Archive for European Travel

Greece 2017: Day 15

The worst day of vacation is always the day before you leave to go home. Of course, we always want to enjoy every second of our vacation, but it’s hard not to think about having to go home the next day.

 

We spent that last day walking around Athens. We did a little shopping at some local stands and got to see the Olympic stadium. We didn’t pay to go in but were able to get some shots of it from the outside.

 

 

I also had to take some pictures of the police vehicle outside Exarcheia in case of riots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the afternoon walking around the National Archaeological Museum, which was the perfect way to spend the last day. The museum houses lots of artifacts from all over Greece, including some of the sites we visited while we were in Greece, so it was really neat to have seen all the sites first and then view some of the pieces that came from some of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the kids were kind of over it, so we gave them old cameras and a phone so they could take pictures. At one point, Eric found a series of selfies with funny faces that Anya took of herself!

We were so sad to leave Greece, but we had so many great experiences and learned a lot about Greece and Greek culture. We still miss the food!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the rest of our trip!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Day 11 – Rhodes

Day 12 – Rhodes

Day 13 – Athens (Rhodes to Athens)

Day 14 – Athens (Aegina)

Greece: Day 12 (Rhodes)

On our last full day in Rhodes, we did a few things that were left on our list. One of them was the submarine tour. Basically, the boat takes you further out from shore and then you go downstairs where there are windows looking into the ocean, and you get to the see the fish swimming around. There was also a diver who was swimming around and showing us things in the water. It was cool, but I’m not sure we would do it again, just because it was expensive and not a very long tour.

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In the afternoon, we did a wall tour, which was an opportunity to walk on top of some of the old medieval city walls and see the view of the city. One cool thing about Rhodes Town is that these walls are still standing, so it still has that medieval look. If you are ever visiting Rhodes, though, and you want to do the wall tour, you will want to plan a little ahead, because the hours for this are very limited. It isn’t a guided tour, but they only allow people during certain hours on certain days.

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Afterwards, we found some lunch, and Felix was still looking around for Ginger, the pregnant cat we saw outside our apartment the first night we were there. The kids were obsessed with finding her because they were worried she was too pregnant to get food anywhere and they were worried about her. Just in case you wanted to know, we never saw her again, but every once in a while, the kids still say “I wonder how Ginger is doing” or “I guess Ginger had her babies.”

A few days prior, we had met a British family staying in a nearby apartment who had told us about some tunnels in the moat. They gave us a general idea of where they were, so we decided to go check them out. We walked around the moat for a bit until we found what she was referring to: tunnels built into the moat. There were so many of them and they went back so far that you could see where people had attached string to the walls so they could find their way back out. We had brought a flashlight and it was a good thing, because if you went too far in, it was pitch black! We explored a little in a few of these but didn’t linger because Anya was freaking out. She kept asking if we could leave, so finally we did, but about 15 minutes later, she said “That was really cool. I wish we could have explored more.” Sometimes I don’t know about that girl! The weird thing about these tunnels is that I could never find any information about them and what they were used for.

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That evening, we got some dinner and headed back to the apartment to get packed up to fly back to Athens the following morning.

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Check out our other adventures in Greece!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Day 11 – Rhodes

 

Greece 2017: Day 11 (Rhodes)

We purposely planned a day to spend at the beach in Rhodes. We figured the kids would appreciate getting to play, and we wouldn’t mind a day to take it easy at this point in our trip.

We had found this amazing bakery in town, so we grabbed breakfast there and then raced to the bus stop to take the bus to Fahlraki, a local beach town. There were several options for beaches near Rhodes, but based on recommendations given to us on Tripadvisor, we opted for this beach, as it seemed family-oriented and had food options for lunch.

I spent most of the day reading on the beach and the kids alternated between playing in the water and digging in the sand. Toward the end of the day, Felix bent over and threw sand up his back for five whole minutes. Silly boy.

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At lunch, we opted to grab some food from the restaurant we had rented beach chairs from. We were disappointed in how much we paid and the portion sizes, but you live and learn!

