Reconnecting with my Roomie in Salt Lake

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This summer we managed to make two stop overs in Salt Lake City to see my college roommate and her family. I met this woman as a scared 18-year-old college student, and we managed to stick it out together for four years. We went to each other’s weddings, visited each other in different countries and just managed to stay in touch all these years.

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So when the opportunity came to have our families hang out, we jumped at it.

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Julie graciously opened up her basement guestroom/playroom, and my kids thought they were in heaven.

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When we drove up into the mountains, however, I thought I might be in heaven.

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The kids got along famously well.

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And everything was so green, so green, you see.

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It was a welcome sight to our Oklahoma eyes. And the mountains were everywhere.

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And just when our hosts said, “Sometimes we see moose up here.”

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Baby moose alert! He/she let us get pretty close.

Because it was summer, the air was pretty dry, too. We came home dusty.

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(Probably not going to make the family Christmas card. But still so pretty.)

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It was so great to be with Julie and her family that we were sad to leave. But a week later, we ended up stranded in Salt Lake on the way home with a canceled flight. So we went back to Julie’s again. #bonusextranight

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(She has an etsy shop, with the most delightful baby items. They’re so cute they almost make me want to have another.)

Next up: they need to come to Oklahoma so we can show them some bison. Or something.

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The Travel Guide to Portugal (or the one time I was organized)

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For once in my life I actually kept track of some costs. I thought I’d share some of the prices of our trip just to give you an idea, both of what we did and what you could expect if you did something similar.

Airport shuttle: $30
We looked into various options for getting from the airport to our apartment. There’s a city bus, there’s a train. I hate that discombobulated feeling I have when arriving in a new country for the first time, and I much prefer to have someone meeting me. The Hello Lisbon service that we booked our apartment through had a shuttle service, so we opted for that.

We would have taken the train back to the airport for sure, but we needed to make a stop at the tile stop and didn’t have time to do that on the train. So we took a taxi to the airport on our return trip.

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Tram: $2.85 per journey
Around town, you must take the iconic yellow trams that zip through the streets. There are other options, too, like buses, but come on! You’re in Lisbon. Take the yellow trams. The locals do it.

There was a tram that ran right outside our apartment, so it was very convenient for getting home and not having to walk up the hill. However, I wouldn’t want to drive on those narrow streets and have to navigate around the trolleys!

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Hop on, Hop off Yellow Bus: $19.50 each
For our trip up to the northern part of the city (where the Torre of Belem and the Jeronimos Monastery are), we visited the tourism office on the Praca do Comercio square and bought these tickets. They have three bus lines like this (yellow, red, purple) that cover different areas. Given our limited time, we picked one. There was also a package deal for doing all three, but I don’t remember the cost.

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Torre de Belem: $6 entrance
Worth it? Probably. It wasn’t much.

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Castelo San Jorge: $12 entrance
Yes, worth it, especially doing it at sunset like we did.

Train, Lisbon to Sintra: $4.30
Really? Do you have to even ask?

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Quinta de Regaleira: $6 entrance
Definitely.

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Palacio de Pena: $14 entrance
On the higher end, but worth it, especially if you spend the whole day and explore the grounds.

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Moorish Castle: $8 entrance
Cheap enough for experiencing a piece of history.

Local Sintra bus 434 to get to the two castles at the top of the mountain: $5 each
And you’ll feel so cool doing it.

Train, Sintra to Lisbon to Albufeira: $23.45 each
Man, I wish we had more train travel in the US. Convenient, simple, efficient.

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So that’s what I’ve got! No food was included here, but that should give you an idea of what the attractions cost.

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I don’t often want to return to places, but I’d definitely go back to Portugal. We just didn’t have time to savor everything and do everything and see everything.

Maybe for our 20-year anniversary? #lifegoals

The Algarve

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When we were planing our Portugal trip, a friend of mine chimed in. “Oh, I loved going to Portugal for vacation when I lived in Spain! The beaches are amazing!”

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That sealed the deal. She said “beach.” I’m a beach girl. Growing up, we often spent Thanksgiving weekend on Ecuador’s coast, and while living in California, I made the hour-plus drive to the beaches as often as I could. This now land-locked lady was determined to make the beach happen.

We left Sintra’s glorious crispness by train and headed south. My husband had been in favor of a remote fishing village; I was afraid there wouldn’t be much life there, and that we’d have a hard time getting there if there wasn’t a train station.

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We ended up in Albufeira, a perfectly nice town, but I suppose all the British tourists out drinking for St. Patrick’s day ruined it for me. That and we had spend all our “cool hotel capital” in the other two cities and had hurriedly booked a personality-less rectangular place on the beach. It was full of older German tourists, probably heading off on a bus together in the mornings.

It happened to be a rainy couple of days, and this leg of the trip began with a tearful phone call from our 5-year-old son: “Mama and Papa, please come back. Oma and Opa don’t understand anything I’m saying!”

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We enjoyed a typical meal that first rainy evening, having inquired of the desk clerk for good local good and borrowing an umbrella for a soggy walk up the hill. (And rest assured dinner included the vinho verde Portugal is well known for.)

The next day was mostly just as dreary, so we walked for several hours along the craggy cliffs in the drizzle. It was actually pretty enjoyable, but chilly.

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This fisherman was trying to catch his supper.

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We walked most of the evening, too, into downtown and down a strange outdoor escalator to the beach. We checked into taking a bus out to a smaller village, but the schedules weren’t great and we’d have spent most of our time on the bus. So we skipped the fishing village.

