2023 Travel Plans

Brrrr, it has been really cold in Portugal. It’s been an extra rainy year and we finally have a break from the rain, but it has been freezing. Literally! In the mornings when we walk the kids to school it has been 30 degrees (farenheight because I still don’t quite know celcius yet). It heats up to about 50 or so during the day, but the mornings are so cold!

Rufino

Leo started preschool. He is just going 2 days a week so far. It has been really nice to have that break and be able to get some things done or just relax without being needed constantly. And we end up really missing them, so we really appreciate picking them up and seeing them again. Leo is in the baby room since he is 2. Once he turns 3 next week he will move to Sofia’s room. I think they will both like it more when they’re in the same room together.

In 6 days we leave for Paris! Well, more like passing through Paris. We’re going to Disneyland Paris, which is about 45 minutes outside of Paris. We want this trip to be easy, so we won’t really be venturing into Paris. It’s definitely on our list to visit one day. I’m really excited for Disneyland. Sofia is 4 and Leo will be turning 3. I know they probably won’t remember this trip, but I do think that they’re at the age where they will really love and appreciate it. Leo doesn’t cry anymore when he see’s people dressed up. He will be so excited to see Mickey.

We have a few confirmed trips this year and a few I’m still figuring out. There’s probably one or two that I don’t even know about yet. Before we had kids Kyle and I went on a few cruises. It was a good compromise because Kyle likes to relax on vacation and I like to sightsee. Sightseeing is a bit too stressful with the kids, so I have been trying to figure out how to travel easier and smarter. We decided to try a cruise with the kids. They’ll both be old enough for the cruise daycare program and they will be in the same room because their ages are so close.

We have been talking about a cruise for years, but we wanted to wait until the kids qualify for onboard daycare and until we felt a little safer. I know they will both be cautious around the railings, although we will obviously still watch them really closely. The cruise will be with MSC and it goes to France, Spain, and Italy. I picked it more for the ship than the itinerary. The ship has a water park for the kids that looks like fun. The cruise is a week long and leaves from Barcelona, so we will be in Barcelona for a night again. One of these days we’ll actually stay and see the city. I couldn’t find any flights home that worked, so we decided to take the train to Valencia and stay there for a few nights after the cruise. It will be a huge trip and we will be gone for almost 2 weeks. That trip is already booked and we’re definitely going.

Rufino cuddling with Bailey to stay warm

At some point before the cruise we will head up north to visit Viana do Castelo, Portugal. We also want to go to Viseu at some point because we know some people there and want to check out the city. We’re hoping to move to northern Portugal this year- ideally around the summer. We’ve been keeping an eye on apartments in Braga and Guimaraes but haven’t seen any that work for us yet.

In December we’re planning on going to Vienna, Austria. Kyle’s sister will be living there, so that’s the original reason we started planning the trip. I saw that Vienna has a great Christmas Market, so now I’m even more excited to go. At least we learned from our Belgium trip. I bought long underwear and scarves for everyone. We will really get to test it out next week because it’s going to be cold in France. I’m excited! Ever since we got back from Belgium I have been really antsy and wanting to travel somewhere again.

Brussels

Whatever Kyle and Sofia had definitely caught up with me. Leo got sick before me, but luckily he got over it in less than 12 hours. I’m not as sick as I was in Bruges, but I’m still pretty sore and exhausted. Even so, we still got to see some of the Brussels Christmas Market. It’s huge!

The market has at least 1 Ferris wheel and two carousels that we saw. I think there is one more Ferris wheel somewhere. The carousels are really unique and awesome. We saw some of the light show at Grand Place. The first night we ventured a little too far from the hotel and the kids got upset because they were so cold. They’re definitely not a fan of the cold weather. Neither am I.

Today is our last day of vacation. Normally I feel sad at the thought of returning home. I love living in Portugal though, and I’m excited to get back. This is our first time leaving our cat, so I’m ready to get back and see him and our dog. It also doesn’t hurt that we have a trip planned to Disneyland Paris is less than 2 months. I think that will be easier. Trying to do this trip without a stroller for Leo was too ambitious. And I’m definitely ready for above freezing temperatures.

