Saturday, November 25, 2023

Sintra in Three Days - Plants and Patterns

Motivation ~ Itinerary and Tips ~ Plants and Patterns

Sintra, Portugal  - mosaic of 20 plants.Sintra, Portugal - 30 patterns from around town.Sintra National Palace - 20 tile patterns.
Left: A mosaic of plants seen during three days in Sintra, Portugal.
Center: A mosaic of architectural features in Sintra, Portugal.
Right: Tiles from the Sintra National Palace.


We went to Lisbon in 2016 and on that trip had planned a day in Sintra but never made it. The imagery of the brightly colored Pena Palace and strange cones of the Sintra National Palace intrigued us and stayed with us. So, when we wanted to escape for Thanksgiving this year, Sintra was a top choice. (We don’t celebrate in Italy, but I was afraid someone might invite us to do so. Yes, I’m that scarred by past Thanksgivings)

When studying for a possible visit to Sintra, it became obvious to us that one day would not be enough given our slower travel style. So, we dedicated 3 days (stayed 3 nights). It was perfect.

Itinerary and Tips

Here’s what we did over our three days in Sintra:

  • Day 0: arrive late afternoon, check in, walk the town a bit.
  • Day 1: Castelos dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace), late lunch.
    • We spent the day walking. Walk to Castelos dos Mouros (entered at Rampa do Castelo) , then Pena Palace, and then back to Sintra via the Vila Sassetti trail.
  • Day 2: Palácio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace), lunch, and Quinta da Regaleira.
    • We took a Tuk Tuk to Monserrate and then bus 435 back to station. From the station, the next bus was more time than it took to walk to Quinta, so we walked.
  • Day 3: Palácio de Sintra (Sintra National Palace), lunch, depart.
    • We stayed across the street in Sintra Flower Lux apartments.

Our favorite stop was Monserrate because there were way fewer people, the house was fun to visit, and the gardens spectacular. Our least favorite was Quinta. The Sintra National Palace was a very calm and relaxing experience. Get the audio guide on your phone, it’s worth it.

At Pena Palace, your ticket is timed for entry into the castle, not the garden and areas around the castle. So, enter early if you want. Entry into the castle for your time slot could still take some time. We shuffled through a line for 20+ minutes before entering the castle and then inside, we were constrained to walk single file for the first part of the visit, and spaces are tight. It’s a pity because it takes away from the experience. Hang back in your time slot and the crowd should thin out.

We thought the Chalet of the Countess of Edla (on the Pena Palace ticket and located in the vast garden) was perhaps more intriguing than the palace, because there were less people, more time to explore on your own. Don’t miss it.

Some other tips that might help:

  • Figuring out the bus. Arggh...we were so silly.
    • Because the roads are one way, you must factor in that you may be returning to the station (where the buses start) to get to another site that seems close by. It took us a bit to figure that out. The main buses are 434 and 435 and go in loops.
    • Google maps doesn’t seem to know about these routes.
    • We downloaded the ScottUrb app but it wasn’t working and proved useless. You just wait until the bus comes. You can pay on the bus.
  • Take a Tuk Tuk to save time, at least once for the fun of it. Negotiate the price or at least don’t accept willingly the first price they might throw out.
  • You can store luggage at the very nice Loja Tradições - Artesanato e Depósito de Bagagem - across from the train station. Super nice people and easy storage.
  • Places we ate breakfast at:
    • Café Saudade was the best followed by the nearby Larmanjat. Both of these places are near the station.
    • Café Paris in the historical center is overpriced and a bit shabby though with nice location.
    • Fábrica da Nata – stopped twice here to get a pastel de nata.
  • Places we ate and liked for lunch:
  • Places we ate at and liked for dinner:
If we had stayed longer, we would have considered the following:

Plants and Patterns

Our three days in Sintra brought a rush of sights, sounds and tastes. It was in some way the perfect short get-away vacation. We wondered why.

