Postcards from Portugal: Coimbra & Porto

Today’s post is the third of three in my Postcards from Portugal series. The first post on Lisbon, Cascais & Sintra is here. The second post on Évora, Fátima & Tomar is here. As usual, when you see an image gallery, click on an image to get a better view and use the arrows to move through the gallery.


On Day 6, from Tomar, I headed north to Coimbra, the third-largest city in Portugal. I visited the University of Coimbra, among the oldest universities in Europe, with more than 700 years of history, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Upon arrival, I met two University of Coimbra students in their uniforms. They were fundraising for their upcoming graduation. The university campus has amazing art and architectural details in all directions. The walkway to the main courtyard has unique star-shaped tile design. I took time to look up, down, left, right and around to appreciate this incredible site.

Students in robes at the University of Coimbra

In the photo below, note the distinct tiles on the roof, the beautiful columns, statues and carvings that frame the entrance. Then there is a small black iron gate at the entrance with some garments. The tradition is that once the students receive their final marks and pass, they throw their gowns as high up on the entrance as possible. Some of the gowns get stuck there.

The university’s Palace Gate
A mosaic of the university’s seal in front of the main gate
The University Tower in the main courtyard
The Minerva Stairs – A popular spot for graduation photography
Doors in Manueline style

The tour at the university is very interesting and shows beautiful art and architecture inside. Most rooms have gorgeous tiles (azulejos) on the walls, paintings on the ceilings and texture-rich furnishings.

The jewel at the University is the stunning Joanine Library with its rich baroque decor. However, no photography is allowed inside. I learned that there are small bats in the library. They eat insects and naturally preserve the books. Each night, all surfaces in the library are covered with fine leather to protect them from bat droppings.


From Coimbra I continued my journey to Porto (or Oporto), Portugal’s second largest city with a 2000-year history. The Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I visited the Church of St. Francis and and walked the upper part of Porto to get a fantastic view of the city, the Clerigos Tower and the Duoro River.

A palace well worth visiting is the Stock Exchange Palace, renowned for its exquisite neoclassical façade and ornate gilded Arabian Hall.

On the last afternoon in Porto I enjoyed a Douro River Cruise to view the city from a new perspective. The boat passed by the numerous port wine cellars and under the magnificent bridges crossing the Duoro river valley. I visited a Port Wine Cellar for a tasting. It was a wonderful way to end my trip.

Weekend Coffee Share

This post concludes my three-part ‘Postcards from Portugal‘ series. Thank you for following along. For more door photos, visit Dan’s #ThursdayDoors photo challenge.

I’d love for you to share what’s been happening, simple joys from your week and/ or favourite public art photos from around the world in the comments or Weekend Coffee Share linkup #119 InLinkz below.

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Postcards from Portugal: Évora, Fátima & Tomar

Today’s post is the second of three in my Postcards from Portugal series. The first post on Lisbon, Cascais & Sintra is here. As usual, when you see an image gallery, click on an image to get a better view and use the arrows to move through the gallery.


On Day 4, I headed to Évora, 140 km east from Lisbon. Évora is one of Portugal’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns and the whole city of Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival, I headed to Évora’s main square, the Praça do Giraldo, and walked through the cobbled streets of this former royal town.

My first stop was the Roman Temple of Évora, built in the first half of 1st century AD and dedicated to Emperor Augustus, first emperor of Rome. This Roman Temple is Évora’s most iconic monument and is considered one of the best preserved Roman ruins on the Iberian peninsula.

My second stop was the Cathedral of Évora. Its construction, in the Roman-Gothic style, was started around 1280 and finished by 1350. Impressive art and architecture found throughout the Cathedral.

My third stop was the Church of St. Francis that is famous for its Ossuary chapel or Chapel of Bones. Built in the first half of the 17th century by Franciscan monks, the Chapel’s walls are decorated with thousands of human bones and skulls, which came from ordinary people who were buried in Évora’s medieval cemeteries. Above the chapel entrance: “Nos ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” or “We bones that are here await yours.”

Leaving the Chapel of Bones, I took a stroll wandering Évora’s small streets, admiring the art and architecture, and browsing souvenir shops. Évora is located in Portugal’s Alentejo region which is known for its cork cultivation. It’s a good place to buy all kinds of things made from cork.


On Day 5, I left Lisbon behind and traveled north through the scenic Portuguese countryside to Fátima, one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its Sanctuary welcomes millions of pilgrims from all over the world. Fátima’s fame is due to the Marian Apparitions that appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.

Here, I visited the Sanctuary of Fátima. It’s a huge U-shaped shrine complex built in neoclassical style, flanked by colonnades linking it with the extensive convent. I happened to be at the shrine complex on Palm Sunday morning. Hundreds if not thousands of people arrived to attend mass.

