Thursday, December 22, 2016

Day Trip {Arcos -- Live Nativity Event}

Everything for the Christmas season just seems bigger in Europe.  And Spain is no exception (more on Spanish traditions for Christmas in a later post).  Spain focuses much more on the religious aspect of the holiday season -- each town has a nativity scene set up in the main square.  But one town fairly close to us takes the nativity scene to a whole new level....

Arcos (this was actually our very first day trip) is a town about an hour away which I highly recommend visiting whenever.  But in December, the ENTIRE town puts on a live nativity scene (or belén viviente) -- basically the whole town recreates Bethlehem -- for one night only.  We had heard about it and read about it and knew we had to experience it -- but we weren't sure what to expect.  We knew we needed to get there early because thousands (yes, thousands) of people come to Arcos to see their live nativity.  And my Spanish teacher informed me it was a "not to be missed" event but that I should most definitely put Serafina in a buggy so that she'd be safe from all the people!

So on the only Saturday that the town does the live nativity we enjoyed a Spanish lunch (aka eating a very late lunch) at our friends house.  We all had some hot chocolate, soup and other treats and then we were on our merry way -- it was a fun caravan to Arcos where we parked at the bottom of the hill town, loaded up the strollers and hiked up to the entrance of town where there were already SO many people!  We got in line with everyone else and just hung out.  In true Spanish fashion, bars were open and there were many food stalls serving hot chocolate (very thick hot chocolate) and doughnuts called buñuelos (bland dough fried in olive oil that tastes like olive oil melting in your mouth -- sounds gross, but actually very good).  We ate and drank while the toddlers ran around and waited... and waited some more.  Almost two hours later (it actually went by very fast), we finally made our way to the front of the line!!

Tip: we arrived right when it started (at 6:30) and the line was already so long!  I have heard that people can go very early and see set up and then hopefully get "stuck" up by the cathedral to see everything.  However, it wouldn't have worked for us to be there that long with a toddler -- it worked well to let Serafina have a good nap and meal at home, then head out.  And she had so much fun running around with her little friends and all the other Spanish children that it worked out for us!

And the lighting was gorgeous for viewing the scenes but terrible for pictures -- so we did our best!  You had to be quick with so many people wanting to view the scenes, pet the animals or also take a picture that you couldn't take your time to get the settings right!

The town has the whole thing very organized, they let people in in waves so that the route through all the scenes moves fairly smoothly.  So once you get to the front of the line, you enter through the fancy gates (that have been set up as part of the event) and you begin to see various scenes from biblical times set up on patios/entryways of various homes and shops.

Then you'll enter into the main square (where the church and castle are located) where the whole square has been turned into various scenes -- complete with animals (a donkey plowing, sheep, chickens and more), fires, people eating and singing and making food.  It was so unbelievably cool and a little surreal.  The attention to detail was just amazing.  And there were the Three Kings for kids to sit on their lap and get their picture taken (the kings are like Spain's Santa Clause).  We were all so in awe of everything that as we made our way on the path away from the main square (complete with signs and everything), we were shocked to find more scenes!

It ended up taking us TWO hours to go through the whole town and we did not move slow (nor fast because of all the people, but at a decent pace).  We came across Mary on a donkey being pulled by Joseph, lots of people singing, people actually making dough...  And at one point, just Trevor, Serafina and I ended up at the bottom of a small road when we heard drumming.  We looked up and saw the Three Kings coming straight towards us.  All the Spanish around us rushed over to join in the festivities, but Serafina was the only kid, so the Three Kings came immediately up to her to wish her well and she.... Well, she flipped out.  Started screaming and crying and trying to hide in her stroller.  It was oh so sad and the Kings felt awful, apologizing and telling me they felt so bad.  All I could say was no pasa nada (don't worry about it) and tell them that she hates everyone in costume!

