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.

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 19, 2017

Porto, Portugal

We spent our first couple of days exploring the Old Town of Porto – so there was lots of walking and going up and down hills.  Luckily, our host had provided us somewhat of a good walking tour outline to avoid having to go up and down hills multiple times with the stroller and carrying a baby.  However, when we did come across good hills it provided a good workout. 😉  

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There were two ways to get to the upper levels of the Old Town without having to climb the hills, either cross over the very top of the Luis bridge (along with the city tram) or take the Funicular from the base level.  We did both.  The views from the top level of the bridge were quite spectacular but not for those scared of heights – you were a long ways up! There was also great view of the city to be seen when taking the gondola from the upper to the lower levels of Gaia.  The gondola and funicular were reasonably priced as well – only 6 Euro for a one way (or 9 Euro for round trip) on the gondola and then 3.50 Euro for 1-way on the Funicular.

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We visited the Sao Francisco Church, which had insides all covered in gold and the famous Portuguese blue and white tiles on the outside. There were also a couple of different churches we visited including the Cathedral Se and the small chapel within the Clerigo Tower. It was interesting to see how each church was decorated differently, but one thing we did notice that I haven’t seen any other cathedrals/churches before is that they all had one side altar that depicted Jesus after he died and was laid in the tomb with all his cuts/holes/blood and bruises. We also climbed to the top of the Clerigo tower. It provided some good views of the city from a different perspective of those around the river.  However, at the top of the tower the walkways were narrow and it got quite crowded with all the other visitors up top. One the 1st level the openings on the bottom were pretty wide (at least for a small child as well) – therefore, we had to make sure that we had hands on our daughter at all times.  She is pretty small for her age so if she had really changed she could have likely fit through the slots – so it was a bit a stressful visit for mom! On the top level the slots did have a covering on them. I did realize that I had to keep an eye out for things like that in various places, as slots did seem to be a bit wide – such as here at the tower, the fence at the top of the bridge and along the river the river embankment walls didn’t have fence along the edge of the pier.

We walked the pedestrian shopping street and saw sites like the Mercado do Bolhao (a large open air market that looks similar to a train station architecture) and the Capela das Almas that had beautiful blue tiles on the outside of it.  At the market they had a variety of vendors like fruit, vegetables, fish, bakeries and then some souvenir ones as well. When we were walking by Capela das Almas we actually saw a professional model photo shoot happening with it as its background. Another great place we saw the most tile art was at the Sao Bento Train Station – the whole entry way was covered in tiles and our daughter loved seeing the trains.

Our 1st afternoon out exploring we stopped for ice cream at this one gelato shop that was very artistic in how they created your ice cream cone – she actually scooped it up and put it on the cone so it looked like a flower. Although it was 1.50 Euro more expensive than most gelato places it was pretty cool to eat an ice cream cone flower.

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One of the more unique places we visited in our city tour was the Livraria Lello, which was an old bookstore the JK Rowling used as an idea for the library at Hogwarts in her Harry Potter books. There was an admission fee of 4 Euro, which I found interesting, but when I went to purchase a book at the end of our visit I realized that you got the 4 Euro credit to go towards your book purchase. It was a very unique architecture with a staircase that had multiple divisions as it went up to the top. Our daughter loved to sit in the chair and read a couple of books – I think it was a nice little downtime for her in our busy day of exploring.  One of the other places suggested to visit was the Majestic Cafe, where several notables such as JK Rowling hung out.  However, I was under the impression it was a coffee shop, but when we walked by we got the sense that it was a little more upscale than that, so with the kiddos we opted not to go in. 

We also got some additional help in Porto – the first night we arrived in Porto my mom flew in.  She is going to stay with us until the end of our in Lisbon. So having her there also allows Alex and I some opportunities to go out and explore the town at night after the kids go to bed. Our first night out we went to the university district and got some drinks. The beer was very affordable – only 3 Euro for a liter. Then we decided to go down to the river and get a drink at a cafe there. We discovered you paid for the view there – for the same size of beer there it was 6 Euro.  The Sangria I got (quite large!) was 3.50 Euro.  However, wine is super cheap both in Portugal and Spain. If you go to the grocery store there is a good selection of wine for around 2-3.50 Euro for a BOTTLE! Almost cheaper than water and food! And it’s all good quality wine! You’re hard pressed to a more expensive bottle of wine in the grocery stores.

