|Lisbon, Barcelona, and Home Again|

Lisbon! This was our final stop on our trip before we flew back to Barcelona and from there to the States. It was bittersweet leaving Lagos, which was literally a paradise for the last five days, but we were excited to have a day in Lisbon and do something different. We had to leave our Airbnb at 6:30 AM to catch the train back north and had a good three hour sleep which helped give us some energy since we only had one full day in Lisbon and needed to catch a plane the next morning for Barcelona.

We arrived and quickly figured out how to get to our Airbnb in Lisbon. It was in the historic old part of the city, and was in the cutest neighborhood filled with rows of colorful buildings with the Castello de St. Jorge towering on the hill above. We walked through the tiny streets until we found our apartment building, and then climbed three flights of wooden steps to the apartment which then had another staircase once you entered. This apartment was definitely not for someone who had trouble climbing stairs! It was well worth the climb though, because it was an immaculate, darling, eclectic little apartment. on Airbnb’s website it was called the “Rose Apartment”, and it was rightly named because everything was pink. Jess and I took the more pink of the two pink bedrooms and our window had a perfect view of the castle.

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I loved the cute little streets

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The view from our bedroom window!

We dropped off our bags and headed into Lisbon to see as much as we could.  We didn’t really have a plan, so we just sort of wandered, but it was perfect. Along the way we were suddenly starving, and as we rounded a corner there it was: Burger King. Let me just make a little side note here: I NEVER eat fast food, but for whatever reason American greasy fries and burgers sounded like heaven. We shamelessly gorged ourselves until we were full and then walked down to the waterfront. It was so warm and sunny that day, but super windy by the water so we didn’t stick around long.

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We headed back into the city and made our way to the Castello de St. Jorge. It was a maze of tiny streets to find the entrance, and an extremely uphill climb. We purchased tickets to go inside and then explored the grounds for a good hour or so. Not much of the interior of the gigantic Moorish castle remains, but it dates back to the 11th century. There were a few peacocks roaming the grounds, but it was amusing to us that there were also quite a few cats who lived there. Apparently castle cats are a thing in Lisbon? Either way, they were pretty cute. The views from the top of the castle were worth the 8 or so Euros it cost to enter.

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When we left the castle grounds we wanted to go see a few more sights, but first needed to get gelato because, gelato. Then we made our way to the Church of Sao Vincente of Fora, but were very sad that it had just closed. We saw what we could of the exterior, and enjoyed some lovely fountains. Then we tried to go and see the National Pantheon which much to our dismay was also closed.

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The Church of Sao Vincente de Fora

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The National Pantheon

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At this point it was getting dark, and since we had such an early flight the next day we decided to go grab some dinner by the waterfront where there were lots of restaurants and shops and then go home. Once back at the Pink Apartment, we showered, packed, and hit the hay. I had to sneak one last view of the castle which was lit up at night outside our window. It was such a dreamy view that I didn’t want to forget!

The next morning we hopped on the subway to the airport in Lisbon which only took us about 20-30 minutes. Once there, however, we were told our flight was delayed at least an hour for the heavy fog. We now got to hang out at the airport for a few hours, but thankfully there was some good food for breakfast. After what felt like a lifetime we finally boarded our plane and made the flight back to Barcelona. The only problem was that when we had been in Barcelona the first time, we had made reservations to see La Sagrada Familia, but since our flight was so late, there was no way we would make it in time to our reservation. I can’t describe to you just how upset I was. The interior of La Sagrada Familia is on my bucket list and we were so close to seeing it!  but now we just need to make another trip back there one day so I can see it!

So, since we were now stuck in the airport for about 3.5 hours we decided to change into some comfy traveling clothes, explore the mall that was inside the airport, and charge our phones. I got some more cute trinkets for the kids, and we loaded up on snacks for the 7 hour plane ride to New York. Our plan on the way back was to stay up the entire flight watching movies, which Jess and I did on the way back from Europe a few years ago. It really helped us adjust to the jet lag easier, because by the time we landed, went through customs which took (FOREVER), and got to our hotel we were exhausted and passed out. Aly and I had a flight the next morning at 7 AM and were up and ready quite early. Jess had to wait until 7 PM that night. So we said goodbye to him and headed out. Not only did he get more sleep than we did, but he was on a non-stop flight to Salt Lake, while Aly and I had to go through Seattle.

It seemed like a terribly long day, but we were finally home! I was so happy to grab all my kids from the sitters and be with them. Our trip was an incredible two weeks, but coming back home is always the best part!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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|Lagos, Portugal|

We finally made it to paradise!! After a few hours on the train from Lisbon, we were greeted by warm air, sunshine and blue skies. We hoofed it a few miles to our Airbnb which was located at a hotel.  I will be honest that this Airbnb was my least favorite, and we were there the longest. It was in a hotel, but we had no real amenities. In fact, we had less amenities than any of our other Airbnbs we stayed in our entire trip! We even had to rent a beach towel for 4 Euros which I thought was pretty lame, so we only rented one and all shared it. But, it was clean, there were two bathrooms, and we all had beds so it was just fine.

