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

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How Many Photos is Too Many?

Now that we are settled in Taipei  for a bit, Chad and I are trying to get our flickr.com photo pages up to date and labeled. This may sound like a pretty simple task, but think about how many photos you take in a normal day (I mean who doesn’t post at least one picture of their kid or meal on Instagram each day)… now multiply that times a million and you know now how many photos we have taken on this trip so far. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little. All I can say is that I am thankful that they are all digital, I would probably drown in them if they were actually processed photographs.

We sit and go through each set of photographs we have taken and try to choose the best ones. We upload the ones that we think will mean something or be interesting to those that are going to be looking. How does one choose what other people want to see? I have no idea, and by the end each photo set, I really don’t care. I just choose the ones that look halfway decent.

Then there are the descriptions and titles of each photo. I am not a witty person, and trying to think of new and fun things to say about each photo, well, I just hope people won’t expect too much. Captions stating things like “Zoë and a boat” will probably be common. But who really needs a full description on each photo anyways, right?

The point of all this work, is that at least our photos will be up for the world to see and everyone can share in our adventure even more. The digital age has been wonderful for us on this trip and I am so glad that we can show people what we have seen and that people can read here on this blog about what and how we are doing. Thank God for excellent technology.

Here are some of the pictures that will make it up on our flickr page. When it is up and ready for perusal, I will make sure to give you the link ASAP! Now I am off to choose some more photos to upload… only another 328,798 to go.

Zoë, Goofy, and Jen at Disneyland April 2013

Zoë, Goofy, and Jen at Disneyland April 2013

Willie Nelson Street In Austin, Texas, April 2013

Willie Nelson Blvd. In Austin, Texas, April 2013

Chad and Zoë at South Beach, Miami, FL April 2013

Chad and Zoë at South Beach, Miami, FL April 2013

Chad and Zoë checking out crabs in the water, Curacao April 2013

Chad and Zoë checking out crabs in the water, Curacao April 2013

Lisbon as seen from St. George's Castle, Lisbon, Portugal May 2013

Lisbon as seen from St. George’s Castle, Lisbon, Portugal May 2013

Ready for the Ride! Disneyland Paris June 2013

Ready for the Ride! Disneyland Paris June 2013

City Park, Budapest, Hungary June 2013

City Park, Budapest, Hungary June 2013

The three of us at the Parthenon, Athens, Greece July 2013

The three of us at the Parthenon, Athens, Greece July 2013

Zoë playing at Taverna Agkyra Paros, Greece, July 2013

Zoë playing at Taverna Agkyra Paros, Greece, July 2013

Zoë playing at Daan Park in Taipei, Taiwan, July 2013

Zoë playing at Daan Park in Taipei, Taiwan, July 2013

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….)

Lovely Port… Ahem..I mean Porto

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë Checking Out the Room

Zoë Checking Out the Room

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

Trying to Smile Through The Cold

Trying to Smile Through the Pain of Being Frozen

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

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

The Six Bridge Boat Trip

The Six Bridge Boat Trip

Warming Up With a Walk

Warming Up With a Walk

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

Krohn Port Winery

Krohn Port Winery

Zoë Being Silly at Krohn Port Winery

Zoë Being Silly at Krohn Port Winery

Cockburn Port Winery

Cockburn Port Winery

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

The Bridge Designed by Gustave Eiffel

The Bridge Designed by Gustave Eiffel

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

The Funicular

The Funicular

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Write-Up: Who Needs a Night Life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am off to bed early…Good night all!

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

googlemap

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!

Wednesday Write-Up: Welcome Back Sun!

Last week was cold, rainy and windy. Definitely not my favorite type of weather, in fact I get quite cranky and moody when I don’t get my natural vitamin D (which, unfortunately, Chad and Zoë can readily attest to). One of the main thoughts in our minds for planning this trip was (and still is) to follow the sun. Last week we were shown that we have no control of the weather…I know, it was surprising to me too!

Sunny days are here again though! Or should I say happy days, because that’s what they truly are to me. We have now had three days of glorious warm sunny weather that gets one up off their butts and moving (my butt is totally thanking me too, it can only take so much pressure for so long).

Two days ago, we decided to go to breakfast (we usually eat breakfast at home) and boy, what a treat! We went to a little chain bakery called A Padaria Portuguesa and I finally let myself try the amazing looking pastries that are everywhere here in Lisbon. I had two buttery and sweet probably very fattening treats that were reminiscent of donuts back home, but were lighter and less oily. I hope to learn the name of them and let you all know, but when ordering them, I just pointed to the prettiest ones in the display case.

After that deliciously gratifying breakfast, we decided to walk around our neighborhood a bit. Our exploring has subsided a bit since the weather had been so bad. We both wanted to see what else was near us. As we walked up the hill and looked around, we happened upon a park, with a playground! We have a park within walking distance to our house! I was so excited, maybe even more excited than Zoë, this was a place that I could bring our wonderful little ball of energy while Chad works at home! Not only that but I could bask in the sunlight while she plays!

We have now been to the park twice and my mood has greatly improved, as has Zoës’ and Chads’, because we all know that a cranky wife/mother makes for some hellish days. I am one blessed lady to have a great husband that puts up with my “lack of sunshine mood swings”. I am sure that he prays daily for sun and a happy wife.

Here are a couple pictures of Zoë playing in our park! Til Friday, sunny days to you (and me)!

Fixing the Jungle Gym Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

Fixing the Jungle Gym

Riding the Giraffe Photo Taken By Jennifer Mitchell

Riding the Giraffe

All photos were taken by Jenny (c)andthreetogo.wordpress.com