Algarve Portugal & Seville Spain

We have been home for two weeks now, from our AMAZING vacation! In those two weeks, I do not think there has been a single day where one of us has not wished out loud to go back to Portugal!

We absolutely fell in love with this region of the world, from the beaches, to the pace of life, to the food, to the wine and sangria. We LOVED it all! We have even talked and done a bit of research into buying a vacation home here, “some day.”

Algarve Portugal

Algarve is the southern region of Portugal. The international airport is Faro Airport and both budget airlines (Ryanair and Easy Jet) travel there. You will not necessarily need a rental car if you plan on staying only in the city of your accommodations. There are plenty of taxis and airport transfer companies to choose from.

However, we wanted to explore a bit of Portugal and Spain so we opted for a rental car. We had a little issue finding a rental car company that would accept debit cards. Most will want a credit card and will put a certain amount on “hold” (typically $500-$1000) as a deposit.

Rental Car

We did find the rental car company Luzcar that would accept our debit cards. They were about $10/day more than the “cheap” options. However, I am sooo, sooo happy that we ended up with Luzcar.

Luzcar was located in Carpark 4 (with the rest of the companies). However, they actually had rental cars in the parking lot! Once you filled out the paper work, you were handed over the keys.  Unlike, the other companies where people were standing around for quite some time waiting for shuttles.

Plus the car we were given was NEW (not always the case in Europe for rental cars) and was fabulous!

International License

Portugal does recognize U.S. driver’s license and therefore you are not “required” to hold an international license. However, Spain does require an international license if you plan on crossing the border.

Estrela da Luz
View from our balcony! LOVED the peak-a-boo ocean view!

Accommodations

We wanted to stay in a condo/apartment because we enjoy cooking some of our own meals while we are on vacation. Plus it helps stretch our budget. After some research, I found Estrela da Luz via Expedia. The reviews were great and I loved the price (~$50/night)!

LuzLuz Portugal Flowers

This complex is located in the very small village of Praia da Luz (“Beach of Luz”). The apartments are some of the nicer ones in the area.  It is a gated complex and we lucked out that our studio apartment included the use of a garage.

The complex has three pools (baby, family, adult) and a pool bar. It also has a gym (looked great, but did not visit LOL). There is also a restaurant and cafe that is part of the complex although we did not have a chance to check it out (next time).

Praia da Luz
5 minute walk from our apartment. Amazing!

Estrela da Luz is located about a 5 minute easy walk to the beach and there are quite a number of restaurants and a small grocery store with in a 5-10 minute walk. Our favorite restaurants were Chicca’s (small menu that changes daily, Portuguese/Italian influence) and Barroca (grill/bar with lots of seafood options).

Praia da Luz church
Praia de Luz: Beautiful church near the beach.

Praia da Luz is extremely small, so if you are looking for more than sunshine, beach, and good food/drinks. You may want to stay in a larger beach town. Although, we loved the slow pace and quietness of Luz and we plan on (fingers crossed) to make a trip back next spring.

Day Adventures

Our main objectives for this vacation was to soak up some sun, enjoy the ocean/beach, and relax. However, we did go on a few “adventures” outside of Praia da Luz.

Fiesa Portugal Sand Sculptures

Fiesa

Fiesa is the largest sand sculpture exhibition ever built. This year, was their 13th edition and the theme was “music.” Every year is a completely new theme, with new sculptures.

Fiesa Portugal Sand Sculptures Ray Charles

Fiesa is open from Mid-March through Mid-October. The price of admission is €9 for adults, €4.50 for children between 6 and 12 years, and children 5 years and younger are free.

Fiesa Portugal Sand Sculptures Music

My husband was absolutely amazed and loved this outing. In fact, it was the ONLY tourist attraction that he really wanted to attend and he was not disappointed in the slightest.

 

Fortaleza de Sagres Algarve Portugal

Fortaleza de Sagres

Fortaleza de Sagres (“Fortress of Sagres”) is located at the most south western point of Portugal. This location and original fort was important in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the original fort was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake from the resulting tsunami. It is difficult to imagine a tsunami that overtook the ~200 foot cliffs and washed away the fortress.