People carried flowers or local tree branches and candles of different lengths (the long, 5 ft candles are for adults, shorter candles are for children). Some people ‘walked’ on their knees. Some came with folding chairs for a long stay. It was clearly a spiritual experience for the pilgrims to be there. The nearby market sells all sorts of trinkets, souvenirs and candles in the shapes of various body parts.


From Fátima I continued my journey to Tomar, one of Portugal’s historic jewels. Upon arrival, I had lunch in a small eatery near Tomar’s main square before visiting the hilltop Convent of Christ, former seat of Knights Templar and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Construction of the Convent of Christ in Tomar began in 1160 in Manueline architectural style. Click here for a history summary of this large monumental complex. Once again, impressive art and architecture found throughout the Convent.

I stayed overnight in Tomar and left for Coimbra the next morning. More to follow.

Weekend Coffee Share

This post is my contribution to Dan’s #ThursdayDoors and Terri’s #SundayStills Churches, Temples, and Spiritual Centers.

I’d love for you to share what’s been happening, simple joys from your week and/ or favourite public art photos from around the world in the comments or Weekend Coffee Share linkup #118 InLinkz below.

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Postcards from Portugal: Lisbon, Cascais & Sintra

I traveled to Portugal in the last week of March and first week of April this year. It was my second time visiting Portugal. On this trip, I explored eight cities and towns and had a wonderful time with many new experiences.

Today’s post is the first of three in my Postcards from Portugal series. As usual, when you see an image gallery, click on an image to get a better view and use the arrows to move through the gallery.


I began my adventures in captivating Lisbon, one of the oldest cities in Europe, and known as the city of seven hills. Since it was my second time in Lisbon, I chose to revisit a few favourites at a leisurely pace. On Day 1, I took the metro to Rossio Square which is the liveliest area in Lisbon and the meeting place for the people of Lisbon and visitors.

Rossio Square with its Fountain (foreground), Statue of Don Pedro IV, the Soldier King of Portugal (centre) and Doña Maria II National Theatre built in 1842 (background).

On the perimeter of Rossio Square and its surrounding streets, there are many shops, bars and restaurants. I walked past Rossio railway station, to Restorers Square and all the way to the top of Edward VII’s Park to enjoy a magnificent view over the hills of Lisbon and the Tagus River.

Rossio railway station with its impressive façade, built in 1887

On Day 2, I headed to Commerce Square and the riverfront to see the Belém Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On my first visit to Portugal I had toured the interior of Belém Tower so this time I just admired its Portuguese Gothic (Manueline) exterior and the river views.

Belém Tower, built between 1515 and 1519

Near the Belém Tower is the 52-metre (170 ft) tall Monument to the Discoveries. It’s shaped like a ship, with 32 figures lined up on a stylized prow, representing personalities from the 15th and 16th centuries following Prince Henry, the Navigator. Only one of them is a woman, Queen Phillipa of Lancaster, who was Prince Henry’s mother.

My next stop is the Monastery of the Hieronymites or Jerónimos Monastery, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also in Portuguese Gothic (Manueline) style. I toured the monastery’s main church, the Church of Santa Maria. Its unique nave has six columns which are perfectly sculpted. The tombs of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and poet Luis de Camões are in the church.

Jerónimos Monastery South Portal


On Day 3, from Lisbon, I headed to Cascais, a seaside town located on the Atlantic coast, about 25 km west of Lisbon. Historically, Cascais was the summer retreat of the Portuguese nobility. The trip from Lisbon to Cascais offers beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, especially from Estoril to Cascais.

I got a good stroll around Cascais, along its palmetto tree-lined main street that leads to the beachfront promenade. There are many eateries and shops on the main street and food and souvenir stalls by the beachfront. The promenade has beautiful cream and black wave design as this is a seaside town. The beach and the main square started filling up with people by mid-day.

Tile mural (azulejos) showing Cascais beachfront promenade and villas


From Cascais, I continued north to Sintra, the ancient summer retreat of the royal court, highlighted by lavish romantic castles and stunning monuments. Since I had visited Pena Palace on my first trip to Portugal, on this trip I chose to visit Sintra National Palace, a 15th-century royal residence and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace contains one of the largest tile collections in Portugal.

Sintra National Palace

On Day 4, I headed to Évora, 140 km from Lisbon. More to follow.

Weekend Coffee Share

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Bay of Fundy: 5 Historic Sites

Hello and welcome to my blog! I’m glad you’re here. It’s week 45 in 2022 and I’m hosting Weekend Coffee Share linkup #95. Come on in for a coffee or tea, and let’s catch up.

