Terrific Day at the Taipei Zoo

Today we took Zoë to the doctor and got confirmation that she does indeed have heat rash (10 days now, I hate seeing my baby uncomfortable). The doctor gave Zoë a prescription of steroid cream that seems to be working well. Poor thing was up most the night last night scratching, hence the doctor visit. I love visiting a country where we can see a doctor and get a prescription for a total of about $25, but that is a topic for another day.

Since Zz was feeling better and her rash seemed to improve after applying the cream, we decided to take her to the Taipei Zoo.

When Chad and I lived here five years ago, we ventured to this wonderful zoo three or four times. We loved it and when we returned here, one of the things we were looking forward to was taking Zoë to experience it as well.

The Taipei Zoo is located in the Muzha district of Taipei, you can take the metro to the terminal stop on the Taipei brown metro line. The “Taipei Zoo” metro stop drops you off within a 2 minute walk of the zoo entrance. You can also take a taxi, but the metro is much cheaper and actually very comfortable.

We took the metro, or “choo choo” as Z calls it, and landed at the zoo this afternoon. It was raining at our house, but the weather there was beautiful and sunny. This is typical for Taipei, the storm clouds seem to pick one area and stick to it on any given day, I was glad that the storms left the zoo area alone today. We all needed some time out of the house.

Zoë was very excited to be going to the zoo, and became even more excited as she walked past the metal sculptures of animals on the way to the entrance.

Zoë loves the sculptures on the walk to the Taipei Zoo

Zoë loves the sculptures on the walk to the Taipei Zoo
(c) andthreetogo

We paid our admission fees (60 NT a person, but it was buy one get one free for adults, and children under 6 are free, so we paid about $3 to go to the zoo!) and entered the park.

The ticket window

The ticket window
(c) andthreetogo

Immediately, all three of us noticed the children playing in a fountain type water play area. We took Z’s shoes off and let her run around in the water for some time. It was a great way to cool her off before we started to walk around and see the animals. She had a blast. Not only did she have fun, but there seemed to be a Zoë fan club going on as well. There was literally a line of people waiting to take their picture with the little Wàiguó rén (foreigner). At first we relented and felt even honored, and then it got a bit crazy (probably dating myself, but think of the NKOTB fans and how they would have felt getting a picture with Jordan) so we stopped it. It felt a little like Zz was an animal in the zoo that everyone came to see and we both were worried that it would make her scared or something.

Zoë playing in the fountain

Zoë playing in the fountain

After we dodged the fan club, we started walking around the park. The wonderful and beautiful thing about the Taipei Zoo is that they have built it utilizing the existing landscape. The jungle that surrounds the zoo is part of the zoo. It is luscious and green and makes it fun to walk from habitat to habitat.

The park is large and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to see it all in one day, especially since we were being careful to keep Z cool and not exacerbate her heat rash.

We checked out the panda’s (which are way cuter in real life), the koalas, the elephants, hippos, tigers, and the list goes on. Zoë loved just stopping to watch the animals and also to pick up leaves and clean the ground with them. She definitely takes after her mama, a bit on the obsessive compulsive side.

Z hugging a panda statue (that was made to look as though it is marking it's territory)

Z hugging a panda statue (that was made to look as though it is marking it’s territory)

Zoë cleaning the handrails with a leaf Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

Zoë cleaning the handrails with a leaf
(c) andthreetogo

We left as the call went out that the park was closing. We left much of the park to see for another day, but with such inexpensive entrance fees, we figure we will take Zoë back numerous times during our visit to this great city.

As we left, we again had a crowd of people following us, asking to have their pictures taken with Zoë (Justin Beiber, you have obviously been replaced in Taiwan). We kindly declined the pleas as the line of people was getting rather long to get a snapshot with her. We ran to a taxi and headed home, the metro just felt too long a trip after running around all afternoon.

Whether you have kids or not, the Taipei Zoo should be on your must do list when you visit here. It is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, a day, or whatever time you can give it. I promise you it will be time well spent!

Zoë gives the zoo a thumbs up

Zoë gives Taipei Zoo a thumbs up

Disney Parks Anonymous

Hello, my name is Jennifer and it had been three months since my last Disneyland trip. I fell off the wagon this past week all in the name of Zoë’s second birthday. And I cannot say that I feel bad about it. Disney parks can be an expensive habit, but the memories and happiness that are associated with them for me are worth the price tag.

