Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | June 9, 2017

Last Stop: Malaga Area – Spain

We soaked up as much of the sun as we could before heading back to Canada in the Malaga beach area of Spain. Our Airbnb was located in Torrox, which was along the coastline and located close to everywhere we wanted to go.

The first night we arrived, Alex and I were playing cribbage (like an old couple) out on the balcony of our place after the kids were in bed. As we were playing we could hear simultaneous cheers from about 6-7 areas of the quadrant apartments we were in. Then as you looked out you could see about the same number of TVs all tuned in to the futbol game of Real Madrid. After the game was over there were numerous cheers and then mortars started going off  – I have to admit I jumped and was caught off-guard a few times! Then there would be a break with more, and then at a couple of different points there were firecrackers!  Somehow both kids slept through all the noise! We knew Europeans were crazy about futbol/soccer, but this seemed a bit much for just a normal game. When we googled it, we found out that it was the Championship game of the Champions league and Real Madrid had just won it for the second year in a row. Ahhhh!!  That’s why all the excitement!  Although we weren’t out with the masses, it was pretty cool to see how the town reacted from our balcony.

Our first full day in the area we headed to Frigiliana, which is a quaint little town in the mountains just up from Nerja. The town was originally settled by the Moorish. The town had a very cute feel to it with white washed houses, cobblestone streets/sidewalks, staircases to lead you to different levels and even adorable multicoloured doors!  We enjoyed some coffee and croissants when we first arrived and even watched part of a sport challenge that appeared to be an adventure race throughout the city and its outskirts. We explored the town and stopped for some lunch at a restaurant located at the top of the hill, so it had an amazing view of the town and valley below.

After lunch we hiked up to the castle and got a pretty good view of the area so didn’t quite summit, because we were running out of time and wanted to get down to a beach that afternoon still. However, we made a stop at the playground for our daughter prior to departing town. She found another little English boy there who ordered ice cream from her ‘ice cream stand’ and then they moved on to fighting off the monsters as a warrior and a fairy – so I think she had fun playing and communicating with someone her own age again.

 

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After Frigiliana we headed down to the town of Maro and to one of the beaches we read about called La Caleta de Maro. They said that this beach was less busy than most of the beaches and I agree, but I think part of that is due to how you get down there!  We parked in a parking lot just at the bottom of the town of Maro and then walked down, as the beach was located between 2 cliffs – almost had an Algarve beach feel to it. However, the walk down was steep in areas, you walked next to some greenhouse fields and then you eventually took the stairs down to the beach. We had taken our stroller with us, but ended up locking it up at the top of the stairs. It was a steep climb up with the stroller on the way back though. The beach was nice and secluded and we had fun playing with there. I would say the beach was more small gravel bits than sandy there. I would probably also characterize the beach as a topless beach, as I would say about 50% there were topless. However, we enjoyed the little excursion there.

On our final day in the Malaga area, we went to see the Nerja caves. The caves were quite amazing and there were a couple of areas that were quite open and spectacular with all the stalagmites and stalactites. They even hold a music festival there once a year where the musicians play inside the caves – from what I understand. The way the tour works is a little different than most. When you arrive you get an audioguide, but they only allow entrance to the cave every 30 minutes. So when you’re ready to go in, there is a guide who takes your group down – then you must stay with your group for the duration of your time while in the caves. The guide just basically takes you from point to point and then the audioguide explains the various areas, but in a group situation like that you often felt like you were holding up the group if you wanted to take e a photo, etc. However, I can understand that they like to control visitors like that, as they really are trying to preserve the natural cave.  Even in areas where there is minimal lighting they showed how bacteria grows in those areas due to the lighting, which can destroy the natural elements of the cave. Therefore, you can’t take flash photos. The total visit lasted about 45-50 minutes.

After the caves, we headed to the Rio Chillar, which was just a few kilometres away. We had read about this river walk where you walk along the river and eventually in the river and it takes you to some cool areas within the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park. However, there isn’t parking for the walk, so we parked in this parking lot at the top of the hill and started our trek down to the caves. When we reach the park boundaries, we walked for a bit just on dry rocks and then slowly we started to see little pockets of water. At first we weren’t really sure how this was going to turn out, as the first 1/3 of the walk was pretty bare and not much water. Then we got to a little damn and there started to be more water in the river – we stopped for lunch and played a game of hide and seek. Then the 2nd 1/3 of the walk was more water and a little more scenic, but the most amazing part was the last 1/3 as you had to walk in the river and you started to go through narrow passageways between the surrounding rocks and then eventually you got to a little lagoon at the top.  If you kept going further, we heard there are more lagoons, but with 2 kiddos we decided to just turn back at that point. We took a lot longer on the way out as our daughter wanted to walk and explore, but on the way back we made it back to the car in a little over an hour.

