Jul 25, 2012

Portugal: Part 3 - Cold and Rainy in Sintra

My last free day was spent in a drizzly, windy and tourist-filled town called Sintra. Don't get me wrong, it was still beautiful, and I saw things that aren't even close to anything I've ever seen before.

Sintra is a very easy 30-minute train ride from Rossio Station in the center of Lisbon to the last stop on the Sintra line. This area used to be a summer retreat for royalty and the aristocracy, so the city is littered with huge mansions and estates plus a few palaces.

Rossio Station

The Portuguese transportation system is very modern, probably due to the infusion of EU money in the last few years. However, it seemed to me that most of the tourists still opted to participate in tourbusapalooza because this was the only place during my whole trip that was overrun with tourists.

When the train pulled into the station at Sintra, I knew it was going to be a wet and unpleasant day, weather-wise. It wasn't raining hard so I decided to take the 10 minute walk into the center of town. Along the walk, you can already see Sintra National Palace (Palacio Nacional de Sintra) topped with Madonna's Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra.

Sinta National Palace

Plus, the street leading into town is lined with sculptures like this:

Heart sculpture on the way to Sintra ville

The Sintra National Palace was my first stop. It is the only remaining royal palace from the Middle Ages. One of the unique things about the palace is that many of the rooms have their own themes.

The Swan Room was used for banquets and other functions and is beautifully decorated with white and green tiles, animal shaped tureens and a ceiling painted with swans (of course).

The Magpie Room has a ceiling that is decorated with magpies but I found this intricately tiled wall and fireplace to be most stunning.

Many of the windows of the palace presented views of the Moorish Castle, which I would visit later on in the day.

The piece de resistance was the Stag Room. It was absolutely exquisite, decorated floor to ceiling with blue and white tiles and painted coats of arms and stags. It was also overrun with tour groups. I patiently waited until the tour groups cleared out, giving me a few minutes to enjoy the room with only a few other travelers. Of course, another tour group quickly descended upon the room.

One of my main goals of this trip to Portugal was to see some examples of Moorish architecture. I was in luck because the chapel of the palace was done in Moorish style.

While there were many more rooms I wish I could share with you, I will leave the palace at the kitchen. This place was huge and stark. Guess the royals need a lot of space to feed the richies.

The dreary weather was getting to me at this point so I gave up on trying to wander around looking for something good to eat. Instead, I opted for something quick and sugary. Cafe a Piriquita is famous for their travesseiros. Travesseiro translates to pillow, which is appropriate for me because I love my pillows. They are almond and egg custard filled flaky goodness. I grabbed a couple of pastries and a drink and was on my way to my next spot.


I had originally had grand plans to do a lot of walking but my feet were cold and my nose was runny so I took the bus, waiting with the rest of the tourist folk. My destination was Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). The castle is more fort than what one normally thinks of as a castle, and it castle dates back to the 9th century and offers panoramic views of the city along its high, winding walls.

While the views were remarkable, I had thoughts of the winds whipping me off a ledge, so I wound up cutting my visit to the castle short.

Does it look windy to you?

The castle also gave me a peek at the prime real estate that exists in Sintra. Look at all of the big houses! More like mini castles.

My final sight in Sintra was Pena Palace.  The same bus I took from Sintra ville can take you to the gate of the palace but then there is still a ten-minute walk up to the palace.

Pena Palace is a odd mishmash of different style of architecture and colors. Photos weren't allowed inside the palace so there will only be exterior shots. The interior showcased rooms decorated in Victorian furnishings. And similar to other sights I visited in Portugal, the Palace had rooms dedicated to Asia and the Middle East.

I reached my limit of walking around in the cold so I took the train back to Lisbon. 

I enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Servejaria with some beer and seafood. If you haven't figured it out, oil is important here, just look at my octopus.

Coming up will be a wrap up of the rest of my trip to Portugal. 

