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.

Beautiful Budapest

Budapest, Hungary is an intensely beautiful and interesting city. The city consists of two sides of the Danube River, Buda and Pest, that are connected with eight very distinct bridges. We stayed in an apartment we found on airbnb.com on the Buda side. Buda is a more quiet and less touristy than the Pest side. Pest has streets lined with restaurants, shops, and museums. Buda is more suburban feeling, but does have some little aggregations of tourist restaurants by the river. Both sides are great, and have government buildings, castles, churches, and apartment buildings that are amazing architecturally.

Unfortunately, jet lag caught up with us when we arrived so we spent the first three days we were there resting and getting acclimated. It is really odd that we were so affected, as there was only an hour difference between Budapest and Lisbon, where we had been for the past month and a half. Our bodies thought we needed a break I guess.

Anyways, we were left with four days to see and do everything we wanted to. We started with our old stand-by, a sightseeing bus. This time we took the green sightseeing bus that included a guided bus tour of both sides of the city, a panoramic pink bus (we didn’t take that one, so I am not sure what it would have shown us) and a river boat trip to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River. The ticket was a 48 hour ticket, so we took the bus one day and then the boat trip the next day.

We somehow planned it just right , Z was happy the whole time, and we were able to ride the bus from the first stop to the very last. It was fascinating to see all the different architectural styles and monuments and especially the views from the Citadel on the top of the hill in Buda. It was well worth the 18 euros each that we paid for it all.

View of Budapest from the Citadel

View of Budapest from the Citadel

The next day we took the river boat trip to Margaret Island (which can also be reached by the bridge on the far left side of Buda, aptly named the Margaret Bridge). The island is one huge park, filled with playgrounds, eateries, a hostel or two, a water park, and a couple of baths. There are also ruins of some sort on the island but we didn’t get the time to go check them out. Margaret Island was one of Zoë’s favorite places for sure. I never see her so excited and happy as when she gets to play at parks.

 

Cotton Candy on Margaret Island

Cotton Candy on Margaret Island

One of the stops on the bus tour was the Szechenyi Baths and the adjacent City Park, Budapest Zoo, amusement park, and circus. We decided to visit the zoo the day after we went on the river cruise.

The Budapest Zoo was a ton of fun. It was our first time taking Zoë to a zoo and I am glad that this was her first one. The zoo is laid out by continent and has all the normal zoo animals, but has many different species in a habitat together. For example, the giraffes also had gazelles, a couple of different types of birds and some gnu’s (at least I think thats what they were, I didn’t see the sign on that pen). It made it feel more real and also that the animals might be happier as they are surrounded by animals they would be near in the wild.

There were a few neat things that were great for young’uns (or grown up young’uns). There was a petting zoo, which was about 30 goats of all sizes that you could feed, pet, and hang out in their pen with them. You could feed the camels and pet them, and you could also pet the prairies dogs and sloths. It was awesome to interact with these animals up close. They zoo was very clean and safe (all the dangerous animals were locked up in habitats behind thick glass and fences, etc.) and fun for all ages.

Feeding the Camels Photo By Jennifer Mitchell

Feeding the Camels
(c) andthreetogo
Meeting a Sloth  Photo By Jennifer Mitchell

Meeting a Sloth
(c) andthreetogo

We wanted to go to one of the famous Budapest baths the next day, but upon further research we realized that the baths are off limits to little ones under the age of 14. And the regular heated pools that some of the baths have especially for children are only for potty-trained kids. Yes, Zoë is two years old and still in diapers. (She doesn’t seem interested in changing that and neither do I at this point. Diapers are just too easy while traveling). So, anyways, no baths for us. We will have to return to Budapest for those when Z is diaper free.

We spent the following day at City Park  on the Pest side since we could not visit the baths. The park is immaculate and is a huge 1 kilometer square. It houses a man-made lake that in the winter is an ice rink. In the summer, they rent out boats so you can paddle around and enjoy the nature (or restaurants really) surrounding it. The lake is also bordered by The Vajdahunyad Castle, that was built in the late 1800’s and is made up of “castles” of many different architectural styles throughout it, such as renaissance, turkish, etc. After we paddled a canoe around the lake for a half hour, we headed to the castle to check it out.

 

Zoë's Favorite Thing To Do, Play in the Sand at the Park Photo By Jennifer Mitchell

Zoë’s Favorite Thing To Do, Play in the Sand at the Park
(c) andthreetogo

 

Now, honestly, after seeing a few castles, they start to mold together in ones mind. Not that I do not appreciate the beauty and wonder of any specific castle, but I feel like I have seen a lot in the last three months. It was nice to see many different types of castle all in one place.

The park is massive and has many restaurants and playgrounds and kiosks selling everything from toys to bathing suits. It was a great last day in Budapest.

I know that I told you in my previous post that I would let you know about my favorite places to eat in Budapest (just one small hint, they include a mexican restaurant!), but it would just make this post too long. I will tell you all about them in my Wednesday Write-Up. It will be a food filled post! Until then my hungry friends (no pun intended, I promise!)…szia!

Wednesday Write-Up: So the Days Float Through My Eyes

Well, here it’s Wednesday again, and we are leaving for another country tomorrow. The last 8 days felt slow, but went so fast. I am just starting to acclimate and love the amazing city of Budapest, Hungary.

It is interesting that none of us three had been affected by the time changes very much or culture changes either for that matter until we arrived here. We had very few issues in Lisbon, a bit more in Disneyland Paris, and many more here in Budapest it felt like. It felt like a daunting task to be here and now I am sad to leave as it feels as though I have just let the realness of the city in.

