Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Cabo de Roca and Belem

One of the tricky parts about traveling with a baby is that your day is broken up into Before First Nap, Post First Nap and After Second nap (sometimes even After Third Nap!). Forget AMs and PMs - we had a whole other time system to maintain, which would sometimes present a fairly complex scheduling problem. We had to sync long bus or train rides with nap times so that we don't waste precious daytime sitting somewhere and waiting for Babes to finish her nap (been there, done that, would not recommend)

Cabo de Roca is the Westernmost point of Europe, once believed to be the edge of the world. It has beautiful oceanside cliffs, a lighthouse and some seriously epic views. It is also about 30 minutes past Sintra - the place we spent so long traveling to and from just the day before. The thought of doing the same trip again and trying to get as lucky with trains and sleep schedules was daunting, but we decided to go for it since it was our last day in the area.

It did not disappoint!

There's not a whole lot to do in Cabo de Roca other than checking out the lighthouse and the cliffs, so we only spent about 30 minutes there.

From here, we headed back to Lisbon and beelined straight to Pasties de Belem to offer our services in Pastry Quality Assurance. After paying our dues standing in line (no baby fast pass here!), we finally got to experience the fuss. This place had 13,992 reviews on Google Maps! You could definitely tell the difference between the pastries here and any of the other locations we've tried. These were THAT MUCH MORE delicious!

Since we were already in the area and Babes had a few more daylight hours left in her, we went inside the Church of Santa Maria de Belem.

And then spent the rest of the day relaxing by the Tower of Belem and enjoying our pasties.

I think she got upset that we ate all the pasties and all she got was a banana.

Thursday, 25 January 2018


Portugal is absolutely phenomenal for traveling with a baby. 5/5 would recommend. We didn't quite realize the extent of this until our day trip to Sintra from Lisbon. Sintra is an easy 1-hour train ride from Lisbon, with great signage and accessible transportation. The only not-so-easy part was buying the train tickets. Luckily for us, wearing a baby on your chest is the equivalent of holding up a huge sign saying "Please Help Me / Let Me Cut In This Line / Tell Me If I'm In The Wrong Line". We had a few people approach us offering help, and letting us know that babies (and elderly) get priority and are allowed to skip all lines everywhere. This included the 23452345 person line to buy the tickets to Sintra, as well as the 234098098 person line to get on the train.

Sintra is a gorgeous town on the west coast of Portugal, with lots of historic monuments, Moorish castles and royal villas. All these attractions are conveniently connected by both local busses and hop-on-hop-off tours. You definitely need several days to see all the sights, but most people just fit in all the major spots in one day.

We visited The Moorish Castle, which was constructed sometime between the 8-11th century as an observational stronghold to guard the town of Sintra. It was eventually taken over after the Christian conquest of Portugal.

Our second stop was Pena Palace - THE major highlight for most tourists coming to visit Sintra and Lisbon. The bright, eccentric colors of the palace contrast the surrounding green of the Sintra forest and make it stand out among all the other architecture in Sintra. This palace was built for Queen Maria II by her young German consort, Ferdinand II.  We walked through the palace, and to be honest, liked the outside much much more. The comical architecture and bright colors made it feel like a Disney castle set.

This is one of the initiation wells of Quinta de Regaleira. The wells were never used, nor intended for water collection. Instead, they were used for secretive initiation rites.

Once we were ready to head back, we were greeted with several bus-loads' worth of people waiting in line for the bus. With our heads down, and our baby held up high, we confidently marched right past the whole lineup of people, all the while avoiding eye contact. No one said a word except for the first man in line who was extremely vocal about how much he disagreed with this whole babies-get-priority thing.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


We debated for a while were we wanted to go for our honeymoon. Given some of the safety-related restrictions we were facing with a baby in tow, we decided to stick to something more familiar and take a 3 week vacation in Europe like all good tourists. This trip was going to have its own set of challenges - Babes is no longer exclusively breastfed so we have to find food for her, she is getting pretty heavy so we have to carry around a stroller, AND she is now a full on crawling-almost-walking machine! No more Japanese-style-thin-floor-mats where we could just lay her down and have her stay there for the night. We now needed a proper crib at each place! We considered bringing our own pack n play but it would've been such a hassle to carry around between destinations, given that we like to be able to carry all our luggage in our backpacks.

Our itinerary included a roundtrip flight to France, with stops in Lisbon, Lagos, Sevilla, Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona, Nice and Paris. The overnight flight to France was pretty smooth and we arrived in the morning. Much like the Japan trip, the first day was a complete write off full of heartbreaking cries and a solid 24hrs of on and off sleep. But unlike the Japan trip, this time we were prepared - a hotel reservation at the airport for the first day and night and no events planned. Even though I saw a meltdown of this magnitude coming, I still struggled and doubted myself as a mother, partner, human... and looked at next day return flights. But at least this time there was no fever involved and I knew the language so I felt a lot more comfortable with our decision to travel.

The following morning we boarded our 1hr plane to Lisbon. Babes was able to catch a few more z's thanks to the kind people who let us have two seats together.

From the airport we took a couple trains to get to Alfama, the historical heart of Lisbon, where we booked our Airbnb. From the train station, it was a beautiful uphill walk on narrow, pretty-sure-pedestrian-only-but-not-sure-how-some-cars-got-here cobblestone streets and views of the ocean.

Since we were a bit early for checkin, we stopped for a coffee at a cafe nearby. Danny went in to order us two lattes and a pastry, while I sat down to feed Babes. A few minutes later, our two .. lattes.. came.

I guess we got what we paid for; two glasses of hot milk. Danny mentioned that he thought it was weird they asked him if he wanted the lattes hot, and... just in a glass? But regardless, the hot milk was delicious and we enjoyed it just as well without the caffeine, making a note for next time to make sure to say ***CAFE*** latte. These pastries though - Pastel de Nata - are a signature Portuguese dessert. There's a lot of disputes about which bakery shop in Lisbon makes the best and most authentic Pastel de Nata. Some say it's Pasties de Belem, others claim it's in Manteigaria and I'm sure there are quite a few other runner ups. We only had about 2-4 each a day, so we didn't get to try all of them. We're not fatasses.

Soon enough we were able to check into our Airbnb, where we were greeted with yet another round of Pastel de Natas. After digging into these ones, we very quickly went from 0 to full on Pastel de Nata snobs.

After a quick break and nap for Babes we ventured back out into the streets of Lisbon. Our CFO (Chief Food Officer, Danny) found us a cute looking restaurant (which had the mandatory 4.5+ star rating, of course) where we tried some traditional Bacalhau fish, as well as beef stew. It was delicious!

Since highchairs were unheard of in such small restaurants, we let Babes roam and entertain herself by playing peek-a-boo with the cooks.

After dinner we headed over to Castelo de Sao Jorge for some gorgeous sunset views over Lisbon.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Wakayama & Kumano Kodo

This leg of the trip was both my biggest fear and my biggest highlight. It's off the Tokyo/Kyoto tourist funnel, slightly in the middle of butfucknowhere, and absolutely gorgeous. Kumano Kodo is a network of trails spanning across the Kii Peninsula in the Wakayama Prefecture. For over a thousand years, pilgrims used to hike these routes to get to the three major shrines. The walk itself was an integral part of the pilgrimage process as they undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification (cite).  The whole trail takes about 5 days to complete, with lots of Ryokans along the way. You can do as much or as little of the hike as you want, as all the major stops are connected by public bus.

Had it been just Danny and I, I would've maybe possibly been able to convince him to do the whole 5 days. But luckily for him, I wasn't going to put Babes through that, so we opted to just stay at a couple of the pit stops, and do short day hikes from there.

Our first night in Wakayama we headed to Kirinosato Takahara Inn (HIGHLY RECOMMEND even if you're not doing any of the hikes). It's a small 8-room hotel located on top of one of the mountain ranges. All 8 rooms face the mountain range, and traditional style breakfast and dinner are included, as is the onsen.

There were two onsens; one for ladies and one for gentlemen. There were also instructions on how to use said onsens, showing exactly how to bath yourself prior to entering, as nothing is allowed to touch the hot spring water except your super duper clean and naked self. Both Danny and I didn't end up getting the full onsen experience, as we each got our respective onsens to ourselves.

lunch was served outside with a beautiful view of Takahara.

The view and sunset were unbeatable. The trip here was quite tough; we had to take a 3hr train, then transfer to a 1hr bus, and then have someone from the hotel pick us up at the bus stop and drive us up a mountain through one-way-looking winding roads. I'm not proud of that last part, given that the only way to do that section of the trip was by car and we didn't have a carseat. So I'm gonna shove that memory under the rug and never do it again.

For next morning's breakfast, we embraced the whole Ryokan experience and dressed in the yukatas that were provided in our room.

And headed off to Hongu to see the largest Torii Gate in the world. 

We did a short 1hr roundtrip hike to the outlook through the beautiful rainforest.

Inari & Kiyomizudera

Kiyomizudera was a bit of a letdown given that it went under construction two days before we arrived

But we still really enjoyed walking around the temple area and seeing the beautiful cobble-stone streets and fancy tiny houses. I think the construction scared away most of the tourists, because all photos I've seen of this place usually involved people packed like sardines down all the streets.

Babes was being really great again, and even flashing some smiles. This smile also made it to at least 4 other tourists' cameras as they not-so-sneakily switched from photographing the temple to photographing her.

Inari however, was not under construction, and so we found our tourist sardines here. 

"With great views come great tourists" - Dalya, June 2014

But we did manage to get some touristless shots after waiting in line for a while and getting a quick 1/2 second chance at a shot. Babes was also not having any of it, so my anxiety levels were quickly rising and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. It's almost as though she had a temple sensor - the moment we approached anything sacred she would just start wailing and ignoring all the "please be quiet" signs.

Babes passed out the moment we got home so dinner had to be takeout, and I'm not even sorry.

Next up: Kumano Kodo

Saturday, 15 April 2017


This was another highlight for me, and a nice break from the Kyoto station madness. As usual, we were the first tourists on the first train to Arashiyama. We headed straight to the bamboo forest, where we spent a good 40 mins trying to get the perfect shot with Babes, and probably photobombing both of the wedding shoots that were going on.

Pretty sure the only thing that forced us to eventually leave was Babes getting hungry and needing a feed. It was a nice change from the bitter Canadian winter to be able to just feed outside without needing to find a warm coffee shop.

We visited the monkey forest which was at the top of one of the hills, requiring 20min of uphill climbing to reach. The degree of incline was inversely proportional to the amount of tourist, which worked out in our favour.

This was the “boss” monkey, with his two girlfriends on the left

There was also a really nice view of Kyoto from the top of the monkey forest

Before heading back, we stopped at a tofu restaurant (yes, on purpose, by choice) where they served all different kinds of tofu; white, green, boiled, cold, tofu skin, etc. We dined like (vegetarian) kings.