Snaking Past Anxiety

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As I mentioned before, Lou is a lover of all animals, no matter how big or small. Her big sister has been enjoying camp at a nearby nature center this week and has told us such cool stories of the animals she’s been getting to interact with and learn about each day. In a perfect world, I would have sent both my older girls to this amazing camp but Lou just isn’t ready. She’s surely eager, just not ready. Yet.
The nature center only has a couple days a week open to the public in the summer. So, today I took Lou and Bean for a visit to see what all the fuss was about. They have some amazing classes with a lot of their animals throughout the day. This proved to be difficult (just like most of our public outings) for Lou because of the volume of the other excited children.
The tortoise and snake class was so packed and so loud and so full of children with no boundaries on personal space (I realize this sentence makes all other kids not my own sound like wild banshees. I’m sure that, like, only 70% of other kids are like wild banshees; the rest are just wild #mykidsareperfect #noseup). Lou tried her hardest to tough it out. Most of our outings with her are short-lived and almost always end in tears, screaming or full-on meltdowns. 
 
During the class, she was eagerly listening to the presentation when I could see her hands starting to rub the side of her shorts, her face looking stressed. She pressed on and eventually sat, tears rolling down her precious little cheeks trying so hard to just hang in there and fight past the noise that is so painful to her little ears.
I gave her her headphones and asked if she wanted to step outside. Her fingers and hands started to snap and rub, a behavior she has yet to control. She quickly took the headphones and eventually decided she couldn’t take the noise anymore and started to bolt towards the door. 
We ended up waiting in a separate area so Bean could play and Lou could slip into another world with the comfort of her favorite music overpowering the undesired noises surrounding her. I have a love-hate relationship with those dang headphones. I love them because they have allowed us to go out in public when we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And I hate them because she’s tethered to an electronic device to keep her calm. But, hey, aren’t so many of us these days? I believe that with the therapies she’s involved in that this strategy will slowly drift away and we eventually won’t count on it so much. But, for now, they’re priority if we want any time out of the house.
After some time had passed and the wild banshees had fled, we returned to see the tortoises and snakes in hope that she’d get an opportunity to interact with one. We sat in a corner and waited until an animal didn’t have a crowd of children anymore. We witnessed a toddler picking up a stray turtle and then throwing it on the ground. I wished that if my (ever so deserving) child would just have a turn and if people would just quiet down and if she’d just have her space and if she could just get up there and touch a freaking turtle. Then I glanced at her, sitting patiently next to me, swinging her legs, fidgeting in her chair, listening to her music and humming.  She was really trying. So many times the noise has just been too much, the noise that’s not that big of a deal to me is a big deal to her. Sometimes we make it to peace and quiet in time to avoid the meltdowns, the screaming, other times we don’t.
But, for now, through her love of animals, she was really trying. Her patience was even outlasting mine. And I’m really proud of her for that.
And guess what?
Just when I thought the anxiety and Autism thought they were going to claim another day…
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Leila won.
The above picture is a picture of my girl holding a 3 year old corn snake and chatting it up with a precious volunteer filled with the same animal-loving energy as my girl Lou. Even if that woman doesn’t know it, she shared a very important connection with my girl today. I really wish I could hug her. She was patient, she was kind, she answered our questions.
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Lou is learning. We’re learning. It’s a process and one I’ll never forget. We’re in this together.
Today was a good day. Today Lou showed me perseverance.
#shineleilashine

Opting Outside With Kids

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It’s been 3.5 months since we became full-time campers (and we only have a couple of months left, eek). We’ve had our ups and downs learning the way of RV life, but so far, I’d have to say I highly recommend it. One of the many reasons that we chose this out-of-the-box lifestyle is to encourage our kids to appreciate the outdoors and learn more about nature. We didn’t choose this lifestyle to simply live in a camper; we chose to sleep in a camper and live outdoors. I strongly feel like this experience has been a gift to our kids and hope that they cherish these memories as they grow into adults.

