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!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Day Trip {Medina Sidonia}

This past weekend we also took a day trip to Medina Sidonia, another small hill town in our surrounding area (just about 45 minutes from our house).  Most often, each hill town is often known for something that makes it unique from the next town.  Medina Sidonia is known for their gorgeous views and desserts!

To be honest, I could've easily skipped this town or made it a very short stop on the way to somewhere else.  The desserts were fine...  I couldn't eat any of the ones the town was known for thanks to my tree nut/peanut allergy and Trevor didn't want to risk eating it either, so we settled on a few other pastries.  They were good, but not "make a special trip" good.

So, with that said -- the views were absolutely gorgeous, so if you do go then just drive through the town all the way up the hill to the castle, take a few pictures and be on your merry way.  We made the mistake of parking at the bottom of the town and then had to hike (with a stroller) up the hill.  Pretty sure all the locals thought we were crazy!  The pastry shop (founded in 1852) is located in Plaza de España.  On your way up (or down) you'll most likely go right past the plaza and there seemed to be a few places to park, so you could easily grab some pastries.  Let me know if you try either pastry the town is known for -- alfajor or polvorones (and maybe bring us some so Trevor can try it too)!

But the views....  You could see all the way to Cádiz!

And of course, a picture of our Peanut and Trevor walking (holding hands, as usual)!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Day Trip {Córdoba}

Trevor had a long weekend this past weekend and we originally wanted to spend a night or two in Córdoba (a town about 2 and a half hours away), but hotel prices were not what we wanted to pay.... so we made a really fun day trip out of it!

Córdoba may be my new favorite city in Spain.  I knew very little about Córdoba prior to actually going, but I am so glad we decided to venture to this town.  Córdoba reminded us of Sevilla but much more like a small town.  It had a small town feel, but it is still a fairly large city.  Trevor and I both really loved it!

So a little about Córdoba -- it was once a thriving city in both the Roman and Islamic empires.  When most of Europe was struggling in the Dark Ages, Córdoba was alive with life.  Córdoba was one of the biggest cities in Western Europe and a multicultural one at that; it was inhabited by Christians, Arabs and Jews -- all of which left their mark on Córdoba.  Now get ready for picture overload...

Córdoba's claim to fame is the Mezquita, an unbelievable, incredibly well preserved mosque that dates from 784 AD.  The Mezquita is known not only for its architecture (the horseshoe arches are unreal), but also because inside this ginormous mosque is a Catholic church.  So yes, you can celebrate mass inside a mosque.  This was our first stop when we arrived in Córdoba and wow, is it impressive.  I am not sure my words will do justice....  But walking in and seeing the colorful arches almost stops you in your tracks -- just rows and rows of gorgeous horseshoe arches.  As you walk around, you'll find the high altar of the cathedral built inside.  It is not hard to miss -- so much larger and more grand than the rest of the mosque but almost seems out of place among the arches and lower ceilings of the surrounding building.  We wandered around for a good while, simply enjoying the Mezquita.

Finally we decided to head back outside and wander through the Jewish Quarter.  The area almost directly behind the Mezquita (away from the river) was once the judería.  It was a thriving neighborhood during Islamic rule.  We thoroughly enjoyed wandering the small, narrow streets complete with massive cobble stones which Serafina enjoyed pointing out repeatedly -- "It's a... ROCK!" While touristy in some of the areas, we also found many locals enjoy their breakfast on large patios turned into restaurants.  The buildings are white but with color from many plants as well as various colored doors and windows makes it such a gorgeous place to just walk and take it all in.  We found the old sinagoga (synagogue) that was built in 1314-1315 (there are only three medieval synagogues left in Spain).  Trevor and I could have easily wandered these streets for hours....  But we were getting a little hungry so...