Speaking of wine, while in Porto, my mom and I went to one of the Port tours just down by the river in Gaia.  We got a little bit of a late start so the original place we stopped to see if we could get a tour at was sold out for the day. So we went up Taylor’s, which had a self guided tour you could do with the audio guide. There was a lot information provided on the audio guide tour – so it was very informative.  Although I personally think I like a human guide a bit better – I think I personally just absorb information better that way. 

We learned that Port wine is grown in higher regions of the Douro Valley as it needs hotter temperatures to get the wines sweeter. Also the grapes are all still picked by hand and some of the Taylor ports still are stomped by people to get the juices out. However, what makes a port a port is the fermentation process which they add in ‘white spirit’ which is a tasteless white wine alcohol from my understanding. However, it got its name from where it was shipped from Oporto. The wine and port is produced up in the Douro Valley and then in the old days they would bring the wine in the casks down the river in special boats called barco rabelo and then they would be kept in the caves/cellars in Porto until they were shipped out.  So it was called Vinho de Oporto, which translated into English is Port Wine. We listened to most of the exhibits and it took us over an hour to get through the audioguide, then at the end we got a sample of their red and white ports in their taste room, which also had a nice garden attached to it. We even saw a mother peacock with her chicks there!  I have had a red port in Australia before, but never a white port. The red port was definitely my favourite still. 

After the tour we met up with Alex and the kids for dinner. We ate dinner at Sancho Panza, which I don’t give negative reviews very often, but I would definitely not recommend it. The food wasn’t very good….we have had a lot better to say the least.

I think some of our daughter’s favorite moments are parks and chasing pigeons still….

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So far Portugal has been really nice. Neither of us had any exposure to Portuguese before, so we tried to learn a few new phrases.  There are several similarities to Spanish, but often a syllable is dropped, such as ‘hello’ instead of Hola like in Spanish it is pronounced similar without the H sound, so Ola. The numbers are somewhat similar as well.  However, Thank You in Portuguese is Obrigado, which our host shared with us that depending on whether you are a male or female you pronounce it differently.  For a male it is Obrigado (with the long o sound at the end) whereas for a female it is Obrigada (with a short a sound at the end). So….Obrigada for reading my blog! 🙂

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 16, 2017

Salamanca to Porto

I woke up a little earlier our last morning in Salamanca and went to a little park to do a short workout.  It was very tranquil to be out and about in Salamanca in the morning when there was hardly anyone on the streets and you could just hear the pigeons chooing. I also heard a unique bird sound and looked up to find some very large nests on the tops of the buildings with some large birds on top, which was a fun finding that I never noticed the previous day when we were walking out and about with the other tourists.

Most of the morning consisted of cleaning up and packing up, but before we left Salamanca we stopped at the Convent de San Esteban.  They had the convent area and then also the church connected to it. It provided some interesting views and insight into convent life.  My favourite and more unique parts of the visit included a view of the sanctuary from the choir loft at the back and the confessional chambers.  Our daughter was in one of them and then the audiovisual came up with a nun talking – she quickly backed away and out of it until we verified that it was just a video. 🙂

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A majority of the day was spent driving from Salamanca to Porto.  If we had taken the non toll road route, it would have taken us over 5 hours of driving. With 2 little ones we decided it was worth the money to just pay the tolls and only have 3.5 hours of driving instead. The toll road system in Portugal was unlike any we had seen before. As a foreigner you just had to insert your credit card as you entered the toll roads and then it connected your license plate number to your credit card and as you drive along and hit the various electronic toll readers the toll amount is deducted from your credit card.

