Tag Archives: pool

Hola, Canary Islands!

9 Jun

OK y’all, summer is officially HERE! And we’ve had the most glorious week of sun and sand and surf to prove it! I can’t say enough good things about our time on Tenerife, the largest and most populated of the Canary Islands. I’m not going to get into the history and the story here (please stay tuned over at Treats, Travels And Truths over the next week as I get everything posted- I just couldn’t wait to share our pictures with all of you guys first!), but the Canary Islands are a part of Spain, although they’re WAY south, right off the coast of Africa. And trust me when I say that we could certainly tell just how far south- on the equator!- we were by that blazing sun! Casper to lobster in less than an hour and I’m not even exaggerating! Ha!

Canary Island Map

But on a serious note, this trip was a bit extra special in that it had been planned for nearly two years- one of the first ones we booked after we moved here. My grandmother had wanted it to be our family vacation since we’ve missed our annual trip to Myrtle Beach, so to get the best accommodations, etc., she booked it early and we all got to planning. It was to be an awesome beach week for us, her and my parents. But then some health stuff came up and the trip had to be changed. My grandmother and parents tried their hardest, but in the end, they couldn’t come. My first inclination was to cancel altogether- it just wouldn’t, *couldn’t* be the same without them. And besides, for what would we need a three bedroom suite for just us? But Grandma insisted that we go- it was important to her. So we invited our best friend, (Uncle) Andy, and we went. And we are SO thankful we did. No, it wasn’t the same as it would’ve been with my family, but it was wonderful. And fun. And relaxing. And the perfect refilling of our tanks. So thank you, Grandma, for the loveliest vacation. It’s one we will never forget. ❤

Tenerife Map

We stayed in the south, in Los Christianos, but spent time at lots of the different beaches, including along the north shore at Puerto de la Cruz. A highlight of our trip was our day in the middle of the island, though, exploring the volcano and its national park.

Alright, without further adieu, here is a pictorial account of our fabulous week on Tenerife, including lots of beaches, pools, a water park, a volcano, some giant cliffs, a little putt-putt and alot of just plain ‘ol FUN.

Processed with MOLDIV

IMG_5649IMG_6015IMG_5704IMG_6074IMG_6032IMG_5741IMG_6062IMG_5769

IMG_5861343BF682-9368-4950-A2F0-513FBA22C8E3IMG_5980IMG_5709IMG_5719IMG_5840

IMG_5987

Los Gigantes- these cliffs are thousands of feet above the water…

IMG_5757IMG_5970IMG_6010IMG_5755IMG_5716

IMG_5664

View from our balcony

IMG_5899IMG_5776IMG_5768IMG_5944IMG_5738

IMG_5855

Voted World’s Best Waterpark on TripAdvisor…Definitely the nicest we’ve ever been to!

IMG_5919IMG_5838IMG_5972

IMG_6068

One of my happy places 🙂

IMG_6044IMG_6066IMG_5839

IMG_5872

One of the best steaks we’ve ever had. Oh. My. Gawd.

IMG_6020IMG_5863

IMG_5864

This lazy river is easily several miles long…

IMG_5653

Same ‘ol breakfast even on vacation…but with an awesome view.

IMG_5937IMG_5677IMG_5779

IMG_5782

From our balcony…

IMG_5807

IMG_6072

Poolside snack…

IMG_5911

The most visited national park in Europe, 8th in the world. El Teide is the highest point in Spain and the 3rd largest volcano in the world.

IMG_5982IMG_5689IMG_6035

IMG_5650

Poolside dinner and a show on our first night…

IMG_5817

IMG_5850

In case you were curious, it costs 1 euro to make a call these days…

IMG_5898IMG_5890IMG_6063

IMG_5751

Northern shore of the island…

IMG_5638

IMG_5700

For mom…Lovely trees ❤

IMG_5893IMG_5656

IMG_6039

Topless beach for the day 😉 

IMG_6001

Playa de Troya, Black Sand Beach…

IMG_5814IMG_5699IMG_5859IMG_6079

IMG_5906

They say Tenerife is the most similar landscape to Mars on Earth…So much so that they test Mars Rovers here. Totally believe it.

IMG_5679

Like riding a bike! She was a fish within 10 minutes of getting back in the water! Woohoo!

IMG_5793IMG_5760IMG_5913IMG_5784

IMG_5824

Laying in the sun on a perfect beach, listening to the blue waves crash, the smell of suntan lotion in the air…YES. YES. YES.

IMG_6047

With a pencil behind her ear ‘like Daddy.’

IMG_5706IMG_6014IMG_5791IMG_5920IMG_5748IMG_6058

IMG_5953IMG_5868IMG_6007IMG_5949

IMG_5858

Standard lunch for every single day of the week. Not even kidding.

IMG_5736

IMG_5878

IMG_6017IMG_5995IMG_5745IMG_5910IMG_5943IMG_5960IMG_5869IMG_5785IMG_5690IMG_5832

IMG_6077

IMG_5946IMG_5985IMG_5848IMG_5927IMG_5749IMG_5819IMG_6016IMG_6053IMG_5672IMG_5669IMG_6037IMG_6059IMG_5886

IMG_5789IMG_5956IMG_5877IMG_5721IMG_5862

IMG_5976

Coming down from the volcano, we came to a grove of pine trees with a picnic table beneath…Lunch was served. Not a soul around for miles and miles…

IMG_6042IMG_5880IMG_6080IMG_6006IMG_5670IMG_5759IMG_5912IMG_5742IMG_5849IMG_5837IMG_5846IMG_5676IMG_6073

IMG_5777

My new favorite shot of my people ❤

IMG_5683IMG_5812IMG_5705

IMG_5947

And that’s it! What a terrific week and one that we’re already missing like crazy. Hoping to start getting things posted over on TTT starting on Monday, so be sure to check that out. The only saving grace is that my Dad got here this morning and will be here for the next two weeks! Our hearts are full. Hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start!

Labor Day Shenanigans

6 Sep

How is that that awesome holiday weekend already over?! Seriously. It’s like that extra day just made it feel even shorter! We had alot of fun all weekend long- starting with making sure we got in one last pool day before the end of summer, and before school starts back next week. I love the ‘pool culture’ here. Y’all, it’s no joke. Each town has it’s own public swimming facilities- larger cities have several such complexes. Each one has several olympic size swimming pools, huge water slides, rolling grassy hills for sunbathing…And that’s just outside! Each place also has a huge indoor facility with several more pools, high dives, kiddie areas, saunas, steam rooms…It’s just incredible. And alot of fun, once you get past the crowds and all the little pool etiquette things you don’t know about! Ha!

thumb_IMG_1152_1024

thumb_IMG_1153_1024

Look at that neat mosaic bottom! Neve and Amalie enjoying it to themselves…

thumb_IMG_1154_1024

Beating the crowds means you get the pools to yourself!

thumb_IMG_1155_1024

And just to give you a glimpse of what these places look like later in the day- here’s a peak at last week’s swim lesson…

thumb_IMG_1081_1024.jpg

Yeah, we avoid the pool at these times because…MISERABLE.