Cafe a Piriquita
Rua das Padarias
Sintra Portugal

Praca dos Restauradores
Baixa 1250-188 Lisbon

You might also like: 
Portugal: Part 1 Obrigada - only word I learned 

Jul 19, 2012

Three reasons why I need a style makeover #BlogHer12 #Windowstyle

I’ve been through a lot of change recently. Exactly two years ago this month, I moved from my beloved Los Angeles to Washington, DC to stay with the love of my life. Once I arrived in DC, we started living together. I began a professional MBA program and found a new full-time job in the non-profit sector. I am now two semesters away from completing my degree. Five days ago, I turned 32. Oh yeah, and another minor thing happened. I got married! We have now been married for 13 lovely months.

Despite all of that change, my style has stayed just about the same. So why do I deserve a celebrity style makeover from Windows? Below are three reasons:

1) Future MBA needs to look the part – Going back to school 10 years after finishing my undergraduate degree was an adjustment and working full-time on top of that was, I’m not going to lie, really, really hard. Planning a wedding and honeymoon at the same time was a lot of work. Still, I somehow have managed to do extremely well and earn a 3.8 GPA (so far). As I approach the end of business school, I anticipate my career to move to the next level, and looking like a competent, smart, accomplished and professional woman will be important.
Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images
Can I emulate Marissa Mayer?

2) Look my age (minus a couple of years) – I am regularly mistaken for an early twentysomething. I believe this is partly because I’m Asian. Hello, we look young! And partly because I’m still wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I was 25. While I don’t mind looking young, I find myself getting very offended by some people assuming they know how old I am (i.e. how much life experience I have). I don’t necessarily want to look my age, but it would be nice to get a little respect at work, at school and wherever else I go.

Going through my photos gave me a fright when I found two photos, one from three months ago and the other from six years ago, where I am wearing the same outfit. I can assure you that this isn't the only example I have.

Me on a visit to Williamsburg, Virginia in April 2012

Me at the Los Angeles County Fair in September 2006

3) 30 isn’t the new 20 - When I was in my 20s, I could eat anything I wanted and not put on any weight. Additionally, moving to a new city where I knew exactly one person sapped some of my self-confidence. I gained 20 pounds since moving here as a result. I've started to take steps towards losing some of those pounds like changing my diet and making time for exercise. Although I have accepted that my body will change as I age, I am still working to rebuild my self-confidence.

Winning a style makeover would give me the help I need to put my twenties behind me and get excited about the future. A future that includes days at the office in outfits like this:

J. Crew Origami Sheath Dress - $198

Tory Burch Simone Cardigan - $225

I've worked hard taking steps to build my career and establish a healthy marriage while neglecting my wardrobe and personal style. Now is the time when I should be rewarded with some pampering and pretty clothes! 

Disclosure: I am attending #BlogHer12 in August and Windows is giving away prize packages including a style makeover and new computer to five BlogHer attendees. Rules here.

In writing this post, I'm entering the Microsoft Windows Style Makeover sweepstakes for a chance to win a head to toe makeover!

Jul 18, 2012

Portugal: Part 2 - Kicking it old school in Belem

My second day took me by tram to Belem, where a heavy concentration of historical sites can be found. Plus, it has sweets. I missed my tram stop so I had to back track a few blocks for my first taste of the very popular Portuguese pastry pastel de nata (aka pasteis de Belem). Casa Pasteis de Belem has been making these egg custard treats since the 1820s. They originated at the Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos, which I visited later that day, in the 18th century. To anyone who has ever had dim sum, they might look familiar. Apparently, dantat is a derivative of pastel de nata, which makes sense since Macau was a Portuguese colony. 

Enough of food history, these pastries look similar but they do not taste like dantat. The crust in particular is much more crunchy and flaky than the dim sum version.  

A bica (espresso) and two pasteis de belem

My first historical site of the day was the Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum). The museum was created by the Queen in the early 1900s as a way to preserve the historical vehicles and share them with the public. 

The majority of the carriages were ceremonial but there were also a number of functional examples. Many of them feature intricate carved woodwork.

