Frankly Sintra

Sintra from above.

Sintra from above.

About 45 minutes either by car or train from central Lisbon is the ancient little town of Sintra. I only got to spend two nights there but the allure becomes readily apparent.  Most tourists experience this quait little town as a day trip from Lisbon. But I think arriving midafternoon and spending a couple nights here is the way to go.

Once the Lisboans leave, it’s simply a delight. And as a matter of fact, it’s a great place to leave! You can get to the Lisbon airport just about as easily as from the center of Lisbon, especially on the weekends.  They’re sacred here in the EU (take that UK).

The center of Sintra from the National Palace.

The center of Sintra from the National Palace.

Spend your first afternoon getting to the hotel, maybe a late lunch, walk around town, chill out a little, plan an attack on the two main tourist sites, and finally have a good (albeit touristy) dinner in the center.

Spend your first afternoon getting to the hotel, maybe a late lunch, walk around town, chill out a little, plan an attack on the two main tourist sites, and finally have a good (albeit touristy) dinner in the center.

On your full day here see The Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle at the very least, add the National Palace if you have time.  Of the three the Moorish Castle is the most important (and interesting in my opinion) site.  The Pena Palace is a turn of the 20th century playboy mansion. I reckon. As I get older, anything after 1500 just seems too recent. But to fully disclose, Joan and I didn’t visit the National Palace, we opted for a café table with port and chocolate (and stuff like that there) instead.

The Pena Palace is some.

The Pena Palace is lovely…to some.

Portugal really surprised me.  The people there were the warmest, most fun loving people I’ve encountered in a long time.  The food tastes Spanish, and the language sounds vaguely like French, but the place is undeniably Portugal.

Maybe a good idea for the first afternoon in Sintra. Just get with it.

Maybe a good idea for the first afternoon in Sintra. Just get with it.


He just nailed the Portuguese in the Brazilian songs he sang. How'd he do that?

He just nailed the Portuguese lyrics in the Brazilian songs he sang. How’d he do that?



No, really. I don't mind travelling alone.

No, really. I don’t mind travelling alone.





O Porto!

View from my hotel room.

View from my hotel room.

We left Lisbon’s Apolonia train station at noon and by 2:45pm we were in Portugal’s second largest city, Oporto (or simply Porto to the locals). I have only been here a few hours and have only had time to take a quick look around to orient myself, but it immediately becomes obvious that this city is a visual delight! Here’s just a taste to show you what I mean.

Another view from my hotel room.

Another view from my hotel room.


Yes, this is where Port wine comes from.

Yes, this is where Port wine comes from.


The Sao Bento train station in central Porto has an astounding collection of ceramic tile murals. The are truly stunning.

The Sao Bento train station in central Porto has an astounding collection of ceramic tile murals. The are truly stunning.


The Feast of Santo Antonio

DSC00661Lisbon has a calendar chock full of saint days but none rival the Feast of St. Anthony that happens annually during mid June.  I was lucky to be here during this year’s festival.  This doesn’t exactly reflect on my excellent planning skills but rather just a stroke of luck.

The whole city decks out in colorful streamers and each neighborhood takes over a park or plaza to hold their own celebration with music, dancing, drinking, and eating.  Sangria and grilled sardines seems to be the fare of choice for most, but the open flame roasted pigs smelled wonderful too.

DSC00680The Santo Antonio Festival is characterized by the tradition of “Noivas de Santo Antonio,” (the brides of St. Anthony), when hundreds of Lisbon couples get married and take advantage of the biggest parties imaginable.  At the cathedral dedicated to the Saint a mass wedding is conducted and I just happened to stumble upon it where hundreds of people were gathered outside the church to greet the newly wedded couples after the ceremony.  The wedding mass was broadcast on speakers all around the plaza outside the church and it was quite a media event.

These festivities are somewhat clouded in sadness for me as I could not help thinking…here I was attending a mass wedding full of joy and celebration at about the same moment a crazed gunman was mowing down over 100 innocent people in Orlando in the worst mass shooting in US history.

DSC00668DSC00671As the day wears on, the mood becomes a little more nefarious.  There is a parade that begins at 9pm and goes into the wee hours of the morning.  You see many people sporting sardine hats and for some reason green wigs. I understand the sardine hats as that fish is nearly a patron saint in its own right, but I forget the significance of the green wigs.

DSC00685DSC00684And here’s just a parting shot of Lisbon.  Tomorrow we’re off to Porto via train.DSC00656

A Day in Lisbon

DSC00576I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I just didn’t expect to immediately fall in love with a place as much as I did Lisbon on the first day.  Usually after flying over 9 or 10 time zones and missing a connecting flight I’m a little cranky on the first day in a new place and that clouds my opinion.  But not in Lisbon.  Oh yes I was foggy from jetlag and at times had trouble reading a map, but that didn’t seem to matter here.  I could have been at my sharpest and still would have had trouble finding where I wanted to go.

But that seems to be by design.  I read that the meandering streets were laid out in a confusing pattern to ward of invaders over a thousand years ago.  So you quickly learn the best way to navigate around the city is to simply let yourself become lost and just chill out already. Once you come to this conclusion you then relax enough to also learn that the Portuguese people are simply amazing!  Some of the friendliest lot I’ve encountered on my travels so far.DSC00570


Sardines on the grill.

