From Versailles to Versailles

FROM VERSAILLES TO VERSAILLES

This blog began to document my 47-day journey throughout Europe in the summer of 2012. After having such a great time writing about Europe, I decided to continue updating the blog with posts from all of my international travels. I hope you enjoy reading all about my time abroad!

I’ve been home for two weeks now…

…which means it’s time for some thank yous! 

I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to:

  • The Gaines Center and Mrs. Zolondek. The Grand Tour wouldn’t even exist without the support of Mrs. Zolondek and everybody involved with the Gaines Center. Thanks for your advice, funding, and encouragement! You all made it possible for me to experience some pretty incredible stuff in Europe. 
  • Ben. First I have to thank you for putting up with me for two weeks. Things weren’t always easy, but we survived! Thanks also for making me laugh, keeping me company, and convincing me to Couchsurf. 
  • Becca. I truly had the best time traveling through France, Spain, and Portugal with you. We had our moments (remember the postage stamp argument?) but we also shared some amazing experiences that I’ll never forget. I love you, boo bear!
  • The Couchsurfing community. (That means you, Aline, Andrew, Svtá'a, Sarah, and Simon!) I must admit that I was quite skeptical of Couchsurfing when Ben first mentioned it, but I'm so incredibly glad I tried it. The generosity of our Couchsurfing hosts blew me away.
  • My friends and family. I love you all so much.

I’ll never be able to thank everyone enough, but hopefully you all realize how much you mean to me and to my experiences abroad. Thanks again!

After a full day of travel, we’re almost home! One more flight.

After a full day of travel, we’re almost home! One more flight.

Oh, Sintra. You are hands-down one of the most beautiful cities (towns?) I’ve ever been to. Just look at that panoramic view that Becca captured with her phone yesterday. And now for some more details about the day trip we took on our last day in Portugal:

- I hate Rossio Station in Lisbon. The best way to get to Sintra involves a direct train from Rossio, but Becca and I had a really bad experience here at the station. As we were waiting to buy our tickets, an extremely skinny man cut in front of us and started booking a roundtrip ticket to Sintra. Turns out he was booking a ticket for me! He held out his hand for my money, put it into the machine, and handed me my transportation card. Sounds like a nice guy speeding up a dismally slow process right? Wrong. He then leaned in and said, “Now you buy one for me.” I didn’t feel comfortable at all— and the ticket only cost two euros— so I went ahead and gave him the money. But the entire experience had me upset to my stomach for a good hour or so.

- Our first stop in Sintra was the Castle of the Moors. Getting there involved boarding a city bus and winding our way up the side of a GIANT mountain. Let’s just say that that was an experience in and of itself. I will never know how the bus driver navigated such a large vehicle around such sharp turns. Terrifying business. 

- The Castle of the Moors dates from the ninth century and has absolutely phenomenal views. After walking through a dense forest, we approached the castle entrance and began walking along the fortress walls. Becca actually got her panoramic photo from the Royal Tower of the castle. I loved being in such a beautiful place, but climbing down from the stone towers scared me to death. Meanwhile children were flying down the stairs beside me. I almost had a heart attack. 

- Our next stop in Sintra was the Pena Palace. The palace actually stood on an even higher spot in the mountains so we got great views of the surrounding area AND of the Castle of the Moors. Becca and I had a great time walking around the palace rooms, but walking up to the palace itself was the definition of horrific. By the time we got to the entrance, sweat rolled in waves down my face. I’m not kidding— the guy checking our tickets took one look at me and said, “No need to cry!” How embarrassing.

- The best part of the Pena Palace had to be walking downhill by the Valley of the Lakes. The wildlife and greenery were lovely, and it didn’t hurt that it was significantly cooler under the shade. We also saw two black swans swimming in one of the lakes! Apparently one of the Portuguese kings wanted to create a forest with plants from Germany, Asia, and the Mediterranean so that he could enjoy all types of vegetation at the same time. He ended up with a pretty neat combination of plants and animals. 

Needless to say, Becca and I thoroughly enjoyed the last day of our trip in gorgeous Sintra, Portugal. It’s so hard to leave such a beautiful place!

Oh, Sintra. You are hands-down one of the most beautiful cities (towns?) I’ve ever been to. Just look at that panoramic view that Becca captured with her phone yesterday. And now for some more details about the day trip we took on our last day in Portugal:

- I hate Rossio Station in Lisbon. The best way to get to Sintra involves a direct train from Rossio, but Becca and I had a really bad experience here at the station. As we were waiting to buy our tickets, an extremely skinny man cut in front of us and started booking a roundtrip ticket to Sintra. Turns out he was booking a ticket for me! He held out his hand for my money, put it into the machine, and handed me my transportation card. Sounds like a nice guy speeding up a dismally slow process right? Wrong. He then leaned in and said, “Now you buy one for me.” I didn’t feel comfortable at all— and the ticket only cost two euros— so I went ahead and gave him the money. But the entire experience had me upset to my stomach for a good hour or so.

- Our first stop in Sintra was the Castle of the Moors. Getting there involved boarding a city bus and winding our way up the side of a GIANT mountain. Let’s just say that that was an experience in and of itself. I will never know how the bus driver navigated such a large vehicle around such sharp turns. Terrifying business.