There are several research-based studies that show the benefits of simply spending time outdoors. It’s relaxing, reduces stress, and not to mention, it’s free. Which means zero dollars spent so if things go south, at the very least, you’ve got nothing to lose.

I know that most of you busy parents reading this can’t just drop everything willy nilly and move into a camper full-time, but I would like to challenge you to at least carve out time, unplug from the world and connect with your kids by opting outside.

Here are six simple ways to get your kids off the couch and into the great outdoors.

Junior Ranger Program – Most State and National parks offer some type of Junior Ranger or Junior Explorer program. This is an excellent opportunity to not only have fun outside with the different activities included but to expand a childs’ education about the world around them. The kids even get a badge/pin at the end! Contact your local park about their programs and get involved.

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And, oh, they get sworn in upon completion which is pretty official if you ask me.

Pick a Park – Even if your kids don’t partake in the Junior Ranger program, your nearest State or National park can give you details on events that are coming up in their park. These events are mostly free (or cheap), always fun and packed with educational information.

Picnic – Who doesn’t love a picnic? Grab a blanket, make some sammies and grab a jug of sweet lemonade for a relaxing picnic outside. During the season of homeschooling we are in right now, we will pack up and spend the morning at a local state park while the girls do their work and finish up with a picnic lunch. It’s a simple kind of life and I like it that way.

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How cute is my barefoot Bean learning how to walk at one of our local state parks?

Nature Walks & Observations – One of the easiest ways to get your kids outside is to take them on a simple nature walk. Find your nearest nature trail or take a safe trek in the woods. Observing your local birds and wildlife first hand is a fun way to spend time outdoors. One of my favorite resources for getting ideas of activities that encourage my kids to get into nature is ‘The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms. The Nature Connection suggests activities pertaining to the seasons, has wonderful illustrations and is extremely educational. The book also provides journal space and online links to access free printables that go along with the book.

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Fly a Kite – Most of us have kites at home, but if you don’t, kites are fairly inexpensive and a good way to spend time outdoors. We’ve flown plenty of kites while living near breezy coastlines. Often times you can find a kite tucked in the trunk of my car for spontaneous kite flying afternoons.

Camping – Yes, go camping. You can do it! It’s good for ya. Tent camping is such an adventure but if it’s a camper you’re looking for, you can find RV’s for rent by owner on rvshare.com (if you’re interested in a camp-cation on the Emerald Coast, contact me to rent our very own “Bunkhouse Bessy”). If you’re looking for ideas and activities to amp up your camping experience for your kids, check out one of my favorite camping books, ‘Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids’ Guide‘ for endless activities, games and even campfire recipes that your whole family will enjoy.

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What’s your favorite outdoor activity with your kids?

Zahara + Grazalema Pit Stop

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Ahhh, an Andalusian summer has begun. It’s time to get up and get out to experience our beloved España. One of my favorite places to venture off to is Zahara de la Sierra. It’s just a little over an hour from Rota and the scenery contrasts greatly from the usual beach scene but is equivacantly beautiful.

So, brace yourselves, because these photos I’m about to show you will make you want to gather your friends and family and head for a hike straight away.

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White villages are like no other; quaint, quiet and charming.

The pathway to the top is very steep and not shaded which made for a difficult hike in the sun, but the views are so very worth it.

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Not bad, Zahara. Not bad at all.

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This is the reward once you finally reach the top of the very steep pathway. This little hike ends with a castle, as many good hikes do.

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Exploring the nooks and crannies of the castle is half the fun.

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My very handsome and smart brother visited for a weekend as he’s studying abroad in Rome. We visited him the weekend prior and it had been a whopping TWO years since I’ve seen him. Spain definitely has its’ perks but being away from family has got to be the worst downside. We were so happy to get to spend time with him and catch up.

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The next part I’m about to tell you is going to knock your socks off…

There is a restaurant in Zahara called Al Lago that ranks on my top 3 places I’ve eaten in Spain in the last five years. Yes, it’s that good.

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Make sure to start your meal with a selection of local cheeses (always a good choice) paired with quince and onion marmalade.