And eventually, we turned a corner and in one of the smallest scenes was what many know as a nativity scene: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  And yes, the baby was real (it had a pacifier!) and was insanely tiny (easily a true newborn) and in a manger.  I could have stood there for hours, I just couldn't take my eyes away from this precious scene where a mother was looking over her baby.  It brought tears to my eyes (and I could tell I wasn't the only one as people just stood there in silence).

But this was not the last scene!  There were plenty more as we made our way back down to where we started.  Serafina even got a certificate stating she attended the belén viviente in 2016!

Tip: for toddlers, a stroller was the best (or a carrier).  It was chilly and actually very smokey from all the fires at the various scenes that it was perfect to let Serafina run around and see the animals when it was safe and then place her in the stroller for when we had more walking to do between scenes.  The path is very easy to follow (signs and just follow everyone else!) but it does take a while -- it isn't a quick in and out so be prepared.  And all the streets are decorated with palm leaves, rosemary and torch lights so that's another way to know you're on the right path.  The scenes often had simple signs stating what it was, but that required some translating and also recalling the biblical stories so we mostly just enjoyed the insanely detailed scenes rather than focus on what was what.  

Overall, I cannot recommend this event enough -- it was not a traditional Christmas event that Americans are used to so it was quite fun doing a more traditional Spanish event.  We will for sure be going back year after year as long we are in town and it doesn't rain (it is almost always cancelled if it is raining).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Happy Holidays 2016

We typically send out traditional Christmas cards, however, this year we were just not on top of it -- with traveling and visitors we just decided to do an electronic version this year!  I probably missed some of you since I realized I actually don't have too many email addresses, so here is our electronic Christmas card!

In February 2016, we made a huge move to Rota, Spain (southern part of the country) for Trevor’s job.  While it has been an adjustment, we love living in Spain and look forward to the next few years here.  We are all learning Spanish it is pretty adorable hearing Serafina talk in Spanish!  And we are slowly getting used to the Spanish way of life.

(And a little life lately detour from our card -- I am taking Spanish lessons and seriously loving it.  I can communicate fairly well in Spanish, or at least can get what I need from various places in town.  I even was able to have a full conversation in Spanish with the airport carpark place explaining why we needed our car back early after our crazy trip to Germany.  It is such a fun "me" activity and so out of the norm from my usual kid-free time.  I have met some wonderful other ladies through class and I love that I am learning a life long skill!)  

We are taking advantage of living in Europe and doing as much traveling as we can.  We have been lucky enough to travel to Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Morocco and we are exploring the surrounding towns in southern Spain (find those posts here)

Serafina is 22 months and so much fun.  She talks all the time and loves playing with Legos, blocks, airplanes or coloring (including all over the walls)!  She loves swimming and would go to the pool everyday if we let her we have a water baby just like her parents!  (But she was not a fan of Santa.)  I did a recent update all about our Peanut here.

We wish you all a happy holiday season and a happy 2017!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Longer Travels {Germany}

Oh where to even begin about our trip to Germany?!  The plan was wonderful -- spend a week in Germany enjoying all things Christmas.  Germany is known for their Christmas Markets (a street market celebrating Christmas during the advent weeks) and we wanted to experience them in various cities -- each town/city in Germany has a Christmas Market.  We had planned to spend a few nights with friends near Stuttgart, then move onto Cologne and finally Frankfurt (since we were flying out of there).  However, things went slightly sideways....

It all started the night before we were supposed to leave (so Friday).  We were hanging out before Serafina's bedtime when she said "oh no tummy" and started throwing up -- a lot.  Now, our little one does not throw up.  This is maybe the second time she has ever thrown up (including never spitting up when she was a baby), so Trevor and I decided to see how she was in the morning and go from there.  She slept the whole night and woke up her usual self, eaing breakfast and running around.  We figured it was a one time thing and opted to continue with our travel plans.

Everything was going well until about 30 minutes into the flight.  Peanut was sitting on Trevor's lap; he gave her a bite of his cheese sandwich the airlines served and once again... "oh no tummy" and then throwing up everywhere!  But let me tell you how amazing Lufthansa Airlines was in helping us with the whole situation.  And amazing strangers even gave us clothes for Serafina since I couldn't find our extra clothes for her in the panic of cleaning everything up.  The rest of the flight was uneventful and we made our way to our friends' house (via train to Stuttgart and then a local train to a town about 15 minutes away) where we all showered and went to bed!