Shortly after we entered Portugal the scenery changed from the dry arid scenery we had seen in  Northwestern Spain. There were small mountains and lush vegetation with lots of trees and we came across a few vineyards as well – looking forward to having some good port in Portugal.

We arrived at our place – River Place Apartments – in Gaia (just across the river from Old Porto) and it was absolutely amazing location.  We have a view of the river, the bridge and the Old Town from our windows, as well as the various Port Caves right below us.  We headed out to get dinner at a little cafe down along the river and enjoyed some fresh cod for dinner – delicious! Of course, we had to stop for some Italian gelato for dessert as well. A little view from our place here in Porto. 

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 16, 2017

Salamanca

We took our time with our drive from Madrid to Salamanca and didn’t rush out of the hotel in the morning, as well as made a couple stops on our way out of town. It was about an 2.5 hour drive to Salamanca so we didn’t arrive in Salamanca until almost 4 p.m. that afternoon.  So the first day we were there it was mostly just settling into our Airbnb and going for a short walk around the Old Town. The location of our Airbnb – Apartmento en pleno centro historic de Salamanca – was fantastic! It was literally around the corner from the New & Old Salamanca Cathedral. It came in super handy too as we could come back to the place anytime we needed throughout the day – whether it be for the bathroom, lunch, or a break for the kids. It was great too because it included free parking and we basically parked the vehicle on the first day and didn’t use it again until we left because everything was within walking distance. It was also nice to be in a non-hotel setting.  We have quickly realized that when traveling with kids it is super convenient to have an Airbnb/apartment setting vs. a hotel room.

After getting our bags inside, we headed to the little grocery store, literally just around the corner. We got some food for dinners, lunches and breakfasts and then went back to make our dinner, as the kids had been a little crabby from the drive. However, as the Airbnb was in the Old Town, the inside was renovated and very nice, but our favourite parts were the little window above the kitchen sink and the double doors that opened over the sidewalk outside.  We keep the doors open as often as we could as there was an accordion player just around the corner playing and it felt like we were eating at a quaint little French restaurant even though it was just our kitchen table. 🙂  We figured since we enjoyed so much of his music while we stayed there that we should at least tip him a few times during our stay.  Our daughter liked the view of the sidewalk too and pop out to say ‘Hola’ to the people walking by below several times.

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When we arrived it looked like there was a graduation ceremony happening at Salamanca University, which is the oldest University in Europe. And later when we walked to Plaza Mayor, there were a variety of other celebrations happening – like a couple of weddings in the cathedrals and some stag and stagette parties around town. It seemed to be a very happening place, especially on a Saturday night.

Our first night in Salamanca we stopped at the Pharmacy because our little boy had been suffering from constipation and I hadn’t been able to find any 100% prune or pear juice at the grocery stores. At first the pharmacy assistant thought I meant congested….so we had to do a little charades to clarify. After some broken English and going back and forth we figured it out and were off. However, it was nice that we were able to get him some medicine without having to go to a doctor and it wasn’t that expensive, only about 12 Euro.

The next morning we woke up and had some breakfast, but since we weren’t in a huge rush we gave our daughter some extra playtime and I finished working on the laundry, while Alex and the baby went for a little walk to get coffee and pastry.  When my daughter and I ventured out to meet up with the boys, we came upon a road race. We stopped to cheer on the runners and admire what cool scenery they got to run through. As a runner, I would have loved to participate in a race that ran through the Old Town like that!

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We visited a little bakery and got some cappuccinos and a waffle for our daughter and then set out to explore the town. On a Sunday morning, it was fun to see some of the people going to church in their Sunday clothes or just having a relaxing breakfast.

We walked around Salamanca University and my daughter and I went up to the towers of the Scala Coeli. They provided a good view of the city, but when we did the Cathedral towers later in the day I think they provided the exact same view, so probably not worth the admission price for both places. There was a beautiful little courtyard/building that had now been made into a public library – I love how they repurpose buildings in Europe.