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My husband had the delicious sea bass.

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My smart little bro made the wise choice of salmon. Twas excellent.

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And I devoured this Moroccan chicken in about 10 seconds flat in the most un-lady like way. Al Lago’s moroccan chicken makes me kiss my manners goodbye, y’all.

On the way home, we wanted to bring my brother rock-climing so we took a 30 minute detour through the gorgeous mountains and went to Grazalema.

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We just love it out here.

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The views around here are just phenomenal.

To help you get on your way, check out these links:
Zahara de la Sierra via Andalucia.com
Book your stay at Hotel Al Lago via Booking.com
More information about Hotel Al Lago & Restaurant
Read about Grazalema hikes via Andalucia.com

Happy travels, y’all!

Feria de Cordoba

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On our way to the Alpaca Farm, we decided to pop in to Cordoba for lunch. We had no idea that Cordoba’s feria was taking place and stumbled upon it. Lucky us!

Cordoba is famous for its’ horses, their yearly patio festival and mosque. Here’s Feria de Cordoba through my lens:

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This horse was trying to run for its’ life after it discovered it was free from the reigns somehow. I initially was a lot closer to take pictures of these horses when I high tailed it outta there just like everyone else around me. I love horses but I prefer to steer clear of the feisty ones.

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Ole!

In Spain Today [June 10, 2016]

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I know we’ve gone over this but, isn’t Spain beauty-ful?

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If you were to visit Southern Spain today, you’d get an eyeful of miles and miles of sunflowers.

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Tall, golden and standing proud. They are a sight to see and we look forward to them each June.

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Like most Americans around here, I took a whole heap of photos of my very own beauties in the sunflower fields (if you’re on my Facebook, you’re privy to these photos). If you’re looking for a photographer, look no further than Erika Michelle Photgraphy. She has my stamp of approval and that’s pretty hard to come by.

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This little bumblebee might be the only thing that appreciates all these sunflowers more than me.

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Aw, heck. It sure is a great day to live in Spain.

I like long walks on the beach

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Small town folks like me can remember the first time they saw a body of water other than our best friends creek-front property, a man-made lake or the pool at the country club. I remember, clear as day, the first time I saw a body of water that had waves not created by a motorized boat or my older brother doing a belly flop. When I was 14, my family and I took a vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama to see the gulf. From the moment I stepped foot on that beach, I was goo goo, gah gah, head over heels in love with the beach.

Once I high-tailed it out of my small hometown a few years later, I’ve been lucky enough to be living near the beach ever since. That’s what happens when you marry a handsome sailor, y’all. Since the weather has been so nice lately, the beach is where you can find me taking a nice evening stroll when I get the chance.

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In nearby Rota, there’s these really great boardwalks that were built in the pine forest. This is a heavenly walk for us stroller-toting Mamas who like the shade.

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The boardwalk lasts for miles.

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And, oh lucky me, there are paths that lead to the beach.

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And so far, I’ve found that…

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… living by the beach does not suck.

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I know a couple of beach bums that like long walks on the beach, too.

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That’s right, a couple of sea-glass findin’, sea shell pluckin’, frolicking little beach bums.

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Just like their Mama.

Lisbon City Break

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You guys. I can’t believe I’ve never been to Lisbon before now. If I could do the last 5 years over again, I would make Lisbon and the surrounding areas an annual trip.It is such a cool city (and I’m not a city girl, y’all!). It’s super budget-friendly and most of the restaurants we ate at were locally owned and operated (and the majority were run by families). It’s so  hard to find a gem of a city so preserved and ran by locals and not large companies these days but Lisbon has got it all!

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If you’re a new reader (welcome, y’all!), you should know that this small town southern Missouri girl was plucked out of my itty bitty hometown by a sailor from San Francisco. We took our very first trip together when we were just youngens and headed west to California so I could meet his family. That was my first time in a big ‘ol city and I loved it. Lisbon and San Francisco have many different similarities and we had a whole heap of memories flooding back to our first trip as budding little lovebirds.