After we finished up at the beach, we walked back to the bus stop and took the bus back to Rhodes town. After cleaning up, we had gyros for dinner and hung out around town.

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Even though we didn’t do much that day, it was nice to have some time to enjoy the beach. When taking long trips like this, we definitely recommend building a day like this into your itinerary!

 

 

See what else we did in Greece:

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Greece 2017: Day 6

Our first full day in Nafplio began with a fabulous breakfast at our pension. We filled up on ham and cheese toasts, boiled eggs, bread and jam, Greek yogurt with fresh honey and figs, and of course, coffee. I miss this breakfast just talking about it!

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Then, we decided to walk the 999 steps up to Palamidi Castle. We told the kids we would give them a penny for every step they walked up to the castle without complaining. They both made it, but unfortunately, Anya lost about half her euros on the way down due to whining. It was a long way up and it was hot, but we took breaks and it was worth it once we got to the top. There were some amazing views and we explored what was left of the old Venetian castle, including an old prison cell and some different lookout points. We had to be careful, though, because the drop-off points weren’t always clearly marked so we didn’t let the kids get too far away.

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Upon coming down from the top, we decided to head to one of the local beaches. Eric went back to the room to get our swimming suits while I waited with the kids. We walked just a few minutes and got to the beach. It was a pebbly beach but with some really amazing views of the surrounding mountains. It wasn’t a very big beach, there were a lot of younger people ,and it gave off a bit of a party vibe, but I’m glad we went anyway, if even just for the views. The kids got in the water for a bit and then we changed clothes and went on our way.

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We took one of the paths to get to the main port area and this offered more gorgeous views on the way.

 

 

 

Once we got to the marina area, we started a self-guided tour I found in my Rick Steves guidebook. It took us all around the little town and pointed out some important spots, including a gelato shop run by local Italians. Toward the end of the tour, we took a detour to the playground so the kids could play. Anya fell on her face and her mouth was bleeding, so Eric had to run somewhere quickly to get ice. It’s always something!

We went back to the room to rest and then headed out for another Greek dinner. It was worth it to spend the day hanging around Nafplio and soaking in the Greek culture. There didn’t seem to be as many Americans here, as this is a popular spot for Greeks to get away for the weekend.

See what else we were up to in Greece!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

 

Greek Food

I’m taking a break from recounting our days to talk about all the amazing food we had on our trip. This is the first time we’ve been to Europe and stayed in one country the entire time, so we had a chance to sample lots of different things. Here are a few of them…

1. Greek Yogurt

I have never been a huge yogurt fan, but I am a believer now. The Greek yogurt in Greece is amazingly creamy. When we were in Nafplio, we had it every morning for breakfast, sometimes with dates and other times with honey. I especially liked it with honey, because the honey there is phenomenal. We had some Greek yogurt at the airport that was so creamy, it could have been frozen yogurt.

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2. Gyros

This was probably my favorite thing in Greece. The gyros came with chicken or pork – your choice, and there was usually cucumber, tomatoes, and either potatoes or french fries stuffed in the top, all topped with just a little tatziki. We’ve made gyros here a few times, but it’s just not the same when the meat isn’t coming off a rotisserie. Sometimes, though, I think we actually got chicken souvlaki sandwiches when we ordered gyros, which were also good, but with grilled chicken instead of the meat from the rotisserie. You could also order a gyro plate that came with the meat, pita bread, and potatoes all separated out, but I preferred it as a sandwich.

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3. Chicken Souvlaki 

You could get chicken souvlaki in a sandwich (wrapped in pita, almost like a gyro), or you could get a chicken souvlaki plate that almost always came with potatoes or french fries. This worked out well because our kids are picky but they would eat grilled chicken.

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4. Moussaka and Pastitsio

These dishes are like the Greek versions of pasta. Pastitsio is ground beef, pasta, and bechamel sauce, while moussaka is very similar but includes eggplant and/or potato with bechamel sauce.

