Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Peanut is Five

Well, the Peanut turned FIVE at the beginning of February but life had us a little under the weather (we all got the horrible flu and were miserably sick for a good week, it was awful).  So I am a little late to the update game -- but lucky for Serafina, her birthday turned into a birthday month!
the only picture we got on her actual birthday, resting on daddy because her fever was 103*
celebrated with cake a few days later when she was fever free (and before dad had to leave on a work trip)
finally able to celebrate with friends later in the month
Nicknames: she still calls herself Sera or Serie -- at school she goes by Serafina but most of her friends call her Sera.

Looks: still blond(ish) hair and curly but getting straighter on top and down to the middle of her back if I straighten it (but about shoulder length when curly) -- her hair lightens up a lot in the summer so now it is darker than usual since she isn't at the beach everyday.  She is still tall for her age and would prefer to wear leggings and t-shirts all day, everyday (but also loves frilly dresses -- go figure).  
Eating: still a really good eater!  She will try almost anything but particularly loves cucumbers, strawberries, peas (probably her favorite food), chicken (and any meat but she calls it all chicken), paella (she calls it orange rice and tries to order it at every restaurant we go to), olives, apples, rice... The list goes on.  While traveling she is doing better sitting and eating which makes it easier on all of us.

Health: this year has been a little rough for sickness -- last spring she got scarlet fever not once but twice (apparently she doesn't get strep throat, she just goes straight to scarlet fever).  She's had her fair share of colds/coughs and then for her birthday this year we all had high fevers and were practically dying of the flu (not really but it was miserable).  Poor Sera had a fever for a week and missed so much school and we even had to cancel her birthday party (but we did make it up later in the month).  AND she has her first loose tooth -- she isn't so sure about it but does seem happy about the "Mouse Fairy" that will come (we combined the Spanish version with the American version!). 
when you both have the flu and go to the doctors together
Sleeping: still not consistently sleeping through the night, but it is what it is -- night terrors are still becoming more rare but they do still happen, especially during times of big change (school starting or ending, traveling, visitors).  She still naps a a few times a week, especially on swim lesson days because of the time of our lessons.  We also have her nap if we do anything out in town since activities and dinners tend not to start until later at night.  

Saying: still talking all the time, seriously, she never stops talking -- ever!  Her imagination is just incredible and I love hearing the games and situations and such that she comes up with -- her current favorite thing to do is talk in a British accent for all her dolls.  It cracks me up and she is surprisingly really good at it!  Her Spanish is still progressing each day -- we find it amazing that she can switch back and forth so effortlessly.  My favorite is that she is learning so much at school that there are many words she doesn't even know in English!  We had a parent/teacher conference in the fall and her teacher was so impressed with her language skills, she said sometimes she forgets that Spanish is Serafina's second language!

Likes: lots of things -- 
- cooking and baking: every single day she asks what we are making for dinner and if we can "mix" (aka bake something), she prefers to eat the dough rather than the finished project but it sure is fun (and messy) cooking together, her favorite is to make "tick tock cookies" (aka chocolate chip cookies) with me or to cook dinner with Trevor
- swimming: still taking swimming lessons and still loving it, she is such a fish and would prefer to hang out at the bottom of the pool but her strokes are coming along and we are super impressed!
- dancing: she started ballet this year and she is in heaven, she did SO well at her winter recital (first time ever she had no stage freight) and she dances pretty much wherever she goes 
- princesses: still loves all things princess, especially all the Disney princesses -- she doesn't really have a true favorite, it changes daily
- animals: still loves animals, doesn't care what it is, she loves it -- she asks every single day if we can get a baby kitten (and every single day I say yes but that we have to ask daddy who sadly tells us no)
- Barbies: she got a huge doll house for Christmas and she loves it -- she calls it her Barbie Dream House and loves setting it up and playing with all her Barbies and dolls 
- coloring/drawing: she is constantly carrying around a notebook + pens/markers, she is always drawing or writing or designing dresses 
- Play-Doh: I finally got over my hatred of Play-Doh and we have quite the collection now.  Serafina loves playing with it and loves making Play-Doh dresses for her Barbies -- she gets insanely creative with the details, it is pretty impressive actually 

