Posted in Beach, Europe, Travel

Traveling to Europe during refugee crisis

Being a European I have my heart in Europe, still have friends and family living in different countries. I love traveling there despite the refugee crisis and the travel warnings.  As sad as it is, the warning is not just for a country or two but the entire continent. The following message is posted on the webpage of the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs:

“EUROPE:  Credible information indicates terrorist groups such as ISIL and al-Qa’ida and its affiliates continue to plot near-term attacks in Europe.  All European countries remain vulnerable to attacks from transnational terrorist organizations.

European authorities continue to warn of the possibility of attacks conducted by lone individuals inspired by extremist organizations that could occur with little to no warning.  Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theaters, open markets, aviation services, transportation systems, and public venues where people congregate.  Authorities believe there is a high likelihood terror attacks in Europe will continue as European members of ISIL return from Syria and Iraq.  European governments are taking action to guard against terrorist attacks; however, all European countries remain potentially vulnerable.”

In my opinion this crisis started to affect tourism, travelers tend to avoid certain airports and airlines with a higher concentration of Muslim residents or passengers, afraid to take public transportation at night or visit certain cities where rape rate and street disturbance is high.  More and more women are switching to organized tours for safety reasons instead of wondering around alone. I still consider Europe safe as long as you are taking the necessary precautions.

Greece: Yahoo News says that Greece’s island of Lesbos, a popular holiday destination for Europeans and Greeks alike, has found itself at the center of a migration crisis. Tens of thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia have traveled to the country’s eastern Aegean islands this year, using them as a gateway to mainland Greece and from there northward to new lives in more prosperous European Union countries. According to the USA Today vacationing in Greece might not be a completely safe experience but you have a good opportunity to have a great time and not be the victim of a crime. Tourists and vacationers are not usually targeted, but some may find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition, there are terrorism concerns and other crimes that happen regularly.  Greek Landscapes says that the reality is that the Greek people are undergoing considerable hardship in the form of higher taxes and lost benefits, so perhaps a few extra protests and union strikes are expected over the summer of 2016. Solution: Pick any major Greek island further away from Turkey (Santorini, Zakynthos, Corfu, etc) and you won’t see refugees getting out of rafts flooding the beach and streets.

refugee.2

France: I have seen a big drop in hotel room rates in downtown Paris, just booked a deluxe suite in a 4 star hotel in a historic district for only $95 (with taxes) on Christmas day, where standard rooms usually start from $220 (plus taxes) and higher during a holiday season. France, for example, is still the top destination for American tourists, but it had a 10 percent drop in overnight stays through July in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris in November and in Nice last month, The Independent reported.  Street were vandalized and heavily littered with trash and personal belongings of the refugees.

france.2france

Belgium: According to Telegraph the Belgian Crisis Center said the threat level for Brussels is 4, meaning a “serious and imminent threat”, whereas the rest of the country is at 3. You should consider factoring in extra time for your journey due to increased security measures in place at UK ports, borders and airports.  A “Tent City” was set-up in downtown parks which is an eyesore for any tourist.

tent city

Daytime prayers are common in many European cities, you are not to disturb them.

london.2

 

belga

 

london.3

Sweden and Germany: According to News.com Germany, Sweden and other European countries are facing growing public unrest amid a wave of reports of sexual assaults since the Cologne attacks. New York-based conservative think tank Gatestone Institute has compiled a  shocking list of sexual assaults and rapes by migrants in Germany in just the first two months of the year.  Drawing only from German media reports, the list documents more than 160 instances of rape and sexual assault committed by migrants in train stations, swimming pool and other public places against victims as young as seven.

If you are taking a train don’t be surprised if you come across with police searching for migrants.

Lot of locals are marching against refugees blocking main roads and near government buildings.

germany

Turkey: Turkey Travel Planner reported several terrorist attacks in recent months and the July 15, 2016 attempt by elements of the Turkish armed forces at a coup d’état have rightly frightened potential visitors to Turkey.  On July 21st, the Turkish government declared a State of Emergency in the country, giving the president and other top leaders extraordinary powers. The State of Emergency is apparently to last at least three months.

