Category Archives: Europe

Sintra: Medieval Portugal

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Kevin and I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for a few days in late-September, and we took a day-trip to visit Sintra. Since we spent an entire day, and this is a popular option for folks visiting Lisbon, I made Sintra it’s own post. To fill you in if you didn’t read about Lisbon, the temperature was hot and everything was crowded. We were surprised because we thought travel at the end of September would be ideal (kids back in school, European holidays over, etc.), but I guess a lot of other travelers had the same idea!) Generally, Portugal has really warm summers, so I’d advise going in late-fall or early-spring if traveling in the heat isn’t your cup of tea.

Sintra is a medieval city that is a 40-45-minute train ride from Lisbon and costs about 5 Euro round-trip. Two train lines will get you there: Oriente-Sintra and the Rossio-Sintra. Since this is a city train, you can’t pre-purchase your tickets. Once you get off the train, be prepared, like in Lisbon, to walk up-hill. A lot. There is a bus system in Sintra to take tourists to the visitor sites, but also be prepared to wait in long lines for the bus. Even though we fought the heat and lines (I swear, I don’t usually complain this much!), Sintra is definitely a worthwhile day-trip from Lisbon if you’re already there.

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Sintra from above

The cool part about Sintra is, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so there is a lot of history. We did 3 big things on our day in Sintra:

  • National Palace: If we’re being honest, I’d skip this. We arrived pretty early in the day and still had to wait in line quite a while for tickets. Plus once we got in, we were crammed into the palace rooms like sardines. It is tempting to do this first because after getting off the train and into the heart of Sintra, it seems to be the most obvious thing to do. If you go in off-season and the lines are short, this would be a good option. My favorite part was the elaborate ceilings in all of the rooms!

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  • Moorish Castle: Even though a lot of walking was involved, a lot of it was in the shade (hallelujah!). We got some amazing photographs and enjoyed sitting and looking at the incredible view.

 

  • Pena Palace: The colors of the palace and overall experience were awesome. Trust me on this one: pay for the bus to take you up and down. Seriously. It is worth a few bucks.

 

For one final tip: most of the food is down in the city (not much to eat at the sites), so be sure to grab some lunch before heading up to the Moorish castle and Pena Palace!

Lisbon, The City of Seven Hills

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For the last several years, I have been hearing a buzz about Portugal. Kevin and I finally decided to take a trip there in early fall. While there were a lot of things I loved about Portugal, I wouldn’t put it in my “Top 10.” Overall I would recommend Lisbon (known by Europeans as Lisboa) and Sintra to someone who is a novice European traveler (see my next post to learn more about Sintra). Like Prague, it is easy for Americans to get around in Lisbon because most speak English.

Like I mentioned, my husband and I went in late September, but it was HOT in Lisbon. Most businesses/restaurants do not have air conditioning (our hotel did, thank goodness), so traveling in the off-season is advised.  When we arrived, all of the taxis were on strike, so we had to take the metro from the airport to the nearest station and lug our suitcases about 20+ minutes up cobblestone roads in 90 degree heat. Normally we don’t mind walking/taking public transport and we rarely get taxis when we travel, but with luggage, walking to our hotel was a challenge. We stayed at the Casa Das Janelas Com Vista, a boutique hotel running about $180 a night. I would certainly recommend the hotel for those who like to walk a lot and want a neighborhood feel. For those who have read my other blog posts, you know that my husband and I prefer boutique hotels because they are often quieter and we feel like we get a more local experience. My favorite part about our hotel in Lisbon (other than the A/C!) was the breakfast area. It was an eclectic mix of furniture/dishes and had a great breakfast spread. The staff was also extremely helpful. The hotel was in the Barrio Alto district of Lisbon, a thriving bar and restaurant neighborhood. While there were some great views nearby and it was nice to be near a lot of restaurants at night, the mornings were dirty and smelly in the nightlife aftermath. Lisbon is known as the City of Seven Hills. When we booked our hotel, we were willing to be further from the metro to be in a cool neighborhood, but when the taxis are on strike (and no Uber), it is the City of Seven Million Hills. One cool feature of the area was the Ascensor da Bica funicular which could assuage the steep slopes of Lisbon (plus the street art was awesome).