Again, our Peanut woke up, ate and seemed like she was doing okay.  She was a little fussy and clingy but at least no more throwing up!  We had a low-key morning at our friends' house and then got all bundled up to head into Stuttgart for their Christmas Market.  It was freezing and Serafina HATED (really and truly hated) the cold.  She would scream "cold, all done" over and over again despite us bundling her up.  She hated her hat and gloves, hated her jacket, just hated it all.  She cried and cried.  So while the market was gorgeous and so cool, it was very hard to enjoy with a crying toddler.  Luckily our friends also had a toddler who was being a toddler so we all quickly drank our glühwein (hot, mulled/spiced wine) and made our way back to their house for dinner.  The toddlers were much happier warm and inside!
the Stuttgart market is known for their amazingly decorated roofs on each stall

our very unhappy Peanut
All was going well when Trevor started to feel bad and then proceeded to spend the night in our friends' bathroom throwing up.  We all decided it was best if we moved on so that our friends didn't get sick (they never did -- yay!), so I found us a hotel/apartment in Frankfurt.  We figured it would be best to be closer to the airport in case we needed to fly out -- Serafina still wasn't 100% and Trevor was pretty miserable.  That train ride to Frankfurt was a little rough, but thank goodness our peanut watched a movie.  We got to our hotel, I ran out to find a grocery store to get food and then I started to feel not great....  And I spent the night throwing up in our hotel bathroom.

So there we are, in Germany all feeling absolutely miserable with a toddler who hated the cold and we are only three days into our week long trip.  On Tuesday we all tried to rally and go the Frankfurt Christmas Market, but once again Serafina just cried and cried and Trevor and I were too tired and not feeling the best to fully be the best parents to her at that moment in time.  At this point, we opted to cut our trip short and fly home Thursday.  None of us felt great, Serafina wasn't sleeping, she hated being outside -- it just was the best decision at the time for our family.
the only time she was happy outside -- riding the carousal
So Wednesday was really our only day to enjoy Frankfurt and we did our best.  We took Serafina to the natural history museum -- Naturmuseum Senckenberg.  It was full of kids and just a perfect morning activity.  We were inside (and warm) and Serafina could run around looking at the dinosaurs and animals.  She loved it and we loved that she was finally happy (even if we still weren't feeling that great).  But it wore her out, she still wasn't eating her usual amount and wasn't fully better, so we opted to keep her in the hotel room for the afternoon.  I was able to run to the Christmas Market to do some shopping.  The Stuttgart Market was so much cooler and exactly what we had expected from a German Christmas Market, so we were a little disappointed with the one in Frankfurt.  It was quite small and didn't seem to have the charm that we'd heard about (and briefly experienced in Stuttgart).  However, I was able to get a few things and even grab a bratwurst for Trevor and I to share -- even if we didn't feel great, we at least had to eat something German!  (Neither one of us could stomach more glühwein.)

So there you have it -- our not so great Christmas trip.  We definitely want to go back to Germany and experience the Christmas Markets; we were both so bummed to miss out on Cologne.  Frankfurt is not very touristy, but it is a very easy airport to fly in and out of so next time we won't be spending much time there.  However, I do highly recommend the natural history museum -- it isn't really near the downtown area but quite easy to get to via the amazing public transportation system in Frankfurt.

While this was not how we wanted our trip to go, we are okay with it.  It obviously was just bad luck we got sick and we learned a few things for next time -- each trip we learn more and more about how best to travel with a toddler.  This won't stop us from traveling, although we may take a short break :)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Life Lately Round 6 {Peanut Update}

I thought I would take a break in my usual travel posts and do an update on our Peanut.  She is officially 22 months (yesterday) -- and is one sassy, sweet, daddy-loving little girl (although she is currently on a mommy kick which I am loving).