Remembrance Day

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada. So I want to take a moment to honour all Canadian veterans who have served and continue to serve in upholding the peace and freedoms we enjoy today.

Poppy sculpture at The Royal Canadian Legion, Queen’s Own Rifles Branch

PPAC meets WCS

Today I’m combining Photographing Public Art Challenge (PPAC) with Weekend Coffee Share (WCS). I’ve been a PPAC participant so when Marsha at Always Write blog had to step back from hosting and she asked if anyone would be interested in taking over PPAC, I volunteered to host.

I continue to leave the topic open. There is no prompt or theme. Existing WCS participants are free to participate without any PPAC entries and PPAC participants are free to participate with one or more images of public art (outdoor and free) without writing their post as a coffee share.

To new WCS participants:

  1. The weekly WCS linkup starts at 8 a.m. on Friday and ends at midnight Sunday night Eastern Standard Time.
  2. Join the linkup using the InLinkz button at the end of my WCS post. If you prefer to leave a comment with your link, be aware that a link in my Comments section requires moderation and is less visible to participants who use InLinkz.
  3. Please link one post, leave a comment on my blog and link back or pingback to my Weekend Coffee Share post. Links from bloggers who join without leaving me a comment will be removed.
  4. Read one or more participating blogs and leave a comment. Hashtag #Weekendcoffeeshare.
  5. I read all participating blogs and reply to comments left on my blog. I prioritize my visits and leave comments for bloggers who take the time to leave me a comment. Thank you.

Bay of Fundy: 5 Historic Sites

I’m continuing the story of my adventures on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I wrote my adventures in three posts. The first post on five Natural Wonders is here. This post is the second in the series.

The region surrounds the Bay of Fundy is rich with stories from the native Mi’kmaq people, Loyalist heritage and Acadian history. Here’s five Historic Sites on the Bay of Fundy to explore. Click on the top left image in the gallery to see captions and move through the gallery.

1. St. Andrews

St. Andrews, or Saint Andrews by-the-Sea, is nestled along Passamaquoddy Bay in New Brunswick. Founded by Loyalists in 1783, many buildings in St. Andrews still reflect that history. St. Andrews’ Historic District, one of the best-preserved examples of colonial heritage in North America, is a National Historic Site of Canada.

St. Andrews is also Canada’s oldest seaside resort town and a great place for whale watching, deer watching, outdoor recreation, dining and shopping. I’ll share more on St. Andrews in another post.

2. Saint John

Saint John located on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick is Canada’s first incorporated city, established by royal charter on May 18, 1785, during the reign of King George III. The city offers beautiful historic architecture, funky cafés, creative galleries and shops, and more. Saint John in New Brunswick is not to be confused with St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Saint John City Market, established 1876, is Canada’s oldest farmers’ market. It is a good place to browse and pick up a snack, lunch, dinner, or local arts and crafts.

3. Digby

Named after Admiral Robert Digby, the town of Digby in Nova Scotia is famous for the local scallops and the fleet that harvests them. Along the Digby waterfront in Loyalist park are Digby Pier lighthouse and six cannons, five from Victorian era in the 1840s and one from the era of King George III sometime prior to 1820.

The cannons were part of fortifications constructed at Digby, primarily to protect the town from privateers. Each cannon has a plaque affixed to its carriage relating a small part of the story of the fortifications and the cannons.

4. Fort Anne

Set on the banks of the Annapolis River in Nova Scotia, Fort Anne was first fortified by the Scots as early as 1629. The site was later controlled by the French before falling for good to British troops in 1710. It would remain a regular scene of battles until the fall of Quebec in 1759. Fort Anne became Canada’s first administered National Historic Site in 1917.

It is a wonderful learning experience to stroll inside the fort and around the Perimeter Trail to explore a renovated 1797 Officers’ Quarters (now a museum) and a maze of defensive ditches, banks and bastions overlooking the Annapolis River.

5. The Landscape of Grand-Pré

The Landscape of Grand-Pré is both a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on Nova Scotia’s southern Minas Basin, an inlet of the Bay Fundy, the Landscape of Grand Pré (Grand Pré means Great Marsh) is subjected to the most extreme tides in the world. The tidal range averages 11.6 metres and the tides move in and out of the Minas Basin every 12 hours.

Starting in the late 17th century – an era which predates the introduction of engineered drainage systems – the Acadian settlers applied an inventive and ingenious system of earthen dykes, ditches and aboiteaux, or wooden sluices, to hold back the formidable tides. They also began a tradition of collective management that was community-based. Today, the agricultural landscape is still protected and drained by the same system, still exhibits distinctive field patterns, and is still managed through the same community approach.

