Madrid

A couple weeks ago we flew to Spain to do a road trip through parts of Portugal, and the south of Spain. I thought it would be fun to share our journey with you in the order we saw it, so that you get to travel along with us!

We kicked off our trip in Madrid, a city we never got to see when we were living in Barcelona. So, in spite of the jet lag, we were eager to get out and explore what the city had to offer…

The first thing we got to see while we were there was El Retiro Park, and it completely blew us away. I don’t know if it was the time of day that we visited, or the time of year, but the light in this place was incredible. It was literally golden. It peeked through trees starting to change color, and turned fountains into shimmering displays of light. All we could say as we walked around was ‘Wow!’ I wish we could have spent an entire day there.

Esmé also loved this park. Besides the fact that they had too many playgrounds to choose from, there were people and kids everywhere doing all sorts of amazing things. Some of them were skateboarding, some were rowing in boats on a lake, some were bicycling around, but her favorite were the rollerbladers. We actually sat down on a bench for awhile just so that she could watch them. Then she got up and started ‘skating’ around in her crocs in the dirt along with them.

The Palacio de Cristal, or Glass Palace, has to be one of the coolest treasures tucked away in this park.

I mean just look at this beautiful building! This park had all the beauty of the gardens in Paris or Versailles, the character of Central Park, but with a history and charisma that is all its own. Hands down best park we have ever visited. Ever.

On our second day in Madrid we went to see the Royal Palace. We made the mistake of assuming that the house was attached to the gardens, like in Versailles, and ended up paying to see something that wasn’t the main thing we wanted to see. As such we were tired by the time we finished the tour of the house and didn’t want to go and walk through the garden once we were done.

The Palace itself was spectacular, nonetheless. They only allowed photos in the entryway, but you can still get an idea of how beautiful the rest of it was.

This was the ceiling above where you walk up the stairs to start the tour. Just beautiful. Whenever you’re in old palaces, churches, or buildings in Europe, you have to look up. There are incredible ceilings everywhere! I never get tired of looking at them.

Our next stop in the day was something we promised to Essie for her good behavior inside the Palace. And honestly, if you know me at all, it was really a stop for the both of us.

Dessert!!! Specifically, hot chocolate and churros. Let me also clarify that in Spain, if you order hot chocolate, it is not what you will get here in the states. Not that it isn’t good here, it’s just that it’s a whole other level over there. The hot chocolate is more like a melted brownie. It is very thick, almost like a pudding in texture, and very rich in flavor without being overly sweet. The churros were perfectly crisp on the outside, with a soft moist center to soak up all the chocolate-y goodness. And now I’m starving. Seriously, so so good! Both Esmé and I were very happy campers after this pit stop.

After that we decided to walk back to our hotel, exploring as we went. We stopped at the Plaza Mayor to enjoy a calamari sandwich (my husband’s version of dream food), then continued wandering until we got to Gran Via.

I have to say that the street itself, although very grand and bustling, did not impress me as much as I thought it would.

I was much more impressed with all the buildings we saw walking there and back. Look at the movie theater! How cool a building is that? Esmé loved the giant spider.

Again, I’m always looking up, to see what treasures I can find. It was such a pretty city to explore. We made one more stop at El Retiro Park before calling it a day, and that was Madrid.

The next day we had to leave early to go and pick up our rental car to start our road trip. But before we started our drive to Portugal, we decided to make a stop in Segovia as I had heard about some pretty cool things that were there.

 

The first of which was the Aqueduct of Segovia, which alone made me glad that we went out of our way to this city. It was absolutely incredible. The stones are massive, and it is unfathomable to think about how it was constructed during 112 AD.

I could have sat and stared at this thing all day. It makes you ask all kinds of questions that you will never know the answers to. Like how did they move all those stones in an age where there was no machinery? Where did they get the stones from? How many people died because they didn’t have the safety measures that we do today? It’s the thing I love most about traveling to old places…thinking about the people who inhabited them and what their lives were like while they lived/worked there.