While I don't know her height/weight stats, she is still a Peanut -- she is tall but still tiny.  In some brand of clothes, she doesn't even fit into the 12/18 month pants!  She probably weighs about 22-23 pounds.  She still wasn't at 20 pounds at her 18 month appointment.  But she sure can eat and often eats more than her parents at meals!

She has an insane amount of words and often talks in sentences.  She repeats everything we say, not always getting it right which makes it adorable when she attempts.  She has quite a few Spanish words and actually understands more Spanish that she lets on -- I use "don't touch" in Spanish and she'll follow the direction; I say it in English and she flat out ignores me!  She sings her ABCs (skipping a lot of letters but it is still adorable) and a few other songs.  She is always asking "what's that?" and soaking in new information each day.  But if she knows what it is -- she will ask the question "what's that?" and then answer herself "its a....."  Cracks me up every single time!

She is very clear in letting you know what she wants, especially if she knows the word -- she will YELL whatever it is that she wants until she gets it.  And if she doesn't get what she wants, oh man!  The tantrums are unreal.  She's learned that it hurts when you flop down on the marble floors, so she will slowly and carefully lower herself to the ground (all while screaming and crying), then continue the tantrum on the floor.  Just like any other toddler, she greatly struggles with the word no!

She is obsessed with swimming and asks multiple times a day if it is time for "shwimming."  Speaking of swimming, she now swims on her own with floaties and wants nothing to do with me or Trevor while in the water.  The minute the floaties go on, she flies into the water with the biggest grin on her face.  The teacher (and other parents) have commented multiple times how happy she is in the water.  And the fact that she willingly wears a swim cap just boggles my mind because she normally wants nothing to do with hats or anything else on her head!

She is also obsessed with her daddy and freaks out whenever he leaves the room.  Often her first words when she wakes up (both in the morning and nap) is "where's daddy?"  In the afternoon, every door being shut, car driving by, it's all "daddy?!"  I do tell her "daddy is at work" to which she responds in a very sad voice "daddy at work."  The two of them together are just amazing to watch.  They sing and dance and build Legos for hours on end.  She truly is a daddy's girl.

While she loves to sit and built anything with blocks or Legos, or even read books -- she is also insanely active.  She piles pillows up on the floor so she can "safely" jump off the couch.  Or she's jumping on the couch while yelling "no more monkeys jumping on the bed!"  She is always running up and down our long hallway chasing a ball (or just running and laughing).  She loves parks and swings and going outside.  And dancing, oh how she loves music and dancing.  Her favorite songs are songs from various musicals and she requests them often!
Our Peanut goes to "school" (hourly daycare) on base 3-4 mornings a week and loves it.  We get out of the car and she'll yell "fwends" then run to the front door.  Although she is always very happy to see me when its pick up time, yelling "mommy" when I walk in the door.  Eventually, she will go to Spanish daycare from 9-2 everyday (eek) and then at age three and a half she'll start actual Spanish public school (it actually starts at age 3, however, with her birthday, she will start at three and a half).
sad I wouldn't let her touch the stop sign in the daycare parking lot

This is such a fun age -- I love watching her try new things and experience things for the first time.  We recently set up our Christmas Tree and stockings and she thinks they are the coolest.  She calls the tree "so pretty" and the stockings are "shoes on" since she thinks they are socks (and in our house, socks and shoes go together).  She cracks us up but also keeps us on our toes.  We love our Peanut so very much and cannot wait to see what future holds!

And a PS -- we had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We had so much fun that I did not take one picture, not even of just the three of us!  We hosted this year and had THIRTY (yes 3-0) people at our house -- about half adults and half kids.  We hardly ever saw our Peanut since she was too busy running around with her friends.  The food was delicious, the drinks never stopped flowing and a good time was had by all!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016

Halloween in Spain is a little different than what you'll see in the states.  In fact, Spain doesn't celebrate Halloween.  There are no trick or treaters and no one dresses up.  The country celebrates All Saints Day (todos los santos) which is November 1st -- it is actually a national holiday.

