Monday, November 26, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018

I realized that while this is our third Thanksgiving in Spain, it is actually the first time I have done a specific blog post about our Thanksgiving, usually I just recap it in our life lately posts...  Apparently it is about time to blog our celebration of the American holiday while living abroad.

First off, Thanksgiving is an American holiday -- Spain does not celebrate Thanksgiving and most people know nothing about it, especially those that don't deal with Americans on a daily basis.  Which means Serafina had school on Thanksgiving and the day after (as she did last year when she attended guarderia) -- I find this absolutely amazing.  We send Serafina off to school and we cook for the day and relax... and then send her to school on Friday while we recover, relax and shop if we want!  But it is also a little weird to have such a big holiday without anyone in her class knowing about it or celebrating.  Eh, one day she will learn the story of Thanksgiving and such!

We started off our Thanksgiving festivities the weekend before with our friend's annual Friendsgiving dinner, always the Saturday before Thanksgiving as this group of friends are single without kids so they travel for Thanksgiving.  We hired a babysitter and enjoyed a kid-free dinner with good friends -- and amazing food!  Some of us have the same Spanish teacher, so we invited her to participate in her very first Thanksgiving.  It was quite fun trying to explain some of the more random traditions we have all grown up with (canned cranberry sauce put on turkey, sweet potatoes with marshmallows....).
Serafina got to bring home her class doll the day before Thanksgiving so the two of them helped me in the kitchen making a pumpkin cheesecake -- and of course I just had to send a picture to the group chat for her class (have to document that the doll got to participate in Thanksgiving prep)!  So some of the parents asked about Thanksgiving and wished us as Happy Thanksgiving. 
We then did actual Thanksgiving with three other families who have become our family while here in Spain -- we all have kids around the same age and they get along so well.  We put the kids in the play room and the adults enjoyed good food, good company and just overall had a blast.  We were all too busy eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves for me to even take one picture -- blogger fail for sure!

Spain does not really do Black Friday (some people know about it through American media/movies).  If there are sales, they aren't big like in the states and stores for sure don't open early!  However, the base Navy Exchange (like a mini department store) does a sale (called Blue Friday) so Trevor and I dropped Serafina off at school and went simply to follow in American traditions of shopping on Black Friday :)  We did do some online shopping -- stocking up on warm clothes for our upcoming trip to Germany and a few Christmas presents.

And of course we had a TON of left over food from Thursday/Thanksgiving, so we got together with our family friends again on Friday to have a left over party.  This time we invited some Spanish friends that we all have in common and roasted another turkey -- we had an amazing mish mash of American and Spanish food!  It was once again really fun explaining the American traditions to some of the older Spanish (who of course spoke no English).  This time I did get at least one picture -- the kiddos loving on their Spanish abuelo!
The rest of the weekend we just spent relaxing and doing things around the house, including decorating for Christmas!  We have a busy holiday season coming up complete with a trip to Germany for Christmas Markets!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Weekend Adventures {Lisbon & Sintra, Portugal}

We recently took a long weekend road trip to Portugal -- this time to Lisbon and Sintra.  Serafina didn't have school for Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saint's Day) and because it fell on a Thursday, she also had a puente (bridge -- basically a day to bridge the holiday into the weekend).

Lisbon is about a six hour drive from our house so we made a stop for a longer break on the way there and back -- I'll recap those in this post.  Our Peanut did very well on the drive, entertained by her toys, drawing or her tablet with the help of a borrowed car seat tray.  

We opted to stay a little outside of Lisbon for a few reasons (slightly cheaper, quieter, free parking...).  We stayed at the Hotel Estoril Eden and it was fine -- decent enough room, decent free breakfast buffet, right near a train stop that took you directly into Lisbon... It was right on the water so we did have gorgeous views!  We ate dinner in Cascais at Terrazza and it was amazing -- if you are staying out near Cascais, this is a great place to eat (so so good)!

