Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Travel Style

Today I am guest posting over on my good friend Kerry's blog.  I am talking about my travel style -- because we all know that figuring out what to wear is tough then when you're traveling (and with a toddler) it can make things even harder!

I'd love for you all to check out my post.  And give Kerry some love too -- her blog is amazing and she is also a good buddy who I miss terribly!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Day Trip {Tangier, Morocco}

Last weekend we took a day trip to Tangier, Morocco.  I had originally said I didn't need (or want) to go to Morocco, but I am so glad I did!  I have traveled to many different cities and countries and this is one that I will never forget and also one that I will return to one day.

Tangier is a very up and coming city.  It has been governed by many (as many as nine at one time) countries in its past but now solely belongs to Morocco and the current king wants to restore Tangier to its former glory -- this is very apparent by all the construction in the newer parts of town as well as the brand new pier being built.  But Tangier still holds its old world charm and history especially within the walled old town (medina).  Tangier was ruled by France in more recent history; therefore, many Moroccans speak French in addition to the first language of Morocco, Arabic.  I thoroughly enjoyed using my French throughout our day (and loved that the Moroccans were more than happy to let me practice).  Although four months in Spain has greatly confused my poor brain -- I would often use a French/Spanish mix -- oops!
I highly recommend taking a day trip to Tangier if you are in southern Spain.  It is very easy to get to: drive to (or stay in) Tarifa which is about an hour and a half from our house, park and walk to the ferry terminal, and then take the so-called 35 minute ferry to Tangier (more on the ferry later).  The ferry will drop you very close to the old town so it is easy to do without a car.  We opted to go with a local tour guide - Jamal from JC Private Tours and I am very happy we did.  While I never felt unsafe in Tangier, the medina was very tight quarters and very maze-like making it nearly impossible to explore the area while also knowing how to get back to the starting point.  Our group was five adults, one kid and two toddlers -- all friends from Spain which made everything more personal than a large 30+ person tour.  I will warn you though, you are on a tour and at times, it felt very much like a tour.  However, I would still go with Jamal again -- he will personalize your tour for you depending on your group and wants/needs.

So, our day!  Because we were visiting Morocco during Ramadan, they are two hours behind Spain* and shops open later to accommodate everyone partying/eating all night and sleeping as much as they can during the day -- we took an 11am ferry to Tangier.  The ferry claims it is 35 minutes, but I swear it was at least an hour each way and oh so rocky (don't forget your Dramamine).

We were met by Jamal when we got off the ferry and immediately started our driving tour.  We went past the Grand Mosque (as non-Muslims, we were not allowed in) and drove past all the insanely gorgeous and large houses of Moroccan and Saudi Arabian royalty.  We went up to the lighthouse to see where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean.  The views were simply breathtaking.

We then went and had our camel ride (one of the very touristy parts but oh so fun) -- we basically just pulled over on the side of the road and hopped on some camels in a dirt parking lot, but it was still such a unique experience and I was laughing (and hanging on for dear life) the whole time.  I am also pretty sure my camel was trying to kill me because he/she kept getting way too close to the very steep edge for my liking.  When I remembered to look up, the views were again just stunning.

We then went to the Hercules Caves (again gorgeous -- seeing a theme about Tangier yet?) and legend has it this was where Hercules used his super-human strength to create the Strait of Gibraltar and also slept here before completing one of his tasks.  The caves are part natural and part man-made and have the famous "Map of Africa" sea opening.
It was then on to lunch where we had only a few places to choose from -- given that it was Ramadan, the only people eating during the day were non-Muslims.  Our restaurant was fine, but again -- we didn't have a lot of choose from.  The bread was unbelievably good and I could have easily eaten it for my whole meal.  If (when) we return, I would love to enjoy a smaller, more authentic Moroccan restaurant.

The second half of our day was spent walking around the medina.  We started in the kasbah (walled in, protected residential area near a castle).  The streets (I use that term loosely since it was much more like walkways) were about the width of two people and everywhere you turned there was color and something new and exciting to look at.  I could have easily gotten lost just staring at all the gorgeous doors!

