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I finally did it!

It took me all day, and my poor child probably feels neglected. I’ll make it up to him tomorrow in kisses and wrestling matches. I might even let him chew on acorns outside.

Here they are, the final vacations blogs!

I say Lisbon, you say Lisboa: a quick look at Lisbon’s sights

What we ate – Barcelona: Do not view on empty stomach!

Travelin’ Baby: An overview of Luke’s traveling experiences

Fashion Forward: Luke’s swaddle blanket gets a new lease on life

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Europe has a way of making me seem frumpy. Try as I may to plan ahead, somehow I end up looking like a disheveled mess compared to the chic locals.

When I was in Paris a couple of years ago, this really bothered me.

But this time around, I had bigger fish to fry – like trying to keep my child out of harm’s way and making sure we don’t get pick-pocketed.

So when I felt my outfit looked a little dowdy, I improvised.

Is it an Aden+Anais baby swaddle blanket, or a super chic, funky monkey scarf? You decide.

We decided to travel to Portugal & Spain with our 14-month-old. Crazy? I thought so at first, but it wasn’t too bad at all.

The plane rides were really good, possibly due to the fact that we were lucky enough to always get an extra seat between us, that we didn’t pay for.
And we also left for Europe in the evening, right around his nap time.

I can’t say it all went smoothly. 4 days into our trip, we kept him up too late, and we paid for it! He was up every hour, from 9pm – 2 am, screaming inconsolably, and could only be soothed by Deric, which left me feeling useless and helpless.
But in the morning, it was like it never happened!

He was generally very happy, and seemed to have a blast.

Having a baby while traveling is an instant ice-breaker. Generally, the locals will at least smile at your baby, even if you don’t speak their language.

Traveling with a baby also forced us to slow down our pace. On previous trips, we felt rushed to see and do everything. With a child, you go into it knowing that you will not be able to see/do everything, so you become more selective on what you do see. And then you take the time and really enjoy what you do see.

Here is baby and his trip highlights!

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Oh Barcelona, you delighted and disappointed in the same bite!

As the Euros were quickly being depleted, we found ourselves eating in more often.

We went to the supermarket and even bought some canned goods (my choice, Deric was wary).
I grew up on many a canned delight – corned beef hash, Spam, ravioli, Beefaroni, Spaghettios, Campbell’s Noodle Soup, etc., so occasionally, in moments of weakness, I will turn to the humble can.

Luckily, these cans put their American counterparts to shame!

We had vegetarian beans,

and canned chicken meatballs.

pair those with some chorizo, rice, and a simple salad with lemon vinaigrette and you have a surprisingly amazing dinner!

Deric didn’t care much for the chorizo, said it was too greasy. I loved it! It tasted like the Hungarian smoked sausage that my dad would always bring home when we lived in Chicago. He would also have people ship it to him when we moved to Portland. Even my pickiest siblings would eat this sausage when paired with feta cheese and the softest french bread.

Luckily, Luke has apparently inherited my sausage gene – a bond I hope we will always share. He walked around the entire apartment, chorizo in hand, happily smearing orange grease all over.

Another supermarket delight included this ice cream confection that tasted mildly of cappuccino and custard.

After visiting Park Guell, we saw this window display, and I stopped in my tracks… and asked Deric to go get one. They were called Rocs de Gaudi, and were these really sweet almond meringues. We took a few bites, decided to finish it later with coffee, forgot about it, it smashed into a bazillion crumbs, and ended up in the trash; tragic.


And then there was the great Paella hunt.

I was determined to find the best paella on a conservative budget – not meager, just slightly limited. So I googled it. And I found a blog, which I will leave nameless, in which the author called herself an obsessed with paella. And since it appeared she had tasted several paellas in Barcelona, I decided to trust her… eh… wish I hadn’t. I was recommended a restaurant that served an 18 euro/per person seafood paella. Eh… it was okay. Just okay. It was rice, that tasted like seafood, served in a paella pan.

Maybe it was my weakened taste buds due to a sinus problem.. but the paella did not taste like what I expected paella to be. I had watched numerous Food Network shows that showcased paella, and how it’s supposed to be creamy, yet have a crust on the bottom… and it was that crust that I missed in this paella. Was it a good rice dish? Sure. Was it great? No. Will I have food blog trust issues from now on? Yes.

So, in my disillusionment, I vowed to find an “el cheapo” paella that could satisfy me. So we found one for 8 euros. And it was bland. But it did have the “crust” I was looking for!


In the end, I have decided to end the search for great paella. After all, how good can paella be? It’s just rice, and saffron. And I doubt it could stand up to the intense flavors of Thai cooking, which I would prefer any day to Mediterranean flavors.

But let’s end this on a positive note!