According to travel experts only a small percentage of travelers cancelled their trips, a bigger percentage rather switched their destinations and paid the modification fee, which is a significant amount for European tickets. Instead of going to Turkey or Greece, tourists tend to pick Italy, Spain and Portugal, which have a similar climate but are considered safer.

Airfare is also lower than normal but keep in mind the commercial airlines are also trying to compete with European low cost carriers.

Images: theparkmanpost, Slate.com, drsunilgupta.com, tvn24.pl, wvtf.org, telesurtv.net, vestnikkavkaza.net, britanfirst.org, shoebat.com, thinkinghousewife.com. telegraph.co.uk, London Media Press Ltd

 

Posted in Budget, Dental Tourism, Europe, Travel

Dental Tourism

Choosing a good dentist is as important as choosing a good surgeon and if appearance is important to you so is dental hygiene. If you have a dental insurance most likely it does not cover oral surgeries, braces and cosmetic treatments and if it does, it may just be a small percentage of the total cost which is still sky high.  High premiums have small deductibles, small premiums have a high deductible so either way you are paying way too much for dental care, feeding the pockets of your insurance company and dentist.

What if I told you that it does not have to be expensive and you could combine it with a vacation?! You are not going to fly across the ocean for a check-up and cleaning but if you need major work than consider getting it done outside of the United States.  You will save a lot even with the air tickets! If you have family and friends living abroad you may have a free place to stay but if you can arrange your dental appointment during a business trip, you get your airfare and hotel for free! If you don’t know anybody abroad and don’t travel for business, you can still do it, it is so easy!

What is dental tourism? It is a network of dental clinics that specialize on foreign patients arriving to a country for major dental work, staying for a short time and traveling between dental visits.  You are NOT going to be bed-ridden after dental treatments so basically you can do anything from sightseeing to rafting as long as you take care of your teeth and follow doctor orders. There is no consultation because they only need to look at your medical records and X-ray online and by the time you get to the clinic the dental supplies are already delivered and the staff is prepped for surgery.  These high end clinics don’t do check-up and cleanings or take walk-in clients, which means that you never have to wait just because a local walked in with an emergency.  These clinics are considered to be expensive for locals; only cater to foreigners and schedule appointments months in advance. Whatever you need from implants to bone transplants and skin grafts, from braces to crowns and bridges, you can get it done. Yes, even braces, they can put it on for you, just get the monthly adjustments done back home. So, let’s do this step by step.

First, pick a country you would like to visit and google “dental tourism”.  You are going to get a list of dental clinics, read their reviews and select about 4-5 of them.  These clinics have a professional website featuring their dentists with credentials and listing their services and fees but for specific information and availability you need to send them an email first. If you don’t hear back from them within the next few business days, eliminate them. Having a good communication and customer service is essential when you are a foreign patient. European clinics speak multiple languages so if you speak one of the major languages, you will be fine.

Once you made contact with a dental clinic, you will have to email your dental records and X-rays then choose between materials and treatment options in order to estimate a total price.  Keep in mind that you will have to pay with their currency but they accept all major credit cards. Use a credit card that does not have a foreign transaction fee and awards you with either miles/points or a cash rebate.  I do not suggest you taking a large amount of cash with you abroad for safety reasons.

Based on your needs they are going to assign you a dentist, tell you how long you must stay in the country and explain you how the appointments will be spread out during that time.  It is advised to schedule your treatment soon after you arrive because you need to leave time for a follow-up visit or in case something goes wrong.

If all looks good and you agree to the plan, go ahead and purchase your air ticket.  You already know how long you need to stay abroad so choose your travel dates, and if you want to travel a bit leave some extra time for that.  The sooner you want to leave the more expensive it will get so my recommendation is to pick your travel dates within the next 3 months to get a good deal for air travel.  This blog is only about dental tourism but if you need tips on how to get good deals, please read my other blogs on www.travelbigspendsmall.com.

