Évora, Portugal

We drove from Sintra to Évora yesterday. Driving in Portugal is very easy once you are on the highways. There isn’t a lot of traffic and the roads are good. We did have to drive by Lisbon on the way and our route took us over a nice bridge and a statue in Lisbon.

The weather has been very hot the last couple of days with temps in the low 90’s. I haven’t seen any rivers by Évora so it is interesting on why settlers built a town here a long time ago. Évora is a UNESCO site and has been inhabited since the 2nd century BC. A lot of the architecture has been preserved over the years and the town was spared from serious damage from the big earthquake in Lisbon in the 1700’s. The city is actually less populated now than it was in the Middle Ages. The town is uniquely painted basically in either yellow or blue paint. The town has built within the original walls and aqueduct.

Anytime someone passes away in town, there is a public announcement posted to the column. There are always people looking at the announcements.

We visited the Chapel of Bones which is literally a room full of bones. It was built in the 16th century and it is believed there are around 5,000 skeletons in there. The bones came from several cemeteries from a dozen of churches in the city. The entrance of the chapel has “We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours”. It was a little creepy…

This is graduation week in town so hopefully I don’t hear the drums all night. This is the only week that bars are allowed to be open all night into the morning hours. Last night wasn’t so bad but the hotel did mention it could be loud tonight. At least there are nice sunsets with the hot weather. The rooftop patio is a very nice place to take in sunset.

Sintra Sights

The weather was perfect today to visit the palace and castle on top of the hill. The hotel gave us advice to purchase our tickets beforehand and to get there before the park opens because the line gets very long. By the time we got up there, the line was already long. After getting in the park, we then waited in another line for a shuttle up to the palace. You can either do a steep walk or pay for a shuttle. We saved some time and energy and opted to get a ride. While on the bus, we overheard a tour guide tell his group that once they get off the bus, they would go straight for the entrance. They could take pictures of the palace after they see the inside because the line will only get longer.

The first place we visited was the Pena Palace and the grounds. The palace was built for King Ferdinand (the cousin of King Ludwig in Germany who built the famous Neuschwanstein castle). It took a long time to get through the palace because of all the tour groups. If you are claustrophobic, this is not the place to visit. I thought the palace was very nice but really wish they could control the crowds some. We then walked around the grounds to the high cross and some other spots.

After visiting the place, we hiked to the castle of the Moors. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries. It was one of the most unique castles I have ever visited. You could walk along the walls. There were a lot of stairs, but there aren’t railings so I do wonder how some people don’t fall over the wall. Once we finished here, we then hiked back down to the city. We visited one more palace in the evening but really it was the first two sights that were worth the stressful driving experience here.

The one thing we aren’t doing while in Sintra is driving to the coast to see sunset. You can be the last person to see sunset in continental Europe but we have no desire to get the car out here. I had a very hard time narrowing down the 200 pictures today but hopefully these will give you a sense of how beautiful Sintra is.

Made it to Sintra, Portugal

All tour books suggest that you don’t drive into Sintra. I think this is one of the times I should have taken that advice. Sintra is located on a hillside about 45 minutes from Lisbon. It is a popular day trip from Lisbon but only if you can come in the middle of the week. Friday – Monday are supposed to be the worst. I would now agree with tour books that you shouldn’t drive into Sintra. We arrived shortly before 3 PM but didn’t get to the hotel until around 4 PM. The first time, we missed the street to our hotel and our detour took us up to the palace. This would be fine except we maybe went 5 mph for about 30 minutes. All the streets are pretty much one way and there isn’t a shorter route to get back. The next time, we got the right street but there wasn’t any parking available in front of the hotel. They have 3 spots but they were full. I was going to try to squeeze into a little spot on the end but I had a bus right behind me who wasn’t willing to go around. So I had to keep on going which was about another 20 minute detour around the city. At least I didn’t have to go back up by the palaces. The next time, I double parked in front of a different building and we were able to get the hotel to come get our luggage and then go park our car in their garage for us. Phew…that was maybe the worst time driving into a city.

The city was packed full of people. It was a little overwhelming after coming from a beach town. We visited the presidential palace before it closed because we knew our full day here would be spent visiting the palace and castle on top of the hill.

Fátima, Portugal

We left Nazaré yesterday to drive to Sintra. Since we had some time between checking out in Nazaré and being able to check in at Sintra, we decided to stop at Fátima. Fátima is a famous pilgrimage city, especially on May 13th of every year. The story goes that three young children were visited 6 times by the Virgin Mary on May 13, 1917 and the 13th of the next five months. They were told three things that would happen and it is believed that each of these items has happened. It was an interesting stop and I can imagine how full the square and all of the chapels would be full on the 13th.