Our daughter did pretty amazing – she hiked most of it on the way up with just a few times being carried – the very last portion we had to carry her as there were lots of rocks and it was a bit more unsteady. However, I think she got pretty tired, as on the way back she mostly rode piggy back. She loved the splashing in the water, throwing rocks and even using her hiking sticks at one point. Although it was categorized as a river, it was very shallow and there weren’t rapids (at this time of year at least – June) so it was very safe for her to explore and play. The only thing we wish we could have changed about the day was our footwear. Alex and I had wore some cheap water shoes, which we soon realized didn’t have any support or padding in them. On the walk back I even sacrificed a pair of socks to see if that would help, but we definitely felt every rock on the bottom of our feet – especially on the way back we felt every stone on our feet!  I would definitely recommend wear either some teva type shoes that have good traction or just some tennis shoes that you don’t mind getting wet – you definitely need some good support.  Our feet were super sore for the night and day after!

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Relaxing in the small lagoon at the top

On our final night in Spain, we headed to the beach walk to go play at this really cool playground for a bit!  It was even cool for parents, as right behind it were several cafes so you could grab a drink or snack and watch your kids play. We definitely had to get some ice cream before we departed Spain so we hit up the cafe with the ice cream right behind the playground.

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The Malaga area was really nice and we really enjoyed our time there!  Our daughter was definitely excited for our trip back home.  I can tell she was getting a little homesick around 3 weeks into the trip though. She tells us she misses her Elsa and Anna dolls back home.  However, over the 27 days we’ve been in Spain/Portugal we put on approximately 3,200 km – so we had some good little travellers with us! We had a blast, but we’re also happy to be heading home!  Thanks for following along with us!

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | June 3, 2017

Seville, Spain

We had a wonderful, but HOT, last 2 days in Seville. The temperature was pushing almost 35 C on both days we were there. Luckily, it wasn’t too humid, so when you were in the shade it was pretty comfortable still; however, we adopted the Spanish siesta while we were here.  I can see why they have siesta – it is really hot in the afternoon!  So both afternoons around 2:30-3:30 we headed back to our Airbnb for a little bit of playtime.  Our Airbnb was perfect for this location.  It was located near San Marcos Plaza so it was only a 20 minute walk to the main attractions. Also it was by far our daughter’s favourite Airbnb as one of the bedrooms was decorated with princesses, castles and fairies and completely stocked with 2 bins of toys and stuffies – she was in 3 year old heaven!  Especially since she has been commenting about how she misses her toys at home.  So our siestas provided a great opportunity for her to play, which she has been craving. Also just around the corner from our place was a little coffee shop that had a trampoline and ball pit, so 2 of the mornings we were in Seville, we went there to enjoy coffee and paid the 1 Euro for our daughter to jump around! It was a great compromise for all!!  Too bad we haven’t come across more of these!

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Although we were doing a little slower of a pace of sightseeing, Seville has been one of our favourite stops on this trip.  It definitely has a distinct Spanish flair to it and was beautiful – and there were orange trees everywhere!

The Plaza de Espana was very beautiful and had tiles that represented all of the different provinces of Spain. It was built in 1928 for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. There were lots of tourist things to do and our daughter was very entertained by the lady who pretended to be a statue with flowers and the bubble man located in the middle of the plaza.  Even though it was hot, she had a blast running after the bubbles and trying to pop them!

The Plaza de Espana is basically located within the Maria Luisa park, which is adorned with lots of trees and gardens, and some playgrounds too! We rented a Cyclobus for 20 Euro for 1 hour and toured around the park. There was a place up front for our daughter to sit and pretend to drive so she loved it and her brother did as well.  Since there was lots of shade – including a cover on the bike – it was quite comfortable to bike around. It was a fun activity for her and afterwards, she enjoyed stopping at one of the playgrounds to play.

Our first afternoon in Seville, we decided to visit the Cathedral because it was inside and would give us a break from the sun and heat. The Seville Cathedral is the 2nd largest Cathedral in Europe and was quite exquisite.  The altar piece was very detailed and they said it took almost 80 years to complete it!!!  The cathedral was also interesting in that it holds Christopher Columbus’ tomb, where his remains were transferred from Havana, Cuba back to Seville in 1901. One of the little chapels even said it was Ferdinand Magellan came back from his circumnavigation across the world to give thanks for the safe passage.

While in Seville, it almost seems mandatory that you have to watch a Flamenco show. However, most of the Flamenco shows don’t start until late in the evening – there were some I found that started around 8:30 p.m. and some didn’t even start until midnight, which with young kids doesn’t work with their bedtimes. So prior to our trip I researched and found the Museo del Baile Flamenco, which offers various shows starting at 5 p.m. – more our timeframe!  The great thing was that kids 6 & under were free.  They had some combined tickets that included admission to the museum and show, but museums aren’t really our forte with a 3 year old, so we opted for the 20 Euro tickets for the show only. The show was good and our daughter was quite interested when there were dancers – not as much when they had the music only performances. She really enjoyed the footwork and tapping they did. Plus it was nice that we were out by 6 p.m. They did have some drinks you could purchase while you enjoyed the show.