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We went back to the Airbnb for lunch and then in the afternoon went to the towers of the Cathedral – which also provided us the opportunity to walk on the higher sections of the cathedral walls, which we had never done before, nor had I ever gotten an aerial view of the Cathedral before.  While we were up in the towers, we ran into a friend from Austria that we had met at the Hofbrauhaus during Oktoberfest over 4 years ago.  She came over to us and said “ I think I know you from Munich” and it helped jolt our memory as well! It was so crazy that we would run into her 4 years later in a different place in Europe.  It is a small world in so many different ways! 

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After the towers we went to the New and Old Cathedral for a visit. I’ve been to various cathedrals around the world but I think this has stood out as the most unique.  After paying admission (4.75 Euro) we received a complimentary audioguide and set out to explore the Cathedral.  Alex gave our daughter the audioguide and she actually was quite interested in listening to the ear piece and going around to the various parts and finding the right numbers to push to listen to the next section. It kept her very entertained which made for an enjoyable visit. The interesting part about the Cathedral is that it was original an older cathedral constructed in the 16th Century and then in the 17th Century, the new Cathedral started construction, but they kept the Old Cathedral in existence and built onto it – therefore, there are 2 different styles, but they both share the same bell tower.  It was interesting how they connected together and you went from one to the other through just a little door on the side of the New Cathedral. All the little side chapels in the main cathedral as well were very ornate with art as well.

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We continued on that afternoon getting some ice cream for a mid-afternoon snack and then getting a ride on the tourist train/bus that gave you a driving tour of the town’s attractions. However, we couldn’t outsmart our daughter she quickly commented, “Mommy, this isn’t a real train. It has wheels and is not on a train track.” The tour on the train bus was all in Spanish, but I would say that a majority of the non-locals we saw there were probably just Spaniards from other areas of Spain visiting. They did provide a little handout in English though so we could get an idea of the places we were passing by, but I was holding our baby who likes to grab paper, so didn’t get to follow along that well. 🙂

We walked to the river after the train bus ride to check out the ancient bridge and to head to a fun looking playground to play.  While Alex and our daughter played, I took the baby on a short jog up and down the river and then met back up with them before heading back to our place for some dinner.

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 15, 2017

Toledo Day Trip

Our last full day in the Madrid area, we took the 50 minute drive out to Toledo to explore the Old Town there.  The Old Town in Toledo is located on the top of the hill, so after getting some free parking at the base of the hill, we took a series of 5 escalators to the top.  Our daughter loved going on each set of escalators and then seeing more! 

When we arrived at the top, it was like you almost stepped back in time with the stone streets and buildings. It reminded us of the several Old Towns we had visited in Croatia and we really appreciate how so many places in Europe have upheld the architecture and integrity of the Old Towns.

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To get our bearings we needed to get a map downloaded of the town so we stopped at McDonalds to get access to some wifi. Even though we sometimes talk about how McDonalds is not very authentic, it has been a great resource for us on our travels.  Other than occasionally just needing a taste of home, you know that it can provide you free Internet, bathrooms and in places especially outside of North America almost a cool atmosphere to have a seat.

We started to explore the Old Town and our first stop was the Santa Iglesia Cathedral of Toledo. (The Alcazar was another main attraction but ended up not checking it out because it looked more like a military museum and museums just aren’t a great thing for us with 2 little ones.) You do have to pay an admission of around 10 Euro (which I found to be a little more on the higher end of cathedral admissions); however, they do provide you a complimentary audio tour guide and it helps with the upkeep. However, my daughter came along with me, so I figured I wouldn’t really have the opportunity to stop and listen to many things so I didn’t grab one. The only unfortunate part was that they didn’t have any brochures left in English and almost all of the signage is in Spanish, so I didn’t really learn too much but just seeing the immaculate inside and art was interesting in itself.  It always amazes me how they were able to do such intricate artistic work so long ago when they didn’t have the same type of resources we have now. We explored the cathedral and she was really a great companion and was super quiet when we were inside; I think she liked it because it was a mommy/daughter date as well. There was a lot to see inside and the altar was one of my favourite parts as it had series of statues depicting the various events of Jesus’ life – almost like it was a storybook.