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5. Saganaki and other cheese dishes

Saganaki, pictured on the right, is basically a fried cheese, though this one also includes nuts and honey drizzled on the top. The picture on the left was a roasted feta dish with onions and peppers on it. It was one of the best things we had in Greece.

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6. Greek salad

One thing we noticed about the difference between Greek salads in the US and Greek salads in Greece is that the real thing doesn’t typically have lettuce. It is literally sliced cucumbers, hunks of tomatoes, and chunks of onion, preferably red onion. Of course, this combination is drizzled with olive oil and often topped with a big hunk of feta cheese and sprinkled with black olives. So delicious!

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7. Octopus

So we only had this once but I thought it was interesting enough to mention. This is grilled octopus and it was actually pretty good. Even Anya tried it and she approved!

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8. Pita

Pita is the Greek’s choice of bread, which is fine by me. It comes plain, with garlic, sprinkled with olive oil, sprinkled with cheese, etc. Also, if you order a sandwich, you will more than likely get it wrapped in pita.

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9. Honey 

I don’t know what makes Greek honey so good, but it is absolutely amazing. I put honey in my Greek yogurt whenever we had it, and a lot of times it was included in the desserts. Apparently, it is typical to get free dessert at Greek restaurants (I think we paid for dessert maybe once when we ate at a restaurant). Sometimes dessert would be something like sliced apples drizzled with honey. Who would have thought something so simple would have tasted so good!

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10. Stuffed vegetables

I don’t know if this is really a “thing” in Greece, but there were lots of stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes on the menus in Greece. I had this dish several times, mostly when I needed a break from gyros.

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11. Baklava

I actually loved the baklava, even though it’s so not something I thought I would really like. Again, honey is involved in this along with yummy phyllo dough. Anya even decided to have that as her cake on her birthday.

 

Oh, how I miss the food in Greece!

 

 

 

 

Things to Consider When Leaving the Country

When we travel overseas, as we’re getting ready to do, there are a few things we always try to do.

  • Make sure you have a valid passport with at least 6 months left on it. Many countries will not allow entry if your passport expires within 6 months of your visit.
  • Make copies or take a picture of all the credit cards and your passport you will be traveling with. If some or all of these documents are lost or stolen, you will be able to contact your credit card company and still have your passport information. Take a copy with you and leave a copy here with a family member.
  • Call the credit card company and the bank before leaving so that they are aware you will be using your card out of the country. Some banks and credit card companies must unlock your cards before they can be used. This is very important to avoid being locked out of your account. Also, be sure that you know your PIN numbers on your debit cards and know the maximum amount of money your bank allows you to take out per day.
  • Register your trip with the US State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov/. This lets the State Department know where you will be and when. The State Department will also send you notifications if there is a travel warning in the area you are traveling.
  • Know where the US Embassy is located in the country in which you are traveling in case something happens and you need to get there.
  • Bring a charger adapter, if necessary. Some countries require different chargers.
  • Be sure to purchase travel insurance, as your medical insurance likely does not cover you while out of the country. Bring copies of your travel insurance cards.
  • If you plan to drive while there, be sure to obtain an international driver’s license. This can be done at AAA.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier to see if you will have service in the country you are visiting and inquire about any international charges for use of your phone in that country.

Traveling outside the United States can be exciting and a great experience; it may just take a little extra planning, but it is totally worth it!

Need Help Planning a Trip?

They say that January through March/April is the busy season for travel agents because the holidays have finally passed and everyone is looking forward to spring break and summer plans. Now is the time do think about what you want to do this spring/summer!

I actually (mistakenly) always thought that it was more expensive to book trips through a travel agent, but the truth is, you just might find a better deal. It’s true that for some of the trips we have planned in the past, we have been looking for a specific type of hotel and we couldn’t get what we wanted through an agent, but in a lot of situations, we actually got a better deal, so it is always a good idea to have them price something out for you. If it’s better, then it’s better, and if it’s the same price, then you’re getting out of having to do all the work and letting her/him do it for you. There is just no reason not to have your agent check pricing for you.

Here’s why.