- The Castle of the Moors dates from the ninth century and has absolutely phenomenal views. After walking through a dense forest, we approached the castle entrance and began walking along the fortress walls. Becca actually got her panoramic photo from the Royal Tower of the castle. I loved being in such a beautiful place, but climbing down from the stone towers scared me to death. Meanwhile children were flying down the stairs beside me. I almost had a heart attack.

- Our next stop in Sintra was the Pena Palace. The palace actually stood on an even higher spot in the mountains so we got great views of the surrounding area AND of the Castle of the Moors. Becca and I had a great time walking around the palace rooms, but walking up to the palace itself was the definition of horrific. By the time we got to the entrance, sweat rolled in waves down my face. I’m not kidding— the guy checking our tickets took one look at me and said, “No need to cry!” How embarrassing.

- The best part of the Pena Palace had to be walking downhill by the Valley of the Lakes. The wildlife and greenery were lovely, and it didn’t hurt that it was significantly cooler under the shade. We also saw two black swans swimming in one of the lakes! Apparently one of the Portuguese kings wanted to create a forest with plants from Germany, Asia, and the Mediterranean so that he could enjoy all types of vegetation at the same time. He ended up with a pretty neat combination of plants and animals.

Needless to say, Becca and I thoroughly enjoyed the last day of our trip in gorgeous Sintra, Portugal. It’s so hard to leave such a beautiful place!

I need to post about our day in Sintra…

…but I’m absolutely exhausted. Maybe I’ll throw something together on the airplane back home (!!!) tomorrow. I can’t even believe that the adventure comes to a close in less than 24 hours.

The hostel staff made Portuguese chouriço over an open fire tonight! Add some free sangria (made from white wine this time) and some interesting people and you have a recipe for an enjoyable Sunday evening.

The hostel staff made Portuguese chouriço over an open fire tonight! Add some free sangria (made from white wine this time) and some interesting people and you have a recipe for an enjoyable Sunday evening.

Tonight Becca and I had an amazing experience— we went to a local tavern with live fado music! So what is fado? According to my good friend Wikipedia, “In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia…” To my ears, the music is made up of super full vocals (almost operatic), a guitar, and an instrument the Portuguese call a baixo. I LOVE IT. 

We went to Tasco do Jaime at the suggestion of our hostel. The tavern has live amateur fado on Saturday and Sunday nights with no entrance fees. After climbing up a million flights of stairs and trekking through a not-so-nice district in Lisbon, we found ourselves at a hole-in-the-wall place with tons of local Portuguese people. One of the owners (a very welcoming woman) invited us inside and brought us a jar of sangria and four pastéis de bacalhau. We were surrounded by fado almost immediately— a warm, rich, HUGE male voice filled the small room with two string instruments for accompaniment. 

After singing a couple of songs, the man took a break and a young girl sang for a while, followed by one of the guitar players. Everybody sounded pretty awesome for being amateurs. I actually got chills at one point in a song! Our visit to Tasco do Jaime completely made my trip to Lisbon for me.

Tonight Becca and I had an amazing experience— we went to a local tavern with live fado music! So what is fado? According to my good friend Wikipedia, “In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia…” To my ears, the music is made up of super full vocals (almost operatic), a guitar, and an instrument the Portuguese call a baixo. I LOVE IT.

We went to Tasco do Jaime at the suggestion of our hostel. The tavern has live amateur fado on Saturday and Sunday nights with no entrance fees. After climbing up a million flights of stairs and trekking through a not-so-nice district in Lisbon, we found ourselves at a hole-in-the-wall place with tons of local Portuguese people. One of the owners (a very welcoming woman) invited us inside and brought us a jar of sangria and four pastéis de bacalhau. We were surrounded by fado almost immediately— a warm, rich, HUGE male voice filled the small room with two string instruments for accompaniment.

After singing a couple of songs, the man took a break and a young girl sang for a while, followed by one of the guitar players. Everybody sounded pretty awesome for being amateurs. I actually got chills at one point in a song! Our visit to Tasco do Jaime completely made my trip to Lisbon for me.

Lisbon’s high today was 40 degrees.

40 degrees CELSIUS. That’s 104 degrees Fahrenheit for you all back in the U.S. Kill me now.

While we’re on the topic of food, I forgot to mention my foray into the world of Portuguese cuisine! Last night I tried the famous bacalhau com crema, or codfish with cream. The best way I can think to describe it involves comparing it to a hot brown made with fish. The dish was beyond delicious. 

This afternoon I tried another Portuguese favorite: grilled sardines. I actually enjoyed them quite a bit, although I was a little intimidated by the process of eating them. Clearly I need a lesson in the technique of eating fish with scales and bones intact.

While we’re on the topic of food, I forgot to mention my foray into the world of Portuguese cuisine! Last night I tried the famous bacalhau com crema, or codfish with cream. The best way I can think to describe it involves comparing it to a hot brown made with fish. The dish was beyond delicious.

This afternoon I tried another Portuguese favorite: grilled sardines. I actually enjoyed them quite a bit, although I was a little intimidated by the process of eating them. Clearly I need a lesson in the technique of eating fish with scales and bones intact.

Just looking at the pastéis de Belém and orange juice in this photo makes my mouth water.

Just looking at the pastéis de Belém and orange juice in this photo makes my mouth water.

The view from on top of the discoveries monument.

The view from on top of the discoveries monument.