Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lisbon: street cars, seafood, and seve hills

Lisbon: Street Cars, seafood, and seven hills 

Our last stop in our 16 day European adventure (bittersweet it's been a fun ride). Lisbon is known to be one of the cheapest European capital cities,  and if I didn't come from the uber expensive South of France I would be able to confirm this lol. Yes everything seemed much cheaper given where we just came from. 

Lisbon I swear is the European San Francisco with its 7 hills, street cars, amazing seafood, and even a suspension bridge that resembles the infamous Golden Gate Bridge named the 25th of April bridge. We spent several days in and around neighboring Lisbon cities trying to experience as much of Portugal as possible. We stayed at the Sofitel at the avenida da liberdade, which is apparently where the most expensive real estate is in the city, we did not know this upon booking ( but didn't mind the beauty of the area). Our hotel was a short walk to key areas like Commercial Square, Restoration Square and the Santa Justa lift. The hop on and off bus was a great and cheap way to get around the city, but the tour was quite boring as they did not have a live speaker. There are so many nationalities visiting Lisbon that they wouldn't be able to have English only tours, so understandable but quite blah a sound recording. 

My must see/do/eat

Commercial Square - it is right by the waterfront (huge open area) and has some great outdoor restaurants, scenic views, and at times some random busker entertainment. Other notable squares Restoration and Rossio. 

Santa Justa lift - elevator off of Rue Santa Justa that takes you up to Carmo Square. Very cool looking and neat to be in an elevator constructed outdoors in 1901 I believe. Originally built to make it easier for horses and buggies to go to the higher streets on top of the hills. 

Spend a day in Cascais - there is a 30 minute train you can take from Lisbon that is very scenic (train rides close to the water) to a town called Cascais. It has a beautiful beach and to rent chairs and an umbrella it is only 10 euros (we paid 50 in Mykonos once so this felt like a steal). The town is off the coastline and has some great little shops and restaurants you can explore as well. 

Must visit the town of Sintra and the beautiful Palaces ( Sintra National Palace and Pena National Palace)- you can do this via a guided tour for around 60 euros where you will get an English speaking guide walk you through each palace and room, or you can pay 5 euros to just hop on and off with no guide. I loved the Pena National Palace; what is so amazing about it is everything is original with no replicas made. This was the summer home to the royal Portuguese family, and the architecture has influences from all around the globe including India! Also, when my son walked into the palace he looked up at me with his beautiful big eyes and said " Mommy we're home!" - no lies, I believe I may have brought to this world a past King lol. 

Eat Cod fish - Apparently Portugal has more Cod recipes than days in the year, and according to one of the locals your passport must be stamped that you tried the cod or they will not let you leave the country. 

Try a Pastal de Nata- a flaky pastry with vanilla custard, I think I had this every day sooo delish. 

Take a Tram/street car ride around the city- great views on top of the hills and makes the journey up much easier ( we decided to walk and our legs told us we sucked that night lol).

Spend the evening in Bairro Alto (on top of a hill) - bar hop or check out the late night shops open til midnight, great way to experience the night life of Lisbon. There is a beautiful park that allows you to take panoramic pictures of the city below and all the red roofs!


Toddler Tip #1: Milk is a little strange in Portugal, most places sell a weird powdered formula milk which has a longer shelf life. If you want actual cows milk be sure to say you are looking for "Fresh Milk", be warned not all convenient stores have (so stock up when you see a grocery store).


We had a wonderful time in Portugal, although we were warned that it is a little sketch. We never felt unsafe at all (cops in every visible corner) the only roughness we faced was our very speedy taxi driver from the airport. 

This marks the end of our European adventure, I'll spend this week adding pictures to all of my posts. We had a fabulous time and we are so proud of our son for truly being a Travelling Toddler. On numerous occasions we had individuals from around the globe applaud our sons behaviour and our choice to travel with him so far. Travelling may not be for every family, but my only advice is adapt your child to the life and experiences you want to have. My son on this trip learned patience, flexibility, and most importantly how to handle change (one hotel after the next).