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The other major site we visited was the Real Alcazar….however, it pretty last minute. Our 1st afternoon we had walked by and the line up was pretty short, but we opted to go to the Cathedral because we knew it would be cool inside there, and part of the Alcazar is outside. So the next morning we walked by and the line up was around the corner – easily a 45+ minute wait. So we thought when we walked by in the afternoon it might be better, but the line-up was almost equally as long. I asked one of the Spanish people who worked across the street about the line-up, and she said that normally the line-up between 2-3 p.m. is the shortest, but it didn’t seem like it that day and she suggested getting there around 8:30 a.m. in the morning for when it opens at 9:30 a.m. With 2 young kids standing in line that long and in the sun, just wasn’t an option for us. So we headed home and said we would walk by to see how the line was after our Flamenco show that evening. After the Flamenco show we walked by and there was virtually no line – however, we only had about 40 minutes to visit the entire Alcazar. With the short attention span of kids and knowing this was our last full day in Seville, we decided to just pay the admission of 9.50 Euro for the adults and did the speed exploration. We probably did miss some of the places to visit, but we got to see the Main Hall, which has the iconic room and then some of the gardens, so I think we did pretty well.  With our daughter we probably wouldn’t have been able to spend much longer than an hour there anyway and we don’t really get an opportunity to sit and read all the signage, so we felt it worked out pretty well – especially since we avoided waiting in line during the heat of the day.  The entire time our daughter pretended she was Elsa and was showing us around her castle.

We also really took to the tapas culture while we were in Seville. We had been doing meals at our Airbnb places for about 40 percent of the time, but all 3 nights we were in Seville, we decided to go out for tapas.  All the places we visited were delicious and it was nice to try such a variety of food.  Plus we could always find a little something for our daughter and the baby to munch on. Plus most of the were about 3 Euros per plate and a couple of the places even had specials where you could get about 5-6 Tapas for less than that. Plus it encouraged us to try a lot of new food that we may not have tried – they were all delicious.  It was nice as well that all of us were pretty much still on Portugal time, which is an hour earlier than Spain, so we had a little later dinners and bedtimes, as it would be really hot to eat around 5:30-6 p.m. and then that of course meant we slept in later as well in the mornings, but I guess it’s all relative. 😉

Although it was hot, we really enjoyed our time in Seville and are now off on our final leg to the Malaga beach area of Spain, along the Mediterranean coastline.

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | June 1, 2017

Algarve, Portugal – Part II

We really enjoyed our last couple of days relaxing and having fun in the Algarve. The weather has been great and it has been really fun for our daughter. If anything, we’ve just gotten a little too much sun which has wore us out a bit.

We have mostly spent time in the resort pool and at the beach nearby our place. The sand was nice and the views were great as well.

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We did take a trip to Portimao for a boat trip to the Algarve sea caves as well.  We decided on the Santa Bernarda pirate ship to take us out! They cruised from our pick up point in Portimao to Carvoeiro where we then got into small little boats to take us to the caves. On the particular day we went we had our own private little tour almost – as there were only 9 other people on the boat beside us. (The capacity was closer to 60 people.)  The caves were pretty amazing – they were literally caves on the side of the cliffs with water coming in them. I could see how if the water was rough sometimes you can’t go in the caves – however, the weather was nice and the sea was pretty calm so we were able to go inside all of them. We saw some amazing views and some cool little beaches as well!  The pirate ship set-up worked really well with kids as well.  Many of the other tour companies you rode the entire way from Portimao on little boats; however, with the pirate ship you could stretch out and the main thing I liked about it was that I didn’t have to wear a life jacket.  It was hard to get a tired baby to sleep with a life jacket on both him and me in a small little boat. 🙂 Here are some pictures to help explain better. 🙂

After our boat trip, we went to this area we saw from the boat that was near the Carvoeiro area  – they had some cool areas that you could walk down in the cliffs and one rock where they had benches inside and there was a lookout to the ocean below.

Because we were in a tropical destination there were some fun new creatures as well, such as geckos. In fact, one day when I was clearing out dishes from the kitchen sink there was a little gecko hiding under the pans. After Alex finished putting the baby down for his nap, we commenced with operation “Rescue Gecko” – the little guy couldn’t seem to climb up the side of the sink, so I grabbed a glass and he crawled into it where we then put him outside.  However, he didn’t crawl out, so later that day we put down the cup on its side and eventually he crawled out.  However, throughout that time frame our daughter did multiple checks on him.  However, the funniest part was that night, we ran out of gummy bears for our daughter’s potty training treats (and by ‘ran out’ I mean that my husband ate them); so we told her that the gummy bear monster must have ate them all. To which she replied “The gecko ate them all.”  Daddy liked that scapegoat! 🙂

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Our final day in Portugal we headed to Marinaha Beach, which was another beach we saw the prior day on our boat cruise, after we checked out from our place. It was luckily on our way to Spain, but we had forgotten about the time change between Portugal and Spain, and had arranged to meet our Airbnb host at a specific time, so unfortunately we didn’t get as much time there as we would have liked. They had some amazing views and rock formations. There was also a little cave when you first arrived at the beach so we went in to explore and if you kept climbing there was a little walkway tunnel that led out to a little beach on the other side.  When we were over there, no one was on the little beach so it was like a private one.  However, there were signs advising not to be too close to the rocks for danger of falling rocks so we went over on the other side again.  There were some cool views around that area!!!

