The town of Cascais, near Sintra

Magical Sintra Portugal and the Unbeaten Path

There is something special about the energy of Sintra Portugal. From the moment I arrived I felt alive and well. I haven’t felt such positive energy since Rishikesh, India or Friday Harbor, Washington. I don’t know if it’s the climate, the sea air, the happy people, or its mystical history, but Sintra is simply magical, and I really didn’t want to leave. The village is so much more than palaces and castles. Get off the typical tourist path and you will discover gorgeous beaches, charming coastal towns, impressive wineries and a fascinating history.

The Cork Covenant

 

Capuchos, also known at the Cork Convent, is a 15th century monastery that provided refuge to impoverished people. It’s intriguing to think that at the same time they were building all those lavish palaces, they erected a monastery for the poor, in between ancient boulders and Cork Trees. The door frames are about 4 feet tall and edged with cork bark. The hallways are about two feet wide and the ceilings about 5 feet high. The buildings feel like part of the landscape and the whole place has an incredible spiritual vibe. I sat and mediated there for a while. One of the more fascinating stories about the place is that one of the most famous monks fell in love with a woman, and they moved into a tiny cave just outside the monastery, where they lived happily together for the next 30 years.

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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.

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.

The top of the Matterhorn the day of the climb

Father and Son From Germany Fulfill Their 16-Year Dream to Climb the Matterhorn

I was enjoying some Swiss cheese fondue and a glass of wine in Zermatt when I saw them walk by. They didn’t look like the other tourists. They carried helmets on their packs and walked with a certain resolve that immediately caught my attention. These guys are on a mission, I thought to myself. Imagine my surprise when I returned back to my hostile and found them lounging in my door room. I introduced myself and asked about their gear. Christoph and Herbert Maile couldn’t contain their excitement. They were about to fulfill their 16-year dream to climb the Matterhorn, and sometime later that evening they agreed to give me the honor to tell their story.

I did my pre-climb interview the next morning with Chris, who speaks fluent English. He was 24 years old and full of energy. As we sipped our cappuccinos and ate our breakfast, I pestered him with a bunch of questions. His enthusiasm was contagious and I hoped to god they would make the summit.

Me: How many people are in your climb group?

Chris: Me, Dad (who is 56) and two guides. One is assigned to helping my father and one is assigned to helping me.

Me: Do you mind if I ask how much the guides cost?

Chris: No, that’s fine. They cost 1,000 euros each (about 1,180 USD).

Me: What does your mom think of this?

Chris: She knows she can’t stop us, so she just accepts it.

Me: How long do you anticipate it will take you?

Chris: A few hours the first day to reach the Carell hut where we spend the night. Then we will leave at dawn or whenever the weather is right for the summit. That should take another 4 to 5 hours, even though it is only 700 meters. It will take an additional 3 to 4 hours to climb down to the Carell hut and then we have to leave that night so we are hiking all the way back down to the bottom which will be another 4 hours.

Me: So, you could be climbing for 12 to 13 hours that day?

Chris: Yah, (he says, with a shrug of his shoulders, like it’s no big deal).

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.

Zermatt

Zermatt Switzerland; Biker, Hiker, Skiing Paradise

Zermatt Switzerland reminds me of Whistler, Canada and Rhotang Pass in India mixed all together. The panoramic views of the Alps, combined with the easy access to world renowned trails for recreational sport, make Zermatt, Switzerland a biker hiker, skiing paradise for tourists from around the globe. And by biker, I mean bicycles, because no gas engines are allowed in the town, nor are any private cars. The taxis and delivery vehicles are all electric, and residents get around by walking, bicycling, cable car or train. It leaves the air smelling about as pure as you can find anywhere on the planet.

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

 

With a cost of about $135 USD for a round trip to ticket, it’s expensive to get to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, but it was worth every penny. It sits at an elevation of 12,739 feet and the view will leave you breathless. It’s about a 45-minute cable car ride to the top. As you sit in the relative comfort of your cable car, you look down on glaciers, green meadows with pretty wild flowers scattered about, pristine waterfalls, and lots of people hiking and biking the trails. At the top, there is an ice palace full of ice caves and ice sculptures, a restaurant, café, and panoramic viewpoint for tourists to enjoy.