Until next time my readers,

9to5travelgirl and my travellingtoddler

P.S we are saving up for our next adventure which may be somewhere near Asia. Dubai? Hong Kong? Macau? Japan? Time will tell!  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nice: the place not the behaviour

Nice the place not the behaviour 

At last we arrived in Nice our hub while we visited the rest of the Cote D'Azur. We decided to stay in an apartment in Nice to allow us to have space for our son and give us the ability to cook some meals at home, I quite easily get sick of eating out. I also think when you rent an apartment you get to see a city in a much deeper way, as you need to navigate like locals to pick up groceries and need to do more digging on where to go versus having hotel staff send you to typical tourist spots! We found a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment in Old Town through a management company called 'Nice Pebbles'. I would highly recommend, we were given thorough directions on how to get to the apartment and our host walked us through everything from how to use the washer to where the best restaurants were. The apartment is accessible to everything by foot!

It is so hard to explain the beauty of Nice, I fell in love when I arrived at the promenade du paillon. It has all the greatness of a historic European city (like Florence) but has the breathtaking coastline of what us North American's are used to seeing on the West coast. That was my lame attempt at trying to explain how lovely Nice is, I definitely am not doing it justice. Also the people are so lovely in the south, and even when we met individuals that did not speak English we found quite entertaining ways to explain ourselves ( French until grade 9 paid off!) and they were so cute trying to interpret us. 

Also, the whole city is bike friendly, which is why I highly recommend doing a bike tour with 'Nice cycle tours' rated #1 on trip advisor. Do this within the first day or so of arriving as the tour provides tips on locals fave restaurants, shopping, where to go for drinks, and provides the history of many of the city's historic buildings. 

MY MUST SEE/DO

Castle Hill- The first town founded by the greeks, now its a place for unique vistas overlooking Nice, visit the park and botanical gardens. 

Cathedral de Sainte Reparte - Located in Rossetti Square, from the 18th century by the founding Saint. 

Visit Old Town Nice ( or also known as Vieux) this is a unique part of town with narrow cobblestone roads (almost like a maze) full of small mom and pop like restaurants/shops. There are so many great restaurants here that I wouldn't even be able to pick just one. Spend time in Rossetti square and just explore, I'm sure you'll find a favourite shop or restaurant to try. 

Cours Saleya - this Flower market is within old town and runs from 7am to 1pm every day. If you are staying in an apartment it is a great place to pick up groceries and see the beautiful fresh flowers. This market is famous and known about across all of France, also on Mondays the market is only antiques. 

Promenade des Anglais - This was gifted to the French by the English, now its full of locals and tourists alike cycling or enjoying the Nice pebblestone beach and shoreline. Also lots of festivals occur on this promenade, while we were in town an Italian food and wine festival was on. 

Hotel Negresco - iconic 5 star hotel on most Nice postcards built in 1912. The recent owner bought it in 1957 and added some colour/art, she's 97 and lives on the top floor. She has no family to leave her fortunes to , but instead is leaving it to a cat and dog charity (she seems to be going crazy).  We were secretly hoping we'd randomly bump into her and she'd fall in love with our son and leave her millions in wealth to us! Sadly that fairytale did not come true lol. 

Promenade du Paillon - which is a promenade that covers the old Paillon River. Here you will find a dancing water show with lights, a massive children's park and plenty of space for art/music festivals alike. 

If you're an art lover there is so much to see I won't even try to list it all.

FOR MY FOODIES
- One of the many locals we met said that Nice is all about eating, eating and more eating. The French really love to enjoy their food every meal seems to take at least 2 hours and is indulged with wine and always ends in dessert.  I am a fast eater so I had to really try my patience in France, as rushing waiters would be considered rude. Thinking about all the great food we had makes my mouth water. And not surprisingly there are major Italian influences in the south considering the close proximity. 

Try some Socca - This is a crepe made out of chick pea flour and a local speciality. 

Try a Salad Nicois - another great local specialty which consists of tuna, hard boiled eggs, achoives, olives, onions, tomatoes, red potatoes, lettuce with lemon. Similar to a Cobb salad.

Visit Fenocchio - 70 plus flavours of ice cream and gelato, plus delicious dessert crepes. We went here almost every evening, and just yesterday my son and I went in our pjs since it was at the bottom of our apartment building. 

Try Attimi pizza - known by a local as the best pizza in town, I can second this it was delicious. 

PLACES NEARBY TO VISIT 

1. We visited the beautiful Cannes for the day as the beaches are sandy versus pebble stones like Nice. We didn't do much else but eat, relax by the beach and shop. We took a 40 minute train which cost 22 euros for the 3 of us. We did eat at the most amazing Italian restaurant called Da Laura, I licked my plate clean! Other areas a train away: Antibes is 20 minutes away also sandy beaches, Saint Tropez is a 2 hour ferry away, and Marseilles which is over an hour away - we didn't have time to get to all of these, but very accessible from Nice. 

