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Personal, Travel

What I Do While Not Traveling

July 16, 2018

I haven’t been on a plane since October 23, 2017! That is almost nine months of no international travel and I have only been on one road trip. Not since before I moved to Qatar has it been that long since I have been on a plane. I am also not working, which begs the question, what I am I doing while I am not traveling! Read what I have been doing to stay busy.

Read

Reading has always been a passion of mine. I usually have several books I am reading at one time. Sometimes one will really catch my interest and all other books and time go out the window. Because I haven’t been traveling, I seemed to be drawn to non-fiction lately. Much of that non-fiction has been adventure travel.

The Stowaway is one I most recently finished. A young Brooklyn teenager successfully stows away on a ship heading to Antarctica. This true story is set in the 1920s and really made me want to sail the world. (Always been a dream of mine!)

The Last Wild Men of Borneo is the one I am currently reading and it centers around two men exploring Borneo. One ends up living with a tribe in Borneo eventually disappearing. The other becomes an indigenous art dealer. I am enjoying the book, but have some moral issues with the men’s activities.

Take a Course

From January to April, I finally did something I had wanted to do for a long time. I took a Full-stack Web Development course. I had started an online one while living in Qatar but found working full-time and school too stressful. When I left Qatar, I knew that I would have the time to complete the course while not working. It was still really hard and it was a full-time course in which I went every day of the week from 9-5. If this is something you are interested in as well, I took my course from DevMountain and I highly recommend them.

Listen to Podcasts

While driving to school every day, I became an avid podcast listener. My commute was about an hour each way, so I had plenty of time. I have developed a few favorites during that time and I still listen to them anytime I am driving around town.

If you are a fan of true crime and unsolved mysteries, then I suggest you check out True Crime Garage. Nick and The Captain usually produce two shows a week covering everything from missing persons to serial killers. They are funny but also well-informed. This show is not kid friendly as you may imagine.

I love learning new things, so I have loved Radio Lab for years. Radio Lab is all about science and technology. One week might be about space and the next reproduction. Each story has a human touch though and isn’t just straight reporting about science. Many of the stories are also personal and show hosts talk about their own experiences.

Scroll Through Instagram

Most days you will find me on Instagram whether it be posting my own photos, watching Instagram stories or saving images of places I want to visit one day. For most of 2017, I didn’t post to Instagram. The changes in the algorithm made me not want to post and it still drives me nuts. However, I have recently been posting my photos from my trip last year and I have loved reliving the memories of that trip this way. Here are some of my favorites from last year.

 

 

Read other Blogs

One of the things that got me into blogging in the first place was reading other blogs. Many of these are not travel focus and some are. The blog I have been following the longest is The Small Things Blog. I initially started following her for her hair tutorials. Her life has changed over the years and so has her blog, but because I like her I keep coming back. I also follow her on Instagram stories all the time.

Many of my other favorites are friends from blogging groups. They include Suzie Speaks, who I have actually met in person and she is just as great in person. The Global Housesitter, who is a Kiwi couple who travels the world in their retirement by housesitting all over the world. But I Smile Anyway by Ritu who makes me laugh and smile with her funny stories. There are many, many more!

Eat Out with Friends

Since I haven’t lived in Dallas for so long, my friends have been taking me to new places and some old. We tend to eat together at least once or twice a week. I have reconnected with some old friends and made a few new ones. There is such a variety here and it isn’t all Tex-Mex and steak. One of our favorite places to eat is Fireside Pies. They have amazing wood-oven baked pizzas and outstanding desserts. Much of their ingredients are local too.

Hang Out with Twitter

Twitter has been something I have tried to love more, but many people had just been posting links instead of having conversations on there. In the last couple of months, I have seen that change. Maybe I am following more chatty people now, but I am loving it. I am not on every day, but do try to pop on a few days a week. Are you on Twitter? My Twitter is @agirlpassport in case you want to follow me there as well!

What Do You Do to Keep Busy?

I am always looking for new inspiration to keep me busy. Do you have something to recommend? Share with me in the comments!

 

Driving, Greece, Travel

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

July 9, 2018

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Driving on the Greek Islands might be daunting for some, it certainly was the first time I drove on Santorini. I had been warned about the turns and traffic. I was prepared for the worst, but it wasn’t bad at all. This last year I rented a car on Ios and had a different experience, so here are my tips for driving on the Greek Islands with confidence and ease.

Renting a Car

Most of the time, I like to rent cars in advance. This is for two reasons, usually, the rate is better and I need an automatic transmission. On some islands, renting a car in advance might not be an option though. Ios is not listed on several car rental sites I checked. However, if the island has an airport, you will most likely be able to book in advance online.

When booking rental cars in Europe, I prefer to use AutoEurope, click here for rates. Picking up the car is pretty straightforward and is similar to picking up a rental in any country. If you have a driver’s license from outside the EU, you will need an international driver’s license to rent a car. Some companies will not ask you, but you and the company can receive a fine if you are pulled over. The rule on this is being more strictly enforced since the beginning of the 2018 season.

Driving

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Before I rented a car on Santorini, I had done some research on driving there. People warned the drive from the ferry to Oia could be scary. The drive was twisty and some the curves were next to cliffs, but the roads were well maintained and there were guard rails.

Ios was different. The island of Ios is not as popular as Santorini and many of the tourists do not drive. The roads were steep and many did not have guard rails. The rural roads were not well maintained. I am also deathly afraid of heights.

My tips are to do your research on the island you are going to. Find out about the geography of the island. Go on travel forums and ask about the road conditions.

Another tip for driving on a Greek island is to make sure you rent a car with enough horsepower. I had a two door smart car on Ios and it was barely enough for the steep Ios hills. This is also something to consider if you are going to rent an ATV instead of a car.

There are not many stop lights or stop signs on many of the islands, so proceed through intersections with caution. Greek drivers have been driving on these roads all their lives, so they tend to drive faster and what seems more erratically than you are. My advice is to drive in the right lane if possible and let them pass you.

You might see a Greek driver come up behind you and flash their lights. Basically, this means get out of my way. If you can’t, do so as quickly and safely as you can. As in many European companies, honking is common.

Parking

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

If you are renting a car, check that your hotel has parking. Finding a parking spot in small or crowded villages can be hard. The lots are often full, especially during the high season, from May to September.

Some parking lots are for use for patrons of a specific business, so check before you walk away. There should be a sign and they are usually in English and Greek. I only saw a few paid parking lots in Greece, so that isn’t as big an issue. It may even be worth paying so you can park in a real spot.

You will see some people get creative about making a parking spot. However, in a rental car, I would avoid this since your car will easily be spotted by the local police.

Purchasing Gas

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Gas stations are few and far between on many islands or they are all in the main village. If you are going for a long drive, fill up before you head out and check to see if there are gas stations on your route.

Another thing to note is that most gas stations in Greece only take cash. They also will most likely pump the gas for you. If they do, I tip a euro or two to the attended.

Taking a Car on the Ferry

My tip is to not do this if at all possible. Driving on and off the ferry is done so quickly and many times you are expected to park your car in reverse once inside the ferry in a tight spot.

Renting a car on the islands is so easy and many car rental places have cars at the port, so you can pick up a car right there.

If you do decide to do it, you need to make sure you pay the fee for it when you book your tickets. There is also a place at the port to line up the cars for driving onto the ferry. Check with the port police when you arrive. They are wearing navy blue uniforms that look like military uniforms.

Driving in Greece doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared and know your limits. Enjoy the scenery and the places you can only reach by car. Have you driven in Greece? Give us your tips in the comments!

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.

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

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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