Our first full day we went into Lisbon via train to explore.  Lisbon has a great public transportation system that did take us a bit to get the hang of -- with all its hills and tiny roads, the town is easy to get lost in.  We bought a day pass for both the commuter trains (the one we took into the city) and for the bus/trams/metro/trolleys.  This was done by mistake but worked in our favor because we used both cards quite a bit.  Fair warning -- they look identical except one had round corners and one didn't.  Also you can only buy the bus/metro/tram card at one of those stops -- so don't buy the day pass at the train station unless you need the commuter trains.  Lisbon is also extremely hilly (think San Fransisco but worse) so you will be using public transportation or walking!  Or you can take taxis or a private tuk tuk* (we saved costs and just used public transportation).  

Also -- while Lisbon is big, there are not a lot of major things to see/do and so everyone is seeing the same top attractions/museums/areas, etc....  Therefore, every single thing we read was "get to this place first thing in the morning."  Well, that gets challenging when you want to do a few things but can only do one thing first thing in the morning :)  So even if you do purchase tickets online, be prepared to stand in long, long lines....  But here are the things we did:

Castelo de São Jorge
An 11th century castle/fortification that sits atop one of the taller hills giving you gorgeous views of the city (and the bridge -- that looks insanely similar to the Golden Gate Bridge).  There is a bus or a trolley that will take you to the entrance of the castle, but be prepared for long lines for these (if you don't want to walk or wait in line, opt for a tuk tuk or a taxi).  We chose to hike up the hill and thankfully there were escalators for some of the steeper parts (but not the whole way).  You can buy tickets online but it is a combo ticket with places/museums we weren't interested in (and not worth the extra 10 or more per person, so we opted to go here first thing (it paid off to have a kid with us as we got to cut part of the line).  The castle grounds are larger than you would expect so spend some time wandering around and seeing the various sights.  

One of Lisbon's more famous neighborhoods.  The castle sits at the top so we wandered all the way back down on foot to explore the area.  Gorgeous and narrow roads/passage ways around every corner, this area is a great place to wander (or take a trolley through if you want).  We also stopped at the oldest cathedral in the city -- the Sé.  It was gorgeous and Serafina loved the pretty stained glass windows.  Alfama has great cafes and places to eat but we were determined to eat at...

Time Out Market
Time Out took over part of the Mercado de Ribeira and became such an amazing food hall -- with stalls from some seriously good chefs.  We ate so well here and we all got to eat what we wanted.  It is insanely crowded (for good reason) so be prepared to wait for a seat.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 
The gorgeous monastery in Belém (the neighborhood about a 20 minute train ride outside of main Lisbon area) is not to be missed.  The monastery is a UNESCO sight and sure does not look like any monastery we had every seen -- it seems like something out of a fantasy land but is simply gorgeous.  The whole sight is quite large but we stuck to the monastery and church.  Once again, lines are super long but we got the tip of a local and went to the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (if you are standing looking at the monastery with the river to your back, go to the door on the left -- way left) and bought the combo ticket for 12 (2 more than just the monastery) and cut the long (LONG) line!

Pastel de Nata
Guys.  This is one of the best pastries you will ever have in your life -- custard pies and not overly sweet and just plain amazing.  The bakery where these pastries all started (in 1837) is localed in Belém and most definitely worth a stop -- go to Pastéis de Belém to grab quite a few.  The line to order is (as you guessed by now) LONG, but it moved quickly and was so worth the wait.