In addition to it being Labor Day, we actually had another little holiday this weekend. It was our sweet Dulcie’s 7th birthday! To celebrate, we spent Saturday morning out in the country throwing tennis balls, running until we dropped and snacking on apples we picked right from the trees. We sure had two happy pups- and one happy preschooler!- on our hands! Followed it up with some lunch at Wine Fest and we were all happy campers!

thumb_IMG_1180_1024

Birthday Girl ❤

thumb_IMG_1183_1024

thumb_IMG_1181_1024

thumb_IMG_1184_1024

The best part of the weekend was this:

thumb_IMG_1165_1024

Yep, mom made it Sunday morning, safe and sound! Now, the circle is complete and things are feeling pretty swell. ❤ And the timing of her arrival even worked out perfectly because while she took a quick nap, we headed over to a ginormous indoor funpark to celebrate our bestie, Emmie’s, 7th birthday. Sixteen little kids having the times of their lives! Ha!

thumb_IMG_1166_1024

thumb_IMG_1171_1024

Childhood. Joy. Energy.

thumb_IMG_1170_1024

Look who else came to the party!

thumb_IMG_1176_1024

thumb_IMG_1177_1024

thumb_IMG_1178_1024

Last but not least, Labor Day itself turned out to be the funnest day of all! For months now, we’ve been hearing good things about an amusement park that’s only 45 minutes away and we’ve been dying to try it out for ourselves. But we’ve put it off- waiting for the kids to go back to school, trying to avoid a weekend, etc. Labor Day was the perfect day. Guess that’s one good thing about US holidays not coinciding with German ones- we’re off and the locals aren’t!

thumb_IMG_1198_1024

But seriously, y’all. This place was awesome. It’s like a mini-German-themed Disney World geared toward younger children, but still with plenty to do for the older ones (yes, I’m counting us and all other adults as older ones!). Beautiful landscaping, immaculate grounds, creative rides, delicious food…And no lines or crowds whatsoever yesterday! I can honestly count on one hand how many times I’ve seen my Neve as happy as she was here. She rode just about every single ride she wanted to ride, ate anything she wanted to eat, played anywhere her little heart desired. I can’t even tell you how happy it made us seeing her so happy. I absolutely LOVE this part of parenting. There’s nothing else like it in all the world.

thumb_IMG_1199_1024thumb_IMG_1200_1024thumb_IMG_1201_1024

thumb_IMG_1204_1024

thumb_IMG_1205_1024

thumb_IMG_1214_1024

thumb_IMG_1211_1024

thumb_IMG_1212_1024

thumb_IMG_1213_1024

thumb_IMG_1216_1024

I absolutely love John’s face here…

thumb_IMG_1217_1024thumb_IMG_1218_1024

As it turns out, Neve is absolutely fearless when it comes to rides. Never once did she get nervous or shy away from anything. Tears only came at the rides where she didn’t meet the height requirement. High climbs, steep drops, dark spaces…She couldn’t get enough. And no, we aren’t too surprised- she comes by it naturally 😉

thumb_IMG_1220_1024thumb_IMG_1222_1024

thumb_IMG_1223_1024

You can see the Riesling vineyards in the distance…

thumb_IMG_1225_1024thumb_IMG_1228_1024

thumb_IMG_1194_1024

thumb_IMG_1229_1024thumb_IMG_1230_1024thumb_IMG_1231_1024thumb_IMG_1232_1024

thumb_IMG_1233_1024

In the distance, the Karacho Rollercoaster.

This is the best shot I could get of Tripsdrill’s biggest attraction, the Karacho. Opened just a few years ago, it’s one of the largest in Germany and considered one of the most state-of-the-art in Europe with 4 inversions and an acceleration of 1-100km/h in 1.5 seconds. Why am I dedicating a section to it right here? Well, because it’s the first major ride I’ve ridden in over 15 years. As a kid and a teenager, I lived for these rides- the bigger, the faster, the more adrenaline-pumping the better. You couldn’t keep me off one…For those of you who read my ’25 Things’ post last week, remember how I mentioned that I’ve dealt with panic and anxiety since my senior year? Well, a huge component of that is feeling trapped and when those bars come down on top of you on these huge rides, well, that’s been a deal breaker for this girl for her entire adult life. Until yesterday. In that moment near the end of this awesome day, I just felt a shift. And it’s like John felt it, too, right when it happen. He took my hand, smiled and said, ‘You need to do this. I know you and I know how good it’s going to feel when you do this. I’m here. Let’s do this.’ And I felt calm and confident and, as crazy as it sounds, in love. And with that, we rode our first rollercoaster together. ❤

thumb_IMG_1196_1024

Still sitting in the coaster car as we roll back into the station. I can’t describe how proud of myself I felt in that very moment.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Germany if there weren’t some kind of alcohol involved! Ha! Every ticket gets you a free souvenir wine glass with a tasting in the cellar. Perfect end to a perfect day. Smiles all around.

thumb_IMG_1235_1024

thumb_IMG_1234_1024

Precautionary rain coats for the water rapids ride. Despite all the clouds in the pictures, it didn’t rain on us one single time all day and the temps stayed perfectly around 70*. Thanks, Mother Nature 😉

Hope everyone had a fun and family-filled Labor Day!

Home Again, Home Again…

16 Jul

…Jiggity Jig. John always makes fun of me for saying that when we walk in the door from a trip, but my grandmother- on my Dad’s side- always said it and I have the fondest memories of her saying just that as we’d walk through her front door after a morning at the ‘Jockey Lot’ in Anderson, SC…Alas, it always makes me smile even though I have no clue what it actually means!

So I hadn’t intended to write this post today. Truth be told, I’d meant to write it multiple times over the last few days while Neve and I were still in Charleston, but life- the good life- got in the way and before I knew it, our time was done. We arrived back here in Stuttgart this morning after a long day and night of travel, so now my only goal for today is to fight this feeling of death and stay awake long enough to go to bed tonight and pray to stay asleep for the most of the night. (That won’t happen, no, but believe me when I say that sleeping during the day today would only make tonight an absolute nightmare and would start one crummy cycle of getting over jet lag!) Sharing our adventures from the last two weeks at HOME just seemed like the perfect- therapeutic- distraction.

thumb_IMG_0163_1024

Ten hour red-eye flights suck. Doing them with a 4-year-old who doesn’t sleep on planes sucks. Already missing home and your people sucks. But watching the sunrise from 35k feet over the Atlantic is pretty damn awesome.

Neve and I had a fun, low key Fourth of July eating pizza with the fam and then continuing our tradition of spending it with our neighbors, the Mathews, just three houses down from our house (yep, we still own it- it’s just being rented right now). We actually met Lindsey, Joey and Savannah on this very day two years ago, at the holiday block party. Our girls are just a few weeks apart and we were all fast friends. Sometimes, you meet people and you just click. ❤

thumb_IMG_9999_1024

My goodness she loves her Uncle Andy…

thumb_IMG_0012_1024
thumb_IMG_0002_1024

thumb_IMG_0030_1024

thumb_IMG_9997_1024

Coincidentally, John celebrated the holiday next door (that’s our yard on the other side of the fence) with our other neighbors- more people we just clicked with from Day 1.

Later that same week, we celebrated quite a special moment, Neve’s baptism. I can’t tell you how many conversations John and I have had about this topic over the last four years. Religion can be such a tricky thing sometimes- the differences in what things mean, what they represent, how different denominations view the same things…In this instance, John was raised independent Southern Baptist and I was raised Lutheran, which means that there are key differences in what baptism actually is and what it represents. I invite each of you to research these differences if it’s something you’re interested in because there really are some interesting discussions on it. But that’s not my goal with this post. I merely want to share the happy news and some sweet pictures. Neve did wonderfully and was so proud of her accomplishment. So were this mama and her family ❤

thumb_IMG_0039_1024

thumb_IMG_0043_1024

What would a summer be without some fun times at the waterpark?! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ms. Lori (who was Neve’s first preschool teacher and who has been keeping her in the summers ever since) is one of our absolute biggest blessings. Not only does she love Neve like her own, but she’s seriously one of the best, most nurturing, most creative women- and moms- I’ve ever met. Spending time with her and her two kids was 100% one of the highlights of Neve’s vacation.

