Monday, August 21, 2023

Portugal Days 20 & 21: Squishing and Swimming Around Terceira

We rose on our second to last day in the Azores to a light rain and mist. We climbed into our car and drove back to the Gruto do Natal parking lot. Here, there is also the trailhead for the 5 km loop around the Misterios Negros: the black lava mountains. 

The trail started off simple and wide. We quickly entered some tall grass, then a forest. The scenery changed often and the path was fun and adventurous with planks to walk on, then large tree stumps, as well as some bridges to cross. After that, it turned to just mud, mud, mud. We slipped and squished our way along the trail until we saw the 1.5 km marker. We realized that it had taken us a very long time to travel that far due to the wet conditions so we made the hard decision to turn around and not make it to the black lava mountains.

Feeling a little hungry and grumpy from our "failed" hike, we headed onwards to the Biscoitos natural swimming pools. The breathtaking coastline and unique swimming spot did wonders to improve our moods. It was just so cool to climb in to the volcanic landscape from a pool ladder, let the current take us along while we looked at fish, then climb out at the other side and walk back to do it all again. Craig and F had bought snorkle equipment so they could better see the fish; Erin used her goggles. We all had a great time at this iconic Terceira spot! 

We finished off our trip with another relaxing day at the beach and one final photo opp at the Angra sign. :) We were leaving for home rejuvenated after a wonderful family trip.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Tips for Travelling with a Six Year-Old

As you can see from our other posts, we are experienced travellers with a small child. 

Then, there's a big gap of time that's missing due to COVID-19. That really put a damper on our travel! We did lots of little local getaways but nothing that felt big enough to start our blog back up for. And really, who had the time?

So this trip felt like an entire new era of travel for us. We said goodbye to SO much gear (we are notorious over-packers). We strapped a backpack on our kid, and off we went!

How to Prepare
We started talking about the trip a few months before we left. We took out books on Spain from the local library and read them together so that Adventure Girl had an idea of what the country would be like and what there was to do there. 

We involved her in the planning by asking her what she was most interested in seeing and doing. We showed her pictures of places that we were considering going to and got her input. It helped that we had very little itinerary. When F said that she was excited to see a castle, we made sure to put that in our plans. (We also curbed expectations by ensuring she knew it wasn't a working castle like in a book!).

We'd been given a MEC backpack that seemed like an appropriate size for her. We made sure it try it on with things inside of it to test for a proper fit.  We taught Adventure Girl how to fit the straps properly. She was already used to walking/hiking/biking with a fairly heavy backpack so we weren't too concerned about the weight. It would be ideal to take that backpack for a spin a few times to make sure kiddo feels comfortable. 

When it got closer to our departure, Adventure Girl and I packed her stuff together. I showed her how to roll her clothes so they'd fit tightly in her bag. We talked about how the more things you brought, they heavier the bag would be. We expected her to carry all of her clothes, her cosmetics (toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, hair elastics) and her small stuffed animal. We would help with the car seat and activities. 

Our kiddo has lots of experience with airports and plane travel. If yours doesn't, I'd highly recommend showing your child the TSA video on youtube for kids. It prepares them for the different steps you'll need to take: lining up to check bags, going through security, etc. Even with her experience, we review what she should expect before every travel day: we'll take a cab to the airport, then we'll line up to check our bags, then we'll go through security. Next, we'll find a place to fill our water bottles, stop at the bathroom, grab some food, and find our gate. Those reminders really help her feel confident in what to expect. If your child is impatient, those little "check marks" once each task is completed, might help break up the long time there actually is between arriving at the airport and the plane taking off.

Travel Day! (we had a lot of groceries we were bringing onwards)

We continue to like the Air BnB route for our family. It gives us a private space with a kitchen for self-catering. This keeps costs down and ensures we can prepare healthy food that we know we'll all like and will feel like home. We try to find a place with a view whenever possible, or choose a location that's within walking distance of things we'll want to see/do. We don't have to worry about a nap schedule anymore but it is nice to have a balcony to sit out on with a view to admire so that we can enjoy the evening after putting F to bed. 

At some places, we contacted them ahead of time and were able to get an early check-in, which helped cut down on the length of time for a travel day. At one place, we even booked the night before our arrival so that we could check right in when we arrived (that was after our very long journey to get to Europe and we knew our flight would arrive at 8 am). It was worth it to us to be able to check in right away and start relaxing. Depending on how long your journey is, what the time change is, and your own family's needs, you can decide if any of these tips would work well for you. 

We tend to bring extra snacks because of dietary issues (F can't have lactose; Erin can't have gluten or lactose). It can also be nice to have a taste of home when on the midst of a long hike or travel day. We brought one item for each day of the trip, plus 3 things for each long plane ride). These were things like granola bars, cracker packages, and fruit sticks. All items that F likes, and all light-weight. It was hardly any space in our bags and provided a comfort for her and us. 