We figured this out: first, it was the plants that we saw during our stay. To understand the plants, you must understand the climate. The climate in Sintra, Portugal in general is mild, warm and temperate, and is greatly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. On the widely used Köppen-Geiger climate classification system, Sintra is rated as “Csb”. The Csb classification is a subtype of the Mediterranean climate, characterized by dry and warm summers, and mild and rainy winters. The summers in Sintra have day temperatures ranging from 14 °C (57 °F) in January to 24 °C (75 °F) in August. The winters are cold, wet, and partly cloudy, with temperatures ranging from 48°F to 79°F.

When we arrived, it was a foggy Sunday afternoon in mid-November. Such as mysterious welcome to Sintra. (Our plane was delayed due to fog.) Then the next few days it was sunny, breezy, and pleasant.

In the Sintra climate, there are lots of plants that we love! We felt at a little bit of Seattle, a little bit of California, a little bit of Italy.

A good example of the range of plants in the gardens of Monserrate Palace, which were the most pleasant that we experienced. (Here’s a tree finder for that garden.) Here are just a few of the genus names you’ll see at Monserrate and around Sintra:

Abies, Acacia, Acer, Aesculus, Albizia, Aloe, Araucaria, Arbutus, Archontophoenix, Aucuba, Beaucarnea, Brachychiton, Brahea, Brugmansia, Buddleja, Camellia, Castanea, Cedrus, Cephalotaxus, Cercis, Chamaecyparis, Cinnamomum, Cordyline, Cryptomeria, Cupressus, Cyathea, Dicksonia (tree fern), Diospyros, Dracaena, Encephalartos (cycad), Erica, Eucalyptus, Fagus, Ficus, Fraxinus, Ginkgo, Howea, Hypericum, Ilex, Jubea, Juniperus, Laurus, Livistona, Magnolia, Mahonia, Metrosideros, Monstera, Myrtus, Nerium, Olea, Osmanthus, Persea, Phoenix, Pinus, PIstacia, Pittosporum, Platanus, Podocarpus, Populus, Prunus, Pyracantha, Quercus, Rhododendron, Salix, Schinus, Sequoia, Sorbus, Strelitzia, Syzygium, Taxodium, Thuja, Tilia, Trachycarpus, Tsuga, Ulmus, Viburnum, Washingtonia, Wisteria, Yucca, Zelkova.

These plants come from all over the world and give a sub-tropical feel to Sintra. We can judge our own interest in plants by how many pictures of plants we are moved to take when visiting a place. Over our three days in Sintra, we took a lot of photos of plants because the specimens, the forms, the colors were so interesting.

The second major ah-ha moment of why this trip felt so fresh for us, were the patterns we saw. Here, we mean patterns in architecture, and we include decoration with that. Portuguese architecture is characterized by a variety of styles, such as Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, and Modern. Sintra is famous for its 19th-century European Romanticist architecture, historic estates and villas, gardens, and royal palaces and castles. There is a pastiche of styles from the rich, the royal, and the romantics, drawn to the area for its beauty and eager to make real their ideas of European Romantic architecture. Today, the historical center of the Vila de Sintra is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

European romantic architecture is a style of architecture that emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, inspired by the artistic and literary movements of the Romantic era. It is characterized by a variety of forms, materials, and colors, often influenced by local traditions and landscapes. Some of the features of European romantic architecture include asymmetrical shapes, curved lines, ornamental details, towers, spires, domes, arches, and Gothic elements. The influence of the Moors – who ruled over Portugal for centuries – also plays a significant part in the architecture and decoration of some of the palaces.

In the Palace of Monserrate, we saw a reference to the book “Grammar of Ornament” by Owen Jones (1809 – 1874), a British architect. The book, first published in 1856, shows ornamental designs and patterns from vastly different eras, places, and cultures, including Assyrian, Greek, Byzantine, Turkish, Chinese, Celtic, Medieval, Islamic, and Renaissance. Jones wanted to improve the taste of contemporary designers by revealing the universal design principles that lay behind all historical ornamentation. It wouldn’t be a wild guess (and if I remember we saw explicit references of this) to say that Owen’s book informed the rebuilding of Monserrate in the second half of the 18th century by its new owner, the British merchant and art collector, Francis Cook (1817 – 1901).