Fortaleza de Sagres view

The entrance fee is €3 for adults and €1.60 for children. We did not go inside the fort. There were plenty of amazing views from just outside of the fort. There is plenty of free parking at the fort to park your car and walk along the cliffs for some amazing scenery.

Fortaleza de Sagres view beach

The fort is just on the border of the small village of Sagres. This area is known for their surfing, which you can see the few surfers (dots) in the water. So the village has a few surf shops, restaurants, and gas stations.

Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina

We then drove through the National Park to see quite a different scenery than the southern coast of Portugal. The road was narrow and quite curvy. Although, it’s “nothing” compared to many of the “country roads” in the United Kingdom.

Algarve Portugal

Quite a few large hills/small mountains and lots of trees. We even saw some “wildlife”… the BIGGEST weasel I have EVER seen! Seriously was the size of a dog/raccoon! LOL.

Algarve Portugal Rocks

Praia da Marinha

Praia da Marinha is absolute breath taking! The clarity and color of water absolutely blew me away while we were in Portugal. We were here in late May/early June so the ocean was still quite cold for us. However, there were many people who were swimming.

This beach is east of where we were staying and the water is slightly warmer the further east you travel. Unfortunately, we did not through in our swimsuits because I think we could have tolerated the water here. We will definitely “next time!”

Praia da Marinha

The beach here is quite small and the waves break quite hard onto the beach. So probably not the ideal location for small children. To get down the beach there are quite a few stairs. However, the stairs are extremely nice (best I’ve seen in Europe). The stairs are even and gradual with hand railings in most locations. Also, there is a snack shop at the beach level. It was closed when we were there. So possibly only open during the weekends/summer (???).

This beach is also known for the rock formations and caves. So even if you do not feel like climbing the stairs down to the beach. Park your car (absolutely free) and view the several lookout points of the rock formations. Absolutely gorgeous!

Seville, Spain

We drove 280km (~2 1/2 hours) to Seville, Spain. My husband had visited Seville about 7 years ago and since then (hearing about his experience) I have wanted to travel there. So, we did just that without thinking much about being in the car for 5 hours and only have a few hours actually touring the city. Although, after spending ~3 hours in the 90 degrees with blazing sun, we were ready to get in the comfort of our car with amazing air conditioning. LOL!

Seville Cathedral entrance

Catedral da Sevilla

Caterdral da Sevilla (sorry, Spanish site) (“Seville Cathedral”) is the largest gothic cathedral in the world and is also the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.

Seville Cathedral Christopher Columbus

Admission is €8 and children under the age of 12 years are free. Photographs are allowed inside the cathedral. However, it is a very dark (very few windows) cathedral and flash and tripods are not allowed. So pictures did not turn out the best.

Seville CathedralSeville Cathedral Courtyard

There is a beautiful courtyard with orange trees as you exit the cathedral. If you are lucky enough to visit in January/February, the trees should be speckled with oranges. 

 

Seville Spain BullringReal Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

The Seville Bullfighting Ring and Museum. Entrance fee is € 7 for adults and € 3 for children between the ages of 7 and 11 years. This bullfighting ring is considered to be the finest and oldest in all of Spain. The building took 130 years to complete, which was finally completed in 1881.

We did not tour the bullfighting ring. It just happened to be between the car park and the cathedral.

As for the rest of our time in Seville, Spain we had a delicious Spanish lunch (with of course “arroz” (rice) that my husband has been raving about for 7 years LOL). We also walked around the city a bit and took in the different architecture (one of my favorite things about the Spanish/Portuguese cultures).

The Netherlands- Our Holland Adventure

 

We began our 2015 traveling adventures, making our way to the Netherlands on April 27th. We definitely got a late start this year on our travels, but do not worry. We will make up for it this summer and fall!

