Entries Tagged as 'Europe'

Sintra, Portugal (I)



Sintra // Jess-On-Thames


Sintra // Jess-On-Thames

There is a reason people read guidebooks and research their trips before travelling. And I like to think that might be so they avoid walking 2 kilometers straight uphill to reach a fairytale palace.

Yes, Lindsay and I literally hiked our way straight up Portugal at the beginning of our recent trip. But I actually wouldn’t have had it any other way. Taking a train from central Lisbon, we arrived 45 minutes later in the adorable town of Sintra.  There are several castles you can visit and we chose the colorful, fairytale like Pena Palace at the very top. There are some stunning houses on your hike up and the forest is stunning.

Around halfway, the giddiness set in – we came across a giant lemon someone had stuck on a fence and thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever seen. And that was before we spotted the lime in the gutter… Who was hiking up this mountain with excess citrus??

You reach the gardens of the Palace before you continue up the hill to the Castle itself. It is a much nicer walk to wind your way up through what feels like a manicured jungle and I imagine it would be stunning in the spring with all the flowers in bloom.


Views from Sintra // Jess-On-Thames

After curving through the gardens, the bright yellows and reds of Pena Palace greeted us. As did the lines of people waiting to get inside. This is one hot ticket in the summer months and we even visited on a Friday rather than the weekend. The inside was packed with people (including some particularly rude French tourists… France, I must say, you were not on your best behavior during our trip. This would become a recurring theme…) The queues are mainly due to the first few rooms only being doorways you can glance into. Once you get upstairs, the crowds break up and you can wander a bit more freely. And my goodness is it worth it (photos of the inside to come in part II).

With Lindsay having traveled over from Brussels, we felt like we fit right in. The site was first developed in the Middle Ages but the current Palace was built for Ferdinand II, who as part of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, had direct family links to Queen Victoria in England and King Leopold I of Belgium. The whole place feels over-the-top romantic. And the views… oh, the views… And our current weather in London, I’d kinda like to go back…

(Blog maintenance update: I’m upgrading the blog to use Disqus comments. For the moment it looks like I may have lost past comments… But the kind people at Disqus tell me to be patient for 24 hours before panicking. Fingers crossed. Please let me know if you have any problems!!)




Once upon a time, in Wiltshire, in the early evening, you could turn off the A360 and pull over to the side of the road to peer through a fence. It was your standard, average wire fence. But on the other side of it – was Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was one of those sites that my heart started beating a little faster for in anticipation of seeing it for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect. How big was it? Would I see it coming from a distance or would it sneak up on me? Worst of all, would I be disappointed?

That first glimpse took place a few years back and it was special because I felt like I just stumbled upon Stonehenge. (If one could just stumble upon a gigantic, ancient monument in the middle of farmland.) We were driving and then suddenly: there it was – just off to the side of us. We jumped out of the car and scampered over to the fence, pressing our noses up against it trying to get closer. I was immediately struck by questions like where on earth did they get these slabs of rock from and how on earth did they place them all together? It was after-hours and the site was closed, so we stared at it quietly for awhile while those questions bounced around in our heads and then we continued off on our journey.

Fast forward a few years later and I took my mom back to visit the site. And here is where I admit I was just the tiniest bit disappointed. That little road we drove along right up to the site years ago has been blocked off and a huge, very nice, English Heritage visitors centre has been built to manage the crowds flowing in to visit Stonehenge. This is where I scold myself because the centre is clearly needed: a million people visit Stonehenge every year (some 5,000 on a summer day alone)… and it is good for the local economy to have people stay at the site for a longer amount of time.

But there was something about not having to stand in a huge line of people and be piled into little trolleys to take you to the site that made it seem more accessible. More like how farmers must have seen it when they came upon it walking across the Wiltshire farmlands. A sort of mystery that belonged to everyone.

Maybe I’m just getting older and becoming adverse to change (I feel like my grandfather with one of those “back in the day, we walked to school up-hill both ways with no shoes in the snow” stories) … but it felt a bit less personal the second time around.

Now that we have established I am writing like an 80-year old in this post, let me state for the record: you have to visit Stonehenge. Archeologists estimate that the stones were placed between 3000 and 2000 BC and those are dates that will blow the mind. The site was privately owned until as late as 1918 when it was given over to the state and the public could actually walk amongst the stones until the 1970s. Today, you can walk a full circle around the site – and you really should because every few steps give you a different view of the monument.

Go early in the morning to beat the crowds, take the little trolly up to the first stop and get off at what seems like a little forest. You’ll set off on a 10-15 minute walk through some cow pastures (yup, just wander right past the cows) and see Stonehenge appear in the distance, which is a lovely way to see it.

Stonehenge is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Advanced booking is required through English Heritage. Check their website for entrance times, which vary depending on the time of year.

Why you should visit Cornwall



I’m surprised how many people tell me they’ve never been to Cornwall. Because I am heavily lobbying – only 75% sarcastically – to open an office down there.

Cornwall can feel almost like Italy, with turquoise waters and palm trees. The water contrasts nicely with the typically English cliffs and coastal architecture. And who really needs an excuse to eat Cornish ice cream and slather scones with clotted cream and jam?

Yes, it is a trek – about a 5-6 hour drive from London. But oh it is worth it. We took the train from London to Plymouth and then rented a car. It was still a few hours after that before we reached our temporary home of Carbis Bay, a few bays down from St Ives – a lovely little stone and white washed coastal town at the Northern side of the peninsula. You really can talk like that in Cornwall: “go three bays down and its the next bay after that.”

Its an area of the world that lives off & around the water and that provides a lovely change of pace. We came across towns where it looked like the entire local population was throwing themselves off the jetties into the water to cool off on a hot day. We watched dogs run after seagulls. And we watched seagulls attack a woman and steal her ice cream cone. (Props to the woman who then marched straight back to the ice cream stand to demand another one.)

When you visit Cornwall, as we’ve now established that you should, plan to go for long walks. Eat a Cornish pasty (and then try to pronounce “pasty” the right away – that’s one to stump any American). Wash it down with some cider. And make time to do nothing but take it all in.

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