Monday, January 20, 2020

Christmas + Holidays 2019

Our holiday season in Spain has (finally) come to an end -- I know I am a little late to the post holiday recap but for us it only ended two weeks ago and I am finally getting our lives back in order.  After our trip to Florence, we hit the ground running with Christmas ballet recitals, school performances, parties and more --

Serafina had her first ballet recital and she freaking ROCKED it.  This was the first time on stage where she didn't completely freak out from stage freight and I am not sure who was more proud, us or her!  Then a few days later she had her Christmas dance performance at school and she ROCKED that too -- again just having so much fun on stage dancing!
For Christmas we spent Christmas Eve with friends at their house with of course no pictures because too much fun was being had. We rushed home late to put out cookies for Santa and get to sleep... Or Serafina went to sleep and Trevor and I played Santa which is seriously so much fun!

Christmas morning was amazing.  Serafina had been asking for a Barbie Dream house for months so we went all out and got her a HUGE doll house!  She had a blast and in true Serafina fashion, she was more excited about the presents she got for Trevor and I than the ones she got.  It was the sweetest thing.

best we could get!

We also had our very good friends over for brunch -- a waffle and mimosa bar.  The kids had so much fun playing with all their new toys and the adults had fun just hanging out.  It was a wonderful Christmas.

Then we had a relaxing week (with Serafina of course being sick) before we celebrated New Years and this year we had the party at our house!  We had our close friends over, ate and drank and the kids ran wild -- then around 11PM we made our way to the main plaza in our town to ring in the New Year!  And yes all the kids came with us, this is Spain -- kids come to every big event and party and stay up very late!  The parents ate their grapes at midnight and toasted with champagne while the kids ate M&Ms and toasted with sparking fruit juice (called Magic).  Serafina thought it was the most fun night ever and loved celebrating with all of her friends.

We then had another few days to recover before the next (and final holiday) -- Three Kings Day (read more about it here).  This is the big holiday for Spain.  The Kings enter the cities on January 5th, usually in the morning and kids have a chance to tell them what they want and talk with the Kings.  Then in the evening there is a parade through each town -- each King has a float and throws candy and toys to all the people along the route.  It is crazy and fun and wild and seriously one of my most favorite days of the entire year.

And then the Kings deliver presents that night (much like Santa on Christmas Eve), so Serafina was excited to leave out some treats for the Kings and wake up to find they had left her a few gifts on the morning of January 6th!
And then after three holidays in two and a half weeks, we were all exhausted and ready to get back into our routine of school, work and life.  But we had another wonderful holiday season in Spain!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Weekend Adventures {Florence, Italy}

We took an insanely quick weekend to visit one of our favorite cities of all time -- Florence, Italy.  Trevor and I both studied in Florence in college (we went separate summers) but both feel so comfortable within the city and have seen most of the major museums and things the city has to offer.  But neither of us had been back since we left so many years ago so cheap flights + a free weekend meant we spent roughly 48 hours in our favorite city, this time together and with our daughter and it was amazing.
we also went with our very good friend Melissa
So this post is not necessarily about what to see and do in Florence but I will tell you where to eat.  Because that is basically what we did this trip -- eat and drink, and we ate and drank well because it is Italy.

We flew into Pisa, Italy which is a very small airport but very well connected.  There is a quick tram ride from the airport to the train station in Pisa.  Follow signs in the airport for Pisamover (yes that is what it is called and it is all well marked).

We made a super quick stop in Pisa to see the Leaning Tower -- it is about a 20 minute walk from the train station (and honestly the fastest way to the Tower unless you take a taxi).  While the Tower is awesome to see, there is nothing else in Pisa (in our opinion) so you don't need more than a half day.  We didn't go up the tower but you can (you can also go into the church and baptistery).

Getting to Florence from Pisa is also very easy -- lots of trains running between the two cities, at least one an hour.  Just buy a ticket at one of the many automated machines and make sure you validate it (punch it in one of the many machines) before getting on the train.  Same for returning back to Pisa -- buy your ticket at an automated machine and punch it before getting on the train.

Once in Florence, we stayed near the Accademia (right across the street to be exact).  There isn't really a bad location in Florence as long as you are on the main side of the Arno river (so same side as the Accademia, the Duomo, etc.).

We did go see the David at the Accademia because Trevor had never been and it worked out perfect because our little lady was obsessed with all the statues, especially the David.  I recommend getting tickets ahead of time (they are timed entry tickets).  We also went first thing in the morning and in the off season so we practically had the place to ourselves which was really nice.  For any museum in Florence, I would highly recommend getting tickets in advance.