Parks Canada website

The landscape is beautiful and the dykes in Wolfville are amazing to examine in real life. Information boards posted at the historic sites give helpful explanatory notes.

I hope you join me next weekend to discover fun attractions on the Bay of Fundy.

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Bay of Fundy: 5 Natural Wonders

Hello and welcome to my blog! I’m glad you’re here. It’s week 44 in 2022 and I’m hosting Weekend Coffee Share linkup #94. Come on in for a coffee or tea, and let’s catch up.

When I was planning for my trip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in September, I wanted to see several natural wonders and UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the Bay of Fundy. I had visited main attractions in Halifax and surrounding areas such as Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove, and Cape Breton in Nova Scotia before. So for this trip I focused on new-to-me places.

I’m happy to say that I saw everything that I wanted to see and more. I wrote my adventures on the Bay of Fundy in three posts. This post is the first of three:

  1. Natural wonders
  2. Historic places
  3. Fun attractions

The Bay of Fundy is renowned for its extremely high tidal range (the highest in the world), geological discoveries (dinosaur fossils) and marine life (whales). Here’s five amazing Natural Wonders to explore.

1. Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Joggins Fossil Cliffs on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia is Canada’s 15th UNESCO World Heritage Site. Joggins is world famous because of its fossil record of life on land in the Coal Age. More than 300 million years ago, Joggins was home to giant insects, towering trees and the first known reptiles.

I enjoyed 1) A visit to the Joggins Fossil Centre to see an extensive fossil specimen collection, exhibits, and displays and learn about the “Coal Age,” when lush forests covered the Joggins region 2) A guided tour with knowledgeable interpretive staff to explore the coastal cliffs (up to 15 kilometres of magnificently exposed layers of rock) and look for fossils on the beach at low tide.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs and beach at low tide
Joggins Fossil Cliffs
Rock layers at Joggins Fossil Cliffs
Plant fossils at Joggins Fossil Centre

2. The World’s Highest Tide and Hopewell Rocks

The Hopewell Rocks also called the Flowerpot Rocks are rock formations caused by tidal erosion at the Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park in New Brunswick. This is where the power of the Bay of Fundy tides is most impressive. Not only does the tide rise 14 meters (46 feet) vertically, it also recedes almost two football fields horizontally.

I enjoyed 1) A visit to the Hopewell Rocks Interpretive Centre for an overview on geology, tides and wildlife 2) A walk with an interpretive guide to see the powerful tides and the 40-70 feet tall flowerpot rocks.

There are two highs and two lows each day, with about 6 hours and 13 minutes between each high and low tide. The bay water is brownish-red as organic sediment and red mud are stirred up from the sea bed by tides and currents.

Diamond Rock
Hopewell Rocks

During my visit, the tides covered Daniels Flats, named for one of this area’s early settlers, an immense mud flat that is 4 km (2.5 mi.) wide and stretches almost as far as Grindstone Island in the distance.

Daniels Flats

The tides also covered Lover’s Arch situated relatively high on the beach. The tide needs to rise 28 feet straight up before it touches the base of the archway. The Fundy tides can then continue to rise another 18 feet (5.5 meters) before starting to recede.

Lover’s Arch

3. Fundy Biosphere Reserve and Fundy National Park

Fundy National Park is in the heart of the UNESCO-designated Fundy Biosphere Reserve. Often draped in a blanket of summer fog, the lush lands of the Biosphere Reserve stretch farther than the eye can see. The park maintains 110 km of hiking trails, both inland and coastal, as well as guided nature walks and interpretive programs. I’d love to spend more time here.

Map of UNESCO-designated Fundy Biosphere Reserve
Red chairs at Fundy National Park

All biological communities, including people, lead lives under the inescapable influences unique to the Bay of Fundy. For example, fishing boats can only leave or dock at the wharf when the height of tide permits. The right time could be morning, noon, or night.

Boats by Alma wharf at low tide

4. Reversing Falls Rapids

Reversing Falls Rapids is a unique phenomenon created by the collision of the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River. It was incredible to watch the tides of the Bay of Fundy actually force the water at the mouth of the Saint John River to reverse its flow.

The nearby Stonehammer Geopark, the only UNESCO-listed global geopark in North America, has information panels on the tides and the geology of the cliffs.

Reversing Falls Rapids
Stonehammer Geopark

5. Marine Life

A whale watching tour is a fantastic way to experience marine life in the Bay of Fundy. My tour with Quoddy Link Marine in St. Andrews was excellent. We passed by East Quoddy Lighthouse built in 1829, the oldest lighthouse in New Brunswick, and saw harbour seals, humpback whales, porpoises, sea birds, and more.