There was also an amazing castle there. We tried to drive up to see it, but the only parking was down at the bottom of the village in front of it. That’s the thing about travel. It’s impossible to see everything you want to see. You make a list with your top choices, pick the one you want to do the most, then hope for the best with the rest, especially with kids. It never ends well if  you rush through just to squeeze in everything that’s on your list. Believe me, we’ve tried.

So we waved hello and goodbye to the castle from afar as we got in the car to head to our next stop, Portugal!

 

 

 

 

Charleston for the Fourth

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When we found out that my husbands parents were coming to town, my husband started thinking of fun things to do with  them. We love Charleston, and his Mom has always wanted to see it, so we booked ourselves a trip for the Fourth of July. As excited as we were to be traveling again, I really had some hesitations about our trip.

First I was worried about two other people being trapped in a car for 4 hours with our toddler. My husband and I are professionals at ignoring Esmé screaming her feelings at the top of her lungs until she feels better, but wasn’t sure how my in-laws would handle it.

Second, we had decided to go to a fireworks show all together, toddler included. This I had all sorts of issues with…It was going to be the first time for her staying up way past her bedtime, and I am super strict about her being in bed by 7:30 every night, so who knows what kind of meltdowns we were looking at; Some kids hate fireworks because they are so loud, they just cry the whole time. Also major meltdown potential; Lastly I hate big crowds, but I hate them even more when I have to navigate them with my child. It just brings out all kinds of paranoia.

Third, Esmé had recently outgrown her pack’n’play, so we were forced to get her a toddler-sized air mattress for our upcoming trips. At home she does a phenomenal job of staying in her toddler bed once we’ve put her down for nap, or the night. She will get up to get a few books for herself, but she climbs right back in bed and ‘reads’ herself to sleep. But an air mattress? Where there were no rails on any sides, so she could get up any time she felt like? I was not looking forward to finding out the answers to these questions.

As it turns out, things went a lot more smoothly than I had imagined they would.

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In the car the grandparents and Esmé were a match made in heaven. They played hard together counting fingers and toes, listened to Oupa’s special bird app that had all different bird calls, read books, talked about cars, traffic lights, and stop signs until they had nothing left. Then they all conked out together.

IMG_6871It was scorching hot while we were there, so much so that my clothing got soaked with sweat, and Esmé had a grand time touching it to make it stick to my body.

We kept Esmé cool by taking her to the fountains at the Waterfront Park. We tried the one where all the jets of water meet in the middle first, and she did not like it! There were actually a bunch of bigger kids who were going around to where the water came out, and putting their hands over it, causing it to spray all over the place (if you look closely in the picture below, you can actually see someone doing it behind us to the left). Which was totally fine! I think if Esmé were 7 or 8 she would be doing the same thing, but as she is a touchy toddler at the moment, she did not appreciate being splashed so much.

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The pineapple fountain on the other hand, she LOVED. She probably would have stayed there all day if we let her. I think this is a much more toddler-friendly fountain. The fountain itself is surrounded by steps that are the highest at the perimeter, then descend lower and lower to the center of the fountain. Basically it created the perfect baby pool for Esmé to lay, sit, kick, and splash in.

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She LOVED the fireworks show. I honestly think that, unless you have a very sensitive toddler, it’s one of the best experiences you can give them, as there is endless entertainment…Lots of people and kids everywhere to watch, lots of pets, lots of different food vendors were there as well, and then there’s the fireworks themselves!

The place where we saw them was one of those situations where you park somewhere and then they shuttle you to the actual place. In our case they used school buses, and Esmé was thrilled. She still talks about taking the bus to the fireworks whenever she sees a school bus.

Once the fireworks started, she was mesmerized. It was the cutest thing. She watched every single one, only taking breaks to tell us they were ‘so pretty’ or ‘vewy, VEWY loud!’

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There was a ton of people there, but it didn’t get crazy busy until after the show when everyone was leaving, which was also the time that Esmé passed out in her stroller, so she didn’t mind one bit.