What Else: this year the transition back to school was so much better -- we have a new teacher who is amazing (seriously, she is the best).  Serafina went to the best summer camp last summer and it really helped her Spanish language skills take off.  She had SO much fun playing with the big kids each day and doing all the fun camp activities (swimming, going to the castle, going to the farm and botanical gardens, learning to sail and more)!  I just can't get over how brave she is, often being the only American is many situations and adapting and loving life.  She still loves playing with her American friends on the weekends and loves going on adventures/travels.  She asks all the time when we get to go on an airplane again.  Serafina hates change (but loves to travel).  She struggles when things are different, even if I drive a different way home from school.  She does better when things are explained to her (like when Trevor has to travel for work or when there is a break in school), but it can still cause some big meltdowns and sleepless nights for all of us.  Serafina loves SO hard, her emotions are so big -- I really think we have a little empath on hands, she truly feels the way others feel and while so amazing she has such empathy for others, it can also be challenging.  She is so kind and sweet (and spicy) and we love our Peanut so very much and she brings such joy and adventure to our lives!  

Some of my favorite pictures from the past year --

Friday, February 21, 2020

Our Spainiversary {Year 4}

We have officially been in Spain for four years and we still absolutely love it.  We have one more year left but we hope (and pray) we can stay for a little bit longer, if at least just to let Serafina finish the school year next year.  You can catch up on year three hereyear two here, and year one here.

It seems crazy to me that we have lived here for four years.  Some days it seems like we left the states yesterday and some days it seems like we have always lived here.  It is the only life that Serafina really knows and remembers.  Trevor and I are both a little worried about how Serafina will adjust when we move back, but we also know she is strong and will adapt.  We do hope to continue her Spanish when we head back to the states....

But about our time in Spain -- this past year we have had to chance to immerse ourselves in the town and culture even more, especially with Serafina's first year of Spanish public school.  We have loved meeting new people, going to birthday parties, being a part of town events and more.  Serafina has flourished with her Spanish friends (and her Spanish has really taken off).  We love seeing classmates out and about in town -- we live in such a small town that we see someone we know (from swimming or school) almost everywhere we go and it is so much fun.  We all get to practice our Spanish and we love being a part of this amazing community. 

We have traveled a lot more this past year as well, crossing off some bucket list items for all of us.  Our goal was to see new countries and we sure succeeded -- I started off the year with traveling to Croatia with some friends.  And then we took an amazing road trip through Portugal in April, sealing our love for that particular country.  We finally got to Scotland (more here too) and we all loved it -- it was easily one of the most gorgeous countries we had ever seen.  We also took the most epic trip to the Baltic countries last summer.  We were gone for two weeks and it was hands down one of the best trips we have ever done -- we saw the Baltic countries and also took Serafina to the original Legoland in Denmark which our little lady still talks about.  We explored more of our adopted home country, going north to Bilboa + the Basque Country and finally seeing Barcelona.  And then another highlight of the year was getting back to Florence after SO many years (Trevor and I both studied there and were so excited to go back).  A huge highlight for me was going to Turkey with some friends in January -- seriously, this easily became one of my most favorite places in the whole world.  We are so lucky to be able to travel while living here, especially using the budget airlines and traveling for very cheap!

We still manage to have fun with our friends here -- sadly we did have to say goodbye to many good friends last year.  It is always so hard for all of us, especially since Serafina keeps asking to play with friends who have moved.  It can be hard to explain to a young kiddo.  We live in a small community and many of our American friends live within walking distance of our house so we see them often, especially in the summer when we all meet at the beach almost every single weekend.  It can be hard for our change hating kiddo to all of a sudden no longer see her best buddies on a weekly basis.  But despite the goodbyes, we still have the most amazing group of friends who have become our family.
None of us are ready for this to be our last year here, but we know it has to end at some point.  Trevor and I have always wanted to live abroad and we could have never even imagined how amazing it would actually be -- we are so lucky and thankful to have had this opportunity.  And we look forward to this next (and most likely last) year in Spain...