We stayed in Lagos for four days and three nights. It was a great change to know we would be in one place for longer than two days. Our intent was to plan it this way so we could hang out on the beach for the last few days of our trip and relax.

After we unpacked our things and rested for a while we changed and headed down to the local grocery store for some supplies for the next few days. Then we walked down to the beach closest to our place. It was a five minute walk, but all of the beaches required you to climb down the cliffs. Most of them had stairways and access to them so it wasn’t a big deal. We laid out and played in the water for a few hours. Jess and I collected a good amount of seashells to bring home, since we have collected them on all of our trips. I also found some really cool rocks to add to our growing collection. We then started trying to hike up the coast, but with sandals on, the cliffs were a little scary to navigate. So,  we went back to the room to shower and get ready to go into the downtown area to see what it was all about.

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Downtown Lagos had a lot going on at nighttime. There were plenty of restaurants, bars, and stores to keep us entertained as we explored. Jess was determined to get gelato since the previous night we were about to eat some when I got super sick in Sintra. So Jess was on the prowl for some good gelato. Once we found some we listened to some live music in an open square until we were ready to head home. Once home, we watched some tv together until we were all ready to sleep. The nice thing was the next day we could sleep in as long as we wanted, and we definitely did!

We packed our bags with lots of food the next morning after breakfast and planned to spend the entire day at the beach. We hiked up the coast, this time with the appropriate shoes on, in search of the perfect beach. Along the way, we hiked out and down the cliffs, which in some of the more precarious parts had ropes attached to the rocks for easier climbing up and down. It was gorgeous. There were arches, and grottoes all along the way, each one just as beautiful as the last. I had heard that the coastline of southern Portugal was breathtaking, but you cannot truly appreciate it unless you see it in person. Some of the more famous caves were only accessible by boats, and we decided we did not need to see them.

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On our hike we happened upon the most amazing hidden little beach! We initially walked past the trail down, because it was hidden among some bushes, but after some exploring we found it. It was quite a steep climb down, so it was not for the faint of heart! There was a rope attached at one point which was convenient and helped us get down a little easier. But it was totally worth it! It was in this little hidden cove and when we first went down there were only two other people down there. As the day went on, a few more people braved the climb down, but there were never more than ten of us down there which was just perfect. We laid out, played in the waves, and explored the little caves surrounding it all day. It was seriously the perfect beach for us!

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When the tide started coming in high enough to reach our stuff stored in the caves behind us it was time to leave. So we climbed back up the cliff and headed home to make some dinner. After dinner we headed back downtown in search of some trinkets for the kids, but we didn’t hang around too long, because being in the sun all day really wore us out! We went home, and once again had a tv marathon until we were exhausted and went to bed.

The next morning, our last full day in Lagos, we once again slept in, but then decided to spend the entire day at our secret little beach. That’s exactly what we did! For most of the day we were the only people there, but eventually a handful of people came and went. Once again, we had the most relaxing day in our own little paradise. We really hated to leave it when the tide came in again. We took our time walking home and ate the leftovers in our fridge from dinner the night before. After doing laundry and packing up our things, we went to bed early since we needed to leave to catch our train at 6 AM back to Lisbon.

It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I really hope to go back to Lagos one day!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

|Porto, Portugal|

We had finally arrived in Portugal! After an extremely uncomfortable overnight train ride from Salamanca, Spain we arrived in Coimbra, Portugal. Although we needed to board a regional train once we got there, we were relieved to get off that hot and stinky train and be on our way to Porto.

It was about 6 AM when we arrived in Porto at our Airbnb. Our host had other guests who were leaving by 3 PM, so we had about 9 hours to kill. Our host was not there, but his neighbor, Isabel, who also was his cleaning lady for the Airbnb, let us store our backpacks in her home until we could come back and check in. She was so sweet. She didn’t speak English, but could understand Spanish so her and Jess chatted as best as they could. It was mostly with hand gestures and guessing. Some other adorable ladies who lived in the same complex of apartments poked their heads out of their doors to say hello, and one in particular in her robe and slippers came over to chat with us. Her name was Angelina, and she spoke English and Spanish so she helped us talk to Isabel easier. Angelina was so helpful, and along with Isabel’s help and some maps, they showed us the sites we definitely needed to see in Porto. After a few minutes of chatting with these lovely ladies we headed to a cafe to eat some breakfast and charge our phones. We hung out there for at least an hour, since it was still quite early, and had some yummy pastries and juice. Once we charged our phones sufficiently and figured out a game plan on what to see, we headed out into the city.