And in that same thread, what would a summer be without boating and more boating?! Seriously y’all, I can’t even. Being on my boat on any body of water (I’m not picky) in the sweltering heat with the people I love and listening to some good music…There just isn’t any better for me.

thumb_IMG_0067_1024

thumb_IMG_0069_1024

thumb_IMG_0065_1024

thumb_IMG_0070_1024

thumb_IMG_0074_1024

thumb_IMG_0073_1024

My other happy place? Duh. The beach. I am a Lowcountry girl through and through- and I’m raising one, too! You’ll remember from the last post that we’d done Sullivan’s Island right after we got to town. Well, we got to round it all out over these last couple weeks…First up, Isle of Palms. John’s Uncle Mark, Aunt Kathi and cousin, Lauren, came all the way from Lexington, KY, just to visit with us and invited us to crash with them at Wild Dunes for a couple days. They stay there often when they visit and I’m always amazed at what a cool resort we have right there in our city. It’s everything you want in a beach vacation- crystal clear pools, tiki bars, umbrella drinks, live steel drum bands playing all day long, lots of people, the air full of the sweet smell of sunscreen and five short steps down onto the sand. Yep, it’s definitely the good life and we certainly realize how fortunate we are to have such awesome folks we get to call family. ❤

thumb_IMG_0104_1024

thumb_IMG_0087_1024

thumb_IMG_0090_1024

thumb_IMG_0093_1024

thumb_IMG_0085_1024

thumb_IMG_0095_1024

Poppy got this kite for Neve when she took an interest in big kites after watching some YouTube videos. This one was so cool. But the wind was too strong, the cords snapped and it flew away never to be found again. :/

thumb_IMG_0094_1024

thumb_IMG_0103_1024

thumb_IMG_0110_1024

 

thumb_IMG_0122_1024

thumb_IMG_0123_1024

And then there’s Folly, another of my absolute favorite islands on the planet. There’s just something about its vibe…its realness. It holds a very special place in my heart. I’ll just leave it at that.

thumb_IMG_0140_1024thumb_IMG_0139_1024thumb_IMG_0135_1024

thumb_IMG_0142_1024

And then there were more of just those regular, everyday moments that all too often pass by unnoticed. Those ones I was telling you about before that feed your soul…that tide you over until you get your next fix. ❤

thumb_IMG_0156_1024

thumb_IMG_0128_1024

Mornings at the pool with Poppy…And then Mommy’s bestie happens to see their truck in the parking lot and pops in for a quick catch up 🙂

thumb_IMG_0159_1024

Summertime in Charleston = Humidity Ringlets and Blonde Highlights, just like mama 😉

thumb_IMG_0125_1024

Lazy Sundays ❤

And that concludes what feels like a whirlwind trip to the South Carolina Lowcountry. I knew our time at home would fly by, but I had no idea just how quickly…Nor just how sad I would be for it to come to an end. Just keeping it real here, but coming back to Germany has proven to be the biggest bag of mixed emotions for me…so bittersweet. Of course I’m elated to reunite with John and our pups (Neve even warned me as we were getting off the plane this morning that ‘tears will be rolling down [her] cheeks long before [she] even sees Daddy’- and they were! It was precious.) and to catch up with our dear friends here whom we’ve missed so much (our neighbors even welcomed their second baby just a few days ago!), but there’s a huge part of me that’s very much still in Charleston- still in the house I’ve called home for decades, still running errands with my mom, still soaking up the sun and the sand and the water, still taking advantage of having Netflix available, still stopping by my dad’s latest construction project just to say hello, still playing Team Trivia at a local bar with my best friend on Tuesday nights…Right now, being back in Germany and away from home is hard. I’m sad and relieved and excited all in one. But I’m doing my best to follow my own advice- advice that I believe in so fully that I had it tattooed onto my arm just a few short weeks ago. I feel a bit off right now, until I don’t. It’s a sad time right now in some ways, until it’s not. Sometimes being pulled backward is only to ensure our greatest projection forward. Our minds are the atmosphere and our feelings are just the weather, ever-changing and constantly flowing. That in itself makes me smile. Until next time, Charleston…

thumb_IMG_0137_1024

Portugal, the Relaxation Phase…

2 Jun

…and oh how I wish we were still there in that phase! Instead, we’re back here in Stuttgart and I’m listening to the rain fall outside my window. *Sigh* And to make matters worse, apparently I picked up a snot bug somewhere along the way and now I’m wrapped up like a burrito on my couch, feeling like death, and taking solace in oodles of pretty pictures- and sharing all of the last week’s amazingness with all of you guys 😉

thumb_IMG_9412_1024

So we had the BEST time in Portugal. Seriously, one of the best adventures we’ve been on in a very long time. It’s as though all the stars just lined up- a new country that looks so different than most of Europe, a new culture that is so friendly and inviting, a new cuisine (who knew that the Portuguese eat more fish than anyone else in the world?!), the most perfect weather…But what really was the most special part was that it was just the three of us, exploring and basking in all of the above, and truly enjoying one another. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how important it is to water one’s own garden…and that’s exactly what we did. We came home with gardens full of bright blooms- and very full hearts ❤

OK, enough with the feels and onto the good stuff! Y’all, I have 277 pictures from our five days in Portugal, it was THAT pretty! So in an effort to lighten the load, I’ve done everybody a favor and split the post in half- the Relaxation Phase (beaches, pools, countrysides) and the Adventure Phase (Lisbon and Porto). Now to narrow down the best shots to share! Ha!

thumb_IMG_9427_1024

Our absolute favorite thing about this trip was where we stayed- outside the small coastal village of Obidos about an hour north of Lisbon. We had done tons of research ahead of time trying to decide the best location- we almost always end up in the heart of the big cities, mainly because they’re the most convenient and give the most authentic feel of immersion. But this time, our goal itself was different. Our goal was just to be together- to relax, to recharge and to breathe. When we found this resort- at least 15 minutes away from civilization, down remote country roads- we knew it was perfect.

thumb_IMG_9472_1024

Headed out to paradise…

thumb_IMG_9473_1024

Who would’ve guessed the oasis that awaited us at the end of this road?! Perched high on the cliffs overlooking the blue water and white sand beaches, Praia del Rey. It’s one of the most beautiful areas we’ve ever been to.

thumb_IMG_9424_1024

Stepping out of our front door, heading down to the beach…

thumb_IMG_9431_1024thumb_IMG_9436_1024

thumb_IMG_9449_1024

thumb_IMG_9438_1024

thumb_IMG_9439_1024

Before we continue, just a bit about Portugal because…well, you know me! Portugal is the westernmost country in Europe, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. The land within the borders of current Portugal has been continuously settled, invaded and fought over since prehistoric times. In other words, it’s super old and in fact, some of the first evidence of Homo Sapiens have been found there. The Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and the Romans were followed by the invasions of the Visigothic and the Germanic peoples, who were themselves later invaded by the Moors. These Muslim peoples were eventually expelled during the Christian Reconquista. Portuguese nationality can be traced back to the creation of the First County of Portugal, in 868. In 1139, Afonso Henriques was proclaimed King of Portugal, thus firmly establishing Portuguese independence.

europe

Just a little visual of our travel…

thumb_IMG_9445_1024

Every restaurant has these ‘door greeters.’ We never had the heart to tell her their real purpose 😦

thumb_IMG_9447_1024

thumb_IMG_9450_1024

Bathing caps are required at indoor pools in Portugal. She thought they were awesome!

