Lovely Port… Ahem..I mean Porto

So this past week we have been running up and down Portugal. We were trying to fit in all that we wanted to see before we leave for the next stop on our journey. We have a little over a week before our next destination. I am splitting these trips into two posts because there is just so much that I want to say about each. I am going to start by telling you about our trip to Porto.

We had really been wanting to check out Porto, which is a city in the north that everyone raves about as being “the” place to go wine tasting. Chad and I had originally considered staying in Porto, which is the second largest city in Portugal, instead of Lisbon. It was a hard decision, but the descriptions of Porto reminded us too much of home, so we chose Lisbon. As some of you might already know, we are from Sonoma County, California and have been surrounded by vineyards and wineries in all directions most of our lives.

We arrived on a Wednesday by train, which took about 3 ½ hours and cost about 25€ each. I love taking trains. I love feeling the soothing rock of the cars click-clacking along. I love being able to walk around and stretch my legs as much as I want to. I especially love the fact that there is usually a snack/dinner car where I can get something to eat or drink when I want to. This method of transportation makes it incredibly easy to travel with a toddler in my opinion. Zoë had a great time playing with the seat table and drawing and being able to sit in her own chair, she already wants to be a big girl.

We arrived mid afternoon and were able to hop on a metro immediately that took us directly to our hotel. Chad found a place called Hotel Da Norte, that was relatively inexpensive and like I said, as soon as you walk off the metro stop, there was the hotel right in front of us. It was nice not to have to search for it.

The hotel staff was lovely and helpful, making sure that we got a room big enough for a toddler crib for Z. The room was very clean and although the view was not beautiful, there were many windows that let the sun shine in (and give me a dose of vitamin D without having to sit in the horrible cold weather outside).

Zoë Checking Out the Room

Zoë Checking Out the Room

Porto is in northern Portugal and is bordered by the ocean on one side and a huge river runs through it, so it makes sense that it is a bit cooler than Lisbon. I was prepared for it, and yet it still made me a little cranky. I think I hid it well, although maybe Chad noticed a little.

Trying to Smile Through The Cold

Trying to Smile Through the Pain of Being Frozen

We decided to walk down to the river front and get some seafood for a late lunch. It was a big mistake. The river front is tourist central, which doesn’t really bother me usually, but the food that they served was disappointing and overpriced. The local dish, called Francesinha was really the only thing offered, besides hamburgers and hot dogs for the most part. I decided to try the local favorite and was served a lukewarm sandwich made up of one slice of cheap white bread, a some ham, sausage and cheese topped with a chili sauce that lacked any flavor at all. Luckily, my meal came with french fries, so I did have something to eat. Chad had calamari rings that looked as though they were probably from a bag. Poor Zoë got a hot dog on a moldy bun. She was okay with it though, as she only eats the hot dog anyways. Still, this was not the type or quality of food we had become accustomed to. We hurriedly finished our overpriced cardboard fare and decided to do some sight seeing.

We decided to do the Hop on Hop Off Red Bus again, but this one also included a boat trip down the river to look at Porto’s six famous bridges and a free tasting at one of the port wineries. We started with the boat trip. This was fun, but a bit disappointing as there was no information given about the bridges or the landmarks on the shore. It was simply just a boat ride up and down the river. They dropped us off on the other side of the river, where all the port tasting rooms are and we headed by foot to the tasting rooms that were on our voucher. They were the furthest ones away, but I needed to warm up a little and the brisk walk took care of that quickly. Just a quick note for parents of toddlers out there, the sidewalks were very well maintained and we pushed Zoë around in her stroller quite easily the whole trip.

The Six Bridge Boat Trip

The Six Bridge Boat Trip

Warming Up With a Walk

Warming Up With a Walk

We tried a red and white port at Krohns, the first port winery we came upon that we had a free tasting. Then we walked up the hill a bit more and went to Cockburns Port Winery, and there we tried three other ports, a tawny and two reds. I must say that the ports were divine. I loved them all. The walk back to the bus stop was merry. I was warm from the port and ready for the next adventure to begin.