So, if you are anything like me before we began our planning for this trip. You may have no idea the difference between “Holland” and “The Netherlands.” Holland is the western region of the Netherlands, which includes the city of Amsterdam. “Holland” is also frequently used in tourism campaigns because it is believed to sound better to tourist than “the Netherlands.” For the majority of our trip we were in the “Holland” region.

Kinderdijk Windmills

Useful Information for Your Trip

Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, although English is widely spoken. We were quite surprised how widely English was used in the country. We only had to pull out our Dutch book once, and it was only to translate a menu. The Netherlands is part of the European Union (EU) and uses the Euro for currency.

We stayed about 10 miles from Amsterdam, so used the trains to get to Amsterdam. We easily purchased tickets from a machine, which had an English translation option and accepted our American debit card. We did get on the wrong train on the way back because we weren’t familiar with the train routes and we could not find a map of the routes. Although, in hindsight the reader board where you board the train lists each stop. Duh! In our defense, we assumed it was like England and only lists the major stops. Live and learn. LOL.

Keukenhof tulips

Getting to the Netherlands

My husband and I are somewhat of “odd” travelers and do not typically enjoy the cities or typical “tourist attractions.” So we opted to take our car by the Stena Line ferries. We caught the ferry at Harwich, England which took us to Hoek de Holland (Hook of Holland). The ferry ride was ~7 hours long and probably double (if not triple) the cost of airline tickets into Amsterdam. However, we loved the freedom of having our car and being able to travel to different parts of the country.

We arrived in the Netherlands in the evening of the 27th. So we just headed to our hotel near Rotterdam airport, which was about 30 minutes from the ferry terminal.

Day One

 

Kinderdijk Windmill

Kinderkijk

We arrived at Kinderkijk around 8:45am on a Tuesday. It was great! We nearly had it to ourselves for about an hour, until three large tourist buses arrived. LOL.

Parking was € 5,00 but it was free to walk the pathways along the canals with all the windmills. We really lucked out with perfect weather and it so beautiful and peaceful. The pathways are paved and well taken care of, although there are ducks and geese (watch your step).

Windmills

You can pay to enter a working windmill and to go into the museum/tourist center. The cost for admittance is  € 7,50 for adults and € 5,50 for children 6-12 years of age. We had no interest, so I can not comment on if it was worth it or not. You can also take a boat ride in the canals for an additional € 5,00 per person.

 

Keukenhof Spring Bulbs

Keukenhof

I am not going to lie, the spring bulbs were our main reason for visiting the Netherlands. Rest assured, we saw plenty of spring bulbs and it was worth every penny we spent on this trip! I am, however, a flower nut!!! Plus, if my husband had to choose a favorite flower, it would be tulips (he tolerates my flower craziness). So this trip worked for us! LOL.

Keukenhof Spring Flowers

Keukenhof is a 32 hectare (~90 acres) park-like setting with more than 7 million daffodil, tulip, and hyacinth flowers. Yes, I was in heaven!!! Plus there are several tulip fields just on the border of Keukenhof. The park is only open between mid-March and mid-May.

Keukenhof Yellow Tulips

Admission is a little steep for being “a park.” However in my book, it was worth it. Admission for adults is € 16,00 and children between the ages of 4 and 11 years is € 8,00. Parking was an additional € 6,00.

They have vendors selling food. We bought delicious waffles for a snack (so yummy)! However, you are allowed to bring your own picnic into the park.

Dutch Tulip Fields

There is a petting zoo and play structure for the children. Plus a green house filled with orchids (so beautiful) and a couple of other buildings with flower displays of flowers besides your typical spring bulbs. I believe the flowers are changed out every couple of weeks. When we were there in late April there were Hydrangeas, Lillies, Amaryllis, Gerber Daisies, etc.

Keukenhof HydrengaKeukenhof Lily Keukenhof Hydrengas

You can also take a boat ride around the tulip fields. The cost is €8,00 for adults and €4,00 for children.

 

Day Two- Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House was the only major tourist attraction in Amsterdam that we wanted to visit. So we went there first. We waited in line for 2 HOURS!!! You can purchase tickets online, but you need to plan several months in advance. Online tickets are frequently sold out, 2 months or more in advance.

