Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter Weekend 2016

I know I am a little late to the Easter Weekend re-cap but in my defense it is very hard to blog in a hotel room when once the baby goes to bed you have to be absolutely silent and well, we currently only have one computer....  So better late than never, right?

[I should also note that I am blogging while eating my new favorite Spanish snack -- bread with tomato paste (more like a plain tomato salsa rather than the paste you're thinking of), olive oil and salt -- sooooo good!]

So -- Easter Weekend.  It was a very fun weekend spent in Rota with family and friends.  The Spanish take Holy Thursday and Good Friday as national holidays so everything was closed (literally everything except restaurants) which made for a lot of beach walks and playing in the hotel room.

Trevor had Friday off (his new work schedule allows for every other Friday off which is great) so we were able to spend the day going to more Semana Santa processions.  On Good Friday, there are three processions signifying the importance of the day in the Catholic religion.  The first procession we saw started at 2am and finished at the waterfront at noon (yes, that is many hours of walking through the city).  This procession is still joyous (compared to the other processions later in the day) with three floats (Jesus and then two following).  I won't go into the history/biblical lesson but is very interesting and cool and weird and amazing and.... to watch these stories come to life on the streets.

The interesting part about the the float with Jesus was that the men were carrying it on the outside which was the first time we had seen this (all the other floats are carried by men underneath).  It was amazing to see how tired, yet so stoic these men were (and sweaty) -- it was very obvious that the float was heavy.

We then went home and took a nap in order to rest up for tapas and more processions that evening.  We went to a bar right on the beach for drinks and tapas with friends.  Now, these are not bars like we have in the United States, it is much more like a restaurant, so kids are always allowed.  The bar has a really awesome (and poorly translated) name -- Chill Out April -- but the weather was gorgeous and Serafina had a blast just running around hanging out with all the Spanish people.

We then went to two more processions Friday evening.  These processions were very somber and the whole crowd was very quiet (silent for Spain).  These two were by far my favorite because of the meaning, the mood and the intricate floats.  We found the perfect spot to stand -- we've learned corners are a great place to be because you often get a front row view and it is very cool to watch the floats turn.  This particular corner had a wire that the floats had to maneuver underneath.  The float with Jesus, had to lower the statue of Him prior to going under the wire -- it was pretty awesome to watch.  The crowd was so quiet while it was all going on.   

this was my favorite float
We made our way to the third procession which started just an hour after the second one.  This was another very somber and quiet procession.  We were all pretty tired at this point, so we watched the first float and then headed back home to sleep!

The rest of our weekend was pretty low-key.  We had every intention of getting to the base Easter Egg Hunt but with signing our house lease that morning and being out late the night before, Serafina fell asleep on the way to the hunt!  So we changed plans and went to IKEA instead -- we needed a few things for the house so it worked out well.  Except our little one got her first IKEA battle wound (some girl pushed her down in the play house at the eating area and she got a huge bruise and cut on her head) -- poor thing cried and cried but we snuggled her and gave her lots of kisses (and maybe bought her a stuffed animal).  

Daylight Savings Time hit the night before Easter (yes, this was two weeks behind the states) so we ended up sleeping in quite late on Easter and just had an easy family day.  It had been such a busy weekend thus far that it was nice to relax around the hotel and head to the beach for the afternoon.  Serafina loved the beach -- she wanted to pick up all the rocks and eat all the sand!

Plus, I had a total #momfail -- Serafina's super cute monogrammed Easter basket (that I had planned on getting a wonderful yearly picture with) is in our shipment of household goods which obviously is not anywhere near Spain at the moment... So we will dress her in a cute outfit and postpone our Easter basket pictures and celebrations! 

It was a great weekend -- this weekend we get to move into our house!  Nope, our stuff hasn't arrived yet; we will be using loaner furniture and such until our own items arrive....  Wish us luck!!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spanish Life {Semana Santa}

Semana Santa. Holy Week.

Some background: Spain is a Catholic country and has been for centuries.  While today's Spanish might not attend church every Sunday, the Catholic traditions are deeply rooted in their culture and way of life.  Semana Santa celebrations are a part of those traditions.

The last week of Lent, starting on Palm Sunday which was yesterday, there are daily processions throughout almost every city in Spain.  The province of Andalucia (where Rota is located) has some of the most elaborate processions each day.  The processions consist of one float representing the certain day of Holy Week, people walking in traditional Semana Santa clothing and a band playing.  Most of the people walking in the procession wear a robe and a large pointed hood that conceals the face.  Many Americans will automatically associate this outfit with the KKK, however, this is not the case in Spain.  Here the outfit signifies penance and is a tradition from centuries ago.  And while I will say that we were warned of the outfits, it did not remind me of the KKK at all.  I was so caught up in the wonder of the procession, the crowd and the feat of those carrying the float that all I could do was stand there in awe.