Kevin and I spent the money to get the Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus (Gray Line), and I wouldn’t really recommend this in Lisbon during high season. We usually do this in all the big cities (for a day or two), and they are really convenient, but the taxis being on strike, the heat, and the wait-times made the experience irritating. Although without taxis, I’m not sure how else we would have gotten to these places!

I won’t tell you about all of the stops we made, but one of our favorites was the National Coach Museum which houses carriages/vehicles from the 17th-19th centuries. I had never heard of such a place, and it was a pleasant surprise! The building itself is in an old riding school, so the sense of place was unique. It was only about 6 Euro to get in and it was air-conditioned! Kids under 12 get in for free. We also enjoyed visiting Belem Tower and got some great pictures (see below). Belem Tower is a 16th century fortification right on the water. We waited in line, but it moved pretty quickly since it was nearing the end of the day.

One of our favorite spots to visit was a bar named…Bar (no mincing words, apparently) near our hotel. One of our favorite experiences in Lisbon was the opportunity to find a watering hole run by locals that we could chat with other people. We met the owner, John a native Lisbon-ite who loved quoting American action films (black t-shirt below), met a German couple on their honeymoon and an American-born Ukrainian woman, among others. We had to drink outside because it was too hot to stay indoors! If you ever travel, try to take the opportunity to meet people and strike up a conversation (this is very American of me, I know). Our international crew spent the night talking about politics, travel, and our interests. Isn’t that what travel is all about?

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Our next full day in Lisbon, Kevin and I went to the Jeronimos Monestary. We took some nice pictures, but the line was so long. If you want to do this, go first thing in the morning!

Then, we decided to ditch the Hop-On-Hop-Off and take a ferry to the Cristo Rei Statue. We actually had to take a ferry AND to a bus to get there, but it was a beautiful day, and the breeze near the water was glorious. It wasn’t crowded at all, so compared to our other experiences of waiting in line everywhere, it was so pleasant! If you are in Lisbon, do not miss this experience. The views of the statue and the water were breathtaking. To get there, you depart from Cais do Sodré ferry terminal and then take a short bus ride from the Cacilhas bus station. Cristo Rei, built in the 1950s, was created by the same artist who did Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janero (Portugal colonized Brazil many years ago, so this makes sense). You can pay 6 Euros to go all the way up into the statue, but we thought the views were fantastic at the bottom. By the way, the bridge below is NOT the Golden Gate…it’s the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge over the River Tagus.

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Our last night in Lisbon we stopped for a cocktail and had dinner at Lost In with an amazing view back in the Barrio Alto district. Of all the places we ate in Lisbon, this is the restaurant I would recommend (ask for outside or a spot with a view – WOWZA).

While the experience is Lisbon wasn’t as amazing as we expected or as life-changing as other places we’ve visited, it was definitely enjoyable and we have many great memories there. If you are a city-person, it is worth exploring – cheers!

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Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

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Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

Ever since I saw the musical Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye when I was six years old and read Number the Stars when I was ten, I’ve always dreamed of visiting Copenhagen. It is a city rooted in history, culture, and fairy tales (Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and Thumbelina, among others). We enjoyed our visit to this city very much!

Kevin and I visited Copenhagen at the end of November, and the city was alive with the holiday spirit and Christmas Markets (not to mention all the bicycles!). If you are ever interested in visiting Copenhagen go during the Christmas season! It was magical. Around the city, Glogg (hot mulled wine) and booths with crafts abound. It was truly a delightful time of year to go, and I think we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without the holiday twist.

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That being said, the temperature was pretty chilly. I was wearing a winter coat, hat and gloves, but after traveling quite a bit, I always prefer walking around when it’s cold vs. when it’s really warm. The chill kind of contributed to the holiday charm, but definitely prepare to bundle up.

We spent 3 full days in the city and it was definitely enough. Had we had another full day, we might have gone outside of the city to see more of Denmark, but we had plenty of time to see what we needed to see. We stayed at the Andersen Boutique Hotel not too far from the train station (we took the train in from the airport – it was very simple and clean). We were able to walk to hotel with our bags. I prefer boutique hotels (with breakfast) whenever we travel. This was an affordable option (about $190 a night) in an up-and-coming area of the city compared to many other hotels I looked at; hotels in Copenhagen are extremely expensive. Not only was there a full breakfast, but there was a complimentary wine hour from 5-6 PM! The rooms were bright and clean, but fairly small. We hardly spent any time at the hotel, so the room size didn’t bother me.