East Quoddy (or Head Harbour) Lighthouse

I look forward to combining Photographing Public Art Challenge with Weekend Coffee Share linkup and sharing historic sites on the Bay of Fundy next Friday.

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3 Amazing World Heritage Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador

Hello and welcome to my blog! I’m glad you’re here. It’s week 27 in 2022 and I’m hosting Weekend Coffee Share linkup #77. Come on in for a coffee or tea, and let’s catch up.

In June, while in Newfoundland and Labrador, I explored three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the province:

  1. Gros Morne National Park
  2. L’Anse aux Meadows
  3. Red Bay Basque Whaling Station

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In case you’re unfamiliar with local name and geography, the official name of the province is Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). The Strait of Belle Isle separates the province into two areas: 1) Newfoundland and 2) Labrador.

This post includes the highlights of my visits to the three sites. The first two sites are along the Viking Trail on Newfoundland’s west coast and the third site is on Labrador’s south coast. I included links to Parks Canada and UNESCO official websites for more information. As always, click on photos in galleries to see a bigger version and read their captions.

1. Gros Morne National Park

In 1987, Gros Morne National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for both its unique geological history dating back 1.25 billion years and its exceptional scenery. Gros Morne French meaning is “big lone mountain” or more literally “great sombre.”

The park provides a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth’s mantle lie exposed. More recent glacial action has resulted in some spectacular scenery, with coastal lowland, alpine plateau, fjords, glacial valleys, sheer cliffs, waterfalls and many pristine lakes.

UNESCO Gros Morne National Park

I visited the majestic Western Brook Pond, a fresh water fjord which was carved out by glaciers. The photo below shows the Long Range Mountains where the fjord is located. The steep escarpment on the right marks a crack (or fault) in the Earth’s crust. The fault was created when continents collided about 400 million years ago.

Western Brook Pond
Western Brook Pond
Western Brook Pond
Western Brook Pond photo in my hotel room

I took a boat tour on beautiful Bonne Bay. It was a clear and sunny day so the 806 m high flat-topped Gros Morne Mountain and the Tablelands with a dusting of snow were visible.

I also visited the park’s informative Discovery Centre and hiked the picturesque Tablelands Trail. The landscape is so spectacular that I can easily spend two weeks here to explore more hiking trails.


2. L’Anse aux Meadows

L’Anse aux Meadows was designated a National Historic Site in 1975 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It is the only authenticated Viking site in North America and the earliest evidence of Europeans in North America. It comprises 80 square kilometers of forest, bog, coast, bay and islands.

L'Anse aux Meadows reconstructed sod huts
L’Anse aux Meadows reconstructed sod huts

Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine, were searching for Norse landing places along the coast of North America. With the help of local resident George Decker, they would uncover the only Norse encampment ever to have been discovered in North America. Following excavations, they determined Leif Erickson and crews of Norse explorers arrived here and built a small encampment of timber-and-sod buildings over a thousand years ago.

My visit started from the Visitor Centre to watch a short documentary for an overview and to see the authentic artifacts that proved the site’s origin. A tour guide took visitors along a beautiful boardwalk to the Meeting of Two Worlds sculpture, created by Luben Boykov and Richard Brixel and unveiled in July 2002. This sculpture symbolizes the meeting of human migration from the east through Asia to North America and from the west through Europe to North America. The two groups met when the Norse landed at L’Anse aux Meadows. Anse French meaning is “cove“.

Meeting of Two Worlds sculpture: Viking ship (left) and Aboriginal sword (right)

We continued to the actual site to see the fascinating archeological remains of three halls and five smaller buildings where the Vikings lived and worked have been carefully preserved as they were when discovered by the Ingstads. We then followed the boardwalk trail to the reconstructed sod huts and met costumed interpreters.


3. Red Bay Basque Whaling Station

Red Bay Basque Whaling Station is the earliest, most complete and best preserved 16th-century Basque whaling site found anywhere in the world. Red Bay was listed as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1979, and designated a World Heritage Site in 2013.

Red Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

For about 70 years beginning in the 1530s, whalers from the Basque region of Spain and France used the harbour at Red Bay as a seasonal base for hunting whales and producing the whale oil that lit the lamps of Europe. Each spring as many as twelve ships and upwards of 2000 men arrived after a dangerous voyage from Europe to set up operations at Red Bay, one of about a dozen seasonal whaling stations along the south Labrador coast.

To visit Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, I traveled from Newfoundland to Labrador by ferry. Labrador means Big Land. At the Visitor Centre, I viewed a remarkable collection of original artifacts, archaeological remains, videos, models and the restored 16th century Chalupa, the oldest known whaling boat in the world. Behind the Chalupa exhibit is a stunning ‘whale and mariners’ mural created by Newfoundland-born artist Lloyd Pretty in 1999.


