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....