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After our visit to the cathedral we ate our lunch in the square – where our daughter had her favourite pass time of running up and down stairs pretending she was Elsa from Frozen.

When we went to Cuba, people were very enthralled with the baby, but so far the kids hadn’t gotten the same type of attention that they did in Cuba. The exception to that is the older ladies – we have had several of them stop to say ‘hello’ and give their smiles to the baby. Our Spanish is horrible and I only know a few key words and phrases (something I wish I really did know better!) but it was funny when one of the older ladies asked us how old our son was and when we told her 7 months, she replied, “Mucho grande!”

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One of our favourite parts of the Old Town was exploring the little side streets.  Sometimes you think the street is so small that there is no way a car can get down it, and then all of a sudden you’ll see one coming around the corner. It was super amusing when we saw a little truck coming down one little road and there was a tourist group trying to go up it!  They tucked into little corners and then some had to come to the bottom of the street as there was no way they could even tuck up close to the sides of the building to let the vehicle go by.

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We continued to explore the Old Town and visited the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue.  It was interesting to see, but after the exquisite cathedral it seemed fairy simple. However, it was interesting to see how there was a Jewish quarter of the Old Town.

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In the mid afternoon while we were exploring, our daughter fell asleep while riding in her stroller, and then the baby fell asleep as well in our carrier.  This rarely happens that both are sleeping at the same time, even at home – so we took the opportunity to stop and get a drink of beer at one of the little street cafes. It was a nice to be sitting under the cover when there a small sprinkle that came through.

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For dinner we stopped at this little pizzeria that was underground called COM ES.  They were very family friendly as they had a little highchair and a booster seat for both kids!  The pizza was super delicious too – thin crust with some Spanish toppings like ham! I had never seen our daughter eat her pizza so fast and finish all of it! Two thumbs up for pizza!  We also stopped for some locally acclaimed mazapan as a dessert on the way home. 

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Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 14, 2017

Madrid

Our first morning in Madrid, we had to run to the store to get a few items that we needed for the duration of the trip, so we headed to Costco!! Part of going was for the novelty of going to a Costco in Europe and it was pretty convenient that it was located across the highway from our hotel. We headed in and it someways we felt like we were transported back to Canada – it felt/looked very similar to the Costco back home!  It was kind of interesting to see the same Kirkland brand items that we have back in Canada/US here in Spain as well.  I think I was partly expecting to see things packaged in smaller quantities because housing is smaller in Europe, but it was all the same sizes.  We picked up the exact same Kirkland brand diapers that we have back at home, but they were quite a bit more expensive – 44 Euro (almost 66 CND) for 180 diapers, whereas it is somewhere around $30 CND at home.  Normally things like that are cheapest at Costco, but later that day we went to Carre Four and a box of 180 diapers there was slightly cheaper at 39 Euros. We figured it might be because they actually had to import the Kirkland diapers from North America here. However, it was interesting to check it out and our daughter enjoyed showing the Costco card to the person at the door, but was a little disappointed that the person didn’t make the smiley face on the back of the receipt like they do at home. 🙂

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We headed into the Old Town of Madrid for the day – after some heavy traffic in some parts.  The tunnels through the city were quite intense – they were some of the longest tunnels through a city we had seen in Europe.  One of them went right underneath the futbol stadium. We checked out a few of the plazas, including Plaza Mayor, and stopped at McDonalds for our daughter to get some lunch – she had been a trooper so far. I tell you, McDonalds brand marketing specialists are genius – our daughter can spot a McDonalds across an entire plaza with just the golden arches! I think they definitely designed it with kids in mind. 🙂  Alex and I went to the Mercado de San Miguel for lunch instead and enjoyed a plate of Paella.  The market itself was very cool with all different types of food vendors selling tapas, meals, beer, fruit, drinks, etc. If we didn’t have a stroller and kids we would have definitely spent more time there eating and drinking some cool tapas and drinks.