Krohn Port Winery

Krohn Port Winery

Zoë Being Silly at Krohn Port Winery

Zoë Being Silly at Krohn Port Winery

Cockburn Port Winery

Cockburn Port Winery

After we arrived at the bus stop, we realized that the busses had stopped running an hour before. So we had another opportunity to warm up with a walk back to the other side of the river. It was actually pretty cool, the bridge was built by Gustave Eiffel and you could see the similarities between the design of the bridge and (the pictures I have seen of) the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The Bridge Designed by Gustave Eiffel

The Bridge Designed by Gustave Eiffel

We then got to take a Funicular up the hill back to the area where our hotel was. A funicular is a small trolley car that acts like an tram mixed with a elevator. It was a lot of fun riding in it up the hill, it was probably one of the highlights of the day for me. It’s the small things like that that fascinate and enthrall me.

The Funicular

The Funicular

By that time, it was dinner time. We walked around for a while and noticed that all the restaurants near our hotel were closing. It was only 7 pm! We were lucky and one of the ladies taking her outdoor tables down gave us the name and directions to an amazing restaurant called Casa de Paraiso II. The seafood was fresh and cooked perfectly. The restaurant had wonderful house red wine, and their half portion meals were big enough to feed a small family. All three of us had full bellies as we made our way back to our room for some much needed sleep.

The next day, our little alarm clock, named Zoë, woke us up early enough to check out of our room by 8:30 am. We went and had some typical pastries at a snack bar and made our way to one of the nearby bus stops to catch the red bus and see the sights of Porto. There were two lines the busses take and we got on the one that took us out to the neighborhoods of mansions built in the 1950’s instead of around the center of town with all of the castles and cathedrals. So, yes, we were not very lucky with the red bus on this trip.

We jumped off the bus as Zoë fell asleep for her nap so we could sit and enjoy lunch for awhile before she woke. We ducked into a little cafe as it began to rain and had a lovely lunch of spaghetti (yep, that was me) and Chad decided to take a chance and had an awesome plate of francesinha. The local fare was vindicated from our horrible food at the river front the day before. We drank some red wine and waited for Z to wake up. It was great to have some time to relax with each other and have an uninterrupted conversation. Zoë had another hot dog when she woke up (I swear we feed her more than just hot dogs!) and we left the cafe happy.  Our time in Porto was up, we had to run back and get our bags from the hotel and catch the metro to the train station back to Lisbon.

There were things I really loved about Porto, but I must say that our little overnight trip was marred by the very cold weather and my first sub par meal since entering this amazing country. I am glad that we chose to live in Lisbon for the time we have been in Portugal, but would not hesitate to spend some more time in Porto.

Two Touristy Things to Do in Lisbon Without Feeling Too Touristy

Our third day in Lisbon, we felt refreshed and renewed. We had received our luggage the day before and were showered and had brushed our teeth two days in a row. We were ready to take on the city, but where to start? As we sat eating a lovely breakfast at a little outdoor café, we noticed a large red double-decker bus driving by that we surmised was a sight-seeing tour of Lisbon. We did have help, as it had huge signs saying “Lisbon Sightseeing – Hop On Hop Off Bus” all over it.

We decided after roaming around a bit, and having no idea what was important to see in the city, that we needed help. We kept walking by statues and monuments that meant nothing to us, so we started looking online how to purchase tickets for the big red monstrosity that we kept seeing drive by. As we were both looking at our phones for information we walked past a newspaper stand. Lo and behold, this and almost every other newspaper stand in Lisbon sells tickets for all of the different sightseeing tour buses!

There are a few different busses that you can buy tickets for that you can hop-on and hop-off at your leisure for a specified amount of time. We chose the Red Bus because it was for a 24 hour time period, seemed to hit all the historical and tourist sites, and was the cheaper of the three. We bought our tickets for 18€ each (Zoë was free). There were two different routes (red and blue) and that amount covered both of them. It also seemed like everywhere we turned there was another red bus picking up passengers. Of course, you know how it goes, after we bought our tickets, there wasn’t a red bus in sight. We waited at the bus stop for about 30 minutes and Zoë had an “ice meam” cone while we waited (there are ice cream stands on almost every corner in the city center).