Today we’re planning on staying close to the hotel. Luckily that’s easy because our hotel is in the center of everything. We just went out for less than an hour and now we’re back at the room to rest and thaw out. I’m sure we’ll venture out at least one or two more times. We have been seeing horse drawn carriage rides that we would love to take if we can figure out where they are.

The go to language in Bruges seemed to be Dutch. The go to language in Brussels is definitely French. Everywhere I go people greet me with “Bonjour.” I should have looked up a few phrases in French before we came here! I wish I could learn French too, but I really need to become more proficient with Portuguese first.

We took the train from Brussels to Bruges, and then from Bruges back to Brussels. We’ll take the train again tomorrow when we head to the airport. The trains in Belgium are extremely easy to use. They’re comfortable, really easy to navigate, and seem to be on time. That’s good because we will have a long travel day tomorrow. I’m excited to come back to Belgium again. There is so much that we still want to see. But next time we will definitely try for Spring or Summer 😂

Bruges

Our flight out of Lisbon ended up being delayed for 1.5 hours. So far any time we try to leave Portugal is not very good, lol. We missed our original train from Brussels to Bruges, but luckily they come every hour so we were able to make the next one. We were tired but wanted to see the city so we ran out for a few minutes.

It was 28 degrees and I haven’t been in below freezing temps in over a decade. The kids have never been in weather this cold. Turns out Bruges is not like Portugal. Things mostly close here once the sun goes down. Probably because it’s so cold. 🥶 We got a chocolate covered waffle on a stick for the kids and then headed back to our apartment.

The next morning Kyle was feeling pretty sick, and the kids didn’t want to go back out in the cold, so I went out for a bit by myself. Bruges is a very cute town. I see why people like it. The architecture is beautiful. I booked 4 nights here and that was way too much. We could have done a single night, or even just a day trip from Brussels. I guess it worked out though because our second night here Kyle got worse and Sofia got sick too. They were up all night throwing up. The next day they felt better but were exhausted. That brings us to today. The minute Leo woke up he threw up, and my stomach is feeling pretty bad too. Looks like today is our day. Hopefully it will pass by tonight because tomorrow we are back on the train to Brussels.

The only things I cared about doing in Bruges were The Christmas Market, having hot chocolate at The Old Chocolate House, trying waffles, and trying French fries. I’m not sure about the Christmas Market this year. It’s definitely not bad, but nothing like the videos and pictures I have seen of past years. It was nothing special. We didn’t get to try the hot chocolate or fries. Our first morning here we had some waffles at House of Waffles. I got a waffle BLT with egg and it was delicious. It was kind of pricey, but I’m glad we got to try it.

I’m still trying to figure out the language situation. Obviously the official language is Dutch, but I’ve had a couple of languages spoken to me. I opened the door open for someone and they said “merci.” Another time was “danka.” When someone had to reach in front of me they said “excuse me.” How does anyone know what language to speak to other people? I’m not sure what language to even use to ask if someone speaks English. When I go into stores about half the time they just start out speaking to me in English. The other half of the time they say “hallo” and I try to say it back but I must butcher it because they immediately switch to English.

Unfortunately Bruges has been kind of a wash. We were all pretty sick at some point. Kyle and I each got a few hours to explore on our own. It’s a very charming and beautiful town. A lot of the food here reminds me of comfort food in the US. I could definitely see coming back to Bruges, but I would rather stay in Brussels and take a day trips to some of the places around. When Kyle was sick but Sofia wasn’t I had planned on taking a day trip with her to Ghent, so maybe we will do that one day.

I think we will have to come back in a few years. We missed out on a lot from being sick and this is our first trip without strollers. It’s nice not to have to lug them around, but also makes us really limited in what we can do. The kids are not fans of waking around in the cold, which is understandable. Tomorrow we are on to Brussels. We only have two days there so we will have to make the most of them!

