make you want to sit down, and the flavors will make you want to eat there every day!

Naxos Old Town

– Living up to its name of Labyrinth Wine Restaurant you may get a little lost trying to find this wonderful garden restaurant, but it is worth it. This restaurant is only open for dinner and takes only cash.

All three restaurants appear in the video clip!

Have I convinced you to explore the Naxos Old Town yet? Find a place to stay in Old Town Naxos by clicking here.

Want to download this article with a walking tour? Check it out on GPSmyCity.

Europe, Portugal, Travel

Sintra Day Trip Tips

July 2, 2018

Going to Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon. When I was doing research to go to Sintra, people kept telling me I needed to go, but I had a hard time finding out how to get there and how to get around in Sintra. Everything turned out fine, but hopefully, I can make your day trip to Sintra better with these tips.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Getting To Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Tips

Taking the train to Sintra is the best option. There isn’t much parking in Sintra and the train ticket was €4.50 return plus €0.50 for the card. My advice is to go to the train early as there was a long line to purchase tickets both from an agent and the ticket machine. I think I waited at least a half an hour.

The train station to leave from is the Rossio Station, which is in the center of Lisbon. You will take the train to the last stop, which is Sintra. Do not get off at Portela de Sintra. During the week, there are trains about every 20 minutes from Lisbon to Sintra.

What Time to Go to Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Tips

Don’t make my mistake of going to Sintra in the afternoon thinking that you can see all the castles in that short period of time. My tip is to go in the morning, the earlier the better. Most of the castles open by 9:30 AM. Some of the castles had lines to purchase tickets as well.

During the summer, the attractions are open till about 6:00 or 7:00 pm. The trains run till late at night, so you have plenty of time to return. I would just make sure you return before it gets too dark as some of the neighborhoods the train runs through are a bit rough.

Getting Around Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Tips

All the castles and attractions in Sintra are spread far apart on a mountain. This makes walking to everything a challenge and physically daunting. The best thing is to take the bus. When you leave the train station, take a right and you will see a bus stop.

There are people selling tickets for the bus right there and the buses can take you to all the attractions. The trick is which bus to take first. You can take the 434 which takes you to the Castelo dos Mouros, Parque da Pena and Palacio Nacional da Pena. Keep in mind this is one direction bus and you cannot backtrack on the route unless you walk!

The other bus is the 435 and it takes you to the Quinta da Regaleira and the Palacio de Monserrate. It is also a one direction bus. You will have to go back to the train station to catch this bus and it is a separate ticket. You can buy a day pass for both buses for €15.

Food in Sintra

Most of the restaurants in Sintra are located in the village near the train station. Several of the castles had small cafes that served sandwiches and snacks. My tip is to bring a snack with you for lunch and make your way back to the village for a bigger meal before heading back to Lisbon. Because Sintra is a tourist attraction, the prices are inflated a bit so you will want to keep that in mind.

Sintra is definitely not to be missed with all the beautiful castles and the stunning views of the Portugal coastline it offers. Hopefully, my tips for a day trip to Sintra will help you have the best day there.

Do you have Sintra tips? Share with us in the comments.

Europe, Portugal, Travel

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

June 25, 2018

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

You could easily mistake the colorful buildings of Porto for just brightly painted buildings, but upon closer inspection, you realize they are covered in thousands of detailed tiles or azulejos. Azulejo is the name for the painted tin-glazed tiles you see in Portugal. Porto seemed practically covered in azulejos.

History

Azulejo comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj, which means polished stone. The earliest known azulejo tiles come from the 13th-century. You can see many of these in Seville and the Alhambra in Spain. The early tiles were one color and cut in distinctive shapes to create patterns. Many of these reflect the Arab love geometric patterns and colors.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

King Manuel I of Portugal saw the tiles in 1503 while on a visit to Seville and he brought back the idea to Portugal. You can see early examples of this in Sintra, Portugal at the National Palace.

In the second half of the 17th-century, the azulejos started to have a blue and white theme that was influenced by the Netherlands. These tiles were imported, but that all changed when imports of azulejos were banned. This led to the Portuguese making their own tiles.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Mass production began not long after and the azulejos became more and more popular. The 18th-century brought the large narrative panels you see on many churches and cathedrals today.

You can see the azulejos in many cities today in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines. They are still used in decoration today. If you also make it to Lisbon, go visit the Museu Nacional do Azulejos. It houses the largest collection of Portuguese tiles in the world.

Where to Find Azulejos in Porto

Porto Sao Bento Train Station

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

The azulejo tile in the Port Sao Bento has made this train station famous. There are approximately 20,000 tiles covering the walls of the inside of the train station. The tiles are also located on the outside of the station.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Most of the tiles in the train station are scenes from Portuguese history. Above the scenes are displays of the history of transportation. You could stand in here for hours looking at all the details. I loved watching the light change the feeling of the tiles while standing in there.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Porto Cathedral

Overlooking Porto, the Porto Cathedral offers remarkable views of the city and the River Duoro. Outside the Cathedral, there are azulejos in the loggia.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

While the sanctuary is not decorated with azulejos, you can pay the €3 fee to the cloister to see an amazing azulejo mosaic. It depicts the life of the Virgin Mary and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The entrance to the cloister is to the right of the entrance. I could not find the number of tiles for the cathedral, but it must rival the train station.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Cais da Ribeira

The Ribeira neighborhood is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cais da Ribeira is the waterfront portion along the River Duoro. Here is where you can see many homes decorated with azulejos. Each house is so colorful and this is where I realized they were tiles not paint.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

If you walk up to the second level, past the restaurants and shops on the first level, you can get up close to the buildings to see the tiles. Most of these homes are still occupied by the people of Porto and you will see their laundry hanging in front of the tiles and windows. It makes for a colorful photo.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

If you want to wake up to this every day you can by staying in the Invicta Ribeira Boat Hotel, check here for rates, I stayed here and enjoyed being in the cultural heart of Porto. It sits in the River Duoro right across from the Cais da Ribeira. Plus who doesn’t want to sleep on a riverboat!

Igreja da Misericordia

This church is a hidden gem of azulejos in Porto. The church is only accessible outside mass hours through the museum next door, Museu da Misericordia do Porto. The entrance fee is €5, which gives you access to the museum and the church.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

The church was built in 1584. The original azulejo tiles were installed in 1628. Few of these survive today and many were replaced in 1866. There are reports that the ones in the stairwell leading to the tribune and sacristy are originals. The current tiles are in the blue and white tradition.

There was no one in the church when I visited. It was very peaceful to be in a beautiful church all alone. There were very few limits on where I could go inside and think that is because it is still a working church. The museum is worth a visit as it covers the charitable history of the organization and has some amazing pieces of art on exhibit.

Rua das Flores

The Igreja da Misericordia is located on this street so if you visit the church, you won’t miss the tiles on this street. Almost every building on this long street is covered in azulejos. The name of the street comes from the gardens that used to be here when the street was opened between 1521 and 1525.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Preservation and Protection

The azulejo tiles have been known to be vandalized or be stolen. In an effort to prevent this in 2013 it was forbidden to destroy any building that had an exterior covered in azulejos in Lisbon. In 2017, the law extended to the whole country and included the interior of buildings.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

While it will not be hard to find azulejos in Porto, you will have a hard time not stopping to take pictures of every single one. Would you like to see more and learn about azulejos? I recommend these books on azulejos.

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