Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Weekend Adventures {Zagreb, Croatia + Plitvice Lakes}

I recently took a long weekend trip to Croatia with friends -- while Trevor and Serafina stayed home.  It was amazing -- the food was yummy, the wine was so good and the people were extremely nice!  We stuck to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia) but also took a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Getting to Croatia from southern Spain is not always easy -- we had an 18-hour layover in Madrid on the way to Zagreb.  We flew into Zagreb airport which is not large but very nice (and seemed quite new).  We took an Uber to and from the airport in Zagreb as it was inexpensive and easiest.  We actually didn't take any public transportation while in Zagreb (except taking the bus to the the lakes -- more on that later in the post).  Zagreb was very walking friendly and nothing was far; it was often faster and easier just to walk.  Everyone we encountered spoke English and all places had English menus which made everything a lot easier.  Cash was much easier to use and widely accepted -- in Croatia they use the kuna so you'll need to get cash at the airport (or another ATM when you arrive).

Zagreb is the capital city and the largest in Croatia so it has an interesting mix of tourists, business people and a young/university crowd.  It is a small big city and was wonderful to just wander around -- and of course stop occasionally for coffee or a glass of wine.  There are quite a few things to do in Zagreb, many small museums.  We only had one full day in the city so we stuck to the items that were most interesting to us --

Things To Do
The Museum of Broken Relationships is one of the top tourist attractions in Zagreb and I highly recommend going -- it is located in the upper part of the city so a ride up the funicular or a walk up all the stairs is also worth it for the gorgeous view of the lower town.  The museum is small but amazing.  It showcases items from all over the world that pertain to break-ups of any kind (with objects, people, and more), but note that while the objects are not to be touched, they are at perfect toddler height with no barriers to stop little curious hands.  The museum also has a decent cafe.  While you are in the upper part of Zagreb, wander around -- go past St Mark's Church to see the gorgeous tiled roof.  And then make your way slowly back down to the lower part of town, walking along Ivana Tkalčića street (a pedestrian street with so many good places to eat lunch or have a drink).  Wander through the main square Trg Bana Jelačića which has the big statue of Jelačić (famous governor/army guy) on horseback.  Near the main square is also the Dolac Market, an amazing farmers market.  We also went to the Muzej Iluzija (Museum of Illusions), another small museum and not quite what we expected, but still really fun and interesting.

We ate really well in Croatia -- first because they have good food and also because things are much cheaper (we tended to pay no more than $20 per person for dinners that included dessert and many drinks).  Vinodol is a great place for modern Croatian food -- a really gorgeous restaurant and an extensive menu.  Otto & Frank is on the main restaurant street (Ivana Tkalčića) and was also really good.  It has a smaller menu but also serves a good breakfast.  Eggspress is an amazing breakfast spot right -- the menu was all breakfast and all eggs but it was so yummy (and the portions were huge).  Pupitres is a great wine bar serving a lot of wonderful Croatia wines.  The owners were so nice and had great recommendations for what wines to try.  The Craft Room is a good place to try Croatian beer.  The Garden Brewery is another great place for beer -- with beer made right in Zagreb.  You can go outside the city to the actual brewery or you can go to the tasting room in the main area of Zagreb.  Zagreb is known for their coffee culture and cafes/coffee places are everywhere.  I highly recommend having coffee whenever you can -- it is some of the best I have ever had outside of Seattle (and being from Seattle, I feel like I can claim being a coffee snob!).

Just a random note about Zagreb -- the smoking culture is heavy and everywhere.  It was by far the most smoking we had ever seen in all of our travels.  The inside of many restaurants and cafes (and for sure bars) seemed to be the smoking areas, while the outside were the non-smoking (but still very smokey).  We weren't sure if that was because it was cold or what -- but it made for some rough evenings out.  The places I recommended were not smokey (especially compared to many other places we went to).  My friends who I traveled with have been to other parts of Croatia and they said it was not smokey at all -- so maybe it was just Zagreb.  Either way, we were all pretty surprised by it.  While Zagreb had SO MANY playgrounds and seemed very kid friendly, I would avoid this city with kids only because of the smoking.

Plitvice Lakes
We also took a (long) day trip to the the Nacionali Park Plitvička Jereza (Plitvice Lakes).  The national park is known for a series of 16 lakes connected by waterfalls and between a limestone canyon.  The park has many trails and over the water walkways taking you through the gorgeous scenery.  Sadly because of the time of year, the upper lakes were closed but we still had an amazing time hiking in and around (and above) the lower lakes.  The park was simply amazing and breathtaking and well, just plain awesome.