Second, we did a small group tour that took us to Valbonne Village (a medieval village from the 16th century), Grasse (the perfume capital of the world), Gourdon near the French Alps, and ended off with Wine tasting at the Chateau de Cremat. This winery is the smallest in France and its original logo was the now famous double C Chanel logo, which the owner gifted the copyright to Coco Chanel who previously vacationed here. 

Travelling toddler tip #1- Devote time in your day to consciously stimulate your little one. From finding a park to having your child name everything around them, to just simply walking. This will exert their energy and keep them in a good mood when you need them to sit still and eat at a restaurant. We found parks in every city we visited ...yes, even in upscale Monaco. 

Off to Lisbon we go, we hear it is much cheaper than the South of France so looking forward to that!

Love,
9to5travelgirl and the travellingtoddler

P.S. I will never understand how in France they eat carbs all day everyday and look model thin, while us fatties in North America have to go on no carb diets to look half as good haha. There must be something in the wine....

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Monaco: Living the lavish life?


Monaco: Living the lavish life

Just spent 2 nights in the beautiful country of Monaco (second smallest after the Vatican). When I imagined Monaco I pictured yachts with men dressed in nautical inspired attire navy blazers with khakis and ascots tucked into their shirts (shout out to my late daddy who had this look as his staple in his wardrobe), the women I pictured wearing loose blouses with oversized sunglasses (Jackie O in a top designers resort wear line). Well Monaco did not disappoint this was exactly the Monaco we visited. When we needed direction we looked for the most well dressed individuals on the street it almost guaranteed they were a local or from a nearby town off the Cote D'Azur. I saw a women in her 70's wearing black pumps, pearls, slacks and a beautiful red blazer while walking her dog. I am completely mesmerized by French women, they look so effortless and chic. 

Monaco is only 1 square mile but its positioned on mountainous land which makes it a bit hard to navigate. They say the hardest is getting into Monaco, you can helicopter over for 300 euros, take a taxi from the Nice airport for 90 euros, or take the train which is 9 euros ( we took the train, but upon arriving there were no cabs waiting at the station, so we ended up walking for 20 minutes upwards with our luggage and toddler, I would not recco but a tourist falsely gave us the impression our hotel was 5 minutes away).

We stayed at the Fairmont Monte Carlo and got our hotel room for just under 400 a night off of Expedia, but right now Amex cardholders can get buy 2 nights get the 3rd free which brings down the price. Be careful though the longer you spend in Monaco the more you'll spend on meals and drinks. Example hotel breakfast for 3 was 75 euros- yikes! We planned this all in our budget before hand knowing it would be our most expensive stop.

We walked and saw all key tourist attractions in a day like the Casino Monte Carlo, Casino Square, Place du Palais, Japanese Garden, Monte Carlo Harbour. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Monte Carlo, Monaco the views are breathtaking, there's amazing restaurants and a cosmopolitan party scene with lots of resto lounges ( at one point the three of us were in Buddha bar dancing to Punjabi MC -our son is a trooper and these things only happen cause my crazy husband makes friends everywhere).  

Toddler tip #1- Monaco is not an accessible city lots of random stairs so bring a very light weight stroller. We bought the D lite Summer stroller but saw lots with the Maclaren light weight equivalent.

Toddler tip #2- bring crayons and colouring books to restaurants in the evening, to keep your little one entertained after they eat. These upscale restaurants do not always provide like a Jack Astors would.

I would definitely visit Monaco again maybe in a very big group to rent a house which may save us some money. Monte Carlo  is extremely safe there is 1 police officer for every 6th person, and it is all under surveillance.

Off to our next stop the beautiful Nice, France which will be our hub for all other places we visit in the Cote D'Azur. 

Love,
9to5travel and the travelling toddler 

P.S. my son has picked up french he says bonjour and merci poo poo to everyone he meets lol

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ireland: The truth comes out when the spirit goes in

"The truth comes out when the spirit goes in" - old Irish saying 


Well the truth is we had 3 wonderful days in Dublin with our traveling toddler Ronak.  What I loved most about Dublin were the super friendly people, not sure if they always had truth serum in them which made them so approachable, but whatever the case may be they all welcomed us with warm smiles and thick Irish accents (which I seriously love).

We started our journey on a redeye flight with Air Transat, before you feel sorry for me, it surprisingly wasn't too bad. We felt like we had ample leg room versus a previous Thomas Cooke operated Air Transat flight we took to London a few years back. Our flight into Dublin and out of Lisbon was under 700 cad, so I had to suck it up for that price.