Tickets cost €9,00 for adults and €4,50 for children between the ages of 10 and 17 years.

Unfortunately pictures are not allowed in the house or museum. So I do not have pictures to show you. 🙁 However, if you get the chance I would definitely recommending seeing the House and Museum for yourself!

Amsterdam Canal Tour

Canal Cruise

We also went on an hour canal cruise. It was interesting and it got us out of the wind and rain. There are several companies that offer canal cruises and we just chose a random company. The tickets for adults were €9,00 each.

Amsterdam bikes
Bikes, Bikes, Bikes EVERYWHERE! 🙂

Amsterdam Canal

Day Three

IMG_0727[1]

Edam

Edam is a small Dutch village, which is well known for cheese making. It is a small cute village, with minimal car access in the town centre. We were there before most of the stores were open, but we had a good time walking around and taking a few pictures.

Windmills

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Shans is a tourist attraction about 20 miles from Amsterdam. It was recommended by an American expat we met in line at the Anne Frank House. Although it probably would be a good recommendation for a family with children or someone who enjoys touristy activities. It was not our cup of tea. However, most of it is free but you do pay € 9,00 for parking.

Wooden Shoe

 

 

There were windmills, cheese making demonstration, wooden shoe museum/gift shop (shoe making demonstrations at certain times), multiple gifts shops, bike rentals, bakery, and restaurant/food booths. It does have a nice view of the village across the river.

Zaanse Schans

Overall, we had a fabulous time in the Netherlands. The country is beautiful and all the locals we came across were welcoming and kind to us. We were surprised with how much the Netherlands is densely populated. Apparently, it is the second most densely populated country in Europe. Second to England (which I would have guessed  the Netherlands was more populated. Perhaps only the region we visited in the Netherlands, or perhaps London gives England an unfair advantage of “winning” the most densely populated. LOL.

Anyway, we are so very much blessed to have been given the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands. A country we will think of fondly, but unfortunately does not make our top 5. Unless we are talking about the food. Because hands down the BEST food we have had in Europe over the past 2 years!!!

 

Have You Been to the Netherlands? What did you love about the country?

 

 

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Ireland Travel

It is mid-January, which means that travel bug has hit me hard. It is bound to happen, each and every year. So in order to hold me off until our next vacation, here is our Ireland vacation from the first week of September. We had perfect weather, even the locals were telling us how lucky we were because it was the best weather they have had all summer! We felt very blessed… and what a beautiful country! Here is your fair warning, you may just fall in love with the country and need to go visit soon (you can’t say I didn’t warn you LOL)!

Cahir Castle

 

Ireland Cahir Castle Ireland Cahir Castle

Cahir was a lovely (been in England too long LOL) village. We were there first thing in the morning, so it was quiet with just a few other visitors to the castle. There are a couple of tourist shops across the main road from the castle. It was a nice enough castle and a great place to stretch our legs. Check out the Cahir Castle Website for further information.

Inchydoney Beach

Ireland19 Ireland18

We drove through Cork and retired early to our hotel in Clonakilty. We stayed at the Fernhill House Hotel which was great, although the village of Clonakilty seems to only be a place where tourist stop for lunch (many of the restaurants were only open for lunch). So after searching for a local restaurant, we just ended up eating at the hotel. The hotel also has beautiful grounds for an after dinner stroll. Clonakilty is also close to Inchydoney Beach, which was a beautiful beach that we visited before our attempt to find dinner.

Drombeg Stone Circle

Drombbeg Stone Circle IrelandIreland21Ireland23

The Drombeg Stone Circle is in a fairly secluded area, among local farms (like most stone circles) but quite easy to find. There were some fabulous information boards that provided interesting history and assumed purposes for the stone circle. Plus it was free!

Skibbereen Heritage Center

 

Ireland4

 

The Skibbereen Heritage Centre is a small museum with information regarding the potato famine that so heavily impacted this area in the 1840’s. I found it interesting and was a great way to understand some of the local history. The staff were also absolutely fabulous, very welcoming and answered any and all questions! They were even curious if we had Irish ancestry. Which my maternal grandmother has Irish ancestry and just by providing her last name, they were able to tell me the general region the family was from (which is near Dublin). Visit the Skibbereen Heritage Centre’s Website for further information.