Then onto the souk which was incredible.  Picture taking was difficult because there were a lot of people (buying food for the nighttime festivities) and stopping to take a picture was not possible.  Also, always ask before you take a picture of someone, but feel free to take general pictures of the market.  We saw stall after stall after stall of fruit, spices, olives, meat -- it was all available.  The meat stalls were not my favorite (animals hung to show that they were killed and cleaned property according to Islamic law), but still worthwhile to see a glimpse into the culture.  We saw men spinning cotton/silk (who knows) for their kaftan shops gearing up for the end of Ramadan celebration.  I wish we had bought more spices because oh the smells -- I could not get enough!  A reason to go back, that's for sure.

And then sadly, our tour was over and we were back on the ferry to Spain.  I loved Tangier and loved our day there.  Everything is gorgeous and colorful and flavorful!
Part of our tour did include going into an "art gallery" (large store) where we could buy various items -- lots and lots of rugs, lots of jewelry, various items made using cedar and more.  It was not required that we purchase anything, but it felt like we should.  We wanted to buy a few things, so maybe that was why we felt like we should, who knows!  I would have preferred to shop for these items in the smaller stores within the souk but again, we were on a tour and again, I would still recommend it.

A little information on being a tourist in Morocco -- you will get bothered to buy items.  But know how to firmly say no and show little interest in the product (don't ask "how much") unless you truly want it and you will be fine.  Don't pay full price for anything -- bargain on everything (except food and spice stalls have fixed prices).  We weren't require to dress modestly, but I felt much more comfortable doing so.  Overall Moroccans are very nice and friendly people; they loved Serafina and often patted her head if we were stopped looking at something.  We opted to not bring a stroller and instead used a hiking backpack/carrier with Serafina and I am happy we did -- she loved it!  (Our friends did bring their stroller and that worked out great too).  I don't recommend letting toddlers walk around the souk -- lots of people, lots of low hanging items and just safer to be in a stroller or carrier.  But I never felt unsafe and I think that was in part to being on a small tour with a local guide who is well known in the town.  Morocco uses the dirham as their currency, but we were able to use euros for everything.

Anyone else been to Tangier -- what did you think?  Any other places we should visit in Morocco or Africa -- leave me a comment!


*Another lesson in time-zones: Morocco is on Greenwich Mean Time (as Spain should be, but isn't -- see this post) so they are always one hour behind Spain.  However, if Ramadan occurs in the summer months, the time changes back another hour to have an earlier sunset... So until the end of Ramadan, Morocco is two hours behind Spain.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

PCS: A Civilians Guide

So this is obviously my experience and my experience only with PCS-ing to Spain.  Everyone has a different experience but I tried to include tips, tricks, etc. that worked for us as well as stuff I heard from friends both in the states and once we got here to Rota.

PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station...  which basically means you are moving to your new duty station if you were in the military.  You get orders which tell you where you are going, where you are PCS-ing too and the process of moving begins...

While we are associated with the military, we are not a military family.  We are considered civilians (but Trevor is not a contract employee) and so the whole moving process was very new to us and also very stressful because there was so much neither of us knew -- because we are civilian we don't move every 2-4 years like those in the military!  I was able to talk to many of my military friends in the states and they gave me a lot of tips, but since none of them had ever done an overseas move, I still had a lot of unanswered questions.  So if you are new to all of this, PCS-ing to Spain, or a civilian like us, here is your guide!

Before you can even schedule your movers, you have to have your orders -- meaning your paperwork that says, yes you are moving and yes, you need movers (and where exactly you are going).  Everything from here on out will require your orders, so always have your original and make sure you have an insane amount of copies!  The fun part is guessing when you are leaving to then schedule the movers at a good time.  We had our orders but we didn't have our passports yet, so we guessed we'd be leaving sometime around end of February/early March.  We scheduled movers for mid-February and figured if we left later, Trevor could stay with friends and go to work while Serafina and I went to my parents.  We ended up leaving just a few days after our stuff was shipped, so it worked out perfectly.