Trevor and Serafina felt the same way
Each year during Lent, the brotherhoods and fraternities of the various churches (all Catholic churches) create gorgeous floats that will be paraded through the city.  These are not the floats you would expect to see in American parades.  They are much smaller, but not any less elaborate.  They have statues and relics from the church, real flowers and often candles.  It is also carried by men underneath the float (you can only see their feet).  It is a true sight to see.  These men train throughout the year and practice in the weeks leading up to their brotherhoods' procession.  It is a true honor to carry the float; there is a waiting list for those wishing to carry.  The float rests on each man's head/neck weighing roughly 40-50 pounds per man. The men switch out every 20-30 minutes and most come out from the float dripping with sweat.  What is is more impressive is that these men cannot see while they are walking.  They are being led by a leader outside of the float directing them with knockers built onto the float and also his voice.  Words cannot begin to describe how amazing it is to watch the float navigate its way through the narrow streets, under arches and even up a step.  The large crowds are silent as the float nears an obstacle and then erupts in loud cheering when the task is complete.
the float had just made it up a step
We attended the Palm Sunday procession which is the most joyous and kid friendly (and the majority of them start well past Serafina's bed time).  In fact, one procession starts at two in the morning and goes until noon the next day -- yes, you read that correctly.    We didn't exactly know what to expect, but somehow our expectations were exceeded and then some.  The route is short compared to American parades so everyone either follows the procession once it passes or runs through side streets to catch up to the front.  We were able to see the float at three different places.  Typically the procession moves very slow, however last night there was the threat of rain so they were moving quite fast.  The floats are made from centuries old relics and statues so if there is any chance of rain the procession will be cancelled.

This was truly one of the most amazing things I have experienced in my travels.  If you are ever in Spain during Holy Week, I highly recommend attending a Semana Santa procession (Sevilla has the best in the country).

And now, along with the rest of Rota, we will be starring up at the sky and praying for no rain for the rest of the week!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day Trip {Sevilla #1}

We took a quick trip to Sevilla over the weekend.  We again timed the drive up (a little over an hour) with Serafina’s first nap.  This time we took the express highway (the autopista) on purpose!  We knew the city would be busy with Semana Santa celebrations starting today, but we braved the crowds anyway.  Parking was an adventure (we found many full lots, not so many empty lots) but eventually we were parked and on our way to the Cathedral and to explore the city.

Again, we took the stroller and this time left the carrier in the car.  We also packed a picnic lunch since lunch time in Spain can be upwards of 3 hours long and our wild peanut will not sit for that long!
but she sure is cute
We immediately made our way to the Cathedral and found a lot of streets being prepared for Semana Santa (blocked off, chairs being set up, gold and red being hung everywhere) -- it was pretty cool to see.  The line to get into the Cathedral was long, but we figured we would wait and let Serafina run around.  Luckily, the line went by fast – but if anyone is going to Sevilla, I recommend making reservations online prior to arriving to the Cathedral.  We took some pictures of the outside of the Cathedral while waiting:

Since Serafina was already out of the stroller and would not go back into the stroller quietly, we were the crazy people letting our little one walk around the Cathedral.  Don’t worry – we didn’t let her wander away and she was actually great!  This was the second church she has been in and she seems to do very well while in churches.  She just walked around staring at the stain glass windows, all the details and other various statues.  She would walk around waving and saying “hiiiiiiii” or “oh-wa” (hola) to anyone would pay attention to her.  There was one area that had really good acoustics and well, Serafina loved hearing her voice echo – we quickly got her away from that area!
[excuse the dark and blurry picture, but she was just so excited to be taking it all in]
The Cathedral was gorgeous (and huge)!  Trevor and I have been in many churches throughout Europe but we were both very impressed with everything. We kept finding new areas of explore!  I believe we spent over an hour in the church – with a one year old.  That’s pretty impressive!  Christopher Columbus is also buried in this church (and yes, his remains have been identified through DNA results).
Christopher Columbus' tomb
the main alter

the bell tower

When we finally exited the church, we were all hungry so we headed to Plaza de Espana  -- many will recognize the plaza from Star Wars Episode 1.  It was gorgeous with lots of horse carriages and birds for Serafina to attempt to run after (we had trouble getting her to pose for pictures because she just wanted to watch the boats and birds).  We had a very quick picnic lunch because the clouds started to roll in and we didn’t want to get caught in the rain on our walk back to the car!  But it was a gorgeous spot to sit, eat and people watch.