A night in Lisbon

Tonight we are in Lisbon. Tomorrow we’re headed to the airport to fly to Belgium. We’re staying at a hotel in Rossio Square. We wanted to visit the Christmas Market and walk around a bit. Unfortunately it has been raining a lot the past few days. It’s raining all night tonight, but luckily it let up a little bit and we were able to run out for a few minutes.

We stopped at a few booths and the kids got a picture taken with Mickey Mouse. I just saw our Mickey picture from last year when I was cleaning something at home. The picture was taken in Setubal and it was just Sofia because Leo was scared of Mickey. Today he was so excited to see Mickey. He kept running back to wave at Mickey. He’s going to be thrilled when we go to DisneyLand in February.

I wish we had a chance to walk around more, but I’m happy we at least got the 20 minute break in the rain. It has been a while since we were in Lisbon and it’s nice to be back, even though the visit is way too short. Now we have some down time in the hotel, which is nice too.

I’m excited to get to Belgium tomorrow. We went to Spain a few months ago but didn’t really get to experience anything local. I’m excited to see what Belgian food is like, what the coffee is like, and what their bakeries are like. Tomorrow we have an almost 3 hour flight and then a 1.5ish hour train ride.

It will be a big trip for Leo. We have left the stroller behind, so he will have to walk a lot more than he is used to. But he has to get used to it because he will walking to and from school twice a week starting next month, so he needs to build up some stamina.

Thanksgiving in Portugal

I have been working a lot the past month to make some money for all the stuff we have coming up. Between working and all the rain we haven’t left the house much. Last year it didn’t rain a lot, but this year is more of what I expected Portugal to be based on people’s comments. It has rained almost every day this month. Some days it rains all day long, some days it just rains for a few hours or even less.

Last year at this time we were just moving into our new apartment, so we didn’t give much thought to Thanksgiving. Turns out it’s pretty easy to find some Thanksgiving celebrations wherever there are American expats. A lot of us agree that it’s the one American holiday we don’t want to give up. Really it’s just because of the comfort food that we don’t eat anymore.

Stuffing is basically my favorite food and I really only get to eat it once a year. Actually maybe pumpkin pie is my favorite food. Anyone reading this from the states- have a piece of pumpkin cheesecake for me. Pumpkin cheesecake is absolutely the best thing in the entire world. Except for my kids. I’m supposed to say my kids are better than pumpkin cheesecake, right?

There is a really good restaurant in Leiria called Atlas. They had Thanksgiving dinner for €20 per adult and kids were free. There were also some Thanksgiving dinners we found in Coimbra and Caldas, but we wanted to stick close to home. We planned on going to dinner around 7, but the kids were having none of it. Luckily Kyle was able to get it to go, so we ate it at home. It was amazing.

Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and macaroni and cheese. Not pictured- bread with herbed butter, apples with cream, and a sweet potato soufflé type thing.

We started looking at babysitters to come once a week to give us a break. I really do adore my kids, but we are with them every waking moment. Sofia is at school, but Leo is always here. We realized pretty quickly that having a regular babysitter will add up quickly, so we talked about sending him to preschool. Kyle talked to the owner of Sofia’s school and he said that we can send Leo 2 days a week because that’s what we’re comfortable with for now.

He will start school in January and we will pay €150 a month. I’m so excited but also kind of nervous. Leo is super joined to my hip and he is going to be extremely unhappy to be away from mommy. But I can’t even begin to imagine two days without kids. We haven’t had any days without the kids since they were born. We can go places. I can sit at home and watch a movie in silence. It’s going to be awesome. And it will make us appreciate the times that our kids are home.

Also, I think that Leo and Sofia are going to be in the same class, which would be great. Sofia would love to show Leo around and introduce him to everyone. And he would take at least some comfort in being around his sister in the unfamiliar and scary new place. The first few weeks will be tough and Leo will be so unhappy to go to school. But first we have lots of fun stuff to do, starting with the Obidos Christmas market tomorrow. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain.