After our side trip to the beach, we headed off for our 2.5 hour drive to Seville for the last leg of our trip!  So long Portugal, we had a great time!

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 28, 2017

The Algarve – Day 1

We spent our 1st full day in the Algarve, and for the most part it was pretty relaxing. We’re staying at the Baia da Luz and it is great accommodation in Luz, Portugal (nearby Lagos). Our apartment has 2 separate levels, 3 bathrooms and 3 different balconies – basically one of each for each member of our family. 😉

We went to the pool this morning – although unfortunately, we didn’t get the scorching hot days like we did in Lisbon while we’re at the beach – only around 22 C today.  However, the kids pool was heated so it wasn’t too bad and the kids really seemed to enjoy it!  They also have a great playground near the pools so we took advantage of that in the afternoon.

However, in the late afternoon we decided to go for a hike up to the look-out point near our resort. We only had 1 baby carrier, so we thought we would take along our BOB stroller as it would be a tough hike for our daughter. Just as we passed the beach, which was the start of the trail, our daughter fell asleep in the stroller – swimming and playing was pretty exhausting. 🙂 We continued on and then soon realized it was a lot steeper than it looked! About a third of the way up the hill my calves were burning from pushing the stroller!

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Stopping for a drink and a little rest…..

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Switching out with Alex….my running shoes just weren’t cutting it with lack of traction!

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The craziest part of the summit – the BOB powered through! I feel like I need to send them a testimonial!!

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WE MADE IT!!!

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View of the coastline…

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Heading down – Two Thumbs up!!

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At the bottom documenting our journey – we summited at the monument at the top.  Whew – made it!

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 27, 2017

Sintra, Portugal

On our final day in the Lisbon area we drove out to Sintra.  We had read that if you drive there are limited parking spots so you have to get there early.  So we headed out to try to arrive by 9:15 a.m. which is when the first shuttle bus starts running. The shuttle bus picks up at the train station and then goes on a loop throughout the various Sintra sites for a cost of 5.50 Euro.  The climb up to the top is very steep, so it was nice to have the bus take us up, but when we tried to catch the bus to take us back down again we waited for much longer than the 15 minutes that was supposed to be between buses. We were super lucky because a large line had formed and we were the last ones allowed on the bus before they determined the bus full. We did notice what seemed to be parking spots toward the top so it may have been possible to drive to the top but we didn’t want to have to worry about that.  Because we were taking the bus and there were several steps at each of the exhibits we opted to leave the stroller behind again.  Instead we did lots of piggy back rides for our daughter and carrying her (which equals sore muscles!), but I did see some people leave their stroller at the information stand within the Moorish castle, but I can’t imagine bringing it on the bus with us – it was always packed to the max!

There are several things to see in Sintra, but we decided to visit the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. However, we didn’t luck out with the weather. It was a pretty cloudy down and since you’re up at the top there was a lot of fog. When we went to the Pena Palace we could still see most of it before the fog seemed to get thicker later that morning, but when we went to the Moorish Castle after lunch the fog was thicker and we didn’t get to see the long stretch of castle walls around it. Therefore, I would recommend checking the weather specifically for Sintra.  In Lisbon that day (only 40 minutes away from Sintra) it was supposed to be 25 C and sunny, but it was cloudy and chilly – so we didn’t dress appropriately and I noticed several others were in the same boat as us.  When we drove back to Lisbon that evening, it seemed relatively nice and not cloudy at all.

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Pena Palace was cool to check out and our daughter actually really enjoyed checking it out and exploring the various rooms because it was a castle that looked like Disney princess’ castles. We headed there right away and we’re glad we did because we were one of the first people there, but when we left it was starting to get packed with tourist groups. It was very picturesque and was interesting to find out that it originally started out as a twelfth century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena and then later converted into a Convent in 1503 and finally purchased by royalty and had further construction to make into a palace. The inside showed the rooms furnished by the royal furniture and items, and it was interesting to see how they had made some of the convent rooms into royal rooms. The castle was inhibited by royalty until 1910 when Portugal became a Republic.

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The Pena Palace is surrounded by a park with various trails and that is where we got some of our best views of the castle, as when you’re right at the castle it’s too large get the complete picture of it. They had a stable so we made sure to stop there to visit the horses for our daughter – she really enjoyed that! Although she shied away when the horses got a little too close. We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the Valley of the Lakes before heading over to the Moorish Castle.

