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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Portugal Trip-- Magical Sintra!

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Hello dear readers!

Here is the second installment of our anniversary trip to Portugal. The sweet little town of Sintra is less than an hour's train ride from Lisbon, and we spent days 3-5 of our trip there.  

 

Our first Sintra destination was Quinta da Regaleira.  While planning our trip, I'd read about this place, and was captivated by the words everyone used to describe it. 

 The adjectives: magical, mystical, fantastical, surreal, hidden, delightful, mysterious, whimsical... 

 The nouns: nooks, niches, grottos, secret doors, symbols, archetypes, gardens, towers, tunnels, waterfalls, labyrinths, springs, fountains, fairytales, myths, wells...


(If you've read my books, you know I eat this stuff up!)  So, based on the gushing of others, I guessed I'd love this place... and I did, oh I did! And so did Ian.  

It brings out the adventurous kid in you... wandering around these enchanted gardens and discovering secret passageways behind waterfalls, venturing down a dripping tunnel to find yourself at the bottom of a spiral-staired well. (How was it, we wondered, that we'd never heard about this place before planning our trip!?!)

 

It was full of delight and whimsy and wonderment, and we happily spent the afternoon there. (It was designed over a century ago by an Italian opera set designer named Luigi, as a commission for an eccentric Brazilian coffee tycoon, and eventually, about a decade ago, became open to the public.)


It's hard to describe this place in a tangible way, but basically, it's several hilly acres of verdant gardens with footpaths throughout, leading to towers, turrets, palaces, grottos, waterfalls, secret passages... and magnificent views.




Everything is packed with mythological significance, like this well that symbolizes a journey of intiation... (We're standing at the bottom of it here.)


The gardens and paths were deliciously lush and green...



The flowers were vibrant...



See those arches by the water? Secret tunnels abound inside of them-- a kind of labyrinth hidden in there!


We had a lovely lunch on this columned terrace...

 

Wine at lunch was a nice thing about traveling, just the two of us.  So luxurious.  And the Portuguese wine we drank was called vinho verde-- I'd never had it before, but it's really good-- light and fresh and a little bubbly.  It was only 2 or 3 bucks a glass in Portugal, and here in the States, we discovered it's only 8 or 9 bucks a bottle.  (The brand we got is Casal Garcia.) We're no wine connoisseurs, but we agreed that on a summery day, this stuff is the bomb. 

 

In the US, I usually drink green tea, but in Europe I can't resist those teeny cups of espresso... which is part of the reason we went to bed well after midnight and slept till late morning.  Again, so luxurious compared to my before-dawn-wake-up schedule here in Colorado (thanks to Lil Dude's early rising...)

 

Our guesthouse was Casa do Valle, at the edge of town, surrounded by gardens and views of castles and countryside... 

 

And breakfast was served on our private balcony.  (This inn was a bit of a splurge for us, but totally worth it... and, as a side note, lodging and meals in Portugal were more economical than in the US, which made splurging easier.)


Our kindly innkeeper, Virpi, told us about this gorgeous forest walk to the castles.... We do lots of hiking in Colorado, but there's something so special about hiking in Europe, next to ancient aqueducts and crumbling walls...


You can see the medieval ramparts in the distance through the trees....



The first palace we went to was the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, colorful and extravagant, and accessed through beautiful gardens...





Breathtaking views of the countryside...



Then we went to the Castelo dos Mouros-- a picturesque ninth century Moorish castle.  We walked all along the ramparts from one tower to another, and I have to say I was glad Lil Dude wasn't with us (although he's really into knights and swords) -- there were many places where he could've plunged to his death with one wrong step-- eek!  Woulda made be a bit nervous...


Yes, it was all very romantic and perfect for an anniversary trip... ;-)


On the way back from the castles, we walked down these sweet, wisteria-draped cobbled lanes no wider than an arms' span...


You know how when you're traveling and you see a place for sale, you start day-dreaming... 
 hmmm... if we were rich... just maybe....

Well, this was *that* house on our trip... across from the guesthouse at the edge of Sintra.  It was gorgeous and a little spooky, all run-down, with broken windows and whatnot, but look at it!  So much potential, no?  Ahhh ... fun to dream...



Thanks for reading! I'm planning on two more installments of Portugal photos-- Porto and Aveiro, and more of Lisbon.  Now I must prepare for a middle school visit in south Denver tomorrow.  (I just finished a fun visit to the bilingual school Irish Elementary, here in Fort Collins-- they read Star in the Forest.  I LOVED hearing their impressions and connections-- makes my heart full!) A happy spring day to you!

xo,
Laura

************UPDATE***********

Many readers have been asking me if Portugal will be a setting in an upcoming book!  Wellll... as you know, I don't like to divulge much about a book before it's even written (not good for my creativity), but I will say that one reason I chose Portugal for our trip was because of the coastline, castles, and mysterious gardens... all of which play parts in the two new YA manuscripts I'm currently working on.  I'm having lots of fun with it.  For me, it's so important to engage in a setting with all my senses, to really make it come alive for readers.

Anyway, thank you all for asking, and I hope you like the books that will eventually materialize from this latest travel adventure!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Portugal trip-- Lisbon!

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Hello!

 Ian and I are back from our 10 year anniversary trip to Portugal, feeling elated and refreshed and reinvigorated!  My mom and dad watched Lil Dude while we were away (he missed us but was mostly happy being spoiled rotten). It was a truly blissful and relaxing trip, and I don't want to wait ten years to do the next one...

 

We spent ten days in Portugal, traveling up and down the Atlantic coast by train-- three days in Lisbon, two in Sintra, two in Porto, one in Aveiro, then two more in Lisbon again. (I'll focus on Lisbon in this post.)

