Weekend Getaway: Grazalema

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Lately those of us living in Southern Spain have been blessed to be kissed by the sun. The weather is warm, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and life is good. It’s just about time for Feria (the Spring Fair), tan lines and flip flops. One of my favorite places that we’ve spent time outdoors to celebrate the change of the seasons is nearby Grazalema. Less than 2 hours from Rota, Grazalema is the perfect place to get away for a good hike. I’ve posted about it before (you can read “Grazalema: The Hike” by clicking here) but here’s some more helpful info if you’re interested in a weekend getaway outdoors.

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This shot was taken during our afternoon lunch break on the top of a mountain. In the distance, you can see the nearby pueblo blanco, Zahara

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One of my favorite things about Grazalema is that you sometimes share your path with sheep and other animals.

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My 7 year old, Ali leading the way. She’s my Japan-born, American daughter who speaks Spanish. How’s that for a “military brat”? And can you believe this photo was taken off my phone?

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Oh, the views… You can check out more photos like this by following my Instagram @kelseyblogs .

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We brought a few extra hikers with us this time. This photo was taken near where we enjoyed a much-needed afternoon picnic.

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Does this make your heart skip a beat? Rest assured, it only looks like they’re sitting on the edge.

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Meet Penny, the newest addition to our family. Grazalema is the perfect place to take your four-legged hikers, too.

Grazalema has so many breathtaking views and none of my photos do these mountains justice. You’ll just have to go see it for yourself.

For those of us living in Rota, the less than 2 hour drive time makes Grazalema an easy day trip but for those looking to spend more than a day, I recommend Hotel Fuerte Grazalema. I recommend choosing the option to have your breakfast included upon booking but suggest you eat your other meals in the village of Grazalema itself. Hotel Fuerte Grazalema has a restaurant in its hotel, but at 26 euro per person for dinner, your wallet will be more happy eating with the locals near the town square. If eating at the hotel is a must, a small room service menu is available, but still on the expensive side. Dogs are also allowed in the hotel up to 12 kilos with an extra 10 euro fee; book your room with a garden view and your pup will be happy with the easy access to the garden. Hotel Fuerte also has a number of pets in their small “petting zoo” where, upon request to the hotel concierge, your child can help with the chores of caring for the animals such as collecting chicken eggs.

In the town center (Centro Ciudad), look for the Tourist Information Center and you’ll have access to maps and guides for the hiking trails. Please note that some trails you’ll need permission to access and information how to do so can be obtained in the Tourist Information Center. The village is small and the Info Center is fairly easy to locate.

Check out Turismo Grazalema for more information about Grazalema.

Happy travels!

Tips to Help You Enjoy Life in Rota

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on our last three years enjoying Rota. Living life from one cafe con leche to the next in the land of siestas, fiestas and flowing Sangria is an absolute dream and our time here has been a whirlwind adventure seemingly similar to a three year long vacation. I often look at my life and ask if this is really my life. How did we win the dream-life lottery and end up here? And how do I make it so that I never ever have to leave? Like, ever.

Despite the beautiful beaches, amazing cuisine and having a never-ending opportunity for adventure, I haven’t always been such a sucker for Spanish life. When we first re-located to Spain, just like during other seasons of change we military wives go through, I was kind of stuck in a rut. For as much as moving to a foreign country is thrilling and exciting, it’s often times, in the beginning, equally daunting. There are so many tasks to accomplish before you can get the ball rolling on seeing all that there is to see. From trying to find people to connect and build relationships with in a new place or just trying to figure out which cell phone company you should use, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a little over your head. Thankfully, this season of transition is after all, just a season, and it passes.

Here are a few simple tips that I hope will make your transition to life in Rota a little bit smoother.

