Friday, July 6, 2018

Life Lately Round 10

Wow -- its been awhile since I have done one of these.  My last update was in December (of last year).  And while I have blogged a bit since then, it is always fun to look back and see what we have been up to in the day to day stuff.

January was pretty busy as the Christmas season in Spain doesn't end until January 6th so three full weeks of celebrations was a lot but still fun.  Our sweet girl continued to excel at swim lessons (and loves going each week).  I took a quick overnight trip Sevilla with a friend (by far my favorite city in Spain thus far).  MamMam (my mom) came to visit where we did lots of baking, playing and then celebrating Peanut's third birthday (in early February).

February brought our friends from the states (and a trip to London).  And Trevor and I had a crazy night of fun celebrating Carnaval in Cadiz with some friends.  It was definetly one for the memory books and I am happy we were able to experience the craziness of the huge street party.  

March was low key but we did celebrate our 6th anniversary by going to our second Seabee Ball and it was so much fun -- dinner, dancing and drinks with many of our good friends!  And we registered Serafina for Spanish public school.
Our April was little crazy with Easter celebrations, my brother visiting and feria but still such a fun month.  We had a blast with Uncle Sammy -- Serafina loved him and was so sad to see him go.  He he also got to experience Sevilla feria which was so much fun.  It was such a treat for my brother to see what all the fuss is about for feria as it truly is such a Spanish event and seriously the party ever!  We had an amazing time at our own town's feria -- going all four days!

May was so rainy -- we spent way too many days inside.  There must have been a record set for how much rain and how many days of rain, it was nuts!  We were able to enjoy a nice evening with some of Trevor's Spanish coworkers.  We learned how to make paella and it was an experience.  I got tasked with cutting up the octopus for the arroz negro (black rice) and for those that know me -- I hate seafood -- the taste, the look, the smell, everything.  So this was a huge challenge for me, but I did it and I was quite proud of myself!  And yes, I even had a little bite of the dish and it wasn't bad!  We also took a weekend trip to Valencia and had a great time.

June finally brought warmer weather with a few beach days which our sweet Peanut just loves -- covering herself in sand and running around with her friends.  For Father's Day weekend we headed to Cadiz (via boat) with some friends to experience the 1st annual Beer Weekend Festival thing...  We love Cadiz and we ended up having a blast -- exploring the city and trying out some pretty good beer (which can be a little difficult to find around here).  And MamMam was able to come back to visit again.  We had a lot of fun just hanging out around Rota, playing so many games, baking and laughing.  We also had the end of year (fin de curso) celebration for Serafina.  You can read about last year's fin de curso here.  Serafina did SO well this year -- dancing her little heart out and so sad when she couldn't perform on stage anymore!  It was such a fun evening and we will truly miss her school as she moves on to the big public school next year.

We recently celebrated the 4th of July -- we went to the base celebration and of course we were too busy running after our little lady to take any pictures.  Serafina had a blast running around with her friends, going into all the bounce houses and eating so much sugar!

We have no real plans for the summer and right now that is just perfect for us -- hopefully lots of beach days and hanging out with friends!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Weekend Adventures {Valencia}

At the end of May we spent an amazing weekend in Valencia -- a city that has been on our must visit list since before we moved to Spain!  Valencia is the third largest city in Spain and is about an hour flight from Sevilla (or a seven hour drive from our house) -- but we flew.  It is located on the Mediterranean so it does have a beach you can enjoy!

We have wanted to go to Valencia to visit the City of Arts and Sciences -- an area of the city that houses a top aquarium, an IMAX theater and an interactive science museum.  Trevor (and our sweet Peanut) love aquariums so this city was perfect for them!  Valencia also has a wonderful zoo -- so basically this whole town is extremely kid friendly and I highly recommend going if you have kids (or if you are a kid at heart).

We chose to stay at an apartment hotel close to the city center.  We stayed at this chain which happened to be perfect -- great location and great apartment.  It was a little more than we usually spend for hotels/apartments but we had credit on this website for saying ten nights (highly recommend if you travel frequently).  The apartment was super clean and the beds were really comfortable -- and more importantly, our Peanut actually slept in her own bed in her own room for the first time ever when we travel so that was a huge huge win!

The airport for Valencia is just outside the city which requires a taxi or subway ride into the city.  We attempted to taxi just so we didn't have to walk from the metro station but they wouldn't take us because we didn't have a carseat for Serafina (but we took a taxi to the airport for our flight out and didn't have a carseat -- so go figure).  The metro system in Valencia isn't the best -- it doesn't really go into the center of the city so most stops will require a 10-15 minute walk to get into the city.  However, two lines run from the airport all the way to the marina/beach so that is the cheap option to get into the city.  While in Valencia, the bus system is pretty extensive and great so we used the bus daily -- especially getting to the City of Arts and Sciences.  Valencia does have a tourist card but it was cheaper for us to just get a prepaid card of ten rides for the bus (we bought it at a local tabac shop and the card is called bonobus and does not work with the metro).