I’m grateful to be able to visit these three amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. I hope you enjoy them through my lens.

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My 10 Favourite Experiences in Ecuador

Last month my sister and I made a trip to Ecuador, a country on the Pacific side of South America. Our itinerary included visits to Quito, Otavalo, Papallacta, the Amazon, Banōs, and Patate. We had a wonderful time with numerous memorable moments.

I love so many things about Ecuador and it’s tough to name my ten favourite experiences. Nevertheless, I’m listing ten for now and plan to write more details in the next few posts.

My 10 Favourite Experiences in Ecuador

1. Visit Quito and its historic centre: Quito, founded in 1534, is the capital city of Ecuador. The historic centre of Quito was one of the first centers of its kind to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. A good place to see the panoramic view of Quito is at Itchimbia Park.

Quito sign at Itchimbia Park
Quito sign at Itchimbia Park
View of Quito from Itchimbia Park
View of Quito from Itchimbia Park

We walk the cobblestone streets in Quito’s historic centre and visit some of the beautifully restored colonial-era churches, palaces, and public plazas, such as the Independence Plaza, the Cathedral, Presidential Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace, La Compañia de Jesus Church with its beautiful gilded interior, and the Church and Monastery of San Francisco with its impressive facade and atrium.

Independence Plaza in Quito
Independence Plaza in Quito

2. Straddle the Equator at the Middle of the World Monument: The country is called Ecuador as the Equator passes right through it. We visit the Middle of the World Monument which commemorates the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences. This is where Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer, and Charles Marie de La Condamine first determined the equatorial line in 1736.

Even though GPS measures later proved that their magnetic measurements were flawed, and the actual equator is located 250 meters from the monument, it’s still a nice place to visit and to stand at a latitude of 0º0’0” with one foot in the Northern and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

Middle of the World Monument at Latitude 0º0'0''
Middle of the World Monument at Latitude 0º0’0”

3. Hike and hike some more: We hike to Peguche waterfall near Otavalo, and the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall near Baños. The landscape that we see along the Pan-American Highway is breathtaking. The most strenuous hike for us, however, is in the Amazon rainforest.

Mountains and San Pablo lake near Otavalo
Mountains and San Pablo lake near Otavalo
Morning view of San Pablo lake
Morning view of San Pablo lake
Peguche waterfall
Peguche waterfall

4. Shop at the Otavalo market: The Otavalo market is one of the largest in South America run by the local Otavaleños. Here, we enjoy the lively market atmosphere and browse the various stalls for traditional goods such as handwoven cloth and rugs, Panama hats, art work, jewelry, and more.

Otavalo main square
Otavalo main square

The Panama hats, by the way, are made in Ecuador, and not Panama. The construction of the Panama Canal caused a great demand for toquilla straw hats from Ecuador, because of their qualities to protect from the sun. From Panama the hat was internationally known and people began to call it “Panama Hat” even though the place of origin is Ecuador.

Art for sale at Otavalo market
Art for sale at Otavalo market

5. Relax at the Papallacta hot springs: Ecuador has many volcanoes hence hot springs are plentiful. We enjoy the thermal hot pools and our overnight stay at Termas Papallacta hotel and spa. It’s a beautiful place to relax and recharge before we go to the Amazon rainforest.

Papallacta hot springs
Papallacta hot springs

6. Explore the Amazon rainforest: We stay at a lodge in a lush tropical and tranquil setting on the banks of the Napo river in the Amazon Basin. Birds, flowers, and sounds of nature and nocturnal animals fill our senses. We go on a guided and challenging hike for approximately two hours while viewing many species of tropical plants and insects up close.

The Amazon rainforest
The Amazon rainforest
Boat in the shade of the Amazon jungle
Boat in the shade of the Amazon jungle

7. Visit beautiful colonial-Spanish haciendas: We stay at Hacienda Leito which provides a fabulous mix of old and new. The original ranch building, with its original cobblestone driveway, central fountain, and antique artworks and furnishings, is a classic example of a colonial-Spanish hacienda. The up-to-date rooms and free Wi-Fi let you know you’re in the 21st century.

Hacienda Leito entrance
Hacienda Leito entrance

On another day, we lunch at Hacienda La Cienega, one of the oldest and most historical haciendas in Ecuador, dating back to the 17th century, with a view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, in the background.

The old chapel at Hacienda La Cienega
The old chapel at Hacienda La Cienega

8. Try Ecuadorian food: We try various dishes in Ecuador and like most of them such as ceviche, quinoa soup, potato soup, shrimps and grilled fish. We did not try cuy (guinea pig). There are also lots of fresh and inexpensive fruit such as bananas, plantains, papayas, and chirimoyas. Ecuador cacao and chocolate taste divine in their desserts and hot chocolate drinks.

