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.

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.

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.

Alcobaca

Today is Kyle’s birthday so I decided to give him what the parent of any toddler wants- some time alone! 😂 With the bus schedule, me and Leo were gone for over 7 hours. Kyle is taking Leo to Alcobaca next week, so I will get 7 glorious hours all to myself. Just in time for Stranger Things! It’s one of my all time favorite shows and the last two episodes of the season come out on July 1st. Each episode is going to be longer than the others.

Alcobaca

Anyways, I digress. Kyle really loves Alcobaca and it has been on my list, so Leo and I took the bus there. We have a pretty good routine going at this point. Get to where we’re going, find a playground for Leo, stuff his little belly, and then he passes out in his stroller for almost 2 hours. It’s the perfect time to get coffee and explore. Once he wakes up we get ice cream or a snack.

Alcobaca is a cute and charming town, like so many in Portugal. I really love getting to see so many places. Alcobaca is known for the monastery. There were some steps to go inside, so I couldn’t go while Leo was sleeping. When he woke up, we didn’t have enough time to go inside. Maybe next time. The monastery is huge and beautiful from the outside.

There is a Main Street lined with shops and restaurants directly across from the monastery. There is a river with a path along it, and a cute park called Jardim do amor. There is also a castle that we didn’t see. We didn’t do a ton, but had a nice Portuguese day. We took an hour for lunch, sat in a cafe and had coffee and a snack, walked around a ton. I love these days. I love slowing down and trying to enjoy things more instead of cramming too much into the day.

We have finally started socializing a bit more. We went out to dinner with an expat group on Saturday night and that was nice. Kyle met some people in the square in Leiria because he heard them speaking English. In some ways it’s easier to meet people because when we hear English we are quick to stop and say hi. I’ve had people approach me just because they hear me speaking English to one of the kids. The people Kyle met have a son right around Sofia’s age and the two of them play so well together. It has been really nice meeting some people.

Guimaraes

We’re back in Braga for a few days and we head back to Leiria tomorrow. I have been wanting to go to Guimaraes for a while now but we just never had the time. Yesterday we took a bus over there to see the city. It’s only a 25 minute bus ride from Braga.

Portugal was born here

The city is much bigger than I expected. They have a really charming historic city center. It looks different than other places I have seen in Portugal. I haven’t seen much of Europe, but central Guimaraes reminds me of European city squares I have seen in videos. It doesn’t feel as distinctly Portuguese as some that I have seen.

Something I love about Guimaraes is how many different parts the city has. There is the historic city center. There’s a palace and a castle. There is the street filled with flowers, with the church on one end and the fountain on the other (I don’t know the names of any of the places), there is a modern mall and various shopping areas, there is the cable car to the top of the mountain, and there are quiet and quaint streets that just feel so European. They also have a Friday market that we hope to see next time. I’m sure I missed some stuff because the city offers a lot.

We took the Guimaraes cable car to the top of the mountain. We knew there was a church with an amazing view, but didn’t know what else to expect. I guess the area is called Parque de Campismo da Penha and the whole area is beautiful. It’s very shady and cool up there. I could see going on hot days because there is a nice breeze. We wish we could have spent more time up there, but we hadn’t even known about the cable cars when we first went to Guimaraes, so we just didn’t have enough time. We did get to stop for ice cream and take a cute train ride to see more of the area.

We both really love Guimaraes and it has moved into our top spot of places to look at for settling down. I never expected anywhere to knock Braga out of its top spot. Like I said earlier, I love the different aspects of Guimaraes and how it feels like so many different places in one. I also love how quiet certain parts are while still being central. Whichever we choose, they are only a 25 minute bus ride away from each other, so we will have two awesome cities nearby. Not to mention Porto as well.

On the way back to Braga we met a woman at the bus station who was headed home to Chaves. We were talking about how beautiful Guimaraes and Braga are, and she said that all cities in the north are beautiful. I googled Chaves and it looks gorgeous there and I definitely want to visit. A bus was going to Vila Real and it was pretty crowded, so I googled it, and it’s beautiful there too. She’s right, everywhere in the north is going to be stunning and I can’t wait to see them. All of them, lol. I’m adding every single Northern Portugal city to my bucket list.

For now we are going to have to slow down our Braga trips and focus on exploring the Silver Coast more. We were really excited about buying an apartment in Braga, but unfortunately our funding fell through. Someone was going to loan us money to buy a place, but they decided to back out. We need 30% for a down payment to a place, which we don’t have quite yet. We’re very disappointed, but it is what it is. We will keep saving and might have enough in 5+ years. For now I’m going to focus on working to make back the money we spent coming up here to see apartments and to keep funding our day trips.