Best food I had in Barcelona:
Patatas Bravas! Fried cubed potatoes topped with a creamy yummy chili sauce! So good! In fact, it erased every bad memory of paella. It’s typically served as tapas, and we had it twice! Had we tried it earlier, I would’ve had them every day, maybe twice a day!

Some other yummy tapas included:
Tomato bread; bread smeared with garlic, olive oil, and crushed tomatoes

Shrimp patties; shrimp and herb patties, yum!

Beef skewers; beef skewers marinated in a chili sauce

And on that note, I bought a tapas cookbook and plan to someday throw a tapas dinner party, and maybe – if I run out of everything else to do, I might even try to make my own paella that will rival that of Barcelona.

Lisbon was not on my “places to visit” radar. Most of those places are either tropical, beachy places, or places that can cater to my adventure-seeking stomach, like Thailand.

But Lisbon is definitely visit-worthy. It is an old city with a rich history, beautiful city views, and more cobblestone streets than any city should still have, and I it was a shame to see graffiti on almost every building in the city.

WHERE WE STAYED:
During previous trips to Europe, we stayed in hostels and low-end hotels. However, even the price of hostels has gone up. One of my favorite websites, Apartment Therapy, recently had a post about Airbnb, a website where people post vacation rentals. So, without a second thought, I jumped on, reviewed a few places, and swiped my credit card.

Luckily, it was a great experience. We rented a studio in Alfama, the old neighborhood in Lisbon.

Best surprise: the flea market that happens twice a week was right around the corner from this apartment! And the our host, Ema, was fantastic. She even came down to the train station to hunt for us when we didn’t arrive at the apartment on time. And we needed saving, that’s for sure! Highly recommend the vacation rental route… just read the reviews carefully.

WHAT WE SAW:
Panteo National:
couldn’t miss it… seriously, opened up our front door and BAM! Panteo! Deric spent quite a bit of time there trying to wear Luke out before naps.

Castelo Sao Jorge:
maybe 20min walk from our studio, a very cobblestony walk. Beautiful, old castle with wonderful views overlooking Sanfrancisco… I mean Lisbon. But it could seriously be San Fran’s little sister city… steep hills, a bay bridge, graffiti… didn’t notice an Alcatraz-look-alike though.



Old architecture



Belem (neighborhood in Lisbon)






Beautiful cobblestones (but hard to push stroller on)


Sintra
A 45 minute train ride from Lisbon, this town is enchanting! It is the home to several spectacular castles. Unfortunately we waited until our last full day to visit, and we were only able to see the Moorish castle. The castle was something out of fairytales. We walked on the perimeter walls that overlooks large boulders and the city of Sintra. And we also had a great view of the colorful Palácio Nacional da Pena. I hope someday to return and spend at least 2 days exploring the beautiful countryside.



Portuguese food reminds me a great deal of Romanian food.  It is primarily a meat and potatoes cuisine, rich in pork and seafood. Vegetables are eaten, but usually “cooked within an inch of their life”. And the seasonings are mild to say the least.

However, there is something very satisfying and comforting in the simple things.  Like the ham and cheese sandwiches that I had almost daily.

Now for the picture tour:

WARNING! The following pictures are not to be viewed on an empty stomach! May cause severe growling!

Guimaraes:

Whole grilled Dorado with pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes*, green salad, and boiled carrots.
*per my tour book, fish must always be served with boiled potatoes! asking for fries might result in deportation!*

Deric had a traditional Portuguese sausage, which is a combination of various ground meats and bread (alheira)which has an interesting history. He said it was ok. The texture is very soft, almost mushy.

I also had a pastry that resembled what we Romanians call, Cremeș. Basically a puff-pastry shell with a rich fluffy custard filling… this one also had a small dollop of lemon curd in the center. Yum! Sorry, this is the only picture I have of it! It was that good!

Not pictured: A dish of boiled octopus in green sauce with boiled potatoes. Not worthy of picture. I love seafood, but even I couldn’t stomach the boiled octopus prepared by what I presume to be an amateur. Otherwise I’m sure I would’ve loved it!

Lisbon:

In Lisbon, we rented a flat, and did some cooking of our own. And we ate it on a cafe table overlooking a small balcony on a quaint cobblestone street.. just lovely.

Cooking in our Lisbon kitchen.

Steak salad balcony-side anyone?

Steak salad with fresh lemon vinaigrette made in our little kitchen.

We also cooked a lot of eggs using the local cheeses and hams. And A LOT of bread!

And I can’t refuse a gyro. On our way back from the castle in Lisbon, we passed this tiny cafe that was selling kebab sandwiches. Had to have it! It reminded me of the kebab sandwiches we had in Paris 2 years ago. This might become a tradition; to seek out the kebab sandwich in every town we visit!

On our last day in Lisbon we both had sandwiches.