Before your movers come, take pictures of your more expensive items -- we took pictures of our TVs (including the product numbers), our furniture that we cared more about, our bikes, the BOB stroller, and other various items.  I think it goes without saying that all of your important documents -- birth certificates, marriage license, social security cards, passports, medical records (yes, have copies of all of your medical records), etc. should go with you on the airplane and NOT in your shipments!

Everything is packed and moved for you.  The movers come into your house for a few days and pack up EVERYTHING.  And when I say everything, I mean E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.  They open a cupboard and pack it all up!  We had heard horror stories about people who had had their trash packed, or half full sippy cups of milk or wet towels.  So we were a little freaked out that something would be packed that we didn't want packed.  I had bright yellow paper that I used to write "do not pack" on closet/bathroom doors where we hid everything that was not being packed -- our suitcases, clothes, etc. that were coming with us on the plane; things to go to goodwill; food we'd need for the next few days while we camped in our house, etc.  We kept important papers (medical records, passports, stuff like that) in my car which was away from the house all day.  We lucked out big time with our movers -- they were wonderful and so nice.  They were constantly asking Trevor about things they should pack.  We did have a few things get broken, but nothing major.  And we did have one sippy cup be packed FULL of water that did not spill -- who knows how that happened!  Made for a good laugh as we unpacked it :)

We provided food (sandwiches, pizza, snacks) and water for our movers, and also gave them a tip.  While this is not required, it is a nice gesture.  They really appreciated it and we figured it can't hurt -- they are in charge of moving almost everything you own so you want them to take care of it.

So now to the details...  You will have three separate shipments: express (unaccompanied baggage), storage, household goods (HHG).  We were also allowed to ship one car, but Trevor dealt with all that craziness so I have no idea about that!  All I know is that your car has to pass an inspection prior to shipping, so make sure everything is in working order.  Anyways, I'll break down each of the other shipments:

Express Shipment (also called unaccompanied baggage): this shipment is a smaller shipment (under 2000 pounds or something like that) that should arrive before your HHG shipment.  However, many express shipments arrive just a few days before your HHG or the same day -- so don't count on this shipment coming faster!  Even knowing this, we still did an express shipment that included: some essential baby items (wipes, diapers), a lot of clothes for all of us, half of our kitchen, some toiletries and sheets/towels/pillows.  We knew that we would be staying in a hotel (because we are not military, we did not stay on base when we arrived) so we didn't feel the need to pack sheets/towels in our luggage coming on the plane -- some people do this but only pack this stuff if you are staying in temporary housing and if you have room (you can buy it here).  Also, this shipment is going on an airplane so be mindful of what you are including in your shipment.  I had wanted to send our BOB stroller and our bikes in our express shipment, but we were told they would be more protected and safer in the our HHG shipment.  Our express shipment ended up arrived two weeks before our HHG and was able to be delivered on the exact day we moved into our house (it arrived like the day before we moved in), so I was very happy to have sheets, pillows, kitchen stuff so that we didn't have to buy or borrow from the base.  One thing I would have done differently was included Serafina's crib in this shipment -- the one item of furniture you are allowed to ship in your express shipment.  It didn't hurt her to sleep in her pack n play for an extra two weeks, but it would have been nice to get the transition into her new room going that much faster!

Storage: you are allowed to store some of your items in temporary storage (basically for as long as you are gone) and the movers will also pack this up and take this to the storage unit.  We opted not to do this step and here is why: we wanted access to the stuff we were planning on storing.  We have our own storage unit that our family members can access and send us items if needed, rather it being stored some place for as long as we are gone without anyone being able to access it.  We chose to store items like: baby clothes that no longer fit, some clothes of ours that we wanted to keep just never wear, appliances that we knew wouldn't work over here -- basically things we wanted to keep but that we knew we wouldn't need/miss/want in the next few years (or if we did need it, it was easy to ship).  We opted to store our kitchen appliances, except my hand-held mixer.  We knew that none of these items would work without an adapter or transformer and that using both of these can run out the motor faster and basically, we didn't want to ruin our nice appliances.  For more information on using appliances in Spain -- see this post.