The romantic sensibility is also on full display at the Chalet of the Countess of Edla (in the Pena Palace Park), built between 1864 and 1869.

Less Romantic but equally fascinating is the Sintra National Palace. We include a mosaic of tile patterns we saw in the Sintra National Palace. The colors and patterns – admittedly not a huge selection – were beautiful to look at.

The two large cone structures of the Sintra National Palace are chimneys. The kitchen was the heart of the palace and at times were in full production to feed many guests. The tall chimneys stand above the rooflines to maximize airflow over the openings.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Let’s Do the Pamukkale

Pamukkale - a balloon over the travertine terracesPamukkale - walking up the travertine terracesHierapolis roman theater
Left: Pamukkale - a balloon over the travertine terraces.
Center: Pamukkale - walking up the travertine terraces.
Right: Hierapolis roman theater at Pamukkale.

Pamukkale sounds like an exotic dance, but it’s not. It’s a Unesco site in southwestern Turkey that we visited recently.

First, how do you pronounce the name? Accent is on the MUK as in Pa-MUK-kale. Second, what does it mean? It means “cotton castle” because of the white travertine terraces found there caused by deposits of calcium carbonate coming from mineral water in the hot springs. Third, you are probably wondering if it’s worth a visit. We can say yes, it is even if the hotels and eating options there are second rate (will explain below). Fourth: when people say Pamukkale, the usually mean the travertine terraces and Hierapolis, the ancient city build at the edge of the travertine terraces. In many ways, Hierapolis is much more impressive, but it takes a little work to discover that.

Visiting this strange outpost was the last thing we did on our 18 days in Turkey. For more information, see the post 18 days in Turkey – Some Observations.

In the planning stages of the trip, finding interesting lodgings in Pamukkale was harder than in other places we stayed on the trip. We are not fussy or big spenders but even for us the choices were pretty slim. Once there eating options seemed okay, not exciting. Okay, that bit of complaining aside, the place was worth visiting.

Our Pamukkale itinerary was this:
  • We stayed two nights in Pamukkale.
  • On the way to Pamukkale (day 1), we stopped at Aphrodisias – a bit out of the way – but one our best Turkey stops in terms of exploring ruins. There were few people, and the site was impressive.
  • The next day (day 2), we spent it all (about 8 hours) visiting the Pamukkale “site”, which includes the eye-catching travertine terraces and Hierapolis, up and behind the blinding white.
  • The next day (day 3), we left for Izmir airport but first stopped at the ancient city of Laodicea (just a few minutes from Pamukkale) and very much worth it too.
Here’s how we visited Pamukkale during our day there:
  • Since we were staying in Pamukkale, we walked to the town entrance/lower gate (here). We took off our shoes and started walking.
  • When we were there the pools maybe came up to our knees at most, and it wasn’t warm water.
    • But as you can see in one photo there are other dry pools. We suspect – and there was ample evidence given all the water piping – that they redirect water around so the place changes over time.
  • We walked “up” the travertine terraces. Most people don’t do this. And we did it relatively early in the day so there were few people.
  • As you climb – which isn’t that hard to do or that bad for your feet – you eventually reach a point where you will likely find a lot more people. This is where most people experience the travertine terraces. At this point there is an observation deck with benches. Many visitors only venture from here a little way downhill.
  • All visitors arriving in bus end up at this observation point – it seems.
    • They entered from either the Pamukkale south gate (here, which is more east) or the Pamukkale north gate (here, and then take a ride down).
  • After passing through a throng of people just below the observation deck, we put our shoes back on and started walking roughly north following the top of the travertine terraces and ridge of the mountain until we reached the Necropolis of Hierapolis. Pretty quickly, we were alone again. Perfect!
  • From there our path through Hierapolis was a bit like a pinball: we explored what looked interesting to us and sometimes doubled back. (See image in the post with tracks.)
  • Eventually, we ended up – downhill – at the theater and the ploutonion.
  • We grabbed a very late lunch at a concession near the museum and then went to the museum (a little disappointing).
  • We made our way to the south (again, east) gate and thought about exiting there but the walk back to town from there wasn’t that interesting along a road. We couldn’t see a trail that would work. (There is probably a bus or taxi, but we didn’t want that.)
  • So, we went back to the observation deck above the travertine terraces, took off our shoes and walked back down the terraces, enjoying them a second time.
Hike stats:
  • Duration: 6 hours
  • Elevation: 264 m
  • Length: 15.6 km