We ventured back to the Mezquita and saw a very large line out the door of one bar.  People would exit with their arms full of plates of food and beer.  At first Trevor and I thought it was some extremely touristy place but as we got closer we realized that almost all of the people in line were locals.  So we did what any smart tourist would do -- we got in line too!  Turns out this bar served amazing food, in particular tortillas de patatas (kind of like a potato omlette) and salmorejo (like a thick tomato gazpacho).  And holy cow was it good!  We have eaten plenty of these two foods since we have been here, but so far this was the best.  And I should mention that the tortilla was HUGE, one slice was well over 5 inches tall.  Because the bar is so small, everyone eats outside on the steps of the Mezquita.  So we enjoyed our very Spanish lunch (washed down with a beer, of course) sitting on the steps and among many locals.  So if you are ever in Córdoba -- you must go to Bar Santos. We were too busy enjoying our food to take pictures...

We then made our way down to the river to walk across the Roman Bridge.  This bridge was first built in the first century and has been added to throughout the years.  While not the most exciting thing to look at, it does allow for some gorgeous views of the city.

Our Peanut needed a place where she could be a toddler for a bit, so we went to the Alcázar de los Reyes Chrisianos.  We quickly ran through the actual alcázar (essentially a castle, fortress) -- we were pretty underwhelmed but we've also seen the alcázars in Sevilla and at the Alhambra both of which are much more impressive.  However, the gardens were gorgeous and the perfect place for Serafina to run around (and sit and play in the dirt).

And then sadly, it was time for us to head back to Rota.  Trevor and I could not believe how much we enjoyed Córdoba and we will for sure take a trip back -- hopefully this time spend the night to see what else this great city has to offer!

Tips for Córdoba
Córdoba is a very walk-able town.  We opted to park near the Mezquita which may be slightly more expensive than other lots but it was in a great location and was under 10 for the whole day so not bad at all.  We used a stroller instead of a carrier -- it was fairly hot (almost 90 degrees) and we knew that throughout most of the day, the stroller would be better.  The only place we had difficulties with the stroller was at the alcázar but it wasn't terrible.  The little shops within the Jewish Quarter are great for window shopping or buying (we were told the area is known for their silver jewelry).  Just like the majority of Spanish towns, there is very limited "take away" food (or none at all), so as usual we packed a lunch and snacks (we ended up eating our lunch as our dinner on our way home since we ate lunch at Bar Santos).  And also like the majority of Spanish towns, everyone was very sweet and friendly towards Serafina.  The whole area seemed very kid friendly (lots of places to walk without cars coming down the streets).  I would recommend going to the Mezquita first as it can get very crowded with tour groups and other tourists.  And most importantly, just visit Córdoba!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Day Trip {Ubrique}

You won't find Ubrique in any traditional guide books -- yet, this town is well worth a day trip (or even a half day).  Ubrique is a small pueblo blanco (white town) about an hour and a half away from our house.  This town, unlike many of the white hill towns, is set not on the top of a hill, but actually in the valley of two hills.  (And just a side note -- the drive home is gorgeous because you get a wonderful view looking up to Arcos shortly after leaving Ubrique).

So, why should you go to Ubrique?  For all things leather.  Ubrique is known for making gorgeous leather goods.  In fact, rumor has it, many of the high end fashion houses get their leather from Ubrique and its surrounding areas.  So while you will not walk into any warehouses, you will find store fronts for locally produced leather.*  And it is often fairly inexpensive -- a great place to get gifts and a few things for yourself too.  But you should also go to Ubrique because it is an adorable town -- and it is set between two National Parks and has many hiking trails.

We went with my mom to Ubrique and loved it.  We arrived a little before many of the stores opened (we went on a Saturday and found most places didn't open until 11), so we had a wonderful Spanish breakfast while waiting on the stores to open.  Seriously, I would head back to Ubrique simply for the molletes -- a breakfast bread that is then topped with whatever you want (typically olive oil/tomato, olive oil/honey for breakfast).  The shopping was awesome and we loved wandering around the small town.  There was also a wedding taking place at a gorgeous little church -- my mom and I loved watching all the people walk up the hill to the church in their hats, heels, and fancy outfits (men were in coattails)!

enjoying the slide at a very cool park

Highly recommend a trip to Ubrique when you are in Analucia -- I know we will be going back for sure!

*The best shopping for leather seemed to be on the main street (not the pedestrian only street).  Also, the sidewalks were wide and very stroller friendly, but the stores were not so kid/stroller friendly.  We lucked out and Serafina slept through a good portion of our shopping, but we also took turns entertaining her outside so

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