Photo by Jennifer Mitchell Zoë Enjoying Her "Ice Meam"

(c) andthreetogo
Zoë Enjoying Her “Ice Meam”

The bus finally came and we decided to sit downstairs for a minute before realizing that it was not air-conditioned. We moved to the upper deck, figuring at least there would be a breeze. We settled in and started listening (with ear buds given to us by the bus driver) to the information about the monuments, statues, museums and parks that we passed. In between the pre-recorded information, they played the same song by a female portuguese fado singer that was beautiful and interesting and made you feel like you were immersed in Portuguese culture. Well, at least at first. After listening to that song for about an hour it lost some of it’s charm.

Just as we started our tour, Chad realized that he had a work meeting an hour and a half later. We were both very glad to have the next day to finish our tour because it was really interesting to see and hear all about the sites of Lisbon.

The next day we got a late start, but we still got to complete the red line of the tour. At first, I felt like a total tourist and it made me cringe slightly inside… here I was on a obnoxious bright colored, double decker tour bus… it was something I had never thought I would do. I always thought I would be the traveler that would have her Lonely Planet guide out, walking around to find all the sites that I wanted to see and learn about. I have to be honest though, I loved this tour! It gave me enough information about everything on the route to help me decide what I really wanted to spend my time checking out more in depth. And on a much more important note… Traveling around the sites on a bus with a toddler is much more comfortable for all involved. Zoë loved the bus ride and saying “Olá” to everyone we passed.

If you come to Lisbon, take a bus tour of the city, it’s up to you which company you would like to go with, but do it! It’s well worth your time and money.

On Tuesday, we moved to an apartment for two days to wait for our long term (a month is long term right?) apartment to be cleaned and prepared for us. After we got all our stuff in the house, we realized that it was a big accident waiting to happen for our precocious genius daughter. It was a bachelor pad, complete with incense burners, just a microwave to cook with, and a broken toilet seat. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice enough, it was clean and if it has just been Chad and I it would have been perfect, but everything that was dangerous for a toddler was right at her level. So instead of following behind her and saying “no” over and over again, we decided a field trip was in order to wear out our little ball of energy.

Photo Taken by Jennifer Mitchell

Oceanário de Lisboa Welcome Sign
(c)andthreetogo

Oceanário de Lisboa ( http://www.oceanario.pt/) is a must see if you spend any time in Lisbon. Even if you are not the biggest fan of aquariums, you will be amazed and entertained. I am one of those people and I actually wouldn’t mind going to this aquarium again!

We were easily able to take the metro almost directly to the aquarium, which is a plus when you have an almost two year old that really wants to walk on her own, which can take some time and a few tantrums if you have to walk too far.

When we entered the Oceanário, we walked up a long bridge walkway to a huge square building that is built right into the river. As you enter, the first thing that you see is a massive tank with sharks, gigantic tuna and groupers (they must have been over 100 pounds!), schools of fish, and one of the only Sun Fish in captivity today (what a strange looking thing, too). The aquarium is set up to take you through all of the oceans, giving you a chance to see the fish and aquatic life from that area. The amazing thing was that with each ocean, the surroundings changed for the person walking through. For example, the Atlantic area was so cold I was shivering in my hoodie and jeans, and it was a blue, sunset kind of light, then as we walked into the Indian Ocean area, it was hot, humid, and lit to feel more like sunlight. The sounds that they played overhead made you feel as though you were in the ocean and all along the way you could see the large inner aquarium. Each smaller tank was set up so you could take your time and take pictures without feeling crowded by the other visitors.

Photo Taken by Jennifer Mitchell The Famous Sun Fish

The Famous Sun Fish (c)andthreetogo

Zoë had so much fun looking at the “baby feesh” and taking pictures of them with her own camera. It was fun just watching her face. There was a little area that was especially for young children, with play things that teach how to conserve water and recycle and such. It also had a hidden slide, which was definitely a highlight for Zoë, and probably her her second favorite part to finding Nemo.

Even if you do not have a beautiful excited blue eyed baby to watch, you will enjoy the Oceanário. I would highly recommend it. One thing I wouldn’t really recommend is buying the ticket for the temporary exhibit right now. It was only an extra three euros each, but it was just a few sea turtles, which are really cool, but it seemed really hastily put together and kind of cheesy looking. Stick with the main exhibit and you won’t be disappointed.

All in all, I can say that these two touristy experiences have been a great time for all. All I had to do was get over what I thought a real traveler should be and I had an excellent and informative time! If you ever come to Lisbon (and you should), make sure to take time out for these two fun activities!