Quinta da Regaleira, Sinta, Portugal - French Californian

Mysteries in the Fog: Quinta da Regaleira

If someone were to ask me: What is the Quinta da Regaleira? I’d have a really hard time coming up with a short answer. In fact, it can only really be summed up through multiple pictures and an entire blog post! So here it is.

The Quinta da Regaleira is basically a mansion and its surrounding grounds situated in the mountains above a village called Sintra, in Portugal.

I first heard about Sintra when reading something about J.K. Rowling. If I remember correctly, she was describing all the things that inspired her when creating the world of Harry Potter, and one of them was Sintra. I had no idea what Sintra would actually be like, but I knew that if it had inspired one of my favorite fictional worlds, then visiting it would be worth my while.

Since reading that article, I forgot about Sintra, but as Portugal rose in popularity over the last few years as the coolest, newest travel destination, I saw more and more images pop up into my Instagram and Pinterest feeds featuring this amazing, mysterious garden with moss-covered ponds and a deep, dark spiral staircase that descended into the earth but opened up to the sky. I found out later after doing some research that the place I had seen magical little glimpses of was in fact the Quinta da Regaleira (don’t ask me to pronounce that).

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Pardon me for the next few paragraphs as I channel the great Lorelai Gilmore and gush about how wonderful and magical snow is. Did you know that snow actually sparkles in the sunlight?! It honestly looks like it has glitter in it.

I can’t get over how much it transforms a landscape so completely. The entire world becomes a bright, light-filled, monochromatic wonderland, and a peaceful silence pervades the atmosphere. All sounds are slightly dampened, while the dry crunching sound from your boots in the snow is oddly amplified.

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I’ve visited Sweden in the winter before, but this time the snow really put on a show. It was so light and powdery and I loved the way the snow clinging to the bare birch tree branches looked like delicate lace or veins in the sky.

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During this trip, we did something really special that sounds insane: we had a snow-picnic.

But honestly, as long as you have the right clothes and enough layers, you don’t even get cold hanging outside in the snow. We drank hot coco from a thermos, roasted hot dogs over a little fire, and the family dogs chased each other happily over the frozen lake (yes I walked on a frozen lake!).

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My eyes were going bonkers over all the crazy-beautiful scenery, and I really wanted to take photos, but I had to figure out a way to protect my camera from the snowflakes that were falling from the sky (that would then melt into water and destroy my expensive camera), so we managed to track down a red blanket that I covered myself in like a little portable tent. It was tricky but it worked! This is Erik laughing at how stupid I looked walking around with a red blanket over my head:

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I loved how the colorful Swedish houses stood out within the white and black landscape, and it may sound crazy but I sorta liked that the sun set so early at 2pm. Winter in Sweden feels like one long, cozy dream, which is amplified by the fact that Swedes freaking LOVE candles. Candles are used every single day as an actual source of light, especially at mealtimes, and there’s nothing quite like eating to the flickering warmth of multiple candles. Candles to me have always been strictly for imparting a strong holiday-themed scent to your house or room (thanks Bath & Body Works), but why had it never occurred to me to use unscented candles as a light source?? I guess it seemed too old fashioned (and a fire hazard), but needless to say I’m going to use candles more often.

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Speaking of beautiful light, a snowy landscape at dawn is so beautiful, and the best part is, dawn isn’t really that early because the sun rises so late, so it’s pretty easy to witness a softly-lit, blue-tinged dawn every morning.

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I’ve been mulling over the idea of living in Sweden someday. It’s still just a thought, but I’m still hesitant because I know how much of a struggle it can be to learn a new language and integrate into a new culture. But having a Swedish husband and his family there to help me, it might not be so hard or emotionally draining as it was sometimes in France. I’m even playing around with the idea of buying a big old house in the countryside and turning it into a small bed & breakfast… but these are all just tiny seeds of thought in my brain at this moment in time.

