Pena National Palace

High atop the tallest hill in the Sintra Mountains sits the storybook Pena National Palace. It’s an amazing sight to behold. What used to be the remains of a defunct, simple Hieronymite (followers of Saint Jerome) monastery was severely damaged in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and left in disrepair until it was renovated into an elaborately decorated royal palace by the then King of Portugal, Ferdinand II. The expansive grounds … Continue reading Pena National Palace

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Bruges

Tucked up near the coast of northern Flemish Region of Belgium, also known as Flanders, lies the incredible medieval city of Bruges (French), or Brugge (Flemish Dutch). In many ways, it’s like walking back in time. The older canal-based area is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The name is thought to originate from the Old Dutch word for “bridge,” understandably, they are everywhere. In fact, the … Continue reading Bruges

Lisbon

Of all the national capitals I’ve visited, and there’s been more than a few, none has felt less like a capital than Lisbon, Portugal. Maybe all the various governmental offices are far away from the city center, or maybe they’re just less ostentatious than their European counterparts, but on the whole, the city felt more like a relaxed seaside port than a stiff place of state. … Continue reading Lisbon

Sintra

While the Castle of the Moors and Pena National Palace get all the press, along many other amazing chateaus and palaces in the region, the town of Sintra proper is simply adorable. Not far from the capital, Lisbon, it reminded my of some other towns I had seen in other parts of Europe, such as Southern France and Romania. Thankfully, we were there in off-season. … Continue reading Sintra

Castle of the Moors

Near the brightly colored Pena National Palace, lie the ruins of an ancient castle built by the Moors (North African Muslims) during Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s like anything one would imagine during the reign of King Arthur. It’s rampart battlements snake around an entire hilltop and provide an excellent view of the vast agricultural area it was intended to protect. Built during the 8th and … Continue reading Castle of the Moors

Gibraltar Is an Odd Place

Gibraltar is an odd place. It’s tiny and most of the space is taken up by a massive rock in the middle of the peninsula, namely the Rock of Gibraltar. “The name Gibraltar is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “Mountain of Tariq” (Wikipedia). It’s a British Overseas Territory, similar to Grand Cayman island in the Caribbean, and like … Continue reading Gibraltar Is an Odd Place

The End of the World

We recently traveled to the end of the world, or at least that’s what it might have felt like 500 years ago, and truth be told it felt a bit like that. Our recent travels in Portugal took us to Sagres, the most southeastern point in Europe and, strangely enough, the title of a song by The Tallest Man on Earth. The peninsula is historically strategic … Continue reading The End of the World

Albufeira

We stayed in a most lovely seaside town when we went to Portugal, called Albufeira!  Although the town center was quite touristic (catering to mainly British tourists from what we saw), outside of this area the town was charming and picturesque.  The beach was incredible, too–the sand is actually finely crushed shells which make it a lovely color and very soft to walk on.  Instead of booking a hotel, we … Continue reading Albufeira

Castro Marim

Just over the Portuguese border from Spain is a little village with a big castle called Castro Marim. Tourist season was over, so we missed the shows that they apparently put on, which include dramatizations of medieval life and fighting knights. Unlike other castles we have visited, this one does well to show what life might have been like instead of just an empty shell which … Continue reading Castro Marim

Seville

After all the hustle and bustle of Barcelona, arriving in Seville was somewhat a relief. The city has a wonderful ‘old town,’ where our hotel was located and we spent lots of time wandering around this part of the city. But, the highlight of our time in Seville was getting to see friends from Washington State, Jenny and Loch. The day we spent with them … Continue reading Seville