We hiked (yes, because it is a large hill) up to Pizzale Michelangelo to get gorgeous views of the city and also to relive so many of our afternoons in Florence.  I cannot tell you how many times we hiked up that hill the summer I lived in Florence -- for fun, for soccer games in the park, for choir concerts at the church all the way at the top (required by my religion class).  And while insanely touristy, we got wine at the top and it was seriously one of the best glasses of white we had ever had that included a good and juicy strawberry.  It was perfect.

We also went to the Medici Chapels which are chapels within the Basilica of San Lorenzo -- the chapels honor the Medici family and was created by Michelangelo.  It really is very cool and worth a stop if you have time.  Then we mostly just wandered through the city going past our old school(s) and places we lived; it was amazing.

As for where to eat in the city -- lucky for us when Trevor and I lived in Florence we got two home cooked meals per day and they were amazing.  But for the other meal we almost always ate at Ristorante La Spada which has the best roasted chicken and potatoes you will ever have in your entire life.  Yes, go to Italy for the chicken, but you will not regret it. Their lasagna is also to die for, everything is good.  Back in the day we used to get the chicken to go but this trip we sat down in the restaurant for dinner and it was so much fun!  We ate dinner our second night at Coquinarius and it was also to die for.  I had the wild boar ragu and it was so good, I legit wanted to lick my plate!  For lunch we ate at I Fratellini for lunch which is an actual hole in the wall place, no seating -- eat on the sidewalk or wherever!  It is a sandwich shop and it was so freaking good.  Get a small glass of wine to go with your food and you will have the best lunch ever -- just know that this place always has a line, but it moves quickly.  And finally, you can't go to Italy without eating gelato at least three times a day and you must have it at Perche No, it is the best in the city (in our opinion).
So there you have it -- an insanely quick weekend away to one of the best cities in the whole world!  And for those with kids, Italians love children and our Peanut was treated like a princess wherever we went.  Of course eating out with kids in Italy is insanely easy as well because every restaurant will make you butter noddles + Parmesan cheese (Serafina's plain noodles with butter + cheese were so good we wanted to order extra for the adults)!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Weekend Adventures {Barcelona, Spain}

For Thanksgiving this year, we took a longer weekend away to Barcelona with two other families -- and we had a blast!  We did some stuff on our own and some with our friends, it was a perfect to see what we all wanted to see while also enjoying some time with the other families.
We stayed here and while the location and room were amazing, we had some unpleasant neighbors which really was not fun to deal with.  We used public transportation (the metro) a lot and it was so easy to navigate, one of the better systems we have used.  If you plan on using the metro, then I recommend getting a day pass (or multi day pass) -- very easy to buy at the automated machines in the metro stations, but we did take a taxi to/from the airport as it was easiest and not that expensive.  Also, Barcelona is a big tourist destination, I highly recommend getting tickets in advance for the popular sights.  While we went in a more off season time, we were still happy to have tickets in advance, especially for Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.

Barcelona has a lot to do and because we wanted to see as much as we could in three full days, we packed it.  So here is all we did and my tips/tricks as well -- 

Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló is a Gaudí designed house on the Block of Discord (known for the three houses with colorful facades) and was actually very fun and kid friendly.  We did buy tickets in advance, but probably didn't need to.  We checked the stroller, got our amazing audio-guides and explored the insanely weird but cool house.  The audio-guide was interactive which entertained Serafina (who also loved all the the crazy colors and tile).  The roof was very impressive and we all really liked the house.  Serafina is still talking about it -- this might have been one of her more favorite museum type things we have done.

Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum)
Pablo Picasso spent quite a few years in Barcelona and mastered his realistic painting style in the city.  The museum doesn't have the famous Cubist works but you will see many of Picasso's work from his earlier life/career and we really liked the museum.  And so did Serafina.  I can't remember if backpacks were allowed but we did check ours -- we did bring the stroller throughout the museum as Serafina was pretty tired and wanted to rest (there was an elevator that required someone to take you up and down).
Park Güell 
Another Gaudí designed part of the city -- this time it was supposed to be an upscale housing development, but now a gorgeous park overlooking the city.  Serafina seriously loved the park, she could run, explore and there was always something fun to see.  Part of the park requires a timed entry ticket and I highly recommend going into the Monumental Zone -- while crowded, it really was cool to see.  You can spend as long as you want within the Monumental Zone but once you leave, you can't return.  And while it is a park, there are no playgrounds but plenty of spaces for kids to run (and sort of stroller friendly -- lots of stairs).