So, I chose Portugal because I wanted a place where Ian and I had never been before-- I wanted us to explore it together, and have that magical sense of shared discovery.  (That's how our honeymoon trip to Morocco felt ten years ago, too.)



I also wanted to be near lots of water, since I miss it terribly, being land-locked in dry Colorado.  We stayed in places on large rivers and canals leading to the Atlantic-- it definitely satisfied my water cravings!



I also wanted a place where I didn't speak the language.  Portuguese has lots in common with Spanish and French, so I could get by... but it was good for me to be in that humbling position where I have to struggle to communicate.  (Hmmm, maybe most people wouldn't like that feeling, but for some reason I find it exciting and mentally stimulating... I really, really love languages, and I think Portuguese is especially beautiful.)



 The first couple days in Lisbon, we lazily recovered from jetlag, and just wandered the streets, ate good food (goat/sheep cheeses, olives, cured meats, fresh baked bread, fresh fish) drank good (delightfully cheap) wine (vinho verde is my new favorite.)  We loved the streetcars going up and down steep, cobbled roads... loved catching glimpses of water from lookout points...

 

The buildings were old and gorgeous and many were covered with tile (azulejos) or painted pretty pastel pinks and yellows and blues... As always, I wonder why most house colors in the US are so darn boring (which is why ours is mango-colored, post-renovation, and why I refuse to live anywhere with a HOA. Thankfully, our funky little neighborhood in Ft Collins embraces COLOR. ;-)


 

Such sweet little balconies...



 View after stunning view...


 

 I'd packed some cute sandals, including a kind of wooden, platformy pair, but they stayed in the suitcase the entire trip.  Every day we walked for miles up and down steep cobbled roads and sidewalks, so I was forced to wear my practical pink tennies (and actually wore some holes in them by the end of the trip...)

 

Portugal was everything we'd hoped it would be and more... and it was delightfully off the beaten American tourist track. We met lots of European travelers at hostels there, which was fun-- I got to practice my French a bit. A cool thing about Lisbon (and Porto, which you'll hear about in a future post) is that although they're beautiful, ancient cities with fascinating history, they're not as giant and overwhelming as some other European capitals I've spent time in.  We didn't need to use the metro or buses at all... it was manageable on foot and bike, so we could really get a feel for the different neighborhoods. 

 

In my next posts, I'll tell you about the other places we went, post-jet-lag.... stay tuned for castles and fantastical gardens and forest romps and bike adventures! Thanks for swinging by!

xo
Laura


************UPDATE***********

Many readers have been asking me if Portugal will be a setting in an upcoming book!  Wellll... as you know, I don't like to divulge much about a book before it's even written (not good for my creativity), but I will say that one reason I chose Portugal for our trip was because of the coastline, castles, and mysterious gardens... all of which play parts in the two new YA manuscripts I'm currently working on.  I'm having lots of fun with it.  For me, it's so important to engage in a setting with all my senses, to really make it come alive for readers.

Anyway, thank you all for asking, and I hope you like the books that will eventually materialize from this latest travel adventure!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Creativity and Risk...

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Hey guys,

 I've been trying to post pics of the adorable baby goose who found her way, briefly, into our lives... but blogger isn't letting me upload the photos. Argh! I'll save those pics for another time.

So, I just thought I'd let you know I finished the next draft of my book-in-progress!  It was pretty much a complete rewrite-- I was able to salvage a few things here and there from the first draft.

I'm venturing out of my comfort zone with this book-- it's contemporary fantasy, which makes it different from my previous books (mostly realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism).  I've also experimented with point of view-- it's narrated in close third person, shifting among three different people. (All my other books are first person with only one or two narrators.)  And there are many other things that make it more intricate than any of my other books... complexities of plot and character and setting....  I could go on and on.  Let's just say that the story is ambitious and I'm trying to let it be as BIG as it wants to be. :-)


I've had conversations with my wise creator friend Les Sunde* about my insecurities during the process of writing this book.  I tell him I'm having lots of fun writing it, but sometimes I worry I won't be able to pull it off-- that I won't be able to make the reality of the book match the beautiful, intricate, epic vision I have for it.  And he tells me that I need to take this risk.  If I keep doing versions of the same creative thing over and over, staying in the familiar comfort zone, then my soul won't feel happy and soaring.

So, I'm taking the risk, and I have to say, I'm enjoying it, a LOT... but I am a little afraid of getting feedback on this latest draft--- seeing how short this falls from my vision, seeing how much work I'll need to do, how many more revisions.

But, despite my fears, I'm doing what I need to do, and loving the process, and taking the risk, and that's what creating is all about...


If you went to my Adventures in Novel-Writing workshop at the Pike's Peak Writers' Conference a couple weeks ago, this kind of self-pep-talk might sound familiar... (See, this here is evidence of my own self-pep-talking.)

Exciting things are happening in my life now... *travel*-related things... you will be hearing more about them pretty soon. And speaking of travel, I've been doing local travel around Colorado for author visits and conferences and workshops this spring, meeting so many amazing writers of all ages. A few days ago, I was at Indian Peaks Elementary in Longmont where I did a presentation about Star in the Forest and What the Moon Saw, and followed it up with a bilingual Spanish writing workshop.  I LOVED hearing the kids' character sketches in Spanish-- such a treat.

May you have the courage 
to take risks 
in your own creative endeavors!

xo,
Laura   

P.S.  You can read more creativity quotes on my Pinterest board here. :-)
P.P.S. * You can read more wisdom from my friend Les in this article I wrote about him here.