We really want to go to Greece this summer. We’ve been thinking about it for years and I think we are really going to do it this year, but we were really discouraged by the fact that flights are almost $1500 apiece. That’s almost $6000 in just flights for the four of us and nothing else. When I looked in one of my supplier’s databases, I was able to find flights for the four of us and 3 nights in a hotel room in Athens for right around $3600. Yes, you read that right. $3600. Over $2300 cheaper than doing it outright and by just purchasing flights, we still wouldn’t have any hotels included in it. For $3600, we could get flights for all of us and 3 nights in Athens at a hotel. And this is before my agent discount. This is a deal I could get anyone. Is it the hotel we would have chosen on our own? No. It’s not. But that $2300 savings is the difference between us being able to actually go, even if we have to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t normally have chosen, and not being able to afford to go at all. I will also add that there is nothing wrong with the hotel we would stay at. We just typically prefer smaller bed and breakfasts or apartments, and this hotel is a chain. But like I said, it is going to be totally worth it to spend 3 nights there if it gets us that kind of savings.

So, please always check with your travel agent to get pricing. You never know what you will find.

Other reasons to use a travel agent, besides the fact that they might get you a better deal:

1. They have access to all kinds of suppliers that are offering different deals that you would know nothing about. Sometimes suppliers offer deals that only agents have access to.

 

2. They can make sure you are booking a service with a reputable company. There are a lot of scams out there.

3. More than likely, they have a network of other agents to ask specific questions to if they don’t have the answers.

4. If something goes wrong with your trip, she/he might be able to help get things sorted out. The very first trip I booked had a glitch. I got a call early one morning from my client who was in London and had missed their flight to Vienna, which meant they were going to miss their train to Salzburg. I was able to call the supplier to have the hotel notified that they would be arriving late and I was able to get the name of the train station my client needed to go to and the times for train options that evening. I was also able to start their insurance claim.

6. Speaking of insurance, travel agents can get you a great plan…and on any big trip that has non-refundable parts to it (like flights) really should be insured in case you need to cancel for a covered reason. And anytime you leave the country (if you live in the US), you really need insurance because it’s very likely that your primary insurance does not cover you medically when you leave the country.

All this being said, please contact me if you need me to check any prices on anything. It is worth a try, and it costs you nothing to have me check something for you. You can contact me through email at RachelM@MyAmbassadorTravel.com. I will also be adding a travel contact page on my blog that will make it easier, but that is the way to contact me for now!

 

Around the World: Portugal, Part Two

In the same week that we had Piri Piri Chicken, we decided to have Bacalhau à las Brás. It is more of a brunch dish but looked really different, so we decided to give it a try. It includes eggs,potatoes, and cod and is supposed to have black olives in it, but we don’t like black olives so we omitted them. We managed to find salted cod at a local international grocery store. It takes a little bit of planning because you have to soak the cod in water for at least 24 hours to desalt it, and this also includes changing the water at least 4 times a day.

The meal actually turned out really well. Even Anya, my pickiest eater, said it was delicious! We served it with some good bread and butter. It reminded me a lot of having a breakfast bowl with potatoes, eggs, and sausage, except for it had cod instead of sausage.

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To read more about other international dishes we have made, check out these posts:

France: Part 1

France: Part 2 and 3

France: Part 4

Costa Rica: Part 1

Costa Rica: Part 2

Portugal: Part 1

Day 17: A Day in the Caves Before Our Journey Home

If you have read any of my posts about our trips, you know that I really hate the last day of a trip. I try my best to enjoy the time we have left but the fact that we have to leave the next day is always in the back of my mind. And when it involves an all-day plane ride with two little ones, I dread it even more!

We wanted to experience a breakfast out in Granada, so the morning of our last day we found a little bar that served breakfast and waited for a seat. It was really packed but people were in and out pretty quickly, so we didn’t have to wait too long. The big thing for breakfast in Spain is toast, so we ordered toast with butter and jelly, churros, and some coffee with milk. When you order coffee in Spain, it is much smaller than in the US, though you get more if you order milk. The only difference is that half of the drink is milk. I didn’t realize this until that morning when I watched the lady behind the counter pour our coffee. Oh, well. Even though the place was crowded, we enjoyed watching the people come in and out, and, of course, the kids made lots of Spanish-speaking friends.