National Coach Museum

Next was the highlight of my day: Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos. The architecture is a distinct Portuguese late gothic style known as Manueline. Much of the Manueline architecture was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 but the monastery still stands.

Exterior of Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos
Exterior of Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos

The cloister was my favorite part of the monastery and I could see how this environment could be conducive for a spiritual life. 

Main chapel on Exterior of Mosteiro dos Jeroninmos

Further towards the water is Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), which pays tribute to the explorers from Portugal's golden age. The structure was completed in 1960 and two of the explorers included are Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator.
Monument to the Discoveries with 25 de Abril Bridge in the background

A waterfront path leads you to Torre de Belem, which was my last stop on my tour of Belem. These two cows were hanging out in front of a museum along the way. 

Torre de Belem is another example of Manueline architecture. Built in the 1600s, the tower was part of the defensive system. Climbing to the top of the tower proved difficult as it was very crowded with only a single stairway to take people both up and down. I eventually made it to the top though.

I was famished by the time I made it back to central Lisbon. I had only had my two egg custard tarts so far in the day, so I took a walk from my hotel to the Alfama neighborhood for the afternoon. The weather was looking ominous at this point but I was still able to enjoy an al fresco meal before the rain started.

I picked Porta d'Alfama because I had read in a number of places that they have afternoon fado on Saturdays. I was to find that this was not true. Oh well, at least the food was good.

I had an octopus salad and the soup of the day.

Octopus salad from Porta d'Alfama

The soup was a traditional leek soup that I saw in lots of restaurants.

Just as I was finishing my meal, it started to rain, so I quickly snapped some photos of the Alfama area. This small alley was decorated with tinsel for some reason.

Alley in the Alfama

I decided to visit the cathedral (Se de Lisboa) until the weather got better. This is Lisbon's oldest building and dates back to 1150. From the outside you can see two bell towers and the rose window.

Here is how the rose window looks from the inside. 

I also visited the cloisters which as you can see have been undergoing some excavation.

The galleries surrounding the cloisters feature statues and sculptures dedicated to saints. This was one of my favorite pieces that I saw.

The cathedral was not very busy so it was easy to enjoy its tranquility and beauty.

I spent the remainder of my afternoon souvenir shopping. If you ever find yourself in Lisbon, I recommend A Arte da Terra. This shop features only Portuguese-made items and handicrafts so you can be sure you are supporting local artisans and also taking something home that is made in Portugal.

Before heading back to my hotel, I made a quick stop at Eduardino, another ginjinha shop! Saude! This place is supposed to be the most authentic but I couldn't tell you the difference. Maybe it's the plastic cup?

For dinner, I went to Ze Varunca. This is a restaurant that is difficult to just stumble upon because it is off a back street. The restaurant feels very homey and quaint.

One main difference between American and Portuguese meals is that a lot of stuff is brought to your table that you didn't order and which you are charged for if you touch. If you don't touch it, you don't get charged for it. Even bread and butter cost extra. For this meal, I just had bread and my main entree but at other meals, I did eat the appetizers which usually include olives, cured meat or fried things.

Before leaving Portugal, I had to have balcalhau (salted and dried codfish), which is considered the national dish of Portugal. I heard people say there are 365 recipes to prepare balcalhau for each day of the year. It should also be pointed out that codfish is not a local fish, so the national dish is an import!

I had a version that was baked with spinach and cheese. Not my favorite thing in the world but I had to try it.

Casa Pasteis de Belem
Rua de Belem 84
1300-085 Lisbon

Porta d'Alfama
Rua de Sao Joao da Praca 17
Largo das Portas do Sol
1100 Lisbon

Ginjinha Sem Rival/Eduardino
Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 7
1150-277 Lisbon

Ze Varunca
Rua de Sao Jose 54
1150-323 Lisbon

You might also like: 
Portugal: Part 1 Obrigada - only word I learned 
Portugal: Part 3 - Cold and Rainy in Sintra
Portugal: Part 4 - The Rest