Longer Travels {Turkey}

I took an almost full week long trip to Turkey with two amazing girlfriends at the end of January.  And it was the trip of a lifetime.  Turkey was better than our expectations and one of the most amazing countries I have ever been to -- we all fell in love with the country.
But first things first -- so many people have asked us, is Turkey safe?  And the short answer is yes.  The long answer is still yes, but with a little more explanation.  Turkey has been considered "off limits" for many Americans for many years, mainly because of political unrest and various terror attacks (most recently the ISIS attacks within Istanbul and the terrorist attack at the airport in 2016).  Because of the past attacks, there was a large police presence in Istanbul and most sights we went to required you to go through metal detectors (sadly this is pretty common in most major tourist sights around the world).  At the airports within Turkey, you had to go through security just to enter the airport, then go through regular security before going to your gates.  And while most of the country is considered safe, there are parts that you should still avoid (especially the regions near the Syrian border).  Turkey is also a mostly Muslim country and fairly conservative, especially regarding women.  While we never ever felt unsafe, at times it was very obvious we were a group without any males (this was most noticeable at dinners or walking home after dark).  It was also quite obvious we were tourists which is to be expected, but we were often the only white people as well as the only English speakers.  Men did try and talk to us when walking around the touristy areas, especially shop owners, but it was mostly easy to ignore and I recommend you do unless you are genuinely interested in purchasing something.  But again, not a bad thing and we never felt unsafe.

So now onto to the actual tips and tricks for Turkey!  We flew into Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) which is one of two international airports in Istanbul (this is the smaller one and on the Asian side).  Americans do need a visa for Turkey but it is very easy to get, apply online here and I recommend doing it in advance -- make sure you print out your visa to show at customs when you arrive in Turkey.  Overall going through customs (both coming and going) was super easy and we had no issues.

Once we arrived in Turkey, we had a previously booked private car take us to our hotel (we booked through our hotel before we even arrived in Istanbul -- it was cheaper and easier than a taxi).  Both the airports are a ways outside the city (easily an hour drive without traffic) and there are shuttles that will take you to various spots into the city but a private car was easier.  While in Istanbul we stayed at Nowy Efendi Hotel and it was amazing.  I cannot recommend this hotel enough -- seriously the best place I have ever stayed in my life.  The location was perfect, the beds were so comfortable, the breakfast was great, the views were amazing and most importantly -- there was the best receptionist ever.  He was the most lovely Kurdish man who was so kind and helpful.  We never wanted to leave!

In case you didn't know, Istanbul is the only city in the world to sit between two continents (Europe and Asia) and you can cross into either side by crossing the Bosphorus (a very narrow strait running through Istanbul, separating the two continents).  We had about a day and a half in Istanbul and our only full day we did a guided tour -- our tour guide gave us a lot of information, but you could easily do the major sights on your own as they are all fairly close to each other and easy walking distance.  Most of the sights are in the Sultanahemet neighborhood (basically the center of old Istanbul, on the European side), so I do recommend staying in this area.  We sadly never got over to the Asian side (other than the airport), but we had heard the Kadiköy neighborhood was amazing.*  But anyways, the various major sights --
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
Obviously you can't go to Istanbul without seeing the Hagia Sophia.  It is considered an architecture marvel and it was easy to see why.  Originally built as a church is 537, then converted to a mosque in 1453 and finally it became a museum in 1935.  The building has collapsed, been rebuilt, added to and more over the many years -- it is still under restoration so while there is a fair amount of scaffolding inside the main nave, you can still see quite a bit.  While the outside is gorgeous, the inside is just as amazing -- the huge dome, the centuries old mosaics and my personal favorite part the unbelievable seraphim angels (four in total in the corners under the dome).

Topkapi Palace
The palace was built in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror -- he lived here until his death and subsequent sultans lived here as well until the 19th century.  The sprawling palace gives you a glimpse into the daily life of the sultans and their families and their lives were quite colorful (you can visit the old harem where the concubines lived, guarded by the eunuchs).  The palace grounds are gorgeous, even in the winter and has great views of the city.  We loved the treasury and the kitchen areas.

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
Commissioned by Sultan Ahmed, it is a huge mosque and famous for the blue İznik tiles inside (how it got its name).  Across from the Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet Park, it is pretty impressive to stand in the middle and look at the two iconic buildings.  The mosque is very large with many domes and six minarets (the most of any mosque built at the time) -- it is free to enter for tourists but you must be aware of prayer times as then it is closed only for worshipers.  To enter the mosque, go into the courtyard and go through the side door (there are signs) where you remove your shoes (place in the bags provided and take them with you).  Women need to make sure their heads are covered, if you didn't bring a scarf with you then you can rent some outside the mosque.  The inside is currently being restored and is covered in scaffolding, but you can still see some of the gorgeous tiles and get a feel for the grandeur of the mosque.

