Portugal – Day 6 – Sintra & Cascais

Today I explored the beautiful areas of Sintra and Cascais. I had a delicious breakfast at the buffet at my Myriad hotel. It was one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had. After having breakfast I checked out of the hotel, and took the metro to pickup my rental car, Citroen 308. I quite enjoyed driving it, because I love driving manual transmission, and it had a square steering wheel, which was super comfortable to drive. I wish more cars took real world ergonomics into consideration. Most people drive with a hand at the 12 o’clock position, so having a square steering wheel is nice.

I set off towards Sintra area, with a quick stop at a gas station for a coffee. The drive took about 30 minutes, and had a bit of congestion for 5 minutes or so. First stop was the Palace of Sintra. The Palace of Sintra, also known was the Town Palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portgual. It was utilized as a royal residence from the 15th to 19th century, before becoming a museum. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudejar architecture styles, due to the extensive time period the building was built over. The oldest surviving part of the palace is the chapel, which was built during the reign of King Dinis I around 1281. The palace chapel has a tiled floor with tiles in the apse laid to resemble a carpel. The walls are painting in patterned square that look like tiles, and depict the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. The ceiling is constructed of wood and is decorated in geometrically patterned latticework. In the late 14th century, Portugal was conquering strategic areas in North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula, and established central trade routes. With this massive infusion of wealth, King John I ordered the large-scale Palace of Sintra project to be built. Most of the current day palace dates back to the era when King John I ruled. The most noticeable features are the twin chimney towers, that can be seen from miles away. The rooms surround the central courtyard are also from this period. The Arab Room is covered in elaborate motifs and blue ceramic tile work. The Swans Room’s ceiling is covered in painted swans. The Magpies room has 136 painted magpies holding a rose and scroll with the words Por Bem (For the good). 100 years passed, and King Manuel I made some additions to the palace, which included the Coat of Arms Room, a room with a hexagonal roof with paints of deer and the coats of arms of 72 noble families. This also saw the transition from Gothic to Renaissance art styles. In 1755 the palace suffered damage during the Lisbon Earthquake, however was quickly restored. The Palace of Sintra remained in use by the royal family until 1880. In 1910 the palace became a national monument. In the 1940’s the palace underwent major restoration.

After exploring the Palace of Sintra I walked about 45 minutes uphill to the Castle of the Moors. The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in Sintra, about 25 km Northwest of Lisbon. It was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle was constructed on an exposed rocky outcrop, which provided the Moors a strategic view along the coastline and surrounding lands. In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle and became rulers. The castle was left for ruins and was eventually overtaken by dense forests. In the 1800’s King Ferdinand II was mesmerized by the natural and serene setting of the castle ruins, and ordered the site to be restored. It was partially restored.

Further along the uphill path is the Palace of Pena. After another 30 minutes of walking I arrived at the Palace. Park and National Palace of Pena. The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle located on the top of a hill in the Sintra mountains above Sintra. It was completed in 1854, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1995. The castle’s history starts back in the middle ages when a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of Pena” was built on top of the hill above Sintra. In the 18th century the monastery was severely damage by lightning, and the following Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 essentially reduced the monastery to ruins. The chapel somehow escaped significant damage. The ruins remained untouched until King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the old monastery, and surround lings, including the Castle of the Moors. He transformed the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family. The current Romanesque style building was constructed between 1842 and 1854. It would have been completed sooner, however King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Mari II decided to make some extensive changes in 1847. After the death of Ferdinand the palace was passed onto his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, who then sold the palace to King Luis. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.

After a 1.25 hour walk back to the car I drove towards the coast and checked out a few areas, including a few beaches, a lighthouse, and an abandoned hotel.

Last stop before returning the rental car was Cascais. This is a beautiful small city on the coast.

The Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, originally known was Sebastian’s Tower, was built in 1900 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. It became a museum in 1931. This beautiful building has neo-gothic and Revivalist architecture styles.

Palacio Seixas is a small two-storey neoclassical palace that was built in 1900 on behalf of Carmen Graziella Castilla da Rocha. In 1907 Carlos Seixas, an industrialist, purchased the house. In 1997 Instituto Camões purchased the house.

Casa das Historias Paula Rego is a very unique museum in Cascais. The building was designed by Souto De Moura, who was chosen by Paula Rego. The building consists of two pyramid-shaped towers, and red-cloured concrete. The building consists of four wings of different heights and sizes, a large exhibition space, a 200 seat auditorium, a shop, and a café.

The Citadel of Cascais is a set of fortifications that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend the Cascais coastline against attacks on Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The citadel consists of Santo António de Cascais, the Fortress of Our Lady of Light (Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais), and the former Royal Palace area. In 1488 a fort, known as the Torre de Santo António de Cascais, was built to provide resistance on possible military attacks on Lisbon. In 1594 the fort of Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais, designed by Italian Captain Fratino, was ordered to be built by Philip I. The fortress continued to undergo upgrades until 1755, when it was significantly damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake.

Casa de Santa Maria was a luxury private residence in Cascais. It was built in 1902 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. He originally built what is now the Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, and later on commissioned this building as a wedding present for his daughter. Raul Lino designed the building, which was built by materials only found within Portugal. In 1914 the building was sold to engineer Jose Lino Junior, who was the older brother of Raul Lino. He expanded the building by adding parts at each end, with the architecture being designed by Raul Lino. In 1934 the house was acquired by the Espirito Santo family. In 2004 the building was acquired by the Cascais Municipality.

Santa Marta Beach is a beautiful small cove with a sandy beach located behind the Marina in Cascais. The views here are simply incredible!