Household Goods Shipment (HHG): this is everything else -- the rest of your stuff!  We shipped all of our furniture too.  We had learned that houses here were bigger than what you'd expect from Europe so that all of our American furniture would fit (we ended up with one couch that won't fit where we wanted it to go, but we had a Plan B and it all worked out).  The movers again pack everything and take apart any item of furniture that they can (shelves, tables, crib, chairs, etc. were all taken apart and packed up).  This shipment takes 1-2 days to pack up and load on to the truck (into crates) that will take its sweet time getting to you while it crosses the ocean on a boat.  We were told that our stuff would arrive anywhere from 60-90 days.  Our HHG arrived exactly two months to the date that it left our house in the states.  And this was a little on the faster side for coming from the west coast.

You will have to separate out each shipment before the movers arrive (but don't pack anything yourself).  We had our express shipment going a few days before our HHG so we moved everything that was going in our express shipment into one room and closet -- we told the movers to only pack that room/closet and they did; it was that easy.  Then all that was left was the HGG stuff which was packed up a few days later.  If you had a storage shipment, you'd need to separate that our too, make sense?

So are there things you can and cannot bring?  Yes... and no.  I had read that there was A LOT of stuff they wouldn't pack -- food, liquids, toiletries, anything flammable...  But this all depends on your specific movers, not even the moving company, but the actual guys that show up to pack/move your stuff.  When the moving company came out to do an inventory before the movers came, I kept asking the guy -- will they ship this, can we pack that? And he kept telling me "if they can't ship it, they will set it aside" which I found extremely annoying, I didn't want to buy extra toiletries and then find out they won't ship it.  So basically I kept anything that was unopened, full-sized and hoped that they'd ship it and they did!  We lucked out and had laundry soap, food, toiletries, and batteries shipped.  I think most movers will ship the stuff so with that said....

STOCK UP! Anything you use that you are very brand specific about -- lotion, shampoo/conditioner, baby products (diapers, wipes) -- buy it ALL!  We use a lot of Honest Company products (specifically diapers and wipes) so I was literally getting a bundle almost every week to stock up -- I am sure the customer service people thought I was crazy, but I am happy we had a lot of diapers in our express shipment and our HHG.  I would also recommend trying to bring any food item that you love and can't live without -- lots of people buy out Trader Joe's products before moving. Me, I had stocked up on ketchup!

Because I am pretty brand specific about a lot of things (hey, when you and your kiddo have sensitive skin -- you know what works for you and what doesn't) and because I didn't know if the movers would pack the stuff that I wanted/needed AND because I didn't want to waste precious luggage space with toiletries...  I shipped a few (okay like 5) boxes to our sponsors to have waiting for us when we arrived.  I shipped: diapers, wipes, a few outfits for all of us, toiletries, and toys.  I also ordered a few things on Amazon and Toys R Us because we had gift cards and I shipped those to our sponsors too.  And while everyone gave me crap for it -- I am SO thankful I did.   It was amazing to not have to figure out where to get basic items (toothpaste, diapers/wipes, lotion) those first few days (even weeks) when I was a total walking zombie thanks to an insanely jet lagged baby.  It also allowed me to figure out what I could buy here and what I needed to ship (and how to go about doing that) when we ran out of stuff.  And thanks to our Toys R Us gift card, we had some new and fun toys for Serafina to use in the hotel room which was a huge bonus!

And I should let you know that PCS-ing to Spain is very different from any other overseas duty station.  There are various differences from other bases because Rota is a Spanish base and therefore, we have to follow their rules/regulations.  The biggest one that we have come across is that most other bases allow you to ship a motorcycle in your HHG in addition to a car, but that is not the case going to Rota -- it's either your car or your motorcycle (but you can ship a motorcycle in your HHG back to the states).  This obviously didn't affect us but it can be a pain for some people.  Everything you ship is inventoried and then has to go through Spanish customs before making its way to you.  This is often why your express shipment and HHG arrive at similar times -- things can get held up in customs very easily.  So be mindful of what you are shipping -- it may be legal in the states, but not in Spain.