 

Mizen Head Lighthouse

Ireland15 Ireland13IMG_0369

Here is the Mizen Head Lighthouse Website. Although the view from the cliffs was spectacular, the price seemed a bit steep to take a walk (and many stairs) along the cliffside. There was a gorgeous beach that we stopped at that was a few miles before you reached Mizen head. Mizen Head is quite out of the way, so I would probably have skipped this if I would have known what was in store for us at Dingle Peninsula.

Killarney National Park

Kilarney National Park Kilarney National Park

Oh my, I wish we had more time around Kilarney National Park. If you plan on doing the “famous” Ring of Kerry. This is part of the “tour.” We did not do the Ring of Kerry, but our route to Dingle Peninsula took us this way. Gorgeous little walk to a waterfall. Of course sense the Ring of Kerry is the “go to” thing to do for tourists, expect lots of people! Although, its free!

Dingle Peninsula

Ireland 2 Ireland Ireland7 Ireland10

Dingle Peninsula Rock HutIreland11Ireland5

I can not say enough how much we loved the Dingle Peninsula area. If I were to do Ireland again, I would fly right to here and just spend the week, and then maybe head up North for a couple days. We stayed at a fabulous B&B called Camp Junction House. We were there for two nights and the owner, John, was fabulous! He told us about several must go to places/look outs that are not so touristy. There is an ocean view from the B&B and a cozy pub to have dinner just across the road.

The beach picture, is Inch Beach an absolutely gorgeous and popular beach. We just drove the Dingle Peninsula loop. However, there are plenty of bus tours to catch in the city of Dingle to take the tour. It was nice to go at our own pace, but we missed a few things because we didn’t know exactly where to look and when to pull the car off the road, but it was a great time!

If you are looking for a relaxing vacation, with a beautiful country-side… this is it!

Powerscourt House

Ireland 3 Ireland6

This house is just outside of Dublin. It is well known for its gorgeous gardens. For a garden/flower lover (me) they definitely did not disappoint! The house has been converted into a cafe and shops, so really it’s only the gardens to see here.  This is the website for further information.

Dublin

Dublin dublin dublin

Dublin was one of my least favorite European cities, nothing fabulous but nothing horrible either. The top pictures is the Dublin Castle and the bottom is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We just walked around for 4-5 hours to take in the city because nothing interested us too much. If you plan to visit Dublin, you could probably do everything in a full day.

I hope you enjoyed your quick tour of our Ireland adventure. We took the ferry from Prembroke, Wales to Roslare, Ireland. Although, it was nice to have our car it adds at least a full day of travel. We mainly visited the southern coastline of the Republic of Ireland, stayed the night in Limerick and then had a half day in Dublin, before we headed out the next morning.

If I am fortunate enough to do another Ireland vacation while we are here in the UK. I would fly into the Kerry Airport and stay in the Dingle Peninsula area for 3-4 days and then up to the Cliffs of Moher and then a couple days in Northern Ireland since we didn’t make it there this trip.

 

Have you Visited Ireland or is on Your Must Go Places?

Should We Travel while in Debt?

The question of quality of life while paying off debt often arises. How many “wants” and luxuries do we need to give up? What do we sacrifice and for how long? Then there is the ultimate question for us travel junkies. Should we travel while in debt?

Should you put your life on “hold” while you pay your debt off? No. Should you sacrifice a few wants and luxuries in life to get out of debt? Absolutely. Everyone’s debt and life situations are different. Therefore each situation needs to be looked at differently. There is not one simple answer whether or not you should travel while in debt.

Should We Travel while in Debt?

There are 4 areas you should take under evaluation when making this decision “should we travel while in debt?”

Your Debt

Take a look at your debt. What kind of debt is it? Do you have high-interest credit card debt, medical bills, student loans, car loans, or a mortgage? What debt do you have and what are the interest rates associated with those loans?