And just a few neat Portugal factoids…It’s the leading producer of cork in the world, although the industry is struggling as the wine industry continues to shift away from cork bottle toppers. Eucalyptus forests cover 7% of the country (!) as they were planted in the 1970s to help with erosion- they’ve since taken over and grown rapidly. (The smell is HEAVENLY!) Apparently Portugal is known for its wind- it’s often consistently with gusts of 25 mph! Another interesting industry is pine resin, used in turpentine. We actually had to look this one up ourselves (and examine up close and personal!) after seeing lots of little buckets hanging from the pine trees headed out to the resort. Best part? Tapping the trees doesn’t harm them in any way. Very neat, right?

And last but not least, a few government tidbits…Portugal’s economy is in the rebuilding phase as it was part of the major EU bailout back in 2011. (This translates into it being an excellent time to visit!) It’s the first- and only- country in the world to decriminalize all drugs. Yep, possession of all substances- up to 10 days worth of individual use- is allowed, although trafficking and distribution is not. The government will offer- and pay for- drug and alcohol rehab. The maximum prison sentence for any crime is 25 years- they do not have the death penalty.

OK, on with the picture party! 🙂 Right down the road from Obidos is the little fishing village of Peniche. Two awesome things about this town- it’s had lots of fossils from the Jurassic period and it’s one of the top surfing destinations in the world, second only to Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline. Who knew?!

thumb_IMG_9457_1024thumb_IMG_9459_1024

thumb_IMG_9461_1024

thumb_IMG_9465_1024thumb_IMG_9463_1024

thumb_IMG_9549_1024

Dinner one night overlooking the lagoon…

thumb_IMG_9420_1024

thumb_IMG_9552_1024

A wonderful unexpected highlight of our trip…See those people, and sweet pup, obstructing our lovely view of the lagoon? Well, their soon-to-be 4-year-old, Florence, was playing just out of the shot to the left and about 15 minutes after this picture was taken, Neve finished her dinner and wanted to play, too. Long story short, we all ended up out on the patio until long after the sun had set and a new friendship was born. ❤ J and D are from England and have a vacation home just a few hundred yards from our resort. We spent the next day enjoying our vacation all together at their villa, then took the party into town for some walking and ice cream eating. Neve is still talking about her new best friend, Florence!

thumb_IMG_9557_1024

thumb_IMG_9568_1024

thumb_IMG_9565_1024

thumb_IMG_9558_1024

Neve and Florence

thumb_IMG_9571_1024thumb_IMG_9570_1024

thumb_IMG_9584_1024

thumb_IMG_9583_1024

thumb_IMG_9574_1024thumb_IMG_9575_1024thumb_IMG_9577_1024

thumb_IMG_9585_1024

thumb_IMG_9580_1024

thumb_IMG_9588_1024

The best street performer guy I’ve ever seen!

The most fun day, right?! Such a lovely day for all of us and I truly think that we will see these sweet friends again. We have so much in common, including a mutual travel addiction!, so who knows, maybe we can plan a trip somewhere exotic one of these days! 😉 Needless to say, here’s how much fun Neve had and how John and I unwound ourselves:

There really couldn’t have been a better vacation for the three of us if it were written in a storybook. I know I say similar things about many of our adventures- and it’s true that we truly love all of the new experiences and fun that our traveling lifestyle affords- but sometimes you just get extra lucky with an extra special one that refills every single one of your tanks.We really are lucky. And blessed.

thumb_IMG_9593_1024

Sunset from our balcony…

Join me tomorrow- same time, same place- for the other half of our Portuguese getaway- exploring the hills and narrow cobblestone streets of Lisbon and Porto! I promise the pictures are (nearly) just as pretty 😉

 

Lovin’ Us Some May!

15 May

Happy Sunday, ladies and gents! We are having a glorious lazy day in our jammies here in Stuttgart, so I figured it would be the perfect time to touch base with everybody before another week gets underway!

thumb_IMG_9136_1024

Windows rolled down, little hands making wave motions down the road ❤

May has gotten off to a lovely start for us and we’ve stayed jam packed busy. Most importantly, we’ve had some awesome, awesome spring weather! (With the exception of this week that has gone back to frigid- just long enough for Mom’s visit :/) We have taken FULL advantage of getting outside, soaking up that Vitamin D and feeling the grass under our feet.

thumb_IMG_9183_1024thumb_IMG_9185_1024

thumb_IMG_9180_1024

thumb_IMG_9187_1024

thumb_IMG_9170_1024

On the playground outside of our house…That’s us behind her, on the left 🙂

We got to celebrate Mother’s Day, which actually felt more like Mother’s Week between school celebrations and a whole weekend of pampering ❤

thumb_IMG_9142_1024

thumb_IMG_9145_1024

thumb_IMG_9153_1024

thumb_IMG_9194_1024

Walking to dinner for a double Mother’s Day celebration.

thumb_IMG_9191_1024

thumb_IMG_9202_1024

Thanks for my new outfit, Grandma!

Our swim lessons are continuing and Neve is becoming more and more fishlike every week. Ha! We switched pools for this session, to one that’s a tad bit further from our house, but it’s a way larger and nicer facility. Pools here are no joke! The indoor portion has 5 huge pools and 5 whirlpools, in addition to a massage area, infinite saunas and glass atriums galore. The outside portion, which looks like it’s set to open any day now, is absolutely ginormous with no less than 5 Olympic-size pools, umpteen waterslides, playgrounds and endless grassy knolls. Can’t wait for summer 🙂

thumb_IMG_9166_1024

Our final visitor of the ‘season,’ Goddess, arrived last week and we are having the best time. She’s only staying 12 days this time, which is already feeling like a tiny blip. Having her here is just so easy. We can walk the city, we can shop, we can cook dinner, we can walk to get Neve from school, we can watch movies…It’s just like normal, only more fun ❤ Neve is in Heaven, obvs.

thumb_IMG_9208_1024

Walking out of school to see that Goddess arrived that morning. BEST.

thumb_IMG_9215_1024

And finally, I spent yesterday morning throwing a dear, sweet friend a baby shower. It was an especially shower for most of us 11 women, though, because each of us only knew one or two other women. Some of us knew each other from the hotel when we first arrived, before we spread out to each find our home. Some of us have been introduced through mutual friends. Some of us are in Bible Study together. It almost felt like the shower was doubly beneficial- a celebration of Abigail, but also a coming together of women all experiencing similar paths in this season of our lives. A making of friendships. And it was perfectly lovely. ❤

thumb_IMG_9236_1024

She doesn’t know what she’s having. You don’t get many surprises as an adult, right?!

thumb_IMG_9231_1024

thumb_IMG_9227_1024

Y’all know I love any excuse to bake! Homemade Devil’s Food Cupcakes with fresh Buttercream Icing.

thumb_IMG_9225_1024

The first thing I made for the shower…I went with ‘French Countryside’ as an ode to baby’s heritage…

thumb_IMG_9230_1024

thumb_IMG_9245_1024

And while we sat around sipping mimosas and laughing, my girl spent her morning running errands around the city with Daddy. The most important stop? The toy store to spend her money from her finally-full piggy bank! ‘Twas a very good day all around.

thumb_IMG_9249_1024

And if I could ask each of you a favor…Please send us some good weather juju! This Southern girl is ready for flip flops and sundresses already! Jeez.

Most good things come to an end…

25 Apr

…and marvelous milestone birthday cruises are no exception!  And notice how I didn’t say ‘All’ in the title because I don’t buy into that one for a second!

Now where did we leave off…?  Ah, yes, our last two days at sea onboard the Celebrity Solstice.  Unfortunately, that means some good and some bad news, so let’s start with the good.  The hottest day of the week was definitely that Friday, so it made for a perfect day of lounging and sunning poolside.

Basking 🙂

Looks like we weren't the only ones who got the memo about it being an ideal pool day...