The best way to get around was by the subway, and just two stops away was the historic center of the city. We were hoping that the rain would let up, which had been steadily falling since we had arrived, but it only seemed to get worse! Thankfully I brought an umbrella, but we were all still pretty soaked after about an hour of walking around. BUT despite the rain and cold, we were still in such an amazing place! So we made the best of it.

The fog made it hard to see the river and ocean beyond it, so one of the main attractions, the Clerigos Tower, which was part of the Clerigos Church, was not worth even going up. We walked around the inside of the church which was worth seeing though.

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The foggy view of the river from our AirBnb

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Clerigos Church. The tower is behind it, but we figured it wasn’t worth paying to go up and look at fog.

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The “birthday cake” inside Clerigos

We made our way to a very cool train station, which the inside of was made of all tile. It was a nice place to escape the torrential rain for a few moments too. Then, we walked up the streets in search of a famous book store that was used in filming the library scenes of the “Harry Potter” movies. When we got there though, it was a 2 hour wait to get in, and you had to pay about ten euros per person! We all decided it was NOT worth it and moved on. I caught a glimpse of the inside as we walked by though, and I called it good. So we wandered the streets, had some more gelato, because gelato, and admired some very cool buildings.

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We hoofed it to the top of the hill overlooking the Douro river to see the beautiful Porto Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque building with Gothic and Baroque architecture. It had another one of those statues like the one we saw in Salamanca, with a knight on top of a horse. It is located in the historical center of Porto, and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Some of the relics inside were centuries old, and even though there were signs everywhere saying not to touch anything, I just HAD to touch the wooden doors. It might sound strange, but just touching the ancient wood gave me chills.

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Around this time, I got a message from Isabel saying that the home was ready! We were soaked and tired from the lack of sleep the night before so we were grateful to get to change and rest. We hopped on the subway and headed back. When we arrived Isabel had gone above and beyond for us. She walked in with fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and meat from the grocery store. She, along with Angelina, chatted with us again for at least twenty minutes. They really were just the sweetest ladies, and when they said goodbye, I hugged each of them, and literally teared up. It’s so refreshing to meet such kind hearted human beings. It gives one faith in humanity in a world full of hatred.

After the ladies left, we all promptly changed and took a (much needed) 2 hour nap! When we woke up, Aly wasn’t feeling great, but Jess and I wanted to go walk down by the river now that the rain had stopped. So, we had a date night! It was very anxiety-ridden walk across the double-deck metal Luis I Bridge across the Douro River and onto the other side. It’s 150 feet above the river below, and when it was constructed in the 1880’s it was the longest of it’s type in the world. Once across, we found a nice restaurant and had some local foods and got to have a romantic evening to ourselves. After dinner, we walked across the bridge again, but this time on the lower deck so we could ride up the funicular to the top of the hill.

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Once we got home, we showered, packed, and went to sleep. Our train for Lisbon left at 9 AM the next morning so we didn’t want to miss it! I loved what I was able to see of Porto, and hopefully will go back one day when it’s not torrential downpour raining all day!

 

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Seville, Spain

Guys! I’m finally working on catching up on our trip to Spain and Portugal this past October! Sorry I have been slacking, it’s been a busy few months.

Our third stop was beautiful Seville. We arrived at around 12:30 AM on our train. This was all due to the fact that we missed our train from Alicante that morning. We were exhausted, but excited to be there. We grabbed a taxi and soon discovered why there are very few cars in the historic old section of Seville: the roads are SO SMALL! I started panicking because it literally felt like we were going to be stuck between buildings. The taxi driver could only drive us part of the way because the roads were so tiny, and we got out and walked the rest of the way to our Airbnb.

Our very very nice host Manuel waited for us, even though we were supposed to be there at 3 PM. I had emailed him as soon as we missed our train and kept him informed of when we would be arriving. He was so understanding and I apologized again when we arrived, but he was all too gracious about it. He showed us to the apartment, which was on the third floor of a darling old building right in the center of the historic Jewish quarter of the city. Directly across from our building was the Iglesia Santa Maria la Blanca church, which used to be a synagogue. I loved hearing the church bells throughout the day.

The apartment was very nice and clean. Aly actually got a bed this time, so she was happy even if it was in the middle of the living room. There was a nice bathroom and a small but effective kitchen with a washing machine which we used immediately.  Once Manuel gave us all the maps, and suggestions on what to do, he left and we all promptly went to bed.

The next morning, we accidentally slept in longer than we had intended, but since we weren’t leaving until the next day we weren’t too worried about it. We got dressed and headed out. We explored the quaint tiny streets around our apartment on our way to get some warm croissants for breakfast.

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The front door of our apartment was beautiful

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Seville was full of beautiful courtyards

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The streets were too tiny for cars!

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Jess and Aly (bottom left) as we were trying to find croissants

Then it was on to the Real Alcazar to get tickets for later tour. It’s a very popular spot, an we didn’t want to make the same mistake we did in Barcelona by not being able to get tickets to places. So, we secured tickets for 1:30 PM, and then walked over to the Plaza de Espana.