We also walked by the Padrao dos Descobrimentos -- a large monolith celebrating the Portugese explorers but did not go up (it has an elevator) as it was closing as we arrived.  We also did not go to the Torre de Belem because it too was closed by the time we made our way out there (the pastel de nata was worth it).
I know we are missing A LOT of things to do -- in fact, Lisbon has one of the top rated aquariums in the world and we so wanted to go, it just wasn't in the cards for us this trip.  There are so many funiculars or elevators to take you up to gorgeous views of the city (we had wanted to do the Santa Justa Lift but the line snaked around for what looked like miles).  We also opted not to ride one of the famous Lisbon trolleys (again, think San Fransisco trolleys) because the lines were so long and the trolleys were so packed, it just wasn't super toddler friendly.  The azulejos are gorgeous (tiles, typically blue) and can be found in many buildings and churches.  Lisbon is a wonderful city, especially for those that love San Fransisco as the similarities are almost scary!  The food is wonderful and the ginjinha (or simply ginja -- sweet liquor made with ginja berries) is amazing and a must try!
Santa Justa Lift
The next day we went to Sintra -- a resort town in the foothills of the mountains and only about a thirty minutes away from Lisbon.  This city needs to be on everyones bucket list.  It is seriously amazing and breathtaking and wonderful and.... just do yourself a favor and GO!

So the town of Sintra is worth a walk through and a good place to grab food, but expect a very cute, touristy hill town. When in Sintra, you definitely need to try the queijadas -- pastries filled with cheese, sugar and cinnamon, sounds gross but they were pretty good!  But most of what Sintra has to offer is outside of the main town -- so either go with a car (the roads are so narrow and steep and windy) or take a tuk tuk or grab a pass for one of the many hop on/hop off buses in the area (all seemed to be about 15-20 and took similar routes).  Parking in Sintra is difficult and limited so just park wherever you can -- I recommend either taking the train from Lisbon or parking at the train station and then taking taxis/buses, whatever to get you around to the various places.
Trevor described Sintra as "Disneyland with castles instead of rides" and I really feel like this is an accurate description.  It puts Germany's Bavarian region to shame (in my opinion).  It was just one big castle/mansion/palace after another on gorgeous lands with amazing views.  There are so many palaces/castles to see so if you are limited on time (we only had a day) then select your top three or four.  Here is what we saw:

Parque de Pena and Palácio Nacional de Pena
This palace is probably the most famous one in Sintra -- it sits atop one of the highest points and is very colorful and while we didn't quite get the full effect of the palace and views thanks to some clouds, it was still gorgeous in the mist.  The whole area once belonged to King Ferdinand II -- the palace was once a monastery and then king added to it, creating his palace.  Buy the combo ticket to the park and the palace so you can wander the whole area -- the actual park is quite large and has stables, another palace (cottage), lakes and more.  This area reminded us very much of Versailles and you could easily spend a whole day here.  Again, be prepared to stand in long lines, even if you purchased tickets in advance.  Also be prepared for legit hiking up the hill; it is not stroller friendly.  There is a bus that'll take you from the entrance to sort of the top, not the whole way (I know you had to pay for it but not sure how much).  And if you are with a kid, don't hesitate to ask for help from a worker -- they may let you cut the line :)

Palácio Nacional de Sintra
This is the one palace that is actually in the town of Sintra -- it creates the main square in Sintra-Vila (Sintra is made up of three smaller towns but Sintra-Vila is the main one).  This palace is known for its twin white chimneys which are a part of the coolest kitchen I have ever seen.  The inside was gorgeous with some insane details (and the azulejos are some of the oldest in Portugal).  The palace has changed hands many times but it dates back to Moorish orgins.  We timed it right and went shortly before closing and had NO lines (none)!
Quinta de Regaleira
This villa and gorgeous grounds is located above Sintra-Vila (it is a long walk but not terrible, up some hills but then it flattens out).  People know this villa for its famous well that you can walk down inside which is a must see (hike up from where you enter as the well is at the top of the grounds -- it'll spit you out down closer to the main house once you wind your way through the caves).  The actual house is worth a quick walk through but spend your time exploring the various parts of the garden.  And again, lines were long but moved quickly.

We had wanted to get to the Convento dos Capuchos (a very cool convent that looks like it should be in a storybook) but it happened to be closed for renovation work the weekend we were there.  We drove past the Palácio and Parque de Monserrate and it looked gorgeous but we ran out of time!  There is a great driving route that will take you in a full (big) circle and past these places and more -- we did part of it and the drive is gorgeous (but narrow and winding).  There is great signage pointing you to the various palaces/castles or other sights along the drive.

