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The Hygge Motherload: Denmark

Those that know me know that I am a complete hygge nut. During the fall and winter months, you will find our apartment full of candle light, hot tea and fluffy blankets. Hygge calms my almost-always-on-the-go mind and relaxes our day into night. Squirms even seems to understand the queue it’s time to wind down the day when the candles are lit.

(If you are unfamiliar with hygge, do yourself a favor and order this book.)*

Denmark is the birthplace of hygge, so when the hubster had a conference in Copenhagen, Squirms and I insisted we join.

I have thought a lot about what I want you to know about our trip to Denmark and I keep coming back to one thing… it’s the feeling that Denmark gave me that stands out. It is an uncomplicated country.  While modern in every aspect of the word, and perhaps advanced in comparison, Denmark has slowed down.  Everywhere you turn, people are enjoying nature, simple pleasures, and each other.  Picnics, kite flying, hand holding, book reading and lounging in the sun, the Danish dig the uncomplicated things in life.  Rarely do you see a cell phone in someone’s hands.  Possibly the reason they are voted “Happiest Country in the World”.

We spent three days in Denmark’s countryside before heading to Copenhagen. To honor this country, we did as the Danish do. We sat on grass, had picnics, explored forests, and walked through nature preserves.  We ate more fruit and veggies than normal.  Our meals were fresh.  The result:  We feel better and more connected.

We walked up a 120 meter Forest Tower to see over the trees, went to a castle with stunning grounds,  stayed the night at another castle, and searched for Giants (we found three!) ♥️

 

Here is the cool thing about Denmark’s laid back culture… hygge can be implemented anywhere.  Light a candle or bake a cake, turn off all electronics for the night or weekend.  Set the intention to slow down and enjoy what follows.

More on Copenhagen later…

Love ya,

Nan

* I am in no way affiliated with this book.  I just love it and think you will too!

 

Madrid Metro Challenge · Uncategorized

Stop #13: Santiago Bernabeu: Linea 10

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The number one thing most people associate with Madrid is the futbol team, Real Madrid. They are a top-ranking soccer team that, up until this season, had the most popular player in the sport, Cristiano Ronaldo, on the roster.

The stadium they play in is HUGE and modern and shares its name with the metro stop, Santiago Bernabeu.  It’s only natural then, that for this metro challenge, we visited Bernabeu stadium and watched a Real Madrid game.

There is nothing like a futbol game in Madrid.  This is our second one and the enthusiasm is electric.  The chanting is loud and contagious and the game is entertaining to watch too 🙂

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The stadium is settled in a cute neighborhood with a lot of restaurants, beauty salons and shops. It is a busy neighborhood that has a certain American feel to it.  Maybe it’s because of the Tony Roma’s across the street or because English can be heard in the crowd.  Either way, there is something comforting about the area.

We ate dinner at a Japanese fusion restaurant, Yakitoro, which came recommended by a friend. We were told that the food was delicious, but odd. Food is served family style, so my adventurous husband and I were going to have to agree on what to order 🙂

We started the dinner with a tomato salad with ginger. I don’t typically like ginger, but this was unbelievable. Very mild and clean. We followed it with sea bass ceviche (my favorite), Japanese fish tartar with spinach tempura and asparagus ice cream. Yep, you read that correctly. Asparagus ice cream. 😳. Our dessert? Spicy citrus cotton candy, which was amazing.

The best part of the evening though? Yakitoro itself. The wait staff were as good as they could get. They loved Squirms and talked to her regularly.  They even called her by name! The restaurant was clean and the other patrons were chatty. It was a wonderful meal and atmosphere.

The only negative? The menu is extensive and we had to make sacrifices on what to sample 🙂

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Valencia

Okay…I’ll admit that we might have been a bit overzealous when we decided to take our 9 week old on a weekend getaway. :). Between unfamiliar beds, heavy traffic and an uncomfortable car seat, Squirms let us know that she was unhappy to be in Valencia.

We, however, were far from unhappy. The sun was shining, and there was enough of a breeze to make 80 degrees feel like the ideal temperature. Our AirBNB was on the beach in a little town about ten minutes from Valencia. So close to the Mediterranean Sea that we were able to hear the waves from the patio.

Squirms and me by the sea

Our Friday night plans had to be readjusted to accommodate Squirms and our late arrival. But Saturday morning, we hit the town with foolish optimism that a good night sleep made Squirms’ car seat comfortable. I’ll jump ahead enough to tell you that it did not. 🙂

Trying to keep Squirms in her car seat for as little of time as possible this weekend was in vain.  The traffic was heavy and it was because we once again failed to check our Spanish calendar before planning a trip.  Have I mentioned how much the Spanish love festivals? We don’t attend many because we always seem to know about them after the fact.  This weekend was no exception.  We arrived in Valencia on the Valencia Festival Las Fallas or Festival of Fire, the biggest festival of the year.  From what we understood, there were mini-carnivals going on throughout the city all weekend long.  Most of them had a parade with the participants dressed in traditional Spanish attire.  If you have any interest at all, this link tells you about Las Fallas.