We spent our first day (late afternoon and evening) walking around Nyhavn. The restaurants along the waterfront are overpriced, but there was a Christmas Market and the scenery along the cobbled streets was to die for! No. 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in Copenhagen dating to the 1680s!

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The next morning we ventured to Carlsburg Brewery. This brewery, dating to 1847 was a trip highlight! We did a self-guided tour and seeing the difference modern vs. historic brewing materials was really interesting, plus we enjoy Carlsburg Beer! The brewery allowed guests the option to pay for a horse carriage ride in the Carlsburg District, but Kevin and I opted to just visit the horses in the stables. It was fun to walk around the brewery/district for the morning (hey, it’s 5:00 somewhere!).

In the afternoon we ventured onto the bus (which was clean, but not a lot was written in English, so have a person with good directional skills or a plan!) to go find the statue of the Little Mermaid. While the statue herself is underwhelming, she is a popular tourist attraction, and it was fun to go find her at the Langelinie promenade and take a picture (see above).

The meals weren’t great in Copenhagen – pickled herring isn’t really my thing, but we found a tasty Italian restaurant there called Bueno! And of course we stopped to buy a Danish (pastry) whenever we could!

On our third day, we went to Christiansborg Palace, one of the residences of the royal family. The royal family still hosts events at the palace, so it was interesting to see! I enjoyed the ruins underneath the palace, the artwork in the Royal Reception Rooms, and the Royal Kitchen. I also loved the library which reminded me of Beauty and the Beast! The cost was about 25 USD (or 150 Danish Kroner). We also had the opportunity to take an elevator to The Tower where we saw breathtaking views of the city (if only it hadn’t been cloudy and cold!).

The evening on our third day was the experience we had come all the way to Copenhagen to experience – Tivoli! Tivoli was truly one of the most magical places I have ever been, and the entire night, I couldn’t stop smiling. Tivoli Gardens is a charming amusement park and pleasure garden in the heart of the Copenhagen. It opened in 1843 and (barely!) survived Nazi occupation during World War II. The reason Tivoli was especially magical was because of the Christmas season. The lights and rides and music and ambiance and Glogg just made me feel warm inside (even though I was definitely cold on the outside!). Without a doubt, Tivoli made a good trip, a great one. If you are visiting Copenhagen you do not want to miss this on your trip, but be careful. They aren’t open year-round. They close for several weeks in the late fall to prepare for the holidays. Tickets don’t come cheap – especially if you want to go on rides. Entrance for us (no rides included) was about $40. Some may consider that a lot of money just to “walk around,” but to me the experience was worth the money.

Copenhagen was a delight, and I am glad we paired it with our trip to London. If you are looking for a European city to visit for a few days during the holiday season, Copenhagen is a fantastic opinion! Skål (Cheers)!

Besties in Wien! (Vienna, Austria)

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Vienna (Wien) is such a delightful place. I posted about Salzburg a couple of years ago, and while Vienna is not considered Bavaria (you won’t have the mountains in Wien like you do in Salzburg), it is still very beautiful in its own way. After leaving Paris, Lynnsey and I flew KLM to Vienna to visit a friend, Beth, who lives there. We flew round trip from our hometown (Atlanta) to Paris, so we purchased an intra-European flight from Paris to Vienna. One difficulty we had was luggage. Since we flew internationally we did not have to pay to check baggage from Atlanta to Paris, but on the KLM intra-European flight, they charged to check a bag which increased the price of our tickets. If you are traveling this way, be sure to check baggage fees (which normally DO apply within Europe) and plan accordingly.

As soon as we arrived in Vienna, our first stop was for Wiener-Schnitzel. For it to be TRUE Wiener-Schinetzel, it must be from Vienna. The traditional Wiener-Schinetzel is tender calf’s meat served with potato salad (which is different than American potato salad – no mayo). The restaurant & brewery Beth took us to was called Salm Brau. The food and beer were delicious and the servings were huge…I could only manage to eat half of my meal.

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After full bellies and a good night’s sleep, we decided to spend the day in Bratislava, Slovakia – about an hour and fifteen minutes from Vienna by bus. Round trip bus tickets cost about $30, and the bus had A/C and WiFi. I love going to a place that I don’t know much about, so I have no expectations and am never disappointed! Bratislava is a hidden European gem! The weekend we were there, the city was celebrating the coronation of Maria Theresa of Hapsburg, so there were food, drink and crafts tents in the main part of town. A half-liter of beer was only 1 Euro – what a deal compared to the expensive city of Paris just a few days before! We even had a good laugh about the “roast beast” cooking on the spit.