Pediatrician and Vaccines

We finally took the kids to the pediatrician and to get vaccines. It’s definitely different than in the US, but now that we know the process we know what to do next time.

Kyle made an appointment to take Leo to a pediatrician that takes our insurance. As luck would have it, the doctor did speak some English. He looked over Leo’s records from the US and said that Leo needs one vaccine. He wrote a prescription and told Kyle to take it to the pharmacy.

Doctor visit stickers

Kyle went to the pharmacy and they gave him the vaccine in a bottle. They said to refrigerate it and take it and Leo to the Centro Saude. They said that we don’t need an appointment. That turned out not to be accurate. A few days later Kyle took Leo to get the shot but they were not particularly pleased that he didn’t have an appointment. After he waited for a while they scheduled an appointment for a few days later and told him that he needs the prescription paper. Which he lost. So when you get a vaccine filled, keep the prescription paper.

Luckily we happened to have an appointment at the same pediatrician scheduled for Sofia the day before Leo’s newly scheduled vaccine appointment. He was able to get a copy of the vaccine sheet from the doctor. The next day he went to Leo’s appointment at Centro Saude and while he was there he made an appointment for Sofia. Then he went to the pharmacy to get Sofia’s vaccines.

Vaccines from the pharmacy

It all sounds more complicated than it is, though there are quite a few more steps than we’re used to. It will of course be significantly easier when things are closer together or we have a car.

So to get vaccines for your kids: 1. Make an appointment with the pediatrician 2. Go to pediatrician, they will write a prescription for the vaccine(s) your kid needs 3. Go to pharmacy. They will fill prescription by giving you the actual vaccines in bottles (the bottles may need to be refrigerated- ours did) 4. Make appointment at Centro Saude 5. Bring kid, vaccine(s), and prescription paper to Centro Saude. They will administer the shots

You’re done! 🎉

1 year in Portugal!

Today is the 1 year anniversary of our arrival in Portugal. I can’t believe it has been a year already. And what a year! We have seen a lot of Portugal and even a tiny bit of Spain. It has also been an entire year since I have driven a car, which feels so weird. Also a year of walking at least 100% more than before, so my heart is probably healthier now than a year ago.

Thinking back to everything that it took to get here is kind of overwhelming but definitely worth it. The first few days arriving in Portugal were probably the hardest because we were super sleep deprived and didn’t know anything yet. We didn’t know how to say anything in Portuguese, how to order coffee, or even how the get groceries. I’ll always remember our first grocery trip in Lisbon.

Kyle and I constantly remind ourselves that just the first time is hard. The first time grocery shopping was hard because I didn’t know the questions they ask at checkout or even how to use the bank card yet. But the second time I did know. And now it’s easy. The first time eating out was hard (mostly because we hadn’t slept in 30+ hours), the first time withdrawing cash at the ATM was hard, the first time using multibanco to pay a bill- all of those were just hard the first time but now they’re easy. There are still firsts that we go through, but it gets easier and obviously the firsts aren’t as frequent as they were a year ago.

Aveiro

We have met some great people and had a lot of fun the past year. We still plan to move to Braga (or Guimaraes) next year, but it gets harder to leave Leiria as we meet more people here. We just found an amazing vet who speaks English. Our neighbor genuinely loves our daughter and vice versa. Even though we will end up in Braga (where I wanted to move) I will never regret living in Leiria.

Living here we have gotten to explore so much of the Silver Coast. We will go to the Christmas Market in Obidos this year, which I’m super excited about. We couldn’t go last year because of Covid restrictions. I also want to go to Nazare next month to see the huge waves. I have been to Batalha a few times and I love it there. We still need to go to Tomar and Fatima. We wouldn’t have done any of this if we had moved straight to Braga.