A few days before we came to Braga we finally made it over the Nazare. I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I didn’t make a post because the gorgeous view was completely obstructed by fog. I’ll be going back there soon after we get back to Leiria. It’s pretty, the ocean breeze feels great in summer, and there is a playground Leo loves. Kyle went to Alcobaca and he really loved it, so I’ll be going there soon too. Lots more fun to be had and posts to make.

Second impression of Braga

Braga is still the perfect fit for us. Even more so after spending a few days here. Yesterday we went to Bom Jesus and it was beautiful. The views from there are amazing. Today is mall day. I guess I have to accept that we just go to malls a lot 😆 It started when Sofia was born. She would cry at home, but she loved going out. She would do so well any time we left the house. The problem was that Florida was regularly one billion degrees outside. We realized malls were air conditioned, and free, so thats how this whole things with malls started.

As Sofia got older, we realized malls have some pretty fun things for the kids to do. And I am always appreciative of places where they can’t run out into the street. This morning was a rainy morning, so we headed to the mall. It was definitely one of the better ones for the kids. The playground was great and there were tons of rides for them to go on. It will be a great rainy day activity when we live here.

We also happened to meet a great family at the mall. They have a 1 year old son who Sofia really loved playing with. She loves babies. They are from Canada and have been living in Portugal for a few years now. We talked for a few minutes and we really like them. They love living here. We can’t wait to move to Braga.

Part of what is so exciting to us is that we want to live here for a long time. We want to raise our kids here. We bounced around the US a bit, moving every few years, and we never found anywhere we wanted to stay for a long time. We knew once we had kids (and especially once they start school) that we want to settle down. We want them to make friends at age 5 and still have some of those same friends into adulthood. Braga really feels like the place that we can do that. It’s small enough to feel manageable, but big enough to hold our attention. It has everything we need, and things we wanted that we didn’t even consider until now.

Tomorrow the plan was to take the train from Braga to Coimbra, and then the bus from Coimbra back to Leiria. The train company is on strike tomorrow. I got an email that services may be impacted, so now we’re not sure what to do. I’m not sure if that means that all trains are cancelled or just some. Definitely not looking forward to that. We wish we could just stay here. It’s really beautiful here and the more we see the more we love it. Soon enough. At least we live in Portugal. And now we know what city we want to move to.

Porto

After years of knowing I would love Porto, we finally made it here! It’s amazing and beautiful, just like I knew it would be. It’s hard not to compare it to Lisbon, and it definitely feels different in some ways. Kyle is already super in love with Porto and says he likes it more than Lisbon. I love both cities for different reasons. One of the biggest and most noticeable differences is that Porto is more compact than Lisbon. It’s definitely still a big city but feels so much more compact. On the one hand, that’s great. It’s easier to get around and the things you want to see are all so much closer together. On the other hand, it feels so busy and makes me feel overwhelmed a lot quicker. We were able to stay in Lisbon for weeks and it didn’t really feel overwhelming the way most cities do. But Porto does feel overwhelming to me and it’s because there are so many people in a smaller area. It’s an unfair comparison though. We stayed in Lisbon for weeks and have been a few times. We have been in Porto for about 24 hours and this is our first visit.

People talk about the vibes of cities here, especially the vibe of the northern cities. I definitely notice it in Porto. It feels younger here, and in a sense, hipper. To me, Lisbon is the more refined older sibling, and Porto is the younger one who likes to stay out late. That’s probably a bad comparison, but I’m sticking with it, lol. Sometimes you want refined and cultured, and sometimes you want fun. I love both cities very much. Don’t make me choose! Both cities make me so happy to live in Portugal. I love this country.

There’s a lot I would like to do in Porto, but the only thing I cared about this trip was walking across the Luis I bridge and taking the Gaia cablecar. We did both this morning and it was even better than I imagined. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience…except I have no doubt that we will do it again. You can take a one-way trip or a round trip. We did the one-way trip and had lunch at the bottom. Next time we will do the round trip. It’s a pretty short ride and the views going back looked even better. For lunch we got to try the sandwich Porto is known for, the Francesinha. It wasn’t bad. I’m glad I got to try it and I don’t hate it, but I don’t see myself eating it very often either.

Francesinha

We arrived in Porto yesterday and went to the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal. It’s a beautiful park with great views of Porto. I definitely want to go back, but not on this trip. It was quite the hike to get there. We’re staying down by the water, which is a pretty flat area, but any time we try to go into the city we have to hike a bunch of hills. It’s really hilly here. At least the sidewalks are wider than in Lisbon, so it’s a little easier to push a stroller, but we can’t wait to visit some of these places without having to push strollers up the hills.

On Thursday we’re heading over to Braga. I wish we had more time in Porto, but this trip was really just to see if Porto is somewhere we would want to come to again. It definitely is! I know in my Aveiro post I had said we would probably move there, but we talked about it more and I think it’s going to be Braga. Braga was always number one on my list. It just feels right on paper. In two days we will finally be there and see if it feels right in person.