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….)

Lagos: The Sunny South

Since landing on Portuguese soil, everyone we have met has told us that we NEEDED to spend some time in the Algarve. That the beauty, warm weather and beaches in that area were the best Portugal had to offer. We kept saying that we were going to go, but life here in Lisbon kept us busy for a month or so and the Algarve was put on the back burner.

But our time in Portugal was growing short, we had made definite plans to start traveling again and going south for some sunshine was put back on the plate.

We made the final decision to go and check out this gorgeous destination after Chad got a tattoo from an artist named Pedro that lives in the Algarve and invited us down to check it out. (By the way, Chads tattoo turned out amazing! If you ever want a tattoo in Lisbon, check out Pedro Soos at Queen of Hearts.) Pedro even invited us to stay at his house, but we decided that we would stay in a hotel as Zoë can be rather loud and we hate to inconvenience anyone. Everyone we have met here has been so welcoming and hospitable and friendly, I just love it!

Instead, I booked a room at the Iberlagos Apartments. Despite some bad reviews, the price and location seemed worth the chance.

Iberlagos Apartments

Iberlagos Apartments

Chad researched the best way to get down to Lagos in the Algarve, the trains cost about 25 euros a person, and took three hours, or there was a bus, but we were worried about being stuck on a bus with a toddler for 3 hours. We wanted to see a bit more of Portugal, and take our time to stop if we wanted, so we decided to rent a car. The price of renting a car was just a bit more than taking the train, even with the price of gas and such. Although I will say that our jaws dropped when we had to pay 65 euros to fill up our “economy” car. Yikes! Still, even with the price of fuel, renting a car was not too expensive and gave us some autonomy.

So early in the morning, a couple Mondays ago, we took the metro to the airport and picked up our rental car. We excitedly got Zoë settled in her car seat and headed out to what we thought would be a couple of hot sunny days on the beach.

There are a couple of options when driving in Portugal, you can take the back roads, or the toll highways. If you take the toll roads it costs about 30 Euros and gets you to Lagos in about 2.5 hours. We wanted to take the slow roads so we could see what the country side looked like, it only took about 3.5 hours and it was fascinating to see the small towns and landscape.  Portugal’s landscape is so similar to California, especially northern California. We felt like we were home. The way was fairly simple and we only took a wrong turn one time that set us back about 10 minutes. The signage along the way was pretty easy to follow, and google maps helped us out as well.

We arrived in Lagos, to the address of the flat we rented and found a horribly dilapidated building that looked like a mix between a prison and a crack house. It just didn’t seem right, the pictures didn’t match what it showed on the web, the description of the place according to other patrons reviews didn’t match either. It didn’t have any signage to say it was the vacation stay rentals that I had found and decided on. I started to freak out a little on the inside…if we were staying in this building, I would never live it down.

We stopped and I ran inside a restaurant and asked where the Iberlagos Apartments were and was massively relieved when the helpful woman told me they were down the way a bit.

We reached the apartments finally (after having to stop one more time for directions) and realized that the address they had on the website was incorrect (obviously) and that the grounds of the apartment complex looked well-maintained. I breathed a sigh of relief and we set out to find the reception office. It was a little hard to find, but we finally noticed the tiny sign that said “Recepção”. We checked in and were shown to an apartment with an amazing view of the pool, grounds and beach below. It had a small patio, which was exactly what I wanted.

The apartment itself, was small, a studio with a murphy bed, a small kitchen, and a bathroom with 2 showers (couldn’t figure that one out). It was musty, like no one had been in the apartment except to drop off the clean linens in quite some time. Regardless, it was clean and I was happy that it had such a beautiful view and direct access to the golden sand beach below.

The View From Our Patio

The View From Our Patio

The only unfortunate thing about this trip was that the weather was cold, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and windy. Yes, yet again, the cold weather was following us. We decided not to let it get us down and put on our swimsuits to go down to the pool. I was there to work on my tan, and I was going to even if I froze doing so.

There were two pools, an adult pool and a large kiddie pool that had a Super Mario Brothers looking toadstool waterfall in the center for the kids to run through. The water was freezing, but Z wanted to walk around in the water and luckily she has a loving father that is willing to suffer for her.