WHERE WE STAYED
We spent 3 nights at the Fitzwilliam Hotel across from St. Stephen's Green, and just off of Grafton Street. I found this location ideal especially if you have wee li'l lads, St. Stephen's green is like a mini Central Park that is beautifully landscaped and has a lovely pond for swan watching and bird feeding (our son had a blast). This area is ideal as its less than 10 minutes to Temple Bar and the river, as well as walking distance to many tourist attractions like Trinity College. I would also suggest the Westbury or Shelbourne Hotel, or if your looking for a hotel that is right in the party pub scene the Morgan Hotel in temple bar. 

WHAT TO DO
* all can easily be done through the red hop on and hop off bus tour. 

Trinity College - beautiful college with an old preserved library which houses the famous "book of kells". You can get lost in your imagination thinking about where these books have been, I saw a handwritten geometry textbook from the 1700's (man were ppl smart back then lol)

Temple Bar- there are 800 pubs in Dublin City and I believe over 75% of them are likely in Temple Bar alone. If you're from Toronto Picture cobblestone roads with Fionne MacCool ' like' pubs in every inch, let's just say lots of stag and hen parties have enjoyed their last single days here. What I loved most was the live musicians and folk dancing occurring throughout the day. Goes back to my love of the Irish accent, everyone sounds great singing. Visit Brazenhead pub it's been around since 1198.

Guinness Storehouse - definitely a highlight and must do tourist attraction. Arthur Guinness founded Guinness breweries, but who I feel for the most is his wife who gave him 21 children -yikes! They say there is a baby in every pint, so for those wanting a baby try a couple of pints of Guinness might help your odds lol. In Canada Guinness is known to be quite bitter, I guess the beer doesn't travel well because in Dublin it was sweeter. The tour is self guided and an absolutely beautiful facility which ends on the 7th floor gravity bar to enjoy a full pint of Guinness and scenic views of the city. 

Wicklow Mountains/Glen do logh/avoca village - we did a Grayline tour that cost 22euros each, our son was free. It was the Ireland we were use to seeing in movies, luscious greens, rivers and serene lakes, with sheep farms every 10th km. It was beautiful and the air tasted so fresh. Movies like Michael Collins and P.S. I love you were filmed in this county. 

Other areas to check out while in Dublin, Phoenix Park (3 times the size of Central Park and you can feed fawn and deer here they are wild), Dublin Zoo - 3rd largest in the EU,  kilhaming Gaol it is the largest unoccupied jail in the world. Croke Park (80,000 capacity outdoor stadium).

Dublin and the Wicklow county we visited had so much to see but possible in 3 days, however think the next time I visit Ireland I will stay more North in a B&B to get a rural experience of the country. The weather was summed up perfectly by the locals "In 48 hours you will experience autumn, spring and summer", or " we check the weather to see how much it will rain not if, scattered, light, or heavy". The weather was very unpredictable but was always quite mild overall. We knew this going in so we were okay.

Foodie fun
I would say the Irish cuisine is very hearty lots of beef and chicken dishes with vegetables/potatoes. The Irish breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, sausages, grilled mushroom and tomatoes with white and black pudding - that says a lot! Although quite delicious the loose use of salt I was not feeling ( for those that know me I am the anti-salt lol). Guinness is served (with no judgement) all hours of the day along with Irish coffee.  Definitely a rugged mans food heaven, not so much for me!

Travellingtoddler tip - if your child can still sit in your lap try to book the aisle and window seats leaving the center free. If the plane isn't full a person is less likely to book the middle ( which frees up for your kid to sit in) and if there is another seat free somewhere else a person is more okay with moving from there middle to an empty aisle, window or middle. Which leaves you with 3 seats, we done this and so far lucked out on every flight! 

Off to our next spot the uber posh country of Monaco! Stay tuned for our dip into the life of the extremely rich and over privileged...

Love,
9to5travelgirl and the travellingtoddler 

P.s forgot to mention at one point in Avoca village we had a shot of moonshine at 2 in the afternoon - that's Ireland. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guess what....European Adventure booked!

I booked our flight into Dublin, Ireland and out of Lisbon Portugal, as well as our internal flights in and out of the South of France. Unfortunately the best deal we could find ended up being on Air Transat, yes I know it is the worse and least spacious airline. However, I couldn't justify paying 2k per ticket with Air Canada for multi-city versus the $680 taxes in I paid.

