Monday, March 18, 2019

Carnaval 2019

I wrote about Carnaval before so refresh your memory here -- but it is very similar to Mardi Gras or other carnival celebrations throughout the world, the party/celebration leading up to Lent... Although here in Spain, the party continues after Lent which I don't quite understand but oh well!

Just like last year, we went to the large street party in Cadiz and had a blast.  Everyone dresses up in group costumes (costumes are a must and part of the fun)!  This street party is not kid friendly...

Our small town does a parade that all the schools participate in -- each local school makes a float and dresses up.  This year our school dressed up as Super Monsters (from the Netflix show) for the parade, parents included.  They had patterns for all the costumes and seamstresses on hand who could sew them for you, there was even a few practices for the dance you had to learn!  We opted out of the big town parade....

But most schools have a parade (or pasacalle -- no floats) during the school for the kids the Friday before the big town parade.  Each school has a theme for the carnaval unit and this year Serafina's school had the theme of -- the universe or el universo.  For the six or so weeks leading up to carnaval, the WHOLE school learned about the universe.  Parents and kids did projects, activites and more to teach their classes about the universe.  Serafina and I did a poster on NASA complete with a model shuttle/rocket!  The parents also decorated the classroom to coordinate with the theme!*  It was such a fun unit.  Then on the day of the pasacalle ALL the students and ALL the teachers dressed up according to the theme.  Serafina went as the solar system, with a costume made by me.
The day of the parade was so much fun (especially because our kiddo has a slight obsession with parades).  The parents were not allowed to participate -- only to watch.  The younger kids were paired with older kids to walk and it was adorable.  The kids and their classes paraded through the streets making a big circle around the school, complete with a police escort and everything.  This was a real parade!  And just like every other carnaval parade or event, so much confetti and paper streamers were thrown... so much!

the streets were covered with confetti
This was a day that I just thanked my lucky stars that we live in Spain and we get to experience cultural things like this.  Serafina was SO happy and SO excited and will be talking about her pasacalle forever :)

And thankfully our carnaval season was not over -- we went to a neighboring town for their amazing parade.  Chipiona does not have a feria like most towns in southern Spain do so they go ALL OUT for carnaval.  I am talking insanely intricate and elaborate and detailed costumes, floats, dances, performances -- it was so cool!

The parade typically starts in the afternoon but people start grabbing their spot along the route early in the day (or even the night before)!  We went a little early and got lucky with some front row seats on the sidewalk.  Just like a typical American parade -- this one lasts hours so bring your chairs, coolers full of food and anything else you might want/need for an afternoon of parade viewing!  But in true Spanish way of doing things -- there is lots of drinking and no toilets so be prepared!


Another wonderful carnaval season and such a fun time to be in Spain!



*So parent involvement in schools is the norm and also expected here in Spain.  This really deserves a post on its own -- but very simply put, if the teacher needs any supplies or anything, the parents provide it and the parents decorate the classroom for each new unit/theme.  It is pretty awesome.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Day Trip {Jerez}

Jerez (pronounced her-eth) is the closest big city to us at about 20-30 minutes by car depending on where you are going.  I can't believe it has taken me three years to write a post about Jerez because we go often, but mostly for shopping -- grabbing something at the bigger department stores or IKEA.  Or my personal favorite is when I sneak away for an afternoon the Hammam (or Arab baths) -- highly recommend if you have some time and are without kids!

While we go to Jerez often, this was the first time we really explored the city (we have gone for feria in the past).  We went with some of our very close friends as sadly one of the families is moving soon so we figured it was about time to enjoy what the the amazing city of Jerez has to offer!

We started off at the Alcázar -- which is a type of Moorish castle/fortress (many cities around southern Spain and Portugal have them) and most date back to the 11th century.  This alcázar is much smaller than the ones in Cordoba or Sevilla but still worth a trip, especially since it is a great size for kids to run around.  Not the most stroller friendly (lots of rocks and cobble stones) and not always safe (no railings) but still fun!



Next up we did a sherry tou'r at Tio Pepe -- one of the more famous sherry bodegas in Spain.  We are lucky enough to live in the sherry triangle" so we have some amazing sherries at our front door.  If you hate sherry, then you have to try true Spanish sherry as there is only one place in the world that can make true sherry -- and that is right where we live!  A sherry tour is just like a wine or beer tour -- you learn how the sherry is made and then you get to taste it!  This tour was LONG so I would recommend no kids, although you do get to a ride a train so that was fun, but seriously it was over two hours (the longest tour we have done).  And yes, most bodegas (sherry places) offer English tours!  Bodegas Tradicion is another good bodega but on the much more expensive side (both the sherries and the tour).