When you have your tickets, notify your dentist about your arrival date, flight number and the time of arrival because a driver will pick you up at the airport (his fee is incorporated into the total cost).  He will be in charge of transporting you between the airport, the clinic and your hotel or accommodation.  The clinics usually offer a few hotels to stay and normally can get you a lower room rate than a travel agency would simply because they work with the hotels directly and buy in bulk.  If you need a hotel for your stay that is going to be an extra cost but the driver is included for your convenience either way.

We have tried dental tourism in Hungary since we have friends and family there so we saved on hotel.  It worked out perfectly fine, the dental work looks great, can’t be happier.  We got an estimate here in the USA for $25K but by getting the work done in Hungary we saved 75% including airfare (two air travel 6 months apart).  As a matter of fact we got more jobs done for less than whatever was proposed for $25K.  Consider flying to Budapest, enjoy what the city has to offer, visit a thermal bath or take a trip to Prague or Vienna in between the dental treatments, they are just 3-4 hours away.

Image: TrustedHealthProducts.com

Posted in Budget, Nature, Travel, Tucked away

How to do Iceland on a budget

Iceland is one of the cheapest destinations to get to but one of the most expensive locations for tourists to visit.  You can easily find air tickets for $99 from Boston or Baltimore to Iceland one way (plus tax and luggage fees) with low cost airlines.

Before I get started you need to understand that the tourist season is relatively short on Iceland, visitors concentrate in Reykjavik from spring to fall, only the brave ones venture out in the winter.  The hotels get sold out very quickly and are very expensive.  Reykjavik is a very small city comparing to other capitals in the world, downtown only consists of one street running from Hallgrimskrikja Church to Old Harbor and pretty much that is it.  Parking is very limited and you can’t access certain sections of downtown with a car; it is going to be hard to find free parking around there.  If there is no event, try parking at the church and walk your way down to the port.

If you are not into pub crawling and hate crowded and overpriced hotels like I do, then book an apartment in the suburbs and park for free.  Suburb in Iceland only means a 10-15 minute drive to downtown Reykjavik so it wasnt a big deal for me knowing how much money we saved.  Whether you are traveling alone or with family members or other couples, you may want to consider booking an apartment on Airbnb which is what I did.

We went to Iceland in the month of June, which is considered to be peak season, hotel rooms were starting from $240/night with no breakfast and paid parking. My two-bedroom apartment cost $52 a night (for the 4 of us) with utilities and cleaning fee included.  The building itself was nothing to write about, the apartment had no panoramic views but was completely renovated and furnished with typical nordic furniture; the host left us a lot of fresh food in the fridge and cabinets.  We had a grill on the balcony and a private parking so we never had to fight for space or feed the meter.

Restaurants are very expensive as well, a plate of food with meat or fish ranges from $42 to $80 and portions are small. I have been to over 4o countries but never seen anything like it before.  Cafeterias were a bit cheaper but come on!  A family of 4 could break the bank in a week so we did grocery shopping and cooked for ourselves.   We only sat in coffee houses twice and treated ourselves with a slice of dessert (got free water) and I paid $60 each time for a family of 4.

The cheapest grocery store is called Bonus, you may want to remember that because there is a price difference between them.  Take a walk and look around well, don’t grab the first item that comes in your sight because they tend to display special items in the middle of the shelves and isles. I grabbed a whole leg of lamb but found the same meat under a different brand just 2 fridges away for half the price.

Most of the produce and crops are imported since nothing grows on Iceland for two reasons: First, the climate does not allow it; since summer is short and relatively cold, the vegetables only have 3 months to grow from the day they plant it till harvest. Second, there is no good soil for cultivation, the land is nothing but rocks and ashes from the lava.  There are 21 active volcanos and hundreds of geysers, hot springs and waterfalls. Imagine the country like Marsh with only moss and green grass surrounded by an ocean. Very spectacular actually but no agriculture. I heard on a cooking class that wheat survives on certain parts of Iceland.