Tracks through PamukkaleHierapolis - Frontius GateHierapolis - Latrine near Frontius Gate
Left: Our walking tracks through Pamukkale/Hierapolis - on our day spent exploring.
Center: Hierapolis - Frontius Gate.
Right: Hierapolis - Latrine near Frontius Gate.

Hierapolis roman theaterView back over Hierapolis from a high point with white travertine in the distanceHierapolis - trees mark where agora was
Left: Hierapolis roman theater at Pamukkale.
Center: View back over Hierapolis from a high point with white travertine in the distance.
Right: Hierapolis - trees mark where the agora was.

Pamukkale - a balloon swallowed by travertinePamukkale - a boardwalk takes you along the ridge of the terracesPamukkale - a view of the walk from the lower entrance up and idea of dry pools
Left: Pamukkale - a balloon lowers into the travertine terraces.
Center: Pamukkale - a boardwalk takes you along the ridge of the travertine terraces.
Right: Pamukkale - a view of the walk from the lower entrance up and idea of dry pools.

Pamukkale - a view showing the top observation point and the crowd of peoplePamukkale - Travertine Terraces - lots of posing near the observation deckPamukkale - walking away from the crowded spots you can find other white travertine to photograph
Left: Pamukkale - a view showing the top observation point and the crowd of people.
Center: Pamukkale - travertine terraces - lots of posing near the observation deck.
Right: Pamukkale - walking away from the crowded spots you can find other white travertine to photograph.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Pigeon and Love Valleys and Rose Valley Hikes in Cappadocia

View of Pigeon Valley Love Valley formations View of Love Valley
Left: Pigeon Valley. Center and left: Love Valley.

A rock church in Rose Valley Exploring Rose Valley Trail View from inside a church toward the valley
Rose Valley photos.


Our stay in Cappadocia was a quest to find a space of our own. Specifically, we were looking for a spot without groups of horse riders, swarms of ATVs, classic American cars with tourists (why?), or huge buses of easily excited but quickly bored tourists.

Cappadocia can be overwhelming because everyone is so excited to be there and see the natural wonders. Sites like Gôreme Open Air Museum and Zelve Open Air Museum and Monk’s Valley can seem less special because of all the people that are there. The solution we found was to go early or go later in the day to famous places. And, more importantly find something off the beaten track.

When we look back at our four days in Cappadocia, the happiest where when we found a spot with few people on it as described in these two hikes.

For context, we spent 6 days in Istanbul (see the post Postcards from Istanbul) before arriving in Cappadocia. After Cappadocia, we spent 3 days in Selçuk (Ephesus) and 2 days in Pamukkale. For an overview of our trip, see the post 18 Day in Turkey – Some Observations.

In Cappadocia, we stayed in Gôreme because we reasoned we could do the most from there on foot. And, these hikes you could do from there. We did end up renting a car to go see one of the underground cities (Kaymakli), visit Ürgüp, and go to a Whirling Dervish show at Saruhan Kervansaray.