From now on, I want a live Caribbean band playing every time I lay by the pool 🙂

And remember earlier this week when I said how the best thing about days ‘at sea’ is that your biggest decision is when to flip over to avoid looking like a one-sided lobster?  Yeah, still true.  Today’s big decision was whether to return to our poolside posts after lunch or get off our butts.  And since Mom had been wanting to learn how to play Bocce, it seemed only logical to choose the latter…at least for a little while!  Did I mention that the ship had a full lawn?!

Getting the ball rolling...Ha! Pun intended.

Now for those of you who’ve never played Bocce, well, you really should because it’s alot of fun!  We generally play on the hard sand of the beach, but as we learned during this afternoon, grass is just as good!  There are 9 total balls- 8 large, heavy ones in two different colors, and 1 smaller one.

A game can be between two players, or two teams of two, three, or four. To start, the smaller ball (the jack) from one end of the court to the other.  Then, players/teams take turns ‘bowling’ (either rolling or underhanded throwing) the large balls in attempts to get closest to the jack until all 8 balls are used.  Keep in mind that players can knock either the jack or an opponent’s ball away to get closer to the jack.  The player/team with the closest ball to the jack is the only team that can score points in any frame- one point for each ball that’s closer to the jack than the closest ball of the other team. The length of a game varies, but is usually somewhere between 13-21 points.

We teamed up Guys vs. Dolls...So who's your money on?

BAZINGA! 🙂 In my best Freddie Mercury, 'Weeee are the chammmmpions, my friend...' 🙂

But to show that there were no hard feelings, we let the boys take us to a nice dinner…in the form of our second formal night!

Cleaning up nicely 🙂

Unfortunately, things took a southward turn shortly after this, making our final day of vacation a bit of a bummer…During the night, John woke up violently ill to his stomach…an illness that chose to rear its ugly head repeatedly until the sun came up…and until it went down again the next night. 😦  Luckily, there’s an infirmary onboard with a doctor who was able to give him a good shot of meds and some pills to keep in the room with him.  Needless to say, my handsome husband’s last day of celebration was spent solo in ‘ship-ordered quarantine’ in our stateroom with me bringing him ginger ales, toast, watermelon cubes and chicken soup- all while trying not to get sick myself!  (Which, btw, I thankfully DIDN’T catch his stomach bug, but I DID catch one helluva sinus infection and two ear infections that began to show themselves the day we got home, but that’s another story…*sigh*)

So what does one do on a couples’ vacation when faced with a solo day?  Well she plays the third wheel (and occasional photographer!) to her parents, of course!  😉

Working on getting in the (somewhat chillier than bathwater) pool 🙂

All good now

OK, it still doesn't hurt to warm up in a hot tub!

Our last dinner on the Solstice definitely wasn't the same :(. But to show how awesome our waiter was, he even sent John a piece of that night's specialty cheesecake to the room in case he felt well enough to eat it!

So there you have it- our FABULOUS 30th birthday celebration vacation week floating around the Caribbean!  Ahhh…it almost makes it worth turning 30 on a more regular basis! Ha!  But alas, we’re home again now…a little bit browner, a little bit heavier and much more relaxed!  The one thing that stands out the most to me about the whole thing?  Just how great a relationship we really have with my parents.  To consider them your best friends is just an awesome, awesome feeling…And there’s no one else on the planet with whom we’d rather have gone on this adventure!

But before I go, I have two more items that I promised you yesterday…First, an animal tale.  A few days ago, John and his brother went fishing down on the Cooper River.  And yes, he had some catches!

Is my husband not the cutest thing you've ever seen?!

*Swoon* 🙂

But that’s not the story!  While they were tootling along in the boat, they saw an alligator in the distance, but as they continued in his direction, he didn’t budge.  Soon, they were upon the alligator and he just stayed there, floating on top of the water, blinking occasionally.  And we’re not talking a small gator, but like an 8 footer…

Yowza.

So they continued on up the creek, but shortly ended up passing back by the same spot…And the alligator was still there.  Upon closer inspection, John noticed something unusual about the gator’s mouth- someone had wrapped duct tape around his snout and he was unable to open his mouth at all.  Judging by how lethargic he was being (for those of you non-Lowcountry-boaters, gators are a very common site, but normally when you get anywhere near them, they dip under the water and swim away), he probably hadn’t eaten a quite some time. 😦

It might be tough to see, but the gator is swimming straight toward the camera with green duct tape from nostrils to eyes around his mouth 😦

At this point, John calls me to help him determine a gameplan, which was ultimately to call DNR.  Well, not only did it take him nearly 10 different agency numbers before he finally got an answer (at a remote Wando branch office), but after telling them the situation, all they could say was ‘That’s a sad story, but the alligator would likely be gone by the time someone could get there.  Oh well.’  John immediately called me back in disbelief and frustration…then almost immediately said ‘Gotta go.  I’ll call you back.’

Well, about 20 minutes later, he calls me back.  ‘I did it myself.  I cut the tape off his mouth!  Mark drove the boat to nose me up to the gator and I slowly took out my Skele-tool, reached over the side and cut through all three layers of the tape on one side before he went under!’

At this point- as I’m freaking out at the thought of my husband sharing breathing air with this reptile!- the gator resurfaces.  While the tape is indeed cut, it’s not gone.  ‘Call you right back,’ he whispered.  Oh Lord.  Then, after another 10 minutes, he calls again.  The alligator had slowly approached the boat, then stopped and stared, as if he knew John was there to help him.  And John reached back down to the water level and peeled the remaining tape off, just like that.  The gator then thrashed around, went under and swam away…Never to be seen again, at least on that day’s fishing trip.

This story just touches me on so many levels…As an animal lover, the thought of that poor alligator slowly starving to death at the hands of someone’s sick cruelty brought tears to my eyes.  As a Lowcountry citizen, our DNR’s lack of response makes my blood boil.  But as a wife, the compassion and bravery that my husband showed that day is just so inspiring and heartwarming. He saved that alligator’s life…Wow.

OK, so that’s it- now you’re really all up to speed.  Well, almost.  We have lots more adventures going on this spring and can’t wait to share them with you!  For starters, we’re officially in Countdown Mode until our BFFs, Sam and Chuck, get home from Tel Aviv- the 4 of us will be heading to Vegas next month to officially kickoff our summer!  Can. Not. Wait.

Beyond that, it’s a little too early to let the cat out of the bag, but I will say that we have a new business venture taking shape that we’re SO excited about!  It’s still in the early stages at this point- you know, all that fun stuff like dealing with attorneys, realtors, suppliers…But it also means going to some pretty cool places to work with some pretty cool ‘masters of the trade’ so that we, ourselves, can be masters by opening day! 🙂  So…John’s in Hawaii this week and I’m headed to NYC later this week, followed by Chicago for Mother’s Day (and yep, I’m taking Mom along with me- what a great way to celebrate her day, right?!)!

Don’t worry, we’ll keep you all posted on all the latest and greatest right here at Thomas, Party of 4, so stay tuned!  And thanks for tagging along on our Caribbean adventure- Happy Easter! 🙂

~Family makes the world go 'round...'

The First Stop: San Juan, Puerto Rico

20 Apr

Y’know, I can’t really decide whether or not I liked the ‘itinerary’ of this cruise.  Some cruises, at least in our limited experience with them, have you in a port for a day, then at sea for a day, then another port, another sea…This one had all the ports back-to-back in the middle of the week, bookended by two days at sea (four total).  I think I’m leaning toward liking this new arrangement.  It was nice to board the ship and have a few days of nothing but relaxation- the biggest decisions being which pool to lay by and which drink to order next 🙂

Hmmm...Let's do the top deck of the main pool today, darlin' 🙂

First full day at sea...