Tap water is completely safe to drink, Icelandic water is one of the cleanest and purest on earth however it does have a little smell and taste which is due to its high mineral content.  The shower water smells the same way. If it does not bother go for it, you save money on bottled water, if it does, get a case of water.

Organized tours cost an arm and a leg.  Initially I thought they are taking advantage of tourists then we realized that they have to make enough money from spring to fall to survive winter with no (or minimal) income.  If you must pay for a tour, there are no local coupons to find anywhere online (trust me,  I tried). You can do two things: pay the tour operators directly and skip the retailers or book your tour on an American webpage that allows you to use a coupon. I used Viator and saved 10%.

Your must book your ticket to the Blue Lagoon at least a 3-4 days in advance. There are no discounts and the price is not fixed.  During busy hours and based on demand they increase the entrance fee; however, if you choose to go in the morning or evening hours, you are paying the lowest price which is 50 Euro in the summer and 40 Euro in the winter which includes a locker and a silica musk.  If you take a towel, slippers and a bathrope with you, you save some bucks on rental fees.  There are cheaper hot springs but in all honesty, Blue Lagoon is the most unique and biggest on Iceland, one of the world’s Seven Wonders.

Your best bet is to rent a car and drive around.  Rental cars are pricy, economy cars with limited miles start from $80 plus insurance.  If you drive less than 100 km a day you are fine but if you exceed it, you will pay per kilometer.  Note: The Keflavik International airport is already around 50 km from Reykjavik and distances between the main attractions are pretty big  as well so map your road trip and calculate the distances. Since I book everything way in advance and do a good research online, I managed to find a local provider for about $50 a day with unlimited miles, it is called Hasso Rent a Car.  Gasoline is around $2 a liter which equals to about $8 a gallon. (You are still better off driving comparing to paying for organized tours for multiple people).  There is no toll on the south side of Iceland. It is safe to drive around, most roads are paved and in great condition, just watch out for narrow bridges and give way to incoming traffic; pull over if you have to.   Watch out for cattle and herds crossing roads, the speed limit is slower than anywhere else. Keep an eye on the weather because it can change rapidly and unexpectedly, flash floods are pretty common over there.  You are not allowed to drive on unpaved surfaces and through rivers (or running water) with an economy car, the fine is huge!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nature, Spa, Travel, Tucked away

Medicinal water of Egerszalok, Hungary

egerszalok-3

SALT HILL AND WELLS

Egerszalók’s real attraction, on the southern side of the village, is the thermal spring erupting from deep in the earth and limestone hill created by water runoff, which over the years has come to be known as “salt hill.” The 65-68 C medicinal water rich in mineral content continually builds jagged, white formations, offering an imposing spectacle.  The hot spring is surrounded by pine trees all around and a bit tucked away.

The first well was drilled in 1961 in search of oil and natural gas, with the drilling of a second well taking place in 1987.  While consecrating the wells in the autumn of 2010, they received the names of Mary and Wendelin. The icon of Mary the Miracle Worker can be found in the Egerszalók Catholic Church, while Saint Wendelin is the patron saint of springs and wells.

In 1992, the Ministry of Health qualified the thermal waters of Egerszalók as “medicinal.” Based on the composition of the water, it can be classified as calcium magnesium hydrogen carbonate mineral water, for which the sulphur content is also significant.

The medicinal water of calcium magnesium hydrogen carbonate also contains sodium and a significant amount of metasilicic acid, and has been ranked as one of the best in the sulphuric medicinal waters category. Over the years, the limestone hill has become a symbol and trademark of the surrounding area. It’s a sight unique to Europe, with similar natural formations found only in two other places in the world, at Pamukkale in the Asian part of Turkey and in Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

Calcium has an anti-inflammatory effect, and sulphur is an important component of cartilage in the joints.