The lakes are a little over two hour drive from Zagreb, heading south further into Croatia.  We took public buses directly to the lakes as there is a bus stop right outside one of the entrances into the park (and it was much cheaper than doing a tour).  I recommend going directly to the bus station in Zagreb at least a day in advance to buy your tickets.  They will only sell you the one way to the lakes, but you can buy your return ticket to Zagreb on the bus back (there is a bus schedule posted at the entrance to the park so you know when you need to catch the bus back).

Because the lakes are a big tourist destination, there are restaurants around the entrances and also a few within the park.  However, we brought our own food and we were glad we did -- just allowed us to eat whenever and wherever we wanted.  And because some of the trails are quite long, I recommend bringing your own food, or at least snacks.  The trails are very well marked with various signage and maps along the way.  Your ticket to the park includes entrance to the whole park, a boat ride across the largest lake and a train ride that takes you most of the way between the two entrances.

We hiked around for roughly five hours, taking our time and enjoying various lookouts and the boat ride through the partially frozen big lake.  We went off the main paths a few times, but stayed on marked trails and everything was gorgeous.  We went during the off season so the park was not packed at all and we often had trails to ourselves -- and more importantly, some of the lakes were partially frozen making it even more magical.  But this also meant snow on the ground and slippery pathways at times.  Highly recommend wearing good walking/hiking gear no matter what time if year you go!

Sadly, the whole park is not the most young kid friendly place with over the water walkways and no barriers/railings for much of it.  I could see Serafina wanting to take a flying leap into the clear, pristine blue/green water!  But still worth a trip, just be prepared.

Overall we had such an amazing weekend -- Croatia is gorgeous and I can't wait to see more of the country!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Our Spainiversary {Year 3}

Wow.  We have been in Spain for three full years -- it seems like we have been here forever, but also that we just left yesterday.  You can catch up on year two here and year one here.
First, we are so happy to say that we are extending our time here in Spain for two more years.  We knew going into this adventure that we would probably stay five years but we also wanted to keep our options open.  Well, we love Spain and don't want to leave (ever) so we extended to stay as long as we can which is five years.
Second, I know I talk about my love for Spain all the time but man, we sure do love it here.  It has been so dang good for our family that we are very thankful we took the huge leap and moved abroad.  This year brought a lot more changes, mostly with Serafina starting her first year of public school and also the challenges of registering for school, but overall it has been an amazing experience and has greatly increased everyone's Spanish!  She is the only American in her class so I find myself often explaining our cultural differences, but I am also so inspired and many times taken aback by the openness of her classmates and their families.  They have been so welcoming and understanding of my beginner Spanish, our different way of doing things -- and so so helpful.
Speaking of our language abilities -- I feel like mine really took off this year.  I have gotten even more comfortable speaking with others, although I have also been forced to speak Spanish daily so I had to improve!  Serafina's Spanish also continues to get better and progress each day -- between school, swimming and dance, she hears Spanish a lot and gets to practice it a lot too!

Third, we have had a wonderful year here -- more traveling and more fun with our friends.  This past year we traveled to London with our good family friends, took a weekend away to Valencia, had an amazing week long trip to explore the Saxony region of Germany and Berlin, I took a girls trip to Germany for Oktoberfest, we saw all the castles in Lisbon and Sintra, Portgual and then finished our year with the most epic Christmas Market trip to Germany.  It was an amazing year for travel.

And an even better year of fun with our friends -- we experienced Carnaval, Spanish style and enjoyed our third feria in Spain.  We spent so many days hanging out with friends, impromptu family dinners, long/sunny days at the beach letting our kids play all day long.  We have the most amazing friends here and it has made living in Spain that much more awesome.  Sadly, the life we live working with the military means a lot of comings and goings.  We have had to say goodbye to some very good friends this year and it has been rough, but we know we will see each other again soon.

But overall, we love living in Spain and are so thankful we have this amazing opportunity!  We can't wait to see what this next year holds.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Peanut is Four!

Our sweet gal is four which means she gets her own update!

Nicknames: she calls herself Sera or Serie so we go along with it -- 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 finally growing!) -- 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 and loves wearing dresses and leggings so we often have to size up for the length.