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One last tid-bit of information I’ll leave you with is this: If it’s a certain temperature outside, aka VERY COLD, it’s impossible to make a snowman, because the snow is too dry and won’t stick together. Apparently snowmen only work when the snow is slightly watery. When Erik’s Dad told me this, I was legitimately shocked. Snow is snow, right? Snow without snowmen and snowballs isn’t even really snow! But alas, I tried creating a snowball but it just fell apart through my gloved fingers.

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Tiles & Tarts in Lisbon, Portugal

For the entire month of December, I was traveling, starting with Lisbon, Portugal.

When I was planning this trip to Europe many months ago, I asked around to see if anybody could come with me. I asked friends, family members, and my husband to come along, but nobody could get the time off from work, or they didn’t have the money. Not that I was necessarily desperate to have a travel partner, I just knew that it would be out of my comfort zone and I was a little nervous about that.

After Portugal, I’d be heading to Sintra, a town outside of Lisbon, then Paris, then Sweden.

I wasn’t really nervous for Paris, since I’m so familiar with the city, and I wasn’t nervous for Sweden, since I would be meeting my husband Erik there to spend Christmas with his family – but just the idea of leaving for another country all alone is a little scary, even if I have done it before. Also, this past year has been mostly about hibernating inside my house, so to get out of that zone so suddenly and intensely was a shock to my system. I cried on my way to the airport. My Uber driver noticed and handed me some tissues. When I touched down in Paris for an overnight “layover,” I could feel that I was on the verge of panicking, from exhaustion and being overwhelmed, but I was able to calm myself down by breathing, taking a quick shower, and focusing on the the task at hand: seeing my friend Laura from Ciao Amalfi! We had planned this reunion perfectly – I couldn’t get a direct flight to Lisbon, so I booked a connecting flight in Paris, and it just so happened that Laura would be in Paris at the same time! I was so tired that by the end of our apéro, I was having trouble keeping my eyes focused, but I’m so grateful I got to see her. We’ve only been in the same city at the same time about 4 times in the past 3 years that I’ve known her, but it feels like I see her all the time. She lives in Italy, so it’s been a long distance friendship from the beginning! And if you’re wondering how we met: we used to work together remotely for Paris Perfect. At our brief Paris meeting she gifted me one of my favorite teas from Mariage Frères, and I gifted her one of my Paris calendars that I designed last-minute for my Etsy shop (they’ve since sold out).

Wait a minute, HOLD UP – this blog post is supposed to be all about Lisbon! …Let’s get back to the subject!

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Travel Diary: Tubingen, Germany | French Californian

Making Memories in Tübingen, Germany

Once upon a time, I traveled through the Black Forest region of Germany with my dear friend Katie. If you’re a long-time reader, you may remember our visit to Heidelberg and Freiburg, but there’s a third town we visited that I never actually talked about: Tübingen!

I was in the shower the other day, reminiscing about past travel memories – as one does in the shower – and remembered our comical adventure in Tübingen. It’s one of those travel experiences that was uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden in the moment, but turned into one of the best memories ever.

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Descanso Rose Garden in Spring

California Rose Garden on a Cloudy Day

By now, it’s probably no surprise that strolling through gardens is one of my favorite pastimes. This spring, I paid yet another visit to one of my favorite spots in California, the Descanso Gardens near Pasadena.

For some reason, whenever I visit, it always seems to be overcast and damp, but I don’t mind. I think rose gardens are especially romantic underneath a cloudy sky.

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The Pacific Northwest | French Californian

The Pacific Northwest

A few months ago I took a family vacation to the Pacific Northwest. We stayed near Port Townsend (a couple hours out of Seattle) and explored the entire area over about a week. My favorite part was exploring the Bloedel Reserve, which nurtures the most beautiful and rarest features of the lush native landscape, from mushrooms to hundreds of types of moss. They also have a beautiful Japanese garden and French style manor where the founders of the Reserve once lived. The day we visited was overcast and slightly drizzly – the perfect type of weather for this kind of environment.

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