To cap off what’s likely to be the best Monday any of us will have for a while, we had the first of two ‘formal nights.’  I may be nerdy, but I actually kinda like these- excuses to get a little bit dolled up (for you cruisers, no, we don’t do the whole tux and gown thing) and practice your big-boy-and-girl manners :).  And before anybody freaks out that there aren’t any food pics, no worries- I’m saving those for a WHOLE food post!  Y’all know me…I’m such a foodie….You’re in for a treat.

Our prom pic- ha!

This is one of my favorite pictures of my parents ever, even though it's a little blurry. They didn't know I had the camera out yet, so I got to capture a 'real' moment. Real moments are the best.

Now y’all know I can’t do a new city post without giving a little bit of history, so here goes…San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, was founded by Spanish colonists in 1521.  It’s the second oldest European-established city in the Americas, after Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.  Today, nearly 2 million people (over half of the islands population) live in the greater metro area, making it Puerto Rico’s most important seaport, as well as its manufacturing, financial, cultural and tourism center.  Like many European cities, San Juan is divided into Old Town (which, in our opinion, is ALWAYS the best part of the city!) and New Town. Known for its blue cobble stone streets and rainbow-colored stucco buildings, it’s really one of the prettiest island cities we’ve ever visited.  And what made this particular stop on our trip all the better for John and me was that we’d already been here a few years back, so now we got to share it with my parents, who also loved it.

Pulling into San Juan...

Our first stop...The only brewery on the island 🙂

Exploring Old Town...

Old Town, of course...

Fort del Morro...Built in the 16th century on the northernmost point of the city to protect its bay from seagoing enemies...

From the Morro, looking back at Old Town...The famous San Juan Cemetery is in the foreground.

San Juan was a walled city to protect itself from seagoing enemies. The red gate, the San Juan Gate, was only used by royalty.

CHEESE! 🙂

'The children are the future of Puerto Rico and the world.'

Walking to the San Cristobal Castle

Stopping for a Puerto Rican classic, a cod fritter from a food truck 🙂

Sitting down for more Puerto Rican favorites, empanadas and plantain nachos 🙂 YUM!

Our biggest gripe about cruises is that they don’t give you long enough in any given port to really explore it.  Y’all know us- we love to fully immerse ourselves in new places…To get lost on their side streets and to scour the nooks and crannies in search of all things unique and funky (and delicious!)  Alas, we made the most out of our one day in San Juan and the time came to head back to the Solstice to set sail for our next adventure, St. Thomas.  More on that tomorrow!

Good night, San Juan...

Manoa Falls and Haiku Gardens

13 Feb

No trip to Honolulu would be complete with a hike up to Manoa Falls.  It’s definitely one our favorites, not because it’s overly difficult, but because it’s one of the most beautiful experiences of real Hawaii without really leaving the city!  Heck, just from the three hikes I’ve posted this week you can see how varied the outdoor enthusiast’s options are!  Whatever terrain you’re looking for, yep, Oahu’s got you covered! 🙂

The falls are found in a valley at the base of the Koolau Mountains, just a few miles north of Honolulu.  The trail to the top is only about 1.5 miles, but it’s 1.5 miles of the most breathtakingly lush- almost prehistoric- scenery you’ll ever see.  You  hike through tropical rainforest seeing native plants like Taro, giant ferns and a variety of wild gingers growing along the banks of the babbling Aihualama stream. There are Bamboo groves and magnificent towering Banyan trees (my favorite trees on Earth, I might add). The wild guava trees and flowering plants give of a fragrant aroma- and along with the musky, ‘dirt’y smells of a living forest- fill the air with a memorable scent as you make your way up to the waterfall.

Oh, and a neat factoid: this trail and the surrounding rainforest was the main site used in Jurassic Park 🙂

Foot of the Trail...

The trail is plagued with landslides, so they have to put in additional supports at some spots along the way...

This tree didn't make it...but what a cool stump (and you can see the fallen tree in the distance...)

Climbing the tree roots that are bigger than my entire body! Ha!

Can you find the trail??

More of my favorite trees...The 'fluffy' one on the right always reminds me the weed, Queen Anne's Lace...

Through the Banyan trees 🙂

Ta Da! We made it!

Heading back down the mountain...

To rest our tired legs, we decided to log some R-n-R time in the afternoon…meaning that our biggest decision was ‘beach or pool…’  Ha!  Why not both?

Poolside 🙂

John likes the saltwater pool 🙂

'Ol Diamond Head in the distance...

Beachfront 🙂

I know, I know…it’s a tough life, but somebody’s gotta do it!  😉  By late afternoon, we headed to another of our favorite spots, the Gardens in Haiku Valley.

The valley is an amphitheater-shaped area on the windward side of the Koʻolau Range, about 45 minutes northeast of Honolulu. It was the site of a US Navy radio transmitting station (later taken over by the Coast Guard as an OMEGA Navigation System station) and was initially built following the attack on Pearl Harbor as a means of communicating with U.S. Navy ships as far away as Tokyo Bay. The facility had a massive antenna system consisting of six massive cable antennas draped from atop one mountain ridge, and across the mountain valley to the top of the other ridge. The ridges formed a horseshoe shape around the valley. The natural height of the mountain ridges made for an excellent means of having an elevated antenna system. The construction and use of the facility was initially a classified military secret. The walls of the main building were over 5ft. thick and made of concrete, designed to withstand a 500 lb. bomb being dropped on the top of the building, allowing people inside to survive. Cool, huh?

The valley is most noteworthy today for the  Haʻikū Stairs (also known as “Stairway to Heaven”), a foot trail of 3,922 metal stairs that ascends to Puʻu Keahiakahoe, a 2,800-foot peak above the east valley wall. The stairs were originally constructed as a means of reaching the radio antenna attachment points high on the surrounding ridgeline.

So…for the record, nope, we haven’t climbed the steps yet!  Instead, we visited the Gardens en route to dinner in the Valley.  The Gardens are considered a ‘hidden gem-‘ four lush, tropical acres nestled at the base of the Stairway.  In a nutshell, it’s just pretty. 🙂

Heading down into the valley...

Up close and personal with the stargazers...

Walking through the gardens to our dinner restaurant...Yep, that's it in the distance 🙂

Dinner in a torch-lit 'tree house' 🙂

So there you have it, our Saturday in paradise- a wonderful blend of outdoor splendor, if you ask me!  We’re getting a slow start this morning, so no telling what  the day holds just yet.  On that note, I’ll leave you with yet another of my favorite shots of this hot guy I get to live with ;)!

Still taken 🙂

 

The thing about vacation is…

12 Feb

…it makes zero difference to you when it’s officially the ‘weekend!’  Ha!  Oh, next weekend I will certainly be less merry when I can no longer say those words…Anyhoo, living in the moment for the time being! 🙂

So, you know how I mentioned yesterday that my legs were somewhat sore from my butt-kicking activities earlier in the week and how I followed that up by saying it was an understatement?  Yeah, well, understatement is right!  Everybody knows that muscles are always sorest NOT the day after a workout, but the day AFTER the day after.  Case in point, yesterday morning at 0’dark thirty, I swung my legs outta bed and proceeded to stand up…and quickly proceeded to hit the deck.  About this time, John opened his eyes and peaked my edge of the bed.

‘Did you just fall down?,’ he garbled.

‘No, I just attacked the floor,’ I matter-of-factly replied.  Jeez.

And with that, it became clear that my morning workout would need to be modified to include upper-body only…and that it was as good a day as any to see what Lomi Lomi massages were all about!