Basilica Cistern
A huge subterranean structure that is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul was built in 532 -- it was originally designed to serve the palace and surrounding buildings and could hold up to 80,000 cubic meters of water.  It was closed and forgotten until 1545 (and became a dumping ground) and then cleaned up and opened to the public in the 1980s.  You walk along raised wooden platforms and while it can be a little creepy, it is really cool and should not be missed -- pay special attention to the various columns in the cistern and make sure you see the Medusa heads.
A large park/walkway area where the Byzantine emperors used to have chariot races -- this was the center of life for the Byzantines and the Ottomans.  Various statues and obelisks are spaced throughout the promenade, most have been ransacked or damaged but still cool to see the famous, very old park.

Süleymaniye Mosque 
This large mosque sits on top of one of Istanbul's hills so it has a gorgeous view of the city.  This mosque was finished in 1557 and was commissioned by the sultan Süleyman I.  We did not go inside this mosque as we missed the opening hours but we were able to enjoy the views and the outside of the mosque.

Grand Bazaar
This HUGE bazaar originally was opened in 1461 and has obviously grown over the years and has become a huge tourist attraction.  It is maze-like and large and you probably will get lost.  There are numerous entrances into the bazaar so don't worry about trying go in/out the same entrances (each entrance does have a guard + metal detector that you will need to go through before entering the bazaar).  While you for sure need to experience the bazaar, be warned -- you will have shop owners pretty much harassing you to buy things or look in their store.  We were again the only group of just women so men paid a lot of attention to us, we never felt unsafe just got annoying at times.  And of course you can find and purchase anything you ever wanted or needed within the bazaar -- we found the most amazing little store selling Turkish linens/towels with the sweetest old man owner.  It was really fun wandering around seeing all the stores.

Obviously there is so much more to do in Istanbul -- you could easily spend a full week here and not really see it all, the city is huge.  This is what we were able to do in the short amount of time we had on the ground in Istanbul, just means I need to go back to see more of the city! 

We also did a food tour in Istanbul and it was amazing.  We were so impressed with our guides and ate the most amazing food (and even in a very heavy nut-filled food culture, they were able to accommodate everything for me).  We tried so many different foods, including things that aren't the typical touristy things -- we had some weird but amazing non-meat kebab type thing (so good) and then what we called a Turkish churro (again so good).  We went to a rooftop bar -- highly recommend doing in Istanbul, there are so many so just pick one -- and enjoyed some tea.  We then had the most amazing kebab dinner at a restaurant, it was some of the best food I've had in my life.  And then finishing off our meal with some dessert and Turkish coffee -- so good!

Antalya + the Turquoise Coast 
From Istanbul, we flew to Antalya (south western Turkey on the Mediterranean) to see another part of the country and to experience the gorgeous Turquoise Coast.  Since we went in January, it was completely in the off-season but we still had an amazing time.  We flew Turkish Airlines down to Antalya out of the newer Istanbul airport -- Istanbul Airport (IST) on the European side.  This airport was INSANE.  Once finished it will be the world's largest airport (and probably the nicest too) -- it was so clean and had the coolest features (libraries, garden terraces, every single store you could ever need or want).  Once on the airplane, we taxied for easily thirty minutes before we even took off, it was crazy!  Also highly recommend flying Turkish Airlines if you ever get the chance.  Even on our short one hour flight, we had in-flight entertainment, free food + drinks and actual leg room!
Once in Antalya we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel.  We had read to always negotiate/ask a price before jumping in a taxi but all the taxis we took in Antalya had meters and never over charged us.  We stayed here and it was great -- good location, good breakfast buffet.  Antalya is the largest city in the Turquoise Coast area which is why we chose to stay there and the town itself was awesome.  The old town (known as the Kaleiçi district) was adorable -- winding roads, restored Ottoman houses, wrapping around a gorgeous Roman-era harbor.  The views from the edge of town were amazing.  We wandered past Hadrian's Gate built in 130 AD for the Roman emperor's visit to Antalya.   For food in Antalya -- we ate at a small kebab restaurant/stand where a bunch of locals seemed to be eating (just pick a popular one and you won't be disappointed).  For dinner we ate at Hasanağa in the old town.  It was so good and we ate our weight in meat.  We also had tea Cay-Teas, an insanely adorable tea house.