Chad and I joke about being addicted to Disney, but honestly for the past 3 or so years, we have gone to Disneyland in Anaheim, California about every three months. I would love to say it was because we wanted to have fun with our daughter, but we were Disneyland annual passholders long before Zoë was even a thought in our mind. It really goes against everything we stand for usually, but we just cannot stop partaking in the fun.

When Chad and I were thinking of what to do to celebrate Zoë’s birthday, we were considering taking her to the zoo, or the beach, or even just going to the park. Both of us felt a little guilty at the fact that she would have to spend her birthday without family and friends and the fanfare that comes with that. Our guilt worked to our Zoë’s advantage, because we decided that only Disneyland Paris would assuage our consciences and make her birthday special enough. So on Saturday, we left Lisbon, Portugal and hopped on a plane for Paris Orly Airport.

Paris has two airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly. I have never been in the Charles de Gaulle airport, but from what I have heard it is beautiful and efficient. Orly was obviously the more locally used airport, as we ran into language barriers almost immediately while picking up our rental car. The airport is not very well laid out and we ended up having to walk for 15 minutes with all of our luggage to get to another terminal to then pick up our rental car (really no shuttles?). These were really just minor inconveniences though, they were just magnified because we were all tired from traveling and wanted to get to our hotel. If you want to go to Paris and get there for much, much cheaper, use Orly Airport.

We found our hotel, The Park and Suites Prestige, on the British Airways website and we were able to use our “Avios” or credit card points to pay for the hotel room (as well as the rental car for this trip). When we arrived at the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised at the close proximity to Disneyland. We also were upgraded to a two bed suite with a small kitchen. We decided to get some dinner to go from the restaurant in the hotel and relax in our room and prepare for the following day at Disney Paris!

The next day, Zoë was kind enough to wake us at about 7 am, just in time to get ready, call both sets of grandparents, and eat our free buffet breakfast before catching the shuttle to Disneyland. The bad weather followed us again and it was raining (and continued to off and on all day).

We caught the shuttle and were dropped off at the entry walkway to the park. As we walked up, we were impressed at the beautiful Disneyland Hotel that had a massive Mickey Mouse Clock at its pinnacle. To enter Disneyland you actually walk under the hotel. Someday we will have to pay the probable small fortune to get a room there. Zoë is fascinated with clocks right now, so she yelled “o’clock” the whole time she was running up to the entrance.

All in all, we had an amazing time at Disneyland Paris. We rode all the fantasyland rides first, as it was Zoë’s birthday, we rode Pirates of the Caribbean, we took turns riding Space Mountain 2, and we walked around a lot and tried to find edible food and alcoves to keep out of the rain.

There are five things that I felt made Disneyland Paris a bit disappointing:

1) Cigarette Smoking Everywhere.

To most of us Americans, smoking cigarettes around children is a big no-no. I personally do not worry too much about second hand smoke in an outdoor area, but the amount of cigarette smoking in the park was sometimes overwhelming. The funny part about it is that there are designated smoking areas, and the park rules state that smoking is not allowed except for in those areas. Regardless of the rules, people will literally take their children on a ride, get them back in their stroller and light up a cigarette.

If you are coming straight from somewhere like California,where smoking is pretty much taboo, the smell of smoke could be upsetting, but if you have been in Europe for any period of time it probably won’t bother you as much, as smoking is prevalent everywhere in Europe.

2) Lack of staff.

This ties in a bit to number one of this list, the lack of staff makes it impossible to enforce the rules of the park. There were people smoking everywhere and children in areas that were cordoned off, where in the American Disney parks they would be asked to leave the area.

The lack of staff also caused inefficiency. It was especially frustrating when it came to wait times on rides. Since there were usually only two team members per ride (one getting people on the ride and one getting people off the ride) there was no one to change the wait times listed for the rides, and also no one to change the formation of the lines. This meant that often the wait times were longer than posted, or you would have to go around and around the lines like cattle being herded when there was no wait for a ride. Both of these situations were not of dire importance, but added to the overall feeling of chaos in the park.

3) Food.

This part is really hard for me to write, because as you all know, I love food. I am not picky about my food, it does not need to be gourmet, it just has to be flavorful. In this area, Disneyland Paris lost completely, which was very disappointing, as Disneyland Anaheim has amazing food, so my expectations were high.