Stay tuned for posts on each of the cities we visit from Dublin to Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco, and Lisbon! We are doing this all with our toddler who will be approaching 2 years when we return! Yes we had to get in on one big trip before he turns 2.

Looking forward to this much deserved vacation :D

-9to5travelgirl (although these days with my son's pickups and dropoffs I am 8to4travelgirl haha )


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jamaica Mon!

Jamaica Mon

So for the first time in the history of my travel adventures I used a TRAVEL AGENT to book my all inclusive trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Normally, I would never do this because unfortunately the Expedia's of the world make it way more cost efficient to book online. Well I ended up booking through a travel agent because she was offering me a rebate of $30 to Shopper's Drug Mart. Her price was the exact same as Expedia, except she handled all of the booking, contacting the hotels to ensure we had cribs and rooms close to our family. So although I didn't save much by booking with the agent, the research time savings I got was super helpful.

We stayed at the Iberostar in Montego Bay, and originally booked Rose Hall Beach resort but got upgraded to the Suites. The suites offers more restaurant options, as well as has a kid friendly play area. I found the staff and service wonderful, and the people super friendly and very attentive. The beaches were beautiful, and the infinity pool was full of people sipping cocktails near the swim-up bar. Below I rate the hotel across key travel categories:

Food - I would give a 3.5/5 - great jerk chicken, the teppanaki restaurant was delish, buffet had lots of great options and I actually preferred eating there, but the mexican didn't feel mexican, and the steakhouse was just okay. 

Activities - 4/5-  Lots of fitness activities during the day, the spa is nice but some of the baths weren't in working order when we were there. I would recommend they have more activities at night, the shows were not as entertaining as I would have hoped for.

Beach front - 5/5 - Beautiful beach, free kayaks, paddleboats, and sailboats available to explore the sea.

Rooms  4.5/5 - Beautiful spacious rooms, the ensuite washroom had the bath and shower separated which I appreciated having a toddler. There was a beautiful balcony and sitting area to enjoy the sounds of the ocean at night as well.

Other activities we did outside of our resort - visited Rick's Cafe and saw locals do some extreme cliff diving, margaritaville which had great apps, swimming with Dolphins and Stingrays which was quite the experience, and local shopping which was very overpriced (I guess our shuttle stamped us as tourists so store clerks felt we should be overcharged).

I definitely enjoyed being able to sit pool and beach front most days, as I needed the relaxation after adjusting to being a working mom commuting into the city. However, if you know me by now I need to be busy on vacation and I found 5 nights of relaxation perfect, probably couldn't handle more than that.

See pictures from my Jamaican vacation below, dancing at Rick's Cafe to some Reggae Tune, and Dolphin Swimming!


Stay tuned my next adventure will be in Europe with my hubby and toddler!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Labour Day in Niagara-on-the-lake

Who said you can't go wine tasting with a 14 month old? Well really we wanted to get away for the long weekend and take advantage of the warm weather one last time. We had a blast a few years ago at Niagara-on-the-lake with my best girlfriends, and decided this would be the weekend we would go back but with our bundle of joy. 

We obviously didn't take this getaway too seriously and when we tried booking a hotel in Niagara-on-the-lake the Friday of the long weekend, either it was sold out or ridiculously overpriced. So instead we ended up using pricline.com and decided to just book a hotel in Niagara Falls which was 20 minutes from Niagara-on-the-lake. The hotel we won in our bid was the Crowne Plaza which is far from feeling anything royally luxuriously, but we essentially just needed a bed to sleep in. We didn't get to our hotel until past 9pm, as we had dinner in Niagara-on-the-lake. If you are considering spending time in Niagara-on-the-lake but don't want to fork out $500 plus a night for a Pillar and Post hotel, I would consider just staying in Niagara Falls which always has great hotel deals for $99. If you are a bigger party a cottage is probably your best bet.

We got to Niagara-on-the-lake just after noon on the Saturday of the long weekend, and rented 2 bikes one with a trailer for our little one to enjoy the views. He had such a blast, and although you may think wine tasting is not meant to be enjoyed with a kid, you are completely wrong. I mean if you are only tasting (which is what I did) and not chugging down glasses of wine, you do not get tipsy at all, and you can be a responsible adult enjoying wine country as you should. Well reality is I am not one to mix or drink too much wine, but I loved the idea of riding bikes through wine country, it was so pretty and quite the workout. 




Thanks!