Friday, 30 October 2015

Back to the Motherland

Well, back to Andy's motherland anyway, and my adopted one! After spending a week in Portugal we flew back to England for nine days. We split our time between Andy's parents house near Portsmouth and Lee and Claire's place in North London. Lee is Andy's best friend who we met up with in Vietnam earlier this year.

A few highlights and observations...

  • Ella had the opportunity to meet her only living great-grandparent, Andy's paternal grandmother. Ella is also her first great-grandchild so the meeting was pretty special all around. Andy's family is full of boys (his dad is one of 2 boys, and they have two boys each) so Ella is the first girl as well. Andy's grandmother gave us some of her jewellery to pass on to Ella which will be such a lovely way for her to be remembered by Ella.

Ella with her great-grandmother
  • We had a great afternoon at the pub The Alwyne Castle in Islington where lots of our friends came to say hello. That night was the England/Wales rugby match which meant the pub got pretty rowdy once that started... I did the responsible mum thing and took my baby back to Lee's with Claire. Although she was in a deep sleep in the Hug a Bub, even through all the yelling and cheering.

Ella meeting Alison at The Alwyne Castle

Alwyne Castle - Ella and Sinead (aka Sweaty Betty), before the pub got packed!
Mmmmmm hamburger!
  • The tube is not a fun place to have a baby. Not all stations have lifts, and for many of those that do you have to walk miles to find them (I'm looking at you, Green Park). It's also super loud and screechy. Actually all of London is loud. You notice these kinds of things a lot more with a baby.

Ella's first tube ride
  • Living in Melbourne we are obviously massive coffee snobs, and wouldn't be caught dead in a Starbucks anymore (not totally true... airports are an exception!) Luckily Harris + Hoole has a branch outside of Southgate Station which is where Claire and Lee live.  It's almost like being in Melbourne, except of course its a chain and we don't have any of those here in Melbourne ;)

Morning Coffees at Harris + Hoole, Southgate

  • My dear friend Guillaume unfortunately got sick right before Kristin's wedding which meant he was not able to attend. Luckily I found an evening to travel down to Brixton to visit him when he was feeling better, and we were joined by our friend Jamie for a few beers at the Trinity Arms in Brixton. It felt just like old times and I was so sad to have to leave them at what would have been considered ridiculously early before baby Ella came along! Miss those guys :(

The Emirates Spinnaker Tower

  • We spent the day before we left in Portsmouth with Andy's parents. We did Dave's favourite walk along the seafront, the Renaissance Trail from Old Portsmouth to the Spinnaker Tower. Earlier this year Emirates sponsored the tower (making it the Emirates Spinnaker Tower) and they wanted to repaint it red and white, the colours of the airline. However, those also happen to be the colours of Southampton Football Club, Portsmouth's biggest rivals. After huge public outcry they relented, and they were in the process of repainting part of it "gold" (yellow) when we were there. Looked much better when it was all white, if you ask me!

Portsmouth Harbour

Walking along the seafront in Portsmouth

Last night snuggles with Grandad

  • All in all we had a lovely time in England, and as usual it went by way too quickly. We are so grateful for the quality time Ella got to spend with her grandparents, and for Lee and Claire for being such amazing hosts while we were in London. We are going back to London in June/July next year for Lee and Claire's wedding (Andy is best man), and we are already looking forward to that. 

Gearing up for our 25 hours of travel!
Apologies in advance for any typos... I am frantically trying to publish post before we go away for the long weekend!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Colares and Sintra

So, whenever we go on holiday I feel like I have to completely update this blog with every detail of what we did. Then I feel completely overwhelmed with writing and end up writing nothing. So I am going to keep this short and sweet in order to get it done, so that I can move on with the blog!

After my friend Kristin's wedding, we had a couple of days in Colares to spend with Andy's family before going back to England. Colares is in the region of Sintra (which, confusingly, is also a town), about 30km west of Lisbon. It is about a 10 minute drive to the beaches on the Atlantic coast. There is not much to do in Colares itself (although we were surprised to learn there are 20 restaurants listed on Trip Advisor!), however it has a beautiful, calm old world feel to it, and the restaurants we ate at (especially Sussegard) were very good. One of the highlights of the trip for me was walking five minutes down to a local coffee shop for a morning coffee and a Portuguese custard tart (Pastéis de Nata).
Walking through Colares near our airbnb
Colares old town square - Sussegard Restaurant on the left
Colares town centre
Coming back from our morning coffee and 'Nata' run

We spent two days exploring castles in the Sintra area. The first was the Park and National Palace of Pena. The Palace itself is brightly coloured and almost looks out of place surrounded by the natural beauty of the park. The castle is a good 45 minute walk uphill through the gardens, although there is an option to get a bus. The park/gardens surrounding the castle are lush, and there are pretty spectacular views once you get to the Palace. You can walk through the interior which Andy's family did, however Andy and I decided to walk back down to the car as it was getting pretty hot and Ella was in need of food. We ended up feeding her in the car, ah, the life of a breastfeeding mom, so glamorous!