My favorite time of the year is coming up. Last year we were still pretty new and trying to figure things out, but this year we plan on seeing tons of Christmas lights and Christmas markets. For sure Obidos, Lisbon, and Belgium (Brussels and Bruges). I’m so excited to see all the lights and Christmas decorations! I’m excited to spend another year here. I wonder what the next year will bring. Definitely more adventures.

PortAventura Spain

Today is Sofia’s 4th birthday and we finally made it to Spain! We flew into Barcelona a few days ago and have been staying in Salou to have easy access to PortAventura. Getting here was a bit of a pain. Our flight was delayed by over an hour and then our train was cancelled and we ended up stuck in the Barcelona train station for over 4 hours. Turns out there was a strike just on that particular line. The train station was really hot and pretty miserable, but we made it.

We went to PortAventura on Saturday and today, and yesterday we hung around Salou and went to the beach. I’m glad we came, but I wouldn’t repeat this trip. Salou is okay, but there is nothing special or unique about it. It feels super touristy and I hear more English than Spanish. It doesn’t feel European, it actually kind of reminds me of some of the touristy cruise ship ports that all look the same. It’s also really loud here and people stay up until 6 partying, talking, and laughing in the streets. I feel so old saying that it’s too loud, but it’s definitely too loud here, lol. At least for sleeping.

It has been really nice hearing Spanish again because I understand it. And when we ran into some issues in Barcelona I knew exactly how to say what I wanted to say. I have understood a lot more than I expected to. I can’t wait to get to that level with Portuguese. I have been taking Portuguese lessons two times a week and definitely want to keep it up.

We already knew Portugal was home, but this trip has really cemented it for us. I know comparing 11 months in Portugal to 6 days in Spain is pretty unfair though. We will have to go to Valencia to get a better idea. Valencia is where we planned to move when Spain was at the top of our list.

We were only in Barcelona to spend the night and then for a few hours in the morning. We went to the Lego store to get a few toys. I will definitely be back in Barcelona one day when the kids are older. For now it’s just a bit too much. I remember writing before that big cities tend to overwhelm me. I love them, but there is a lot going on. That’s definitely true of Barcelona, even more with toddlers. It’s just too stressful being in a huge city that I don’t know, not knowing if the kids are going to run off or step into a busy street.

Salou was a great city to visit right now, even if we didn’t love it. It’s flat and easy to navigate with wide sidewalks. Since the sidewalks aren’t cobblestone it’s a lot easier to push a stroller here. There is a pedestrian only area that leads right to the beach.

PortAventura was a lot of fun. They have Sesame Adventures and the kids spent most of their time at the huge playground there. We’re really going to miss that playground. Today wasn’t busy, so Kyle and I even got to go on some rides. Tomorrow we’re taking a train back to Barcelona for an early morning flight the day after. Fingers crossed it all goes well. Next up is Belgium in December to see the Christmas markets. Until then we are going to really enjoy being home in Portugal.

Budgeting Part 2

Our weekly trips have been put on hold because we got sick again. It has been weeks and I’m finally starting to feel better. It was a bizarre sickness with pretty much every symptom I can think of, including what seemed to be pink eye. It started with Sofia waking up at 2AM to throw up one morning weeks ago. Leo was next a few days later. They were so sad and pitiful, I’m glad that part is over. Luckily by the time I got sick the kids were already feeling better.

I have done a better job of tracking our expenses and can break them down a bit more than my first budget post. We have added a few things to our lives that up the monthly budget. I’m trying to list most of our expenses because it was really helpful for us when deciding which country to live in.

Our neighbor has a friend who cleans her house and she recommended her to us. She only charges 6 euro an hour. She’s usually here for about 4 hours and we usually just give her 30 a visit. She does an amazing job and doesn’t mind our kids trying to follow her around.

Sofia’s preschool was 275 a month but they just raised it to 285. We think it’s a great deal since it includes breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack! They also keep Sofia entertained, which we really appreciate. We will probably start sending Leo sometime next year, after his third birthday.

