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

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!

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: Same Same but Different

This week has been one of quiet contemplative stress for me. On Saturday we are leaving Lisbon for Paris, France. We are taking Zoë to Disneyland Paris for her second birthday (one more Disney park off the list!) as a surprise. Yes, I know she probably won’t remember it, but she will see the pictures later and know that her parents were awesome and spoiled her rotten (right?!). Lisbon is so much like our home town that it has been easy to acclimate to being so far away from what we know and are used to. For this reason, among others, I am a bit sad to be leaving, but I really do feel that we need to explore Europe a bit more.

There are many similarities between Portugal and Sonoma County, California, such as the landscape, the weather, and the wine (although I have to say I like the wine here better, and only have to pay 2 Euros for a bottle—sorry Sonoma County). The biggest difference I have seen between Portugal and Sonoma County is the family friendliness.

Many of you parents out there may never have experienced this, but when I was living in America I was sometimes shunned from places because I was toting along a child. On any given day, I can peruse my Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest feed and I will see parents apologizing for bringing their children along with them, whether it be to a restaurant, or on a airplane flight (seriously… those people that made up candy bags for the whole plane apologizing for taking their babies on the plane thats viral on Pinterest…I just want to slap them…thanks for starting that trend lady).

I can’t really blame those parents for wanting to apologize though, because at the same time, there are people complaining about parents bringing their children to those places. It is a strange conundrum that American parents find themselves in. Everyone seems to love that you are having kids, but then once you have them you are supposed to hide them away, only letting them emerge from their room to go to an educational play date or a labeled child area, such as a park or playground. And if you decide to take your child everywhere with you, which I did, you had to be prepared for rolled eyes, sarcastic and rude remarks, and an overall feeling of being unwelcome whether your child was being a perfect angel or was throwing a full blown tantrum.

Being here in Portugal, I have had to deal with some post traumatic stress from my time raising Zoë in California. I am incredibly careful, to the point of paranoia, about Zoë making noise in a restaurant (heck, even taking her into a restaurant made me grind my teeth preparing myself for the looks) or running around the table while Chad and I finish our espresso when we finish a meal. When I would go grocery shopping, I would freak out that Zoë would grab something off the shelf, which I would then have to remove from her steel grip, causing a tantrum and I would have to leave the store red-faced and shamed.

What I have found in this lovely country, is that people love your child(ren) and want you to take them with you. More often than not, we will get frowns when walking into a restaurant, and as soon as they see our little curly haired cutie, their faces light up and the rest of the time we are there, they try to engage and entertain Zoë. She often leaves with a piece of candy or a lollipop, I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t stick to the “she will have no sugar until she is 2 years old” plan we had before she was born. Regardless, people seem to love children here and I have not had one eye roll or rude remark since being here. My parental PTSD is abating now with the therapy of family values in this wonderful country.

Something else that is different that goes along with the family friendliness here, is that the safety rules are a bit different from America. If someone was to give Zoë a piece of candy back home, I would tell her not to eat it, but to let me check it first. You can never be too safe when it comes to razor blade and drug laced candy back home. Here, in Lisbon, and the rest of Portugal for that matter, it seems a non-issue, everyone gives her candy, from the fruit vendor to the restaurant owner. It’s just what is done here, with no ill-will, but just to make your kid happy. I like this difference. This makes me feel that Zoë is safe and that I am able to keep her safe. The bad guys are not so prevalent here (I know that there are bad guys everywhere, but I seriously doubt someone will give her an LSD laced sticker here).

It will be interesting if we ever go back home to beautiful Northern California, how will I teach Zoë not to speak to ANY strangers, when here I tell her she should always respond with a hearty “Olá” when someone addresses her. You will have to tune in and see what happens with that, because, honestly, I have no idea how I will make the distinction to her as she grows older.

This culture has so many similarities to Sonoma County California, but still the differences are noticeable. These differences are why I love to travel…I want to see what the world holds for me, what different cultures deem as acceptable and as taboo. I crave this change of culture, scenery, and especially food (you knew I would mention food at some point right?!). More adventures to be had in the near future and more stories to tell you! Thank you all for reading!

Lovely Port… Ahem..I mean Porto

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë Checking Out the Room

Zoë Checking Out the Room

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

Trying to Smile Through The Cold

Trying to Smile Through the Pain of Being Frozen

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

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

The Six Bridge Boat Trip

The Six Bridge Boat Trip

Warming Up With a Walk

Warming Up With a Walk

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

Krohn Port Winery

Krohn Port Winery

Zoë Being Silly at Krohn Port Winery

Zoë Being Silly at Krohn Port Winery

Cockburn Port Winery

Cockburn Port Winery

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

The Bridge Designed by Gustave Eiffel

The Bridge Designed by Gustave Eiffel

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

The Funicular

The Funicular

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

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

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

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