Montenegro 06.29.2013.

Montenegro is a tiny country situated in southeastern Europe. With a little over 632,000 people, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and it was a day well spent.

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Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 3.

(If you haven’t already, check out day 1, day 2, & day 2 cont’d before reading further.)

04.08.2012

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to seize the day. My roommate was already up & out of the room by the time I awake. I got myself ready in time to meet the rest of the group for the day trip.

When I got to the lobby, I noticed that we were missing a couple of people. I asked my roommate if she knew where they were. One of them was still getting ready – he owns a fancy camera that took time to assemble – but she didn’t know what happened with the other person. What a coincidence… Uzi was the other person’s roommate. She walked over to where we were and heard us talking and wouldn’t you know it…

The other person who stayed at the bar last night was so hung over that she couldn’t be bothered with getting out of bed. She decided to stay in the hotel & refused to go anywhere. She also made a mess in the room – a hot vomiting ass mess. (She cleaned up the nastiness while we were gone for the day.) A couple of the others who stayed out drinking didn’t look too hot either, but I assume that since we were leaving Lisbon the next day, they forced themselves out of bed for the trip.

So much for tanning & drinking.

We walked to Lisbon’s underground and caught the train to another train that’d take us to our destination, Sintra.

All aboard.
All aboard.

Sintra is a quick train ride (less than an hour) away from metropolitan-area Lisbon; upon arrival, there are shuttle buses that take sightseers up the hills & mountains to see Portugal’s colorful history & architecture embodied in castles. Sintra’s history dates back hundreds of years and, at one point, was a major Moorish stronghold, as was all the Iberian Peninsula. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean.

The castle's current archaeological digs.
The castle’s current archaeological digs.
One of many of the castle's granaries.
One of many of the castle’s granaries.
Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle).
Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle).
Moorish flag.
Moorish flag.

Castelo dos Mouros is on the top of the Sintra Mountains – 1378 ft. (420 m.) in the air. My roommate, Uzi & I visited Castelo dos Mouros first, exploring on our own without the rest of the group (they visited another castle first; photos coming after Castelo dos Mouros). Along with walking & climbing around the castle, we got to the top (1378 ft./420 m. is a hell of a lot of walking & climbing) and the overall view was indescribable.

Traitor's door.
Traitor’s door.
Traitor's door. (Read the sign for more details.)
Traitor’s door. (Read the sign for more details.)

And here’s the top.

These people agree with me.
These people agree with me.

After conquering this castle, we headed over to Palacio Nacional da Pena (Wikipedia link), which is a separate castle but in the same area. Initially the site of a monastery in 1493, it was later rebuilt as a summer home for the Portuguese royal family.

Taking photos in the castle isn’t allowed, but I can say that the inside of the castle is quite lavish, gaudy, and almost untouched since the last time any royals lived in it. I got a shot of a sundial away from the inside, though.

Sundial (which, by the way, is still correct down to the second).
Sundial (which, by the way, is still accurate down to the second).

And another indescribable view:

We ate at the palace too.

After a nice, long, productive, unintended-exercise day, we headed back to the hotel. I don’t remember who returned first – us or the rest of the group – because I laid down on my bed and don’t remember much else. 😐 After that nap, though, we (me, roommate, Uzi) ate late dinner in the hotel restaurant.

We’re outta here tomorrow. Too bad… I don’t really wanna leave.

(Finally… the last day.)

10 Things I Like About You.

If you check(ed) out my last 2 posts (here & here), you’ll see that I reached 1 year since my move here. Looking back at the past year is amazing because it went by so fast. I’m taking a little time to think about my overall experience here, then put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Please bear with me, as it may take at least 2 posts for me to get through this. Since I shared my hate list (by no means exhaustive), next up is my list of 10 things that I like about this country.

Taxes
In my “10 Things I Hate About You” post, I complained about the heavy taxation imposed on everyone, including myself as a foreign citizen legally working here. It annoys the hell out of me for a few reasons, but like many things in life, it’s a double-edged sword. With heavy taxes come universal health care, extremely low prescription medication costs, and things as miniscule as almost commercial-free TV programming. Speaking of which…..

Television

I don’t watch much television but when I do, I appreciate the fact that there are very few commercials (if any) during TV programs. See, since people here have to pay for a television license once per year (TV licenses in the United Kingdom), the funds from the licenses go towards TV programming. Therefore, we don’t have to sit through tons of commercials because of corporate sponsorship like back home. As a matter-of-fact, the only shows here on which I’ve seen heavy commercial presence are on American shows. Any other shows – very few commercials, if any at all. It’s nice to watch a TV show straight through to the end, all because we the people fund it and, therefore, don’t have much need for corporate sponsorship (which can control what people see on television, instead of people controlling what’s on television).