Sintra was freaking amazing and we absolutely fell in love with everything we saw -- and so did our princess loving little lady.  She was in heaven and just wanted to SEE IT ALL :)  We will for sure be back to Sintra so that we can see the rest of the area.

On the way to Lisbon we stopped in Évora, Portugal -- a gorgeous small town that has an old Roman Temple and a famous Chapel of Bones (Serafina LOVED the bone chapel!).  On the way back we stopped in Mérida, Spain -- a town known for its amazing Romain ruins from the 1st century (Serafina was not feeling well this day and was just over traveling).

Chapel of Bones

We had a wonderful weekend and definitely want to return to this area of Portugal.  While had a great weekend, Lisbon and Sintra are not the most kid-friendly cities -- the hills can be tough.  But Serafina was a major trooper, she even was sick for part of our trip.  This is not to say don't take your kids to Lisbon/Sintra -- Serafina LOVED it and is still talking about the hotel and all the princess castles, just go prepared.**

*Lisbon and the surrounding tourist cities are full of people offering tuk tuk rides (you know, those tiny three wheeled vehicles).  Some seem to be a part of larger companies/tours and others seem to be privately owned.  We did not take one but they sure looked like fun.

**I would recommend no stroller in Lisbon or Sintra -- the cobble stones are HUGE so unless you have a decent stroller (think BOB or Thule), it is gonna be tough going.  The hills are insane, there was one point where Trevor and I both wished we had hiking boots on!  So be prepared to have your kiddo walk or to carry them.  We have a Kinderpack Preschool Carrier and it was a lifesaver.  Serafina loved it and I loved carrying her!  She did so well on my back and our day in Sintra she had a fever and just wanted to be snuggled close, so the carrier was a huge win (she is still asking to ride on mommy's back)!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Halloween 2018

I spoke a little about Halloween in Spain in this post, but Halloween is not really celebrated in Spain.  Halloween is very much a North American holiday.  Spain celebrates Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saint's Day) which is November 1 -- it is a national holiday and almost all places are closed (including schools). 

In the past two years we have seen more happening for Halloween in our town but it is still very different.  Kids don't really dress up during the day, parents for sure don't.  Some older kids will go out and trick or treat at night but they don't quite understand the concept or really know how to do it -- and it is extremely late, especially given that they don't have school the next day.  And when kids do dress up, it is often in scary costumes -- think vampire, zombie, witch, etc.  There is nothing like seeing a three year old dressed up in a scary witch costume!

As in years past, we went to the amazing Trunk or Treat event on base and Serafina had an absolute blast!  She finally understood the concept of trick or treating and loved every minute of getting candy, seeing all the costumes and running around with her friends!

Then at school on actual Halloween, the younger kids got to dress up and have a parade (but parents weren't allowed to go... when in Spain, I guess).  This prompted SO MANY messages on the mom's WhatsApp group chat.  SO MANY.  Because none of the families wanted their kids to dress up as scary things.  Well, at one point I had to explain (in Spanish) to the whole group about what an American Halloween is all about -- kids (and everyone else) dresses up as whatever they want and most of the time it isn't scary.  I also got so many questions in person at drop off/pick up leading up to Halloween -- made for some really good Spanish practice!
of course I dressed up too

a true Pacific Northwest Halloween

One thing I want to note about Halloween in Spain -- we have to plan SO FAR in advance for costumes as there are no such things as costume stores in Spain.  So any ordering online is usually done at least a month in advance to ensure costumes/props, etc arrive on time.  However, this year there was a new store that opened in the closest big city (Jerez) and it was amazing -- so many costumes!  While we already had costumes, we decided to go and check it out!  Of course Serafina then wanted to be Cinderella and picked out a green fairy costume or me and a bee for Trevor.