So now that you have been living without the majority of your personal items for a good two to three months, what happens next?  Well, you get a call from someone on base (they called Trevor so I have no idea how that all works) that says your stuff has arrived!  And you do the biggest happy dance of all time (not kidding on this one).  You schedule a moving day and all your stuff arrives in a large truck -- still in the crates that were shipped across the ocean.  Everything is unloaded, usually one crate at a time.  I must admit, it is a very efficient and organized process -- the guys call out numbers or show you the box if they don't speak English as items are coming out of the crate, you check off the number, tell them where it is going and away it goes into your house!

A few more tips -- if you have young kids, put them somewhere for the day: daycare, school, a friends house... It makes the day go so much smoother without worrying about your kiddos too.  The same goes for pets -- lock them in the bathroom, put them at a friend's house -- the doors are open all day long and you don't want your animals running away.  This goes for both your pack out in the states and when your stuff arrives in Spain.  Whatever your moving company in the states took apart, the moving company on this end will put back together.  You may have to ask, but they will do it.  This will save you a ton of time because you will be shocked at what comes apart!  You will end up with an insane amount of paper and boxes -- do as much unpacking while the movers are there as you can so that you can give them the paper and boxes to take with them.  But don't worry if you don't get it all done, unpack when you can and then call the moving company to come pick up all the paper and boxes -- it's that easy!  While we did have food for the movers if needed, they only took water (we were told this was pretty normal).

And there you have it.  A very long post about what it is like to move to Spain -- but hopefully this answers some of your questions and eases some of your fears.  While it was extremely stressful, we would do it again in a heartbeat!  And of course, don't hesitate to ask any questions if you are lucky enough to PCS to Spain!

Sadly I took no pictures of our pack out or when out stuff arrived -- I think I was too stressed with the pack out and too excited when our stuff finally arrived to even think about taking pictures.  But here is a picture our insanely adorable Peanut discovering her new favorite activity -- sand throwing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Spanish Life {Our House -- the Appliances}

Part one of our house tour!  First up, our appliances because, well, most are different from ones we had in the states.  Our house came with a refrigerator which we have downstairs in the bar area and a dishwasher.  Through the base we are able to get a fridge, microwave, washer/dryer. and dehumidifier and we have also slowly started to purchase some kitchen appliances that we didn't bring with us. 

First -- your electricity lesson.  Everything in Europe (and actually almost every place except for North America) runs on 220 volts (the states is 110 volts).  Knowing how many volts your appliance is capable of putting out is key -- otherwise you will blow a fuse and/or the appliance (yes, speaking from experience).  Europe also uses different outlets:

So in order for appliances that we brought from the states to work we either need an adapter or a transformer.
1) Adapters: most adapters (and the ones we use) will allow us to plug in our American items into the Spanish outlets -- they simply adapt one outlet to another.  We use these when our appliance is capable of out putting 110-240 volts (read the back of your appliance or power cord -- all that small writing will tell you if your appliance can handle 220 volts).  Most newer appliances will work just fine with an adapter.  However, when an appliance is not capable of 220 volts you need to use...
2) Transformers: putting it very simply -- it transforms the voltage from our American appliances to 220 volts so that we can use them.  You plug the transformer into the wall and then the appliance into the transformer -- turn on the transformer, then the appliance.  With me so far?!

Most of the stuff we plug in on a daily basis works with just an adapter.  However, we need transformers for our (older) TVs and a few kitchen appliances we brought.  It is a pain to lug out the transformer whenever I want to use my hand held mixer; and it sucks to turn on the transformer then the TV... but it's now second nature and I don't even think twice about it!  One item I never ever bring from the states when I travel overseas is a hair dryer -- those things are guaranteed to blow a fuse or the hair dryer.  Spend the 20 bucks whenever you get to a new place and buy a hair dryer if needed.  Trust me on this.  

Okay, so now you know how to make American appliances work in Spain, but what about our Spanish appliances -- well this is post is for you!

