Erin Virginia

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Monday, May 15, 2017

Portugal, Part 2 - Algarve Coast

From Lisbon, we drove in our rental car about 3 hours down the coast to Lagos. We stopped midday at a small town called Sines, where Vasco Da Gama was born, after Eloise threw up in the car. We cleaned her up and stopped at a little restaurant for lunch. We ordered one of everything on the menu without knowing what the items were, and the sweet woman who ran the restaurant brought out probably our best meal in Portugal: a thick meat stew over rice, seafood lasagna and salad and bread. Eloise felt better after we changed her and gave her some water, so we headed out and finished the drive uneventfully.

The little restaurant in Sines on a quiet, colorful street

We arrived in Lagos and breathed a sigh of relief after checking into our rental condo just a short walk from the beach. We ran to the grocery store, picked up some some staples for breakfast and snacks along with sunscreen and sand toys and headed to the beach. Everyone immediately settled into happiness. Fiona collected shells on the the shelliest beach I've ever seen, and Eloise played with Chris in the water and then with the new sand toys. The beach was stunning. We walked to the downtown area of Lagos for dinner.

The following day, we rotated between the beach from the first day to another with smoother sand and a pathway carved through the soft stone cliff. Chris bribed Fiona to try an oyster for the first time by promising a second ice cream treat, and she bravely sucked one out of its shell. She said, "Yuck" with absolute disgust but managed to choke it down with some bites of bread.

Fiona's shell collection

We checked out of our condo after two days and stopped for a cave tour on our way to Albufeira. We boarded out boat encased in life jackets and took off for an hour long look into beautiful caves. Our sweet little Eloise conked out on Fiona's lap for a half hour, and Fiona held her tightly and protected her from the bumps.

Albufeira felt like a British resort town. English everywhere, commercial-type eateries with fried food and sports channels blaring and kids' trinkets in every tourist shop. Our two days in Albufeira were cool and rainy so no beach time and not much appetite for the chilly swimming pool. Our apartment-style hotel had pluses and minuses, but it had a view to the water, a small children's play area and a decent breakfast. While staying here, we booked the girls and Chris for haircuts. The girls got their first haircuts here, and Chris got a Euro-version of his standard cut. Chris also met an English woman who had never met an American before!

View from our room

First haircuts

Albufeira beach

Walking downtown

After Albufeira, we drove straight back to Lisbon to spend the night in close proximity to the airport since our flight out Saturday through Paris was very early. We found a small playground, grabbed some snacks for the girls on the flight and settled in for the night. 

We nearly missed our connection in Paris due to long lines at customs and had to run to catch our flight. However, once boarded, the flight went very smoothly. The girls contentedly slept and watched shows most of the flight. It took us all almost a week to adjust back to the time change.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Portugal, Part 1 - Lisbon

We woke up very early on Thursday, April 20 and took a shuttle to Ciampino airport to catch a Ryanair flight. While Ryanair isn't on the top of my list for favorite airlines, everything went smoothly. We landed in Lisbon, grabbed a cab and anticipated easily settling into our airbnb rental. Our cab driver dropped us in the old town, far from our hotel, in a maze of narrow staircases and a taxi black hole. Chris and I could have managed on our own, but with one stroller, two little girls, two carseats, three backpacks and three suitcases, we were a mess. We were rescued by a group of passing high school students, members of the Portugese Club from Hudson, MA (about a half mile from Boston Scientific in MA), who carried our luggage to a point where we could catch another taxi. What a nice group of kids.

We finally reached our apartment and settled into our fourth floor view to the water. The first picture was from a morning later into the trip. Chris cooked some shrimp for breakfast, and the girls stole most of our cheese.

Eloise and baccala (salt cod) at a grocery store.

Our second day, we booked a two hour tuk tuk ride to gain our bearings in the city. Our nice driver took us to a few of the major tourist spots and outlooks.

Our tuk tuk and driver

Narrow streets


The girls playing mommy and baby during the tour.

 We ate lunch at cafe where Fiona examined Chris' lunch of sardines.

 Below is a set of various pictures in the old town. The first is an elevator built by Eiffel.

 Can you find Chris?


Our second full day in Lisbon, we caught a bus to nearby Belem, a city with a beautiful church and monastery, as well as other monuments to Lisbon's history and navigators. Lines to enter the monastery were too long for two little girls so we breezed through the church, stopping at Vasco da Gama's burial site. 

Navigator's Monument

The day was surprisingly hot, so we stopped for lemonades and later ice cream for the girls.

We walked along the water from the Navigator's Monument to Belem Tower, a former defense system from the 1500s and later a prison. The girls enjoyed "shooting" the cannons and looking down to the water.

Later that day, we finally visited Lisbon Castle, which was a half a block from our apartment. We arrived near dusk when the air cooled slightly and narrowly avoided walking into a cross-bow competition. I loved peering down over the walls to the vast city before us while the girls ran among another set of cannons.

Our last full day in Lisbon, we took a cab to the airport, picked up a rental car and set out for Sintra, a tourist town a half hour outside Lisbon. In Sintra, we parked near Pena Palace, walked up the hill to explore the palace, then back down and across another stretch to the Moorish Castle. Fiona did an incredible job walking and was very cheerful about being on her feet so much. Eloise rode on Chris' shoulders for a lot of the day. To be honest, much of the day was stressful due to Eloise being such an active kid and a climber. No railings and limited walls separate you from the drop-off so I had to hold Eloise in a death-grip much of the time, which she hated.

Pena Palace

In the distance in the below picture, you can see the Moorish Castle on the hill. 

To the Moorish Castle and up its walls

 View back to Pena Palace

We stopped for water and a candy bar before heading back to the car and to a fantastical park near Sintra's city center. While at the park, Eloise couldn't handle much more of the day, so Chris took her back to the car while Fiona and I explored a bit more.

I liked Lisbon quite a bit, but I don't know that I felt a great connection to the city. We also tired of the heavy food: fish, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, etc. One night, we took the girls to a Hard Rock Cafe so we could all take a break from fish. The girls ecstatically jumped up and down in their seats when they got mac n cheese. Our apartment was high on the hill in Lisbon, and we discovered two elevators that allowed us to take shortcuts to bypass the winding streets. Even so, we walked 6-10 miles most days in Rome and Lisbon. All of us were ready to leave the city by the time we left.