Tapas y Tapas

During my maternity leave, I was missing travel. It had been almost 6 months since my last real trip and the itch was setting in.  Some deals came through on BA, and we poured over the destinations before finally settling on Seville. At the time we were feeling like the confident parents of a child who was sleeping 6 hour stretches.  Come the time of our trip, we were excited to get 4 hours at a time. But nonetheless, we were determined and with one small suitcase for us and one giant suitcase for L, we arrived at the airport (after a small mix-up on which airport we were out of).

As soon as we arrived, I knew it would be wonderful. We were staying in the popular Santa Cruz barrio, filled with narrow and winding cobbled streets. The taxi dropped all our gear off as close as they could and we walked the streets just beginning at 9pm to fill with everyone on their way to dinner. When we finally arrived at the hotel and checked in, they told us about a free walking tour the next day, so we decided it was the perfect way to orient ourselves in Seville, figure out what sites were worth seeing before going back to explore.  We dragged ourselves out of bed at 9am ready to hit the ground walking.

Three hours later, and countless smiles for the baby from wandering locals and tourists, we had seen almost all of the city's top sights. We learned an important lesson in preparation as it started to rain on us and we fastened an umbrella (purchased at the 'it just started raining price' from a corner store) over L's stroller to keep her dry.

As we finished at Plaza Espana, we decided to continue the walk and meandered through the gardens and streets.  I was taken in by the vibrant tiles found everywhere from buildings and walls to park benches. If there was one memory I took away from Spain though, it was the oranges - every park was laden with orange trees and the time of year must have been right as you could smell their aroma as you walked through and stepped over all the ripened oranges that had found their home on the ground. All of it together with the sun seemed a bit like paradise to a woman who'd been landlocked for such a long time!

That evening we had arranged to visit a flamenco show. We were a bit worried about both the noise and the later hour for the littlest Tart, but she was fascinated with it. It was an intimate venue with one guitar player, singer and dancer - the setting meant you heard every pluck of string and stomp of the heel, and see the expressions on their faces showing the pain and joy of the music. The excitment must have been too much as L fell asleep in my arms; we had a few moments of smug thoughts as we decided to put her in the stroller and grab dinner while she slept. We wandered til we found a restaurant near the hotel with the famed Iberica ham hanging from the window, ordered our meals and wine, only for her to wake up as soon as our entrees had arrived! Karma.

After getting whatever sleep we could get that night, the next day was time to get more into the details of the sites, as so far all we had done was leisurely strolling,  taking lots of breaks for croquettes and sangria.  We first visited the Alcazar of Seville - a tour probably would have been a good idea as there wasn't a lot of direction on where to go or what to see, so without much decision making on our part, we first wandered through the buildings.

You can see the Moorish inspiration in so many places in all the little details of the tiles, ceilings, walls, floors - many of which I shared as my favourites in my last blog post), and the distinctly Arabic carvings - these were beautiful, detailed and sprawled across the facade of the building, around the courtyard, but also found their way into the details of the rooms with arches across doorways and windows.

The building brought us to the "backyard" of the Alcazar or as Game of Throne enthusiastics would know it as Dorn. It wouldn't be Sevilla without orange trees, flanked by stone pathways that always seemed to intersect with a fountain in the middle.

When the wind picked up, we decided to duck inside the nearby Catedral de Sevilla to escape.  The highlight of the visit is the Giralda bell tower. Our tour guide had stumped us with a question on how many steps the tower had - it was a trick question since the tower is actually filled with ramps! Originally the minaret of the mosque, before converted to a church, the ramps allowed a horse to ride up for the 5x a day call to prayers.  From the top, the views are beautiful and worth the walk up (even with a baby in tow!)

On our last day of our trip (after a quick day in Cordoba), we revisited the Plaza d'Espana - compared to the first dreary day, it was a completely new plaza. The sun was shining, people were selling hats, shirts, balloons and artists had set up to paint the view, or do quick sketches for tourists. I had wanted to look at more of the detail of the plaza, with each province of Spain represented by a tiled alcove depicting something unique to the province.