For starters, we loved seeing the trams. We were lucky enough to score an amazing 1 bedroom apartment right on the historic Tram Line 28. Our apartment was located in Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon, famous for its’ Fado music (of which we did so enjoy). 

 
If there weren’t so many sights to see, I think we could have watched the trams go by all day. 

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Not bad, huh?

Lisbon is called the City of the Seven Hills, which conveniently makes for views like no other city I’ve ever seen.

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See that bridge over yonder? That’s the 25th of April bridge. It’s almost close enough to being the twin sister of San Francisco’s very own Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was built by the American Bridge Company in 1966, which also constructed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but not the Golden Gate.

Okay, enough facts… let’s get back to the view.

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Being such a good district to people like you and me, the street our apartment was located on had too many good restaurants to choose from (a problem I’ve never had in Spain, if I’m being honest) but the funnest one we went to had the very best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

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And I mean the “wind beneath my wings” type of hot chocolate. They serve you a steaming hot glass of milk and then the chocolate mustache goes into said milk and the ending product is the very best hot chocolate you’ve ever had your entire life.

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I also want to introduce to you one of the very best grilled ham and cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring.

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One of the great things that I discovered about Lisbon, is their flea market that takes place every Tuesday and Saturday. The market is called Feria da Ladra, which translates to ‘Thieves Market’.  It’s made up of different indoor and outdoor stalls, both selling a variety of items from beautiful antiques to used (and I hear sometimes stolen) items.

But, if you’re aching for good portuguese ceramics (like I always am), there’s a place located within the market that has a fabulous selection.

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My heart was oh-so-happy because not only are their ceramics beautiful but it’s affordable and beautiful. Did I mention that they’re beautiful?

  
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Between this shop and the flea market, I scored two demijohns, a couple bags full of ceramics and some gorgeous tile pieces.

Speaking of tile…

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When you’re walking through the streets of Lisbon, you can’t help but notice another thing that makes this city beautiful; the exteriors of their buildings are covered in bright and colorful tile.

Here are a few pictures of some tile I took just for you.

Tile Portugal

Ain’t that the happiest little collage you ever did see?

When there’s a city full of buildings covered in tile, you’ll most likely find…

… tile shops! This one we found by chance while roaming the streets. It sold discontinued tile at a fairly cheap price. Each of us girls got to pick out a few favorite pieces (to be made into something soon).

If you’re going to visit Lisbon, you cannot, and I mean cannot miss a trip into Sintra. I love the city, but even more I love hiking in the great outdoors. Especially when my hiking view looks a little something like this…

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Pena Palace, y’all. I absolutely cannot believe places like this really exist.

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You also can’t make a trip to Lisbon without visiting Belem for its’ egg custard pastries called Pasteis de Nata. There’s actually a pretty good story behind this little dessert that you can read here. In short, The Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem has successfully kept their dessert recipe a secret for over a whopping 100 years. Currently, only 4 people know the recipe. People travel from all over the world to try this and I can confidently say that our trip was worth it and my entire families’ taste buds were satisfied. Abrigado, Belem!

Now, if you just trust me and make your way on to Belem for some pastries, I suggest you…

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Just grab yourself a little cappuccino…

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… toss on some cinnamon and powdered sugar and you’ve got yourself a meal well spent in Portugal. I should mention that when you get to The Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem, you may see a long line or two. One is for to-go, the other is for pre-order. Pre-order is shorter, but whichever one you pick, you can enjoy both at the nearby park across the street. If you’re interested in sitting at a table, venture inside. The line may be long depending on time of year, but the prices are cheap and the food is good (eat a Pasteis de Nata for me, too)!

Our oldest two daughters are anything but picky eaters and we thoroughly enjoyed some of our favorite  European culinary adventures to date in Lisbon. Lots of fish, fresh vegetables and some restaurants even required us to wear bibs!

One thing that I recommend while traveling is to find a tour guide. It is, of course, an extra expense, but you learn a vast amount more about the place you’re visiting than if you chose otherwise.