Built in 1928, it was made for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and is just breathtaking. When we first walked into the open square, my mouth dropped. Not only is the architecture amazing but the colors were so vibrant! There’s painted tile everywhere, even on the ceilings! It’s such a bright, beautiful place. It is shaped in a huge semi circle, with a canal running under bridges, and a huge fountain right in the middle. For all you Star Wars fans out there, this place was used during filming as the kingdom of Theed on the planet Naboo in ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones’.

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Jess enjoying the view, and the man in a red shirt photobombing

We walked around and enjoyed the architecture for a while, as well as the vendors who were selling various fans, and other souvenirs. There was also a man who was making gigantic bubbles with some homemade contraption that I was fascinated by. We needed to get back towards the center of the city to make it to our tour, and we decided to go by way of the Parque de Maria Luisa, which was a huge beautiful park right next to the plaza. One of the things I loved so much about Barcelona and Sevilla was the cute green parrots, and these were the only two cities we saw them in. When we walked up there were tons of them playing in a fountain. Of course, once I tried to get a photo of them, they ALL flew away. Oh well.

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You can see one parrot on the fountain

As we walked to and from the Plaza de Espana, we saw so many amazing buildings so it was a joy to explore.

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It was finally time for us to go to our tour of the Real de Alcazar and we were so excited! This was one of the main things I had to see on my bucket list for this trip. Despite how crowded it was, the buildings and grounds are so vast that other than the main halls you really didn’t feel like there was mass amounts of people.

Registered as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987, the Alcazar is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. The Spanish royal family still uses the upper levels of the palace to stay during certain times of the year. It is also considered to be the most beautiful palace in all of Spain, and if you ever happen to see it in person you will see why.

The original building was built as a Moorish fortress, and was later converted into the palace by King Peter Castile in the mid 14th century. As he expanded it, he decided to keep the Islamic architectural style that is already had. What makes this palace so unique is that subsequent rulers added their own touches to the palace over the centuries, so now it possesses architectural influences from the Moorish, Arabic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. It also has influence of both Muslim and Christian faiths.

If you’re not so much into the actual history of the palace, but the entertainment history, there’s plenty of that too. The Alcazar has been the site of several huge movies including ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in 1962 and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in 2005. It was also the location chosen to represent the kingdom of Dorne in “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

Whether you’re into the history of this place or not, one can still enjoy the beauty of it. I could have spent hours there, and decided I was moving in!

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After we explored the inside, we went outside to the gardens. They were immense, and we maybe only saw a third of them. A lot of them were closed to help preserve the plants, but we still got to see them from above. The best part was the garden maze, which we may or may not have cheated to get out of!

 

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My favorite part of the Alcazar though, was the Roman Baths underneath the palace. They are no longer used for that purpose, but are still so beautiful to look at. 54DB5CEE-1CCD-41C6-AD0D-F46D02347ED10219BB0D-F580-453C-918B-326026625221

Like I said, I wanted to move in. Don’t you want to now too? 1EAD8F02-5196-4B7A-8B9C-78A5639DC7FCCA77F3F6-FA03-4B8C-8230-C826F871DD9E44722EE3-177C-43C3-8EF5-5EA7540D9FE5FED580EB-C21A-4A6E-85DD-3546A29526DC6CBC8B91-11A7-4A23-BCF4-B09A024AEBBA

After we finally willed ourselves to leave the Real de Alcazar, we wandered across the square to the Cathedral de Seville, which is another Unesco World Heritage site. It was very impressive! And, we were surprised to know that Christopher Columbus’ tomb was inside it, (which i apparently got no photos of). Even though I think he’s not that great of a historic figure, (I mean, let’s not forget all the kidnapping and raping that happened), it was pretty cool to be in front of his actual tomb.

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There was a bell tower to climb to the very top of the Cathedral, but you had to pay for it. We decided to try and sneak up, and the guard let us right by! So up we went 34 flights in a tiny bell tower. I started to get mildy claustrophobic because it was such a small tower, but thankfully, we were at the top before I started really panicking. The view though, was totally worth the almost claustrophobic induced panic attack!

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While coming back down the bell tower the clouds literally ripped open and some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen just seemed to pour from heaven. It was SO cool to hear it from inside the massive cathedral! There was even some impressive thunder. Once the rain let up we ventured out to find food, and ate at this really cool tapas restaurant that was decorated with mounted heads of bulls. It made me sad because they have such cute faces and I said “Our lunch is watching us!”

I did not get a photo of the bulls, but I did of my tapas which was pork with garlic that was mighty tasty. 1D01BDE6-64FE-41D9-ACED-9B34B0874BFE

We walked to the historic bull fighting ring, but decided it wasn’t worth paying to go inside of. Then we walked back to our apartment the long way and explored more of historic Seville along the way.