We wandered over to the Palacio de Cibeles, but were reminded of how things close down for Siesta time in Spain for a couple of hours anytime between 1-4 p.m. So instead we walked over to Parque de el Retiro.  We walked through the park, which had a garden feel to parts of it and then rented a row boat from the lake there. It was 6 Euro for the boat for 45 minutes and it was a lot of fun. Our daughter really enjoyed it as well and even a few days later was still talking about it. It was fun to row up to the statues and fountains and then have some musicians playing on the opposite side of the lake – we stopped to watch the ducks and dance a little in the boat. We even saw a cute little mommy duck with her 12 babies. It felt very European. On the way out of the park we stopped at a playground for some playtime.  There were a couple of mascots that were hanging out in the park trying to get some extra tip money, so our daughter was pretty excited to run into Marshall from Paw Patrol.  She also enjoyed watching some of her familiar cartoons on TV in the morning at the hotel – it has been interesting to watch Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig in Spanish.  I myself was pretty entertained with Peppa Pig in Spanish because she obviously can’t have an English accent here. :0) But I was surprised to see she was just as entertained even though it’s not anything she can understand.

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We headed back to the Palacio de Cibeles and headed to the top for a view of the city below and then headed back to our car which was parked in an underground garage. For about 6 hours of parking in downtown Madrid it cost us about 14 Euros.

Before heading back to our hotel for the night, we stopped at Carre Four and Toys R Us to get some food for lunches and snacks and some other essentials we needed. We didn’t have access to a refrigerator for the first few days so we just were going to get Peanut Butter, but Alex said that there was only 1 type of Peanut Butter in Spain – but so many different selections of Nutella – maybe we’ll have to convert. 😉  It was interesting to check out the variations of favorites back home and I spent quite a bit of time in the baby food aisle trying to figure out what different food was – luckily there were pictures on most of them! 🙂

This was one of the toughest nights for jet lag for our daughter and one that had us still guessing on how to handle naps.  Our daughter fell asleep on the walk back to the parking garage, so we let her sleep until we got to the Carre Four.  However, when we got there and woke her up, she was a complete crab.  While we were shopping, she fell asleep in the stroller again so we decided maybe we would try to let her keep sleeping and then maybe just transfer her to bed when we got back. Alex and I enjoyed some dinner and then as we were heading back to the car she woke up – in a fairly good mood.  So much for an early bedtime that night – of course, it took a couple hours later to get her to fall asleep because she had such a late nap, but I guess it’s just par for the course of international travel with a 3-year-old.

Our second day in Madrid, we parked this time at the lake in Casa de Campo, which was actually free parking and was only a 15-20 minute walk away from attractions like the Real Palace of Madrid. It was a little cloudy and rainy this day, but luckily the rain held off and when there was precipitation it was very minimal. Casa de Campo was huge – one thing I read said it was 5 times the size of Central Park, and I’d believe it!  It was like a little forrest in the middle of the city. We walked to the Real Palace of Madrid and stopped at the Crypt Cathedral next to it.  It was a bargain of a deal as admission was a freewill donation and there was a small service happening with some Asian tourists. When we arrived at the Real Palace the doors to the ticket office were closed and at closer look we saw the Palace was closed that day for Official events – so unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside. However, we tried to enjoy the view on the steps adjacent to the Palace by having our picnic lunch there and our daughter enjoyed playing on the steps. Later that afternoon we walked through the Palace Gardens, which were beautiful as well.

After our lunch we headed back to the Plaza Mayor area and went to Chocolateria de San Gines for some acclaimed churros and chocolate.  The line up was long, but as they only serve chocolate and churros it went quite fast and we were soon enjoying some freshly fried churros and warm melted chocolate – quite delish!  We ran out of churros, so we even started to dip some bananas that we had in our bags with the remainder of the chocolate.