Everything is very similar to the stuff we had in the states with just some key differences.  The main difference with all the appliances is that they are all smaller.  The refrigerator and dishwasher probably hold 2/3rd the capacity of ones in the states.  This doesn't bother us at all, especially for the refrigerator (which does have a freezer on the bottom) because it just means we purchase what we need, when we need it rather than stock piling items.  Some differences are better to explain item by item -- so here you go:

Again, holds less than a typical American dishwasher but works pretty much the same.  There aren't any words on it, just pictures of what type of wash you want -- I stick with #1 most of the time!  Spanish dishwashers also require salt to help wash the dishes; this is not like table salt but specific chunky salt for dishwashers.  I haven't had to fill up our salt tank yet, but I have been told that I'll know when I need to fill up the tank -- so I'll keep you posted!

Smaller in width but a little taller than our old American fridge/freezer. I love our refrigerator -- it is brand new which is always fun.  It has a a rack for wine water bottles which is nice because most people don't drink the tap water here.*  It has great spacing on the shelves and two good drawers for veggies, fruits, cheeses, etc.  The freezer also has drawers which makes it easier to find items.  I'd say the biggest difference is the size of the freezer which is much smaller than an American freezer, but again, we just don't buy in bulk so it isn't a big deal to us.  No judging for the contents of our refrigerator!

Washer & Dryer:
Our washer is a typical front loader -- again, just smaller.  It has an insane number is cycles and I don't know what any of them mean!  I can figure it out with knowing English, French and of course using Google Translate (my most used app now), but I typically stick with either the "snowflake" cycle (which I guess means cold) or the 60 degree cycle (this is in Celsius).  These washers also do better with powdered detergent, so that's something I've had to get used to as well.

Our dryer is amazing.  It is actually a steam dryer, so it does not need an outside vent.  It dries the clothes by literally removing the water and collecting it in a basin under the dryer.  This has to be emptied every few loads or the dryer stops working!  I learned the hard way the first time I did laundry -- the dryer wouldn't work and a light kept flashing at me.  Trevor (of course) figured it out and now I make sure to empty the water basin every 2-3 loads.  And when things come out of the dryer they often still feel damp, so I have to let the clothes cool a little and then see if they are actually dry.  Most Spanish line dry all of their clothes and I am getting there...  but for now, I still like my dryer (and Serafina loves pressing the buttons on both the washer and dryer!).

Again, much smaller than the ovens in the states.  We actually left a bunch of our cookie sheets in storage because we knew they wouldn't fit in our oven in Spain.  This makes it challenging at times, but we've gotten creative when needed.  Our oven is very difficult to baby proof (the two clasps on the right are to keep the drawers next to the oven safe, but it also seems to be working to keep the oven closed too), and you have to turn three dials to actually turn on the oven -- so far no issues!

Last but not least -- our toaster:
We have a regular toaster just like you'd see in the states but we also have a toaster that looks like this:

This toaster allows me to toast baguettes and the morning bread (called molletes) that won't fit in the regular toaster (I will do a post on food eventually).  I use this toaster all the time and absolutely love it!

We do have a microwave but that is pretty basic and the same as the states -- I have yet to figure out how to use it besides just microwaving something for 30 seconds at a time, but it works so that's the important part!  We also have a dehumidifier because it is very humid here; we run it primarily in the basement a few hours each day.  Each room (except the kitchen, bathrooms, and basement) have their own heating/cooling units.  This is great because then we only turn the heat (or the A/C right now) on in the room that we are in, if we even need it!

A quick note about our water heater....  Our house actually has solar panels for a water heater which is not that uncommon here given that we get a lot of sunny days.  What is different about our house from most that have solar is that if we need more hot water than our solar panels are giving us -- we have an electric water heater.  Most houses have butano or butane gas that is used to heat the water.  I am actually pretty happy we don't have to worry about changing tanks, running out, having an extra tank, etc, etc.  We do have a butano hook up, we just don't have to use it!

So there you have it -- our main appliances and how they are different from our ones in the states.  The slight differences take some getting used to and I am still learning different features on some of them, but overall we are pretty used to things now! 