All that sun meant it was time for a tapas break before our last look at tiles and gardens at Casa des Pilatos. With tiles just as beautiful, but far fewer crowds, it was a perfect way to end L's first European vacation.

Bali Baby

Hi - remember me? That girl who used to blog a lot, then occasionally, then never? I'll simply say I'm sorry again, but life as a working mom has me busy! Between baby, work and travel, I find myself spending an evening sleeping instead of blogging. Promise I'll at least try to work on it :)

Early in our days in the UK, we invested in a travel map - it's a beautiful map hanging above our fireplace dotted with red pins marking our travels. Europe was looking more and more red, and as we chatted about our travels to visitors a few months ago, we realised how sparse our Asia travels had been. Paul swirled his finger and bam - it was decided we'd take a trip to Indonesia and the planning began!

There was painstaking deliberation on which island would be the best (Bintan would be easiest, Lombok would be quietest, Sumatra might be nice), but even after deciding Bali, there was still decisions to be made. You could spend weeks in Bali, but we only had one, so hours on the internet finally brought us to what we felt was a hidden gem amongst Bali beaches.

Just 30 minutes drive from the airport, but south of all the craziness of Kuta, we found a perfect getaway. A short walk down the cliff steps brought us right onto Balangan Beach, full of energy from those soaking up the chance to be near the water and bathe in the sun. Restaurants doubling as surf shops and hostels lined the beach offering cheap food and views. Onlookers grabbed these prime spots on the deck to sip cold coconuts while watching the water full of bobbing boards and bodies waiting for the perfect moment to make their move.

The fine sand was different from anything I'd seen before - round little pebbles that are almost as fine as grains of rice that clung to every wet surface. It didn't bother us though and we happily played in the sand (until the waves came which were not so happily greeted by L).

We didn't brave the surf, but used the days to lounge by the pool and beach, battling jet lag and enjoying that start of vacation feel. Our little bungalow hidden amongst gardens was perfect to retreat from the sun and give L free reign to run around inspecting shells and taking in all the new creatures we showed her like geckos and creepy crawlies.

Once the haze wore off, we knew it was time to head north but wanted to get in one local site first. I'd heard of Ulu Watu and its famous sunset views, but our planning was a bit off (or non-existant if I'm being truthful....) so instead we found ourselves there at 11am. With the sun beating down on us, I can see the appeal of the evening, but the views were pretty spectacular any time of day. After years away from Texas, we aren't quite as heat resistant as we used to be, so Paul decided to grab a chance to retreat to the shade with L where she captured the attention of everyone going through - I left her smiling and running around on a table while other tourists looked on and encouraged her silly (and adorable) antics.

I wandered hoping to see more of the temple, but was disappointed to find that the temple itself isn't open to visitors. Instead, I wandered the grounds, heading further away from the temple for views, then back up taking in the monkeys that thrive on stealing everything from bananas to sunglasses from unsuspecting visitors. If you're looking for a cultural experience, I don't think this is it, but it certainly has some pretty beautiful vistas.

And so sweaty but happy, we piled into the taxi to head to our next Bali adventure in Ubud. Stay tuned for more scenary, food and of course Bali baby.

Stari Bar, Stari Budva, Stari Nights?

A year past our trip and several months since the last post, I figure it's high time I fill you in more on our babymoon.

Either luckily (or unluckily), we started with low expectations after Albania. Itching with sand fleas and keeping the windows down to keep the car cool (since we were afraid the A/C would overheat it), we thought it was time for a good laugh and for fortunes to improve.

Since we were travelling by car and a lot of the countries we were visiting were not in the EU, we had warned the car rental and asked about the insurance we would need for driving to each of the countries. The agent handed us a green sheet which he said was very important that we would use at each crossing. Upon arriving at our first crossing, we came to find out that, we'd already lost it. Doh.  Paul and I had some disagreeing on where it might have been (one theory being that our cop friend kept it), but either way, we found ourselves having to purchase new insurance at the crossing. Since it ended up only €15 so we didn't complain too much and instead turned our focus to food.