We were told by the “lifeguard” that we needed a pass to enter the pool area, so Chad ran and got the pass (it would have cost us 4.50€ a person otherwise). Then he told us that we were not allowed to use the lounge chairs without renting them either. We laid in the grass for a bit and then the cold got to all of us and we headed back to our apartment.

We went to the grocery store and picked up some local cheese, meat, bread and wine and had dinner on our apartment patio. Zoë went to bed and Chad and I sat bundled up in our warm clothes and took pictures of the sunset from our patio. It was a great start to the trip. I prayed that the weather would improve the next day so we could have some fun together.

The next morning Z woke us up bright and early and we headed down to town for some breakfast at about 8:00am. It was only about a 10 minute walk, a beautiful seaside walk. I loved it! Not only did I love the walk, but the weather was already warm! It looked like it was going to be a hot day!

We ate some breakfast at a cafe, it was really nothing special and headed down to walk by the water. All along the way there were kiosks of people selling tickets for boat rides to see dolphins or to the grottos, or for fishing trips. We stopped and talked to a few of them and decided to get tickets for a sailboat trip out to the ocean, with a speed boat trip through the grotto and sea caves. It was 2 hours long, 15 euros a person (Z was free) and the sailboat was fully fitted with a restroom and bar.

We were supposed to check in to board the sailboat in 45 minutes. We only partially rushed home to get our things, thinking that the walk back to the apartment was quicker than it was.

As I was putting sunscreen on the babe, Chad tells me we are supposed to check in at that moment! We ran around, threw some stuff in my purse incase we decided to swim, and ran to the car.

After hitting every red light along the way (it seems so cliché that that happens every time one runs late don’t you think?), we made it to the marina. I jumped out of the car to go check in 15 minutes late. A lady was looking for us and told us where to go… Chad went and parked the car, I ran and helped him get Zoë out of the car and the lady ran with us to where the sailboat was already sailing away. Lucky for us, people running late happens often, and they had a motor boat on standby ready to take us to the sailboat.

We made a rather embarrassing entrance onto the sailboat, and after a few moments and some quick instructions from the skipper, we were running after Z, trying to make sure that she didn’t fall over board. She is such a brave little kid, she had no problem getting her sea legs and wanted to help them raise the sails too. It was so much fun to watch her.

The Sailboat

The Sailboat

Helping to Raise the Sail

Helping to Raise the Sail

A Natural Little Sailor

A Natural Little Sailor

After an hour on the sail boat, we hopped on a motor boat to go to the sea caves. It was fascinating and fun! Zoë thought we were looking for Captain Hook’s treasure cave, and she kept calling out for the Lost Boys. It was incredibly cute.

Captain Hook!!!

Captain Hook!!!

Entering a Sea Cave

Entering a Sea Cave

After seeing all the caves, we returned to the sailboat and then to the port. We walked to have some lunch at a restaurant by the dock, I was starving! I had some pretty good typical Portuguese bacalhau (salted cod) and Chad got the most amazing stuffed baby cuttlefish I have ever had. He had to practically put a barrier around his plate so he could eat some without me stealing it off his fork.

We drove back to our apartment and went down to the beach below our apartment. It was the Dona Ana Beach, and it had bathrooms, and a restaurant and bar right on the beach. We laid out in the sun while Z played in the sand. The water was freezing, so I did my best to stay out of it, but my two year old told me what to do, and finally I relented.

We stayed on the beach until the sun went down. It was a great day. Z went to bed and Chad and I spent another night, this time a warm one, sitting on the patio, enjoying our blessed life.

Hanging Out on Our Patio

Hanging Out on Our Patio

The next day we checked out of our apartment, sad that we didn’t plan to stay one more day, ate breakfast and then started the drive home, more tan and happy than we were when we arrived.

On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped by Pedro’s’ house and had lunch with him and his lovely wife, Vanessa, and their two amazing and smart kids, Lilo and Bruno. I had such a great time getting to know Vanessa, Pedro and the kids. That is one of the things I love most about traveling, getting to know new people, making new friends, and learning more about other cultures. It was truly the best way to end our trip to the Algarve.

We have been back in Lisbon for almost two weeks now and we have spent that time preparing to leave for the next leg of our journey. I love Portugal and am sad to say good-bye, especially to all the lovely people that I have gotten to know. I know we will be back though, we have so much more of Portugal to see and experience.

Tomorrow, we fly to Paris, France, to celebrate Zoë’s second birthday at Disneyland Paris! I am very excited! I will have so much to tell you on Wednesday! Until then, ciao!

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.

Wednesday Write-Up: Who Needs a Night Life?

This past week Chad, Zoë and I have been doing a little traveling to other parts of Portugal. We visited Porto, in the north, for a couple of days and just got back today from a trip to Lagos in the south. I plan on writing more about these two vastly different cities on Friday in my travel post, so subscribe so you can read all about it.

We got back to Lisbon today to a huge city wide party. Tonight is the Saint Anthony Festival, which starts in the early evening and continues all night. And it is going on in every neighborhood, currently the song “What a Feeling” is playing loud enough on the street below that we can hear it perfectly in our fifth floor apartment.  People are laughing, talking, singing along to the music. It sounds like a really fun night.

I have to say I am a little jealous. I am incredibly blessed that my amazing daughter is in bed and, pardon the cliche, is sleeping like a baby through all the noise. I will not jinx myself and say that I wish she would stay awake later…heck no, I would never wish that…I enjoy my evenings while she is asleep. Sometimes though I do miss being able to go out on the town after dark. Especially when it is right outside my front door.

I sit here and think how I wish I could go outside with everyone else, and then I realize how much more I have seen of the places we have been because I do not go out late at night. Not only that, but it also helps to be woken at 6:30 or 7 am everyday so i get the most time possible to partake in real life in the cities we have visited.  A special thanks to Zoë for being my little human alarm clock.

This journey is completely different from Chad and I’s pre-baby travels, and for the better I think. Zoë has made every part of this adventure acutely more special and fulfilling. I not only get to experience different and wonderful cultures, but I get to see how they enthrall and excite Zoë. It is a better feeling than I can even describe.

So I willingly give up my night life (despite being a tiny bit envious), because living on the road with my toddler, is the most exciting and worthwhile venture I could ever undertake. Being a mom is rad, that is all I can say.

I am off to bed early…Good night all!

Storming the Castle – Castelo de São Jorge

Castelo de São Jorge Photo Credit Wikipedia

Castelo de São Jorge
Photo Credit Wikipedia

This past Tuesday, we decided to check out one of the oldest standing structures in Lisbon. The Castelo de São Jorge, or Saint Georges Castle, is an imposing fortress that stands on the highest hill in the city. From pretty much anywhere in the city you can look up and see this awe-inspiring piece of history staring at you from amidst the trees surrounding it. This castle calls to be noticed, and I have heard it’s call since we arrived here. Finally, on Tuesday, the weather started to change for the better and we could make our way to check it out. I was so happy! Sun and history, can you really ask for anything more? That’s a rhetorical question guys…
The weather was warm (probably about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so a little cold still to me) and Chad and I needed some physical activity so we decided that we would walk to the castle. Like I said, it is on the highest hill in the city, but to our amazingly toned legs (kindly given to us by our four flights of stairs to our apartment) it was a refreshing little jaunt. Okay, so I am exaggerating a lot little. But really the hike up the hill was not all that horrible. It was a steep incline, but in all only took us about 15 minutes from start to finish. And to top it all off, all that wonderful exercise made it so I could eat ice cream later without the normal guilt I usually suffer with eating sweets.
Most people choose to take the bus or even a taxi up the hill (obviously they do not have our now strained and tired awesomely powerful legs). It is up to you which way you make your way up, but do it! This has been my favorite site so far in Lisbon.

It Doesn't Look That Steep From Here Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

It Doesn’t Look That Steep From Here
(c) andthreetogo

The price to enter the castle is 7.50 euros for adults. The castle admission includes a museum filled with ancient ceramics, run of the castle garden, getting to see the archaeological dig with walls dating from the 7th century BC (I immediately thought of my dad…I got to see something over 2000 years old dad!), and the most amazing view I have ever seen of Lisbon city. There are many hills and photo spots that I have passed by without a thought, but the view from Castelo de São Jorge, just breath-taking. Our pictures do not do it justice.

View from One Side of the Castle Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

View from One Side of the Castle
(c) andthreetogo

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From The Top of the Castle Wall

From The Top of the Castle Wall

When you are in the castle, you have pretty much the run of the whole area. You can climb stairs up onto the outer walls (which I did for about 10 minutes, but for some reason my fear of heights kicked in and I had to get down) and take more pictures of this beautiful city.
The castle that stands right now was built in the 14th century over remains of a fortress that was built in the pre-roman era! The grounds and castle walls are impeccably maintained. There’s a fancy looking restaurant that serves dinner and a cafeteria/snack bar if you need a bite to eat or just a coffee. Zoë loved running around and looking at the peacocks that run (and try to hide from all the crazy kids on school field trips) around the garden.

A Peacock Hiding in a Tree Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

A Peacock Hiding in a Tree
(c) andthreetogo

We spent a couple of hours running around the castle and imagining ourselves as royalty. It was a perfect amount of time to see everything and was one of the funnest afternoons so far. I would definitely recommend that you check it out, there is something in this castle for all different kinds of interests!
If you would like more information about the castle check out these helpful websites: GoLisbon, Wikipedia, Castles.Info, and Viva Travel Guides .

Here are a few more photos for you (did you really think I could leave you without a picture of Zoë?)

She Would Only Touch The Lion Statue With a Stick Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

She Would Only Touch The Lion Statue With a Stick
(c) andthreetogo

Looking for Captain Hook

Looking for Captain Hook

My Two Favorite People in My Favorite Historical Sight So Far Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

My Two Favorite People in My Favorite Historical Site
(c) andthreetogo

Pastries and Ships

Many of the museums here in Lisbon offer free entry before 2:00pm on Sundays. So last Sunday we decided to take them up on their offer and go to the Museu de Marhina (Maritime Museum). Chad and Zoë have a real love of “dada boaps”, as Zoë calls any kind of watercraft, and I love all things history. We were all exited to see what the museum had in store for us.

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We got a late start, but because of my intense need to eat often (its biological really!!) we decided to stop off at a famous Lisbon landmark for food on our way.

The Pastéis de Belém  is known throughout Portugal as the birthplace of the lovely little pastries for which the restaurant gets its name. The recipe for these little cakes of deliciousness date back to the 19th century when the monks at the nearby monastery needed to make a little extra cash. These pastries are made by other bakeries and are at every cafeteria and snack bar, but it’s well known that the original bakery’s are the best. The take away line always curves outside the restaurant and is known to take at least a half hour of waiting to buy these tasty pieces of history. I thought that was the only way to try the real pastéis were to stand in that long line, which I was hesitant to do. I know, my fellow foodies are disappointed in me right now, but standing in a long line with an impatient and hungry toddler sounded like hell a possibly unpleasant experience.

Lucky for us, a kind Canadian gentleman, that we met on our trip to Sintra, told us that there are rooms and rooms of tables that you can sit at in the bakery and get the pastries served right to you! The tables are first come first served, but the service is quick and the tables turn over so that you never have to wait as long as the take out line.

We sat and had some meat pies and finished our meal with the lovely, sweet, buttery custard pies. I am glad that we got to try the real things, they were scrumptious. I wish I could send one to all of you!

Pastéis de Belém

Pastéis de Belém

After we had filled ourselves up with yummy food, we quickly walked to the Museu de Marhina because it was getting very close to 2:00 pm. We slipped in with just minutes to spare.

Entrance to the Museu de Marinha

Entrance to the Museu de Marinha

The museum was filled with extremely detailed models of ships and (mostly replicas) of paintings of maritime war scenes and famous navy men. And we mustn’t forget portrait paintings of the very famous Portuguese explorers, such as Christopher Columbus (who actually was hired by Spain as were a couple of other Portuguese explorers). Again, most of the paintings, costumes, and weaponry were replicas it seemed, which deadened the experience for me a little. I love being close to real history, and the fact that most of the artifacts were actually more recently rendered facsimiles made it less awe-inspiring.

One of the More Interesting Looking Ship Models

One of the More Interesting Looking Ship Models

There was a huge area at the end of the tour that housed some of the actual royal ships and boats. That was pretty fascinating. That room also held some early airplanes and steam engine vehicles that were fun to look at.

The Royal Barges and Boats

The Royal Barges and Boats

All-in-all, I would recommend the Maritime Museum if you really love anything to do with boats and the military use of them. For me, it was just a little boring. If you want more information on visiting this museum, check out this website.

The winners of the day were definitely my tastebuds, having a chance to be enthralled by a tiny little custard pie. I may have to go get some now… Until next time!

Bad Day Made Good: The Pena Palace

This past Wednesday we were going to go the beach to work on our fading tans. Alas, our plans of having sunny and warm weather throughout our whole trip were dashed. Wednesday (as well as the rest of the week) was cold and windy. I mean like in the 60’s cold (I knew I should have brought a snow suit on this trip). For those of you that use Celsius, that is 16 degrees. Brrrr… It was unacceptable blustery uncomfortable weather. That is all I will complain about the apparent early summer freeze we have experienced for now.

There was one positive side to the cold and having to miss the beach. The Pena Palace in Sintra.

Through very little online research Chad was able to find out that the easiest way to get to Sintra was by train. We went to the Rossio train station here in Lisbon, paid the four euros each (Zoë was free) and hopped directly on a train that would take us to our destination in 39 minutes. Zoë loves trains, as do we, and the ride went by quickly.

We disembarked from the train and were in a quaint little town that immediately makes you feel like you are in a real life Disneyland. The clean little cobbled road ways, the colorful and well-maintained buildings constructed in the 19th century, the sculptures and tile work each way you turned, all that were missing were the princesses and background music. And to top it all off, the castles, one within the town of Sintra that is more modern, The Palácio Nacional, and the oldest one in the area, the Moor Castle, which looks down on Sintra eerily.

Moor Castle Looking Down Upon Sintra

Moor Castle Looking Down Upon Sintra

The castle that we were in Sintra to see was up on the other side of a mountain, concealed from the town below, The Pena Palace.

I just want to give a little history of the castle before I go on about our day…

The site held a monastery that had been all but destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Queen Dona Marie II and her king consort Ferdinand II, loving the beauty of the area, contracted Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege in the mid 1800’s to build and design a palace that looked like an “opera” around the remaining chapel that still stood. So it is actually a bit more modern of a castle than I had expected. If you would like to know more about the history and construction of the “Feather Palace” I would suggest the Pena Palace website, the wikipedia page, and gekkoportugal.com.

There are many different ways to travel to the palace, including a public bus, private tour buses, and even tuk tuks. We checked out the tuk tuks, because of our love for the fun little taxis from Thailand, but the prices were rather exorbitant starting at 45€ for a hour and a half tour. We opted for the cheaper public bus at only 5€ a person. The public sightseeing bus #434 stopped at the trains station, the old town center, the Moor Castle and the finally the Pena Palace. It was a great deal as they picked up every 15 minutes or so and you could hop on and off at any stop throughout the whole day!

A quick note about the bus trip, the road to the sites is steep, windy and sometimes cobbled. If you have ever had issues with motion sickness, I would definitely suggest taking dramamine before this ride. The drive only takes about 20 minutes, but I am sure that it could be a day killer for any one who gets car sick.

When we had arrived at the crest of the mountain at the entrance of the Pena Palace, we were confronted with ticket booths. I had figured there was a charge to enter the grounds, but was honestly unaware of the cost. Yes, that is how I research..pretty much half way. It is one reason that I always make let Chad look into what we are thinking of doing, that and my infernal laziness incredibly busy schedule. There were a couple of options as far as ticket purchase, you could get a ticket for just the palace grounds and garden which I think was 10 €, but we really wanted to see the interior of the palace too, so we paid 13.50 € each. I thought the price a little steep, and they did nickel and dime you a bit. For example, you could walk up the rest of the way from the entrance to the castle for free, or you could take the tram for two euros a person. But I think I could say in all fairness, that all touristy historical places I have been to do the same thing. You were given a map for free, and you could download an app on your smart phone for free to listen to a tour as well. At least they said you could, we couldn’t get it to work, but I did see people who apparently were using it.