Universal health care

What more is there to explain? Universal health care over here in the United Kingdom is alright by me. So far, I’ve not had to pay for anything except prescriptions, and all prescriptions come with one flat (and cheap) fee. My colleague’s husband had surgery and didn’t have to pay a dime. The NHS is far from perfect (the same goes for universal health care in general), but I think that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Diversity

Living here reminds me of home in terms of cultural diversity. My downstairs neighbors are Scottish; my acquaintance/friend J (featured in this link & that link) has Indian roots but was born/raised in Mauritius as a Muslim (and still practices Islam); there are Indian & Nepalese & Nigerian & Italian & French (and other) restaurants within a 5-mile radius; there’s a Islamic center across the street from a Seventh-day Adventist church; and the list goes on & on. I always appreciated the diversity back home & appreciate it here also.

Class (ism)

This looks strange but hear me out.

Coming from one of the most racist/race-conscious countries in the world, it was nice to get here & meet people who don’t care what a person is in terms of race/ethnicity/skin color. That does not mean that racism doesn’t exist here, nor does it mean that I’m naive about it. (My parents, especially my father, made sure that I learned this early on.) But to make acquaintances with people no matter their race/ethnicity/skin color was like an extra burden lifted from me. I’ve not had to worry much about ulterior motives with people who I’ve dealt with so far….. well, with the non-Americans. The Americans (save for a very small handful) are a different story but I digress.

Anyway, it’s been nice to be free from some of that. But another issue comes into effect here: class(ism). Anywhere one goes in the United Kingdom, it’s a matter of haves vs. have-nots. Does it lessen the possible effects of race/ethnicity/skin color? Probably not. Does it bring different people together to fight against the many austerity measures coming down on us? Probably. And while all or most isms are negative, I prefer this particular ism over racism/prejudice. That’s very sad yet true (for me).

Proximity

The United Kingdom is just a quick plane/car/train ride away – hop skip jump – from the mainland. As an example, I got to Italy in about 2 hours via plane. Belgium & France are 2-5 hours away via train (depending on where one goes within those countries), probably shorter by plane. There are also ferries that go to a few nearby countries. The Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and the English Riviera are just a hop, skip & jump away. It’s also a decent distance away from a few African countries, the Middle East, etc. While I can’t afford to travel as much as I’d like, at least the options are there….. and many of them are pretty damn cheap. I hope to take advantage of at least 1 more before 2011 is over.

Fresh food

No longer do I have to worry about turning into a mutant radioactive half-woman half-dugong….. well, not as much as I used to since I grew up in the States with its chemical & preservative-filled foods. Genetically modified (GM) foods, 22 pesticides, bovine growth hormone (rBGH), chlorinated chicken(s), Stevia natural sweetener, and synthetic food colors are banned in the European Union (EU) (see this link). Food contact chemicals, such as phthalates & bisphenols (chemistry & definition[s]), are under stringent regulations in the EU, and any chemical suppliers must prove their additives safe or they’re banned. (Source: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/7-foods-banned-europe-available-us.php#ch05) Much, if not all, of the reason this happened in the United Kingdom (and the rest of the EU) is because people protested like hell about these things. And speaking of which…..

Fighting spirit

Since moving here, I appreciate the protests & riots that happen. Folks will mobilize for all kinds of things. A recent example is the march against public service cuts, where about 500,000 people marched in central London (pictures). That night, some troublemakers (probably anarchists) rioted, causing damage to some businesses (and to a small extent, ruining what was a peaceful protest). Luckily, 98% of the day was peaceful & successful, with no incidents aside from what happened later that night.

I wish that my fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) had the fighting spirit that the citizens of the United Kingdom have. With so many inexcusable things happening back home, including the impending budget default, I’d love to see the country stand up for what they believe in like the state of Wisconsin (and New York to a smaller extent).

Religious tolerance

It’s great living somewhere that doesn’t insist on people being part of a religion (especially in my “community”).  While England is a Christian nation via its constitution, most people practice whatever (if any) religion with no communal or societal pressure.  While I’m not atheist, this link from the Friendly Atheist is pretty spot on about religion (or lack thereof) in the United Kingdom.  Having been here for over a year now, I can confirm that the person who wrote the Friendly Atheist post is spot on.

Things to do

The list of things to do here seems endless.  Pubs, movies, restaurants, clubs, lounges, architecture, museums, travel within & outside of the country, country dwelling, city hopping, theatre, arts, concerts, nature preserves, civic action, volunteering, shopping, history… Too much to list here.  I hope to see all or most of it in my lifetime.

Bonus like: vacation time (known as annual leave in the United Kingdom).  Europeans take their vacation time very seriously.  France has the highest amount of vacation time with an average of 35 days per year.  The average minimum in the United Kingdom is 20 days, including part-time workers.  The 20 days don’t include the average 8-9 bank holidays per year.  Believe it or not (viewing this with an American lens), the United Kingdom’s allotment is (considered) the worst in the European Union!  Oh dear adopted country of mine, if only you knew how bad it is back home.  Depending on a few factors, the most in the United Kingdom can go as high as France’s average.  Here’s a BBC account from an American expatriate living in the United Kingdom, and here’s a 2007 link for EU countries that’s still pretty accurate.

This list isn’t by any means exhaustive.  Are there any expatriates that can relate & have a top 10 likes for your current location?