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That evening, Manuel had booked us tickets to see a local and authentic flamenco show. It was held at the Museo del Baile Flamenco which was just a few streets over from our Airbnb. They allowed no photos or video during the performance, and there was maybe only 50 people there in the room. There was one male dancer and two females, along with the most talented guitar player I’ve ever witnessed and a male and female who sang and clapped the beats. It was a stunning performance that made my eyes fill with tears several times and goosebumps travel across my body. I was so glad we got to see it! Afterwards I snapped a photo of this painting of a flamenco singer because he hilariously kind of looks like Jimmy Fallon!

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Seville was one of my favorite stops on our trip. If you’re planning on seeing Spain definitely add this city to your list!

Xoxo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

One Foot In Front of the Other

I had to write down the date today and I still found myself automatically writing 2017. I cannot believe that it’s a new year already! I feel like we were just celebrating the new year of 2017! This last year in many ways felt that it went by extremely fast, and was very busy and full of events, activities, sports, and trips. We traveled and saw a lot of new things. We lost some good friends, but have made new friends too. We ended an almost 3 year lawsuit that has lifted some major stress off of us. I had a full-fledged breakdown that totally deflated me, but didn’t defeat me. We got to be a part of my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary, and Jess and I celebrated our 12-year wedding anniversary. The list could go on and on, but I would say overall that this was a good year for us.

Now that this fresh new year is upon us, I have sat down and actually planned some major goals for myself, which is something that I rarely do. I am hoping that I can make these all a reality for myself by the time 2019 rolls around.

Service

One of my major goals for this year is to make serving others a priority. I have loved being involved with American Cancer Society these past two years, and being the auction co-chair at their Faces of Hope Gala here in Salt Lake this past October was such an honor. Working to help raise funds for cancer research, patients, and their families is so near and dear to me since my mother passed away from cancer. So, I feel very strongly about this cause and hope to keep working with them for a long time to come. We are currently planning a huge event for this coming September which is going to be amazing! I will keep you all posted with the juicy details.

I have also reached out to a friend of mine who works at the Utah Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake, and offered to help plan their yearly gala to raise money for their cause. Being a survivor myself of sexual assault I feel very deeply for other victims, and want to help this center in any way that I can. Did you know this is the ONLY rape recovery center in the entire state of Utah? It makes me sick that this isn’t a bigger talked about issue, (because it is a really bad problem in Utah, just no one acknowledges it), but we are hoping to change that.

Aside from charity work, I would love to be of service to my family and friends. I would love this year to be less about me, and more about others, especially those who I love. Yes, I’ve got my own issues and struggles, but making serving others the priority will help me and them. Plus, who doesn’t feel amazing helping others? I know I always do.

Putting Myself Out There

This goal is mostly for my blog, and social media persona of The Raw Brunette. I am starting to get a pretty good following on my Instagram, and have done some good networking from the small numbers I have already. But my goal is to really get myself out there this year. I would love for my blog to become somewhat well-known, (shooting for the stars, I know), but hey I dream big! I want to be able to start speaking to people, women specifically, about my life experiences with death, grief, sexual assault, anxiety, depression, OCD,motherhood, etc. I would love to do this in a public setting, maybe for example, at a conference as a motivational speaker.

More than anything, I would love for my writing and my work to just reach people. I have had countless friends, and strangers send me messages, DMs, and emails telling me about how my writing has touched them. A lot of these people deal with the same things I have, and have either been too afraid to speak up, or felt like they were alone. This goes back also to my goal of service, because I just want to help people know they’re not alone, and not crazy, and not unusual for the things that many of us all struggle with.

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Another goal of mine this year is to travel. in 2017, I got to travel quite a bit. Here in the states my family went to southern Utah to Zion National Park for the very first time in March, as well as Bryce Canyon National Park which are both gorgeous. We also explored a lot of Idaho this summer. From Boise, Twin Falls, American Falls, and Rexburg we saw a lot of beautiful country. We even got to experience the Total Solar Eclipse in Rexburg which was a life-changing event. From Boise, we also drove west to see my family that lives in and around Portland, Oregon. We even got to the PNW coast which was just gorgeous, and we were blessed with amazingly warm weather the entire time.

As far as international travel, Jess and I traveled to Ensenada, Mexico in February of 2017 on a Carnival cruise with his company Envi Pest Control. The weather was not so great, but we had a really fun time zip lining! Then, in October of this year we traveled along with my sister Aly to Spain and Portugal, which I am still catching up on blogging about! It was a dream trip of 16 days, and we saw, ate, and learned SO MUCH. I will never forget it!

I’m hoping that this next year will include just as much if not more travel. I live for traveling! So, I will keep you updated if anything exciting is planned.

Smoothing Out the Bumps

My final goal of this year is to continue to discover my true self. I see myself as a rough looking rock, who over the years is slowly being polished. Eventually, I will be beautiful and shiny, with not a hint of my former rough exterior. It’s going to be a lifetime of polishing I’m sure, but I feel that even over just the past three years I have seen more of my true self shine through than ever before. Going through difficult things in my life has helped to strengthen me, and enlighten me to who I really am. In order to help myself with this task, I will take time for me. I plan on doing things that I love so that I am taking care of myself as much as I am taking care of my family.

  • Exercise is one thing that makes me so happy. It is time for me to be in the zone, with music on, and getting my blood pumping. I am a much happier person when I workout regularly. Plus, keeping myself healthy is always a priority! So, making sure I workout, or getting to fun classes at the gym is definitely a resolution.
  • Pampering myself seems so selfish, but I have decided it’s something I am making a resolution. I’m not going to be over-the-top about it or out of control, but doing a little something here or there without feeling guilty about it is what I aim to do. Because you know what? Being a mom is FREAKING hard and I deserve a little pampering! So getting my nails done every once in a while, or booking a massage when I haven’t slept well in a week and can’t move my neck, or just buying the dress I just absolutely love is something I won’t feel bad about it.
  • I will keep it a priority this year to take care of myself mentally as well. I plan on continuing my therapy which has been so beneficial for me, honestly if any of you have considered going and haven’t – GO! Just sitting and talking through what I’m feeling inside with another adult who doesn’t judge me is so healing for me. I leave every week feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. I also have a pile of books I plan on reading, and then some more! Reading is so healing and relaxing for me, so I will do as much of it as I can this year.

Above all else, I won’t second guess myself this year, and I plan on living my truth, and taking it one step at a time in the direction that I want. This is the year I won’t let fear stop me, and will push myself accomplish my goals. I will make mistakes I’m sure, (I mean don’t we all?), but I won’t let it stop me from enjoying my life.

Happy New Year Everyone!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

 

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Photo: LC Photography 

 

 

 

Alicante, Spain

We hopped on our first train and headed west from Barcelona. We knew we had wanted to go to Seville and the train trip would have taken all day, so we picked a city in the middle to spend the night. In the end, we basically put our finger on a map and ended up choosing Alicante. I knew nothing about it, but it looked pretty in pictures and it had a medieval castle so it all sounded good to me! So on to our second stop we went.

Our train ride was pleasant. The trains in Spain were nice, and this one even had a movie playing, (although in Spanish), and they handed out free headphones. Aly and I visited the cafe car and got some delicious croissant sandwiches which were made fresh and warm as you ordered. We were excited to get to Alicante and explore this once thriving Mediterranean port. Little did we know, that we would run into more than one problem while there!

We arrived in Alicante at about 2 PM, and needed to get to our Airbnb by 3 PM to check in. Thankfully, getting around was much easier on this trip because I actually had cell service, (it was well worth the money to pay for it!), and I figured out the bus line we needed to take to get to our place. Unfortunately, an incredibly nosy woman decided it was her mission in life to help us get to where we were going, and insisted we follow her off the bus at a particular stop. She made us get off at a bus depot, which was not where we needed to be.  Jess kept trying to ask her in Spanish why we were there, and she would just say over and over : “Bush!” (bus?) and gestured to the bus depot. She then waved us away and laughed maniacally while snorting when we asked her why she made us go with her there. We collectively decided she was insane, and then got back on the right bus and headed to our apartment and laughed about the twenty minutes we had just wasted.

We found the lock box which held our apartment keys, and walked another block to find it. It was a lovely little apartment but it wasn’t quite what we had signed up for. It was a studio apartment, and the queen bed that Jess and I slept in was literally right next to the front door. Aly’s “couch bed” ended up being a poorly made couch from wooden pallets put together with hard cushions on top, which was about 5 feet from the queen bed. As soon as we walked in Aly yelled: “Sleepover!” Aside from the odd sleeping arrangements, the apartment had everything we needed for one night. There was a full kitchen with dishes, pots, and utensils, and a washer. The bathroom was very nice and had a good sized shower with plenty of hot water this time! Adjoining the bathroom was a door to the patio where we could sit and hang up our wet clothes to dry. The main room of the apartment had plenty of natural light, since it was lined wall-to-wall with floor-to-ceiling windows with large wooden shutters. We were on the ground floor though, and we were directly across the street from a Kebab restaurant that was very busy and loud. There was a group of men and a barking dog who sat outside talking, drinking, and laughing until at least midnight. One man in particular, desperately needed to put a shirt on but thought the opposite. So, we mostly kept them shut when we were there to maintain our privacy.

Once we unpacked we washed some clothes, taking a quick cat nap while waiting for the cycle to end, and then hung them up to dry. The adventure of the day was to venture to the Medieval Castillo de Santa Barbara which seemed an easy 10 minute or so walk from where we were staying. Little did we realize, that the castle sits atop Mount Benacantil which is 544′ up. Doesn’t sound so bad, but once we started hiking on the only pathway that wound around instead up straight up with a very steep incline our legs were all but completely dead when we weren’t even halfway to the top. When we finally made it to the front gates we were out of breath and incredibly sweaty since it was about 82 degrees that day.