Now, Rota is a little different than the majority of the country since it has a strong American influence.  There are a few stores that carry some Halloween gear, but you won't see any stores decorated and you still won't find many trick or treaters.  The town does do a haunted house and those with base access often trick or treat at the homes on base on actual Halloween but that's about it for the festivities.  

But because Halloween is mostly not celebrated in town, the base does a wonderful job of celebrating.  The base puts on a large Trunk or Treat event -- complete with a pumpkin patch and food.  It was a little crazy since there were so many people and a little wild trying to get to the trunks.  However, Serafina loved carrying her pumpkin bucket around and picking out her candy.  She wasn't a big fan of the pumpkin patch since the hay bothered her bare legs (it was 80 degrees) but she loved the pumpkins.  And she also had so much fun running into her friends and her teachers from school!  Her teachers may not love it, but we sure love seeing them out and about occasionally.

so no, Serafina was not afraid of creepy Trevor in his mummy costume
(in fact, she LOVED it and would get so mad when he took it off)

And the group that put on the Trunk or Treat even got a wonderful picture of our Peanut on the way in to the event -- in true Peanut fashion, checking out the situation before actually deciding she liked what was going on.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Weekend Adventure {Ireland}

Last weekend was my birthday and to celebrate, we decided to go to Ireland.  It was just a weekend away so we packed a lot in to two full days.  Because we wanted to see more than just Dublin, we opted to stay outside of the city and rent a car.

I highly recommend renting a car in Ireland; it allows you to see so much more on your own schedule.  BUT they drive on the left (other side) of the road, so be warned.  Lucky for us, I had gotten some practice at driving on the left side when I was in Australia a few years back, so I was driver for this trip.  It's not hard, just takes some getting used to and I would recommend paying a little more for an automatic.  We were brave and rented a car seat and it turned out great!

We stayed in Bray, Ireland at an adorable hotel.  Bray is about an hour south of Dublin and has a train station that takes you directly to downtown Dublin (one of the main reasons we chose this town).  We didn't know much about Bray prior to arriving but we totally fell in love.  It reminded us so much of the West Seattle area -- where we used to live.  A huge park with a boardwalk along the rocky beach complete with stores and restaurants and just like in Seattle, when the sun was out, so was everyone in the whole town!  They had an amazing kids park that was gated in so the kids could play without parents having to worry about them running away!  And great Irish pubs that we ate at each night.  Such a great town!

So, our first day (my birthday!) we decided to explore the countryside, specifically the Wicklow Mountains.  Our first stop, in the pouring rain, was Glendalough.  When we first arrived, we saw so many people in full hiking gear and we got a little scared, but decided to venture out anyways.  A quick stop at the visitors center led us in the right direction -- a short (paved) walk to the Monastic City which is a Christian monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin.  It was actually quite cool to see and it had amazing views of the surrounding area. 

We then made our way to the lake which was gorgeous.  I can only imagine during a sunny day the lake would be amazing.... But given that we don't really have a fall season in Spain, I was loving the blustery and rainy weather along with all the different colored leaves!  Serafina was very excited to be seeing water and kept telling anyone who would listen "it's water!"

We opted to wear Serafina on the short "hike" to the monastic city and lake (its about 2 miles round trip).  However, we saw plenty of people with strollers, along the paved path to the lake.  We learned later that the reason we saw so many people in hiking gear was that this area was the starting point for many trails in the area, so most of those people were locals.  The tourists typically stick to the monastic city and the lake.  

After Glendalough, we made our way down the mountain to Powerscourt Estate.  The house was built in the 1730s, but most people go for the gardens (created during the Victorian era).  You can enter the grounds of the estate for free, but you pay to enter the gardens.  The estate has a hotel/spa and a golf course -- pretty sure I need to go back as a girls trip!  We ate a quick lunch in the adorable (but busy) cafe before making our way to the gardens which were gorgeous.  We took the stroller and Serafina fell asleep, so Trevor and I were able to wander around at our own pace, it was quite nice.  Once again, everything was stunning!  Once Serafina woke up, she loved running around and of course, playing in the dirt.