By the time we got to the Moorish Castle, the fog had really sat in. The lady warned us that we wouldn’t get any views prior to purchasing our ticket, but we really didn’t have time to wait for the fog to lift with 2 young kids. We went in and ventured around. There was actually a fair bit of the exhibit that you didn’t even need a ticket for – you could see some of the archeological sites, a tomb, guardhouse and the outer walls. However, once you got in the actual entrance of the castle you had the ability to climb on the walls and see some of the remains of the walls of the houses within the castle walls. The Moorish Castle was a military fort that was built around the 10th Century by the Muslim populations that occupied the area around the time.  Interestingly it served as a control tower for the coast and the land north, and was an outpost for the city of Lisbon. It was pretty cool to see something so old still standing. Although we didn’t get the view we wanted, I think we got a pretty good idea of it – we just didn’t get to see the full outline of the castle and the surrounding hillside where several other interesting sites are located.

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After getting back to the town we decided to warm up with some pie/cake and coffee/tea from one of the local shops – we were really ill prepared with not even bringing jackets with us! The cute little coffee/tea shop had a couple of tables set up inside with some kids toys so it was great that our daughter could get in some play time with a little tea set and cash register!

It was my mom’s final night in Portugal and she had been wanting to try some crepes, so when we got back to Lisbon we went to a creperie for her first taste of crepes. The owners were actually French, so it was legit, and they even made our daughter a cute little boat-shaped crepe with strawberries and bananas.

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The following day we headed about 3 hours south to the Algarve, where we stayed in a small little resort apartment in Lagos. After being on the move constantly and climbing all the hills, we’re excited for some relaxation and slower paced schedule. Around 2 weeks into our trip, I think our daughter started to get a little homesick – she has made some comments about missing her toys at home and is talking often about going back home.  I can imagine it’s hard on a little girl being away from her familiar items – she’s doing great, but we’re hoping that some slower paced days with lots of playing will help her a bit as well!

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 27, 2017

Lisbon, Portugal

We spent the last few days exploring Lisbon and its various neighbourhoods. In many ways, Lisbon reminded us of a San Francisco – there were lots of hills and steps, a large bay, a bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate and trolleys.

We set out our first full day and visited St. George’s Castle atop the hill of the Alfama neighbourhood in Lisbon. We got there around mid-morning and didn’t have to wait in line too long (however, when we exited it was a completely different story – the line folded around the corner and down the way quite a bit). The castle offered some cool views of the city and the bay and river Targus below. I had read that were wasn’t much to do once you were in the castle other than the view, but I found it quite interesting. You could actually see the ruins of some of the houses that resided within the castle walls and then you could walk around the tops of the outer castle walls. The castle was built in the 6th century and has been occupied by Romans, Visigoths and finally, Moorish royalty. As we visited castles we did lots of pretending of our daughter being a princess.  She also liked the little stone tables and chairs that she could pretend to serve us dinner on. There was also a group of peacocks that lived in the castle – one was quite noisy roaming in the area of the castle, but 4 of them we found lounging in one of the tall trees that grew amongst the ruins.

We headed down to Mouraira, which is the Moorish quarter. It survived the 1755 earthquake and still has a lot of the older charm to it and had a lot of cultural presence to it.  On the outer parts there were lots of Chinese, Asian and Indian restaurants and stores. Eventually we ended in Moniz Plaza where had some lunch with a great view of the plaza and all the people lined up to take Tram 28.

Tram 28 is a local trolley but would say that 95% on it are tourists – if I were a local I think I would do everything possible to avoid riding it – would be pretty annoying to ride with tourists all the time. It’s hard to say how long people waited to get on a tram, but I would easily guess they were there for about 45-50 minutes before they got on a trolley, which solidified that we didn’t want to stand in line and wait for a trolley that long. There were a variety of trolleys that you could take. There were a couple of tourist-only trams, that offered you commentary of the hills/sights or the history of Lisbon and that you could hop-on/hop-off throughout the day.  The tickets were a little more than what we were looking to spend – about 20-ish Euro, so on our 2nd day when we did ride on the trolleys we got the 6 Euro all-day city transportation pass that would also give us access to the buses and subways. Then instead of going to Moniz Plaza to catch Tram 28, we caught Tram 28 in Graca and completed the rest of the route. However, when you reach Moniz Plaza you have to exit the tram as that is the end of the route, but since we missed going through the more scenic parts like the neighbourhoods of Alfama we caught Tram 12 instead, which does a shorter loop through the area and once we went by certain attractions large groups of people exited the tram so by the end of the ride we all had our own seat and there were some empty ones as well. This way we still got our fill of trolley rides without having to stand in crazy lines. It definitely makes a difference if you get there early or later to ride the trams. Our daughter enjoyed riding it as well (especially once we weren’t packed in like sardines!) because she knows the trolley from Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.  Then having the all-day pass was handy because we were able to catch a more modern Tram 15 to Belem, this one was also mostly packed with tourists, later that second day as well, as it’s definitely not within walking distance of most of the other tourist attractions.