We also went to a hamam in Antalya and it was pure bliss -- we went to Demirhan Hamam.  It is not for the faint of heart -- you wear your underwear/bathing suit bottom but nothing else, but there are separate bathing areas for men and women.  We went for the full tourist package (even though we were the only tourists there).  We started off in the warm room (for lack of a better word) laying on a marble slab just relaxing.  We then moved to the steam room then the sauna and finally to the scrubbing...  Everyone is in a small room with marble slabs to lay on and a female worker scrubs about 20 layers of skin off your body not missing an inch.  You could legit see the skin coming off.  And while it sounds disgusting and rough, it actually wasn't that painful and we were left with the softest skin ever.  After the scrubbing, the worker stands you up and just starts dumping water on you to get the dead skin off; this part was the worst honestly because the minute you catch your breath, more water is being dumped on you.  Then you are scrubbed with some super foamy soap and washed off again (the soap part was amazing).  We then got served tea and had face masks while relaxing half naked in the lobby area.  Finally we were led to the oil massage -- a full body massage which was heavenly.  It was two hours of pampering (and scrubbing) and we all left absolutely loving the experience.  If you go to Turkey, you really should experience a hamam.
Our other full day in Antalya we took a tour to see more of the area.  Once again we were the only English speaking people on the tour and while our guide did speak English, everything was mostly in German and Russian.  But we had a blast and loved seeing more of the Turquoise Coast.  Our first stop was the ancient archaeological site of Myra -- known for its intricate honeycomb rock tombs known in ancient Lycian culture; there is also a very well preserved Roman theater.  This place was really cool.  We then took a boat for a short tour past the island of Kekova to see Batik Şehir (the sunken city) -- an ancient Lycian settlement now mostly underwater due to earthquakes in the 2nd century, but the water is so clear you can see a lot of it underwater.  On our boat tour we also went past the village of Kaleköy which is protected because it is on top of the ancient city of Simena.  This village looked amazing and comes alive with tourists in the summer -- for sure need to figure out a way to get back here with Trevor and Serafina.  And our final stop was Church of St Nicholas, yes the St Nick... Santa Claus.  This church was actually quite amazing, not what we were expecting at all but very cool nonetheless.  The church was built to honor St Nicholas who served as bishop in Myra in the 4th century, and yes this was the man that became the inspiration for Santa Claus.  St Nicholas was buried here but his skeleton was later stolen by the Italians!  We also learned on this tour that Mary (the Virgin Mary) was born in the area as well.  Seriously, the history of all of this just had us in awe, it just made us love Turkey even more.

The food in Turkey was amazing, seriously amazing.  We kept wanting to try and eat more things but we were so full all the time!  Turkey is a large meat loving country with few vegetarian options, but I eat meat and it was so good.  The lamb kebap (same as kebab) we had on our food tour was so good, so so good.  But despite all the meat, everything is served with vegetables as side dishes and they were also just as amazing -- we ate vegetables for every single meal and it was fantastic. We also had some amazing dips/spreads to eat with bread at most meals too.  Our favorites were a tzatziki type dip and an tomato salsa type thing, we could not get enough of either of these.  And while I didn't get to eat most of the sweets (ALL were filled with nuts), my friends loved trying all the various kinds of Turkish delight and baklava.  Then the drinks -- we had so much amazing tea.  Our favorites were apple tea (super touristy) and pomegranate tea (even the fresh squeezed pomegranate juice was so dang good).  The normal traditional black tea was good too, but add sugar, it can be bitter!  Aryan is a weird yogurt drink that is quite sour and while I am happy I tried it, I don't ever need to drink it again.  The Turkish coffee was so strong and so good.  Not like any coffee you have had in your life (again add sugar, it is strong and bitter).  Basically, just eat and drink everything, spend your whole trip eating!   

This trip was so amazing and even a month later, I am still on a high just from thinking about it.  It also took me forever to write this post because I don't feel like my words (or even the pictures) can do Turkey justice.  It was simply fantastic and as we kept saying over and over -- "better than we expected."

*If you were to go to the Asian side, I would recommend taking a water taxi rather than driving as the traffic going across the city (and especially the bridges) can take quite a while due to traffic and it is not possible to walk to the Asian side.  And speaking of traffic -- be prepared for it when going to/from both airports, especially Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) on the Asian side.  While maps say it takes about an hour from SAW to the old center, it can easily take double or triple that in traffic.  On our way back to Spain, we planned on two hours extra getting ourselves to the airport and while we didn't need all of that time, we were happy to have the extra time as we did get stuck in some traffic.

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