Lomi Lomi, although often considered to be simply the traditional Hawaiian massage technique, is actually a holistic healing approach that goes beyond basic massage.  The Hawaiians look at things in terms of energy flow, following the idea that an idea or belief can block energy flow as much as muscle tension can. Lomi Lomi helps release the blockages, whilst at the same time giving the energy new direction. Thus, Lomi Lomi isn’t just a physical experience; it also facilitates healing on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels as well. The Hawaiians view all aspects of the body as one and believe that the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual are all part of the “whole” self – when healing is effected on one level, all levels are affected. Lomi Lomi helps release any resistance and therefore facilitates the road to healing. On the physical level, through Lomi Lomi stress and tension are relieved, blood and lymph flow assisted and the elimination of wastes and toxins stimulated.  Practitioners use, in addition to breathing techniques, the palms, forearms, fingers, knuckles, elbows, knees, feet, and even sticks and stones into the process.

I know, I know, it sounds a little ‘crunchy…’  A little ‘hippie…’  And that’s OK, because I AM a little crunchy and hippie!  Ha!  But even I was a bit skeptical about making the switch from my usual ‘Deep Tissue with a Swedish Flare’ to a Lomi Lomi session.  Thankfully, I’m SO glad that I gave it a try and am now bummed that no one in Charleston offers the Hawaiian style!  My therapist, Yuko, talked with me ahead of time get a good idea of my problems areas (my gimp legs and my usual knotty back), then went to work with what proved to be one of the most relaxing massages I’ve ever had.  At times, she told me when to breathe deeply and when to exhale.  Sometimes she used long, gliding strokes with her forearms, then before I knew it, she’d be almost pinpointing a deep, tiny knot with the very tip of her finger before seamlessly moving one of my limbs into the most incredible stretch.  And yes, relaxation is definitely enhanced with the sounds of the ocean and the feel of warm breeze blowing through an open air room!  When it was all said and done, I felt incredible (even my legs were significantly less gimpy!) and reinvigorated.  Proof?  The 2.5 mile walk back up the beach to our hotel was a breeze, no pun intended!

A neat side bar that I’ve thought of several times since my Lomi Lomi session…About 5 minutes into the massage- we had just finished some deep breaths and Yuko was ‘pinpointing’ some tense areas in the small of my back- I started feeling queasy.  I ignored it completely, but within a minute or two, we’re talking full on wave of nausea.  I’m thinking to myself, ‘What the Hell?? Seriously, Erin, you’re going to tell her ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I was totally great 10 minutes ago but now I need you to stop so I can throw up?!  Just great…’  Unable to ride it out any longer, I casually said ‘I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling great…’ and waited for her to say something equivalent to an eye roll.  Then she said, ‘Oh, it fine.  That just (insert Japanese jibberish here) leaving your body.  He must leave in order for Lomi Lomi to work.  He be gone in moment.’  At this point, I was glad I was laying face down on the donut pillow for two reasons: 1. When I threw up, it would go through the hole and onto the floor.  2. She couldn’t see my eyes rolling at her statement.  But…I kid you not, the nausea was completely gone within less than 30 seconds (at which point Yuko alerted me ‘OK, (insert Japanese jibberish here) gone.’) and I felt great for the remainder of the hour.  DEFINITELY recommend a Lomi Lomi massage to anyone and if you’re ever in Waikiki, Yuko at Honua is your girl! 🙂

Moving right along…I guess I need to break up this texty post with some pictures, huh??  I can probably do that :).  John had another short workday, so we spent the afternoon walking ‘the Strip,’ stopping in some shops to cool off in the AC, stopping in some bars to rest our feet.  What a great, laid-back way to spend a few hours!

One street over from the beach...What I refer to as 'the Strip...'

Street vendor artist...

Warm weather penguins...chillin' at one of the Hawaiian Village pools 🙂

Koi pond...

Before heading to dinner, we took a little break get cleaned up and to take in the sunset from our hotel’s marina…

Almost sunset...

He’s so patient while I get ready…OK, really, I just can’t get over how hot my husband is and wanted to share yet another piece of photographic evidence with you 🙂 Don’t judge.

Regatta passing by...

Almost sunset...

There it is 🙂

We went to another one of our favorites for dinner, Ninniku Ya, otherwise known as ‘The Garlic Restaurant.’  And yep, as the name implies, they LOVE them some garlic- so much so that every single dish they offer (yes, even the desserts!) has fresh garlic!  YUM!

Attention Garlic Lovers 🙂

You can probably tell from the picture that this place might be best described as a hole-in-the-wall, and that’s probably pretty accurate, albeit a nice hole-in-the-wall.  It’s actually an old house that has a handful of table in the ‘living room’ and the rest outside on the front porch, patio and ‘yard.’  Much like La Mariana Sailing Club that we went to the day before, the ‘decor’ is very eclectic- lots of teak, old lanterns, glass buoys and even some Christmas lights.  That’s when you know it’s all about the food, friends…Just sayin’!  Another perk?  It’s up the mountain from downtown so it’s mostly locals…plus us :).

Rainbow colored lanterns...Under our umbrella, we had yellow 🙂

The portions here are GINORMOUS, so we generally get a few pupus (appetizers), then split a main course, which is always red meat since that’s what they do best.

Kobe Beef Tataki Pupu

Asian Garlic Calamari Pupu

A neat thing about Ninniku Ya is that their meat dishes are served ‘sizzling tableside,’ meaning that they come to you still cooking on their cast iron platters.  The waiter then slices, dices and mixes everything in front of you, and leaves the platter to finish cooking as you eat.  Pretty neat 🙂

Main Course...New York Strip (supposed to be 20oz., but I swear it was bigger than that!) with roasted garlic, garlic mashed potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes...

Our waiter slicing our NY Strip. YUM. And don't you just love the guy in the background totally eying our dinner? He's realizing that he ordered the wrong thing! Ha!

Considering that it was Friday night and we’re still young, I bet you can guess what we did after dinner.  Yep, we threw on some hoochie clothes and danced the night away at all the hotspot clubs…What?  You don’t believe me?  Ha!  Well if you do, then you clearly don’t know us at all!  Being the wild-and-crazy 20-somethings that we are, we stopped and picked up some beer (John) and some Leonard’s malasadas (me) and parked ourselves on one of the ‘beds’ at the pool…and just in time for front row seats to the Friday night fireworks :).

Pool 'beds' 🙂

Even the pool has 'stars' in the floor...

Perfect end to a perfect day…

European Baths

25 Oct

Ah, the Baths…So you remember from yesterday’s post that John and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Baths…What a fabulous, relaxing afternoon!  But before I get to our own experience, let’s talk for a minute about European baths in general…

Public bath houses and ‘spa days’ are HUGE all over Europe.  It’s actually an adopted tradition taken from the Romans (who borrowed it from the Greeks), a widespread practice used by royalty, common folk and the military during the Roman Empire time. In fact, the word ‘spa’ itself is a Latin acronym meaning ‘health by water’ and mineral sources were as particularly soothing remedies then as they are now.

Today, Germany has one of the most comprehensive spa cultures in the entire world, with the support of the German federal health care system to boot!  And while there are several different types of baths- ranging from medicinal to holistic- the most common is the ‘thermalbad.’  These are strictly leisure-focused day spas, usually modern-designed oases of relaxation in a natural indoor atmosphere (*think waterfalls, nature sounds, swaying palm trees…). Guests come to enjoy the soothing surroundings without splashing, noise or chaos.  Typically, a Therme houses a variety of different saunas, steam baths, whirlpools and cold baths, with a separate section dedicated to cosmetic spa treatments such as facials, manicures and pedicures, massages and body wraps.  The best part?  It’s totally inexpensive- just 20 euro per person for the afternoon!