Notes on Gôreme Open Air Museum:

  • We went early (say 9ish) and got a guide at the entrance and were able to beat most of the crowds that arrived within the hour. We thought we would see a lot here and it would take some time to explore. That wasn’t the case. First, the area and what you can explore is pretty limited (say compared to Zelve). Second, it didn’t take that much time and we had already seen several rock churches already, so we were a bit jaded. That said, don’t miss the The Buckle Church (Tokalı Kilise), which is included in the entrance ticket and is off by itself.
  • We left our car parked at Gôreme Open Air Museum and went to find Al Nazar Church (El Nazar Kilisesi) on foot. It was another entrance fee but interesting and with few people. Both this and Gôreme Open Air Museum are easily accessible by walking from Gôreme. (We had the car because we were going to go elsewhere afterward.)
  • There is much more to explore on foot around this area around Gôreme and we barely scratched the surface.

Pigeon Valley and Love Valley Hike – Starting and Stopping from Gôreme

Duration: 6 hours
Elevation: 406 m
Length: 15 km

Our first day, and we didn’t have a car (we would rent one the next day) and we wanted to walk. So, we devised this day of hiking that went from Gôreme to Uçhisar via Pigeon Valley. Then we walked from Uçhisar to Love Valley and eventually back to Gôreme. It’s a long day but rewarding. We had warm autumn temperatures. Perfect for walking.


  • In Love Valley, make sure you stop at Keles Café for refreshments. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but worth a stop.
  • In Pigeon Valley and Love Valley there are tunnels that are fun to explore. We found that the trail often went through a tunnel...sometimes pretty tight.
  • When walking through Love Valley to see the “phallic” rock formations we spotted a sign that said “To Gôreme”. We kept that in mind and backtracked ½ kilometer to pick that up and return to where we started.

Rose Valley Hike

Duration: 2.5 hr
Elevation: 194 m
Length: 7.5 km

We spent the morning at Gôreme Open Air Museum on our last day in Cappadocia. The experience dampened our spirits a bit because of the number of people there posing and blocking entrances for their perfect photo. Sour grapes right? The Rose Valley hike was a nice antidote to calm us down.

We saw a lot of different indications of how to do this but still had no idea where to start. Some of the confusion comes from going between English and Turkish. Also confusing is that Rose Valley (Güllüdere) is just north of Red Valley (Kizilçukur).

I wouldn’t say what we did was the best way, but we had fun exploring and saw just a couple of other hikers. What we did is leave the car in this parking lot. You could probably walk from Gôreme or Çavuşin (easier). From the parking lot we just started walking without a program in mind. As you can see from the tracks, we had to backtrack where we reached a point in the trail that was a little tricky to climb up (and not just us, another couple turned back too). The trail would have taken us to a church that we did eventually reach but it was all closed up. So, half the fun was exploring. It was cool following these natural tunnels until they ended and we had to find our way out or back.

We could have done much more here in Rose Valley, but we were at the end of our day and time in Cappadocia.

Pigeon and Love Valley Photos

A tunnel on one of the trails of Pigeon Valley A tunnel on one of the trails of Pigeon Valley Tunnel on the trail in Pigeon Valley Our guide dogs for the day 
Pigeon Valley and Love Valley tracks Pigeon Valley Sign at trailhead Pigeon Valley trees Pigeon Valley poplar trees

View of Pigeon Valley  View of Pigeon Valley View of Uchisar from Pigeon Valley 

 Signage showing position in valley and distance to Goreme and Uchisar In Uchisar castle and gozleme View from Uchisar castle looking north A sign pointing toward Love Valley

Love Valley apples - free for the picking At one end of Love Valley Love Valley trail - passing under arch Steps climbing out of Love Valley and heading toward Goreme Keles Cafe in Love Valley

Climbing out of Love Valley and heading toward Goreme Descending into Love Valley from Uchisar Keles Cafe at base of formations 

Love Valley formations  Love Valley formations Love Valley formations

Rose Valley Photos

A canyon opening in Rose Valley A rock church in Rose Valley Rose Valley - following a canyon

A rock church in Rose Valley A rock church in Rose Valley A rock church in Rose Valley

Exploring Rose Valley Trail Exploring Rose Valley Trail Exploring Rose Valley Trail

Rose Valley View Rose Valley View Rose Valley View

Rose Valley relative to Gôreme Rose Valley Tracks Valleys of Cappadocia Sign