Its confession time… Valencia was our choice destination this weekend because I was craving paella.  I still don’t care much for Spanish cuisine on the whole, but really good paella can’t be beat.  Valencia is the birthplace of this incredible rice dish, so surely I can find good paella here, right?  According to my favorite author and lover of all things Spain, Ernest Hemingway, the best place in the world to eat paella is a restaurant called La Pepica on the beach in Valencia.  As always, Hemingway didn’t disappoint.  The paella was absolutely the best HANDS DOWN.  They even peel the shrimp for you here.  So Delicious! 🙂

 

Sunday, after an awesome brunch, we headed to the Oceanografic.  The largest aquarium in Europe.  We watched sea lions wrestle, Beluga whales and met an ancient turtle who turned his head and smiled to every one’s phone, one at a time 🙂

There are still so many sights to see that we just didn’t get around to this time.  Or maybe its an excuse to eat another pan of Hemingway’s paella. 🙂  Either way, expect to see Valencia again.  A return trip is a must.

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Segovia

We knew that we were going to have to take Squirms on her first “trip” soon. The idea of traveling with an unpredictable newborn is daunting, but we knew postponing would make us lose our nerve.  So, with Grandad and Grammy by our sides, we boarded a train to Segovia with our 19 day old daughter.

 

Segovia is a town a little less than 100 km from Madrid, an approximate half hour train ride. Even though they are close in distance, the two cities couldn’t feel more different.  Madrid is a modern city that’s still hugging her history while Segovia only allows in modern life by necessity. Segovia knows tourists come to see her past.

And history we saw!  As soon as we entered Segovia, we were smacked in the face with potentially the oldest piece of architecture we may ever encounter… the Roman Aquaduct.

 

Built in the FIRST century, the Aquaduct runs from the walled castle to the other side of town.  It’s visible throughout most of Segovia and man, is it a sight.  Interesting fact, if you look closely, you will see that this massive, ten story structure that was built 2000 years ago doesn’t even have mortar holding the rocks in place.  Amazing.  And look at how every stone is exactly the same shape and size.  All without modern tools.  Unbelievable.

Like many European cities, Segovia’s cobblestone streets are primarily for foot traffic.  Squirms loves a good cobblestone street and for that reason, so do we.  We took a leisurely stroll to Segovia’s Plaza Mayor, which is charming and idyllic.  It even has  a gazebo in the center.

The most eye-catching building in Plaza Mayor is the huge Segovia Cathedral.  It was built in the mid 1500s and still holds weekly services.  On the inside, there are eight chapels, an ornate ceiling and the grave of Saint Valentine (Jury is still out if it’s that Saint Valentine).  You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the devout details.  This is a place where you stand in awe.

After the cathedral, the moment I had been dreading was upon us.  Segovia is popular for three things…the Aquaduct, the Cathedral and…suckling pig.  Yep, just like the one you dissected in 9th grade Biology class.  We went to the place to have suckling pig, Meson de Candido, owned for decades by the mayor of Segovia.  Apparently he is a bit of a rock star.  Many people were standing in line to have a photo-op with him. Not sure why, but below is a picture of Dan, the mayor and Squirms. So bizarre.  🙂

I promised myself that I would try the poor piggie, which I did, and hated myself afterwards. Not for the reason you would think either.  The pig was delicious.  The meat was super tender and juicy.  I hate the possible consequences that might happen if I say how much I enjoyed it, so I will leave it at this.  There is a reason why this is one of the things Segovia is known for and if you happen to visit Segovia, do yourself a favor.  (Sorry piggies)

We had such a nice day that we will be visiting Segovia again this summer when two of my favorite humans join us for the month of July.  Apparently the Cathedral at night is too gorgeous to miss.

So…are we crazy for traveling with an opinionated infant?  Maybe… but Squirms did so well that we’ve decided to push the envelope.  Next week, we take our first weekend getaway.  The destination?  Valencia!

 

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Parque de Berlin

We took our new little human on a walk today to one of Madrid’s hundred parks.  Parque de Berlin. A beautiful landscaped park with sweeping pathways, fountains, foliage, and a memorial to one of humanity’s most despicable periods.  There are three sections of The Berlin Wall here.

This wall represented hate, discrimination, divisiveness and an overall vitriol of the “others” and a portion now sits in a fountain in Madrid as symbol of warning. A warning that seems to say  “Dear humans…don’t make this mistake again.”

Back home, we continue to fight about another wall. A wall that represents much of the same. “Our” wall will cost Americans a starting price of 5.6 billion dollars. Five BILLION dollars that could go towards new infrastructure, better schools, affordable healthcare, or possibly…and this is just a suggestion…diversity education. More than the time and money though, this wall will also cost America global respect.  The rest of the world knows that walls don’t work and inevitably, someday, ours, too, will be auctioned off in sections and displayed to show how much America lost its way in 2019.