The other major neighbourhood we visited was Alfama. This is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Europe and was also maintained after the 1755 earthquake due to the rock foundation. To get down into the area you have to climb a lot of steps so we ended up just locking up our stroller at the top.  (We also decided not to bring the stroller with us the day we went on the trolley ride, as there wouldn’t be anywhere to put it.)  There were quaint little streets and lots of little shops and cafes. We accidentally missed seeing the Cathedral Se, but to be honest all the cathedrals are starting to blend together so we didn’t head back.

We also headed to Belem, which you could easily spend a full day exploring around there. There is a monastery, lots of museums, etc, but we spent most of our time walking along the bay and checking out the Discovery Monument to honour the men who set out to discover the new world like Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus even stopped at this point on his way back from the Americas. There is also the Belem Tower – which is a castle built in the ocean.  It was originally built as a monument or for some defence of the city. The line up was quite long to get in while we were there and the stairway is pretty narrow from what we read so we just viewed it from the outside, while our daughter played along the steps in the water. She was hot from playing at the playground earlier that day, so she also thought the large sprinklers in the field would be a good idea. The funniest part was that she saw some guys playing with their shirts off, so she started to take off hers as well.  Tried to explain that only boys could do that, but she wasn’t too accepting of that.

My mom, baby and I also headed to the Belem Palace, which is the residence of the Portuguese president. Along the way we stopped for Pastel de Nata, which tasted like a custard with a flaky pie shell.  This is a specialty of Portugal, and the Pasteis de Belem is the birthplace of these pastries, which now you can find everywhere. The line up was quite long when we walked by earlier, but we must have caught a good time, as it wasn’t too bad of a wait. We then went to the palace and found out that you can only get tours of the palace on weekends and you have to reserve your space ahead of time.  The reservations for the upcoming weekend were already full, although it we were out of Lisbon by that time. However, for some reason the cost to get in the museum was free at that time, so we decided to explore that.  Still not sure how we got in free, but I’ll take free whenever offered!  The museum mostly consisted of portraits of past presidents and a little information about how Portugal moved from a monarchy to a republic and some of the national gifts from other countries.

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However, on a baby related note – on our day out near Belem we ran out of diapers. We had a whole package back at home so I really didn’t want to buy a whole new package, so we asked some other tourists with a baby that looked around the same size as ours and they willingly gave us a diaper!  We offered to pay them for it, but they didn’t accept anything. So our baby boy sported a Minnie Mouse diaper on our way back from Belem – thank goodness for other fellow parent travelers! 🙂

There were several other sites in Lisbon that we ran out of time to see, but we decided to explore more and just visit what we could without over scheduling ourselves and wearing everyone out.

Alex and I actually got to enjoy some nightlife in Lisbon we went to a little plaza in Intendente in Anjos just down from our Airbnb….and by down, I mean literally ‘down’ there was a super steep incline and sets of stairs to get there! We enjoyed dinner at a fusion restaurant called Infante – it was really good! Then we went to this bar that was on the top floor of an office building in Moniz Plaza.  It was open air and had a great view of the Graca and St. George Castle!  Not only is wine cheap, but beer is pretty cheap (compared to Canadian beer) as well.  Many of the places we went it was about 1.50 Euro for a glass of beer (the cheapest we saw was 1 Euro)!

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 23, 2017

Nazare, Portugal

We drove to Nazare in the afternoon after finishing in Coimbra, which is a little beach/fishing town on the coast. It’s a cute little beach town with some historical feel to it. Some of the older women dressed in their traditional 7-layer skirts which old wise tales say it represents the 7 days of the week or the rainbow, etc. However, the traditional fishing wives would wear these various petticoats as layers for when their fisherman came home to adjust with the various weather of the sea. Many times you will see these women selling nuts (although they may just dress this way for the tourists) but you’ll also see some older women just walking around town as well. 

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Older lady in traditional dress selling nuts in front of Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare

We stayed in the area on the upper level of the city, so to get down to the main fishing village we had to take the funicular to get there (or take the stairs down the hill).  However, a 1-way fare is only 1.20 Euro so it was worth taking the funicular. The first night we decided to go for some fish dinner – we had a cuttlefish and shrimp dish in rice, which was delicious! However, because of the kids we definitely are looking for dinner a lot earlier than most people, but in Spain and Portugal they traditionally have a late dinner to begin with, so many times we’ll be searching for a place to eat, but many of the restaurants don’t open until 7 p.m.