We decided the first few stops didn't look that great and we would hold out for something better. Then the realisation was there were 2 very hungry pregnant women in the car and it became a mission to find something to eat ASAP.  We found an exit that looked promising and stumbled upon one of those great finds that you always hope to find on a roadtrip.

Ulcinj, where we stopped, ended up being a cosy beach city - not so locale that there weren't shops selling beach wares, or some places with English menus, but just locale enough that we were some of the only tourists there, especially this early in the season. We found a view over the water and dug into what was one of many, many Italian meals over the course of the trip. Afterwards, we walked the beach but decided to keep on our way north to Budva.

Back in the car, despite planning to hightail it to our hotel, we saw signs for Bar along the way. We had looked at staying here, but decided that Budva was more our scene. When driving past, we knew we couldn't pass it up completely, so turned to drive up the hills to Stari Bar.  At the top, we paid a random man 2 (likely a fee to keep our car, full of baggage, safe rather than park). Despite driving up hill, there was still more uphill hiking to do until we found ourselves in the castle. It was beautiful, some areas with tended gardens, others left to tend to themselves, what used to be rooms or churches now becoming home to roses and bushes. 

We wandered around, at first following a map, then finally letting our imagination take-over.  Despite being an attraction (there were handouts for 2 proving it), we had run of the place other than a few other people we spotted on the way up and in. It was surreal slipping through what we thought to be paths, perhaps alleyways when it was a booming castle/market in its day.  Instead of crossing paths with a ghost of the past though, I only crossed with what I hope was a friendly snake.

Finally, our first day of roadtripping was done and we made it to Budva.  In actuality, we had booked a hotel in a bay just north of Budva.  Driving up through the campgrounds, full of backpackers and Eurotrippers, I wasn't sure what to expect. But, our hotel was nice enough, if lacking in local flair and tasty food.  We enjoyed a day of lounging and nights of card playing, as the storms railed around us.

We couldn't leave Budva without investigating the city, so we stopped on our last day there.  Of course we needed a little sustenance, so grabbed a smoothie before strolling the streets. We ducked into a museum on the ships that came through to get out of the heat and get a better view of the city walls, but finally gave in and headed to the beach.

A little online research let us know about a beach that was supposed to be good, so we followed the directions, feeling a bit sneaky as we walked past a private hotel pool. We came upon the first beach, but according to directions needed to keep going. As we climbed through a large cutout in the rock, with a board placed on it, we felt even sneakier and were wondering where it was sending us. Not one to give in once we'd started, we kept on.  We finally found our beach, which was nice, although a bit toasty without any shade.  The boys were lucky to have been in their suits, but the ladies didn't feel like trying to wiggle pregnant bodies into bikinis under the towels, so settled with dipping our toes in and working to stay cool.

Our first few days in Montenegro were surprisingly nice, although perhaps even more so in comparison to our rocky start! Little did we know what else Montenegro had to offer!

Seville snapshots

With pregnancy, having a baby and maternity leave, last year we got a bit behind on travel (not to mention blogging but that's another sob story). I spent the last 5 months of 2015 without a single escape. Even with a baby though, I knew that travel was still a priority to me and so I didn't want to wait too long before we got back in the saddle.

Our first vacation destination couldn't have been more perfect - Seville, Spain. Even almost 3 months later, I still think of that moment as we rambled down the cobbled streets, passing tapas after tapas bar, loud with the sounds of friends enjoying a late meal (and probably some sangria). Looking up, I saw laundry hanging from clothes lines window boxes overflowing with red flowers, and windows surrounded by vibrant, colourful tiles. It was in that moment that I felt like I found a bit of myself that had been lost in the transition from carefree woman to mom who stresses about a baby's well-being, sleep schedule, eating schedule and just about everything else you can worry about (and many things you shouldn't worry on!).