We had decided to spend the morning in the Sacromonte area of Granada. This is the area where gypsies live in cave dwellings. Sound weird? It’s actually really interesting. It is on a big hill so we weren’t sure if we were really going to visit or not, but we ended up just taking the plunge. We hiked all the way to the top to the Cave Museum, which was really worth it. It is a museum that has caves set up to show how cave dwellers actually lived. It was really neat to see because it showed how they lived off of the land. Sacromonte also has its own form of flamenco called zambra but we did not get to see it while we were there. Maybe next time!

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Zambra happens here at night!

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The trek up the hill to the caves

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Awesome views of the Alhambra on the way up!

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After seeing the caves, we found a bus that took us back to the center of Granada and found a Moroccan restaurant to eat lunch. Since visiting Tangier, we had fallen in love with Moroccan cuisine, and Granada had many Moroccan restaurants due to its Arab influence. The restaurant had a really neat ambience and the kids liked jumping around on the couches, which was not fun for us. We had chicken tagine with onions in honey and a chicken pastry. We also ordered hummus and Moroccan bread for an appetizer. The food was awesome and of course, the kids loved the chicken pastry because it had sugar on the top of it.

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Chicken Tagine

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Chicken Pastry

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Hummus and Moroccan Bread

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Doesn’t this look like a fun place to eat?

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We loved the décor!

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Of course, our last day in Spain was not complete without ice cream, so we got some helado from Los Italianos, which was recommended in a guidebook. We ordered a cone and a cassata (basically ice cream cake in a cone), and the lady apparently thought Felix was super cute, so she added in a free ice cream cone for him!

Once the kids had completely devoured the ice cream and made themselves a sticky mess, we headed back to the apartment to get our things. We stopped for some sandwiches on our way so we had something to take with us for dinner on the train. The train had food for sale, but it was super expensive, so we were really glad we had brought our own. We hired a taxi to take us to the station and our journey home began.

The train to Madrid was about 5 hours and not fun with two little kids, but we made the most of it. Everyone on the train seemed to think the kids were cute, so we had plenty of people who tried to help us entertain them, which was nice. We got to Madrid around midnight and had to get tickets for a commuter train that would take us to the airport. It was probably an hour by the time we got tickets, waited for the next train, and got to the airport. From there, we had to find where the hotel shuttle stopped so we could get to our hotel, and the drive from the airport to the hotel took around 45 minutes. The sad part was that the hotel was really close to the airport, but the airport was so huge that probably 40 minutes of the drive was just getting around all the gates to get outside of the airport property. When we got to the hotel and checked in, we had to check in for our flights and it was probably 2 when we got to bed. The hotel (Hotel Tach Madrid) was super nice and it was a shame we were only there for a few hours, but I seriously didn’t think we’d be able to withstand an all-day flight without at least a few hours of sleep.

We slept 2 to 3 hours and got up again to grab a quick breakfast downstairs before taking the airport shuttle back to the airport. We didn’t necessarily need to be there that early but the shuttle only left at certain times and the size of the airport made me nervous, so we decided we’d rather be early than too late.

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I came out of the restroom at the airport to see my two silly kids trying to push the luggage cart…

The plane took off without a hitch and was the most bizarre flight I’ve ever been on. Most of our international flights are usually full or pretty close to it. This flight was half-empty/half-full. I had noticed that the night before we checked into our flight and I remember being a little nervous that it would be cancelled, but thankfully we boarded and arrived in Charlotte that afternoon. We had a couple of hours to get a snack and then flew from there to St. Louis. We meet up with friends for dinner (yes, we were hungry again!) and had every intention of driving the 2.5 hours home but jet lag set in and we just couldn’t make it. We ended up stopping and getting a hotel room. Both kids had passed out before we ever got them to the room. At one point, we had one kid on each of the beds because we had laid them down to get the beds ready. They were completely passed out and I so wish I had thought to take a picture!