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Dinner of Sea Bass

The full day we had in Nazare we mostly spent it exploring near the coastline. Alex and I woke up early for a hike along the cliffs.  It was nice to see all the fishing boats out in the area fishing for that day’s catch. There were some beautiful views back to Nazare beach and the beach on the other side of the cliffs. There was even one area that had steps down and then a ladder to get down to the cliffs more – however, we stopped at the ladder. We also stopped at a little cafe with all the locals to get some coffee and rolls. You always have to make sure that you say “Coffee with Milk” instead of just “coffee” – otherwise you get a shot of espresso.

We went to explore the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare, which has the Virgin of Nazare statue housed in it whicis what the town is named after, and then we went to explore the light house.  It was a long trek for a 3-year old but she did well.  The lighthouse was interesting because it had several exhibits that showed how the under water canyon causes such large waves to form, which gives Nazare its claim to fame as the largest waves in the world. Each November they have a surfing competition so they showed footage of the surfers in the large waves – it was quite amazing. The Guinness Book of World Records happened in Nazare for the largest wave ever surfed at 78 feet high. I can’t even imagine!

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After exploring in the morning, as it was quite windy and therefore chilly. we then headed to the beach.  It was a windy beach though! Our AirBnb provided a little wind break which was nice to use with our sun tent. We spent most of our time in the sand playing since the water was still cold -but we did dip our feet in.  Our daughter had a blast of course and was quite tired after the afternoon of fun in the sun!

Because we had to take the funicular to get down to the beach area we came back up to get washed and dressed before dinner. Therefore, we ate at one of the seafood restaurants on the upper side of the town. We tried some of the appetizers this meal, so we had some shrimp, olives, bread and they gave us some complimentary little squid. Our meal was also good and they had a very cool way of serving a kebab.

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We have continued to have lots of older ladies stop us and visit with the baby, but at this restaurant we had one server come over and ask if she could hold him and then if she could take him to see the others back in the kitchen. Then while we were eating one of the other ladies came over and offered to take him while we were eating – they didn’t have highchairs so it was a nice offer. 🙂 They asked for his soother and then the next time I looked over they had gotten him to fall asleep!!  They laid him in a stroller they had sitting there and put a blanket over him – talk about restaurant with service!  I think he was so tuckered out from the beach that day (even though he napped in the tent), that he slept soundly even when I transferred him out of the stroller and walked home.

Our final morning in Nazare we packed up and headed to Lisbon, which was about 90 minutes away. It appears as though Lisbon will be just as hilly as some of the other towns we visited – our door is located in the middle of a stairway!

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We spent the afternoon settling into our new place and grabbing some groceries.  A trip to the grocery store was in order and it really is true that wine is almost as cheap as water/juice here!  You really are hard pressed to find any bottles of wine for more than 3 Euro. Here was a glance of the wine selection at one of the grocery stores – I think if you want a really nice bottle of wine you have to head to a wine store, but even the 1.50 Euro bottles of wine are good tasting! The cheapest I saw was .89 Euro!!! So it is true that wine is one of the best items you can get in Spain/Portugal for the least amount of money!

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 23, 2017

Coimbra, Portugal

We didn’t have wifi for the last couple of days, so taking advantage of this Airbnb’s wifi to catch up on our last couple of stops…

We spent a day and a half exploring Coimbra, which has an old university and Old Town there.  Like in Porto, there were tons of hills and I think even some of them were steeper than Porto as well. Our legs should be nice and toned from ascending hills by the end of our Portugal trip!

This was the first really hot day of our trip, with the high temperature hitting 30 C. We explored some of the smaller streets of the Old Town and found a Euro Store where everything was literally 1 Euro – so we hit up a few things we had been needing.

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We visited some churches in the town and later made our way up to the University. As we were exploring in the park near the river, our daughter tripped and fell and got a little skinned up. This time Alex went to the pharmacist and she had perfect English, so Alex picked up some bandaids and spray. At least the injury it wasn’t anything that a little ice cream couldn’t cure. 🙂

We visited the University after lunch and explored the Real Palace there – a King actually did reside in the palace and then later it was determined by royalty the university would be housed there. There was a wedding going on at the time so we weren’t able to visit the church there, but we did visit the library, which was pretty unique. It was a classic old looking library with books and books on rows and rows of shelves and some tables on it. Interestingly enough the library houses some really old books so part of the help they get in preserving them (i.e. insects eating them) is through the other occupants of the library – a colony of bats that come during the night to eat the insects that reside in there. The oak wood products also protect it. To protect the tables they have to put leather covers over things on the ground when it is closed up at night. On the very bottom level of the library they have little jail cells that were used during medieval times, but then even as recently as the 1850’s for students who needed disciplinary action for doing wrong things at university.

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The university had some great views of the valley below and how there was a great courtyard that housed some main components of the university.

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We just stayed 2 nights in Coimbra, which was the right amount of time. So after we packed up our last morning we went to the Portugal dos Pequenitos, a park for kids for hopefully some fun for our daughter. The adults cost 10 Euro and kids 3+ were 5.95 Euro. The first half of the park was a display of different monuments/places from various countries and islands around the world. They were almost like mini museums as they had displays of things from each of those places in them. The displays weren’t too much of a hit with our 3-year old daughter unless they were of dolls or something of interest to her.