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We walked back to the car and figured we would do a kid friendly activity like going to the zoo – so we drove to the Madrid Zoo located in Casa de Campo.  However, the price to get in was about 23 Euro per adult and 18 Euro for our 3-year-old daughter, so we made the decision to skip it this time around instead of forking out over $100 CND for us. Instead we found this awesome playground that was shaped like a pirate ship! Our daughter loved it and we spent a fair bit of time there – as we were driving away to head back to the hotel she told us she wanted to go to the zoo still though.  Oops! Note to self don’t tell her where we’re going if there might be a slight change in plans – 3-year-olds are quite ready to be adaptable travellers. 🙂

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We tried to follow the advice of the car’s GPS for a family friendly place to eat.  Unfortunately, the place it took us wasn’t there and about 3 places we asked all didn’t allow kids.  So instead we found a little takeout food place and got some chicken drumsticks, spaghetti and peas – and located a park nearby to eat our ‘gourmet meal’ – ha ha! Our daughter loved it though because she got another playground to play at!

Posted by: AmeriCanadian Gal | May 13, 2017

And We’re Off! First Stop – London

Last week we started what we have dubbed our “pat leave” trip!  Alex had the ability to bid off his vacation to take off an entire month off so part way through my second pregnancy we started thinking about taking a paternity leave trip.  Although there is the option to do an actual ‘paternity leave’ we didn’t want to do it officially through the government services because then I would have to shorten my maternity leave and the compensation wouldn’t be enough to let us survive our expenses for the month.  So we worked it out another way we would still have some income coming in while we get away.

When we started to talk about our ‘pat leave trip’ we threw out several different options of where to go.  We looked at cost, accommodations, interesting things to do/see and some places we had never visited and places where there aren’t a lot of travel viruses or vaccines needed so we wouldn’t have to vaccinate our son earlier than needed.  At the end of it we ended up with Spain and Portugal….although I can’t really tell you how we got to these two and eliminated a few others. 🙂

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The first task was packing!  We tried to keep things as minimal as possible and if it was something you could buy in Europe, we decided to do that rather than bringing it with us.  Amazingly we got all our things into 2 suitcases (it helps that we have access to laundry machines at almost all the places we’re staying and we only brought enough diapers for the first 2.5 days of the trip)! We are also renting a car from when arrive in Madrid to the end of the trip, so we brought both our carseats so we didn’t have to pay to rent them and our stroller. Most of the time we try to bring our small umbrella stroller, but this time we decided to bring our BOB stroller and we’re already glad we did – it can hold so much more when we’re out and about.  Plus if we get desperate, our daughter can sit on the front end. Then for our carry-ons we had a diaper bag, a grocery bag and a little backpack our daughter kept her things in.  We also brought along a cooler bag for food on the plane ride and then we use it daily for packing lunches/snacks when we’re out and about.

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We caught an early evening flight from Calgary to London and the flight went as well as could be expected with a 3 year old and 6 month old. They both stayed awake for a couple of hours after the flight took off – even though about 1 hour into the flight it would have been past their bedtime.  However, when they had to do food/drink service they kept the lights on so it was hard for them to sleep.  We changed them into PJs and we had gotten some dinner in the airport before boarding, so after watching Frozen, playing a couple of games on her iPad and the cabinet lights turning off our daughter was ready to go to bed. The plane didn’t have any extra seats (full flight!) so our family was seated in the 3 seats in the middle of the plane and we had to figure out how all 4 of us would sleep.  The kids definitely got the better end of the sleeping arrangements, as our daughter was little enough to snuggle up in the middle seat and our son slept on us.  The two of us had to somehow sleep sitting up and with a baby in our arms.  However, our son isn’t light (almost 18 pounds) so after a while of holding him our arms or legs (depending on the position) would go numb. At one point we laid him next to his sister in the middle seat at the opposite angle.  At least it was somewhat amusing to watch him move/twitch and hit her and then watch her sleep reaction back. We both let them sleep until the flight landed, which our daughter did wake up a little crabby.