If you would like McDonalds type hamburgers and fries, or foot long hot dogs (okay so the buns were good at least I guess), reheated pizza or pasta, or donuts, then Disneyland Paris is for you. The food that we had was all pre-packaged and rather unappetizing. I am not going to lie, one of the main reasons I love Disneyland Anaheim is because of the marvelous baked goods and meals, as well as the candy. The carmel apples especially are one of my favorites and I look forward to having at least one every trip. Disneyland paris had none of these things. It was very sad, I found myself wanting to leave the park to eat, and that is a first for me.

4) Cleanliness and upkeep.

The grounds of the Paris Disneyland were definitely not up to par as far as cleanliness and upkeep go. This ties into number two of this list, as I would think it would be impossible to clean and maintain that much space without any staff to do it.

The park was littered with cigarette butts and food wrappers. The waiting areas for the rides often had graffiti. The arcade was filled with games and kiddie rides that were not operating and also covered in graffiti and old food and drinks. There were cobwebs everywhere, which is not that big of a deal to me, but was a marked difference from the original park. And last but not least, the gardens and plants were overgrown and riddled with weeds. It looked like my old back yard. In summary, the park looked dingy, uncared for and made me worry about what Zoë touched most of the time.

5) Overall cultural differences.

I do realize that Disneyland Paris is in Paris, France not Paris, Texas. I assumed that there would be differences not only on the rides, but in the behavior of the tourists in the park. I was prepared for it, I had been living in Europe (albeit Lisbon, Portugal which is totally different from France) for two months. I was ready to be an experienced world traveler and not have any culture shock. Well I was wrong, the tourists at Disneyland Paris for the most part were rude and pushy. For example, if you wanted a picture with a Disney character, you had to push your way through a mob of parents pushing their children to the front of a huge semi-circle around the costumed person.

The Crowd Around Snow White

The Crowd Around Snow White

Zoë and I's Only Chance to Get a Picture With Donald Duck-We Were First To Get There Too!

Zoë and I’s Only Chance to Get a Picture With Donald Duck

Another example, if you were to be waiting in line for a long period of time, and a new line opened up for some reason, you would literally have to run to get in the new line, even if you were the next to go. People seemed to have no guilt about getting ahead by any means necessary.

But not all of Disneyland Paris was negative. There are five things that I feel you must experience at Disneyland Paris, they are:

1) Visit the Dragon in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Underneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle, by a special path, there is an area where a realistic looking animatronic dragon lies. It was so fun to watch, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

The Dragon

The Dragon

2) Ride Space Mountain 2.

For all of you Space Mountain lovers out there, Space Mountain 2 blows it out of the water. It is faster, longer and even goes upside down numerous times (I couldn’t tell how many times because it was so dark, weird how that works…).

Space Mountain will be my favorite ride always in both Disneyland Anaheim and Paris from now on. If you love Space Mountain, or any roller coaster for that matter, you must take the time to ride this one.

3) Ride Casey Jones and Storybook Land Rides in Fantasyland.

Most of the rides in Fantasyland in Paris were pretty similar to the Anaheim park, which is great because those rides are really fun anyways. But Casey Jones and Storybook Land at the Paris park are different and actually much better.

Casey Jones is an actual little kid roller coaster that whips around corners and up and down little hills. Zoë loved it, as did we. It was like a toddler Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Storybook Land was different in that each boat did not have a tour guide and the tiny scenes from Disney movies were different than the Anaheim park for the most part. It was fun to see something different.

It was not only that these rides were really fun and different from the originals (for both us an Z), but because they are hidden in the back corner of fantasyland there was literally no wait for either of these rides. Whether you have little ones or not, try out these rides.

Zoë and Chad on Casey Jones

Zoë and Chad on Casey Jones

4) Take the tour of the Nautilus.

One of Chads favorite movies growing up was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I have often heard him talk about how this movie instilled his love of adventure and underwater exploration. I must admit, I have never seen the movie, but being able to tour the submarine that was in the movie, the Nautilus, made me want to see it.

The Nautilus tour is just a walk-through of the submarine, but there are some surprises that keep it exciting. It was a great way for us to get out of the rain and let Zoë run around a little without worrying that she would run off or hurt herself.