I had one called the “Big D”, seriously. It was a basic hamburger, with a huge hunk of local cheese and a fried egg. ‘nough said.

Deric had an omelette sandwich, hmmm.. might be recreating those here in the states.

Grocery store finds:

For 5 Euros and a trip to Portugal, you too can take home a skinned, whole, ready-to-cook rabbit! Yikes! Just a normal selection in the local grocery store!

Also from the grocery store deli counter, a popular local dish, Arroz de Pato (Duck Rice) with Porco a alentejana (Pork with clams). Very tasty!

Another grocery store find: Queso Fresca… I guess it’s fresh cheese, served in yogurt-type container. It is smooth, silky, sweet; just perfect smeared on some fresh local bread.

A new favorite of ours, the local Port. Just had a shot-glass full, but it was sweet and lovely. Perfect end to a good meal.

And the melon! they have this dark green melon, that reminds me of a honey-dew melon, but so much sweeter! I tried to find its name online… and I think it’s a Christmas melon.

Belem:

Belem is the western neighborhood of Lisbon. It is famous for its Pastel de Nata. And the best place to get one is at a local bakery, Pasteis de Belem that had been there since 1847! I even had to wait in line to get one. And it was worth it. It’s a small, tart-like dessert, with a buttery, flaky yet chewy crust, and the most creamy custard filling, so delicious!! And they were right, their Pastel de Nata was so much better than the ones we tried earlier in the week!

If you look closely, you can see all the luscious layers in the crust.

The inside of this lovely confection.

We also had more ham sandwiches in Belem. Cheap, filling and yummy.
Deric had a panini style one, and mine was cold on a ciabatta-like bread.

Sintra:

Sintra was a town 45 minutes away from Lisbon. The most beautiful place I saw in Portugal. I would say it was the Provence of Portugal. Just magical with its collection of castles. It was here that I sampled a bacalhau (salt-cod) dish for the first time.

It was so good! It appeared that the dried salt cod was chopped and pan-fried with shredded potatoes and served with olives.

Deric opted for an oldie but a goody: pork chops with french fries.

For dessert he had their “apple pie”. It was more of an apple tart with raisins and a struesel topping: So good!

And I had a piece of chocolate cake. It looked really anemic when it arrived, a pale brown; not the dark rich brown of the american chocolate cake. But when I tasted it, it was so incredibly moist, almost wet like a tres-leches cake… just chocolate. More than good!

Stay tuned for the Spain edition!

Portugal was never on my “places to visit” list. But here we are! Deric had a conference in Portugal he had to attend, so he extended his stay, we tagged along, and voila! a vacation was born! Were we crazy to travel with a 15-month-old baby?! Maybe… but 90% of the trip was smooth sailing, and he forced us to slow down our pace and really relax.

We began in the town of Guimaraes, in the northern half of Portugal.

Small town, but all the modern conveniences of a large one.
I know this because I spent a great deal of time at the mall with the baby (buying milk), which was a 2 minute walk from our hotel room. Just like an American mall, but better! It had the equivalent of a Super-Wal-Mart in the mall! complete with sloped, straight escalators that would take you and your shopping cart to the next floor, just in case you decided you needed to stop by the Gap for some jeans after you bought 20 lbs of beef on sale.

I managed not to buy any clothing or accessories while I was there, but I did enjoy some local fare at the food court. When Deric was through with his conference for the day, we would go out to grab a bite for dinner.
One night we bravely dined at a 2nd floor restaurant that was next to empty. And it was at this bustling establishment that I decided to sample some local fare.

So I ordered the octopus, boiled. Hm, rookie mistake. Octopus is delicate, requires an experienced hand. But not the hand that boiled my octopus, then chopped it into 1-inch pieces and paired it with potatoes… boiled no less. Fail. Picture of this meal was not taken. Deric however made off just fine with the viking-sized helping of 3 pork chops!

While I obviously passed over the finest culinary corners of Guimaraes, the spectacular medieval castle was not to be missed! It was something out of storybooks! The kind you read when you’re little, too little to know that fairy tales aren’t usually true, and castles were probably really cold and drafty.

Deric stayed with the baby, and I scrambled around, peeking through each window, envisioning the brave knights (in tights) with their arrows poised, ready to shoot at the bad guys through the tiny slits in the castle walls. Perhaps there was even some Shakespeare recitation down to my Romeo.. much to his bemusement? and amusement of a German tour group.

Unfortunately, our stay in Guimaraes ended with jet-lag catching up to our baby. He cried inconsolably, every hour, on the hour, from 9pm – 2am. Exhausting. He didn’t even pull that kind of stunt when he was a newborn!
But joy came with the morning! And he was as happy as a clam in his blue footie-pajamas on the train to Lisbon!
Want to see more?  Look here for pictures of Lisbon and here for a food diary of what we ate :) Enjoy!

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