INDICATIONS:

  • degenerative musculoskeletal disorders: arthrisis, back and lower back pain
  • non-acute stages of inflammatory musculoskeletal disorders
  • rehabilitation after orthopedic and spinal surgery
  • inflammatory gynecological diseases
  • psoriasis, eczema

CONTRAINDICATIONS:

  • severe cardiovascular diseases
  • fever and infectious diseases
  • skin lesions
  • malignant tumours
  • general poor health condition
  • incontinence

The components of this famous medicine water are:

Total dissolved mineral content: 1602 mg/l

Component Measured value
(mg/L)
Metaboric acid HBO2 11,1
Metasilicic acid H2SiO3 50
Free carbon dioxide CO2 328
Bound CO2 227
Cations
Potassium K+ 11,1
Sodium Na+ 64,0
Ammonium NH4+ 0,41
Calcium Ca2+ 154
Magnesium Mg2+ 22,6
Iron Fe2+ 0,08
Manganese Mn2+ 0
Lithium Li+ 0,21
Anions
Nitrát NO3- <1
Nitrate NO2- 0
Chloride C1 29
Bromide Br- 0,18
Iodide J- 0,03
Fluoride F- 1,61
Sulphate SO4- 71
Hydrogen carbonate HCO3- 628
Sulphide S2- 3,5
Phosphate (total) PO4+ 0

Source: Saliris Resort Spa & Conference Center

Examination conducted by Vízkutató Kémia Ltd., serving as an accredited laboratory on October 30, 2007

Images: Spa.relaxos, Panoramio, Revng.com, Pinterest

Posted in Car Rental, Travel

Road trippers: How to avoid being scammed abroad by car rental companies. Stay away from FireFly Rent a Car!!!

 

Please find above attached documents: original car rental reservation showing $226.18 booked via Expedia and Firefly Rent a Car charge at the Costa Rica airport showing $699.61, nearly a $500 overcharge! 

As a road tripper, this is my biggest nightmare because an American customer has no rights to complain abroad, nowhere to run, you are at the mercy of these foreign companies in the travel industry.  Nothing can prepare you for what can happen to you abroad so I am going to share my wisdom and own experience to prepare you the best I can for your next car rental overseas.

You fly many hours overnight, cross oceans and time zones and arrive with a lot of excitement to discover a new country. You have your hotels booked and activities lined up for the next few days or weeks, got your maps and GPS ready.  You pick up your luggages, pass customs and immigration then take a shuttle to pick up your rental car.  You line up at the counter and are informed that they can’t honor your original rental quote and the rate has now tripled!

These people know you came from the USA (or western countries), the word “TOURIST” is written all over your forehead, they know you came with credit cards and US dollars. You just became a victim of a scam. There you are, tired and jet lagged, frustrated trying to solve your transportation problem and re-think your entire road trip.

  1. Taxi is too expensive for a 10 day road trip and most likely you won’t find any cabs in remote locations near volcanoes, jungles, waterfalls, national parks, etc.  You need transportation multiple times a day because you not only need to get from one city to another but also need to go out for either grocery shopping or to dine out.  So taxi is out.
  2. Buses and trains only travel between certain cities and please keep in mind that traveling on buses can take double, if not triple the amount of time versus driving a car on a shorter route with higher speed and fewer breaks; buses stop everywhere and take detours to pick up passengers from many remote locations.  You may have to transfer buses and trains and wait for connections. When you arrive at a bus stop you will still need to take a cab to your hotel and then you still have to get to a national park somehow or wherever you go next from your accommodation. You will greatly depend on bus or train schedules and routes, given they even go to the cities you are heading next.  If you do decide to take this option then you seriously have to reconsider your road trip and perhaps eliminate a few cities and activities, in that case you have to re-plan your entire trip based on train/bus routes and schedules.  If you have already paid for hotels and activities then you might have a loss if you need to cancel those.
  3. You look for other car rental companies in the hope of finding lower or the same prices. Chances are slim that you will find reasonable rates at that time (without prior booking) especially during peak travel seasons or holidays or on certain remote islands, like Sardinia, Corsica or Iceland where they only have limited availability due to destination.

So, what can you do to prevent getting into this situation?