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The second part of the park was a little village of little houses that kids could go in and explore and she enjoyed that part of the park much more. There was also a playground on that side of the park, which she enjoyed playing on too. The little houses were pretty cute as they represented different houses of regions of Portugal, as well as the churches all had pews and kneeling benches in them. Plus they had a little Coimbra with the university in it and one of the rooms was done exactly as how it was done in the Real Palace as we had seen the day before. They also had some kid friendly activities, such as a train to ride on (2 Euros per rider) and a craft area where they were making paintings and did some balloon art for the kids. Other than the little houses those were the parts she liked best. There were a fair number of adults visiting (with no children) as well, so it was a little like a museum. For young kids, I would say quickly make your way through the first part and then spend a majority of your time in the second half.

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 19, 2017

Aveiro, Portugal

On our drive from Porto to Coimbra, we decided to stop and spend part of the day in Aveiro. It is a town with 3 canals located in it, which makes it the Venice or Amsterdam of Portugal.  The canals are quite limited, so I would say it’s a bit of a stretch to call it the Venice of Portugal, but it was an unique stop.

We went for a little walk of the town and look at the various unique houses with their different tile patterns on them, and even explored the Fish Market where all the local fishermen bring in their catch each day to sell.  Unfortunately, we just saw them cleaning up at the end of the day as we got there after lunchtime.

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Fish Market at the end of Canal

We also came across a couple of playgrounds – so we had to hit up those with our daughter. At one playground she made a Portuguese friend and they ran around the playground holding hands.  At the other there was a group of kids from a preschool it appeared, and there were several who bombarded her and started to feel her face at times. She held her own, but I think part of the curiosity was that they couldn’t communicate with her, as well as she had on a Paw Patrol shirt, which we have discovered is quite popular in Europe as well!  But she held her place well.

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For 8 Euros for adults we also went on a boat ride of the canals – lasting 45 minutes. We rode the historic looking boats called barco moliceiros throughout the canal.  Our tour guide spoke about 4 different languages to each of the different guests on board – again making us feel guilty for only knowing one language.  However, our guide was super friendly and befriended our daughter by talking about Frozen and she even got to help drive the boat for a bit. At the end of our trip she asked our daughter to give her a kiss on her cheek and she actually did – so I think she enjoyed the guide and the boat ride!

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In the late afternoon we headed to Coimbra, but it was a nice low key day to allow our daughter to play a little more and she enjoyed playing tag and hide & seek in the park.

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 19, 2017

Douro Valley

Just outside of Porto is the Douro Valley, which is where the vineyards are located that make the port and other wines of the region.  There are several options of how to get to Douro Valley such as all-day boat rides (that include lunch etc. – most of these were around 70-80 Euro) and there are a variety of day-trip tours in vans as well.  However, since we had our own car and sometimes kids can be a bit unpredictable we opted to driver there ourselves. 

The drive was about 1.5 hours to Pinhao where there are several wineries and boat tours located. The drive there was very scenic with beautiful mountains, river in the valley, quaint country houses and the hills covered with vineyards as far as the eyes could see.

We arrived in Pinhao and went to the Croft Winery, where a large tour group was just finishing up a tour.  We ended up getting our own private tour of the vineyards, which was nice because our daughter likes to talk to us – so at least we didn’t feel like we were disturbing anyone. The tour was 12 Euro and included 3 different samples of port at the end of it. We were also able to ask lots of questions and learn more about the different varieties. Some interesting parts were that the vines can live to be as old as 150 years old, and some of the best producing grapes come from the older plants and can make their Vintage lines of port. It was also interesting to hear that 4-5 bundles of grapes make up enough juice for 1 bottle of wine – so there’s a lot of bottles of wine out in those vineyard fields. At the end of each row they plant a lavender plant to keep away insects and protect the vines.  There are several Olive trees in each vineyard as well that they harvest the olives in December. They also had an example of the pits they use to have the people stomp the grapes during harvest season (September). The port will stay at the winery for about a year before being transported to Porto by tankers. The scenery out in the vineyards was absolutely spectacular though.

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After the winery tour we headed to the riverside to catch the boat tour (after some playground time, of course!). Our boat tour was about 20 Euro per adult and it lasted 2 hours. They had an audio guide that you could listen to on the way up the river and then on the way back they served a glass of Port.  It was really nice scenery and a nice boat ride – and it was nice they even provided blankets as it got a little chilly inside the boat (we had to sit inside to keep baby out of sun).  However, for a 3 year old it was a little long of a boat ride and she lost interest quickly….so we did lots of imaginary play and games to help pass the time.

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With some playground time in the midst of port country!

Overall it was a really nice day out in the region with lots of beautiful scenery and I’d recommend checking it out if in the Porto area.

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