We packed a lot into our weekend away so once again I'll just break down each place we went and how it worked with the Peanut and such!

The BioParc is a huge zoo.  It is different from many other zoos because most exhibits have multiple animals, just as if they were in nature.  The park was laid out very well and perfect for kids -- there were so many viewing places at Serafina's level so she could see the animals and enjoy herself.  Her favorite part was the walk through the lemur enclosure -- she was so excited to see the animals so close!  Our favorite part was the brand new baby gorilla!  Obviously this place was super kid friendly (and stroller friendly).  We didn't eat there so I can't tell you about the food but there seemed to be plenty of places to eat or grab a snack.  It was also a trek to get out there -- highly recommend taking the bus.

City of Arts and Sciences
The City of Arts and Sciences is a huge complex located between the main part of town and the beach.  It houses an aquarium, an interactive science museum and an IMAX theater.  You can buy tickets online or at each of the places, and for each individual place or you can buy combo tickets.  We bought the combo ticket to the aquarium and science museum.  We had dedicated a whole day to the City of Arts and Sciences mainly because we didn't know what to expect (I'd say 1-2 hours at the science museum and aquarium would be perfect).  The interactive science museum was very cool, especially with an active toddler.  She could touch and try everything!  There was also an amazing kids area where Serafina got to play and run around to her heart's content -- building things, playing with the water table and more!  We had to drag her out of there with the promise of dolphins at the aquarium.

The aquarium was also very cool -- huge shark exhibit which frightened our poor Peanut -- the underwater tunnel was a little scary with fish and sharks swimming above and all around you! We timed it right (not planned) to attend a dolphin show and while I am not usually a fan of those types of things, it was really cool and Serafina loved it.  The aquarium was actually fairly spread out but we hit all the exhibits, enjoying the penguins and belugas the most!  We ate the aquarium as there really aren't a lot of food options around the surrounding area.  The food was to be expected for a theme park type place -- not that great and pretty expensive.

Gulliver's Park
Gulliver's Park is a huge playground/play structure in the middle of the Jardin del Turia (a huge park that surrounds the city -- it is the old riverbed, the city diverted the river and created a gorgeous park).  We had heard amazing things about Gulliver's Park so we were excited to check it out.  While very cool with lots of things to do -- slides and climbing, our sweet girl was just a little too young to really enjoy it.
La Lonja
A UNESCO World Heritage site that used to be the silk and commodity exchange for Valencia.  While the building was gorgeous, there was no signage or anything to explain what we were looking at -- definitely get the audio guide if you go.  No elevator and lots of stairs up to the upper level, so just have someone watch the stroller if you want to go to the upper level (the ceiling is cool so its worth it).
Mercado Central
Gorgeous covered central market (fairly modern in terms of markets) that houses amazing food stands -- even if you aren't looking to buy food, you definitely should go and wander through.  There are a few tapas bars where you can grab a bite to eat.  There is another market in town -- Mercado del Colon -- which is also worth a run through (and grabbing a bite to eat if you want).
Catedral de Valencia
The very centrally located and large and gorgeous cathedral.  Mostly Gothic architecture and famous for having two Goyas as well as the chalice that is claimed to be the Holy Grail.  The museum which is attached to the church was worth a quick run through.

Museo Fallero
A museum dedicated to the ninots that are saved each Las Fallas festival (a huge festival each March where neighborhoods create fallas (huge elaborate sculptures) that are eventually burned on the last night of the festival).  The town votes to save one ninot from the fires that year and they go into the museum.  The museum is small but it is amazing to see the various ninots from the past years (dating back to early 1900s).  We loved this museum and so did Serafina.
Playa de las Arenas
The beach in Valencia that stretches past the marina -- this part of the beach is very touristy but fun nonetheless.  Lots of restaurants and bars line the boardwalk.  It is on the Mediterranean so the water is fairly warm and while the beach is sandy, it is not the smooth, fine grained sand we are used to in Rota -- a little more rocky.  We did have to wait out a pretty big rain/thunder storm at one of the beach bars/restaurants but our time spent at the beach was pretty fun!
Food & Drink
Valencia has tons of amazing places to eat as Valencia is known for its food, especially the paella.  Valencia is said to be the birth place of paella, made traditionally with chicken and rabbit rather than seafood.  There are so many places to eat in Valencia, seriously -- there are so many restaurants and you really can't go wrong!  Well, I take that back -- we did try the horchata here which is a Valencian speciality made from tiger nuts (chufas).  However, it is not the Mexican horchata we are used to and it was disgusting -- but the sweet long buns called fartons you eat your horchata with were super yummy!  I do higly recommend trying agua de Valencia which is not water at all but an amazing cocktail -- made with cava (Spanish champagne), orange juice, gin, vodka and any other alcohol you want to add.  It's Valencia's version of a Long Island Iced Tea and so so yummy!
Valencia seemed to have a lot of museums -- art (fine art, ceramics), history and more but we didn't want to spend all day in museums so we only did the ones that were of interest to us (Museo Fallero La Lonja, and the cathedral).  So do your research if you want to see other museums.