If you do have kids, there are a few kid friendly activities if needed -- the zoo is very small but decent for younger kids; La Cuidad de los Niños is a big park/playground/activity center all for kids (I'd say elementary aged kids would like this best, we went when Sera was about three and she was a little young -- also it is all outdoors); CostaJump is a trampoline place -- make sure to go during comida (lunch time) to avoid big crowds; and finally Luz Shopping has a decent playground and some good/quick restaurants.  

Jerez is a great little big city that is worth a visit if you are ever in southern Spain!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Weekend Adventures {Zagreb, Croatia + Plitvice Lakes}

I recently took a long weekend trip to Croatia with friends -- while Trevor and Serafina stayed home.  It was amazing -- the food was yummy, the wine was so good and the people were extremely nice!  We stuck to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia) but also took a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Getting to Croatia from southern Spain is not always easy -- we had an 18-hour layover in Madrid on the way to Zagreb.  We flew into Zagreb airport which is not large but very nice (and seemed quite new).  We took an Uber to and from the airport in Zagreb as it was inexpensive and easiest.  We actually didn't take any public transportation while in Zagreb (except taking the bus to the the lakes -- more on that later in the post).  Zagreb was very walking friendly and nothing was far; it was often faster and easier just to walk.  Everyone we encountered spoke English and all places had English menus which made everything a lot easier.  Cash was much easier to use and widely accepted -- in Croatia they use the kuna so you'll need to get cash at the airport (or another ATM when you arrive).

Zagreb is the capital city and the largest in Croatia so it has an interesting mix of tourists, business people and a young/university crowd.  It is a small big city and was wonderful to just wander around -- and of course stop occasionally for coffee or a glass of wine.  There are quite a few things to do in Zagreb, many small museums.  We only had one full day in the city so we stuck to the items that were most interesting to us --

Things To Do
The Museum of Broken Relationships is one of the top tourist attractions in Zagreb and I highly recommend going -- it is located in the upper part of the city so a ride up the funicular or a walk up all the stairs is also worth it for the gorgeous view of the lower town.  The museum is small but amazing.  It showcases items from all over the world that pertain to break-ups of any kind (with objects, people, and more), but note that while the objects are not to be touched, they are at perfect toddler height with no barriers to stop little curious hands.  The museum also has a decent cafe.  While you are in the upper part of Zagreb, wander around -- go past St Mark's Church to see the gorgeous tiled roof.  And then make your way slowly back down to the lower part of town, walking along Ivana Tkalčića street (a pedestrian street with so many good places to eat lunch or have a drink).  Wander through the main square Trg Bana Jelačića which has the big statue of Jelačić (famous governor/army guy) on horseback.  Near the main square is also the Dolac Market, an amazing farmers market.  We also went to the Muzej Iluzija (Museum of Illusions), another small museum and not quite what we expected, but still really fun and interesting.


Eating
We ate really well in Croatia -- first because they have good food and also because things are much cheaper (we tended to pay no more than $20 per person for dinners that included dessert and many drinks).  Vinodol is a great place for modern Croatian food -- a really gorgeous restaurant and an extensive menu.  Otto & Frank is on the main restaurant street (Ivana Tkalčića) and was also really good.  It has a smaller menu but also serves a good breakfast.  Eggspress is an amazing breakfast spot right -- the menu was all breakfast and all eggs but it was so yummy (and the portions were huge).  Pupitres is a great wine bar serving a lot of wonderful Croatia wines.  The owners were so nice and had great recommendations for what wines to try.  The Craft Room is a good place to try Croatian beer.  The Garden Brewery is another great place for beer -- with beer made right in Zagreb.  You can go outside the city to the actual brewery or you can go to the tasting room in the main area of Zagreb.  Zagreb is known for their coffee culture and cafes/coffee places are everywhere.  I highly recommend having coffee whenever you can -- it is some of the best I have ever had outside of Seattle (and being from Seattle, I feel like I can claim being a coffee snob!).

Just a random note about Zagreb -- the smoking culture is heavy and everywhere.  It was by far the most smoking we had ever seen in all of our travels.  The inside of many restaurants and cafes (and for sure bars) seemed to be the smoking areas, while the outside were the non-smoking (but still very smokey).  We weren't sure if that was because it was cold or what -- but it made for some rough evenings out.  The places I recommended were not smokey (especially compared to many other places we went to).  My friends who I traveled with have been to other parts of Croatia and they said it was not smokey at all -- so maybe it was just Zagreb.  Either way, we were all pretty surprised by it.  While Zagreb had SO MANY playgrounds and seemed very kid friendly, I would avoid this city with kids only because of the smoking.