I know my Halloween post is late -- but we left for Portugal the next day as Serafina had a four day weekend.  We had a wonderful Halloween and a post for Portugal coming soon!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Life Lately {Day in the Life}

I haven't done one of these in awhile and I love reading about how other people spend their day -- so I am sharing our day!  Serafina is a little over three and a half and I am a stay at home mom... Although I have started subbing one or two days a week at the school on base, but in general, I stay home.  And we live in Spain... So without further ado --

Documenting our day on a Wednesday -- which is probably our busiest day of the week!

7:21 -- I wake up in almost a panic as I have realized that Serafina has actually slept through the whole night which is a rare occurrence for our sweet Peanut... yes, we have tried everything and no, nothing helps.  We are just used to our little lady waking up at least twice per night.

7:40 -- I finally roll out of bed and start getting ready for the day and surprisingly Serafina is still sleeping...
I am not one to wake up before my kid because I get up so much with her during the night, I need all the extra sleep I can get!

7:51 -- our gate bell rings and I realize our house cleaners are a good 10 minutes early but oh well, I am happy they are here today because I have questions about a paper that was sent home with Serafina yesterday.  I was able to translate most of it but still had questions -- especially after some of the parents were asking more questions and making comments in our group chat.
So turns out her class is doing a unit on the body -- parts, senses, emotions, being healthy, etc.  The class will be learning about all of this in the classroom but the parents are also expected to teach the kids at home too.  Eventually the kids will be taking something to school that relates to the body and teaching what they learned at home to the rest of the class.... 

8:00 -- I finally wake the Peanut up and she is beyond excited that it is Wednesday and that our house cleaners are here.  They are seriously her favorite and mine too!  I love hearing Serafina speak Spanish to them (one does speak English but she forces both of us to speak Spanish to her which is wonderful for us)!  I also love that I have two extra hands today, often they are the ones that get Serafina dressed and fed on Wednesday mornings because she prefers them to me :)  On Wednesdays I pack Serafina's desayuno (breakfast -- aka snack) in the morning because it is fruit day and just easier to cut up the fruit in the morning to keep it a little fresher.
Most mornings, Serafina usually wakes about 7:30 and we snuggle on the couch, slowly get ourselves moving -- her eating breakfast and me doing the same while also doing chores around the house (starting laundry, putting away dishes, etc).  Serafina's school has a schedule for what to bring for snack -- what they call desayuno.  I always pack what is required for that particular day but I do pack a bigger snack because she doesn't eat lunch until she gets home until after 2pm.  I use our Yumbox and we love it.    

8:45 -- the massive scramble to get us out the door and to school on time -- we drive to school as it is just easier.  We have to park about 3-4 blocks away but it is pretty fun walking with ALL the other kids and parents to school.  It is especially fun when we see someone we know and we all get to practice our Spanish
School starts promptly at 9am and the school gates are closed by a city worker at 9:05am so you can't be late or you are locked out!  I can only describe the start of school as organized chaos -- there is a police officer (sometimes two) directing traffic around the school to help with all the people.  The gate opens about 8:55am and parents are only allowed inside the gates if they have a student in the infantil classrooms (so three, four and five year olds) -- all the other parents are kissing their kiddos bye outside the gates, so it is a lot of parents/kids hanging out in not a large space.   
9:00 -- the siren rings (yes, a siren, not a bell) which signals school is starting so all the kids run to line up.  Serafina lines up right outside her classroom so she waves goodbye to me as her teacher leads her into the class.... And then I begin the short walk back to the car, making sure to make it out of the gates before they are locked!
9:05-10:15 -- I hit the gym (on base) for my favorite workout class ever -- it is extremely hard but I love it.  Love the instructor and all my friends who are regulars with me!  We have a blast and sweat so dang much!

10:15-11:15 -- I have to leave workout class a little early to run across the street to my Spanish class.  I take Spanish once a week and I love it.  I have somehow managed to be in an advanced class with people who are practically fluent in Spanish so it pushes me to learn and study.
11:15-1:45 -- this is my time to run errands, do chores around the house, eat lunch, shower and do all the things...  Today I returned a few things at the NEX (the shopping store on base), grabbed lunch for Trevor at the commissary (grocery store), grabbed mail... ran home, started laundry, put things away, ate lunch, started lunch for Serafina, showered... It goes by so fast!
If I don't have Spanish then I have a little bit more time to get things done.  The days I don't have Spanish sometimes I'll grab lunch or coffee with friends from the gym or run errands I have in other towns, just all depends on the day.