Of course not everything about the trip was perfect - it started out with an expensive taxi ride when I thought we were running late for our flight at Heathrow when in fact we were running late for our flight at Gatwick. Or when we got stuck in the rain with no umbrellas. Or, something even less predictable than weather, the baby who doesn't sleep! But still, it re-ignited my excitement around travel and reminded me what I loved about it. Perhaps it's the old saying absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I felt more of a thrill from this trip than I had from travelling for awhile.

I am promising myself that I will write down our adventures soon, but for now, here are a few of the details that drew me in to Seville's history, architecture and culture. Hopefully this little taste will inspire me to come back to share more, and get more travel in the books!

Days in Shropshire

I had dreams of my maternity leave - using it to get out and about London to visit museums and the sites, perhaps with an occasional weekend trip. Paris anyone?

Then baby arrived and I realised quickly that it might not work out as I had imagined. And I've been very happy with that, as I have to say there is nothing better than having a baby curled up against you as they sleep contentedly.

However, when Paul had to take a trip for work within the UK, I decided I'd rather tag along (somewhere with room service!) than sit at home alone with the baby for a few days. So we packed up the car with baby, dog and lots of baby gear and hit the road.

We were staying in Whitchurch at a golf resort and spa; I thought we might be able to walk into town to see the sights, but it seemed as if both town and sights weren't exactly in walking distance.

So the first day, we packed up the car again and headed out for a small trip - to dip my toes into handling baby and dog out on my own outside my 1 mile comfort radius in Chiswick.  We visited checked out English Heritage for a site near us to visit and stumbled upton Moreton Corbet Castle.

Originally built in the 12th century, it's stone facade was built in the 13th century and remodeled in the 16th century.  It fell into disrepair when the family moved in the 18th century, and while it is managed by English Heritage, it is still owned by the family.  There's not much importance to it, which I think is almost more interesting! Imagine someone coming to look at the ruins of my house 500 years from now!

The next day, feeling more confident, we decided to go out for a walk for the dog at Fenn's Whixhall Bettisfield Mosses. It claims to have one of the biggest and best raised bogs in Britain (whatever that means), but we were looking maily for a place for Belle to run around and let loose.

We drove in and parked by the canal. We decided to start our trek there and walked along the canal path. About 10 minutes into our walk, we crossed over the border from England to Wales. From there we decided to head inland.  Our whole walk, we had only crossed paths with one other couple walking with their dog, but once we headed into the mosses we were completely alone. It was muddy out there, but that made no difference to Belle - she was in heaven! We wandered for a while but then a huge rain cloud was approaching so we dashed back to the car and decided to make it a night in, room service and all!

So that Paul could get in on some of the sightseeing, we had booked one extra night in Whitchurch. So Saturday morning, we slept in (as much as you can with a 2 month old baby) then squeezed in one final sightseeing stop at Beeston Castle. I had wanted to visit it during the week, but oddly enough it was only open weekend days.

The castle offered two walks - the woodlands walk and the castle walk. So we decided to take the woodlands route, thinking it would be scenic and something Belle would like. We were right on both counts - Belle sprinted, jumped logs, ran back, chased squirrels and was generally the happiest dog alive as we walked through trees full of the autumn reds, oranges and yellows. Where we were wrong in our thoughts was that the path would take us to the castle. She told us a 30 minute walk and 25 minutes later we ended up right back where we came in.

A little rain was starting to sprinkle and the baby was getting quite heavy to carry but we persevered, intent upon getting to the top of the castle.  When we got to the top, while the castle wasn't much, the views were worth it.  With views stretching across 8 counties, it reminded me of the simple beauty of the English countryside, filled with greenery, fields and of course sheep.

Unfortunately the rain was looming, so we snapped a family photo and scurried back down to leave. Before we left, we were persuaded to purchase an English Heritage membership though, meaning we'll have lots more English adventures in the next year!