We also did a lot of walking around to see various places such as the train station, the bullring and the big Jardin del Turia park.  Valencia also has a lot of fancy architecture on random buildings -- many in a modernista style, so be sure to look up as you are walking too.

Also, Valencia is much more a family-friendly city rather than a party/go out type city (although we did see a ton of hen/stag parties).  The city seemed to be a popular British spot, so many people spoke English.  There also seemed to be great shopping but we didn't really have time (or the energy to take a toddler).  There are plenty of day trips outside of Valencia that looked really amazing but most seemed to require a car.  So if you have kids, then I highly recommend a weekend in Valencia.  If you don't have kids, then just a day is perfect or skip it altogether.

But we loved Valencia and so did our Peanut -- we had a blast on our weekend away and so happy we finally got to experience Valencia!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spanish Life {Swim Lessons}

Somehow I managed to become the Rota expert on swim lessons out in town at the local pool (or piscina).  I've been asked by so many people about the lessons we take and how to sign up that I figured it would be easier just to document it all here -- so skip this post if you aren't interested in learning all about swim lessons :)

Obviously this is our experience and everyone has a different experience.  What I am writing about here, is what I have experienced and learned by trial and error!  Hopefully this post helps those wanting to learn more about swim lessons at the local Rota pool.  And hopefully I covered everyone's questions -- feel free to message me or comment if you have any more questions!

How to Sign Up: Sadly there is no website for the pool -- you must sign up in person at the pool.  This seems to be the case for anything we have done in town such as registering for school or getting our certificate of residency paperwork.  Everything is done in person and no one seems to have a website!  And this means that you need some ability to speak Spanish since most of the people don't speak English.  There is one receptionist at the pool that speaks English but I could not tell you when she worked -- so just show up and hope for the best!  Everyone we have encountered has been super friendly and helpful, even with my toddler Spanish.

Cost: Lessons are much cheaper than those in the states or even on base.  We pay about 30 a month for 45 minute lessons twice a week (we paid this same amount when we did parent/tot class, so I am assuming twice a week lessons are all 30).  I do know that if you go three times a week, lessons are a little more, but not much.  There is usually a one time registration fee (most we have paid for the whole year is 9 if you sign up in September).  They will prorate the registration fee if you sign up after September.

How to Pay: Things are a little complicated when it comes to paying.  The first six months we did lessons, we were able to pay at the pool each month and it was great... then City Hall took over and you now have to pay using a Spanish bank account or at City Hall each month.  The bank account is the easiest way to go as the money just comes straight from your account and that's that.  If you don't have a Spanish bank account you have to go to City Hall (sort of -- it's not technically City Hall but right by the main building) and get a receipt/bill between the first and the firth of each month and then take that receipt/bill to any bank and pay it. 

Times: During the school year (September to June), lessons for kids are in the evening/after school.  Our lessons are from 6:15-7PM (when we did parent/tot class we went from 6:15-6:45PM).  I do know some lessons start at 5:30PM but I am not sure if any start earlier (my guess is no because most families are eating lunch until about 5PM).  During the summer (July and August), there are lessons during the day -- usually starting about 11AM or later and then an option for evening, starting at 7PM or later.  From what I have gathered all lessons are 45 minutes except the parent/tot class which is 30 minutes.  You can either take lessons Tuesday/Thursdays or Monday/Wednesday/Fridays.  There are no lessons on Spanish holidays and the pool is really good about putting up notices a week or two in advance when these days will occur.  There is also a Christmas break in December and early January -- usually the same two weeks that kids have off from school (so from right before Christmas to after Three Kings Day in early January).

Equipment: I talked briefly about what you need for swim lessons in this post.  But you will need a swim cap for anyone going in the water (so yes, if you are doing the parent/tot class, the adult will need a swim cap as well as the kiddo).  You will also need specific pool shoes -- these can be flip flops, crocs, whatever -- they just can't be shoes you where outside of the pool/locker room area.  We use the family locker room and some parents use bags or little shoe protection things while in the locker room.  But I have seen people get scolded for wearing dirty street shoes into the locker room, so I make sure to always bring my pool shoes too!  Everyone heading out on the pool deck does wear pool shoes -- I don't think I have seen anyone go barefoot (kids, parents or even the instructors).  The best place to get all the gear is Decathlon which has good quality items for fairly inexpensive.