The Santa Marta Lighthouse was built in 1868 on the site of Santa Marta to provide light for navigation of ships. It originally had a fixed red light, given by a dioptric lens. It was later replaced by a fixed-light catadioptric system in 1908. In 1936 the tower height was increased by 8 metres, due to new buildings in the area that were impeding existing light. In 1949 a foghorn was installed. In 1953 the lamp was electrified, and even included a backup system. In 1964 a generator was installed. In 1981 the lighthouse was modified. Further upgrades occurred in 2000.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I explore more of Lisbon.

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I showered and got ready to start the day. Breakfast was at 6:45am and was a delicious buffet with a large variety of food, including hot cooked eggs, omelets, etc. After breakfast we took a smaller boat to Sung Sot cave, which can hold over 1000 people in it at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking, even bigger than the caves that I’ve seen in New Zealand, and the United States.

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After visiting the caves everyone gathered around for some cooking lessons, but I found them mediocre compared to the cooking class that I took a few days ago in Ha Noi. I was given a few hours to relax before the ship docked at noon.

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Checkout was noon and the tour bus took everyone back the same way we came, again stopping at a similar expensive touristy spot half way back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 4:30pm. I was again staying in a different hotel in Hanoi, this one was called La Belle Vie Hotel, a rather luxurious hotel which I received for free from hotels.com. Every 10 hotels I stay at I end up getting one free for the blended average price of the last 10. You can also get sponsored by hotels to review them and leave a good opinion if you are crafty enough with your social media skills on Instagram.

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I relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before taking a 30000 Dong (1.85 CDN) GRAB back to the to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016, where I ate a few nights ago when I was in Hanoi.

After eating I decided to walk back to my hotel which took about 45 minutes or so. I stayed up and edited photos before heading to bed at 10:00pm.

Check back tomorrow when I relax and spend time in Hanoi before taking a flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia.

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Vietnam – Day 10 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. Breakfast was a rather mediocre buffet, and a few hot dishes. I had an omelet. The tour bus for Ha Long Bay picked me up at 8:30am. I choose a semi luxury 2 day option operated by A Class Cruises for about $160 USD ($210 CDN). About half way through the 4 hour drive we stopped for a bathroom break at a very overpriced tourist stop. They put a chain around your neck with a number and record how much you spend and then the workers get a kickback. I found that really annoying. The bus finally arrived in Ha Long Bay at around noon. Throughout the bus ride I was talking with a really nice couple named Danny and Sara, who are both photographers that live part time in Australia and part time in Canada. They’re absolutely adorable together.

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We immediately boarded our boat; Stellar and were greeted with a welcome drink before heading upstairs to the dining room to be briefed on the next two days, discuss safety items, and to get room keys. After obtaining my room key I went to my room to drop off my bags and clean up a bit. The room was small and smelled a bit musty, but the bed was comfortable. The bathroom even had a nice rainfall shower.

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First activity for the day was Kayaking through Luon Tunnel and spending an hour chilling out in the Kayak. This was very peaceful and relaxing. I even saw some monkeys!

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Then the tour guide took us over to an island where we all went to an outlook that you could gaze into Ha Long Bay, and then we went swimming in the ocean and hung out on the beach for an hour or so.

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It was now dinner time so we were taken back to our boat and had dinner. I called it family dinner because it was Sara and Danny, myself, and a French couple that hit it off together and hung out for the rest of the trip.

After dinner many people went upstairs to the sundeck to watch the sunset, myself included. After sunset people Sara and Danny decided to go squid fishing, but didn’t have much luck. I had a drink and talked with them while watching them for a bit before heading to bed, as I was exhausted from waking up early the entire trip.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Ha Long Bay boat tour and explore a massive cave that can hold over 1000 people inside of it at the same time!

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August 30th 2016 – New Zealand Day 10

Today I had a lazy start to my day. I woke up at around 8:00am. I made myself a home made egg McMuffin style sandwich, and a coffee before hitting the road. My first stop was Pukaha Mount Bruce, a wildlife and bird sanctuary that help to reintroduce and repopulate endangered species, such as the Kiwi, into a protected environment. I saw over two dozen birds, as well as Kiwi’s, including a rare white Kiwi. Their day’s are reversed so that we can see them (sort of), but my camera was unable to capture them very well. They are under an infrared light so I had to convert the images to black and white, and it was nearly pitch black and flash photography was not allowed.

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I spent a few hours walking around the wildlife sanctuary before heading on to my next stop, Castlepoint Lighthouse. The cast iron lighthouse was built in 1913, and originally used oil and a wick and needed to be manned continuously. As technology evolved the lighthouse was converted to run a 1000 watt bulb off of a diesel generator in 1954, and subsequently converted to run off mains in 1961, with the diesel generator as a backup. The facility was fully automated in 1988. The views at Castlepoint were amazing!

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I was pretty hungry after climbing up to Castlepoint so I decided to have some lunch, some leftover spaghetti and meat sauce from last night. It was now about a two and a half hour drive towards Wellington, but I decided to break it up by stopping in Carleton to see more Art Deco, and Greytown to admire Victorian style architecture, as well as some Art Deco.

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I arrived in Wellington during rush hour, but surprisingly traffic wasn’t that bad. That’s thanks to their proper planning and use of public transportation. They have the highest usage rates of public transportation in all of New Zealand. I visited a camper dump station to drain and refill my water before finding a parking spot overlooking the beautiful southern coast. The night sky was perfectly clear so I even had the opportunity to do a long exposure shot of the milky way!

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