Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sao Miguel

I have travel fever.

It all started a few weeks ago when I was working on the photobooks that I wrote about. Once I finished the yearbook, I made a book to document our trip to Sao Miguel, one of the Azores Islands of Portugal. That was an amazing trip.

I don't have much to compare to since we haven't done much traveling, but I would definitely go back. Before this time last year I hadn't even heard of Sao Miguel, let alone the Azores Islands.

Lagoa do Fogo
Our daycare provider was going on a Disney cruise the last week of February last year and so we knew that one or both of us would have to take a week's vacation to look after Bean. We started thinking about going away, but didn't know where to go. I was 3 months pregnant with Pea, so I wasn't super keen on wearing a bathing suit (you know that stage when you're getting big for your bikini, but you're not really pregnant enough to embrace a maternity bathing suit?). Also, we didn't want to have to do a vaccination blitz with Bean (and didn't know if we'd have enough time).

At the  Caldeira Velha.
It just so happened that I saw a client who grew up on Sao Miguel and he recommended it as a destination for travel. When I asked about the weather in February, he explained that it's their rainy season there, but  the temperature doesn't drop much below 17 degrees Celsius. He also said it was a good place to take a toddler because it's safe there and everyone seems to love children.

That night, I went home and googled Azores and found this very handy website: . We looked at the packages offered and settled on a week-long package on Sao Miguel. The agent that we worked with through the site was super helpful, even getting us a car seat for our rental car so that we wouldn't have to fly ours over.

The gorgeous view I awoke to after our nap on arrival day.
Our flight was direct from Toronto to Ponta Delgada (the biggest city on Sao Miguel), and took about 5 hours. We flew late at night, so Bean was able to sleep on the flight (and we caught a couple winks here and there). We arrived early in the morning their time. There was an agent waiting for us at the arrival gate and she helped us get our rental car figured out. We drove directly to the hotel and napped for a couple of hours.

Once we awoke from our nap, we carried out a pretty normal day, exploring Ponta Delgada on foot. We stayed in Ponta Delgada that night and the next, then stayed 3 nights in Furnas, one in Nordeste, and then one back in Ponta Delgada before flying home.

Sightseeing highlights of the trip were Sete Cidades, Caldeira Velha, Lagoa do Fogo, Furnas and Parque National da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes at the Achada waterfall.

Trip highlights include the amazing weather, views and vistas, as well as funny stories from hurtling down winding roads that sent poor Bean's carseat tipping to its side, herding cattle with a Fiat Punto, and getting stuck in a farmer's field with said Punto, requiring the husband to go find locals to tow us out!

Bean was 17 months old when we went. Here's a quick rundown of how we made the trip work for our family.

1. Snacks on the plane. We packed dry cereal, raisins, granola bars and she ate it all!

2. Drinks during take-off. Other parents bring juice, but Bean was still breastfeeding occasionally, so I nursed her during take-off. She was asleep when we were landing.

3. We swallowed our pride and left the cloth diapers at home. While we could have made it work with cloth, we chose to go the disposable route for this one week in Bean's life. She lived through it.

4. To pack lightly, we brought no strollers, playpens or carseats. We just brought the Ergo for me to carry her in, and a MEC backpack for the husband to carry her in.

5. We bought her a gift. On the way to the airport, we stopped at MEC and bought Bean her very own Nalgene. It gave her a vessel for water, but also amused her off and on throughout the trip because she had her new water bottle. (Bonus - it didn't leak all over!)

6. Bring a piece of home, but not a big one. We brought one stuffed animal, one bowl, a fork and spoon, and two sippy cups. I don't think we even brought a blanket.

7. Be casual about food. We quickly discovered that sit-down dinners were challenging. We opted more often for eating on a couch in the lounge at the hotel so that Bean could play and wander around and just come take bites as she liked. A grandmother's nightmare I know, but it saved us from dinner table battles. We all got to eat and we were all happy. When we returned home, we went back to eating dinner at the table as a family. No one died.

8. Make time for down time. Although Bean always woke up around 7 am, we rarely left a hotel before 10 am. She would snack on some cereal and locally purchased fruit in the hotel room while we showered, then we would go down for a sit-down  breakfast at the hotel restaurant. After breakfast, I would just relax while Bean could tour around the lobby or lounge. Bit of an over-share here, but that gave her time to have her morning poop before we got on the road. Got that messy bum change out of the way and then we were good for the day!

9. Balconies are your best friend. If you're traveling with children balconies in warm climates are handy! Husband would get Bean to bed while I sat in the lounge reading or writing post cards. When I came back to the room, we would sit out on the balcony so as not to disturb Bean. He would drink wine and we would eat chocolate and play cards.  It was nice.

10. Drive during nap time. We tended to drive a lot in the morning after we left the hotel. That allowed Bean to have a morning nap. Then we would stop for lunch and do some walking for awhile before getting back in the car (where Bean would nap again). There were also times when she would nap in the carrier on husband's back, but most of the time she slept in the car.

Hopefully this will inspire you to travel even if you have a little one at home. I'm sure it's a little trickier with two or more, but I think it's manageable as long as you are laid-back about it all and you set realistic expectations.

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