Monday, December 23, 2013

Crazy things you do when your are homesick

Big R and I absolutely love living here in Germany.  I think it's hard to deny that fact.  That said, we are more than a couple thousand miles away from our families and our friends.  It can be tough to be far away.  The holidays always bring the homesick out of us.  I grew up in the military and after I graduated from high school, I haven't stopped moving.  Actually, my sister is not terribly different in that either.  We never sit still, so our parents got used to us being away, and any traditions we might have had became incredible childhood memories we have held onto.

For Big R it's a little different.  Growing up his entire life in the same place, his family has many traditions, and Christmas seems to always be the hardest to let go of.  His Swedish grandma always hosted Christmas Eve dinner.  The most traditional part of the day was the food.  Swedish meatballs, butter and spice cakes, pecan fingers... these are all things that scream "home" to him.  We all have those memories, right?

These last few years being far away, we've started building our own family holiday traditions.  Knowing that it's hard not to be at home with his family this time of year, I've tried to include as many of Big R's family traditions into our Christmas Eve dinner.  This year my little sister and her husband are visiting to celebrate the holidays.  We are changing a few things up, but still trying to intermix some of those important things that say, "home."

I messed up though, guys.  Seriously. I had no clue I was even missing the boat until I watched my determined husband in the kitchen attempting to create his favorite Christmas Eve treat. Have you ever had a magic cookie bar?  They are, in one word, purely "magical."  Haha.  The Commissary here ran out of coconut, and I had no luck finding any in the local stores. I also didn't realize we were so low on pecans.  Oh, and graham crackers.  Those were clear off the shelves as well.  I don't think this is something Germans have even heard of, so finding them off-post was not going to happen.

My solution?  Let's make those magical cookie bars this weekend.  We can get the ingredients and create the magic.  This wasn't good enough.  Big R needed his cookie bars.  I think he was starting to lose it.  Before I knew it he was crushing a pre-made graham cracker pie crust, smashing the little bit of pecans we had in the cabinet, and cracking open a coconut.  Yes, believe it or not, he shredded a raw coconut.  I somehow think this act of determination deserves a medal of some sort.  It was incredible.  I stayed out of the way as I was watching pieces of coconut fly everywhere.  Pure awesomeness.

His determination paid off though.  Between the coconut splitting and hand shredding, and the crushed graham cracker pie crust, he somehow managed to create something resembling a pot of magic cookie bar heaven.  Hard to go wrong with those ingredients though, honestly.  The house smells like melting chocolate and coconut.  Amazing.

Now that Big R has found his inner calm, I am looking for mine while I await my sister's arrival. They are already looking at missing at least one connection because of delays.  Oh, travel during the holidays, how I loathe you.  They will make it to Germany eventually, and when they get here we'll be ready to continue making new traditions.  I can't wait.  I hope that you are all with family, or for those of you that are far away, that you are finding a way to calm that spot of homesickness that fires up this time of year.      

Happy Holidays!

ps My Christmas card creations took an exorbitant amount of time to produce apparently, so they didn't even get shipped to me until late last week, and I have yet to receive them.  I haven't forgotten about you, our cards are just going to be a tad bit late this year. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Thanksgiving in Southern Spain - A quick tour of Andalusia

We decided for Thanksgiving this year we would head to a warmer climate and discover the wonders of Andalusia in southern Spain.  We found ridiculously cheap tickets on RyanAir into Malaga, and we rented a car with the itinerary of spending a day each in Granada, Seville, and Malaga.  The trip was fabulous with glorious sun, delicious food, and no shortage of adventure.  For our car rental, I specifically requested a Fiat 500, and this ended up being a perfect car, despite what the Hertz representative might have thought when we checked in.  Navigating the old cities in southern Spain would have been a nightmare with a bigger car.  As it is, if I never drive in Spain again, it will definitely be too soon.  Yep, this trip was full of car adventures including hotels that our GPS could never seem to find.

The countryside between each of these wonderful Spanish cities reminded me so much of southern California and parts of Nevada. (Actually, it reminded me most of Mexico.)  Honestly, it wasn't terribly exciting.  We needed the calm between locations though to rest of for the excitement we would find driving into each of them.  Pure craziness, I tell you!  Our first hotel was in Malaga. Our flight arrived late, so I found a hotel near the airport.  What should have been less than 5 minutes turned into about 45 because we had no clue how to get to the hotel. After finding our hotel and getting checked in, we all got a good night's sleep before our trip to Granada the next day.

Granada is an incredible city rich with culture and beautiful architecture.  Our number one sight to experience while in Granada was the Alhambra.  First we had to locate our hotel.  Simple enough, right?  HA!  Not only were we clueless, but our GPS seriously had no idea either.  In hindsight, it was kind of fun especially since we had a fun little car to navigate the narrow city streets.  We finally just found a garage to park the car and walked to the hotel.  Smart choice, and the walk was a pretty fantastic way to discover the Granada.

All checked into our hotel and having the rental car stowed safely into private parking, we headed up to Alhambra to discover its wonder.  If you do this beware of the women trying to loot money from you by handing you rosemary and saying a prayer.  I was an easy trap, especially when the lady is saying sweet prayers about my kids.  Such a sucker.

We had heard Alhambra was unforgettable, and we were not disappointed. Except for being much colder than we had hoped or expected, the visit was amazing.  The intricate detailing on all of the walls, ceilings, and floors is difficult to describe or to experience through a picture.  I had trouble picking the best photos to share because there were so many. Alhambra sits on top of the hill, so in addition to pictures of the palace, the castle and the other sights within Alhambra, there are also so many amazing views of the city from up there.  I'm sure Big R will think I didn't chose the best shots, but these are a sampling of how I remember my experience at Alhambra in Granada.

A view of Granada from Alhambra

Me and a sleeping bear in front of the palace

Reflecting pool inside the palace

Alhambra inspired inner peace - a tree pose anyone?

Some of the intricate details I mentioned - so incredible

Another view of the Granada - just wow

Church inside Alhambra

Interesting family portrat - hahahahaha

More beautiful details...

Some Daddy bonding time

Love my little man

What do you see, little r?

A handstand? Don't mind if I do.

Who isn't inspired to do wheel pose here?

One of my favorite pictures - so beautiful how the city is framed in the windows

Stunning gardens within the Alhambra

A walk with my boy

After a full day at Alhambra, we walked back to our hotel and then ventured back out to find dinner.  We made a brief stop for wine and cheese (oh, that cheese was drizzled with olive oil - to die for!) at a sweet restaurant that sat inside a cave.  The menu scared us with the listed prices, so Big R got conservative with our order only to find out upon leaving that two glasses of wine and a plate of cheese tapas was an entire 5 EUR.  HA, classic.

A great place to enjoy a glass of Rioja

A street-side view of the small tavern where we enjoyed wine 

The Alhambra at night
After a delectable dinner at an unexpected location, we finished off the night in our comfortable hotel room for an early night.  In the morning before our drive to Seville, we ventured out on the streets of Granada to view the Cathedral.  Instead we discovered a city full of charm, and we were instantly disappointed we didn't explore more of the city at night before turning in.

Beautiful produce sold in the old town market

Charming city streets in Granada

Then we were off to Seville and another adventure.  Again, it was good that the trip between Granada and Seville was relatively uneventful because driving in Seville was completely INSANE. Our hotel was in a great location though in the heart of the city, hence the reason driving to it was out of control.

We secured the car, checked into the hotel, and made our way out into the city.  Seeing Seville in less than 24 hours is not easy, but we were determined.  To make matters more interesting, I have been so busy with school that shy of making hotel reservations, I didn't spend any time doing any research about this trip. So, we ventured out into the almost unknown and became mesmerized by Seville.  We also gave in and decided to see the city the best way we know how, by horse and carriage.  Not a cheap way to do it, but we saw so much of the city that we never would have had time for otherwise, so to us it was worth every cent.

Eating was a pleasure in Seville. We loved most of the food, especially Baby C (holy cow can that kid eat!).  Big R was also determined that we would both get a piece of relaxation on this trip.  He did little research on Seville, but when he heard they had Turkish baths in southern Spain, he was quick to find a place where we could take turns indulging in a little relaxation.  My turn came in the morning while Big R took the boys on some little excursions while I enjoyed 90 minutes in a Roman bath house including a 15 minutes massage.  Honestly, have a couple hours to myself was heaven enough :)

One of the gates to the bull fighting ring

Inside the Alcazar

little r posing with a tapestry inside the Alcazar

View of Seville from atop the bell tower of the Cathedral

We loved this street for obvious reasons :) 

The Cathdral in Seville

Plaza de España - look at the detailing on the bridge

Another view of Plaza de España

City tour by horse and carriage - our preferred method of travel

Family portrait from the carriage

Our trusty stead

The Cathedral in Seville

Even at 8pm the streets were quiet only to come alive after 10!
Seville by moonlight

Christmas was in the air!

The entire city was decorated for the holidays

Our original itinerary didn't really include Malaga.  I'm not sure why we were going to leave this off of our list, but it was just the place we were flying into.  We decided it was worth a peak before we headed back to the hotel near the airport to get ready for an early flight.  I am so happy that we took the time to venture into Malaga.  What a magical place!  We always joke that Malaga is the third largest city in Sweden because so many Swedes relocate here.  It is now clear why they love it so much.

Our time in Malaga was short, but memorable.  Big R promised me a view of the Mediterranean Sea.  I would have soaked my feet in, but the temps were a tad bit too cold for my blood.  Our lack of planning landed us in a distance parking garage, so it was a trek to find the water, but we found it!  After a walk along the beach, we headed back into the city to find dinner.  Have you ever been overwhelmed with too many choices?  Big R even resorted to pulling out his phone and checking TripAdvisor.  Oh brother...  Rarely am I the one that doesn't need food.  Both Big R and little r were desperate for food and there were just too many choices.  Big R really wanted some fresh fish at a price we could afford.  Little r?  Oh, he wanted to eat at a place with white bar stools.  Seriously... I'm happy to report that we ended up at a place with both, but only after a few minor meltdowns from both of them.  The food was fantastic, and little r decided to entertain us with his craziness including taking that much sought after bar stool and sending it to the floor with him, food in hand, and head against the table.  We have yet to visit an emergency room on any of our visit, but good grief, I thought we were close on this one.

YAY, the ocean!  I'm happy :)

My little man is such a ham!

He climbed up to get a better view

The streets of Malaga - I feel in love!

Palm trees to remind us we are close to the beach!

The architecture was incredible!

We found ourselves in Malaga on the night that all of the Christmas lights were being turned on for the first time this season.  It was a Saturday and it felt like the entire city was downtown for the festivities.  The energy was amazing!  We finally had good food in our belly's and we were loving the lights and all of the people.  At this point I was really glad we parked far away from the madness though!

A tree of lights in downtown Malaga

The streets were lit with beautiful decorations

My favorite picture of the Christmas lights.
Overall, this was such an amazing trip.  We had so many unforgettable moments.  I wish we had more time to spend at each city, but I am thankful that we were able to visit all of them.  Big R keeps asking me which of the cities was my favorite and I honestly do not know.  I found each city beautiful and unique in its own way.  Granada was relatively quiet in comparison, and it had the backdrop of the Sierra Nevadas (the "for real" ones).  Seville was full of energy.  You could sense that the city slept all day and played all night.  There was a lot of pride there and the city was clean and beautifully kept.  Malaga had the feel of a resort town with a rich history.  It actually fascinated me the most, but I'm not sure why.

This was a great Thanksgiving.  I hope we have a reason to come back to this part of the world again and that we have more than a few days to see it all.


p.s. Look to my travel page for travel details...