I always struggle with food costs. We have gotten a lot better with eating at home, so our eating out costs are down to about 200 or less per month. Groceries and other essentials (cleaning supplies, etc) are probably around 600-800 each month. So 800-1000 euro for food/ grocery store supplies per month. I feel like that’s probably high, but that’s where we’re at.

We found a babysitter for 10 euro an hour. We haven’t used her yet, but if anyone is wondering how much childcare would be, that’s the cost for the babysitter to come watch our kids in our apartment.

Here is our monthly budget (keep in mind we’re a family of 4, including two toddlers. We also have an 80 pound dog).

•700 rent, •170 gas/electric, •60 water/trash, •157 health insurance, •65 phone/cable/internet, •60 house cleaner, •285 preschool, •50 Bailey (food and toys), •33 Bailey’s grooming, •1000 food (sometimes less, but let’s estimate high).

US expenses: $10 peacock subscription, $8 Disney plus subscription, $10.98 virtual mailbox service, $60 tutoring for me, $30 tutoring for Kyle. We have been using italki for tutoring. Different tutors on the site charge different amounts, but we’re paying about $15 per hour for ours.

There are a few US expenses I didn’t include, like student loans and my professional liability insurance because they won’t apply to most people. Also, I try to put away a few hundred or so each month for savings/traveling, but didn’t put that in the monthly budget since it will be different for everyone.

Apples from the Leiria Medieval Festival

So our grand total is about €2580 and $118.98 plus a bit extra for savings, student loans, and my professional liability insurance. Some months we don’t put any into savings because we’re using the money to travel.

We have some traveling coming up. Sofia’s school is closed next week, so we’re hoping to take the kids some places because they will go stir crazy at home. I definitely want to take them to Nazare. Next month we’re going to Spain for Sofia’s 4th birthday. I’m so excited to go see Spain! We have really loved exploring Portugal and we’re excited to see more of Europe.

Figueira da Foz

Kyle and I have semi started a routine to give each other a break. Every week one of us (we alternate) takes Leo on a day trip while the other stays home alone. Our kids are at really demanding ages right now, and this is the only way we have found to stay semi sane. I was going to go back to Nazare today, but at the last minute I decided to check out Figueira da Foz because it has been on my list and it’s pretty easy to get to and from using public transportation (bus there, train back).

Even though Leo and I were in Figueira for 7 hours we somehow never made it to the beach 😂 We got to the bus/train station (they are connected!) and it took us about a half hour to walk to the main beach area. Leo got bored and fell asleep. I just wondered around a bit until he woke up. We got lunch, played at an awesome pirate playground, and then I ran out of steam. The beach is set back quite a ways from the street and looks like a bit of a hike.

They had a really cool looking pirate ship pool on the beach. I didn’t bring Leo’s swimsuit, but I definitely will next time. After that we got coffee and ice cream and then our 7 hours were up and we headed back to the train station. I’ll never again underestimate how long it takes a toddler to eat ice cream. That took up a good hour and he still didn’t even finish it. 😆

I’m not sure how I feel about Figueira. I should love it. It’s a beach town (and a pretty big one at that) with a beautiful fountain, a boardwalk by the water, and it’s one of the flatter areas in Portugal I have been to. It has a train station and lots of stores. It’s the same way I feel about Coimbra. I should love Coimbra and Figueira but so far I just don’t. I don’t dislike them at all either. I will continue to visit Coimbra and Figueira often because they have a lot to offer. But for some reason I’m just not in love with those places.

Leo’s favorite part of the day

I’m definitely going to give Figueira another chance though. Maybe I will fall in love with it. It just wasn’t love at first sight and that’s okay. Well, for now it’s back to the grind of work. I’m trying to earn back some of the money we have spent traveling, and we’re hoping to travel Europe a bit later this year. The only definite is Belgium in December because we already have plane tickets. We’re trying to fit Disney Paris in before Leo turns 3 (in February) because under 3 is free.

I’ll be going on another day trip in 2 weeks! I’m thinking maybe Peniche because it’s an easy train trip from Leiria with a decent schedule.