Nazaré, Portugal

We flew from Germany to Portugal yesterday. We flew into Lisbon and picked up a rental car and drove a little over an hour north to Nazaré. The town is located on the Atlantic Ocean and is most known for the giant surfing waves. The town is located on a beautiful beach with some of the cleanest sand I have seen. I don’t think they have seaweed here. The beach is very wide and pretty long. I hear in the summer time, the beach is packed with umbrellas and people laying everywhere. On the north side of the rock is where the worlds largest waves are. The waves are big around October – February so today just looked like a normal day at the beach. If you do a search on Nazaré, you will see some pretty cool videos of the big waves that people have surfed.

We stayed on the much calmer side of the ocean as that is where the town is. We started by being some of the first people down on the beach this morning. I decided to have my photo taken and of course one of the larger waves came in and got me soaked. It took some time for my shorts to dry but it was refreshing. There was a girls beach soccer tournament going on that was interesting to watch. We then went to the local market to see the locals shop. I was successful in ordering a pastry but I didn’t try much more than that.

We spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood on top of the hill. We took the funicular up and the stairs back down. There were beautiful views of the town and ocean on top as well as a fort turned into a surfing museum. It was very windy up there but it sounds like a lot of people go up there to watch surfing competitions.

The town was packed full of people by the time we came back down. The road was lined with cars and the sidewalk was full. There were a lot more people on the beach. I liked the morning hours a lot better when everyone was still sleeping. Dinner here doesn’t usually start until around 7 and they stay up a lot later.

With only two nights here, we are off to the next town tomorrow. I have enjoyed this town so much that we actually considered canceling our next hotel to stay here another 2 nights. We didn’t end up doing this but I would easily recommend this town to anyone coming to Portugal outside of the crowded summer months.

Moseltal Drive

We spent today driving in the Mosel valley. I have never seen so many vineyards as I did today. Around 95% of the grapes are for Riesling wines. I can’t imagine how busy it is in this region the first week of September which is when it is harvest time. I still don’t understand how they pick all of the grapes and one of the wineries has the steepest vineyard in the world. Most of the work they are doing now is just cutting the grass down.

We stopped in a couple of cute towns. One of my favorite sights was in a town called Trier. There is a lot of history in this town including that it used to be the head of the Roman Empire. They have a gate there called the Porta Nigra which is the largest gate remaining north of the alps.

At the very end, we drove to a castle that was pretty far off of the river and the highway. The castle is still privately owned and the family currently lives near Frankfurt. The Eltz Castle is in great condition and is still open for tours. You can’t take pictures inside but we did enjoy a tour in German. We got there at the end of the day so there were hardly any people at the castle which made it very pleasant.

Rhine River Drive

We spent the entire day driving along the Rhine yesterday. At some point, I will learn that a quick stop in a town isn’t a quick stop because I really enjoy walking the quaint little streets. We drove down one side, took a ferry to the other side and drove back. They have a nice road right next to the Rhine for cars. Every town we stopped in was very quiet and sleepy. Not sure if we beat all of the tourists to the area or what, but parking was never an issue.

We took a cable car ride over vineyards to the top of a hill for a view point. We saw so many castles throughout the day that I lost count. We then ended in Koblenz where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet. It was a good day of driving but it was very long.

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

We started the day thinking we would drive along the Mosel Valley which is a wine route along the Mosel River. As we started driving and seeing signs for Luxembourg, we thought maybe we should go there first. We originally thought we might go there if we had time at the end of the drive but then it sounded nice to drive to the furthest point first and then make our way back. It was a good thought until we didn’t leave the city until after 3.

So we spent a good majority of our day walking around the city. I may have spent a couple of minutes making wrong turns or ending up in a bus lane but I eventually made it back out of the city. I’m very happy we found a parking spot at the train station and walked the 20 minutes into the city. I wouldn’t have been very happy to park in the center.

Made it to Andernach, Germany

We left Brussels, Belgium yesterday and drove to Andernach, Germany. Andernach is a small town on the Rhine River. We are using this town as a base to explore the areas around Andernach.

Since we would have some time before being able to check in, we decided to stop at an American cemetery that has over 5,000 Americans buried from WWII. Ardennes American Cemetery is an unique cemetery as it served as the central identification point for the entire European Theater of Operations from the last days of the war until 1960. Over half of fallen war hero’s are from the US Army Air Force.

Brussels Art & Food

Probably one of the reasons I have enjoyed Brussels so much is the street art and food. They have over 1,400 different beers in Belgium but that wouldn’t make me want to come here. But the chocolate and waffles are some of my favorite so it is hard to not try them all. They also have some nice murals on the buildings that make it more colorful. I like the colorful buildings especially since we have had to gray skies.