Plitvice Lakes
We also took a (long) day trip to the the Nacionali Park Plitvička Jereza (Plitvice Lakes).  The national park is known for a series of 16 lakes connected by waterfalls and between a limestone canyon.  The park has many trails and over the water walkways taking you through the gorgeous scenery.  Sadly because of the time of year, the upper lakes were closed but we still had an amazing time hiking in and around (and above) the lower lakes.  The park was simply amazing and breathtaking and well, just plain awesome.


The lakes are a little over two hour drive from Zagreb, heading south further into Croatia.  We took public buses directly to the lakes as there is a bus stop right outside one of the entrances into the park (and it was much cheaper than doing a tour).  I recommend going directly to the bus station in Zagreb at least a day in advance to buy your tickets.  They will only sell you the one way to the lakes, but you can buy your return ticket to Zagreb on the bus back (there is a bus schedule posted at the entrance to the park so you know when you need to catch the bus back).

Because the lakes are a big tourist destination, there are restaurants around the entrances and also a few within the park.  However, we brought our own food and we were glad we did -- just allowed us to eat whenever and wherever we wanted.  And because some of the trails are quite long, I recommend bringing your own food, or at least snacks.  The trails are very well marked with various signage and maps along the way.  Your ticket to the park includes entrance to the whole park, a boat ride across the largest lake and a train ride that takes you most of the way between the two entrances.


We hiked around for roughly five hours, taking our time and enjoying various lookouts and the boat ride through the partially frozen big lake.  We went off the main paths a few times, but stayed on marked trails and everything was gorgeous.  We went during the off season so the park was not packed at all and we often had trails to ourselves -- and more importantly, some of the lakes were partially frozen making it even more magical.  But this also meant snow on the ground and slippery pathways at times.  Highly recommend wearing good walking/hiking gear no matter what time if year you go!



Sadly, the whole park is not the most young kid friendly place with over the water walkways and no barriers/railings for much of it.  I could see Serafina wanting to take a flying leap into the clear, pristine blue/green water!  But still worth a trip, just be prepared.

Overall we had such an amazing weekend -- Croatia is gorgeous and I can't wait to see more of the country!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Our Spainaversary {Year 3}

Wow.  We have been in Spain for three full years -- it seems like we have been here forever, but also that we just left yesterday.  You can catch up on year two here and year one here.
First, we are so happy to say that we are extending our time here in Spain for two more years.  We knew going into this adventure that we would probably stay five years but we also wanted to keep our options open.  Well, we love Spain and don't want to leave (ever) so we extended to stay as long as we can which is five years.
Second, I know I talk about my love for Spain all the time but man, we sure do love it here.  It has been so dang good for our family that we are very thankful we took the huge leap and moved abroad.  This year brought a lot more changes, mostly with Serafina starting her first year of public school and also the challenges of registering for school, but overall it has been an amazing experience and has greatly increased everyone's Spanish!  She is the only American in her class so I find myself often explaining our cultural differences, but I am also so inspired and many times taken aback by the openness of her classmates and their families.  They have been so welcoming and understanding of my beginner Spanish, our different way of doing things -- and so so helpful.
Speaking of our language abilities -- I feel like mine really took off this year.  I have gotten even more comfortable speaking with others, although I have also been forced to speak Spanish daily so I had to improve!  Serafina's Spanish also continues to get better and progress each day -- between school, swimming and dance, she hears Spanish a lot and gets to practice it a lot too!

Third, we have had a wonderful year here -- more traveling and more fun with our friends.  This past year we traveled to London with our good family friends, took a weekend away to Valencia, had an amazing week long trip to explore the Saxony region of Germany and Berlin, I took a girls trip to Germany for Oktoberfest, we saw all the castles in Lisbon and Sintra, Portgual and then finished our year with the most epic Christmas Market trip to Germany.  It was an amazing year for travel.





And an even better year of fun with our friends -- we experienced Carnaval, Spanish style and enjoyed our third feria in Spain.  We spent so many days hanging out with friends, impromptu family dinners, long/sunny days at the beach letting our kids play all day long.  We have the most amazing friends here and it has made living in Spain that much more awesome.  Sadly, the life we live working with the military means a lot of comings and goings.  We have had to say goodbye to some very good friends this year and it has been rough, but we know we will see each other again soon.




But overall, we love living in Spain and are so thankful we have this amazing opportunity!  We can't wait to see what this next year holds.

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