There were a couple of reasons that it was hard to get used to being here. The first was the jet lag. For some reason, all of a sudden, the time changes caught up with all of us and the hour difference in time from Lisbon, set us back a couple of days. All three of us struggled with exhaustion, crankiness and headaches the first three days we were here. It was really a bummer, we thought that our mutant powers made us invincible to jet lag.

Secondly, it was the language. Hungarian is…well…a really foreign language. There is no connection to any other words that I know unless they are words that we all have transferred from another culture, such as buffet or manicure. But it took me this whole week just to master saying köszönöm, which means thank you. Its a tough language to understand and speak, I wish I had had more time to practice.

Third, the food here was just okay. We did find some great restaurants, such as a bavarian place, a vegan place, and a buffet that were really good. But these were all not really hungarian places and I am not much of a soup person so I didn’t even venture to try the Hungarian Goulash (I know…shame on me). I will write more in my Friday post about the wonderful restaurants that we did find and love.

Fourth, and last, the prices here are much higher than we expected. Mind you we have been blinded by the wonderful cost of living in Portugal, so it is probably not as bad as say, Paris or London, but it was a bit more expensive for the things we love than we had planned. For example, in Lisbon I paid 20 Euros for an exciting new haircut and here I just had to pay 32 Euros for a trim. (I chopped off all my hair and now sport a pixie cut..who would have thought I could have pulled it off?! But I love it!). Also the food costs her are significantly more than I am used to, about 30-40 euros a meal. It really isn’t that bad, I know, but my stupid expectations get me every time.

My New Haircut and Zoë on the Chain Bridge in Budapest

My New Haircut and Zoë on the Chain Bridge in Budapest

Now, after I have said all these things, I want to tell you that I love Budapest, I love the architecture, the weather has actually been sunny for 4 out of 8 days we have been here, and the people are very helpful and friendly. I want to come back and experience some more. Until next time Budapest… viszontlátásra (good-bye)!

Disney Parks Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Cigarette Smoking Everywhere.

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

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

2) Lack of staff.

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

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

3) Food.

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

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

4) Cleanliness and upkeep.

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

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

5) Overall cultural differences.

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

The Crowd Around Snow White

The Crowd Around Snow White

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon

The Dragon

2) Ride Space Mountain 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë and Chad on Casey Jones

Zoë and Chad on Casey Jones

4) Take the tour of the Nautilus.

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

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

Zoë and the Nautilus

Zoë and the Nautilus

5) See “Dreams” the Fireworks show.

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

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

Wednesday Write-Up: Crazy Blessed

This past week has been a whirlwind of fun and stress. I have never felt so blessed and crazy at the same time, I often feel crazy and I often feel blessed, but at the same time?…never that I can remember. So maybe that is a fallacy as I am continually blessed and continually crazy… wait is the craziness starting to show? Ummm…

Three days ago, we celebrated Zoë’s second birthday. It really does blow my mind that this beautiful girl is a real little person that ripped out entered this world from my body just 24 months ago. I know, it’s so cliché to say how time moves so fast, but dammit… it does. And this amazing trip that we are on, is moving fast as well. We are now in Budapest, Hungary after three days in Montevrain, France (near Paris) at Disneyland Paris and a day long layover in Berlin, Germany. We have a little over a week here and then we are off to Greece, and then Taipei, Taiwan. I think I am still in shock that this journey is ours. God has indeed blessed us greatly.

So, we celebrated Z’s birthday at Disneyland Paris (more about the park in my Friday post). It was a great time after we got used to the fact that we were not at the Anaheim Disneyland and embraced the differences.

I have had to embrace differences in many things recently. Mostly with my precocious toddler. The “terrible”, or as my mother-in-law kindly calls them, the “teaching” twos are now a full-blown hurricane in our family. All of a sudden, in the last few months, Zoë’s favorite word is “no”, or when she’s told she cannot say no to us, she uses “not.” Temper tantrums are a very common side effect of saying anything to her that she doesn’t want to hear. She has been hitting us and sticking her tongue out at people that say hello to her. She has been acting out a bit, and I am having a hard time disciplining her consistently, it can be difficult in general, but especially while traveling. It is hard in different cultures and when you are always on the move, to make time-outs as scary as they should be. Not only that, but as soon as I get a bee in my bonnet to change the way I discipline her, she becomes a perfect adorable angel and I can’t even think of having to discipline her. I mean come on, look at that cute face!

Photo By Jennifer Mitchell

(c) andthreetogo

Photo by Jennifer Mitchell

(c) andthreetogo

Luckily, we have not had anyone say anything to us about her behavior or our handling of it. I know back home, many people like to give their “help” or “opinions” when a child is having a melt-down, so in this way I am glad to be away from America. The language barrier is helpful for once! Honestly I think that if someone was to tell me that I was parenting Zoë incorrectly, while she was on the floor of a store, crying and yelling, I would probably punch that kind helpful person in the mouth. Ok, so I wouldn’t punch anyone, but between my screaming daughter and someone trying to talk over her and judge me, something has got to give, right?

This adventure of ours is a constant learning experience, for me, Chad, and Zoë. We are all learning how to be kind and listen to each other. We are all learning how to be patient with each other, and how to be firm as well. When do we get a summer vacation from learning these life lessons and everything is simple and smooth? Anyone know?

All these things that we are learning are making us better humans and people of faith. I am thankful for that. I am thankful that I am on this incredible trip, that I have a wonderful husband, and that I have a smart, stubborn, and active daughter. I am just really freaking grateful!

To all of you moms and dads out there, whether you have traveled or not, what has helped you get through the twos?

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

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!