Palace of Pena

The second castle was Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). This castle was built in the 10th century so all that is left of it are the ruins. You can walk along the fortress walls high in the hills (where you have a great view across to the Palace of Pena) and again there are pretty amazing views all the way around. Not great for those afraid of heights, there are no guardrails along the walls and it was quite windy at times so it's important to watch your step!

Castle of the Moors

We also spent an afternoon in the town centre of Sintra. It's cute and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but was VERY busy and touristy. The first time we tried to visit we ended up turning around and going home as we couldn't find a parking spot. 

The Hug a Bub wrap came in really handy while exploring the castles and Sintra as walking around with a pram would have been pretty annoying. Lots of cobblestone, narrow paths, and plenty of other tourists to contend with. We weren't the only ones that thought this - we saw plenty of other babies being carried by their parents on these trips. I am a little bit obsessed with "babywearing" at the moment (yes that's actually a word) and am currently on the hunt for a more structured carrier for Ella as she gets bigger. I have actually booked a "babywearing consultant" to come and help me choose the right one... Yes I am aware of how ridiculous (and middle class) that sounds but there are so many to choose from and they are pretty expensive so I've decided this will be the best way to find one that both Ella and I find comfortable. Andy just rolled his eyes at me when I told him. I will update next week once I've had the consultation.

 We had a fantastic time in Portugal once we got over the initial rush and stress of getting there. It was wonderful to have the opportunity for us and Ella to spend some quality time with Andy's family, and I know his parents loved being able to get to know their first grandchild.

After Portugal we flew back to England spending time between Portsmouth and London which I will write about in the next post. Hopefully it doesn't take me too long to write that one!

Auntie Lauren
Uncle Russ
Changing diapers... a three man job!

Playing with Grandad

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Wedding In Portugal

Our primary reason for travelling to Europe at this time of year was so that I could be in my good friend Kristin's wedding. Kristin is Canadian and her (now) husband Dan is English, and instead of picking one person's country over another for the wedding, they decided to have it in a place they had enjoyed travelling to together a few times. So Portugal it was, and luckily they chose a date that fell within school holidays so we were able to attend.

Originally Andy and I had booked flights to arrive in England on a Sunday, and then fly to Portugal on Thursday in time for the wedding on Saturday. We figured that would give us enough time for us and Ella to adjust to the time difference, while giving us some time with Ella's grandparents in Portsmouth before going. Alas, it was not to be, due to our issues in getting Ella's passport in time we ended up arriving in England on Wednesday afternoon, just in time for our flight to Portugal on Thursday. I will do a separate post on flying with an infant later, once we have survived the flights home, however suffice to say I don't recommend doing 25 hours from Melbourne to London and then immediately returning to the airport for another flight the next day!

Nevertheless, we were thankful that we got to London in time to make our Portugal flights, and we arrived without any major incident in Lisbon on Thursday afternoon. So far, so good. We collected our rental car (complete with infant car seat) from the airport and were on our way to our airbnb in the small village of Colares.

A big lesson learned once we left the airport: If you are driving in a foreign country and have no idea where you are going, it is helpful to use the airport wifi before you leave to get Google Maps to download a map of the area. Although you can't use the directions function in the app if you don't have 3G, you can still see the roads and the little blue dot that tells you where you are. We did not do this, and instead relied on the Sat Nav given to us by the car rental company. This is all well and good until you miss the exit to the main highway and the Sat Nav re-routes to take you though a major city during rush hour. Cue an angry Andy, not only trying to get used to driving on the right side of the road, but also cursing me for renting a manual car... Oops!

Long story short, it basically took us three hours to get to our airbnb, when it should have taken less than one. The address of our airbnb was not recognised in the Sat Nav, and it kept taking us on small, windy, dangerous (in my opinion) roads. We should have just tried to follow an old fashioned map rather than relying on the Tom Tom, as when we went back to the airport the next day to pick up Andy's parents we realised our mistake and the drive was rather straightforward. 