  1. Always book your rental car to be picked up at an airport, big or small but make sure it is an airport.  It doesn’t mean you will never get scammed at an airport but chances are smaller that they will rip you off there.
  2. Choose a big name, preferably American or European chain. Again, it does not mean that you will never get scammed at brand name car rental office but the chances are smaller.  Please note that car rental offices can be sold and they can become privately owned and operated businesses, meaning no franchise rules will apply.
  3. Use an American website for the car rental reservation, either book directly with an American car rental company (Hertz, Avis, Sixt, Thrifty, etc.) or a registered American travel agency. You just have more rights there as a damaged US customer abroad.  I am a faithful and loyal customer of Expedia so I am only booking with them; I can recommend them to any traveler.
  4. Pick an option where you can prepay for the car. Again, it does not mean that the car rental agency will never increase the original booking rate and asks you for a difference due to higher prices but the chances are smaller.  Besides, if all goes well, prepaying for a rental car normally gives you an even better deal (5-10% discount).
  5. Stay away from Firefly Rent a Car in Costa Rica and pretty much anywhere else.  That was the company I rented from overcharging me $500 but looking at their Italian branches, they have a lot of negative feedback in Europe as well. They simply do not respond to inquiries, ignore all emails and phone calls and you certainly can’t argue with them onsite. They won’t give you the rental car until you pay the increased rate so it is their way or the high way!
  6. Use your American credit card for payment. Now, if you do agree to pay the increased amount for the rental car (simply because you don’t have any other option) and sign the contract, furthermore you initial it on multiple places, your bank  cannot reverse the charge, they are bound by that contract even if it is on a foreign language and nobody understands it, the numbers (currency amount) speak for themself.  It will not be considered as fraud either because nobody stole your credit card number in this case and you actually used the car.  Most likely you will end up with the charge but at least your bank will investigate the case and they may give a few dollars back as a goodwill if your account is in good standing.
  7. You can report the incident to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and file a claim by submitting your documents at www.cfpb.gov. That only helps you if the rental car company abroad is an American franchise.
  8. You can also report the incident to the foreign consumer protection agency if you find out who they are. You may not recover your money but at least you can help future travelers and have your voice heard.

 

Posted in Beach, Outdoors, Travel, Turkey

A gem of the Aegean Sea in Turkey – Fethiye Beach, Oludeniz

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Turkey is one of the destinations where you can do it all on a budget.  The weather is nice all year around, winter is mild on the south; food is great but it tastes even better with life music 😉  The closest airport to Ölüdeniz  is Dalaman but if you are looking for an international airport, pick Istanbul and rent a car because you are looking at 808 kilometers, which takes about 9 hours and 15 minutes (without stops).  For your information Ankara is about 7 and 1/ 2 hours away. I drove to  Ölüdeniz via Troja, Izmir and Denizli spending a night on each location but it was more scenic that way.

Ölüdeniz means Dead Sea due to its calm waters even during storms; the official translation is Blue Lagoon, is a small village and beach resort in the Fethiye district of Muğla Province, on the Turquoise Coast of southwestern Turkey, at the conjunction point of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. It is located 14 km (9 mi) to the south of Fethiye, near Mount Babadağ.

Ölüdeniz remains one of the most photographed beaches on the MediterraneanIt has a secluded sandy bay at the mouth of Ölüdeniz, on a blue lagoon.The beach itself is a pebble beach. The lagoon is a national nature reserve and construction is strictly prohibited. The seawater of Ölüdeniz is famous for its shades of turquoise and aquamarine, while its beach is an official Blue Flag beach, frequently rated among the top 5 beaches in the world by travelers and tourism journals alike.

Other known beach areas are Kusadasi and Bodrum.

Ölüdeniz is also famous for its paragliding opportunities. It is regarded as one of the best places in the world to paraglide due to its unique panoramic views, and Mount Babadağ’s exceptional height. Breathtaking panorama and stable weather conditions make launch site at Babadag Mountain the best in Europe.

