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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.

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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

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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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Greece, Travel

September Nomad Update

October 2, 2017

September Update

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Hello, October and hello from Athens! My month on my Greek Island is over. If you need to escape, relax and forget the real world, I highly recommend taking a few weeks and heading to Greece. You might also walk away with an amazing tan and a love of Greek food. Here is my brief recap of month two of long-term travel.

The Ups

First off I was going to be on a Greek Island for a month and that is an awesome thing to think about. I arrived and checked into my hotel/apartment. My apartment was great and totally Greek. There will be a whole post about it soon. Again, I got the pleasure of unpacking my entire suitcase in Greece.

I spent a few days exploring Ios and working on my tan! Then, as in London, I got to meet up with some friends that I met in Greece on the sailing trip last year. They only did one-week last year and were back for the second week of the sail this year. It was great to catch up with them and get to know them better.

Because I enjoyed the photography experience in London so much, I managed to find one on Ios as well. For almost an entire day, I photographed Ios with a photographer. Not only did I get to see his perspective on the island, he took me to some spots I definitely would not have explored on my own.

For such a small island, Ios has more than its fair share of amazing restaurants and spent several days eating at them. Some of them offered the more traditional Greek food and then there were other great options, such as Thai and Italian.

I made new friends as well. Some of these were locals and a few were Greeks working on the island, but some were other Greece visitors.

The Downs

Ios is a small island and I had intended to explore much of the island. However, my fear of heights kept me from driving up and down the hills of Ios.

This led to me being a bit bored while I was there. I love the beach but going to the beach alone every day was not so fun. My skin also doesn’t need to be exposed to that much sun since I tan so fast.

Even though I made friends if they weren’t there on vacation, they were working, so not able to do anything with me. Most of the locals I met worked long hours and they worked every day. This is due to the fact that Greece is still struggling from the financial crisis.

Overall I really enjoyed my time on Ios and I was a little sad to be leaving. I am sure I will go back at some point though!

Next stop Malta!

Europe, Montenegro, Museums, Travel

Visiting the Old Towns of Montenegro

September 18, 2017

Old Towns of Montenegro

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When most people think of Montenegro, they think of the town of Kotor. However, Kotor is more than the just the town and includes much of the areas surrounding the Bay of Kotor. Montenegro also has so much more to see than just Kotor.

The highlights of Montenegro, for me, are the old towns or stari grads that dot the coastline of Montenegro. Three of these old towns are located on the Bay of Kotor the other two are located further south on the coast heading towards Albania.

Kotor

Kotor is the most well-known town in Montenegro. The region of Kotor itself is a UNESCO world heritage site and includes the old town. The old town dates back to the 13th or 14th century, although much of it was destroyed in the 1667 earthquake. Kotor has been held by many countries and seems to have changed hands back and forth many times even as recently at 1941 when it was part of Italy.

There are several entrances to the old town, and I suggest you explore the town from each one as it gives a different perspective. You can climb up to the walls in some sections as well. If you are ambitious, you can climb to the top of the mountain above to the fortress. If you want an amazing view of the fortress and walls at night, I suggest you eat dinner at the Hotel Hippocampus on their rooftop. It is not very big, so make reservations.

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Herceg Novi

Herceg Novi is the first town on the Bay of Kotor. It was founded in the late 14th century. The old town right on the water and it makes a difficult to reach as the new town has built up around it. You have to park and walk down a hill to the old town and then walk up some stairs into the town. There may be another way in, but I couldn’t find it.

Your goal is to get to the Forte Mare or Sea Fort to see the beautiful views. I definitely see why the people chose this spot. Herceg Novi’s old town isn’t as large as some others, but it has several beautiful churches to see.

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Perast

Perast is also located in the Bay of Kotor. The drive from Kotor to Perast is short. However, Perast is all old town, and you cannot drive into the town. There are parking lots at each end, which you have to pay to park.

However, Perast was my favorite old town in Montenegro. Perast was easily walkable since is flat. There is a small but good museum as well. Also, this is where the famous churches in the bay are located. Our Lady of the Rocks and Saint George Monastery are two island churches in the bay. Unfortunately, due to forest fires, I could never get a clear picture of them from Perast. You can take a boat to Our Lady of the Rocks. Saint George is private. Perast also has the highest bell tower on the Adriatic Coast.

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Budva

Getting out of the Bay of Kotor now we head to Budva. Budva’s old town is walled like Kotor’s. Budva is much older though and dates back to the 5th century. Another stunning location as Budva is right on the Adriatic Sea and has some great beaches even inside the old town and right outside as well. After you explore the old town, visit the Citadela inside the old town to see the old Citadel and have a delicious lunch with a view!

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Stari Bar

Further south, we come to Bar. Stari Bar or Old Bar is not in the new town. It is a short drive up the hill from modern Bar. Stari Bar is not as well preserved as some of the other old towns. However, because of its location, it offers stunning views of Bar, and you can see the Adriatic from Stari Bar. Some buildings have been restored, and you do have to pay a small fee to enter, but it goes to conservation.

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Old Towns of Montenegro

Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan make look familiar to you as it is a frequently used photo when people are writing about Montenegro. The secret is that this old town is now a resort and you can only go there if you have reservations to stay or restaurant reservations. Given the cost was over €800 a night, I wasn’t going to be staying there. However, if you are driving, you can stop at the bus stop on the hill above Sveti Stefan and get a great view of the whole island. You can also walk down the hill to the island and gawk at it!

Old Towns of Montenegro

Have you been to Montenegro? What was your favorite part?

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Montenegro Old TownsVisiting the Old Towns of Montenegro