The next morning, we woke up bright and early because it felt late to us after being 7 hours ahead of CST. We had a quick breakfast and got back home just in time for our daughter to play her blast ball game.

It was certainly nice to be back home but it pains me to look at our pictures. I know it sounds weird but I actually get “travelsick” looking at them!

Stay tuned for a summary of my thoughts on the trip!

 

Day 16: The Alhambra

Believe it or not, the Alhambra is the most visited site in Spain, and you have to purchase tickets online several weeks, if not a month or two, ahead of time if you want to see it during the day. It is possible to get evening tickets but you are only allowed to visit certain parts of it in the evenings. Tickets also come with a time frame that you are allowed into the ticketed areas and a specific time to enter the Nasrid Palace, which is the main area of the Alhambra that everyone wants to see. Our tickets were for 2 to 8 in the afternoon, so we enjoyed breakfast on the terrace first. It was cold so we brought blankets up with us. When we had left the US, the weather in Spain was supposed to be really hot, so we were so not prepared for how chilly it was.

We had plenty of time to kill before 2, so we also visited the Cathedral and picked up a couple of baguettes for lunch at the Alhambra. Then, we headed up the hill to one of the coolest places I have ever been.

We perused the Charles V Palace first, which does not require a ticket for entry.

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Anya always insisted that we take a picture of her taking a picture of one of us, so we have lots of random pictures of Anya taking pictures. The key to getting a good picture of her was taking the picture she requested and then taking another immediately after, because she would almost always move the camera away from her face and smile.

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Then, we had lunch on the terrace there. The Alcazaba was the first ticketed area we visited and it offered some really great views of Granada. One of the really cool things about the Alhambra is that, because you aren’t allowed to bring strollers into some of the areas, they offered baby carriers free of charge, as well as storage for your stroller. How awesome is that!

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The Nasrid Palace, once it was time to enter, was also gorgeous. I absolutely loved the architecture and the reflecting pool. When we build our Andalucian home, we are so having one of those!

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The whole Alhambra complex is beautiful, but our absolute favorite was the Partal Gardens and Generalife (which is actually not pronounced like “general life”). The gardens were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen and the roses were perfect. We actually had to play hide and seek with Anya for a bit when we got to a certain section of the gardens. Sorry for so many pictures, but it was breath-taking! It was almost like something out of a fairy tale.

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Though we didn’t spend the full six hours allotted there, we felt we got to see everything we had planned to see, so we headed back down the hill to find some tapas.

The tapas were awesome in Granada. In many parts of Spain the tradition of getting a free tapa for every drink you order is becoming extinct, but not in Granada. They still practice this and some places give you way more than you think.

Our first stop was a bar we found in Rick Steves’ guidebook. Yes, you can take a baby to a bar in Spain! Anya was asleep but Felix woke up as soon as we got our tapa and drink so we put him on the counter and he began interacting with one of the workers there. The worker got him a glass of apple juice and gave him a piece of candy just for being cute, I guess. He was one happy little guy!

Then, we tried another restaurant. We ordered one beer and were promptly brought that beer plus a ham sandwich on a bagel that was coated with some kind of  yummy garlicky sauce and fries. It was almost enough for a meal. This was all for less than $3. Next, we headed to another place and ordered a beer. At this place, we got to choose our tapa, (In most places, you are given whatever tapa is being served that night) so we got a Spanish tortilla sandwich and fries, which was also a large portion. This, including the beer, was even less than the last place. We ended the evening at another restaurant closer to our apartment and it was absolutely awful. The service was terrible and they acted like they didn’t even want to serve us. We saw other patrons being treated the same way so I don’t think it had anything to do with us or the fact that we had kids. We ended up getting something from a nearby restaurant to feed Anya because we could never get anyone to take our order.

It was certainly an exhausting day, but the Alhambra simply must be visited if you are anywhere near Granada!

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