We arrived pretty exhausted and thankfully found an amazing restaurant a five minute walk away called Sussegad. We had a delicious meal which Ella thankfully slept through and then went straight to bed. Unfortunately Ella did not get the memo that we had changed time zones and woke pretty much every three hours through the night. Infant jet lag... it's just like going back to having a newborn!

Friday morning we went to visit Kristin at the wedding venue, which was a rustic, vintage style Quinta in Colares. It was so, so great to see her, especially as we had come close to not being able to attend the wedding. Kristin was probably the most relaxed bride you will ever meet, totally chilled and in control the morning before her wedding. I think I was more stressed than her, I only tried on my dress for the wedding that day, and had to rush out and buy shoes and some accessories that afternoon. Thankfully everything worked out, my dress just fit (not quite at my pre-pregnancy weight yet!) and I found some great shoes and a handbag in a shopping centre nearby. Who doesn't love an excuse to buy new shoes?!

We had a quick visit and then Andy and I left for our shoe shopping and to pick up Andy's parents back at Lisbon airport. We were all staying in our villa (along with Andy's brother and his girlfriend Lauren, who arrived a day later) for a bit of a family holiday after the wedding. While at the airport I purchased formula for Ella for the first time. I was getting majorly stressed that I would not be able to express enough milk for her to get through the wedding and would have to leave part way through the reception to feed her. This was to be the first night that Andy and I would both be baby-free, so I did want to try and enjoy myself! I did feel guilty about the formula, however she has been exclusively breastfed for three months so a little formula so mummy can have one night out surely won't kill her!

Saturday morning started with a huge breakfast at the Quinta for the wedding party. After that we went to meet up with all my London friends who were staying at a nearby villa. It is because of friends like these I still get homesick for London. These guys have been my friends for most of my seven years of London and have seen me through my many ups and downs of living there. It was so amazing to see them and to introduce them to Ella. I don't often think I want to move back to London, but I do wish I still lived nearer to these guys. If only they would just all move to Melbourne!

After that Betty and I went back to the Quinta to get ready for the wedding. From this point on I was baby-free for the day, and I must say, I love my daughter, but it was nice to not be a mum for a while! I will admit that I did have some pangs of longing for my child-free days when I saw all my friends staying together at their villa, free of any responsibility, not thinking of anyone but themselves. Ahhh, I do miss those days! It goes without saying that of course I wouldn't trade what I have now though :)

Ultra-relaxed bride Kristin did her own make-up and her sister did her hair, and we were free to do our own as well. I am a pretty crap girly-girl and am hopeless at hair and make-up so was feeling slightly stressed about this until I reminded myself that no one would be looking at me! Kristin looked absolutely gorgeous and I was so, so happy for my friend.

The ceremony was simple and classic, with Dan's dad singing an Irish folk song that he wrote, bringing tears to everyones eyes. After the ceremony there was a drinks reception in the garden of the Quinta, which was surrounded by gorgeous gardens and set up with quirky, vintage furniture. The weather was perfect, clear blue skies and nearly 30 degrees, and soon enough it was time for dinner. This was also outside on a long table for all the guests. The speeches were great - not too long and very funny, especially the best man speech. Kristin is one of four children, and her three siblings did a very touching speech together. At the end Andy turned to me and said "We need to have more children... three, four at least!" Awwww! (But seriously... No)

I lasted until about midnight until a mixture of guilt and tiredness took over. Ella was apparently very good for her grandparents, sleeping most of the time we were at the wedding. Of course this meant that she was up quite a few times in the night, and I was glad that I had been easy on the alcohol. Oh, and she didn't even end up needing any of that formula in the end - as usual, a lot of worry over nothing!

The next day lots of people from the wedding went to the beach. We attempted to join but discovered very quickly that a baby on a beach is pretty much the least fun thing ever. They can't go in the sun, or the sea (which was freezing anyway!), you don't want them to get sandy, etc, etc. Basically it will be a few more months until we can enjoy taking Ella places like that. 

And then that was it! All the wedding fun was sadly over, and it will be Christmas when we are able to see the bride and groom again when we stay with my parents in Canada. But it was a great weekend, and I am so glad that we actually made it and I was able to take part in such a special day!

Me with the beautiful bride

Fun times during the reception

Lovely dinner table

A beautiful sunset during dinner