*We were told that while the tap water is safe for adults, it is recommend that young children use bottled water -- I have no clue why...  But coming from Seattle where the tap water was amazing, I prefer bottled water over the tap water in Rota (or we use our Brita filter).  Bottled water is now just a part of our grocery list each week (and it is very inexpensive).  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Weekend Adventure {Madrid}

We spent a long weekend in Madrid for my parent's last weekend visiting us.  They were flying out of Madrid, so it was the perfect excuse for all of us to take the train up and spend a few days in the city.

Now, I had been to Madrid before (like 10+ years before) and was not a fan.  In my defense, I was expecting a very large and busy city like Paris or London, but in reality Madrid is quite small.  I was also not expecting everything to be shut down for comida (lunch time -- 2pm-5pm) in the capital city, but it was...  So back then, I would not have recommended visiting Madrid, but this time around I LOVED it!  Obviously Madrid is still smaller than most other large European cities, but this time I enjoyed that we didn't have to take the metro to get from one part of town to the other; we could walk.  Madrid has become very pedestrian friendly (many roads have been converted into walking streets while the cars have been moved underground).  And I was pleasantly surprised to find that many stores now stay open during comida.  So here is our weekend in Madrid!

The train ride up was easy and very painless -- you basically arrive at the train station 5-10 minutes before your train departs, get on the train, find your seats and just relax!  Well, if you didn't have a toddler you could relax, but traveling by train with a kid is extremely easy and so much better than an airplane!  No security, don't have to stay in your seat, can walk the aisles... It's great!

We arrived in Madrid in the later afternoon and made our way to our AirBnB which was in a perfect location (we stayed in the Plaza Mayor/Royal Madrid neighborhood (or barrio)).  We stayed in a 3 bedroom flat which was perfect for all of us and it was nice to have a full kitchen when we opted to eat dinner in one night.  Our first night we simply walked around, enjoyed the lovely weather and our adorable neighborhood.
gorgeous view from our flat

The next morning we went to the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace) (it opens at 10am and we decided to get in line early because buying tickets online was not an option).  The wait wasn't too long and a good place for kids to run around if needed.  The Palace used to be where Spain's monarchy lived (but they have since moved to a different palace) and was built in the 18th century -- because the original palace burned down so this was the rebuild.  The palace is quite large (2,800 rooms) and really cool to see.  It is still used today as the ceremonial palace when needed.  We opted to bring our stroller because it was too hot to wear Serafina -- and the workers were wonderful.  They allowed us to take an elevator up to the 2nd floor which was an insanely nice elevator by the way and were very sweet to our Peanut as she was walking around.  (Many rooms in the Palace did not allow photography to preserve everything).

Then for the afternoon we went shopping! Madrid is home to the most amazing department store (for lack of a better word) ever: El Cortes Inglés -- and this is saying a lot because I am pretty obsessed with Galeries Lafayette in Paris.  El Cortes Inglés literally has everything (food, fashion, shoes, housewares, electronics, books.... everything) and is four different buildings.  Two of the buildings have 9+ floors -- you need a map or you will get lost.  And Madrid is also home to the flagship Zara store.  Madrid has some wonderful shopping and I highly recommend taking an afternoon to shop -- even if you don't buy anything, it is worth looking!

That evening we had a very touristy dinner in Plaza Mayor which I also highly recommend.  Yes it is more expensive and yes it is touristy, but you are a tourist!  And the people watching is amazing.  Madrid is home to some amazing (if not the best) nightlife in all of Europe, therefore making it the place to go for bachelor/bachelorette parties.  Everywhere we went, we saw various groups of men and women who were out for their parties -- all were dressed up and all were loud and rowdy!  Plaza Mayor was also the place to be the next day because the Copa del Rey (King's Cup) final -- annual soccer (football) competition for all Spanish football teams -- happened to be occurring in Madrid and it was a fun and crazy madhouse with football fans.  Lots of drinking, singing and yelling but oh so fun to watch!