Eating: still a really good eater!  I do miss the insanely balanced and diverse meal/lunch she would get at her preschool but for the most part we have lucked out in the eating department.  She is four so she gets picky and decides one day she likes something but the next she doesn't but that is all normal!  She struggles to sit and eat (not because she isn't hungry but because she would rather play) and this is very difficult when traveling -- but we make it work and she eats a lot of french fries when we travel :) At home she is a great eater and loves most fruits (strawberries especially), most veggies (particularly peas), chicken (any meat is called chicken), rice -- she will eat rice all day every day if we let her, yogurt, pasta... I could go on!  Overall she eats great and we have no complaints!

 still not great but it is what it is.  On a good night I am only up once with her for a nightmare or night terror, most nights it is at least twice and rarely do we get a night of no wake ups.  We have tried everything and we just have a kiddo who has trouble with sleep.  We switched her to a full-size bed in the fall and that actually helped a lot.  Night terrors are becoming more rare but they do still happen.  She still naps most days and on nap days, she typically sleeps better at night so we aren't about to fully give up naps just yet.  

Health: I feel like we finally turned a corner with the illnesses and ear infections this year -- they seemed less and less and more spread out.  She most definitely gets the normal colds and sicknesses but that is all part of being a kid and going to school.  She took a nasty fall in November and sliced her chin open, resulting in her first stitches (3 to be exact) but she was so strong and so brave (way better than her parents) and it didn't seem to bother her one bit!  She also got her first black eye after falling on the concrete playground at school!
Saying: 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.  My favorite is first thing in the morning when she wakes up and tells me all about her insanely vivid dreams or right after school when she talks nonstop in English just getting it out!  Her Spanish is still progressing each day -- we find it amazing that she can switch back and forth so effortlessly.  I often have to write down words to then learn myself (I swear each week I walk into my own Spanish class with a list of words I have learned from Serafina)!  

Likes: lots of things -- 
- mermaids: but said "marmaid" and she is obsessed!  She has mermaid sheets for her bed and a few mermaid dolls and goes almost everywhere with her Barbie mermaid, pretty sure she would turn into a mermaid if she could!
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
I should note that she is a leftie and it has been a real eye opener for both myself and Trevor teaching her to cut, stir, peel, etc. with her left hand since he and I are right-handed.  But we have all adapted and she is really quite talented in the kitchen!
- swimming: still taking swimming lessons and still loving it, she offically swims without her floaties and was the first in her class to do so (we are so proud)!
- dancing: she started flamenco (she calls it "flamengo") lessons this year and she LOVES it, not sure if she actually dances in class as parents aren't allowed to watch but she loves her shoes, her skirt and the music
- princesses: still loves all things princess (she loved going to Sintra, Portugal to see all the castles)
- PlayMobil: she loves her PlayMobil toys -- we have quite a bit and she loves everything about them (we have a barn with so many horses and a lot of faires and she loves both equally), she sets them all up and creates little scenes and has imaginary play :)
- animals: still loves animals, doesn't care what it is, she loves it -- she thought the guinea pigs in Gorlitz, Germany were the coolest thing ever, but she also had a blast petting a snake in Grazalema, Spain.
- baby dolls/Barbies/any doll: she loves her dolls and has added a few Barbies to her collection, she has fun changing them and taking care of them (feeding, rocking to sleep, etc.)
- building: still loves building things, especially with our magnatiles (or whatever the cheaper version is called)

What Else: the transition to the big public school was rough on all of us (we seriously had the best preschool and teachers ever) but we are slowly getting used to the bigger school and the new way of doing things -- Sera is the only American in her class and that has been a challenge for all of us: the language, the cultural differences and more, but we are finding our way and making it work!  She loves playing with her American friends on the weekends (we are so lucky to have such an amazing group of friends here) and loves going on adventures/travels.  Shockingly traveling is harder in some ways at this age because she has her own opnions about what she wants to do, but we still take her everywhere with us and love showing her the world!  She is a snuggle bug and would snuggle all day, everyday if we let her.  When hurt she wants mommy but otherwise she is a daddy's girl through and through!

Some of our favorite pictures from the past year -- 
in Valencia, Spain

first day of school

pretty much sums up our family and relationship :)

in Berlin, Germany

in Bamberg, Germany

still "baby"wearing in Sinta, Portugal

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