Surfing in Portugal

During the summer we visited Portugal and enjoyed a week-long surf camp and this year we thought we’d try our luck at spring surfing.  Portugal is known for its waves and has even been referred to as the European Pipeline. We are not seasoned surfers, just vacation surfers, so of course we knew we would not be surfing the giant waves of Peniche, Portugal.

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Instead, we settled for a quaint little surfing town just outside of Porto, Portugal. Matosinhos proved to be the best home-base for surfing/city exploring while in Portugal. The surfing town is connected to Porto with the tram, which makes it very convenient for surfing in the morning and exploring Porto in the afternoon.

As we are a family of 5, and all different surfing abilities, we decided to sign up for a week of private lessons. Unfortunately, the weather did not corporate and we were only able to get 3 days of lessons in. But with that said, we had a fantastic time learning to surf as a family.  We surfed with a small surfing company called Surf Adventura.  They were incredibly friendly and even set our littlest surfer up with her own trainer. Check them out if you decide to surf around Porto.

Adventures in Akihabara

 

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If you find yourself visiting Tokyo, you must not miss out on a visit to Akihabara. When we travel we like to find a local who can give us a guide around town. We used Akibaland Tours and were rather impressed. We signed up for the day tour around Akihabara. We met with our tour guide that morning and it was just our family. . The tour guide was very knowledgeable and I must say it was quite interesting.

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This was one of the kids favorite days in Tokyo, so many things to do and see. We finished our tour with a lunch at a Maid Cafe.  Now, if you have never experienced this I would put it on the list. We found it so fascinating. Because we had booked with the tour we were able to get immediate reservations. Some of the cafes are booked out for months.

Inside the cafe we were waited on by beautiful girls dressed in maid outfits. The kids were adored by the staff. Our tour guide communicated for us as we do not speak Japanese. With our meal we also got to take pictures with the maids. Now for the weird part, they brought a book with all the ladies, we had to search through and point to who we wanted the photo with. hmmmm. Our daughter picked the top one and we had to pay a premium for the photo. We all had a good laugh.  I forgot to mention we had to sing to our food before eating it. Oh Tokyo, we love you. What an day to remember. I would highly recommend a tour around Akihabara.

 

Our Move Abroad

A few years back I was bitten by a travel bug and this is how it came about.
Our first trip to Europe was over 9 years ago
We traveled to Italy with my parents and  Fell.in.love.
Then 6 months later we found ourselves living in Europe.

I know we sound crazy and looking back I think we were crazy but wouldn’t change it.

A time-line of how our move abroad came to be……..
 

March 2007 – We took our first trip to Europe and loved it but my husband wasn’t quite sure he wanted to move.  We lived by family & friends, had a great job and home and loved where we lived. But it couldn’t hurt to send out a few emails, right?  I started to send out emails all over Europe, focusing mainly on The Netherlands. I spent a lot of time on IT Job board.  I must have sent out a 100 emails.  We started hearing back, most with a response like below sent in April of 2007.
 
Do you have a work permit to work in Europe? That was the million dollar question. And of course, our response was no, we needed someone to sponsor us.
April 2007 We received emails from 3 companies in Germany and Switzerland, all wanting to set up phone interviews.  We had never considered Switzerland and knew nothing about it besides the Matterhorn was there. Screenings went well, followed by more phone interviews. They wanted to meet face to face.
 
May 2007 My husband made his journey out to Switzerland to interview with the companies.  He called me after the interview and I asked him, “So what do you think of Switzerland?” His response, “It’s ok, it’s kind of cold” but by this part I was sold. I wanted to go.
June 2007
Offers were made. We weighed our options between Germany and Switzerland.  Besides the 2 day interviewing we had never been to either country, neither of us spoke German, we knew nothing.  No company at this point could guarantee a working permit either.
July 2007
We submit all passports and documents to start the process to see if we could get a working permit. We still had no idea if this would be a reality. I spent a lot of time on the English Forum, a forum for expats in Switzerland.  I read all about the permit approval process and people’s stories of getting denied, the quota of permits they give out, etc.
 
August 31, 2007
After 8 weeks of waiting we woke up to this email……
 
And just like that, we were moving to Europe! We were on a permanent local hire, so that meant we were moving ourselves.  That also meant, no relocation package, no car, no shipment,nothing.  Most people who move abroad, transfer with companies and get relocation packages. I became our own personal relocation specialist, we spoke no German, making the whole process a 100% harder.  But hey, it was the adventure we signed up for and the reason we decided to move to Europe in the first place, to give our family the experience of living abroad.
September 2007
We sold almost everything we owned, kind of a liberating feeling. We purchased our one way tickets to Switzerland. We said our goodbyes and flew out the last week of September. This is our story of our move abroad in a nutshell.
   Yes, that is all of the luggage we took to move abroad, 8 bags

Sister in Portugal

My little sister has been on a mission in Portugal.  She just finished and my parents and I went to pick her up in Lisbon, Portugal. It was so great to see her. It was an adventure, thanks to a broken GPS, but we didn’t let that stop us, we eventually found her.
It was great traveling around with her. We loved having our very own personal translator.
She made so many great friends and we got to meet some of them. They were so wonderful to us, from serving us a 5 course meal in their restaurant to having us in their home. What wonderful people.
We did a little sight seeing while we were there too.  She served in an area called Sintra. It reminded me a lot of The Alhambra in Spain.  Both fortresses being inspired by the Moors.
If it seems like we are eating a lot, it is because we did. We found this amazing restaurant where I had the best chicken in my life. It was so delicious. Dad, had a giant lobster. Yeah for the sea.
I had forgotten from our last time in Portugal that you pay for everything brought to your table. Yeah, that bread and butter is not free……or even the wrapped bread sticks on your plate. You touch it, you pay, which means everything when you have a kid with you.
We also did our fair share of shopping. Shopping is always so much fun with dad, he knows how to spoil his daughters  Thanks Dad!
And it just happened to be my birthday while we were all together. My dad bought a yummy cake that we shared with friends at dinner. I will always remember being sung to in Portuguese and then, I guess it is tradition, I had to sing back.
 The last night there it rained a lot but we had a fabulous time together. It made me miss my family even more but I am so glad I got to spend a week with with.

Onda Blu Aquak Park

We spent most of our days laying on the beach but made it to the water-slides one day.  Onda Blu Aqua Park was an experience to say the least.


For a country that finds many rules optional we were surprise how rigid they were at this water-park. You ask what the kids are wearing on their heads? Bathing caps were obligatory.  Okay fine, we can oblige.  But the one I couldn’t seem to figure out….no sunglasses.  What? I can’t see without sunglasses on a bright day. lame.

The boys loved the giant water-slides. They had a fun 5 person slide you could all race against each other.

And the little one surprised us. She was right there with her brothers racing down the slides.

 
It was a fun day at the water park but we prefer not to have all the rules.  And for a country that follows all the rules (Switzerland) they don’t have nearas many rules as the Italians at their water-parks .

Città Sant’Angelo

Città Sant’Angelo is a quaint little hill Italian town in the Abruzzo region of Italy
 Daddy is a sucker for his little girl. She can’t seem to get a shoulder ride out of her mommy but a small “bitte” from his little girl, and he has a new passenger.
 Città Sant’Angelo is a small town but has a lot of charm. Many of the restaurants opened onto the town square making it a perfect place to enjoy great food and people watch.
 Our kids are magnets to all things gelato. They have special gelateria radar built in.   I might add, they are amazing little travelers, so we like to reward them (and ourselves) with gelato 🙂
 An extra big scoop
 He appears to be not excited about his gelato. But trust me, it was well received.  And is there something about being a teenager(almost) and not wanting to smile on demand?
 Just checking to see if there is anymore ice cream in there.
 An ice cream face I could kiss all day.
 Walking the streets of Città Sant’Angelo.  And it seemed, once again, we were the only tourists here. The kids were a hit, almost as much as the dog.
 The Saint of Città Sant’Angelo?
 Taking a break on the steps of a church
And what to they see??
 A view below.  It was a little hazy but to the left is the Adriatic.
Why must they grow up so fast?

Camping Italia

We kicked our summer off by heading to Italy to camp with our good friends. My girlfriend and I decided we would take our kids camping for a week in Italy. We have a favorite campsite only a 2 1/2 hr drive from our house. Now don’t get too excited…..it’s not typical camping, it’s more like parking lot camping……
She was my first friend I met in Switzerland and we’ve been friends ever since. They moved here from the UK the same time we did. (we met online a Swiss expat forum).  Her boys are the exact ages as my boys so it was a perfect match. Best of all our boys can’t get enough of each other.
And we got a surprise guest…..Hubby was fed up with the weather, so he met up to camp for a few days.
The upside to parking lot camping Italian style is…..lots of gelato and pizza. There is no need to cook. We just ate at their delicious restaurant, multiple times a day. 🙂 Whole pizzas are 3 euros for the kids, how can you beat that?
Our afternoons were spent boating, eating gelato, swimming, and hanging out, now that is Summer.
Every night they have dancing followed by a show. One night the show was “The Best Couple of Darna” They picked 6 couples. We were picked along with 5 Dutch couples.  Did I mention the camp is pretty much Dutch?   They had tons of challenges for us but it went on forever. No seriously, it was over 2 hours.  And how did we do….drum roll please…….We got 5th place. We sucked. I even got the year wrong we were married, seriously? But it was amusing.
We had a blast camping and it was a great way to kick off our summer.

Ireland

 

An added benefit to having my mom come was having a babysitter, so you know what that means. We got to enjoy a long weekend away.  Our destination: Dublin, Ireland.

 

 Blue skies, don’t let them fool you, it may rain at any moment…Beautiful Ireland

 

You know who this is right? Not the guy on the right, the one on the left?? I had no clue. But J sure did.  James Joyce is his name, a famous author, mostly known for his book Ulysses.  I think the highlight of J’s trip to Dublin was the James Joyce tour.  I didn’t have high hopes for this, but it actually turned out to be a very entertaining tour.

We’ve been told a visit to Dublin is not complete without a tour of the Guinness factory. So off we went.  It was a pretty informative tour in a beautiful old factory.

On the way out of the Guinness factory my ride was awaiting me 🙂

One day we rode the train out to Howth, a quaint little town on the peninsula.  A cute old man sat with us on the train and gave a thorough history of Ireland, even down to the signifaciance behind all the pubs.  Then on our way out of town, a local man followed us down the mountain telling us the history of Howth, which he said was heaven on earth.  We found the people of Ireland so friendly.

These nachos must be talked about.  Nachos don’t exist, in my mind, in Switzerland.  You decide.  In Switzerland we have had “Nachos” with tomato sauce, “Nachos” with no salsa?? and Nachos that arrived in a basket with no cheese? Seriously people.

So on that note and back to my glutton comment.  We needed to indulge into some Nachos. Maybe it has been too long?  Maybe we forgot what a big plate of cheese covered chips can do to you? Needless to say, after devouring such a plate of Nachos we felt disgusting, but we did get our Mexican food fix.

 

Remember those blue skies of Dublin, give it a few hours and in roll the clouds…..
Which results in a picnic getting rained on 🙂 We had a fabulous trip away, alone, a rarity these days.Thanks for holding down the fort Mom!

When Grandma comes to town…..

A Sprüngli tea party. If you are ever in Zuerich this is a must.

We’ve been fortunate to have grandma visit us quite a few times. And she has 2 favorite cities nearby… Lucerne and Colmar, so we visited both

 
 Enjoying the blue skies in Colmar
 I love this picture of the kids. Who doesn’t want their own delicious baguette?
 We enjoyed bike rides and playing chess in the park
 Grilled bratwurst behind our house
 And a first for us all. A tour of an old Swiss Military bunker.  It was a pretty fascinating look into the paranoia preparedness of the Swiss.
A visit to a family favorite castle was needed.  I think Jacob is no longer enthralled with castle visits, when did he grow up so fast?
My mom can testify to our constant walking.  We have trained the kids well, but that doesn’t mean we can’t rest our legs once and awhile.
 Enjoying our bonding time 🙂
 If you know my parents you know they are really into gardens and have an amazing one themselves. We knew my mom would appreciate a visit to Mainau, a flower Island in Germany. It was a hit. We picnicked and wandered through the gardens.
Like Father, Like Son
 She swiped my hat and began posing…… oh such a girl
I had to included this picture for a few reasons….
1.My child is about to attack me with silverware (have I mentioned dining with a 2yr old is really lively)
 2. Focus….yes, my kid is putting mayonnaise on his fries (he has lived here too long)
 My mom’s favorite rock in Lucerne
 Random happenings with Grandma….Golden lions, balloon hats, circus treats, and sunshine days
They loved all the attention
 Walks with the dog
 Feeding the pony
 The night before my mom left we got tickets to Circus Knie.  It’s a family tradition to go yearly and it was great sharing it with my mom this year.  Now, before you get too excited, this is an old school circus. Think: giant tent, politically not correct performers.
And I wish I had a video of this….. But I will paint a picture. I’ll start with 1 known statement:
It is not possible to train a Zebra.
There is a reason we use horses and not Zebras to ride. Anyways…..Ringmaster calls out the horses, tricks are done, then the Zebras, are called out. No joke, all hell breaks loose. The Zebras act as if they are being tortured.  Audience members who payed an insane amount for the front row seats are wishing they were sitting in the back with us.

London

We took the older boys on a trip to London.  I could spend months in London shopping but since this trip was mainly for the boys our focus changed to entertaining them.
*And because we were having such a blast, we were horrible at taking pictures, so here you go, a bunch of iPhone pictures……

The Hard Rock Cafe vault, holding famous musicians guitars.

 

My girlfriend and I had a great time entertaining each other and scheming our next venture ideas.  I think after Julie’s first few days in Switzerland she was happy to go to London and speak English 🙂

 

 We were lucky enough to get some blue skies in London.
 The man in white photo bombed our pictures a few times, thank you sir.

Having some fun,  just like old times.