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I know that people think traveling with children is a pain (and hey, it can be), but so far it has proven to be enjoyable. We love sharing this experience with our daughters. Although, at times, we may have frequent stops for diaper changes, bathroom breaks and untied shoes. Lisbon solved our problem when we discovered Eco Tuk Tours. We zipped around the city learning and experiencing more things in a short period of time that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We very highly recommend booking a tour with Eco Tuk Tours!

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For my husband and I, we liked getting to try Lisbon’s famous drink, Ginja. If you visit Lisbon, most places will give you a shot of Ginja at the end of your meal. However, if you’re looking to score a couple bottles (like us), make sure you let your Eco Tuk Tours guide know so you can bring some home with ya (thanks, Bart!).

Here are some more photos of things that we saw during our stay…

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Have you ever seen a more well-dressed dog? Better yet, have you ever seen a more well-dressed dog workin’ hard for the money? And yes, we gave him a couple euros. He’s dapper and he deserves it.

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Oh, and one more thing…

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If you’re traveling with your little ones, heck, even if you aren’t, you’ve got to pop in to the  Oceanarium! We had one rainy afternoon and we spent it at the oceanarium. Our kids loved every minute of it!

So, before you scramble for your keys and head out the door for your trip to Lisbon, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Here’s what you need to know…

 

Lodging:

Lisbon Inside Connect – Castelo & Baixa Apartments
Excellent location, clean, great views and extremely budget-friendly. The one bedroom apartment we stayed in was perfect for our family of five with a full kitchen, king-sized bed in the main bedroom, sofa bed  in the living room and (lucky us), we brought the pack and play for the baby. If you’re like us and drive into Lisbon, parking can be tricky and quite pricey when staying at this location but it’s totally worth it. We enjoyed our apartment so much, we tacked an extra night to our stay.

Restaurants we enjoyed:

Salsa Restaurant & Bar Lisbon
Nearest restaurant to our apartment. Everything we ordered was amazing and just like the rest of Lisbon, quite affordable.

Cultura Portuguesa Cafe
Home of the mustache hot chocolate. You’re going to love the atmosphere of this family owned and operated cafe. Located near the apartment we stayed in, this location is perfect for breakfast, lunch and a few cups of hot chocolate.

Arigato Sushi House
Hands down, all time best sushi I’ve had my entire life. I was so enthralled in their sushi, I didn’t even remember to take any pictures. Located near the Oceanarium (information below), check their Facebook page for opening times and prices.

Shopping:

Flea Market (Feira de Ladra)
Open Tuesdays & Saturdays 8AM-6PM
Located at: 
           Campo de Santa Clara, 1100-472 Lisboa, Portugal

Armazem das Caldas (Ceramic Shop)
Open Tuesdays & Saturdays 9AM-7PM
Thursdays & Fridays 11AM-6PM
Located at:
          112, 1100-472
          Lisboa, Portugal

Cortiço & Netos
Sells discontinued portuguese tile. Extremely friendly customer service, helped us with finding and looking for way more tile than we purchased (because they’re patient like that, y’all). 
Open Monday 10AM-7PM
Tuesday 10AM-1PM
Wednesday-Saturday 10AM-7PM
Located at:
          Calçada de Santo André, 66, 1100 Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon Oceanarium
The largest aquarium in Europe, the Oceanarium is perfect for kids and adults alike. Entry fees are surprisingly wallet-friendly. Check website for admission times & prices.

Sintra Hiking & Sightseeing
If you love fresh air and the outdoors, Sintra is just for you. Even if you don’t, you’ll fall in love with the outdoors here in Sintra. There’s so much to see and do, check out the website for details on hours, times and their multiple must-see locations.

Eco Tuk Tours Lisboa
Our only regret on this tour is not spending more time with Bart, our tour guide. We learned a lot about the historical parts of Lisbon and even had a (entirely necessary) pit stop for ice cream. Check the link for booking information, this is hands down the best tour company in Lisbon; you must ask for Bart!