  •  Don’t feel like you need to plan your outings. Getting out doesn’t have to be an extravagant, scheduled adventure. In the past, during desperate attempts to achieve the goal of simply getting out of the house, I’ve strapped both girls in the car and about every 5 minutes or so will ask them, “Left or right?”. Whichever way they chose, that’s where we went. There was no plan, no goal other than getting out of the house. And you know what? Every time we’ve done that, we always enjoy ourselves. Be spontaneous. It’s good for you. Promise.
  • When spontaneity doesn’t suit your fancy, research. Research, research, research. Then research some more. Figure out everything you can about where you’ll live, what there is to offer in the town you’ll be living and the surrounding areas. The more you know about your area and the culture, the more familiar it becomes and you’ll feel more at ease and less intimated by knowing what to expect.
  • Tourist Information Centers. There is, thankfully, a tourist information center in every town. Find your local Tourist Information Center and most likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much information you will gain by making a quick stop into your local Centro de Información Turística. Use these to your advantage by making it your first stop when visiting a new town.
  • Roundabouts. For me, roundabouts were definitely on the top of my list of things I was reluctant to appreciate. I’m here to tell you, though; roundabouts are your friend. For instance, if you miss a turn, there’s likely to be a roundabout ahead to make it that much easier to make a U-turn and put yourself in the right direction.
  • Always have Euro cash handy.  Not all places take cards here. Keep a stash of Euro bills and coins handy at all times so you don’t find yourself washing dishes to pay for a meal.
  • GPS. It’s wise to invest in a GPS. If purchasing one isn’t in your budget, you can always rent them through MWR on base.
  • Siesta. Always, always give yourself time to get everything that you need (errands, grocery runs, etc) accomplished before 2. If not, you’ll be waiting around until after siesta which ends between 5 and 6.
  • Shop in your neighborhood. Take a peek and check out your local fruteria, you’ll be pleased with the prices and freshness. Take advantage of living on the coast and see what fresh fish your local fish market has available today.
  • Just go. Get out of the house. Experience. Explore. You’ll learn and see something new and before you know it, you’ll be feeling right at home.

 

Additionally, here are some great links to learn about events and activities in Rota and the surrounding area.

Rota

Rota Tourism

Welcome to Rota – Located just outside the Rota gate, this help office is eager to serve you as a go-to place for discovering what Rota has to offer.

Ayuntamiento de Rota

Chipiona

Ayuntamiento de Chipiona – Things to do, bodega list, walking tourist routes and more.

Guía de Chipiona, Cádiz

El Puerto de Santa Maria

Ayuntamiento de El Puerto de Santa Maria

El Puerto Tourism – Beaches, touristic services, practical information and up to date events lists.

El Puerto Tourism Facebook Page

Andalucia

Andalucia.com – I have personally referenced to this site several times to prepare for day trips and even for practical information about Spanish culture in general. Full of valuable information about beautiful Andalucia.

Andalucia.org – Another great site with a wealth of information about Andalucia. The beautiful photos are a bonus.

Good luck and happy travels!

For those living in Rota, share your favorite tips for newcomers in the comments below!

First Week of 1st Grade

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This week we spent our first week easing into Aliana’s 1st grade year. This is our second year homeschooling and I can say that the first week went so much smoother than I could have imagined. Aliana is eager, excited and ready to rock as a 1st grader.

This week (among other things) she began reading Charlotte’s Web, conducted a science experiment involving magnets, wrote a short story, took her first spelling test of the year (10/10 folks), baked something new, started piano lessons and began learning how to finger knit.

Here’s some pictures of Aliana on her 1st day of first grade.

I’m really, really looking forward to this year watching my daughter grow as she learns through curiously exploring the world around her.

Baby Raina [Birth Photography]

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Every now and again, I get the privilege to attend a birth. Photographing births is so important and special to me because you are not only witnessing a new baby be born, but a mother as well. Since motherhood changed my life in ways that I could have never imagined, I always feel so blessed to be invited to a womans’ birth space.

More recently, I was asked by a friend of mine to attend the birth of her beautiful daughter. I was overjoyed as this was my first friend that I was able to serve in the delivery room and not just someone I knew on a client level. Words can’t describe how amazing she did that day or how beautiful of a connection her and her husband had together so I’ll just show you a few shots from that special day.

Chris was by far one of the most supportive husbands I’ve seen in the delivery room!

One thing that was really special was my friend, Nicole, also had her mother for additional support. I’m so happy that Grandma Beth got to attend the birth of her first grandchild! One thing I know for certain is that Baby Raina was brought into this world surrounded by an abundance of people who loved her from the very start.

Getting closer…

A lot of people ask why I love doing birth photography. I have to say because of moments like this one. If you ask any woman, she will say the day she became a mother is one of the most important days of her life. It should be honored and celebrated and I am passionate about providing that service to women on their most special, life changing journey.

Welcome to the world, Baby Raina!

Doors: Morocco

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Last year I posted this blog containing photos of doors throughout Spain and Portugal. While we were in Morocco, their doors were so colorful and detailed, I decided to bring you a second series of door photos for your viewing pleasure. So, without further adieu…

Which door is your favorite?