Germans are very particular when it comes to spa etiquette, so blending in easily means making sure you’re up to speed on all the unwritten (and posted, actually, since they’re all in German!) rules…Most baths are ‘textile free,’ meaning ‘no clothes allowed.’  (The bath we went to allows swimsuits on the first Tuesday of every month, for example).  Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re walking around naked the entire time- you can be wrapped in your towel (although many opt to forego this option) in the big common areas and wearing flip flops (thank God because I have a thing about my feet touching wet ground!).  As you go into any of the ‘rooms’ (saunas, steam baths, etc.), you simply leave your flip flops outside the door, then enter the room carrying your towel.   Once you find a place to sit (or lie down if there’s room) on a bench, you spread out your towel to ensure that every inch of your body will be on it.  Germans are very particular not to water-stain the wooden benches (and will quickly help you correct the problem if you need said help!)

Europeans have a very casual attitude toward the human body; baring all is not seen as shameful or embarrassing. Americans, apparently, are often uncomfortable with the nudity around these establishments.  John and I, modest creatures that we are, had very little issue stripping down and enjoying what we affectionately deemed, the Adult Waterpark!  I mean, yes, of course we had that ‘Dumb and Dumber’ moment of ‘We’re really doing this, Lloyd!’ as we pulled into the parking lot.  And yes, we had that initial twinge of ‘Good Lord, we’re standing here naked!,’ but these quickly vanished when we realized how no one actually gave one iota as to what we were wearing (or not wearing, actually :)).

We went to one of the most well-known spas in south Germany (just because it happens to be the closest and we’d heard good things), the SchwabenQuellen.  It’s a huge spa/waterpark complex here in Stuttgart providing ‘adventure and fantasy baths,’ even including a  room full of snow, kept at -4°F, so that participants can ‘roll naked in the snow!’ (Of course, this often follows and precedes a stop in a sauna or steam room.)  For the record, we did stop in the Snow Room to cool down, but we did remain on our feet! Ha!

The ‘etiquette’ in the Baths is much like what I picture it being like in men’s restrooms- you keep it eye level, you don’t stare, you keep conversation to a minimum and you only sneak peeks when you’re sure no one’s looking.  🙂 There were people there of every age, size, and shape you can imagine.  From 18-85 years old, petite to rotund, fit and muscular to soft and borderline slovenly, clean shaven to bearlike hairiness, prim and proper to pierced and tattooed.  Get the picture?  Literally, EVERY body was there and it just didn’t matter- no one paid any attention to anyone else.  How refreshing!  (Granted, no one’s blind, but still!)

When you let loose, you realize certain things.  Sitting in a sauna or steam bath without a sticky swimsuit feels good. Swimming, uninhibited, in a cool pool feels good.  It feels free.  You also realize that you’re just like everyone else.  Men, you’re not the largest nor the smallest.  Women, you’re not the most beautiful, but you’re certainly not the least!  In all honesty, you can’t help but feel good about yourself while you’re there!  HOW REFRESHING!  Just to see all these people- families, friends, golf buddies, couples, strangers- and I’m talking hundreds of people!- just hanging out together, peacefully, relaxing and enjoying the day, completely nude and without any embarrassment or inhibition…

So how does it all work?  Well, when you first arrive, you’re given a wristband with an embedded microchip.  This not only allows you to access your locker and to purchase food and drinks from the restaurants, but also to be located at any time within the spa.  Next, you head into the locker room (there are men’s and women’s) to strip down, wrap yourself in your towel and proceed to the showers (everyone showers so they’re clean before entering the spa).  Then it’s game time. 🙂

John and I both entered the spa at the same time, wrapped in our towels and wearing nothing else but flip flops.  Before the door can even close behind you, you feel more at ease.  The center atrium is a HUGE, airy space with a glass dome ceiling and a lagoon in the middle.  There are palm and banana trees, waterfalls, streams, and boulders.  There are live birds chirping (and occasionally squawking!), dimly lit stone pathways around the perimeter…It’s just like an oasis.  Everything branches out from this atrium.

The central atrium...

So after getting our bearings, we jumped right in.  Having done our research ahead of time, we knew that the general routine at these baths is to do a sauna/steam session, followed by a cold shower, then a relaxation session.  Then repeat as many times as you want. 🙂  So that’s what we did.  We spent the afternoon trying out many of the different saunas, steam rooms, relaxation rooms, whirlpools and cool pools, although there certainly wasn’t time to try them all!  Obviously, cameras aren’t allowed , but I managed to find some in their brochure so you could get an idea (an actually, it’s not a case of Golden Arches foolery- it’s really what they look like!). 🙂

The SchwabenQuellen has seven saunas, eight steam rooms, six relaxation rooms, and nine whirlpools/pools.  It also has two restaurants, two bars and an outdoor ‘beach,’ complete with sand and saltwater pool.  Each of the rooms has a ‘theme,’ depending on what you’re looking for.  For example, the ‘Finnish Sauna,’ is the hottest (194F) and driest of them all, as well as the ‘plainest.’  The ‘Amazon Sauna’ is much cooler and much more humid, decorated to look like a rainforest, complete with bird and rain sounds.  The ‘Bali Sauna,’ our favorite, is also 194F, but with aroma and light therapy incorporated.

The outdoor 'Canadian Suana...'

The 'Tibetan Sauna,' complete with lighted aroma therapy candles and the sound of chanting monks...

Our favorite, the 'Bali Sauna...'

We really enjoyed the steam rooms.  Obviously, because of the humidity, your body gets hotter (and your heart rate increases significantly more) simply because the sweat isn’t able to evaporate from your skin.  And just like the saunas, the steam rooms varied in temperatures and themes, from the typical ‘Roman Bath’ to the ‘Ottoman Dream’ to the ‘Caldarium,’ which was completely dark under a ‘starry’ sky.  Tres romantique! 🙂

The 'Ottoman Dream...' (except picture it full of steam, so you can't really see much!)

Our favorite, the 'Caldarium...' It's nice to see what it actually looks like- it was pitch black except for the stars when we were in there!

So after each 15-20 minute session, we’d them cool off with a shower, then head to a ‘relaxation room’ to give our bodies the chance to regroup.  While these themed rooms were definitely beautiful and restful (some people were napping, others were reading), John and I learned something about ourselves that we’ve already known for a long time- we have the attention spans of newborn fleas!, which meant that we had a hard time just laying there naked ‘to reflect.’  Nonetheless, though, we gave it our best shot!

Probably the prettiest of all the relaxation areas, the 'African Lodge,' complete with incense and soft tribal drums...

The 'Indian House...'

The 'Mayan Temple...'

We also managed to do some of the whirlpools and large pools, too.  There’s something for everybody, whether you’re looking for an individual tub or a large, cold polar bear pool (which we were not 🙂 ).  I’ve gotta say, there’s something to be said for legally skinny dipping- without that little devil on your shoulder whispering ‘you’re being so sneaky and could be caught at any minute,’ (not that I’ve ever skinny dipped, of course 🙂 ),  you can actually appreciate how good it feels.  How free…

The 'Swiss Pools,' just large enough for one person each...

The 'Icelandic Geyser Bath,' a HUGE indoor/outdoor swimming pool...One of our favorites.

The 'Polar Bear Lagoon...'

We didn't eat during our visit to the spa, but we did stop in for a quick bottle of water...

So that was our afternoon at the SchwabenQuellen Baths.  We each retreated back to our respective dressing rooms, showered, redressed and met back on the other side, in the lobby.  We turned in our wrist bands, paid (any food or drink you buy is charged since, clearly, you haven’t had pockets to carry cash :)), and headed home for a nice light dinner.  They say that an average 20 minute sauna session produces the same amount of sweat as a 10 mile run and that a typical day at the Baths burns about 600 calories.  Wow!

For the record, John thought it’d be fun to do a weigh-in before and after.  He lost 9 lbs. between lunch and dinner! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: