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

Athens in a Day

There are three places that Chad and I knew we wanted to go when we were planning this trip. Taiwan, Thailand, and Greece. Every other place we have gone has been because the circumstances were right, the flights were cheap, accommodations were plentiful, etc. I feel that God has opened certain doors for us and has shown us where he wants us to go in this way. When we were in Lisbon, figuring what to do next, Greece did not seem to be working out, we couldn’t find flights, places to stay, or even decide what we would want to see in Greece. We both really wanted to see Greece, but thought that maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for this time in Europe.

It wasn’t until two days before we were to leave Lisbon, and 13 days before we had no other place to go or stay, that Chad found a perfect flight to Athens, Greece online,. We booked our tickets and then worked to both agree on what we wanted to do in Greece. Then we found inexpensive and awesome places to stay. It worked out even though we had doubts, and now here we are in Greece! God is good!

We started our time in Greece in Athens. We had been told by many friends that an extended stay in Athens is not necessary, you can see everything you want to in one or two days. Our friends were right. We had a day and half in Greece and saw all the major sights and felt we were ready to move on to our next destination.

We stayed free at a Novotel Hotel in Athens using our miles from one of airline cards. We like to stay in places we find on airbnb.com, locally run guest houses, or hostels usually, but every so often, when you are on an extended trip, it is nice to stay in a place with a pool, room-service and a maid. It’s a fun change for a couple of days.

After researching for a bit, I found a perfect way to see the sights and entertain Zoë at the same time (I know, I almost couldn’t believe it myself… I actually found something on the internet without Chads help… I have to say I was pretty proud of myself). I found the Happy Train, a little red train that takes you to past the famous sights and to some shopping areas and such. It had mixed reviews, but was inexpensive at only 6 Euros each for adults. Zoë loves “choo choo’s” so I knew this would be a great way to see the touristy part of the city.

So, on our one full day in Athens we decided to take the Happy Train and get off at the Acropolis and see that up close.

We got up and had our free breakfast buffet at our hotel (seriously… accommodations that include free breakfasts are the best!) and then headed down to the metro. The metro was a bit confusing to use, as I didn’t see any maps in the stations. But with google maps we were able to figure out what line and direction we were supposed to go.

The Happy Train is about a 2 minute walk from the Monistaraki Square metro stop and is in the midst of the Monistaraki Flea Market. The flea market is filled with leather bag and shoe stores, souvenir shops, outdoor eateries, and other stores. We walked through it for a bit before hopping on the Happy Train. We also got some waters and snacks for the trip on the train as we had read that the sun (and pollution) in Athens can dehydrate you quickly.

Zoë loved the "Choo Choo" also known as the Happy Train

Zoë loved the “Choo Choo” also known as the Happy Train

The Happy Train takes one hour to go through all the sights, including the Acropolis, Plaka, Temple of Zeus, Thisseon, Ancient and Roman Market, Zappeion, Panathinaiko Stadium, Theatre of Herodes Atticus, Hadrian Arch, Monastiraki Square, and New Acropolis Museum. We were going to get off at the Acropolis right away, but decided to take the whole hour long trip and then have lunch and get back on the train up to the Acropolis then.

Most of the ruins are right near the Monastiraki square and you can walk around them and take pictures in them until 3 pm every day. It was interesting to see the marble columns in different states of decay amongst the trendy looking outdoor eateries and shops. The train moved slowly enough to get a few pictures in of each sight. Zoë had a blast on the train and I was glad that we decided to see the old structures that way. The only complaint I would have with the train was that the sound system was very hard to hear, and although the “tour guide” did speak in both Greek and English, we couldn’t hear anything she said. Also, I should have researched or bought a guide book telling about the places we were going to see on the ride, I regret not having more information about what we were seeing. The train was great, but it was up to the customer to know and learn about what they were seeing.

We ended up having a very long lunch at a restaurant in Monastiraki square, it was a bit touristy of a place (I am sorry that I didn’t even get the name, but most of the places to eat there offered the same things), but the food was tasty and they really loved having Zoë there.

The Greek people we have met so far, have loved playing and trying to entertain our little girl. She has been a conversation starter and ender, too. She lets us know when she wants us to be done talking, in the sweetest way possible of course. She is learning many lessons of politeness and kindness on this trip.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand, we hopped back on what we thought was the Happy Train, but later learned that there are many other companies that use the same kind of trains, on the same route, with the same stops. I think we were on the wrong train, but the driver didn’t even ask for our tickets. Like I said, it was the same route as the Happy Train, with apparently the same sound system as we still could not hear any of the announcements. We happily enjoyed our ride up to the base of the Acropolis though. We exited at that stop and made our way up the hill, excited to see the beautiful stone structures built as early as the 8th century BC.

Zoë and me on our way up the the top of the Acropolis

Zoë and me on our way up the the top of the Acropolis

We came upon a little touristy area near the entrance to the ancient gates leading to the Parthenon and noticed that we needed to buy tickets to enter. It was 12 euros per adult, but Zoë was free and they even had a free stroller storage area which was very nice. Strollers are not allowed and once we made it through the entrance, I realized quickly why. There were many stairs and slippery areas on the way up to the top of the acropolis. The marble steps were worn down by millions of feet traipsing over them for the past 2000 plus years.

The Acropolis is… well I cannot express how I felt walking up to the Parthenon and the Old Temple of Athena. I was awe-struck. I still cannot fathom how they were able to build such massive and impressive structures so long ago, and the fact that they are still standing for the most part…well I was (and am) just flabbergasted by it.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

We walked around the outside of the buildings (you are not allowed to walk through them as they are being repaired, actually the parthenon was full of cranes and half of it is covered in scaffolding), took a bunch of pictures and read the plaques that gave a picture at what the buildings used to be. This is another area where I wished I had a guide book. I learned about Greek history in school, but seemed to have forgotten all of it. I had to research all the history after the fact. You can learn more about the history of the Acropolis here.

All Three of Us in Front of the Parthenon

All Three of Us in Front of the Parthenon

Old Temple of Athena-Built Originally in the 8th Century!

Old Temple of Athena-Built Originally in the 8th Century!

Zoë was Tuckered Out..Also the Huge Greek Flag in the Background

Zoë was Tuckered Out..Also the Huge Greek Flag in the Background

We left the Acropolis, took the train back and went back to our hotel. All-in-all it felt like a really busy day, but we saw everything we wanted to see in Athens with the Happy Train ride. I think it was a good choice.

Have you ever been to Athens? What did you think? What was the best way to see the sights?

Wednesday Write-Up: And It always Come Back to One Thing

Food. That’s right, I love food. While we have been traveling if I do not find some good cuisine, my desire to be in that place lessens. I am all about food. Although I would not call myself a foodie, as I do not need to have the most gourmet or delicately prepared fare. If it happens that the food I get is tasty, fresh, and keeps me going back for more, that is enough for me.

Budapest was difficult for me at first. The good food was not so easy to find. But sometimes the trouble and adventure of finding good food makes it all the more special when you do find it.

There were a few places that I wanted to recommend to you, and although they are not all classified as Hungarian food, they are places that I think you should try.

 ARRIBA TAQUERIA

Photo Courtesy of Arriba Taqueria Website

Photo Courtesy of Arriba Taqueria Website

I love mexican food, in fact in one of my earlier posts I talked about how I would miss my family and friends, but leaving Mexican food behind while we traveled, well that was too painful to think about. It sounds a little callous now as I look back, but for those of you that have had authentic California Mexican food, you understand, right?

Well, imagine my surprise, excitement, and trepidation when we found a flyer for Arriba Taqueria in our place after we got settled that first night. It was like it was meant to be, for us to find and have mexican food again. After three long months of being burrito-free, I could lavish my palate again with yummy Mexican goodness.

They offered free delivery, from either of their locations (one on the Buda side by us, and the other on the Pest side), and also had online ordering. The online ordering was the so helpful! It was our first night in Hungary, we knew none of the language and we were both a bit daunted at trying to communicate over the phone at that moment. We placed our order and 20 minutes later, a gentleman on a scooter delivered the most authentic, fresh tasting mexican food we had had in months. The flavors were excellent and tasted just like the mexican food back home. Chad and I decided that the owner must be from California, because the food was spot on.

We went back to Arriba’s three or 4 more times before we left Budapest. Each time the food was spectacular, the service was wonderful (everyone that worked there spoke english!) and I left feeling happy and satisfied. I am so happy that we found this restaurant, because that was probably our last chance for Mexican food until we visit back home. Thank you Arriba!

RING CAFE
Photos of Ring Cafe and Burger Bar, Budapest
This photo of Ring Cafe and Burger Bar is courtesy of TripAdvisor

A good hamburger is not hard to find while traveling, but the hamburgers at Ring Cafe, were simply amazing! I had just a normal burger and was taking the tiniest bites to make the burger last longer, it was that good. The hamburger meat was seasoned and cooked perfectly, the home-made ciabatta buns were soft and flavorful, and the lettuce and tomatoes were fresh and crisp. If you are looking for a hamburger that will leave you wanting for more, try out the Ring Cafe on the Pest side of the city.

TRÓFEA GRILL
Photos of Trofea Grill Etterem, Budapest
This photo of Trofea Grill Etterem is courtesy of TripAdvisor
We found out about this buffet from one of those books that every city has, you know, the ones where restaurants pay to advertise to tourists (and most of them are a little iffy or over-priced). Chad noticed this buffet because it had an international fare, and also because it was all you can drink wine and beer (as well as the normal non-alcoholic beverages as well). The price was really reasonable for all they offered so we decided to check it out.

We arrived at one of the Trófea Grill locations (the one on the Buda side near the Margaret Bridge) and I was impressed with the cleanliness and design of the restaurant. I immediately went to load up my plate with what the buffet had to offer. The food was lovely and fresh, unlike many buffets I have been to. They had many choices of stews (which seem to be Hungary’s specialty), delicious side dishes, meats and seafood that they would grill up for you, and yummy deserts. Oh they also had salads, but I decided not to waste space on that stuff. The wine was pretty good as well. This restaurant’s food was very good. Also, for all you parents out there, it was a fantastic place to take a toddler. Zoë had a great time eating from her own plate, with food that we got that we knew that she would love. Toddlers want variety, too. She was great the whole time.

All-in-all this buffet was great. They did end up overcharging us somehow (I didn’t look closely enough at the tag and realized it a bit later that it just didn’t add up), but it was worth the extra for good food and relaxing times.

We ended up craving the buffet pretty much the rest of our time in Budapest, so on our last night in the city, we went to another one of their locations. The location we went to was out of the tourist area and was cheaper. Their service was excellent and the food was even more delicious than the other location. I even got to eat Foie Gras for the first time ever (it was wonderful, I can see why people rave about it). I honestly do not remember the address of the more “local” buffet, but it was about a 25 minute walk from the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and City Park.

Both times and locations, I was impressed with the food, the cleanliness and the service at Trófea Grill. I would definitely eat there again if we end up back in Budapest.

EDENI VEGAN RESTAURANT
Photos of Edeni Vegan Etterem, Budapest
This photo of Edeni Vegan Etterem is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Obviously, you can tell that I am not a vegetarian or vegan of any sort. I enjoy the freedom to eat animal products when I want to. I have found that much of the vegan and/or vegetartian food offered in restaurants tastes like cardboard, or a poor interpretation of food containing animal products. I enjoy vegan/vegetarian food that is so tasty that it makes you feel as though you are eating real food, not an imitation of something else.

Edeni Vegan Restaurant does just that. The flavors and spices in their food were perfect and left me so full, but craving more. The restaurant is set up cafeteria style, where you choose your dishes and they serve you massive portions of their savory fare. If they had not told me that their dishes were vegan, I would have never thought that they were. I really cannot express enough how good the food was. The restaurant was close to the river on the Buda side of Budapest, with lovely indoor and outdoor seating areas. The service was excellent and they spoke enough english to explain the dishes and serve us perfectly. We went twice and both times were extremely happy with our meals. Whether you consider yourself herbivores or carnivores, try the food at Edeni’s.

BAMBI PRESSZÓ

Breakfast is important in our family. Well, not to Chad really, but it is to me. I am one of those people that has to eat pretty soon after I get up, otherwise my blood sugar plummets and I turn into a raving lunatic I can be a little cranky. Zoë seems to take after me and needs to eat pretty much as soon as she gets out of bed. Her first words in the morning are often “ice mean” (yogurt), “nana” (banana) or “baby cracker” (crackers). Poor Chad always has to appease the hungry women in his life and get up and going early if there is no food in the apartment.

Bambi Pressźo was a great option for breakfast, about a 10 minute walk from our apartment on the Buda side. The breakfasts were basic but good, the espresso was strong, and the prices were inexpensive.

The cafe had a spacious outdoor eating area and was very kid and dog friendly. There were kids and dogs walking around freely, having fun exploring. This made it a nice relaxing place for us. We could eat our breakfast while letting Z play. It was exactly the kind of cafe I imagined going to when we decided to travel in Europe. A relaxing place where we could start out our day slowly.

We would have gone there everyday probably, but with Chad working, we usually ended up eating breakfast at home. It was a great place though. I would highly recommend you try it out.

I wish I would have had more time and energy to try out more restaurants in Budapest. Seven days was just not enough to fully grasp and enjoy the varied cuisine on both sides of the Danube River. Are there other places that you would recommend it Budapest? I would love to hear all about them so I could try them next time we venture to this beautiful city.

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!

Traveling With a Toddler: 5 Apps That Will Save Your Life

Okay…I admit that I exaggerated a bit in the title of this post. But, for anyone that has traveled with a toddler, it can seem like life or death sometimes (cue dramatic music). How much stress can one parent stand before we keel over, am I right?

Whether you go on a quick road trip, a 10 hour flight, or are trying to navigate through a new city, smart phones have made it a little easier for us. I want to share with you the five apps that have really helped us along our journey with Zoë so far.

ENDLESS ALPHABET

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I know, I know…this is coming from the first time mother that said she would never let her child look at any screens until said child was at least 2 years old…. Hahahahah. Yeah, well life has a way of changing our thoughts and ideas, and sometimes for the better. Although I try not to plug Zoë in let Zoë play video games or watch TV too much, this educational game has been a wonderful addition to our daughters entertainment, for those times that a screen is absolutely needed.

Endless Alphabet is a free app that teaches children how to spell words such as “xylophone” and “yodel” by mixing up the letters and making the child place the letters in the correct order like a puzzle. After the letters are placed correctly, there is a quick little explanation and cartoon showing what the word means. It’s cute and fun. I can honestly say that Zoë learned her alphabet and the phonics of the letters already because of this game (although I would love to say it was time and hard dedicated work on my part).

The game is updated periodically with new words and there is never any need to pay for anything. This game is a must have for you toddler parents out there, if you have a iPhone or iPad, download it here now! Unfortunately it is not out for androids just yet.

CURIOUS GEORGE: CURIOUS ABOUT SHAPES AND COLOR

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This app has been hours of fun and learning for Zoë so far (and hours of quiet time for me or time that I can be productive). This game is not free , but the $2.99 is well worth it. Zoë has learned not only shapes and colors, but how shapes interact with each other and make things. This is a wonderful learning game and I would highly recommend it!

Unfortunately, this game is only made for the iPad or iPhone as far as I can tell. You can check it out on iTunes here.

GOOGLE MAPS

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Okay, so this is not an app for toddlers. But when you have a toddler that is mid-tantrum, or tired, or hungry, you have to be able to find where you need to go easily, quickly and without error. Google Maps helps me with this. Google maps not only has driving directions, but also gives directions if you are walking or using public transportation. Not only that, but 99% of the time you can just enter the name of a business and you will be shown the way within a few seconds, you do not even have to know the address! This has made it easier to get where we need to go no matter what mood Zoë is in!

This is a free app and you can check it out here.

WHATSAPP

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Again, this app is not really for toddlers, but this is app provides an awesome way to keep in contact with family and friends back home. This app lets you text for free from anywhere in the world. Not only can you text, but you can send video and pictures, too! My family gets at least three or four videos and pictures a week, keeping them abreast of how Zoë is growing, what she new words she has learned, and pretty much all around keeping them a part of her life (and of course mine too, but who wouldn’t rather see a cute two year olds dimples than mine?). There are a couple of the problems with the app, one is that the other party has to also have the app in order to get your texts. The other problem being that it is $0.99, but in comparison to the cost of one international text (usually 50 cents or more for one) this is a real steal. Check it out here.

SKYPE

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This app is along the same lines as WhatsApp, except that you can video chat or call with Skype. This is the way that we keep in touch with family and friends back home when we actually want to talk to them. It is free to sign up and you can use Skype on your smart phone or computer. Also, you have the choice to either make a completely free call to someone else that also has Skype, or you can pay a nominal fee and call peoples regular phones. Most people nowadays have smart phones (and if they don’t already, they should take the plunge) so the probability of your friends or family not being able to get Skype are slim. This app is an excellent way to keep in touch with those you left while you are on the road. Check out Skype here.

These are the apps we have used most so far, what apps have you found to be “life-savers”? I always welcome suggestions to add to our traveling arsenal!

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

Wednesday Write-Up: And Now For a Little Frustration

There are many who would say that I am suffering from what are called “first world problems” when I say there some frustrations that come along with traveling. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly blessed and know that I am living many people’s dreams right now. And because of knowing and realizing these things, I struggle. I struggle with my own negativity when all I get to do by myself is go grocery shopping (no more girls nights for this lady). I struggle with missing my friends and family. I struggle with feelings of being an awful mother, toting my daughter around the world away from all that she knows in her short life so far. I struggle.

There are not only rainbows and happiness in this world, and unfortunately, I am the first to point out the bad. I have been trying to keep a positive attitude and acknowledge God’s blessings on me and my family. We have been granted the opportunity to take this amazing journey, and have been blessed in every instance. I should be walking around with a perma-smile on my face, singing praise songs and exuding joy, right?

And yet, sometimes, the small things weigh me down and make me forget the good.

After dinner tonight, we went to the grocery store, just for a couple of things. I always feels as though I need a Xanax after grocery shopping here in Lisbon. For some reason, they are always restocking the shelves in every crowded aisle, while waxing the floors with the big floor waxing thingy (why wait until the store closes for that right?). I am not a person that needs a 3 foot space bubble, but I sure love to be able to get my groceries and get out of the store without so much stress and craziness.

Then as I check out with my toilet paper and tampons (sorry all you men out there!) I was unable to pay with my visa since it was under 20 euros and had to hold up the whole line, while I trudged to the ATM in the corner of the store, to get cash for my purchases. I don’t know if I have ever been so red faced.

Tonight, Zoë fell asleep but wouldn’t let me lay her in her bed for over an hour, she kept waking up. I tried to be patient, I tried to enjoy the cuddle time. But in the end, my humanness and fallibleness makes me hand her off to Chad to rock back to sleep. And she is still awake, an hour and half later. This makes me sad and frustrated. Why can’t I be the patient, ever calm and loving mother that I want to be? I want to be better.

Seriously, I am not that high maintenance! I promise! But, sometimes, on nights like these, I feel like an old towel that has been cleaning the toilets for too long and just needs to be thrown out.

Yes, I know I sound like a spoiled brat, I know that I sound like I am unappreciative, but if I gloss over the bad and just give you all the greatness (which believe me, is a massive amount of great times), you may end up feeling as I do. That you cannot feel down and frustrated sometimes. That you should always be happy and eager to undertake the new cultures that envelope you. That you are unappreciative for the blessings you have been given, if you have a rough day and it gets to you. Simply, that you must always be happy while traveling.

I cannot lie to you, my friends and family, there are rough days when abroad.

But in the end, the good days do outweigh the bad. And this one little day will just be chalked up to culture shock and a traveling learning experience.

Until tomorrow, I will have a glass of amazing Portuguese red wine and try to relax, while trying not to cry, and pray to God to get me through my negative attitude. Because this is all part of it, the journey we have been given, and I relish the experience, both positive and negative. God will see me through this.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very things I hate. Romans 7:15

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

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!