Portugal!

Yes, as the title and this blog’s silence might suggest, we spent the past two weeks traveling around Portugal although there could have been several other, wittier titles to capture our most recent travels such as:

The vacation during which our children never stopped talking: seriously, if I had even just half of a penny for every “Mama” or “warum? (why)?,” I’d be one rich lady now. In fact, the only time the kids were ever quiet was when they were riding horses. Good thing we did that every day during our lovely stay in the Algarve.

The stroller farewell tour: we left Vienna with our umbrella stroller (even though I really didn’t want to schlepp it but that’s another story) but it did not survive the Lisbon challenge of carrying the bigger kid up those steep cobblestone hills….never mind the fact that Luca should not have been in the stroller to begin with. Oh well. One less thing to move.

Meow: Cats were everywhere – seriously everywhere. Like at all of the apartments and places we stayed (including two sets of kittens! Oh how cute they were!) – did I mention John is seriously allergic? Yeah, so that was fun….on that note; why does he insist on booking us holiday rentals with tons of cats and kittens and then complain when the kids want to bring one home and leave Dad behind (“so kids, if you want to have a kitten, Dad can’t live with us”….”ok, can we have a different Papa then?”).

John, I got this: My inner Portuguese-speaking self emerged and I felt mighty comfortable yapping away with anyone who would listen (mostly waiters taking our orders or random people I asked for directions). Best part? Not only feeling super comfortable reading ingredients and ordering from behind the counter at the grocery store but also being mistaken for a Brazilian….more than once!

Lisbon beat us … yet again: And then there was Lisbon; ah …Lisboa. It was not love at first or second or third sight. No, we needed some time to warm up to this capital with its winding,  steep, cobblestone streets, crazy drivers, and the vast amount of social disorder that was present everywhere we went (think abandoned structures, broken glass and dog poop everywhere – this led to a regular mantra of “LOOK down when you’re walking, PLEASE!” and to a long discussion with Luca about broken glass theory – best to start social theory when they’re young, right?!).

Lisbon challenged our sense of direction more than once but once we bought a map (“John, I got this”) and managed to find the stop on the hop on/off tour, we realized how much there was to do and see (and how much wonderful food there was to eat!).

Game on: Aside from introducing the kids to a new favorite game – Old Mud/Maid (oh the laughter we created on the train ride to Tomar!) – John and I returned to our pre-kids gaming days and spent every night playing rounds of Quirkle, Lost Cities, and Qwixx. We also had some wine and port with that. It was *almost* like we were back in our old pre-kids New York City days….well, until the kids woke us up the next day.

Driving challenge accepted: When we travel, we travel. So no surprise that the first leg of our trip took us to a quaint little town about an hour outside of Porto from which we took day trips to Guimarães & Penha, Porto, and Ponte de Lima & Viana do Castelo  before driving 3 hours to Lisbon. Most memorable was the nerve-wrecking trip up and down several mountains in the amazingly pretty Douro River Valley (think no gates to prevent you driving off the mountain on a small road and suddenly a car speeds around the corner). But don’t worry because “John, I got this.” My glass (bottle) of red wine was well deserved that night!

After spending some time exploring Lisbon and the surrounding towns Sintra, Tomar, Óbidos, and Evora, we headed 3 more hours south to the beautiful Algarve. And to head back to Vienna, it “only” took a 3:30 am wake-up (with fully cooperating kids, I might add!), a 3-hour drive back to Lisbon plus a 3-hour flight (that was delayed for almost 2 hours), and a skip and a hop…so yeah, that’s how we travel. At least we didn’t have to schlepp a stroller with us!

Horses, dolphins, frogs, and goats – check! Aside from cats and kittens, this was the vacation for animal lovers and it’s a good thing we had some of those traveling with us. There was no shortage of animals to be loved, cuddled, observed, spotted, fed (Luca took his job as goat feeder very seriously), and ridden.

The highlights – in no particular order – were the Lisbon aquarium, horseback riding through the desert landscape of the Algarve, feeding goats, petting kittens, watching the dolphin show at the Lisbon Zoo (twice), taking a speed boat to observe wild dolphins, and did I mention riding horses? All the animals loved having us too … so much in fact that we had to talk the little frog that jumped into Luca’s suitcase out of going home with us.

But enough with the words – let’s see some pictures!

First stop: Northern Portugal!

Exploring ruins and small towns!
Exploring ruins and small towns!

Did I mention there were cute kittens?

Such cuteness!
Such cuteness!

Then there was a day in Porto where John was busy “studying” the various types of Port wine and we rode another cable car!

Porto - place of good wine and finally a great sibling photo!
Porto – place of good wine and finally a great sibling photo!

First boat ride of the trip exploring the beautiful Douro River Valley.

It was REALLY windy and cold on the way there
It was REALLY windy and cold on the way there

Next stop – Lisbon…

Lisbon

…where our stroller suffered a quick and sudden death (John: “Ahem, I think a button just snapped off.” No my dear, that was not a button!)

Clean break!
Clean break!

We spent the sacred June 1st holiday – Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day) – at the zoo. We left all those masses of tourists behind in the city and met up with all of Lisbon’s families. The kids’ highlights of the day? Seeing the dolphin show (twice) and getting their faces painted! Oh and being with other kids….apparently they noticed the absence of children when we were exploring churches, ruins, and small towns. Who knew they’d notice that?

Fun times at the zoo (where there is yet again, another cable car to ride!)
Fun times at the zoo (where there was yet again, another cable car to ride!)

And then there were day trips to “princess castles” (we had to come up with something creative since there are no other kids to play with!). In Tomar, Juliana found a little pea at the monastery that she proudly kept to test if she was a real princess (of course, she forgot to put it under her mattress that night…I guess we’ll never know).

SintraTomar

 

And then it was time to head south for some relaxation time!

Beach and relaxation time!
Beach and relaxation time at the Algarve!

And the kids rode horses every single day. Did I mention this was the only time they were ever silent and truly happy?

horses
Complete happiness!

And on our last day, we (I) had the brilliant idea of loading everyone up onto a speed boat to race out into the Atlantic ocean to see if we could find some wild dolphins. 2 screaming kids (my, that boat was fast!) and 75 minutes later, we finally found some “common dolphins” who happily splashed around us. Laughter and excitement ensued and best of all – no one got seasick!

dolphins

And that was it – 2 super fun weeks exploring Portugal! Now, let me catch up on that precious quiet “me” time!

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