Sintra Portugal

The Astonishing Castles and Palaces of Sintra Portugal

The charming and picturesque small town of Sintra Portugal is located within the stunning natural landscape of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascaisl. This national park includes lush rain forest and steep hills that blend easily with the gorgeous coastline, situated only about 12 kilometers to the west. The hills and forest provide mild temperatures and a vast variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, but it’s the astonishing palaces and castles of Sintra that steal the show.

Quinta da Regaleira

 

This gothic and neo-manueline style palace, built in the mid-1800s, was my favorite. Not because of the interior, which was also remarkable, but because of the beautiful grounds and gardens surrounding the palace. They can only be described as paradise. I could have spent days wandering those gardens. Beneath the grounds are a series of caves and tunnels that lead to the bottom of an old secret well and a waterfall. It was a maze of wonders that left me wanting more.

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The streets in Old Medina Casablanca

8 Cultural Observations from an American in Casablanca Morocco

After being in the pristine and stunning countries of Germany, Austria, and Sweden, it was hard to adjust to life in a large, over populated, dusty, smelly city. I hate to admit it, but that really is my general opinion of Casablanca. Sure, it has some nice qualities, like beautiful beaches and the wealthy French Quarter, but in general my advice is that if you want to visit Morocco, skip Casablanca and try Marrakesh instead. I was there just long enough to learn some things about the culture, and here are 8 culture observations from an American visiting Casablanca, Morocco.

French influence

 

There is a heavy French influence in Casablanca that dates back to its history in the early 1900s. In fact, I think more people speak French than Arabic, at least in the area I was in. Street signs and marketing are mostly in Arabic, but everywhere you go people say “bonjour” or other common French phrases.

The bay of Bodrum from above

Bodrum, Turkey; City of Wonders

A few days into my Kos trip, someone asked me if I had been to Bodrum yet. “Is that one of the islands?” I asked in ignorance? Imagine my surprise when I found out it was Turkey, and only a 45-minute ferry ride away! I had an amazing day in Bodrum, Turkey, and to me it will always be the city of wonders.

Getting a Ticket

There is only one ferry that does a day trip to Bodrum. The rest of them leave in the evening and come back the next day. I tried to buy a ticket on line but had problems with the system, so I got on my scooter and rode to the office only to find out they were closed. In fact, many office close for several hours in the afternoon in Greece. With no other options, I decided to show up about an hour before departure the next morning, hoping they would still have available tickets. Success at last! With my ticket in hand I still had time to enjoy a Turkish cup of coffee before the voyage.

Turkish Coffee

The Turkish café near the marina brought me my steaming cup of strong coffee and I asked for some cream or milk. The woman just shook her head, stared at me with a blank face, and walked away. I wasn’t sure if she hadn’t understood me, or worse, maybe I had offended her. That is when a girl at the table next to me spoke up and explained that you don’t put milk or cream in Turkish coffee. It is unfiltered, so all the grounds sink to the bottom of the cup. If you pour milk in it all the coffee grounds will resurface. I asked her if you could then just wait for the grounds to sink to the bottom again before drinking it. She crinkled her brow, looking a little perplexed, but acknowledged that would probably work. A few moments later the woman did bring me some milk after all. It seemed like a pretty big ordeal for a single cup of coffee. The girl next to me also explained that fortune tellers in Turkey look into the grounds of the coffee at the bottom of your cup in order to tell your fortune.

Paradise Beach on the island of Kos

The Island of Kos Greece is the Perfect Place for Rest and Relaxation

Sometimes even travel bloggers need time to chill out, and that is exactly what took me to the remote island of Kos, Greece. Time and time again locals told me that American’s never visit Kos because it’s too far away. It must be true because although I met a lot of Europeans on the island, I only met one American and that was in the airport on the way home. One thing is for certain, the island of Kos, Greece is the perfect place for rest and relaxation.

Kefalos

 

Kefalos is a cute little traditional Greek village on the western side of the island. There are plenty of archaeological excavations and ruins to explore that are remains of ancient civilization. It is all jam packed of more modern places, including some fancy hotels, restaurants and night clubs. My hotel was located in Kefalos, and although I didn’t care for my accommodations, the pool was delightful and the town is right on the beach. Make sure you spend a day at Paradise Beach enjoying the warm turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea.

Geneva Lake

Geneva; Global Peacekeepers and Western Europe’s Largest Lake

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed with Geneva. Aside from the lake, it felt like just about any other big Western European city to me, but you have to consider where I had just been. I had just arrived after five days in Zermatt, which is a nature lovers paradise in the Alps, so I think any big city would have disappointed me at the time. In any case, I made the most of my short time there by going on a day tour of the city and later visiting Lake Geneva. Besides the typical rich history of most European cities, with many museums, cathedrals and galleries, Geneva is probably best known for being global peacekeepers and for having Western Europe’s largest Lake.

The United Nations

 

Geneva is the city with the highest number of international organizations in the world. It is home to the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. It is host to one of the four global offices of the United Nations and is of course where the Geneva Convention was signed. Geneva has a reputation for diplomacy and in fact has a refugee welcome center near the heart of the city. Perhaps that is why the people are so warm and inviting. I think it’s the nature of the Swiss people.

The view from Neuschwanstein Castle

Bier, Brats, and Beauty in Munich Germany

I only spent two days in Munich, but it left a lasting impression on me. The grander of the Alps, the many shades of green, the opulent castles, the delicious food, and helpful people, all left me wishing I could stay longer. It may have only been a stop-over on my way to Austria, but the bier, brats and beauty of Munich Germany will bring me back.

The Alps

It took us about an hour until we were outside of the city and passing beautiful green farm fields, giant windmills and starting to see glimpses of spectacular mountains poking through the mist in the distance.  The closer we got to the mountains, the more excited I got. My heart was racing as I took picture after picture of the grand mountain peaks towering above charming Bavarian villages.

 

Dreamy Castles

I signed up for a day tour to visit two fairy-tale looking castles. The first stop was Linderhof, the smallest of the three royal castles built in the 19th century by King Ludwig II, who was known for being quite eccentric. He was never married and died a suspicious death at the age of 41. The palace was built in the French Rococo style and is surrounded by perfectly groomed gardens and picturesque landscaping. A large white swan swam elegantly around the glassy pond and colorful flowers lined the shore. Outside the palace was a gorgeous fountain that shot high into the air every half hour. The inside of the castle was even more impressive. Every nook and cranny was gleaming with gold plate atop extraordinary designs. The walls and ceilings were covered in murals honoring various legends or religious figures.  The color and detail was incredible! The king’s bed was especially lavish, covered in blue velvet and silk with real gold embroidery and accessories. I stared in awe and couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to live as royalty in such a beautiful palace.