It was such a fun day!  We loved Sevilla and can’t wait to go back to explore further.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spanish Life {Our New Home - the Town}

This post is not about our new house, but our new town.  Yes, we did find a house!  But we have not moved in yet and don't plan on moving for at least a few weeks -- our stuff is somewhere between here and Seattle so there really isn't any hurry to leave the hotel (while it is small and cramped, we are used to it now).  I promise to tell you about our new house soon.

But anyways -- we will be living in Rota which is a small beach town in southern Spain, near Cadiz (it is across the bay).  The town used to be mostly farming (the land here is amazing because of the weather) -- the town is known their tomatoes and I will say, they are pretty amazing.  Now, Rota runs on tourism and the base.

A little about tourism: Rota is right on the Atlantic Ocean and has amazing beaches and fairly calm waters making it a very popular summer vacation spot for much of Spain and parts of Europe.  The small town triples in size for three months in the summer because of the tourists.  We've been told that parking is huge issue for these three months and that in the town center, it is not uncommon to see cars parked on the sidewalk and also on the street!

Through our "Welcome to Spain" class last week (it isn't really called that, but that is essentially what it is), we did a walking tour of Rota.  We went into the oldest church in the city (dating back to the 13th century, I believe) and the castle which is now the town hall.  We were lucky enough to go up on the roof of the castle and had an amazing view of the town.

In the top picture, you can see Cadiz in the distance!  Our tour of the city also fell on our anniversary so it was a fun day to spend wandering through the city, eating good food and drinking good wine (while Serafina was in daycare)!

The weather here is gorgeous -- it is sunny most of the time with very few days of rain (or if it does rain, it is often only for an hour or two).  However, we can get some crazy winds coming from various parts of the world -- the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and even the Sahara.  The Sahara winds should be coming soon which brings mud rain because the sand from the Sahara makes it way over here and mixes with the rain to create mud (or so we have been told).

I am not sure if this is Spain in general or just Rota but the recycling policy revivals Seattle!  You can get fined for not recycling properly -- everything has to be separated though.  Rota has this cool system where all the trash and recycle are taken to bins at the end of each road (no more than a block away from your house) and it is picked up daily.  It is also illegal to throw your trash away during various daytime hours.  This (including the daily pick up) is to reduce the smell and bug issues (yes, there are lots and lots of bugs here.... I am NOT okay with it), especially in the summer when it gets very hot and humid.

Now, a little about the base: the base is actually a Spanish base that the United States is using in cooperation with the Spanish government (and the Spanish Navy).  There is not an American flag flying anywhere on the base since it is not US land or property.  There is a Spanish side of the base that has the best cafeteria -- where we have gone to get great food and attempt to practice our Spanish.  Because it is a Spanish base, 70% of the jobs go to Spanish Nationals making it the place to work for many people in Rota.  The base is gorgeous; it is very easy to get around to most of the needed places by walking which was great last week when we had our class.

Often there is some sort of festival or event going on (which is often the case in Europe) so there is always something to do.  Next Sunday starts Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is a week long event leading up to Easter on the 27th. Each day (and actually sometimes late at night -- we are talking 2-4am) there is a parade through the city representing the corresponding day leading up to Easter.  I promise to do a whole post (or more than one) about Semana Santa and the parades because the traditions are just something else -- the history buff in me is just loving it!


Now just a quick update on us!  We cannot believe we have been here for three weeks.  It is all very surreal -- we live here, yet we can't seem to get out of the "travel mentality" of must do something every weekend!  So this past weekend, we did very un-tourist things like go shopping for some clothes for Serafina and run errands.  And we went to our favorite park a lot so Serafina could use the swings.  She is obsessed and throws a serious tantrum whenever we have to go.
Last week Trevor and I had a 4-day mandatory class which wasn't as terrible as we expected.  Serafina went to the daycare on base and while I was beyond nervous about leaving her all day for four days, she did great!  She definitely struggled the second day (which is very common) but overall did very well.  I plan on using the daycare for hourly care a few times a week or whenever I need it -- to go to the gym, run errands or just have some me time (and of course allow Serafina to get some social time with others her age).

We also celebrated our wedding anniversary -- four years!  We were able to spend the day together (in our class) and then our sponsors watched Serafina in the evening so that we could go to an early dinner!  We ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant while Serafina loved every minute at our sponsors' house -- she was so mad when we picked her up!  Trevor and I had our yearly talk of good/not so great things throughout the year and we took our annual family picture:
We also went out to tapas with some new friends we met (their son is 18 months old).  It was great fun -- but Serafina was NOT a fan of staying in the stroller or us being out past her bedtime.  We got to see some of the people practicing for Semana Santa -- it was very cool to see.  I'll give more information in another post!
Another great week here in Spain -- we love our new home and can't wait to move into our house and get ourselves further settled!