For this trip, our routine became: breakfast and dinner at home, lunch at a restaurant. Adventure Girl is very good at trying new foods. With only one meal out a day, she was very willing to test out new flavours and eat things that maybe weren't her preference. She knew that we'd be making dinner ourselves so I think that helped her be more easy-going with the lunch spots. We made exceptions on long travel days and let her get a hamburger. We didn't feel the need to push it when we were all jet-lagged or starving.

Together, we chose a few small books, blank paper, a notebook, and a few writing utensils to bring. I added in a sticker book, an activity book, a Chirp magazine, and some fun pencil crayons that she'd never seen before just in case. It's always nice to have something novel to present when you want a moment of peace like when trying to recover from jet lag. :) We also brought her headphones for the plane and a small tablet that was essentially just for her for on big travel days and to use for Skyping with our families while we were away. Remember to download a few shows ahead of time for the plane ride!

When we arrived in San Sebastian, we found a dollar store and bought some basic sand castle building toys. These were used once. ONCE! All she really wanted and needed at the beach was a shovel. At six years-old, Adventure Girl is very into imaginative play. She wanted to dig giant holes, be buried under sand, make a car in the sand and pretend to taxi us around, make a bakery/coffeeshop that sold hot mud drinks...It was a really good reminder for us that with some very basic supplies, her imagination will do the rest. We brought masking tape as a basic emergency item and she used it to make nametags and put on shows for us. We easily could have left almost all of the sticker books and activity books at home. 

Erin's Swimming Report Card  LoL

We got to that castle F wanted to see

Three bags and lots of groceries!
The only items we brought that we consider to be kid "gear" was our travel booster seat for the car and a set of inflatable water wings. (We use this travel booster seat by Cosco). Boy, did it feel good for us all to be hands-free. 

We also brought along a collapsible snack bag and cooler to use for trips to the beach and in the car. The dollar store sells collapsible hampers that are another non-essential but incredibly helpful item especially when you're going to be travelling by car and can just toss all of your dirty laundry in. 

Our last item that provides comfort for everyone is laundry detergent. This was essential when Adventure Girl was a baby: things smelling like home makes for a good night's sleep! For this trip, we found that Spanish detergent was very chemical-smelling. We were thankful to keep our clothes unscented!

The last few trips for us felt like we were building an enjoyment of travel and really catering to what our kiddo liked, while squeezing in some things for ourselves. With Adventure Girl as a six year-old, it felt like all of that hard work had paid off. We felt like a team. We woke up in the morning and each picked something we wanted to do. It was a very liberating and exciting feeling. We had so much family fun!

You know your family best so we're sure that you can find the strategies that will be successful for you and ignore the rest! Happy Travelling! 
xoxo the High Five Adventurerers

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Portugal Day 19: Lava Caves and Fairy Tunnels

We rented a car for two days in order to better explore Terceira's sites. Our first stop was the Piscinas Naturais de Porto Martins. They have built platforms on top of the volcanic rock with steps leading down into the water to make for easy entry. You are able to swim right out to the ocean, if you'd like. 

We had a lot of fun looking at fish through our goggles. We saw many fish that were colourful, a flounder shuffling in the sand, and a few sea cucumbers!

The blue hydrangeas that were everywhere!

We stopped for lunch in a small town, Fonte do Bastardo (Bastard Fountain in English apparently, though we cannot find the origin of the name). At the restaurant our lack of Portugese was letting us down, and when we were asked a question we assumed was about food we just said yes again assuming that we would be brought menus. Instead we were brought a delicious stew of local meats (deduced from looking at their menu online). Thankfully Erin carries cash because we had neglected to read the large sign on the patio which indicated that they do not accept cards. 

From there, we drove up into the hills to the Furnas do Enxofre, a site with lots of volcanic activity. Walking the path feels like you're in a mystical realm. Smoke from underground wraps up around you, as mist from the clouds blankets you from above. The various types of moss look like nothing you've touched before, all colourful and varied in texture. It all looks like a place that fairies would live in.

Our next stop was the Algor do Carvao. This is a cave created by the volcano long ago. You first walk through a narrow tunnel down into the earth. It opens to this specatcular cave adorned by moss and small plants. We weren't expecting its impressize size and lush vegetation. We descended further to a natural pool and admired the cave's opening from many angles. 

Onwards we went to the Gruta do Natal. This time we were given hard hats to wear and shown on a map where the tunnels would lead. There was an "easy" and "difficult" path. Not sure what to expect, we embarked on the easier trail and found ourselves navigating along a (well-signed) path underground in tunnels created long ago by lava. It was fun to feel the sense of adventure once we hit the "difficult" part of the path and needed to crouch down and crawl. Many a "thunk" could be heard echoing through the tunnels as people hit their hard hats on the stalactites above. 

We finished the day by driving back home along the many hydrangea-lined pastures, back towards the coast and our cosy home.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Portugal Days 17 & 18: Arriving in the Azores

The Azores: An autonomous region of Portugal. A volcanic archipelago. A web of hardened lava rising up from the middle of the Atlantic. A legend of lost treasure. The lost city of Atlantis. A great escape from anywhere we'd ever set foot before. 

Our five days in the Azores were relaxing. We were pleasantly surprised by the easy access we had to the water, the plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities (fish, lizards, birds), and even the sandy beach. 

Our accomodation in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island (the third island discovered, hence named "the third") boasted a goregous view of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly at sunset. Just across the street from our place there was a little swimming spot that had been built with steps leading down right into the Atlantic.

Adventure Girl continued to grow in her confidence and ability in the water. Angra had a lovely sand beach that was hardly busy, and included F's favourite spot: a floating dock. It was just a 20 min walk from our place through the colourful streets of Angra. 

We were all proud when F swam out to the dock by herself, unassisted by us or a flotation device, and subsequently climbed and jumped off of it independently. We had so much fun as a family taking turns doing different jumps and dives.

We felt relaxed and ready for our retun home. There were just a few more adventures left to be had exploring the island...

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Spain & Portugal Days 14-16: Moving Onwards

The next day we took it easy around Formigal. We did a small waterfall hike, went back to the municipal pool, and got ourselves packed up for our big travel day ahead.  

We hit the road early on Day 15 with all of our stuff packed into the car. We drove for two hours across the Spanish countryside, through the mountains and foothills, alongside lakes and cool rock formations reminiscent of the hoodoos in the Alberta badlands, and past hilltop farming towns. We stopped in Pamplona for lunch, eating at the famous Cafe Iruna in the Plaza del Castillo, where Hemmingway liked to imbide. 

Cafe Iruna

We also walked down the road that the bulls run through, and we went past the bull-fighting arena. 

Back on the road for another hour and a half and we found ourselves in Bilbao. We had debated spending a few nights in the largest Basque city during our original planning stages but had decided to forgo it. The city actually turned out to be quite lovely down at the river and we would have been happy to have more time there. 

The Guggenheim!
We drove by it twice just to get a good look at it
(not at all because we made a navigational error)


We did a quick stop at the Bilbao Loco Polo (an absolute necessity), then headed to the airport. It was a bit stressful with us running behind schedule (due to how long lunch took in Pamplona - NOT because of the popsicle stop), but we got through security and to our gate with lots of time to spare. 

We took a short flight to Lisbon, cabbed our way to our apartment for the night, and got up early. We were staying close to the heart of downtown, so we made sure to take a few minutes in the morning to walk out to the Arco do Rua Augusta.


This marked Adventure Girl's 11th country so here's a picture of her counting the countries she's visited using all ten fingers and a toe! :)

We grabbed our bags and headed back to the airport to fly onwards over the Atlantic to the Azores! This, ironically, was the cheapest way we found to get home and we loved the fact that it got us two hours closer to mountain time and cut down on our last big travel day. It also felt ritzy to voyage to this archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

Flying into Terceira

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Spain & France Day 13: Artouste

The next morning we rose early and jumped in the car, ready for a border crossing. As we drove along the mountain road, there was barely a sign to indicate that we had crossed the border and were now in France, Adventure Girl's tenth country. Shortly after, we pulled into the Artouste gondola station and swung our way up the mountain to board an alpine train. 

The view from the bottom of the gondola

Yup, we'd fall
straight down
the mountain!
Having looked at picutres of the train online ahead of time, we had thoughtfully planned our seating arrangement. We put F on the mountain side of the car as we'd seen some pictures that showed the train perched right at the edge of a cliff with barely any safety precautions. 

To our surprise, the first thing the train did was tunnel through the mountain, coming out on the other side, meaning Adventure Kid was buckled in sitting on the cliff side for the entirety of the ride!

Were there moments when we thought we might plummet to our deaths? - Not really. But it was exciting and promoted a good cuddle for the ride to ensure everyone stayed inside the tiny open-air train compartment. 

The ride was spectacular. Uninterrupted sweeping mountain vistas the entire time. We'll let our pictures speak for themselves. 

If you find yourself in this area of the Pyrenees, this is a must-do!

The ride was approximately 45 minutes long. It was smart to take the first train of the day because it meant no stopping for trains coming from the opposite direction. When we arrived at the mountain station, it also meant that we were the first people up and headed towards the alpine lake. (Pro Tip: sit at the back of the's quieter, has better visibility, and means you are the first up the stairs towards the lake). 

The trail to the alpine lake

The lake hike was easy, with options to add on further distances if you wanted to spend the day. 

Seeing the meadows and valleys in different light on the return trip was just as stunning. It made for an incredibly easy and rewarding day!