1:45 -- head out the door to go grab the Peanut from school.  Again I drive because it is easier as it gets us home faster, gets us to lunch faster...
The gates open up about 1:55pm and again only parents with the little kids are allowed in the gates, so most are waiting outside for their kids to come out.  And again there is often a police officer directing traffic.  I walk down to Serafina's class and wait in a Spanish line (not a line at all) for the teacher to see me and release Serafina to me.  

2:00 -- this is my favorite part of the day -- Peanut comes running out of her class and immediately starts talking so fast and so much.  She has to get all that English in that she missed for the past five hours :)
shenanigans in the car before buckling up to drive home
2:10 -- home and eating lunch, having some snuggle time on the couch.  We usually watch a TV show at this time.  I have learned the hard way that it just helps Serafina decompress from her day at school, it just makes for a better afternoon.

2:45 -- today we have dance at 4pm so instead of nap we do quiet time -- Serafina can bring a toy or two (current favorites are her playmobil sets) upstairs and quietly play in her room... the goal is about 30 minutes but lately we have been struggling with that so I often have to go upstairs and remind her that it is quiet time.
We have dance Wednesdays and Fridays and swimming lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays a little later in the evening.  So on Wednesdays and Fridays we have quiet time, but the other days Serafina still naps (not always on the weekends depending on what we are doing).  She will usually nap from about 3-4:30pm.

3:20ish -- quiet time is officially over so we head downstairs and Serafina plays while I continue with the laundry...

3:50 -- the scramble to get out the door for dance -- Serafina takes flamenco lessons and it is the most adorable thing ever, the shoes, the skirt, all of it!  We drive to dance and we pull up right as the teacher is walking up, so I drop Serafina with her and head back home.
Parents aren't allowed to stay during dance, so I run home and start dinner, answer emails, translate all the messages that came in during the day from the parent group chat of Serafina's class, finish up the laundry...
4:45 -- I am getting ready to head out the door when Trevor calls to tell me he is on his way home (SUPER early!) so I ask him to pick up Serafina which gives me more time to get some stuff done around the house.

5:05 -- Serafina comes running in the door showing me all her new dance moves!  And then she helps dad in the kitchen making something... Trevor has a standing guys night with some friends on Wednesdays so he will head out after bedtime.

6:00ish -- dinner time!  Tonight it is spaghetti and meatballs with some veggies.  We typically try and eat dinner together (or at least Trevor and I sit down to dinner together) but tonight Trevor has to help a friend move some furniture so after a massive tantrum from our sweet gal who did not want her dad to leave, she and I end up eating dinner on the couch watching some TV.

7:00 -- Trevor is back so he and Serafina play a bit while I clean up and get things ready for the next day -- make Serafina's desayuno and get her bedroom ready for bed...
tomorrow is bocadillo (sandwich) day 
7:30 -- start the bedtime wind down -- reading books, quiet play, getting pajamas on, etc.
If Serafina has had a nap this is all pushed back about an hour.  Especially on nights we have swim since we typically don't eat dinner until 7:00pm.

8:00 -- lights out and she is out cold... doesn't always happen, especially on days she has had a nap but it is nice for her to fall right asleep some nights.  Trevor and I catch up briefly about a possible upcoming trip and the next few days of the week before he runs out the door to his friend's house.

And now it is time for me to relax and unwind before I head to bed... writing this blog post, doing some travel research and also catching up on some TV.

9:15 -- wake up #1 for the night... it could be a long night.

10:02-- wake up #2 for the night.  I am off to bed as it looks like we may be in for a rough night.