Most importantly though -- Serafina has her first Spanish word: Hola!  It sounds a little more like "oooooooh-wa" but it is pretty adorable.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Day Trip {Arcos de la Frontera}

For our first mini road trip, we stuck close to home.  Arcos is about an hour drive out of Rota so we felt comfortable venturing out and seeing the area.  This town is one of the many pueblos blancos (white villages) that are part of Andalucia (the area of Spain that we now live in).  It is perched on a cliff overlooking a river (can't remember the name) which makes for gorgeous views but very steep walking!

We planned our drive to Arcos around Serafina's first nap -- this way she could sleep in the car and enjoy the town when we arrived.  We had no problem getting to Arcos, parked easily and we were off. We opted to bring both our stroller and Ergo because we weren't exactly sure what to expect.

Our first order of business was to get up the very steep hill to the church and the town square which is literally at the top of the hill.  We had gorgeous views on the way up.  We put Serafina in the stroller just because it was easier for us, but pushing the stroller was a lot of work.

When we reached the top we (of course) took more pictures and also let Serafina roam around in the town square.  The Spanish love children so all the old Spanish people had fun watching her and trying to get her to wave at them.  She has started to figure out that "hola" means hello -- it's pretty cute watching her wave at all the people!

We also went into the church which was actually very cool.  Trevor and I were very impressed with the intricate details of the various alcoves within the church (we didn't take any pictures -- sadly pictures don't usually turn out very well in dark churches).  Serafina wasn't too happy to be held while we were in the church and so we quickly went back outside!  

For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered the streets of Arcos and just let Serafina walk.  She wanted to hold onto Trevor's hand the whole time which was adorable.  She had way too much fun waving at all the people, walking on cobblestones and taking in everything.  She babbled the whole time she was walking and could not have been happier!

We then timed our drive back to Rota with Serafina's afternoon nap which actually worked in our favor big time!  On the way back we took a slight large detour almost all the way to Sevilla!  The road signs aren't exactly the easiest to understand so we thought we were on the right road... But we quickly realized our mistake so we figured we'd just get off at the next exit -- nope! We happened to get on the express highway to Sevilla and there were literally no exits until you got about 10 minutes outside of Sevilla.  So we got a lovely tour of the area and had a nice two hour drive home!

{Turns out this mistake is sort of a "right of passage" here among the Americans in Spain.  We were telling our friends about it and they immediately knew what we had done because they have done the same thing -- along with many others.}

It was a wonderful day and a great way to get to know our surrounding towns (and get out of the hotel).  We are already trying to figure out where to go this weekend!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Enjoying Our Second Week

No, I am not going to be doing weekly updates on our life here in Spain, but I did want to update that things are going much better this week.

I felt like this week we were able to sort of have our routines come together.  Sleep is still not what both Trevor and I want for Serafina (or ourselves) but it is pretty tough when we are in a small hotel/apartment, using a pack n play for Serafina and have neighbors who can hear the nightly wake ups!  We are keeping our bedtime routine the same which seems to help and trying to be consistent with middle of the night wake ups but man, when you are exhausted -- it sure is hard! And we have met a few people in the hotel who have said "oh this is the baby I keep hearing" -- oops!  At least they think Serafina is cute!

This past week was a lot of getting all the paperwork taken care of to live here in Spain.  I spent a lot of time on base running around making sure we were all registered at the various places -- and learning the ins and outs of the base.  While it was a little rough with an active toddler tagging along with me, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice and accommodating everyone was which made the whole process a lot easier.

We took many walks as a family which was nice to get out of our room and enjoy the sunny weather.  I attended the MOPS meeting for the Americans here in our area.  I was lucky enough to meet a new friend while out to dinner at the hotel restaurant and we went together.  It was pretty fun and we plan on going to the next meeting in another week.  I am slowly getting more and more comfortable here and learning more Spanish.

Most importantly, we looked at houses this week! We found three that we really liked -- all in different areas of our town. We feel a little like House Hunters International because we named the houses in order to make it easier when talking about them.  At this point in time we have narrowed it down to two -- they are both very different and almost on opposite sides of town! One is larger, near our friends and closer to the beach while the other is smaller but in the middle of town and we'd have the most amazing Spanish landlords.... Ah, tough decisions -- we knew it would be hard to decide but we didn't think it would be this hard. {And it should be noted that you can walk from one end of town to the other in about 30 minutes so it isn't like things are that far away}

We also took a mini road trip to one of the pueblo blancos (hillside towns with all white buildings) which was very fun and quite the adventure -- I'll do a separate post since we took a ton of pictures!

This next week brings our "Welcome to Spain" class and it also means Serafina will be going to the daycare.  Since she has never been to daycare, nor really been with a babysitter (successfully) it should be very interesting.  We are all going to need a lot of positive thoughts!

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