Zoë and the Nautilus

Zoë and the Nautilus

5) See “Dreams” the Fireworks show.

It was our second and last day at the park, we powered through and made Zoë stay awake until 11:00 pm to see the fireworks show, titled “Dreams.” It is Disneyland Paris’ 20th anniversary and the fireworks show highlights all the films that are dear to France’s heart, such as Ratatouille, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast. Pretty much any of the Disney movies that were set in Europe, were showcased. The effects and fireworks were amazing though. It was unfortunate that it was on so late, but I could understand why they had to as the sun did not set until 11pm there.

All in all, I do not know if I would venture to Disneyland Paris again, but the memories that we made there while celebrating the second birthday of the most important little person in our lives, will make it special forever. It was truly wonderful, not because of where we were, but because I was with my two favorite people. Now I know this for Zoë’s next birthday and we can do something a little less extravagant (yeah right….)

Wednesday Write-Up: Welcome Back Sun!

Last week was cold, rainy and windy. Definitely not my favorite type of weather, in fact I get quite cranky and moody when I don’t get my natural vitamin D (which, unfortunately, Chad and Zoë can readily attest to). One of the main thoughts in our minds for planning this trip was (and still is) to follow the sun. Last week we were shown that we have no control of the weather…I know, it was surprising to me too!

Sunny days are here again though! Or should I say happy days, because that’s what they truly are to me. We have now had three days of glorious warm sunny weather that gets one up off their butts and moving (my butt is totally thanking me too, it can only take so much pressure for so long).

Two days ago, we decided to go to breakfast (we usually eat breakfast at home) and boy, what a treat! We went to a little chain bakery called A Padaria Portuguesa and I finally let myself try the amazing looking pastries that are everywhere here in Lisbon. I had two buttery and sweet probably very fattening treats that were reminiscent of donuts back home, but were lighter and less oily. I hope to learn the name of them and let you all know, but when ordering them, I just pointed to the prettiest ones in the display case.

After that deliciously gratifying breakfast, we decided to walk around our neighborhood a bit. Our exploring has subsided a bit since the weather had been so bad. We both wanted to see what else was near us. As we walked up the hill and looked around, we happened upon a park, with a playground! We have a park within walking distance to our house! I was so excited, maybe even more excited than Zoë, this was a place that I could bring our wonderful little ball of energy while Chad works at home! Not only that but I could bask in the sunlight while she plays!

We have now been to the park twice and my mood has greatly improved, as has Zoës’ and Chads’, because we all know that a cranky wife/mother makes for some hellish days. I am one blessed lady to have a great husband that puts up with my “lack of sunshine mood swings”. I am sure that he prays daily for sun and a happy wife.

Here are a couple pictures of Zoë playing in our park! Til Friday, sunny days to you (and me)!

Fixing the Jungle Gym Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

Fixing the Jungle Gym

Riding the Giraffe Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

Riding the Giraffe

All photos were taken by Jenny (c)andthreetogo.wordpress.com

Wednesday Write-Up: Roughing It in Unexpected Ways

We have now been living in our apartment for almost a week and all three of us are settled in and happy with our little haven in the “City of Seven Hills.”

Our apartment is a studio/one bedroom with a large full kitchen, a beautiful marble bathroom with a huge tub (Zoë’s current favorite place to play and “swim”) and all the amenities that you can think of while traveling. It’s fully furnished, with a dishwasher, and clothes washer. Our “clothes dryer” is the line hanging five stories above the ground that utilizes solar power. Yes, you read that right, we are on the 5th floor, with no elevator. It doesn’t even really bother me yet because I love the apartment so much! My legs better will be amazing when we leave for the next destination, so how can I look at it negatively? Also, there is a hook and pulley set-up in the center of the stairs, so we are able to pull up our groceries instead of carrying them… I tried to see if it would hold my weight and, alas, a bag of groceries seems to be it’s limit.

The Bedroom  Photo Taken By Chad R. Mitchell

The Bedroom

Living Room Photo Taken By Chad R. Mitchell

Living Room

The Tub Photo Taken By Chad R. Mitchell

The Tub

The Bathroom (yes, that is a bidet!) Photo Taken By Chad R. Mitchell

The Bathroom (yes, that is a bidet!)