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(I did find the most perfect turquoise door, right on a cliff looking down at the beach. It’s probably some irresistible Airbnb room, and probably where we should have stayed.)

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Looking back, I’d have preferred head up to Porto (north of Lisbon on the coast, allegedly a land of olive trees and Port wine) or spend another few days in Sintra.

But at least I can say I scratched that beach itch for the year.

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What Kind of Name is That? …MOORISH*

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So somehow on the morning we hiked the Castle of the Moors I must not have felt like lugging around my DSLR. I don’t have any photos from that morning, apart from one iPhone photo. Maybe I was living in the moment instead of documenting. Or maybe I just didn’t like any of the photos and deleted them.

You’ll have to be content with that one up there, and the few I took from the Pena Palace, where you can just barely see the outline of the castle walls on the ridge.

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The castle is in ruins, but you can hike along the walls and enjoy spectacular views from all angles. There are several placards throughout the grounds, explaining pre-Islamic tombs and other historic elements of the area. The Moorish Castle itself is built on top of the ruins of a much older society. The spots where this older society ground their corn are still there.

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While this site isn’t as fantastical as the Pena Palace, the lush grounds and views make it worth the $8 entrance fee. The vegetation was particularly lovely when we were there in spring. Again, don’t take the tourist bus to the top of the mountain. Take Sintra city bus 434. This site has more images of the castle and some good historical information.

I’d say this site is for someone who is in at least moderate shape, because of the long (ish) walk to the site from the entrance and the many sets of stairs within the castle grounds. And then, because my husband is obsessed with ultra-running, I took the bus back to town, while he laced up his sneakers and ran all those switchbacks.

#crazy

But he could have MUCH worse hobbies.

*Yep. That’s a movie quote. Any guesses which one?

Pena Palace

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The other place that’s on my must-see list in Sintra, Portugal is the Pena Palace, or the Palacio de Pena. This magical storybook structure is perched atop one of the two peaks overlooking the city.

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It faces the 13th century Moorish Castle, and the contrast could not be more stark. One is gray, square, and in ruins. The other is painted lively shades of yellow, purple, blue, red, and blends together a medieval chapel, Islamic, Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

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This place was amazing, and we definitely ran out of time to explore the expansive grounds around it, including views of Lisbon and the Atlantic ocean.

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Travel tip: there’s a city bus that runs a continuous circuit between Sintra and the two castles on the hill, Palacio Pena and the Moorish Castle. It has stops in downtown and near the train station. I think we paid somewhere around 5 euro for a round trip ticket that was good for 24 hours. We finished one day at Palacio Pena, and took the bus up again to the Moorish Castle the next day. Don’t go for the expensive, obnoxious tourist bus.

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Inside, there’s the usual stunning array of details.

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Hand-carved moldings…
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Arches, and tile…

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All the tile.

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And enviable color pallets. And hardware.

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They’re really done a wonderful restoration job as well as maintenance. All the attractions are well marked, with approximate distances for hikes so you can plan your time.

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Oh, and there’s a cute little cafe at the top of the Palace. We got coffee. #alwayscoffee

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May I just point out that my pants match the building? Thank you.

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In the end, it grew dark and cold on the mountain and we shut the place down. Like the security guards were escorting us to the exit. We couldn’t tear ourselves away.

And do I have to even say it? Just go.

The Devil’s in the Details, and They Got Every One

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That first afternoon in Sintra, we caught the city bus up the hill to the Regaleira Estate (Quinta de la Regaleira). I didn’t know what to expect, but what a feast for eyes and senses. The building itself is an amazing example of Gothic architecture, but just as impressive, if not more so, are the expansive grounds.

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Tunnels, gardens, paths, grottos, a chapel with a hidden exit – I can only imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. During our visit it was overrun with Spanish teenagers, but hey, that’s what you get.

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Inside the residence there’s a wealth of detail.

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Inlaid ceilings, gorgeous carvings, mosaic tiles, hand-carved ceilings and doorways dripping with creatures.

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Outside…

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The family had a private chapel with an underground exit. Except the chapel only held about 15 people, so if you decide to skip out on the service, did they think no one would notice?

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Does it remind you of a giant drip castle?

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We walked every step up in this spiraling former cistern.

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And explored the hidden walkways of the tunnels.

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By the end, I was on sensory overload.

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I’d definitely love to go back and explore again.

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Especially with my favorite exploring buddy – you know, the one who carries the backpack.

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Sintra

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If all the kings horses, and all the king’s men (and all the kings themselves) want to live in Sintra, that’s probably a good clue you should go visit. The Portuguese monarchs always choose the best spots.

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Sintra, where even the random public fountains are amazing works of art.

I didn’t pay too much attention to this portion of the planning, but my husband said we should go, so I had some vague notion about a castle. (Make that at least 5, because I wasn’t paying attention.)

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We took the train up, and it was an easy 45 minute ride from Lisbon. We stayed two nights, and so had a full day in between to explore, plus some extra on the day we arrived. I could have stayed much longer.

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The town was quaint and walkable, the air crisp and of course, gorgeous architecture everywhere.

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We didn’t even have time to go in the National Palace at the center of town. (Those two cones in the background are its spires.)

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If you go, don’t be like me. Spend a couple of days there.

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Maybe don’t stay here, though. That one’s a little creepy.

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