We spent the day wandering around the city, and we made the uphill climb to the castle. We didn’t go inside, but the views of the city and the Danube from atop the hill were worth the walk.  Bratislava was definitely a highlight of our entire trip to Europe. I have heard that it is a pretty sleepy town if a festival isn’t taking place, but the hustle and bustle of the center of town made for a really fun day!

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Atop the hill with the Danube River behind

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View of Bratislava

We talked about going to Budapest (a 3-hour bus ride) another day of the trip, and although we were very tempted, with only two days left in Vienna, we wanted to explore the city we were staying in, BUT know that Vienna is very centrally located. If someone were in the city for a week or ten days, it would be a great location for “home base” and from Vienna travel to Salzburg, Budapest, and/or Bratislava for day/overnight trips.

To get around in Vienna, we bought tram tickets. Tram-ticketing is basically done on the honor system – we paid, but no one ever asked for our tickets (this was the same in Prague). I wouldn’t advise jumping on a tram without paying not only because its dishonest, but you can also receive a ticket if you’re caught. For our tour of Vienna, Beth took us to Schonbrunn, a palace that was the former imperial summer residence. After taking an hour-long audio tour of the palace, we paid a small fee for a sample and baking demonstration of (crisp) apple strudel, walked up to the Gloriette for Viennese coffee, and took photographs of the lovely gardens. I really enjoyed this outing and is a must-see for Vienna. Be sure to wear good walking shoes!

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Strudel-Making Demonstration!

 

We spent our final day in Vienna looking at the city’s gorgeous architecture. That is probably my favorite part of Vienna…you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy European beauty. Just walking the streets/grounds is a treat because the city is so beautiful and clean! So, we walked the grounds of the Belvedere and Austrian Parliament and took photos not only of the buildings but the statues and flowers. We couldn’t have asked for better weather in late June. WOW. Every picture I took looked like it came from a postcard.

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The Belvedere

We found a great spot for lunch in the Naschmarkt. The restaurant we ate at (Neni) was actually Israeli food, but the Naschmarkt area has many different options, and it was fun to walk around there! With a yummy lunch that we needed to walk off, we enjoyed going into St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a replica of the Parthenon.

I adored Vienna. It exceeded my expectations, and I can’t wait to go back for their famous Christmas markets someday! Until next time Wien, Auf Wiedersehen!

 

 

 

The Hills are Alive!

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Since I was out of the womb, The Sound of Music has been my favorite movie. Salzburg (because of its iconic Sound of Music Tour) had been #1 on my Bucket List for as long as I can remember. We flew Aer Lingus from Dublin to Munich and then took a train to Salzburg right away. The train ride from Munich to Salzburg was about two hours. The German signs at the train station were pretty difficult to read, especially since neither Kevin or I had any experience with the German language. Luckily, in Munich a lot of folks spoke English, and we could ask. We found less English-speakers in Salzburg.

Upon our arrival in the afternoon, we walked around the Old Town, and I wish we had a hotel located there instead of on the outskirts of the city. We decided to stay outside of Old Town to save a couple of bucks but looking back, it would have been nice to spend the money on staying closer to the historic city center. The little shops and cafes were so much fun to experience at a leisurely pace. One of our favorite parts of our trip to Austria was the outdoor polka festival we stumbled upon downtown that first night! Yummy beer, pretzels the size of your head, and beautiful city scenery…what better?!

One thing to note: everything in the city shuts down by 8PM. What a delight! Kevin and I prefer to get up early and go to bed early anyway, so the Salzburg lifestyle worked just fine for us!

Our second day was the Sound of Music tour.  I am aware that I am a tad over-dramatic and highly emotional, so needless to say tears of joy streamed down my face on the tour. Everything was so just so lovely and wonderful, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. The hills truly are alive.

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One thing to note, is that there are a lot of parts of the movie that were filmed in a studio (such as the inside of the VonTrapp House), so the stops on the tour were the ones filmed on location such as Mirabelle Gardens for the Do Re Mi song. The absolute best part of the tour was going up into the mountains to the town of Fuschl – the views were out of this world.

Kevin and I absolutely loved Salzburg, and we cannot wait to go back.