The Kitchen Photo Taken By Chad R. Mitchell

The Kitchen

My first order of business after we got settled last Thursday, was to start doing the massive amounts of laundry that we had been saving up since Curacao. I know, I know, it’s such an exciting and adventurous life I lead in between the “travel” type things we do. But it is a nice change to just be somewhere where I can stop for a while and accomplish some household things that are in great need of attention. In fact, I just finally finished all the laundry today, and I felt so accomplished! (Yes we had that much laundry!!)

Anyways, onto more exciting things (unless you are one of those people that are enthralled with household chores, there are some people out there like that, right?)…

And yes, that brings me to food! Each day Chad, Zoë, and I have been having lunch at a different restaurant, also called a snack bar or Pasteleria, in our new neighborhood. Each of these quaint places sport a glass counter filled with pastries and some tables for those that want lunch. It seemed odd at first to see a person walk in and stand at the counter and have an espresso and snack, but I have gotten used to seeing it and have actually done it a time or two. It’s not unpleasant, but can be a bit difficult with Zoë trying to hide her face in my shoulder, leg or skirt (almost to the point of pulling it off of me!) from the customers and employees that pinch her cheeks and try to talk to her.

Zoë is very shy, and I am sure that people speaking another language and trying to pat her head or pinch her thigh, makes her even more shy, but she is getting better. The people here are so nice and patient and find it very humorous when she covers her eyes with her arms when they talk to her. Everyone seems very family oriented here and everywhere we have gone has been very kid friendly.

Ok back to the subject at hand…the food. Every pasteleria has pretty much the same menu: pastries, beef/steak plates, fish plates, or pork plates. All the meat plates come with home made olive oil french fries or rice, and usually a salad or vegetable. So far, everything I have tried has been wonderful. I usually stick with seafood, because it is my favorite and its so inexpensive and delicious. Chad usually gets the pork or beef, so we get to try each others. It’s a match made in heaven…seriously! Zoë has tried everything that we have for the most part, including whole grilled octopus (oh my gosh…so yummy!) and she has quite an advanced palate for a two year old.

We found a couple of super markets nearby and have been taking daily walks around to see what is around us. Sometimes we hop on the metro and just get off at an exit that seems good, and explore. We did that today and found a park (with a mediocre playground for Z, but she was happy with it) that ended with a huge amazing fountain that must have been about 5 stories tall and a city block wide. It is crazy to me, and I feel so blessed, that we are in a city that we can get off at a random metro stop and there can be an amazing structural beauty such as this. And that’s been the case in most parts of the city of Lisbon that we have seen so far. In the midst of all the shopping and restaurants, there will be some sort of monument or statue that honestly, puts most of our American monuments to shame. Just the fact that they are older and more diverse here, than our monuments and statues back home, makes them more appealing and enthralling (to me at least)!

The Alameda Fountain Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

The Alameda Fountain

Zoë's First Time on a Big Girl Swing Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

Zoë’s First Time on a Big Girl Swing

There are a couple of ways that culture shock has been setting in for me, but the most difficult thing for me so far, is that they do not have baby changing stations in any of the bathrooms, unless it’s the bathroom of a tourist attraction (museum, aquarium, etc.). This means that I have had to get used to changing Zoë’s, sometimes very poopy, diapers while she stands. Of course, this is only in public areas, but you other parents know, if there is nowhere to change the diaper of a child, that is when they will have a poop explosion. It has happened a few times now (lucky me!), and I think I have finally gotten it down. I can be in and out of the typically claustrophobic and badly lit rooms in about 5-10 minutes flat. Unfortunately, Zoë does not enjoy standing as I clean her up and she usually cries and screams, but the people nearby have not assumed that I am beating her or anything, thank God (or at least I hope so)!

Despite all the differences between Santa Rosa, California, and Lisbon, Portugal, I still love this city. Chad and I are actually considering making this our home base for another month (so two months total) and just taking a weekend or week long trips to other countries in Europe. Lisbon has been so wonderful to us so far, but we do want to see more this summer. We are undecided still on what to see, we are considering different possibilities… southern Spain, Greece, Italy, and maybe Croatia. Maybe you all could help us, where would you recommend that we visit? Leave a comment here and let us know where and why…we love to hear others stories and opinions!

Until Friday my friends, ciao ciao!

All Photos are (c) andthreetogo.wordpress.com