Man, I hope sanity continues to prevail in these budget talks.

I personally believe that the world is too beautiful and interesting to block anyone’s view… especially our own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Year’s Eve 2018

There are no words that can describe our 2018.  It was a life-changing year that truly made us believe that we can do anything.

As we settle into our New Year’s Eve here in Madrid, we can’t help but reflect on the enormous panic we both felt just 365 days ago.  We were just a few hours away from packing three dogs into a rented SUV and driving them across the country, taking a week long voyage and then driving across Europe.  We were just a few hours away from saying hard goodbyes, which we had been dreading for months.  We were just a few hours away from leaving the familiar and embracing all of the unknowns.

We stumbled some this year.  We learned some hard lessons.  We cried.  We missed our loved ones and things that give us comfort.  We didn’t have a perfect year.

BUT…

We also proved to ourselves that we are capable of just about anything.  That the world will embrace you when you need it to be kind.  That dusting yourself off is part of life and most importantly, that nothing and I mean nothing, is permanent.

As we ring in 2019 tonight, we breathe gratitude.

Trying to pick highlights from the year is next to impossible, but high on the list are…

  • Taking my niece to Paris
  • Watching whales in Tenerife
  • Eating pasta in Venice
  • Slowing down at Lake Bled, Slovenia
  • Showing my family European life
  • Settling into our new home
  • And last, but certainly not least, carrying this active little girl for the last 37 weeks.

Please enjoy the pictures of our extensive travels.  We have no plans to slow down in 2019, even with our new addition.   This world is full of beauty and we intend to show it all to our Baby Girl.

There is so much we are looking forward to in 2019.

We love you!  Happy New Year!

Dan and Nan

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Espana

Time. It can feel fast. It can feel slow. 2018 has been a rush of leisure for us. We have hurried through days and lounged for weeks, nicely adopting our new country’s attitude on savoring the moment and living a slow life.

One of the great pleasures we have had this year is showing our new home to our families. Dan’s mom has visited several times and different members of my family came and went for an entire month during the summer. Watching them experience our day to day life was fascinating. In such a short period of time, our routines and attitudes molded to Spanish culture and it wasn’t obvious to us until we were sharing our new life with our loved ones. We already take things for granted. It was eye-opening. (You will also notice some guest stars in some of the pictures).

Being an expat is “difficult”.  We live in such a beautiful country and our list of “must-see” places is ever growing.  On the other hand, we want to see the entire continent of Europe too.  When planning our travels, our attention often feels divided. We have the privilege of being able to travel frequently and the question always is: Explore Spain or a new country in Europe? Most of the time this year, Europe won, and I will catch you up on those travels in a week. But today, I want to show you the tiny portion of our new country that we have traveled to so far. There is still so much to see!

Bilbao

If you have ever traveled to Europe or even researched traveling to Europe, you know that Europeans love trains. While airfare between countries is unbelievably affordable, trains are still a very big deal. (When I say affordable, think 25% of what a plane ticket from Indiana to Missouri costs). So, we decided to take the train to the northern coast of Spain, Bilbao.

Bilbao is in Basque country. It is known for beautiful architecture, excellent food and a Guggenheim art museum. The city is easily walkable and comfortable. It is divided into two areas by the Nervion River. And you can tell a difference too! One side has been completely overhauled into a modern European city and the other side is, well, a little dirty.

During our two-day trip, we toured the Guggenheim and took a funicular to the top of Artxanda Mountain to get in the views.

Check out Bilbao…

Tenerife

This is in my Top 3 for the year. I still find my mind going back to our short little getaway to the tiny Canary Island of Tenerife. There is an endless supply of activities you can do here or you can relax.  Both seem to be equally encouraged.   In just a few days, we…

• Went whale watching
• Went on a star-gazing tour
• Dan rented a jet ski for an afternoon
• Visited an 18th century winery
• Spent a day at the pool
• I read an entire novel and Dan, of course, read two books 😊

It was beautiful, relaxing and English friendly. I would go back tomorrow…
(Tenerife will also always hold a special place in my heart because it was where I felt Squirms move for the first time).

 

Toledo

There are several cities near Madrid for day trips or even afternoon outings. Wanting to escape the city for an afternoon, we rented a car and drove an hour to Toledo. I knew nothing about Toledo, Spain.

The hubster LOVES an ancient walled city.  Toledo is surrounded by a river on three sides and a nicely preserved wall on the other.  In the city centre, the streets are so narrow that driving them is impossible. The town is full of twists and turns, giant old cathedrals, stunning architecture and it is remarkably easy to get lost. 🙂

For literary buffs, Toledo is near La Mancha, where Don Quixote’s adventures take place.

We were all surprised at how beautiful and interesting we found Toledo.

 

I love sharing our adventures with all of you.  Next week, I will show you where we have spent our time outside of Spain this year.

Love,
Nan