I would say that the fireworks were her favorite part of the trip, but I know that she loved swimming with her Papa at the hotel pool the most. She asked to do it every day and would swim until her lips were blue and her little body was shaking.

IMG_6868How did the sleeping go? Well, that first night there was not fun. She took full advantage of the fact that she could just say ‘No!’ when we told her to go to sleep and then come over to see what we were doing. She finally crashed close to 11pm or so, but the next three nights went a lot better. I was actually really impressed with how well she did, and it was entertaining to see all the funny positions she fell asleep in.

We did have some meltdowns, but they were more to do with the fact that Esmé is a growing toddler learning to assert her will, more than being out of her normal routine. We also learned some things the hard way, because traveling as a family of five is different than traveling as a family of three. But that’s the thing about travel, the more you do it, the easier it gets, because you learn from your past mistakes.

Even though there were tantrums, and mommy hangry moments, and things forgotten, we still created some pretty magical memories.

Sunset Magic

October is one of my favorite months of the year because it is the start of the holiday season (for me), and it’s a time for believing in magic. Whether you love the magic of multiple aisles of candy at the stores, costumes from fantasy worlds afar, or the every day magic of the changing season, it’s a time of year that everyone can enjoy.

To celebrate, I thought I would share with you not only our favorite memory from our recent trip to Portland, but our own glimpse of magic… the perfect sunset!

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We had decided to take our first Saturday in Portland and drive out to Cannon Beach. The drive itself was unbelievable. Leaving Portland, it starts out with open meadows, and farmland nestled in between tree-clad hillsides. The contrast in colors of the straw-yellow, harvested fields, to the bright red barns, to the dark evergreen of the pines was gorgeous. Then of course you’ll also see hidden gems of golds and ruby reds peaking out from behind the giant evergreens. I literally spent the whole of the drive on the very edge of my seat, craning my neck all around trying to see it all.

As we got closer to the coast, we saw less open areas, and less deciduous trees of color, but much more coniferous. Indeed it felt very much like we were driving deep into a dense, dark, haunted forest. And we were! Until all of a sudden the coastline appears before you. I was completely taken by surprise.

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Here in North Carolina the landscape tends to get more sparse as you head towards the coast. The trees get shorter, are farther apart, and things look more, well, beachy. In Oregon the forest backs right up to the sea. It is the most amazing thing in the world. If you stand with your side towards the ocean, you can look straight down the beach and see mountains on one side, and ocean on the other.

By the time we had finished exploring Cannon Beach, and a little ways south down the coast, I told Emile that it looked like we might be able to see the sunset on the beach. He argued that the view would be better from atop a hill. I said no I think it would be much better to be at sea level, and he still insisted otherwise. I acquiesced.

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Esmé was happy because she got to run around in the grass. Mama and Papa were happy that it wasn’t the beach, where she would be eating, throwing, and smearing sand everywhere. She tried her darndest to channel Taylor Swift, but I told her no one was going to remember her staring at the sunset because she wasn’t standing. The song says nothing about running, it’s standing. Sheesh. Well I guess she wasn’t wearing a nice dress either. I digress.

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The evening looked promising. There was just enough cloud cover to display an array of colors, but not so much that it would block out the sun completely.

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Then the sun got lower, and more clouds rolled in. Now there was only a tiny gap in the clouds. We waited and waited, until I was sure that we had missed it because the sun had already missed the gap.

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All of a sudden the gap began to glow with a pale yellow light.

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It got brighter and brighter…

IMG_5419until the sun burst through the clouds in golden brilliance. I screamed over my shoulder ‘Husband! Husband! It’s here! We didn’t miss it!!’ and then just continued to say ‘wow’ over and over again, while taking as many pictures and snapchats as I could. I honestly have never witnessed a more spectacular sunset. Just behind those trees was a cliff that led down to the sea. The gap between those trees closer to us, and those farther away to the left was filled with mist from the waves rolling in, and the sunset actually lit the mist up in this soft orange glow, making it look like there was a fire.