Cacao-based desserts
Cacoa-based desserts

9. Tour a beautiful rose plantation: Although roses are not native to Ecuador, the country has a perfect environment for rose cultivation and is presently one of the world’s major producers. On the plantation tour, we learn about the farming process, from planting to exporting, and admire numerous rose varieties.

Rose plantation
Rose plantation

10. Watch nature, local fauna and flora: While in Ecuador, we are surrounded by nature and innumerable varieties of fauna and flora. I take in the lush vegetation, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls, rainforest, and cloud forests as much as I can. Below is a sample. I hope you see the hummingbird on the right of the red flower.

Hummingbird by a red flower
Hummingbird by a red flower
Tungurahua volcano at dusk
Tungurahua volcano at dusk

Many tourists come to Ecuador and jump from Quito or Guyaquil to the Galapagos Islands. There is much more to Ecuador than the Galapagos. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced on my first visit to beautiful Ecuador: culture, history, nature, food and its people. I hope you enjoy seeing Ecuador through my lens.

Have you been to Ecuador? What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Postcard from Kingston

In August, my family and I took a train trip to visit Kingston and stayed at Queen’s University campus for a few days. Kingston is a historic city. It was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada on February 10, 1841. It’s located midway between Toronto and Montreal.

Map of Toronto-Kingston rail route
Toronto to Kingston by train

We have visited Kingston a couple of times and have been on the Thousand Islands cruise which departs from downtown Kingston. During this stay, we explored a bit of history, nature, and arts. Below are the highlights.

National historic sites

We visited three national historic sites: Kingston’s City Hall built in 1844, the Shoal Tower built in 1847, and the Murney Tower built in 1846. Shoal and Murney Towers are part of the Kingston Fortifications. In 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kingston City Hall
Kingston City Hall
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston


Kingston’s waterfront pathway spans over 8 km along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and saw many kayaks and sailboats on the lake and many windmills in the distance. The Breakwater Park is one block from where we stayed on Queen’s University campus so it was very convenient to get my morning walks done.

Kingston's waterfront
Kingston’s waterfront
Kingston's waterfront pathway
Waterfront pathway by Breakwater Park in Kingston

Visual Arts

We visited the Agnes Queen’s Art Gallery on Queen’s University campus. Admission was free. There were various types of artworks on display, some are more contemporary than the others. I liked one of Sarah Robertson’s paintings and Claude Tousignant’s bold geometric style.

October, Ottawa Valley painting by Sarah Robertson
October, Ottawa Valley by Sarah Robertson
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant

Queen’s University also has many beautiful limestone buildings worth browsing. Kingston’s nicknames are The Limestone City, or K-Town, or YGK. Aside from the above sightseeing, we met with our friends in Kingston to catch up. It was a nice and fun trip that was part of our wonderful summer 2019.

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Malta Highlights

When I was planning my trip to Munich, Germany, I wanted to add a second destination to optimize my trans-Atlantic voyage. Malta met my list of criteria and I was thrilled to visit this small country in the Mediterranean Sea:

  • A new-to-me country
  • Direct, two-hour flight from Munich
  • Rich in history and culture, with a few UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • English and Maltese are the official languages
  • Part of the European Union, use same currency as Germany (i.e. the euro)
  • Mediterranean climate and cuisine
  • Land and sea scenery and island lifestyle
  • A less expensive European destination

Malta is steeped in prehistoric ruins, tales of the Knights of St. John, and about 7,000 years of history. I spent six days exploring Valletta, the two harbours, the fortified Mdina, Gozo, Comino, and the Blue Lagoon. Gozo and Comino are two smaller islands that can be reached by ferry or cruise boat from Malta. Let the sightseeing fun begin!


Valletta is Malta’s capital city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. To appreciate Valletta’s skyline and enjoy Malta from the water, I take the public ferry from Sliema to Valletta. Return tickets cost 2.8 euros. The comfortable ferry ride lasts about fifteen minutes. Service is frequent year-round. The city views from Marsamxett Harbour, including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral spire, are priceless.

From the ferry terminal, I follow the signs to walk to Valletta’s city centre. I think the best way to explore Valletta is on foot, however, parts of Valletta are uphill or involve long stairs. There are tourist electric trains and horse carriages waiting outside the ferry terminal for people who prefer to take them.

Valletta Stairs

Valletta’s centre is easy to navigate with several main streets designated for pedestrians only. It is a lovely place to wander and be allured by the surrounding architectural beauty.