That view from the top though! It was breathtaking, and you could see all of Alicante, and beyond. It was sunset by the time we got up there, so we stayed and enjoyed the beauty of it for a while at the top. The castle itself was very old, and artifacts have been uncovered therefrom the Bronze, Iberian, and Roman ages which is pretty impressive! The origins of the castle itself dates back to the 9th century.

There was even a little museum of ‘Game of Thrones’ which got us all excited thinking this was a site from the show, but it turns out that HBO wanted to use the Castillo de Santa Barbara as Daenerys Targaryen’s castle on the show, and the city of Alicante said no (for whatever reason), but they still had this little museum. It was like a “We could have been on the show and said no, but still want tourism” museum that was really strange and pretty comical.

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We made our way back down to the city, and decided to hit up a local grocery store. We purchased items to make some spaghetti and made it at our apartment, which ended up being quite good. The food in Europe is so much better than what we have here in the states! As we were cleaning up dinner, Aly and I noticed some of the shutters were opened, so we proceeded to shut them. A few moments later we noticed they were once again open, and after shutting them again a few more times and finding them open we decided we had a ghost. We named him Ferdinand and apparently opening the shutters was one of his favorite hobbies. After dinner we were pretty tired, and all took turns showering and got ready for bed and Ferdinand’s antics kept going throughout the night. Jess is the deepest sleeper so he was not aware of any of it, but Aly and I kept waking up to the kitchen lights turning on and off, and objects being dropped in the kitchen. Between that, and the loud group of men who hung around outside until after midnight, and then seemed to come back at 5 AM, it was not a great night of sleep for anyone.

The next morning, we were supposed to make our train that left at 10 AM. We made the epic mistake of hopping on the right bus line, but going the wrong direction. If we had just crossed the road and waited for another one going the other way, we would have been to the train station in about 5 minutes. After about 15 minutes on the bus we did happen to get on, we knew we were going to miss our train. So, we hopped off at a stop, and asked a local where we could catch a taxi. He was very nice, but took us on a really long walk to find one, and once we got it and rushed to the station we had missed our train by more than 20 minutes. Defeated, we waited in line to book the next tickets to Seville, which didn’t leave for another 5 hours.

With an unexpected half a day in Alicante, we decided to walk down to the beach and check out what was down there. The city was surprisingly colorful, with incredible architecture and colorful artwork on many walls. The beach, (at least the one we went to), was not super impressive, but being down by the water was fun and we sat and relaxed for at least an hour on some steps leading down to it. We shopped in a cute little market, had some gelato, and then made our way back to the train station.

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Even though we had to change our plans up, we made the best of it and still enjoyed our extra few hours in Alicante, and if you happen to ever be in this region of Spain you should check it out!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Barcelona, Spain

On October 13, we officially arrived in Barcelona. It was our first stop on our epic two-week trip and even though it was technically 2 AM our time I was super excited and ready to go when we landed. We had been on different flights from Salt Lake City, but all met up in Newark, NJ before boarding our Norwegian Airlines flight to Barcelona. Jess and I flew Norwegian when we went to Europe two years ago, and their planes are SO nice! Also, when they have their fare sales, their prices are some of the cheapest around.

We were in Barcelona during a very interesting time for the Catalan region of Spain. The Catalan leaders and people were voting to secede from Spain, and become their own country. When we arrived, the vote had already taken place, and they had all unanimously voted to secede. So, while we were there, it was peaceful and the people were extremely happy. Everywhere we went, there were Catalonian flags hanging proudly from balconies, in windows of homes, and draped out of car windows. Unfortunately, since then the Spanish government has decided to overrule them, and are now possibly jailing the Catalan leaders, and there’s a lot of protesting and civil unrest.

Like I said, we really lucked out with the timing of our trip! Some friends of ours arrived in Barcelona a few days after we left and none of the main touristy sites closed, and there were protests and strikes all across the city, so pretty much nothing was accessible or open.

From the airport, we made our way to our first Airbnb of the trip. We swear by Airbnb because it gives you the chance to meet locals, and have a more authentic experience in each city you stay. Plus, you cannot beat the prices! The apartment we rented was about 20 minutes north of Barcelona via train in a cute little town called La Floresta. It was nestled up in the hills that were covered in trees that were filled with parrots! The parrots in Barcelona were one of my most favorite things! They were a beautiful green color and were about as common as robins are here in Utah. I loved it! Our host’s name was Pilar, and she was so kind and welcoming when she met us. Her apartment had everything we needed, (except for 3 people the water heater was super small so at least one of us had a cold shower everyday!), even though it was a small space. But, we really weren’t there for long at night so it was fine. Poor Aly was basically sleeping in a closet! She got shafted a lot on our trip with beds, which I will tell about more as I post more about our trip. It was pretty funny to see what the third “bed” would end up being in a lot of the places!