Halfway up the steep hill that we were walking up for free, I started to regret saving the 4 euros for the tram though. Chads positivity saw us through pushing our almost 30 pound toddler up the steep cobbled road in our not so sturdy stroller, because the walk only took about 10 minutes. I think I probably complained for at least 7 of those minutes…I really have to work on that.

Anyways, as we came upon the palace garden and outer walls, I was again struck with how Disneyland must have been designed after castles like this. The pink, yellow grey and green walls interspersed with tiles. The defensive fortifications mixed with the purely cosmetic decorations.

Disneyland also might have been coming to mind because Zoë had been singing “Hi ho hi ho” the whole time we had been in Sintra. I do not know why she thought we were going to Snow White’s castle, but it was pretty cute and appropriate actually.

Despite the cold chill of the wind whipping through our thin summer clothes, we slowed down and took in the entrance to this amazing and somewhat schizophrenic structure. The gardens were beautiful and showed off each decorative motif perfectly. The view was breathtaking, you could look over Sintra all the way to the ocean over 17 km away. I could go on and on about the grounds of the castle, but I will let Chads wonderful photos show you.

View From the Walk Up

View From the Walk Up

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Such a Beautiful Structure

Zoë Walking to the Castle on Her Own

Zoë Walking to the Castle on Her Own

The Amazing View

The Amazing View

Such a Mixture of Decorative Styles

Such a Mixture of Decorative Styles

A Depiction of a Newt and the Creation of the World on the Outer Wall of the Castle

A Depiction of a Newt and the Creation of the World on the Outer Wall of the Castle

The interior of the palace was a mixture of different decorating influences, including islamic, arabic, renaissance, and medieval. The way around the rooms were clearly directed with signs telling you where to go next and was clean and actually quite quiet (must have been because it was a weekday). The walk through the rooms begins with the formal dining room, complete with the full dinner service and tea china. From there you are led through the king and queens bedrooms, sitting rooms, and bathrooms. Surprisingly the lived in rooms were quite small, having just enough room for a bed (about 5 feet long and the width of a double mattress presently), a desk and a chaise lounge or settee. What stood out most to me was the almost unreal view out of the windows in these rooms. Unfortunately we were not able to get a good picture of the view from the windows, but believe me, its worth the trip to the palace just for that. It was overwhelming how intricate all the furniture and accoutrements were in the rooms.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

Intricately Carved Furniture in One of the Sitting Rooms

Intricately Carved and Decorated Furniture in One of the Sitting Rooms

My favorite area of the palace was the chapel, which was the last remaining part of the monastery left after the earthquake of 1755. It had the most vibrant and clear stained glass windows I have ever seen. It also housed a complex wall sized retable carved from marble and alabaster by Nicolau Chanterene, showing seven periods from Jesus’ life and death. The interesting thing to me was that Jesus and the scenes were depicted as though they were in the renaissance period (which is when the sculpture was completed). Regardless of its historical accuracy, it was awe-inspiring to look at.

Monastery Sculpture

Monastery Retable Sculpted by Nicolau Chanterene

Pena Palace Chapel Credit Wikipedia

Pena Palace Chapel
Credit Wikipedia

At this point, Zoë felt that our time was up for walking around slowly and we had to walk a bit more quickly through the remaining rooms, including a room filled with stag heads and the great hall.

Our walk ended at the gift shop, which offered many different types of souvenirs that were reasonably priced.

We walked around the outer garden for a bit longer and took some more pictures and headed down the hill again to the bus stop.

You would be so proud of me, I didn’t complain once on the walk down the hill! I felt like I had turned a proverbial corner.

We hopped back on the bus and walked around the old town center, ate some dinner and went home, exhausted, but happy and feeling like we had had a great experience.

We will definitely be going back to Sintra to see more of the town, as well as the other castles, before we leave for our next destination. I would definitely recommend checking out the Pena Palace if you choose visit this wonderful country, you will not regret it!

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!