Of course there were plenty of redirections and distractions and a few tears over a jammed finger as Serafina and dad were playing on the floor... Overall our days aren't this busy as we have more down time -- spent playing in our basement, making cookies with mom, doing all sorts of art projects, going on walks, or even watching TV if the day/mood/weather calls for it...

With Serafina in school full-time we do have less time at home and less time for play dates or activities with friends -- which is typically what we do on the weekend.  Getting a job here in Spain as a spouse is next to impossible so for now, I am enjoying my time at home.  Subbing works but it isn't always possible because the school hours are different from Serafina's and that can be a bit challenging to figure out care -- but we make it work at least one day a week.  And overall, we still love our life in Spain! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Day Trip {Grazalema & Zahara de la Sierra}

This past weekend we took a day trip to two more white hill towns of Andalucia -- Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra.  Both are gorgeous and worth a visit* but I highly recommend going to Grazalema during their Sangre y Amor en la Sierra festival (Blood and Love), usually in early October.  The whole town reenacts the life of a famous bandit -- Jose Maria Hinojosa or El Tempranillo.  He wasn't born in the area but carried out most of his famous criminal acts in the area as well as married a girl from Grazalema.  All of this took place around the 1830s so for this one weekend, the town returns to the 1830s to celebrate El Tempranillo.
We happened to arrive right when things were getting started, we heard gunfire as we walked into town (don't worry, it was fake but very loud).  We watched a bunch of bandits take over some soilders and storm the government building -- to a crowd of cheering people!  We had no idea what was going on which pretty much sums up the rest of our time in Grazalema, but we had an absolute blast!
The whole town seems to go back in time to 1832 -- cooking over open fires, wearing period costumes, old/make-shift buildings... the whole works.  The main plaza was set up as if it were 1832 and quite fun to see, especially as more and more reenactments happened throughout our time there.  We ate amazing food, the best chorizo I have ever had, drank beer from clay mugs and Serafina even tried the hand crank ferris wheel.  Our personal favorite was the random flamenco show that took place in the middle of the plaza, that included a dancing horse.  Serafina's favorite part was petting the ginormous boa constrictor that she is still talking about days later....

Some tips for going to this small but amazing festival:
Parking is rough (aka non-existent) in Grazalema on a normal day, let alone a festival weekend, so be prepared to get there early, get creative with your parking and plan to walk a little into the town.  Bring cash -- you can buy plenty of amazing food (get the chicken paella and the chorizo) and beer from the various huts that are selling food/drinks, but all take cash only.  The only glassware we saw were various clay mugs, different styles for different huts/food vendors.  So do some research and follow the mugs you want and get drink tickets for that hut -- as drink tickets only work at the vendor you bought them from.  I am sure you can return the mugs for a refund (pretty sure we had to put down a small depost) but of course we chose to keep our mugs as souvenrs!  Be prepared for random and loud fake gunfire throughout the day.  It'll die down and pick up at various points throughout the day so if you have littles, just be warned.  Serafina hated the gunfire so we used her headphones to help mute the noise.  There isn't a lot "to do" but the performances/reenactments are kind of fun to watch.  There is plenty to eat and drink and there is a small hand crank ferris wheel for the kids (along with various live animals -- birds, horses, sheep, and that dang scary snake!).

After we had our fun in Grazalema, we moved on to another white hill town just a short drive away, Zahara de la Sierra.  Zahara is known for its olive oil and goat cheese (hard goat cheese, not soft like most Americans are used to).  Some of the best olive oil in the world comes from this region, so stock up if you go -- or better yet, go visit one of the olive making places (not sure what the technical term is).  You do need a reservation/tell the owners you're coming so this part requires planning; it is also usually a full day thing with making your own olive oil, lunch, etc.  But Zahara is still worth a walk through as the views are gorgeous -- if you decide to walk up to the castle (ruins), be prepared for a long, steep hike....

*So the drive into these mountains is a little rough -- narrow road and massive amount of switchbacks, but once you get to one town there are many others just a short drive away (typically no more than 30 minutes).  So plan on hitting a few of these towns in one day so avoid doing the awful drive more than once!

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