Morocco in a Day

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Before we moved to Southern Spain, I did what any overly excited travel-lover would do; I started researching the travel possibilities that moving to Spain would provide. One of my top travel destinations on my to-do list was Morocco. After researching, I soon made a jaw-dropping discovery; living in the Rota area, the only thing standing between me and my two feet landing on Moroccan soil was a mere 2 hour distance. One hour and 15 minutes by car and a 45-minute ferry ride. Dreams of camels, snake charmers and curry food started dancing in my head. I had to go. And so I did.

Of course I waited until my siblings came to visit. Such a special experience could have only been reserved to share with some of my favorite people in the entire world. Besides, going without them would have triggered years of overwhelming jealousy and never-ending sibling rivalry.

To begin the planning of our day trip, I booked a *tour guide named Jamal. He’s pretty well known within the American community as the go-to tour guide for Tangier. As soon as we exited the ferry from Spain, Jamal was there at the dock waiting for us. Originally, I had planned for a day full of walking. Much to my relief, Jamal had a private driver and a large, clean van for us equipped with A/C. We were able to leave some belongings in the vehicle safely each time we stopped to explore a new place as the driver stayed with the van. The trip was more comfortable for us with two small children and lots of little extras that we ended up not having to carry every step of the way.

After Moroccan security gave our passports a look-see, we were bright-eyed, bushy tailed and on our way to our very own Moroccan adventure.

Mosque in memory of King Mohammed V.

This is a restaurant that we popped in for a quick break. We didn’t eat our lunch there but I’ve known of several Americans that have. Next time I’ll have to try some of their food.

My brother is musically talented in several instruments (drums, guitar, piano and the ukelele). He met with these fellas while in Morocco and we’re all looking forward to when this newly assembled boy band puts out their first record.

In the museum in the Kasbah.

The Kasbah and two chickens out on a stroll.

Overlooking the port of Tangier.

Ah, yes. The snake charmer. An unbelievable experience.

Oh, what a trooper.

Growing up, my sister had a couple of snakes as pets. She loves them.

See?

And then… there were camels.

We went for a camel ride! This happened to be Andrew and Leila’s favorite part of the trip.

This little baby was hanging around enjoying the ocean breeze.

This was my camel for our short camel-riding excursion. We bonded.

A view of Cape Spartel.

After our camel rides, we were hit up a local restaurant for lunch. To start, we had this delicious seafood soup. My sister, brother and myself all had amazing chicken and lamb kebabs. Andrew went straight for the typical moroccan dish, Tajine.

Lunch ended on a high note with this Moroccan Mint Tea, mighty tasty indeed.

After lunch, we got to visit the Church of St. Andrew, an Anglican church built in 1894.

Then, it was off to shop. Here’s a few shots around the market:

Here we are all together basking in the beauty of experiencing Morocco.

*For those of living within traveling distance to Morocco (that means you, Rota), I highly recommend using Jamal as your travel guide. He has really great tours to offer you and is more than willing to work with you on your very own customized tour upon request. Contact Jamal for more info at jamal_chatt@hotmail.com

Ronda

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I love Spain. Seriously, I do. One of those reasons is because of places like Ronda. The location in which we live allows us to hop over to other beautiful towns and experience more culture. Ronda is a town that is only a little over 2 hours away. Ronda has beautiful, beautiful (I said it two times, so you know it must be true) views, good food and the rest is history. For reals, Ronda is full of interesting history. I’d love to tell you all about it but let’s move on to the good stuff.

This was one of the first places we saw (well, after I sort of led us into the wrong direction and got demoted from map-holder/line-leader).

I was trying to take a picture of the white buildings in the background but these two people got in the way of my shot.

I joke, I joke. This was actually my sisters’ favorite day while she was in Spain. It’s not hard to tell why.

This is one of my new favorite photos. My handsome husband holding my precious daughter on his shoulders makes me weak in the knees. Coincidentally, so does me holding my daughter on my shoulders on days full of walking. Another win for me for having a husband who has big, macho muscles.

No Spanish town would be complete without small walkways. Eventually, we came upon the bullring (Plaza de Toros). As soon as we walked in, two real live bulls started having a face-off…

It was too much excitement so we ventured onward…

If any of you Rota folks get the hankerin’ for a little exploring soon, I encourage you to head over to Ronda.

Directions from Rota straight to Plaza de Toros in Ronda can be found here. Print out a guided walking tour here (you can even do the same walk Michele Obama took while she visiting back in 2010). Happy travels!