The next day started out a little rough, our Peanut woke up at 4am and refused to go back to sleep despite some massive effort on our part!  But we made the best of it and headed into Dublin for the day.  We took the train which was super easy and very fun as it went along the coast.

Our first stop was Trinity College for a tour led by a student.  Trinity was founded in 1592 and has long been Ireland's most prestigious school.  I thoroughly enjoyed the tour while Trevor spent the majority of it running after our little one who thought Trinity had the best ramps and stairs she had ever seen!  (Serafina was in one of her "daddy only" moods!)

Of course you can't head to Trinity without seeing the Book of Kells and the Old Library.  The Book of Kells is a 1200 year old illustrated version of four gospels of the Bible.  So, while the Book of Kells is definitely worthwhile to see, be aware that it's a little crazy to get there.  You're herded into a few rooms leading up to the Book where you get to wait in line as they seemed to only let a certain number of people in at a time.  Then you have to push your way up to the glass case holding the Book to actually see it -- again, it's pretty amazing and you should see it.  Then you get to climb stairs (no elevator that we could find) up to the old library... and this place was amazing! Literally books floor to ceiling and all categorized by weight and size -- not by author or genre!  You'll also find the oldest surviving Irish harp (a national icon, even today) from the 15th century.

This was the only truly non-stroller friendly place that we encountered.  Lots of people, lots of stairs and no elevator that we could find.  But with that said, plenty of people offered to help us carry the stroller up and down the stairs and many entertained our Peanut while we waited to see the Book!  Once inside the room, Trevor and I took turns watching the stroller in the corner and looking at the book.  And no pictures allowed within the Book of Kells portion -- its also very dark to preserve the book, so not even sure pictures would turn out!

We then decided to explore the city a little.  Serafina fell asleep in the stroller and we knew she needed to sleep as long as possible so... we just kept walking!  We ate an on-the-go lunch and walked through Temple Bar area (known for shops, pubs and live music), past the post office (where the 1916 Easter Uprising started (it led to Irish independence)) and up to the Garden of Remembrance (honoring victims of the 1916 Uprising) and continued walking throughout a nice rain storm.  

I would recommend walking to the Post Office, but I could have easily skipped the Garden of Remembrance.  We also opted to not do any beer or whiskey tours since we had Serafina with us.  Instead we just enjoyed the beer and whiskey in the pubs which was perfect for us!

Eventually our little woke up and we got her lunch, then let her run around some of the pedestrian-only shopping streets while Trevor and I did a little shopping.  At this point, Trevor and I were exhausted since we'd been up since 4am (and didn't get a long nap like our little one) so we ended up heading back to Bray.

Sadly, because Trevor and I were so tired, we couldn't fully enjoy Dublin but we were still happy with what we were able to see.  And overall, we greatly enjoyed Ireland.  We enjoyed the beer at each meal (Guinness does taste better in Ireland), the good pub food, the Irish charm, the green country and the beautiful countryside.  And the English language!  I hope to get back to Ireland one day, but if not, I am so happy I was able to get there for a quick trip -- and such a fun way to celebrate my birthday!

Toddler Travel Tips:
I was shocked at how child-friendly Ireland is -- every place except for the Book of Kells has easily accessible lifts/elevators or ramps as well as many places having changing tables and high chairs.  This was the first area/city where we saw MANY other families out with their children -- families were even the majority at Powerscourt.  Who knows if they were tourists or not, but it was wonderful to finally not be the only people having the crazy toddler running around!  I was happy we had both our stroller and Ergo, both were used and came it handy at various times.  Many places offered children's menus or at least adapted orders for us without any complaint (and one place even gave us crayons and paper for Serafina to color).  But very similar to Spain, many people stopped us and asked us about Serafina and interacted with her and praised us for traveling with a toddler!

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