Sintra – A Town of Castles

Sintra, Portugal is located to the west of Lisboa, a short train ride out of the busy capital.  It is a magical mountaintop on the edge of a national park that is the home to many castles built by many conquerers.  Romans, Moors, and Christian crusaders fought many battles and all occupied the space for a time before Portuguese kings began to use the town as a weekend retreat.  Now it is one of the most touristy places in Portugal but well worth fighting the crowds to see.  From perfect castles to ruins of ancient fortresses to cobblestone hikes through thick forests, Sintra has a lot for everyone.  We didn’t actually go inside any of the castles because they are expensive and we would rather just take pictures and walk around the outside.

Quant old houses with the Moorish Castle visible on top of the hill


The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (like everywhere else in Europe, it seems) and has many nice restaurants and cafes.  We brought some food for a picnic because everything in Sintra is overpriced.

Hiking to the Moorish Castle at the top of the mountain.

SintraWe enjoyed the hike to the top.  There were amazing views and it felt like we had escaped the city life for at least a short time.

Part of the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We continued along the trail to Pena National Palace.  They made you pay like 15 Euros before you could even see anything.


If we had a little bit more cash to spare, we definitely would have gone inside the palace.  As it was, we felt more like hiking and enjoying some nature anyway.  Sintra was a very good escape from the big city!


Lisbon, and how to not fight with your travel buddy

There comes a point in every trip, when you’re traveling with just one companion, that you may start pushing each other’s buttons a bit.  Especially once the novelty of travel has worn off and the annoyances of living out of a backpack, worrying about money and buses and rain, and walking endless miles every day start to seem more acute.

This point for us came in Lisboa (“Lisbon”, in English).  We had been rocking through one big city after another and maybe we were more tired than we realized.  You’ve probably been there.  Suddenly, getting lost isn’t fun anymore, and then one of you is hungry but you can’t agree on where to eat, and then you stop being patient, and then “WHERE ARE WE GOING????  WHY ARE WE STILL WANDERING AROUND THIS TOWN LOOKING FOR FOOD AT SIESTA TIME??????  I’M GOING TO EAT MY ARM AND THEN I’M GOING TO FLY HOME WITHOUT YOU!!!!!”  Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you see what I mean.

How do you deal with frustration on the road?  For us, I think it’s a matter of space.  No matter how much we love each other, we both need some alone time, which is hard to create when you are literally spending every waking AND sleeping moment together!  It helps to let each other off the hook from being social every now and then.  Read a book at a cafe instead of trying to talk all the time!  Go running or for a walk by yourself!  Just do some yoga in the hostel room while the other person surfs the internet.  Escape into your own thoughts every now and then and don’t stress about always being “on” for the other person.  Also, get some rest!!!  It helps us to have a lazy day every once in awhile, where we just catch up on planning, blog stuff, and reading instead of traipsing around in the sun all day.  Usually any rainy day is a good excuse for a rest!

Communication is also key.  We often fall into the trap of expecting the other to read our mind, since we know each other so well.  But that’s not fair.  You have to constantly communicate your needs when traveling, unless your partner really is psychic.  Otherwise you end up with, “How was I supposed to know you weren’t in the mood to wander aimlessly right now, isn’t that what we do every day?”

That being said, most of the time we are pretty cool with each other on the road.  We’re always learning how to communicate and take care of ourselves better.  Traveling together can definitely make or break a relationship and I highly recommend you try it before settling down!

Without further ado, here is Lisboa, which was really big, really tiring, but really beautiful too!

Cool surfboard design on the front of the modern art museum
Cool surfboard design on the front of the modern art museum. The museum is FREE and has some really funky stuff!
Praça do Comércio in Baixa- the central neighborhood
View from the top of the Alfama
View from the top of the Alfama
Awesome samba band playing for tips!
Awesome samba band playing for tips!


The plaza at night
The plaza at night
Lisbon has fun yellow trolley cars and amazing graffiti everywhere
Lisbon has fun yellow trolley cars and amazing graffiti everywhere
Bairro Alto has beautiful architecture and great cafes
Torre de Belém, the city’s most famous cathedral

Lisbon has an unending supply of gorgeous views, great food, and happy nightlife.  I hope we’ll be back to explore more someday!

Porto, Oporto. You’re old but still awesome.

Upon seeing Oporto (Porto in English), Portugal for the first time, we felt a little lost in time.  The streets were narrow and cobblestone and a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel looked down upon us.  The old boats once ferried barrels of wine up the Douro River from the Douro Valley to be stored in the cooler cellars of the city.  Now they existed to taxi tourists up the river to view the city and six bridges.  The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to get lost.

Puente Maria Pia, Designed by Gusave Eiffel.

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We walked up the river then across the top of the bridge where the view was amazing.  It was hot and sunny which was a nice change after a lot of rain in northwestern Spain (Galacia – The Tower of Hercules in A Coruña, another UNESCO site).  We loved the colorful buildings and streets, too small for most cars.  The people were extremely friendly, helping us out with our poor Portuguese.  Our method was to mix the few words we knew with Spanish and change the pronunciation.  It worked pretty well after some practice but people would still use English before we even opened our mouths.

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After getting lost for awhile in the old city, we made our way back to the river and did a tour and tasting at Sandeman Cellars, one of the more famous port producers in the world.  It’s hard to sample a lot of port because of the high alcohol content but they still give you very large pours!

A terrible picture but that’s vintage port from 1904!

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We loved Oporto and would like to return someday.  Unfortunately it rained our second day there so we were forced to take a much needed resting day.  Stay tuned for details of our adventures in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.