I can’t describe with words how magnificent  Ölüdeniz  is so let me just post a video I found on Facebook by The World but I also took photographs last November.

Sources: The World, Wikipedia

Images: clickstay, Pinterest

 

Posted in History, Hungarian history, Travel

Pena Castle – The highlight of Portugal with Hungarian history

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What a small world, the King of Portugal had Hungarian roots!

Little did I know when I planned this Portuguese trip including a few castles in Sintra. To the best of my knowledge history books don’t mention anything about a Hungarian princess, Maria Antonia Gabriella Kohary who was the mother of Ferdinando II, the king of Portugal, who built this famous castle.

This is what the sign said located at the Castillo de Pena:

“King Fernando II of Portugal was born in 1816 in Vienna, the son of Duke Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and of Maria Antonia Gabriella Kohary. His father had converted to Catholicism in order to marry this Hungarian princess, thereby founding the Catholic branch of the family, which is also known as Saxe-Coburg-Kohary. In 1836 Fernando married Maria II, Queen of Portugal and from this union were born 11 children, amongst whom two future Kings, Pedro V and Luis I.”

I did some research on Maria Antonia and according to Wikipedia, she was born in Buda on July 2, 1797 as a second daughter of Ferenc Jozsef  Koháry de Csábrág, known as Franz Josef, Count Koháry and his wife, Countess Maria Antoinetta Josefa von Waldstein-Wartenburg. She was a Hungarian noblewoman and the ancestress of several European monarchs. She was the heiress of the Koháry family and one of the three largest landowners in Hungary.  To make Maria a suitable bride for a prince, the emperor had raised her father (whose ancestors had been created counts in the Hungarian nobility in July 1685 and barons in February 1616) to Prince Koháry of Csábrág and Szitnya in Austria’s nobility on 15 November 1815, two weeks before the wedding, thereby allowing her to come to her bridesgroom already a princess.

The history of Pena Castle: The palace itself is composed of two wings: the former Manueline monastery of the Order of St. Jerome and the wing built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. These wings are ringed by a third architectural structure that is a fantasised version of an imaginary castle, whose walls one can walk around and which comprises battlements, watchtowers, an entrance tunnel and even a drawbridge.

In 1838, King Ferdinand II acquired the former Hieronymite monastery of Our Lady of Pena, which had been built by King Manuel I in 1511 on the top of the hill above Sintra and had been left unoccupied since 1834 when the religious orders were suppressed in Portugal. The monastery consisted of the cloister and its outbuildings, the chapel, the sacristy and the bell tower, which today form the northern section of the Palace of Pena, or the Old Palace as it is known.

King Ferdinand began by making repairs to the former monastery, which, according to the historical sources of that time, was in very bad condition. He refurbished the whole of the upper floor, replacing the fourteen cells used by the monks with larger-sized rooms and covering them with the vaulted ceilings that can still be seen today. In roughly 1843, the king decided to enlarge the palace by building a new wing (the New Palace) with even larger rooms (the Great Hall is a good example of this), ending in a circular tower next to the new kitchens. The building work was directed by the Baron of Eschwege.

The 1994 repair works restored the original colors of the Palace’s exterior: pink for the former monastery and ochre for the New Palace.

In transforming a former monastery into a castle-like residence, King Ferdinand showed that he was heavily influenced by German romanticism, and that he probably found his inspiration in the Stolzenfels and Rheinstein castles on the banks of the Rhine, as well as Babelsberg Palace in Potsdam. These building works at the Palace of Pena ended in the mid-1860s, although further work was also undertaken at later dates for the decoration of the interiors.

King Ferdinand also ordered the Park of Pena to be planted in the Palace’s surrounding areas in the style of the romantic gardens of that time, with winding paths, pavilions and stone benches placed at different points along its routes, as well as trees and other plants originating from the four corners of the earth. In this way, the king took advantage of the mild and damp climate of the Sintra hills to create an entirely new and exotic park with over five hundred different species of trees.

Sources: Parques de Sintra and Wikipedia

Image: traveltoeat