What to Expect: For the most part swim lessons seem to be very similar to those in the states (or at least the ones I used to teach).  There is a lot of playing games to learn skills and the kids all seem to be enjoying themselves.  Swimmers are separated by age rather than ability as far as I can tell.  So Serafina is in a class with all 3 to 5 year olds.  The parent/tot class is for all kids under 3 and even though Serafina was ready to move up to the next class, she was not old enough so we had to wait closer to her birthday.  The swimmer to instructor ratio is different for each class -- our parent/tot class had one teacher and sometimes up to 15 kiddos.  Serafina's class has two teachers who are in the water with her class and I have seen as many as 10 kids in her class.  Most of the other age groups seems to have one teacher and they don't always get in the water with them.  You will also get a key card (like a credit card) that you will swipe to get through the turnstile to get into the locker rooms/pool area.  You card is registered to you and will only allow you to go into the pool on the days/times you have lessons.  You will need your card to get in and out so make sure you don't forget/lose it!  And obviously, all the lessons are in Spanish :)  We have met a few of the instructors and so far none of them speak much English, but they are so kind and helpful it has not been an issue for us at all.

Hope all of this helps -- we have absolutely loved our experience with the local pool.  Serafina looks forward to swim lessons and I love how much she has improved!  It also allows us to practice Spanish and be that much more immersed in our town!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Feria 2018

The best time of year to be in southern Spain has come and gone (sort of)... I am talking about féria season.  Féria means fair in Spanish but this is nothing like a county fair you'd see in the states.  While there are similiarities, there are many many differences but either way -- it is seriously the best party you will ever attend and the whole weekend is an absolute blast.  If you need to refresh your memory on what exactly féria is all about, including the food, drinks and clothing -- read my previous féria posts here (2016) and here (2017).
Féria seaon kicks off after Easter and usually with féria in Sevilla -- as the first of the season and also the biggest, most eleborate fair.  Then on following weekends most towns in Andalucia have their own férias, sometimes going all the way through the summer!  However, we usually consider our féria season over once our small town has had their féria.

This year my brother happened to be visiting the weekend of Sevilla's féria so we took a bus with some friends up to Sevilla for a day of experiencing the largest féria.  While Sevilla is a sight to see, sadly it is the most exclusive féria of them all -- all the casetas (tents where food and drink is served and dancing takes places) are all private.  You must know someone to be invited in or be a part of the club that owns the caseta.  There are a few public casetas but they can get pretty crowded, and with over 1,000 casetas on the féria grounds, it can also be a little difficult to find them.  Sevilla's féria is so big a map is needed!

However, the exclusivity of Sevilla's féria did not deter us from having an absolute blast!  We knew that the Calle del Infierno (Hell's Road) would be a great place to hangout for the day -- public places to eat and drink and also ride some rides!  Calle del Infierno is the name of the area (for all férias) where the carnival rides and games are -- and Sevilla's area was SO big -- easily the size of Rota's whole féria!  We had a little hiccup with our lunch being slightly more expensive than we had planned but overall we had a wonderful time -- drinking, eating and riding all the scary rides (which takes some serious talent getting into the rides with a féria dress)!

I know I have touched on the rides at féria a little in my first post from our first féria but I want to talk about them again.  On the ride up to Sevilla we were all talking about how excited we were about the pirate ship and other rides -- my brother thought we were crazy as carnival rides aren't usually the greatest!  But we tried to explain that the rides at féria are not ordinary rides -- they have the Spanish way of thinking attached to them: fun first, safety second.  The pirate ship where you stand in a cage and jump or the insane upside-down/flipping/holding on for dear life ride or the ferris wheel that lasts 10 minutes and moves at easily 25mph!  Féria rides are crazy and fun -- and last a very very long time, you most certainly get your money worth!
such a scary ride.... oh so fun and oh so scary
And then the following weekend we had our town's féria.  It was just as fun as it has been in the past.  We started out as usual going to lunch with Trevor's coworkers on the first day of féria in one of the peñas.  This could easily be considered my favorite day of the whole year -- we get all dressed up and eat and drink our way through the afternoon with some of our closest friends here in Spain!  We are then treated to an amazing dance show (flamenco dancing).  And once again, our sweet girl just loved the dancing and sat mesmerized for the whole show...  I now have pictures of her just in a trance watching the dancing for three years in a row (she is finally old enough to start lessons in the fall)!  It was such a wonderful afternoon and evening.

watching the dancing

We actually went all four days of féria -- Trevor and I were lucky enough to snag a babysitter for one night so we could enjoy féria just us (and of course with our friends).  We did take Serafina the other days to enjoy a carriage ride and some more carnival rides with friends.  She had an absolute blast and loved going to "the big party" every day!

Our féria season was amazing and of course we are already looking forward to next year!

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