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When we arrived in London it was about 11 a.m. local time.  However, at the gates Gatwick airport had these complimentary strollers that you could use to get your kids to the baggage carousel – these were so wonderful since she had just waken up and was in no mood to walk and we had to wait to pick up our stroller with the rest of our bags. Great work London – Gatwick! We got our bags and headed to our hotel which was just across the street from the hotel, as our flight to Spain didn’t leave until the next afternoon (we allotted for an extra day in case there were any flight cancellations, etc). Normally we don’t like to spend extra money on hotels connected to the airport, but this was so great to have a good location!!  Would definitely recommend if I had to do this again!

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The afternoon/evening we arrived in Gatwick was one of the toughest, as we were all still really tired. We got an early check-in and then headed back to the airport to get some sandwiches and other food to take back to our room to eat.  We ate our lunch in there, but it just made me more tired to sit in the room, so my daughter and I headed to the reception area as there was a coffee shop there (got a large coffee that afternoon!) and we played hide and seek with her stuffies and colored some pictures. We tried to stretch going to bed to the latest time possible, but around 4:30 p.m. we just couldn’t last any longer, so we all went to sleep.  However, around 12 midnight local time we all woke up and decided to just hang out for a couple of hours until we could all fall back asleep again.  Alex and our daughter headed to the airport to get some more food to eat, while the baby and I stayed in the hotel room. Eventually we all went back to sleep around 2-2:30 a.m. and were able to sleep until around 7:30 in the morning.

That morning we enjoyed our bacon buns and coffee for breakfast at the shop downstairs and then headed into London on the train.  I am always reminded that I’m in another country when I ride their trains or subways – it’s eerily quiet on them.  Amazingly the kids were pretty quiet for the ride as well.

We arrived at Victoria Station and headed out to look at the sites of London for the 4.5 hours that we had in the city.  We headed to Buckingham Palace, walked through the Palace Park there over to Big Ben and the London Eye. Our daughter was pretty impressed by the palace guards in their red suits and black tall fluffy hats, Big Ben ringing and the red phone booths.  She stopped and tried to call Grandma, but didn’t get a connection.

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We walked along the river to the bridge just down from the bridge by parliament and Big Ben, where my daughter and I replayed the roles of Elsa and Anna from Frozen several times. One of the things in traveling with a 3-year old I have learned is that you have to let them have some imaginary or play time.  Although it may not be in your room or like they would normally play, its amazing how adaptable kids are and how they will just start playing/pretending anywhere they are!

We grabbed some lunch and then headed over to Westminster Abbey, but it was closed to public viewing that day.  We sat in the courtyard to nurse the baby while Alex and our daughter went to the store to get some Flake – a special treat that Dad tried to introduce to his daughter!

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We started to head back to the train station and spent some more time in the park across from Buckingham Palace. The pigeons there were super tame and hardly flinched as our daughter ran at them.  We also found a great playground where we played for a while – it had a cool slide, climbing wall, and bridges – and an amazing view of Buckingham palace through the trees!  It was fun to discover some new playgrounds in other countries – I know we’ll be visiting several of them on this trip! 🙂  When we were walking back we also came across a military parade, which added a nice British touch to the end of our visit.

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We headed back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and headed over to the airport to catch our late afternoon flight to Madrid, Spain. We passed the time in the airport with playing at the kids play area – I’m really starting to appreciate all these playgrounds at key places, such as airports! After a busy day in London and jet-lag, I would say our daughter did amazingly well. There were a few outbursts but I think you can only expect that from a 3-year old who is tired, maybe a little hungry and taken out of her routine. She played some games on her iPad for a bit, had a sandwich for dinner and then fell asleep for the last portion of the 2.5 hour flight to Madrid.  However, she was so out of it, that she never woke up when I transferred her from the airplane to the stroller to the car to the hotel.  However, in trying to be careful in transferring her off the airplane I accidentally held up all the passengers on the bus transferring us to the airport – oops!

It was good that she slept so well though – as the GPS that we were using to get to the hotel wasn’t that good.  Luckily we figured out the car GPS system and eventually we got there and settled into bed for the night.

 

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