One of my favorite things about our apartment was the outdoor sitting area. There was a small table and chairs and a swinging bench. In the morning, the birds would all be singing their little hearts out, and it was so quiet because we were away from the noise pollution of the city that it was just magical.

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This staircase from the La Floresta train station was a killer leg workout!

 

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Part of the walk to our apartment in La Floresta

 

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Waiting for our train on the way to Sant Cugat Del Valles

Once we settled into our apartment, and took an hour siesta (the jet lag hit us HARD), we decided for the evening to take the train 10 minutes north to the town of Sant Cugat. It was a charming little town that had a Roman Monastery, and darling little streets and shops.We were pretty hungry, so we searched for a cafe to eat. Jess and I chose a bakery that had sandwiches and pizzas. I settled on a small cheese flatbread and a chocolate croissant. This would be the first of about a million croissants on our trip!

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After we ate, we walked around the cute shops for a while, and then made our way to the monastery. I made a huge mistake and led us in the wrong direction for a good 30 minutes before I realized it. But, in my defense, there were like three different places with the same name as the monastery! So, we had a good long walk and lots of exercise!

Thankfully, we arrived there before it got too dark, and we were able to explore the Monastery of Sant Cugat. It is a Benedictine abbey that was founded in the 9th century, but was under construction and was not completed until the 14th century. I had to touch the walls and the wooden doors because some of them are as old as the early 900’s!

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Gotta love the photobomb by Jess 🙂

Knowing we had a long day the following day, we went to a market and got some food items for breakfast, and headed back to our apartment.

The next morning we took the train back south to Barcelona. We started our day finding one of Gaudi’s most famous architectural feats: Casa Mila, or La Padrera. It was actually the last private residence designed by Antoni Gaudi. Like most of the touristy spots in Barcelona, you had to pay to go in. We decided that this particular spot was not necessarily worth paying to see. Seeing the outside of it was very impressive though!

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Casa Mila

Our second stop was La Sagrada Familia. This was what I was most excited about and have dreamed about seeing since I took some architecture classes in college. It definitely did not disappoint me when I saw it in person! Once the giant structure came into view, I was speechless! My bubble was soon burst as we were informed that there were NO more tickets for tours that day.

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Trying a local favorite. It’s a churro that you dip into hot Nutella chocolate. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was worth trying!

We made a reservation to see La Sagrada Familia for the day we would fly back to Barcelona on October 26, since we would have about 6 hours once we landed from Lisbon. Seeing the outside of it but knowing we couldn’t go inside really hurt, but knowing we would eventually see the inside made it sting a little less.

We hoofed it up to Guell Park. Barcelona reminded me a bit of San Francisco with how steep most of the city streets are! By the time we made it to the park, we were SO sweaty and tired. It was a gorgeous 80 degree sunny day, so it made for the uphill walk to be quite hot.

Guell Park was super crowded, which made the experience a little less than special, but what can ya do? You also had to buy tickets to see the really cool and iconic spots in the park, and sadly for us, we ran into the same problem as we did at La Sagrada Familia. We had hoped that we could just get tickets the same day, but the only time they had available was at 6 PM that night, and we honestly didn’t want to come all the way back up the hill again. So, we walked around and saw what we could for free, and saw from afar the cool iconic and colorful buildings.

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Gaudi’s Home

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I had to take this photo from behind a fence 😦

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Just hanging out with Antoni Gaudi!

After our disappointing Gaudi explorations, we decided to head down to the waterfront and see what that was all about. Barcelona is so beautiful, and it seemed around every corner was some amazing old building. We even ran into another Gaudi building that I had completely forgotten about: Casa Batllo.

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Casa Batllo

We also stopped and ate our first taste of Tapas. We also discovered during this meal that lunch in Spain is the usually the biggest meal of the day, and takes about 3 hours!

Once at the waterfront we saw the Christopher Columbus Memorial, and some other impressive buildings, and then made our way up the coast to see the Magic Fountain. Once again, (although not my fault this time), we took a wrong turn and ended up take the extremely long way there. After an hour, we finally found a hotel that had a bus stop, and took the bus. The only thing was it was PACKED full! The three of us were jammed at the front of the bus and standing by the bus driver. One of the times he stopped the door smashed my foot! Luckily there was no real harm done.

We found some standing room at the Magic Fountain, and even though we had to wait an hour for the show to start, it was worth it! The show lasted about 30 minutes and was put to music. It put the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas to shame!

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Barcelona is a city I would love to see more of! We saw as much as we could for as cheaply as we could in the day that we had though. When we were walking to find the Magic Fountain, we got to see an amazing view of the city at night, so that was worth the walk too.

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Until next time!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette