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Can I still write about my vacation last month? Its old news, probably not, but I’m doing it anyway. I have had a lot going on in the past three and a half weeks since we got home and I haven’t had the discipline to sit down and write about my trip, but, as Chris keeps pointing out to me, I will enjoy reading about it someday if I make the time to write about it now. So, here it is, I’m making time.

When I first sat down to look through my pictures from Norway, I realized that there were not many pictures, and even fewer good ones. I’m a bit disappointed, but not really surprised. It is pretty difficult to manage Kai while effectively taking photographs. We have a lot more pictures from the second half of our trip in Prague where Chris joined us and championed the photography effort.

In my last post, I went on a rant about the high price of food in Oslo, although, all said and done, I managed to only spend $298 on food, entertainment, and transportation over the three days that we were there; I feel pretty good about that.

So what does one do in Oslo anyway? That was a big question for me before our trip, but I quickly found out that there are many exciting things to see there.

We visited many museums such as the Fram, Munch, Nobel, and Viking Museums as well as my very favorite, the Ski Museum. I almost didn’t make it to the Ski Museum because it is a bit out of the way and involved a long walk, ok, not that long, maybe a mile, straight uphill from the nearest Metro station, but I am so glad that we went. I really enjoyed reading about the history of skiing and, for some reason, Kai patiently allowed me to do so.

Because the weather was chilly and drizzly, I sought out as many indoor activities as I could find. Kai seemed to stay quite warm in her stroller sleeping bag*, but I kept getting chilly and I kind of regretted leaving my Uggs at home. Don’t get me wrong, we did many outdoor activities as well, just fewer than we might have done had it been warm outside.

*If you live in a cold climate and need or want a stroller sleeping bag, I highly recommend the 7AM Enfant one. It is by far the most awesome one that we have used, Kai’s feet stay warm even in sub-freezing temperatures when she kicks her shoes off.

So more about Norway, I’m not finding a lot to say. I am glad that we went. I cherish the opportunity to go new places, see new things, learn about other countries and cultures, but I’ve had trouble writing because it wasn’t all that I had hoped for. I still haven’t written posts about the Maldives for the same reason. [Chris, remind me that I should get on with that as well!]

My main hangup with Norway was the people. They are very beautiful, arguably the most beautiful people in the world, but they can act kind of ugly. They were friendly in much the same way that I have experienced friendliness in France; read that how you will. I had a few experiences in Norway that just rubbed me the wrong way. None of the situations were dangerous and I understand that they do not reflect the behavior and attitude of each and every person in the country, but I’m just having trouble getting past a handful of extremely rude people who I encountered.

Overall, Oslo was a safe, clean, beautiful city with many activities for tourists, nevertheless, I don’t think it is at the top of my ‘revisit’ list.

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Our first day in Oslo started off pretty well. We took a short nap and got cleaned up before heading out for some lunch and some sightseeing. We hit up several of the sights in Central Oslo before I decided to look for somewhere for us to eat.

Big mistake. Finding food for us took much longer than I expected. I quickly found out that it would be difficult to find even a fast food sandwich for us to split for under $12. I was also realistic enough to realize that splitting a European-sized sandwich with Kai would not even come close to filling my oversized American appetite.

I started to get kind of nervous. I had been warned that Norway was expensive, heck, I had even been warned by a Brit who thought Oslo was far more expensive than London. It just didn’t sink in though until I was converting the prices of things in my head.

Thinking back on our trip to Japan, I made a beeline for McDonalds. We had a few meals there in Japan and they were pretty reasonably priced. I shuddered at the idea of feeding Kai McDonalds. Bad. Mother.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw that the price of a Big Mac Value Meal was more than $17. Yikes. My fear of feeding Kai McDonalds went out the window because even that didn’t seem like a reasonable option.

I needed to buy some time while I figured out what to do. I stopped at a convenience store to buy a small (~16 oz) carton of milk for $3 and a banana for $1.22. At least Kai would forgive me for another hour or so while I got this sorted out.

Finally, I found a grocery store that was open. I bought some fruit and bread so we would have something to snack on while we were out and about, but there was nothing in this store that would make a meal suitable for Kai without my having access to a kitchen.

I eventually settled on getting us $12 fast food sandwiches. Naturally, I ended up eating nearly two $12 sandwiches because Kai didn’t like either one. I should have seen that coming.

In the end, we did not end up spending a fortune on food in Oslo, but we also never ate at an establishment that offered seating of any kind. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though; sometimes it is stressful to take a toddler into a restaurant by myself, so alfresco dining had its perks.

We got to see a lot of awesome stuff in Oslo, but I’ll share more about that another day.

Kai and I took two flights to get to Norway and, thankfully, they may have been her most successful yet. After both flights, passengers commented to me that they had no idea that a baby was sitting adjacent to them.

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The first leg of our journey took us to New Jersey where we had a twelve hour layover and an opportunity to hang out with my family all day. We got to have blueberry pancakes, a trip to the zoo, and a big dinner before heading back to the airport for round two.

For the second time that day, Kai fell asleep before takeoff and managed to sleep until the final approach into our destination airport. The sounds pretty good, but there is a bit of a downside for me; it means that I did not sleep much at all as I was dealing with various limbs falling asleep from her weight and the inability to get up to use the bathroom for nearly seven hours. Still, this was a much better alternative than a cranky, wakeful baby.

Sunday morning we arrived in Oslo, caught a train into town, and secured a super early check-in into our hotel. So far, so good!

Saturday morning Kai and I embarked on a mini adventure before joining Chris for our ‘real’ vacation later this week. I suppose that the excitement really started on Friday night when I was supposed to deliver Duke to the kennel.

Have you ever wondered how Duke gets in and out of the car? I can tell you for sure that he does not jump and that he leverages all 200 pounds of his weight to keep all four feet on the ground. I didn’t really give much thought to loading and unloading Duke until it fell on my plate to do it last week and it dawned on me that I could not pick him up.

Thankfully, after tormenting me for several hours, Chris spilled the beans; he has been using a genius technique to get Duke into the car: put him on a leash and ask him to walk right in.
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Not so bad at all!

After kenneling Duke, Kai and I spent the bulk of Friday night figuring out how we were going to share a carry-on suitcase for nine days. It would have been pretty easy if she didn’t wear diapers, but we’re not quite ready to leave those home yet. [Foreshadowing: It was a really good decision to pack enough diapers rather than buy them in Norway!]

Saturday morning Late Friday night, we set off for the airport and the beginning of our adventure.

All winter long I have been super stoked about a snowboarding trip to Vail, one of my most favorite ski areas. For a week or more, I have been excited to the point that I had trouble focusing on anything except for daydreams of shredding. Last night I could barely sleep. Finally, I found myself counting down the hours of the work day.

With just two hours until I planned to leave work, I logged onto the Internet hoping to find a flight upgrade notification. I did and I was super stoked all over again.

Until I looked more closely. Our flight from Indy to Denver was cancelled.

Immediately I called United on one phone while using the another to blow up both of Chris’ cell phones with calls and text messages. Minutes later he arrived at my desk to finish my phone call with United while I packed up my stuff. Our only hope to get to Denver tonight was to rush to Cincinnati and catch a Houston-bound flight and we needed to leave ten minutes ago. We picked up Kai on the way out of town and decided to go for it.

I felt a rush of adrenaline as we drove to Cincinnati, excited that we had a second chance, but nervous that we wouldn’t make it. With eleven minutes before the checked bag cutoff, we pulled into the expensive parking garage closest to the terminal. Chris jammed inside with our suitcase and the snowboards while I packed up Kai and the car seat before hurrying inside to meet him. As I approached the ticket counter, excited that we had made it, Chris’ face told a different story.

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Two hours after we began our journey, we were again piling into the car, hungry, tired, and deflated. Shortly after getting back on the road, we ran head on into the storm that had grounded our flights. Snow, sleet, and freezing rain were flying at us in a scene reminiscent of Rad Racer, if you are the right age, you know exactly the level that I am talking about.

We crept back home from Cincinnati at a snail’s pace, our return trip taking almost twice as long as the journey there. I’m super disappointed that the trip did not work out; it seems that Vail is getting hammered with snow right now and the conditions will be perfect for anyone who can make it out there.

Hopefully we’ll have a chance to get out there later in the season.

    After leaving Porto, we began to make our way down the Portuguese coast visiting a few beach towns along the way. Chris was hoping for a chance to surf, but it never worked out. It was pretty cold out and, with no wetsuit, I don’t know how enjoyable it would have been anyway.
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    One of the towns on our “must see” list was Nazare. Up until fairly recently, it was a very traditional, somewhat untouched, fishing village and I was really curious to see it. Unfortunately, when we got there it looked more like a typical American boardwalk than a Portuguese fishing village. Lining the beach was store after store selling the same generic trinkets. Nearly gone were the old women in plaid skirts, knee socks, and fisherman’s sweaters that I had heard about. It is hard to say if people like me are the problem, “invading” the village to visit the ocean or if tourism is a huge benefit to the local economy. I’m guessing the latter. While the curiosity of seeing a traditional village is gone, I sensed that tourism was important to the locals.
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    We did not spend much time in Nazare because we were pretty crunched for time by that point in the trip and we had committed to a hotel room in Lisbon that evening.

    The next morning, we got started bright and early exploring Lisbon and Chris was feeling super enthusiastic, practically dancing in the streets.
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    One of the things that I was especially drawn to in Lisbon were the mosaic sidewalks. Most of the city was destroyed by fires that started as a result of the Great Earthquake of 1755 and, when the city was rebuilt, this type of sidewalk was installed with beautiful and intricate patterns. I can’t even imagine the work that must go into making one of these!
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    Our first stop in Lisbon was the Tagus River waterfront. It was sunny and warm there with a great musician playing for tips. We might have stayed there for hours had Kai not gotten impatient for us to keep going. By this point in the trip, I think she was starting to get a bit tired of riding around in the stroller so much. I don’t blame her, in fact, I was delighted that she tolerated it for this long.
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    Next stop was to see the “World’s Sexiest Bathroom” before we continued our journey through the winding streets of Lisbon. Obviously I needed to see why it was so great. I paid my 50 Euro cents and went in. It was nice and clean and had some pretty cool wood paneling on the walls, but I don’t know that it was deserving of such a bold title.
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    After climbing many hills and carrying the stroller up more staircases than I can count, we arrived at the top of the city. A whole neighborhood full of breathtaking views and plenty of cafes to enjoy them from.
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    We tooled around there for a bit and grabbed some lunch before heading back down the hill and over to the Belém neighborhood to taste pastries from the most famous pastry shop in Lisbon. In many ways, it reminded me of going to Cafe du Monde in New Orleans for beignets. The Pasteis de Belém is a pastry shop that was opened by a group of monks who needed to fund their monastery. The shop has been in business since 1837; it sounds like this gig is working out for them.

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    Next up was the Jeronimos Monastery, home of the famous pastry making monks. Of all the monasteries that we visited on our trip, I think this one was my favorite. I did like the frescoes that we saw in Madrid, but I had much more appreciation for the architecture at Jeronimos.
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    After hitting a few more sights, it was clear that Kai was finished and, quite honestly, I think we were too. We took a cab back to Baixa for dinner, but first there was the matter of getting Kai to sleep so we could eat in peace. I had high hopes that she would easily fall asleep after riding a few bumpy blocks on the mosaic sidewalks, but no such luck. We had to employ more advanced techniques. A pashmina from a street vendor and an ultra pasteurized “milk box” later, she was zonked out, I was eating more grilled fish, and Chris was eating yet another “tipico” meal of octopus over rice.

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The first thing that struck me about Portugal was how welcoming the people were. It is one of the friendliest countries that I have ever visited.

Our first night in Portugal, we ate dinner at a small family run restaurant in Porto. Although the proprietor and his sons spoke very little English, it was clear that we were welcome, Kai was even more welcome, and they were excited for us to taste and enjoy their food. I played it safe by ordering grilled fish, I think I had dorado, while Chris asked for a house specialty. The tripe stew.

If you have ever been in the kitchen with Chris, you have probably seen that he can be a little bit over the top with food safety precautions, so I was pretty surprised to hear that he was going to eat tripe that he did not prepare himself.

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We started dinner with bread, then salad, chouriço, and soup. So that we could taste both of the traditional soups on the menu, I had ordered the Sopa de Legumes, while Chris tried a Caldo Verde, a creamy kale and potato soup. Not being a huge fan of soup to begin with, Chris left about half of his soup in his bowl. As he was clearing our dishes, the restaurateur’s son asked if Chris liked the soup. Always honest, Chris tried to politely explain that it wasn’t really his thing. I’m not sure how much of that was lost in translation, but suddenly our consumption, or not, of every morsel of food that was delivered to the table was being scrutinized. It was clear that this family took their food seriously and that, as their guests, our opinions mattered.

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Remember the tripe on order?

Finally, my fish and Chris’ tripe arrived at the table. After his first bite, his face said it all. Luckily, Kai saved the day. It was probably the first time that Chris has ever been eager to hear her cry during dinner. He immediately took on the role of doting dad, entertaining Kai while I ate every bit of food on my plate as fast as I could. All the while, the restaurant’s owner was checking on us and how Chris liked his dinner. At the very least, we needed to take Chris’ meal to go and make a huge fuss over how good it was. On cue, Kai’s tantrum escalated and we were able to get Chris’ meal boxed and gracefully leave without eating any additional tripe.

Although he was left hungry, I’m sure Chris felt quite relieved.

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Looking back on this experience, I am recalling that much of our stay in Portugal involved eating things that were new, different, or unexpected and breakfast the following morning was another example of this. We set out for the day with an eye out for somewhere to eat breakfast and quickly found a small bakery/cafe that was packed with people, taking that as a good sign, we grabbed a table and ordered two Americanos and the server’s two favorite items out of the deli case. A few minutes later, our breakfast arrived. A fried salted cod sandwich for me and a pastry of meat, cheese, and phyllo dough for Chris. Initially, I was rather turned off by the idea of a cod sandwich for breakfast, but by the time I finished it, I was vowing to cook more fish for breakfast at home. Don’t knock it until you try it, I guess. 

I’m a huge fan of smoked salmon for breakfast, why not salted cod?

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It was time to continue on to the most important part of the day. We were on a mission to walk across town and cross the River Duoro to visit the port cellars on the other side.

I did not realize how much I had to learn about port wine until we toured a cellar. In fact, I would have told you that I did not even like port wine until we did a tasting. It turns out that I love it, unfortunately, I seem to prefer very fine port wines, aged 40 years. Needless to say, I will not be taking up port drinking on the regular anytime soon.

While Porto might be an interesting city for wine enthusiasts to visit, I didn’t feel like it offered a whole lot in terms of general tourism. Perhaps we missed some hidden gems, who knows. I was glad that we visited, but would probably not rush to go back there.

Next up: Nazare and Lisbon