The language can be a little perplexing since it often looks like Spanish but the pronunciation can often be very different.  But that’s not really a worry since the people here, being the world explorers of old, simply flow from on language to the next.

Joan and I seem to have incredible luck at arriving in destinations during an important festival and our luck is holding out this time.  The whole country is preparing for the biggest feast of the year tomorrow to honor St. Anthony, the patron Saint of Portugal.  The whole city is bedecked in streamers and people are already winding up for the party.  DSC00596

I’m sure we’ll spend as much time being lost today as we did yesterday.  But that’s okay. We’ll just do like the locals do…sit down at an outdoor café, eat a sardine or two, and wait until the anxiety passes.  It always does here.DSC00587

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Bali Bye


The terraced rice fields at Tegalaling, Bali.

Alas, my time in Bali is quietly coming to an end.  Tomorrow we fly back to Jakarta, spend a night at a hotel near the airport, and then have a very early flight back to Los Angeles. All this comes just as I’m finally getting used to living in this grand villa and am able to order something from the house staff without feeling a tinge of guilt.



Offerings left at important Hindu places.  These two spots must have been especially auspicious considering the number of offerings left.

It’s been a lazy time here in Ubud and we all certainly needed that after the crazy pace we kept during the eclipse tour. Yesterday we visited the home of an American (from Santa Monica, CA no less) that has been living in Bali since the 60s.  Both Nadya and her house was quite eccentric and we had a nice chat.  It was especially interesting to get her perspective on how this area  has changed since she first came.  She arrived before electricity and has watched tourism become the number one employer in the area…70% of the local economy. Her take is some things were good, some not so good.

The pictures above (click for a larger view) are from Nadya’s house in Ubud.  She served us Jack Fruit and coconut water grown on her land.  The cookies were really good and we had a beautiful view of her rice field while we sat and chatted.


Upon returning to the house after the visit with Nadya I managed to catch a glimpse of the “Offering Lady” who comes to the house every afternoon to leave little treasures in certain important places around the house. 

Today we had the house driver take us to Tegalaling village to view the beautiful terraced rice fields there and a little last minute shopping in Ubud.  I even managed to find a 3 square meter piece of hand-woven cloth for my Mother’s quilting habit (it was cheap Ma.)


Tegalaling rice terraces


Tegalaling rice terraces.


The village of Tegalaling.  We had a little tropical shower just as we arrived but it didn’t last long.


The town of Ubud, Bali.  Monkey Forest Street (it’s actual name).

Well it’s about time to pack it in for this trip.  I’ve liked Indonesia.  The sights are lovely.  The people are warm and friendly, and the culture is diverse from island to island.  I worry though what will happen to the resources and infrastructure of this developing country (the fourth largest in the world!) as they grow into the 21st century.

Come along next time.  I don’t know where yet, but my life is a trip!

A Stroll Through the Garden

DSC00473Much to my delight I have found myself in a part of Bali with remarkably little to see or do. I’m finally relaxing enough to actually take notice of the details of lushness that surrounds me here at our private retreat.

DSC00470Of course I’ve already noticed that the grounds are beautifully landscaped and everything fits together so well that the views exude harmony and serenity.  But it wasn’t until I put down my book and hauled my butt of the bed in the shaded pool pavilion that I actually noticed the individual gems that make up this beautiful palate of colors.


I spend hours right here in this spot.

So, take a little walk with me to see the little hidden treasures I found.




The bananas are tiny but tasty.



The driveway in front of the house



Our own personal Hindu shrine

DSC00465DSC00464DSC00462DSC00461DSC00460To my friend Ann…I was thinking of you as I created this entry.  I hope you enjoy it.


Heaven Has a New Name

DSC00443Before I go any further, let me recap why I’m so happy to be where I am now at this moment.  Over the past few days I have:

  • Driven from Palm Springs to Los Angeles
  • Flown from Los Angeles to Tokyo
  • Flown from Tokyo to Singapore
  • Flown from Singapore to Jakarta
  • Flown from Jakarta to Yogyakarta
  • Flown from Yogyakarta to Denpasar, Bali
  • Flown from Bali to Jakarta
  • Flown from Jakarta to Bangka Island, Sumatra
  • Experienced a total eclipse of the sun at sunrise after a 3:30am bus ride
  • Sat on a Sumatran beach for six hours awaiting the clearing of traffic
  • Flown from Bangka Island to Jakarta
  • Flown from Jakarta to Denpasar
  • Taken a private car from Denpasar to Ubud

Needless to say we arrived at our private villa near Ubud utterly exhausted and over stimulated.  Alamanda is my new name for heaven. We have the whole place with four bedrooms, private pool, and a staff of six people for the four of us.DSC00448This will be our own personal nirvana for the next six days.  I have a full body massage scheduled for later this morning and a new Phillipa Gregory novel to savor by the pool afterwards. Very little sightseeing is planned.

DSC00455For now I will just enjoy this lovely, magical place as I daydream about also finding Love like Julia Roberts did in Eat, Pray, Love in this exact spot.DSC00455DSC00454DSC00453DSC00452DSC00451DSC00450DSC00449DSC00447DSC00446DSC00445DSC00444DSC00442