Clockwise Left to Right: St. John’s Co-Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Valletta’s Bay Windows and Expressive Lion Faces.
Clockwise Left to Right: Entrance to the Grandmaster’s Palace (constructed in 1574), its gardens, Manoel Theatre (1732-present), and Auberge de Castille (1744-present).

For scenic views, I visit the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens and Hastings Garden. I think the two Barrakka Gardens are better lookout points than the Hastings Garden.

The Upper Barrakka Garden offers fantastic panoramic view of Valletta’s Grand Harbour and Fort St. Angelo. The system of bastioned fortifications was built by the Order of St. John between the 16th and 18th centuries, with further alterations made by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Knights’ fortifications around the harbours of Malta are nominated for UNESCO designation.

Grand Harbour

The Lower Barrakka Garden greets its visitors with a beautiful temple, fountains, greenery, and benches. Walk through the garden to the open colonnade for a commanding view of the harbour and the Siege of Malta Memorial with the Recumbent bronze statue below.

Lower Bakkarra Garden


The two main harbours surround Valletta are the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. I take a pleasant 90-minute cruise, departing from Sliema and cruising inside the ten creeks named Sliema, Lazzaretto, Msida, Pieta, Menoa, Marsa, French, Cospicua, Kalkara, and Rinella. Ticket price is 15 euros, or less if combined with other cruises.

The English commentary explains all the historical points of interest of the two harbours. Plus, the cruise boat gets me up close to see the Yacht Marina, the battlements and fortifications surrounding Valletta and Floriana, the Grand Harbour, the inner basin, the Malta Ship Building Yard, the Dockyard area, and the three cities (Senglea, Cospicua, and Vittoriosa).


The 4000-year-old walls of the former capital, Mdina, stand on a mountaintop at the heart of the main island, Malta. Mdina’s imposing architecture is entirely preserved, and the city is a UNESCO-designated Urban Conservation Area today.

From Valletta or Sliema, a public bus ride costs 2 euros and takes about an hour to reach the Mdina. Entry to the Mdina is free of charge. The fortified Mdina, nicknamed the “Silent City”, is lined with stately palazzi, bastions, and a cathedral. Some 240 people still live here.

The Mdina is a pedestrian-friendly and nice place to wander, with small alleys fan out from its centre. Some of Malta’s best restaurants are tucked away inside Mdina’s ancient walls. Bastion Square provides panoramic views of Mostar and its huge dome, and Valletta with St. Paul’s iconic spire.

Clockwise Left to Right: Mdina’s Main Gate, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Views from Bastion Square.


There are many boat cruises from Sliema to Gozo every day in the summer. The ride takes about two hours with two brief passenger pick-up or drop off stops in St. Paul’s Bay and Comino. The boat cruise arrival in Gozo’s Mgarr Harbour is timed with optional sightseeing tours of this beautiful island.

I visit the Inland Sea Cave, Fungus Rock, Gozo’s Citadel, Ta’pinu Basilica, Gozo’s market, and Mgarr Harbour. The boat ride into the Cave costs 4 euros. The water in and around the Cave is incredibly clear and its colour changes from deep sapphire blue to aquamarine to light green. The rock formations also show layers of amethyst, green, and yellow sand stone colours.


Comino is a much smaller island than Gozo. It’s known for the Blue Lagoon and caves. You may have heard of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Well, there is a Blue Lagoon in Malta, too.

There are boat cruises from Sliema or from St. Paul’s Bay to Comino. The ride takes about an hour or half an hour respectively. The Blue Lagoon entry is busy, however, if you walk further out, there are lots of secluded spots to enjoy the sun, sand, and swim.


There is no shortage of good food to try in Malta. The local Maltese specialty is fenek (rabbit slow-cooked in garlic and wine) although seafood is popular. Of all the good meals I had in Malta, one of them stood out. It was the dinner at Gululu in Balluta Bay with Margie who is from the Netherlands. We met, we clicked, and went for dinner on her last day in Malta. We both ordered the Maltese-style chicken pizza. I enjoyed our hearty conversation, delicious food, and the lovely view of Balluta Bay that evening.


Best buys are traditional crafts including hand-blown glass and lace, ceramics, silver and gold jewelry, metalwork, pottery, and tiles. I bought a pretty silver flower-shaped pin as a birthday gift for my cousin’s wife. I forgot to take a photo of it before the saleslady wrapped it up with a bow.

Aside from the usual souvenir items, what I find interesting is the variety of door knockers or door adornment in Malta. Here’s a sample:

Overall, I had a wonderful time exploring Malta. There are still many places to visit on this small island. I’d love to return in the future.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your comments.

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