Charming Town of Sintra, Portugal – December 2015

“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes
In variegated maze of mount and glen.
Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen
To follow half on which the eye dilates
Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken
Than those whereof such things the bard relates,
Who to the awe-struck world unlock Elysium’s gates?”
~Lord Byron stated in “Childe Harolds Pilgrimage”

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You really should not be spending time in Lisbon without taking a day trip to Sintra, Portugal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth so much more than the 5 Euro train ticket from Lisbon.

I was pleased that the train station not only had tourist information, but also plenty tour options. Normally I try not to do tours, but as I looked at the map I realized how much of Sintra we could see if we did a sightseeing tour. It would take a long time for us to hike to all the places we wanted to go. Plus, Sintra has a lot of hills to climb. After debating our situation over a coffee, we decided to pay the 20 Euros a person and hitch a ride on the City Sightseeing Tour bus. The bus took a circular route around the city, including the coast and all the highlights. If you just stay on the bus, the ride is approximately 2 hours. (Just a note that if you want to just do certain nearby sights like Pena Palace, you can take local buses for cheaper.)

On the bus, we enjoyed the audio description of all the sights and especially the12640278_10153395155602986_6697546238175227216_o information on the production of unique wines in the area. When we reached Cabo da Roca, the western most point on the European mainland, the bus driver waited for 20 minutes, giving us time to explore the area without having to wait for the next bus. The lighthouse (pictured on the right) and the cliffs dipping down into the Atlantic Ocean (pictured at the bottom of this page) are worth the visit.

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We continued on the bus to the Moorish Castle stop. We got off and bought our tickets to Pena National Palace and the Moorish Castle. (This turned out to be a great plan – even though the hike up to Pena was a bit steep – the line of people trying to get tickets outside of Pena was very lengthy.) We actually enjoyed the hike uphill to the Pena Palace (pictured above and at the top), which is located on top of a hill overlooking Sintra. This palace is colorfully painted and tiled. You can spend hours just wandering around this palace and admiring the design. When we arrived there, we were a bit hungry, so we ate at the restaurant at the Palace and really enjoyed it. One of the workers behind the counter at the restaurant was more than happy to give us extra information regarding wines, which we loved. Also, the cheesecake was amazing! After lunch, we explored the palace a while and enjoyed the wonderful views of Sintra from the highest points of the palace.

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We then walked to the Moorish Castle (pictured above). It is actually a wonderful walk on a trail through a wooded area with bright greenery everywhere. The12622012_10153395158692986_2457399089914444790_o Moorish Castle is a fort built by the Moors. There is a stairway along the fort walls to connect the towers of the castle, where you can enjoy 360 degree scenic views. On your way to exit the castle, make sure the check out the cistern.

If you have more time in Sintra than we did, you can also explore sights like Monserrate Palace, Sintra National Palace, Seteais Palace, Capuchos Convent and more. Sintra’s City Center also has some adorable cafes and ceramic and antique shops.

Basically if you love amazing walks and amazing sights, you will fall in love with Lord Byron’s “Eden.”

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Christmas Holiday in Porto, Portugal – December 2015

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Unable to spend the holidays with our family, my husband and I decided to take a little relaxing getaway to Portugal. We decided to spend Christmas in the town of Porto. We just pre-booked our accommodations and that was it. Everything else we were just going to figure it out as we went. We spent five full days in Porto and loved every minute of it. Just going with the flow was not a problem. There were plenty of things to do and see. Porto was far from boring during Christmas. Here are the highlights:

Food

francesinhaTry the Portuguese dish called the francesinha (pictured on the right), which is a sandwich with layers upon layers of different meats, covered in melted cheese and topped with a cooked egg. I do not want to think about how much cholesterol there was in that meal.

Not surprisingly, many restaurants are closed Christmas Eve night and Christmas night. Plan accordingly. We found that kabob stands around the city and hotel restaurants are open.

Drink

The Cafe Majestic is the perfect place for a great cup of coffee (though slightly more expensive than other cafes in the area). It is a stunning cafe but is very popular and well-known so do not be surprised if there is a line out the door.

port tastingAn absolute must in Porto is to take a port wine tour. There are many vineyards and cellars to choose from across the Douro River from Porto’s city center. We chose to visit Taylor’s Port Wine Cellar. For 7 Euros a person, we were given a lesson in the origins and creation of port wine, a fantastic tour of the cellars, and three tastings that we were able to enjoy from a scenic veranda that overlooked the city of Porto. Such an amazing deal for this wonderful experience!

The Christmas Scene

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treeI loved the Christmas decorations found all over Porto, from the Christmas tree in front of City Hall (pictured above and on the right) to the ice skating rink in the park to the markets and finally the street lights (pictured below). On Christmas Day we sat inside Clerigos Church and listened to popular Christmas songs being played on the organ. We were surprised to find after the organ concert that the Clerigos museum and tower were open on Christmas, so we climbed the 240 steps for some breathtaking views of Porto’s city center and the Douro River.

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Sights

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As a book lover, I really enjoyed visiting the Lello & Irmao Bookstore (pictured above). It is said that the ornately decorated inside of the bookstore inspired parts of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. It is simply stunning!

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Porto has unique architecture. Its buildings are coated with tiles (pictured above). You will find grand tile murals located inside the Sao Bento train station.

If the weather is nice, like it was for us, then take a nice relaxing boat cruise down the Douro River. It is a great opportunity to get a different visual perspective of Porto and take lots of pictures.

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Seaside Excursion from Porto

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Since we were so blessed with sunny and warm weather, we decided to take the 500 bus from Porto’s city center (across from the Sao Bento train station) to Matosinhos, which is a nice beach town on the Atlantic Ocean. We got to Matosinhos in time to have a wonderful seafood lunch at Restaurante Lage do Senhor do Padrao. The seabass is fantastic (pictured on the right). foodMatosinhos has a wonderful walking path along the coast where you can people watch and enjoy the waves crashing on the shore (picture above). It is a great place to view an amazing sunset (picture at bottom).

We loved Porto! If it isn’t on your travel bucket list, it should be!

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