Sagrada Familia
Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece and probably one of the most well known churches in the world (and with good reason, it was amazing).  The church is unfinished so it will constantly have scaffolding and work being done -- but also means you can go each year and see something new.  Advance tickets are a must (buy here -- and note that children under 6 aren't allowed to go up the towers, so we could not do that this trip).  The church also has a long (and strict) check in process, so be prepared to go through bag checks and x-ray machines.  And speaking from experience, don't bring large bottles of liquids (like beer you plan on sharing with your friends later) into the church).  The church was gorgeous and dramatic and unreal -- just spend time walking around and taking it all in.  We stayed right by the church and got to see it from the outside quite often and Serafina just loved it, our true church loving gal was so sad we only got to in once!

Las Ramblas
The gorgeous and famous boulevard running from Plaça de Catalunya down to the water.  The boulevard has a gorgeous and wide pedestrian strip in the middle making it a very easy (and worthwhile) place to walk.  And of course you must stop into La Boqueria Market -- the most famous market hall in Barcelona (and most central).  It has so many stalls with different types of food.  We grabbed a wide range of treats and more to have as a picnic up at....
Montjuïc is a large hill that overlooks the port with a large castle/fortress as well as the area that has hosted the world's fair in 1929 and more recently, the 1992 Summer Olympics.  To get to Montjuïc, we took the metro from the end of Las Ramblas (near the Columbus Monument) to the closest metro station to the Teleferic de Montjuic (the cable car) and road that up the mountain -- which was quite fun and the kids loved it.  We went straight to castle and while not a lot to see, the views were gorgeous (but do remember that this castle/hill was used as the place of many political executions during the Franco area).  We also had a lovely picnic up near the castle.

We then chose to walk down the hill so we could go see the various sights of the 1992 Summer Olympics.  We didn't go to the museum, but walked into the Olympic Stadium which was so cool to see (this was the sight of the amazing lighting of the Olympic flame by an archer + arrow).  We then made our way to...

Plaça d'Espanya
While mostly just a large roundabout -- go to the bullring mall, called Las Arenas, to the top floor and look back at the esplanade with the Magic Fountain -- this was the sight of the World's Fair in 1929.  The fountain puts on a huge lights/music show in the evenings, just be aware of the times and such (because we went in the off seasons, we didn't get a chance to see the performance).

We also took a day trip into the mountains to Montserrat which is famous for its monastery sitting on the mountain top.  Getting to Monserrat from Barcelona is quite easy -- the trains leave hourly from Plaça d'Espanya and it takes about an hour.  We opted to get off at the first stop for Monserrat and take the cable car up to the top (which was quite high and scared the crap out of me!).  I recommend getting the train/cable car combo ticket when you buy your train tickets in Barcelona -- will save you a little time because you don't have to wait in line for the cable car ticket.  We took the rack railway back down the mountain which was also very easy (again get the combo ticket and you'll switch trains to head back to Barcelona at the second rack railway stop).  And Monserrat is a huge tourist destination so be prepared for crowds so matter when you go.
Once at the top, everything is fairly close together -- we didn't bring a stroller but we saw people who did.  While on a hill, it was easy to get around. There is a large cafeteria and a restaurant buffet place, but we opted to bring our own snacks to have a picnic.  We went into the monastery and joined the line to touch La Moreneta -- the famous tanned Virgin Mary (that has darkened over time).  She is behind a glass, but you can touch the royal orb (or as Serafina calls it "the ball").  We also took the Sant Joan Funicular to the actual top and hiked down.  We hiked the steep but easier path back down (very wide and concrete -- hard to miss or get lost).  The views at the top and the walk back down were amazing, especially since the clouds cleared!

So -- eating in Barcelona.  We did not eat any Spanish food, not once.  We can get Spanish food anytime we want and since we were in a bigger city, we went with food we knew we couldn't find easily in our part of Spain.  Breakfast was typically in our apartment, lunch was on the go (picnics or take away food).  We had Thanksgiving dinner at La Taqueria (Mexican food) and it was amazing.  It had actual spice -- like make you cry and sweat spice.  We were all in heaven!  We ate (and drank) at Barcelona Beer Company, the food wasn't great (typical pub food) but the beer was amazing.  And finally we loved Via Napoli (Italian), such good food and a great kids menu.

I can't believe it has taken us this long to get to Barcelona but we loved it and now need to figure out how to get back before our time here in Spain is up!

Quick note about safety -- Barcelona (and Catalonia) have been in the news lately (2017 Las Ramblas attack, the vote for independence and then the arrest of those leading the pro-independence movement (just this past October)).  There have been many protests and marches -- it hasn't always been the safest place to visit recently.  However, we never felt unsafe, never saw any protests and thoroughly enjoyed our time in Barcelona.  Like any trip/travel we do, we follow the State Department travel warnings which are usually very helpful and accurate.  

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