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It illuminated the entire landscape with a rosy glow, so the grass looked greener, the mountains looked more purple, and Esmé looked like a magical fairy stuffed in a fleece jacket.

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Ok, ok. I know she doesn’t look that magical in this picture, but she did when she was running around, and the sunlight turned her hair into spun rose-gold curls. Emile caught a little bit of it on video here.

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Just as suddenly as the sun appeared, it tucked itself back into the clouds once more and disappeared for the evening, leaving the mountains (and us) to be enveloped by the evening mist. A truly magical, very October-ish, end to our perfect day.

Enchanté France

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Our first trip to France was a last minute decision to take a weekend and drive north. We decided to stay at a hotel in a tiny town called Bélesta, for Saturday night, and then we would spend Sunday exploring a medieval city nearby. It ended up being one of my favorite trips out of everything we saw in Europe.

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When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted so enthusiastically. They brought out an ice-cold fancy bottle of french water, escorted us to our room, provided us with complimentary wine and treats, then let us know someone would be by shortly to set up the baby cot (it’s what they call a crib in Europe). I was flabbergasted.

Since my husband and I eloped to Las Vegas, we never really went on an actual honeymoon, but I told him that this must be what it’s like for people who actually do. Well, minus the someone setting up your baby cot part.

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Once we got ourselves settled in, we decided to go for a walk in the little town, before the sun set. It was the most enchanting little scene. The majority of the village is made up of these ancient cobble stone buildings and walls. The streets are all paved with little square stone tiles.  It was so peaceful and quiet that the only sound to be heard, besides the squeak of our stroller, and our footsteps on the paths, was that of the wind whistling up from the vineyards and through the old cobblestone buildings. We only saw a handful of people on our walk, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves to explore.

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Once Esmé was all tucked in her little bed, we went and sat outside to enjoy our spoils in the fading evening light. Our room had a little patio that faced the town church, so we got to hear the church bells chiming the time, and see the neighborhood cat scale the building on his nightly prowl.

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Before we packed up and headed off on our drive to our medieval castle adventure, we had a spectacular breakfast overlooking the vineyards in the morning sunshine.

IMG_4827The drive up to the city of Carcassonne was the second best part of our weekend adventure. We wound our way in and out of vineyards that led to narrow mountain roads for what felt like forever. All of a sudden the view would open up, and there would be a little village tucked away in the hills. As we drove through I was amazed at all the golden yellows, pinks, and orange colored buildings with their sun-baked, red-tile roofs.

I so wished that we had more time to explore these tiny gems, and I did try, multiple times, to get my husband to stop the car so we could get out and take pictures. Alas, we were on a tight time schedule, and he did not give in to my pleas. Before I knew it we were lost in the woodsy mountain roads again.

As we got closer to the medieval city, we saw less mountains and sunny villages, more tree-lined roads bordering vineyards and fields of sunflowers. We were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get there when all of a sudden this sprawling castle-walled-city appeared before us as we crested a hill. I may or may not have let out a shriek of excitement in the car and woken up our sleeping child.

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My husband said that this place is like Disneyland, but better, because it’s the real deal, and he’s right! As you walk in through the entrance, you are immediately funneled into these tiny, cobble-stoned streets that are lined with shops so full of goodies, that their merchandise spills out onto the streets. I imagine that it’s probably what it’s like to go shopping in Diagon Alley.

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There is also a castle within the castle, if that makes any sense at all. It’s inside here that you can learn all about the history of this city and the fortress it once was.

IMG_3747You also get treated to some pretty phenomenal views of the grounds from the upstairs windows inside the castle, as you can see from the picture above.

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This was seriously one of the coolest experiences ever. It wasn’t castle ruins, or a tour of a gutted, nearly crumbling old building, it was a living, thriving, still in tact medieval village.

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We got to take a walk back in time through a castle with our daughter, and we found hidden treasures in the charming villages tucked away in the hills.

I’ve already told my husband that we have to go back. Even if it’s many, many years from now, I have to go back, and soak it in all over again.