But back to food -- Madrid has some wonderful food, especially tapas bars.  In Madrid, you will often get a small free tapas (think olives, some veggies) with a drink order.  So just find a busy bar with lots of Spanish people and you'll be in luck (but remember, if you are going to a local place -- dinner will not be served until after 8pm)!  Also wander through the Mercado de San Miguel which is right by Plaza Mayor.  It is a high end marketplace with various food vendors.  Again very touristy and expensive, but worth a wander through -- go without your kid (take turns watching the babe in the area in front of the market).  And have churros con chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés -- it is worth the wait.  The churros are hot and the chocolate is so thick it sticks to your spoon.  Amazing.  And don't judge us for giving some to our child -- she can't be in Spain without eating churros con chocolate, especially at the best place in Madrid!

There is actually a lot of things do in Madrid, much of it visiting plazas and eating, however, Madrid is home to a few amazing art museums.  We opted to see the Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado Museum) which is one of the world's greatest museums.  I had been before but as a lover of most art and all things history, I am always up for a repeat museum trip.  This time, I do recommend buying your tickets online (and if you can, print them out before hand -- it will save you even more time) because going to the Prado is a lot like going to the Louvre, every tourist and tour group will be there.  But it is still very much worth the trip -- it is the place to see Goya's work and it is home of Velázquez's Las Meninas which many consider to be the world's finest painting.  [I am not a big picture taker while in museums -- I like to enjoy the paintings in real life and I feel like the low lighting/no flash make it hard to get some good photos of already amazing artwork -- or is this just me?]

outside the Prado (it is huge)
It also should be noted that this was the first time we were met with some apprehension (from the workers) about having Serafina in the museum.  We did our best to keep her in the stroller as much as we could but girlfriend wanted UP (her most used word to date).  The staff let us know (not so nicely) that we were to keep her close and not even let her touch the ropes, so we did our best.  She is obsessed with animals so we would carry her around and let her look at pictures of animals.  My favorite was when we were in the long (long) hallway of paintings and she screams out DOG while pointing to a dog in a painting!  All eyes on us -- oops!  This was also the place where she learned to say horse.  However, she says "bido" which is her way of saying caballo (Spanish for horse).  Adorable.

We finished out the day with more walking around and some shopping.  I also made a short stop at the Atocha train station.  This is Madrid's main station and while we arrived here, we took the metro to our flat without coming out of the station.  This is the train station that was bombed in 2004 (shortly after my first trip to Madrid).  And it is the coolest train station I have ever seen and it is one of the only places I remembered from my last time in Madrid.  The whole inside is like a greenhouse with gorgeous plants, flowers and turtles -- so many turtles.
outside of the train station -- regular pictures just don't do the inside justice (Google it!)
And then sadly, our weekend came to an end -- Trevor, Serafina and I took the train back to Rota while my parents flew home to the states.  It was such a fun way to end an amazing few weeks with them.  And I am so happy I made the return trip to Madrid because I now love it!

A few toddler travel tips:  Madrid is another very stroller friendly city!  We only took the metro on our way to our flat but found that we didn't need to take it any other time.  Everything was within a 25 minute walk maximum.  We also made it a point to have one of us go back to the flat with Serafina for a break each afternoon.  This allowed her to run around safely, play with toys and also take a nap if needed.  It made for a much happier Peanut which in turn made for happier parents and grandparents.  I highly recommend sticking to one major tourist attraction per day and allowing for some down time for your toddler.  While this is very different from the go-go-go travel that we used to it, it is what now works for us and our family.

We loved Madrid and it is a very kid friendly city -- highly recommend to all families traveling in Europe!

Recently on a long weekend trip to Croatia, we had a long layover (like 18 hours) in Madrid -- so we made the most of it and had a blast bar/restaurant hopping and eating so well for one night!  Highly recommend staying here -- close to a metro stop and also a really clean and nice place.  I also recommend Carmancita Bar for dinner (or breakfast), the food was so yummy and the place was quaint and adorable.  El Jardin Secreto is a crazy and eccentric bar/restaurant with an extensive menu but it was pretty fun and worth a drink at least to just stare at all the random and elaborate decorations!  And of course, I have to recommend Serafina Cocina Bar -- for the name but also for the decent gin list (just note that the Puerto de Indias gin (amazing gin from Sevilla) on the list is the pink/strawberry gin and I do not recommend).

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