Personally, I would not travel if I had credit card debt, any debt above a 9% interest rate, or a personal loan. Why? Although travel is extremely important to me, it is NOT worth paying 9+% interest on the vacation. Also, if I look at it from the perspective of the person (most like a family member) who I owe the personal loan. Will they not wonder why I can “afford” to vacation but not afford to pay back his or her money?

How much time will it take you to pay-off your debt?

If you sacrifice wants and luxuries and get a second job, can you eliminate your debt within the next year.. the next two years? You will need to decide what is worth the sacrifice in order to win with money once and for all.

I realize there are some people on the debt free journey who have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loans. They may not be able to foresee being debt free in over ten years. Should they sacrifice all wants for a decade? Probably not.

However, they do need to be fully aware of how decisions are impacting their overall financial security. Let us look at an example of an individual with a $120,000 student loan and for the sake of simplicity we will assume it is a 20-year consolidated loan at 6.5% interest. By allocating $200/month to a vacation fund instead of debt repayment, this decision will add about two years to the life of the loan and add nearly $10,000 in interest. Just be sure, it is worth it to you.

Your Financial Situation

Your old spending and debt habits need to have been broken before you decide to prioritize your “wants” again. Are you current on all bills? Do you have an emergency fund? Have you stopped using credit cards or at the very least use credit responsibly.

Your finances need to be in order and you need to have a plan to pay off your debt before prioritizing travel. Otherwise, old habits will creep in and you will end up accruing more debt. Travel is amazing, but it is never worth piling on more debt.

If you do decide to prioritize travel, be sure to save up the cash. Your vacation needs to be 100% funded with cash, in your bank account, before you ever actually travel.

Life & Opportunities

There are of course special circumstances that may create you to prioritize travel when financially it may not be the best decision. Such as, in extreme cases such as you or a loved one who loves to travel has a terminal illness or a debilitating condition. You may choose to travel.

In our case having the opportunity of living in Europe was a once in a lifetime travel opportunity. We know there will not be another time in our lives, where we can hop on a train or airplane for $100 and go anywhere in Europe.

However, be sure you are not creating extra excuses or “opportunities” to only justify what you “want” to do. Just because you want to travel before you have children or before you start your new job or before you buy a house, does not mean it is a good reason to travel if you have a pile of debt that is ready to crush you.

How will You Pay for Vacations?

Finally, if you choose to prioritize travel after considering all implications, you need to pay for your travel with cash. No new debt accumulation, whatsoever!

Should we travel while in debt? Should We Travel while in debt?

What Worked for Us

In December of 2011, we had $48,000 of consumer debt and my husband and I chose to prioritize our debt pay-off over travel. We knew if we sacrificed, we could pay it off in less than 18 months. For us, it was worth the sacrifice.

We did spend a few weekends crashing at friends’ houses to “getaway” during our consumer debt pay-off. But our sacrifices paid off. We ended up paying off our consumer debt in 7 months, so we did not have to sacrifice nearly as long as we had planned.

Our plan was to take a celebratory week-long vacation to Mexico before buckling down and paying down our mortgage. However, the military had different plans for us and we moved to England without our “celebratory vacation.”

We now try to delicately balance paying off our mortgage and taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity of living and traveling in Europe. Currently, our “extra” money is divided up approximately 25% to travel and 75% to our mortgage pay-off. It currently works for us, but we are always analyzing and questioning if we are doing what  is “best” for us.

Ultimately, traveling while in debt is going to be a personal decision and you need to decide what is best for you and your family. Weigh out the positives and negatives of traveling while in debt. Then make your best decision and re-evaluate your decision on a continuing basis.

What Would You Do?

What would you do in our situation? We have $57,000 left on our mortgage at 4.75% interest. If we continue at our pay-off rate, the mortgage should be paid off in December of 2016. If we did not travel at all, we could pay off our mortgage 3-4 months earlier and save $300 in interest. Or would you travel more?


Do You Prioritize Travel while in Debt?  

 

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