After Saya testing negative the day before a 7am departure, we hurriedly packed our bags for Tenerife. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, and hosts tourists year around on the southern tip of the island. While the kids draped themselves across me for the flight, I meditated on the fact that an all-inclusive resort was less than five hours away.
Upon arrival, Corey and I fell into our routine in Spanish speaking countries. He confidently chats to the bus driver and wait staff while I listen cautiously and supply Corey with vocabulary terms when he’s tripped up in his conversations. Saya learnt that her parents could get through context specific conversations not speaking in English, and started to make her own words up telling us she was speaking in ‘a new language’.
We attempted the central pool though the cloud cover made it a bit too chilly, so the staff offered a randomly small pool on the roof. About the length of a mini-van we were in a large, warm bathtub for our afternoon swim, but because Saya could stand in the pool and we could look out over the ocean, there were no complaints from us.
For some, ‘all inclusive’ means all-day drinking, or all-day tanning, but my definition is ‘all day without cooking’ and everyone can eat what they want. However, the buffet opened just before bedtime so for the first night we went out to get burgers, of all things, and then the kids hit the pillows hard. The evening entertainment was a mini-disco for kids who have a later bedtime, and a couple of drinks in the lobby bar for Corey and me.
The next morning proved to be too chilly for swimming again so we donned our hoodies and went to watch the surfers along the promenade. Sweatshirts and sand take me back to Northern California beaches. I appreciate digging into soft sand, listening to waves, and not being slathered in sunscreen in the hot sun. We visited a black sand beach with surfing waves, as well as little inlet with calmer waters. We went back to these throughout the day, and didn’t look back at the pool.
We found playgrounds, and little places to stop on the volcanic rocks during our family walks. It felt good to have little to do except be together, play together, and nap together. The Saturday and Sunday evening performances were a step up from the previous night’s mini-disco. A Bruno Mars/Megan Trainor act and trio of gentleman singing everything from Funiculi/Funicula to Sweet Caroline become more entertaining as we refilled our glasses, and the stars came out.
The flight home features Sachi and me because Saya and Corey had a really good nap together. And, the girls were troopers the whole way home. Taking a bus, flight, air-train, and finally a taxi would be exhausting for any adult, however, even in these tiresome moments, I think being together kept everyone together, and gave us all a shoulder to rest on.
Corey was the motivating force in planning a trip beyond England. Though he booked everything last minute, he was researching family travel abroad on various websites, and through numerous colleagues and friends who’d also been on a recent trip abroad. I needed reassurance, and a clear concept of what the steps would be for each leg of the journey. I purchased water nappies, snacks, and ‘items that stick’ for Saya’s airplane activity kit. Then we posted our out of office messages, and left at 5am for Heathrow on Thursday morning. Saya was an excellent traveler on this leg of the journey. She babbled in the cab, and ate to her heart’s content on the flight. We got her for a short nap as well so she’d be ready for the Greek sunshine when we arrived.
It was clear many British families had the same plans as we did! The majority of the resort guests were from the UK- like 99.9% I’d estimate. We checked into our room, explored the grounds, and found a perfect sized playground for Saya, right outside the main food hall. It was 30 degrees and we couldn’t wait for the sunny adventures ahead.
Each day started with an early breakfast buffet that was followed up by a morning swim at the pool. We’d break for a snack (usually dried fruit or a banana that I’d lifted into my purse from the breakfast buffet), and then hit the playground for swings and slides. We’d be the first family lined up at the dining hall for lunch. This was so Corey could score an al fresco table with a highchair, while I loaded up plates for lunch that always included a Greek salad. We discussed the important point of whether or not a Greek salad was actually called a ‘Greek salad’ now that we were in Corfu. Corey mentioned that the staff all seemed responsive when we pointed and named the salad amongst others at the salad bar, so we concluded we didn’t need any further digging into the topic. We’d have a family nap in our room after lunch before our afternoon swim in the sea. Corey and I decided that we liked the sea compared to the pool, though Saya’s stamina was much shorter than we expected for both. After 20 minutes, she’d want to explore the shore, the rocks, and the little wave pools along the sand. Corey reported that his main highlight of this trip was taking Saya into the sea for the first time as the water was clear enough to see small fish, and warmer than the resort pool.
We would return after a couple hours to shower off all the sunscreen, and be first in line for the dinner buffet. By the way, my highlight of the trip was not cooking any meals, and having watermelon served during every buffet. After dinner, Saya would attempt to visit the playground again, and we were do anything to distract her so we could get back to our room for her bedtime routine. By the third night, we discovered that handing her the room key was the best way to get to her go directly back to the room. Being charged with this important task was the motivation she needed to bypass the slide. It’s safe to say that the highlight for Saya’s trip was likely the playground…and probably having the attention of both parents nonstop.
After she’d fall asleep, we’d turn on the baby monitor and sit outside in the warm evening under the sky speckled with stars. I’d usually turn in earlier than Corey, and he’d wander the resort playing the music trivia games, or checking the resort mini-disco.
A fun coincidence on this trip was a colleague arriving in Corfu a couple days after us and only staying a 17 minute drive away. They picked us up in their rental car, and whisked us through olive orchards, and small fruit stands to their private accommodation! We enjoyed the local taverna overlooking the sea with a serious order of surf and turf for our first lunch together. Saya enjoyed her first taste of octopus and calamari and we couldn’t get enough of the souvlaki.
I supported Corey decision to book later return flights so we could have a full last day. My colleague, and her daughter who is exactly two months younger than Saya, kept us busy with a morning swim at theirs. The pool was inhabited by a small frog which kept us all busy as we swam around one another. We finally got a colander and placed the frog in the bushes so we could have less of a wary swim! We couldn’t say no to another taverna lunch and Saya caught a quick nap before we loaded our gear into a taxi for the airport.
Our journey home started with Saya being carsick all over me, but Corey and I worked together to check in, pass through security, and find our gate, with her being as comfortable as possible. The family bathroom was a gem in the middle of the Corfu airport to say the least. The flight activity bag that I’d assembled was put to good use and helped pass the time between snacks, and a couple of attempts for a second nap (which definitely didn’t happen).
By Heathrow Express, we were all tuckered out. Saya wasn’t inspired by the plane, train, and automobile trifecta we planned for this leg of the journey. She let us know this at various points. But we agreed that a full last day was worth it, and she slept as soon as her head hit the crib when we arrived home.
It took us a week to unpack and finish laundry. The warm memories of Corfu sustained us through a rainy week in London. Corey’s mom said ‘we still have to live life’ when we reported we would be traveling out of the country, and that felt very true on this four day adventure. Corey’s motivation to always live this life to the fullest is what I didn’t know I needed at this time, yet I’m clear it was the exact thing for our family this August.
Our first day in Brussels was grey and bright. It was a day for exploring some of the beautiful sights of the city, walking block to block peeking down the small alleys, and catching the art that wraps along the city walls.
The Grand Place was the first place that I wanted to highlight for my mom. It was easy to walk to from the station, and around the corner from our accommodation: the Gallerie of Nail Salons (not the official name, but 99.9% of the shops in this small mall were nail shops, and our flat was right above them).
We walked to Saint Catherine Square, an area that used to have a canal, and that is known for its seafood. There were enticing were fish shops selling fresh smorreboard toasts and soups in outdoor tents, but it was too chilly to have Saya sit in her pram while we munched. We were drawn into Monk. The front section is just for pints and wine, but the small back ‘buffet’ room does one dish for lunch: spaghetti. You select your meal in three parts: 1) sauce, 2) size of bowl, 3) cheese. I got the basic bolognese, regular-sized bowl, with parmigiano. Bachan went for the special bolognese. We wouldn’t have known the difference in the sauce except that the server highlighted/warned us about the special sauce since she knew Americans don’t traditionally eat horse. My mom’s conclusion was that eating horse sounded more intense than the flavor itself. Ultimately, we were happy to be in a place that did one dish, and one dish very well.
Saya was still asleep in her pram after lunch. I wanted to walk around for another ten minutes to round her nap to a full hour before heading into the Bozar Art Centre. Our additional ten minute walk took us to Mont des Arts- an unexpected gem! We found the garden, the look out, the graffiti art, and a gentleman playing an acoustic guitar such a surprise. We felt smitten that we’d come upon the space by accident.
The Bozar Art Centre was buzzing. Students were milling about and studying Keith Haring, while the staff were briskly setting up a variety of evening events. It felt similar to the Barbican centre in London with a lot going on at the same time. Saya slept the entire time so we wandered through the exhibit as well as the gift shop.
We ate at Taverne du Passage for dinner, a recommendation from my friend Marta. It’s a cosy brasserie inside a luxury gallerie hall. The stick-to-your-ribs chicken stew was a great order, and Saya enjoyed the buttered bread, and salmon from Bachan’s plate. We capped off the evening with a Belgian waffle covered in Nutella and dark chocolate. It was a wonderful start to our 48 hour trip.
On Wednesday, we had a usual morning with Saya: early wake up, breakfast, playing, and nap. We planned our daily itinerary during her nap so we knew the first stop of the day would be the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. It resides in a Victor Horta building that was originally a clothing manufacturing warehouse for its first seventy years. From 1980-1989, it was reinvented into the comic strip centre, giving life to the art nouveau staircases, sprials, and stained glass. While the comics were artistically impressive and unique, it was a bit too complex for Saya, so we made our own fun out of the extra large puzzles on the second floor. (The only element to avoid is the horrible lunch in the museum cafe. Looks are unfortunately deceiving with this one.)
With Saya sleeping in the pram, we took the opportunity to shop at Melting Pot Kilo, a vintage-type store where you pay 15 euro for every kilo of clothing you purchase. My mom’s wool fisherman sweater and my scarves “weighed” about 9 euro. My mom also caught a local art show where creatives molded and shaped various natural objects like bone, stone, and fish scales.
We found seats that Delirium cafe for a taste of Floris Wit, the Campus Lager, a Guillotine brew, and the original Delirium Tremens. I wanted my mom to experience a variety of flavors since the Delirium campus holds the Guinness World Record of over 2000 beers in one pub. Saya enjoyed the atmosphere of beer banners and coasters, and my mom sipped until her cheeks turned rosy.
We returned to St Catherine’s Square with the expectation of a fish dinner, but the first restaurant was too noisy, the second was closed, and the third….well, we found Les Filles, and that made us forget about a fish dinner. Finding the restaurant is like searching for a speakeasy, and once buzzed upstairs, you are welcomed into a toasty dining room that feels like your family friend has cooked you a holiday meal. There are three dutch ovens steaming with treasures within. I selected a vegetarian option, while my mom went for the roasted chicken tagine. The middle pot has a side dish that complements both menus. You serve yourself what you want, when you want. Saya ate some pumpkin and mashed potatoes before she started throwing food on the ground. I embarrassingly brought out a pre-made food pouch to quell her enthusiasm. The dessert area was equal to the mains, and my favorite was the homemade vanilla yogurt that accompanied the fruit tarts.
Our final day was a rainy one. We created an itinerary that included sites as well as a tick list of Belgian foods: frites, chocolate, beer, waffles and mussels (which we had to avoid in case my mom was allergic). The chocolate was the only thing left on our list! I had a plan.
The Musée des Instruments de Musique featured so many instruments, all shapes and sizes, and various materials. It was the first time I noted how horns have so many metal loops and swirls, and how recorders are an instrument of the ages. We bought Saya a musical shaker that she rattled throughout the first floor, drawing smiles from the other guests.
Le Perroquet is an institution for pitas. The biblical menu is accompanied by a separate card with English, Spanish and Dutch translations. Being overwhelmed with options, I opted for the restaurant’s namesake pita and was not disappointed.
Saya’s afternoon nap for Saya meant it was time for chocolate wandering/tasting. We hit up Wittamer, Corne Port-Royal, Pierre Marcolini, and Neuhaus. Pierre Marcolini was the tastiest, and Wittamer was a close second. But as a new mom, I’d say all chocolate tastes more delicious when your baby is sleeping through your chocolate treasure hunt!
Our Eurostar was on time, and Saya tuckered herself out climbing up and down on the tray table for half of the trip. Corey gave us a warm welcome with a Zaffrani dinner when we arrived home from our delightful trip to Brussels.
Les Filles – best dinner we had, and we hear there host a great brunch as well
I get my fill of art when Bachan visits London. I see her energized by our ventures to local and major art exhibitions. Her preference is modern art, but she’ll muse over the masters, too. For her annual October visit, we started at the Barbican for their Cabaret exhibit, and then had afternoon tea in their conservatory. On a rainy Sunday, we trekked out to a craft fair featuring Japanese Shibori and textiles. The artist in my mom was even enthused when we selected a handful of house plants to decorate our flat.
I sandwich in a now-customary mini vacation during her visits to London. I knew I had to perfect place to feed her artistic imagination. Amsterdam boasts a MuseumKwartier that could fill at least a week of museum wanderlust. We stayed across the street from the quad so we could walk over whenever suited.
We arrived on the Eurostar and ate lunch at Foodhallen. It’s an easy space for groups to find a meal, and it’s situated in the same building as an up and coming artist shop. The shop features a tattoo parlor for store bought items. You ‘tattoo’ directly onto the cover of a journal, mug, glasses case, t-shirt, etc. We skipped the ‘ink’ but it’s an idea I hadn’t seen before. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the canal rings to give my mom a sense of the city, and to give her some practice crossing the streets between the infamous bike and tram lanes.
For me, the first sight to see has to be the Anne Frank House. I always book tickets for the first entry in the morning to see the space as empty as possible. My mom admitted she wasn’t sure she wanted to start the trip with such a heartbreaking exhibit but was ultimately glad she did. Saya also did very well in the small and narrow annex.
From the Anne Frank House, you can wander the nine streets, and take yourself to stroopwaffles at Lanskroon bakery. I led us towards the sandwich place that Ev suggested to get burgers, but we were distracted by the line outside the soup place across the street: Soup en Zo – Spiegel. It was a better lunch option as my mom was beginning to feel a bit under the weather. We took our soups back to our hotel and had a much a needed siesta.
That Moco Museum was the perfect sized space for an afternoon visit. The museum is dedicated to Banksy, Kusama, and other modern artists who are becoming icons in their own right. The elements of social justice intertwined with cartoons and sculpture made use giddy to discuss the artists long after we left the exhibit.
De Pijp neighborhood is on the other side of the MuseumKwartier but I can see how tourists miss heading in that direction because they’re pulled back into the canal rings. I’m glad we ventured out to find a local spot called The Seafood Bar. It was a relaxing space for an early dinner, nothing frilly, and just basic good eats. Saya was even lulled to sleep in the chill atmosphere!
It’s pretty clear that my mom was under the weather on our last full day in Amsterdam. We took it easy and only went to the largest museum in Amsterdam: The Rijksmusem!? I booked a tour so that we could see one section of the museum comparing Rembrandt and Velazquez. This was my plot so that I wouldn’t become overwhelmed like my previous self in the Prado and the Lourve. We took a rainy walk back to De Pijp to have an early dinner at the Spaghetteria before tucking ourselves into bed.
On the final morning, we hit the Stedelijk Museum for modern Japanese poster art. As we waited for the museum to open, a small boy took an interest in Saya and kept poking his head into the pram. This entertained us until we were able to enter the museum. The posters were fun, and some we connected with right away: like the one with all the tree kanji creating a ‘forest’, or the global warming poster with a giraffe and the continents as her spots. We wanted to spend more time here but had to catch the Eurostar back to London in the early afternoon.
Though we know that Saya is Bachan’s muse when she visits London, the museums of Amsterdam didn’t hurt one bit when it came to a little inspiration. My mom will tuck away these moments of inspiration to feature later in a new block print, a New Years poem, or a fun outfit for Saya when she returns next.
The most anticipated part of our three day weekend was Saya taking her first flight. I tried to quiet my anxious feelings by pinpointing exactly what I was nervous about. I recognized that we wouldn’t be able to get off a flight the way you can do with a bus or the tube, but that wasn’t quite it. No, it wasn’t that passengers would crane their neck to spot that baby crying again. Like the flight attendant noted “We’d never see these people again”. It was the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign. That we would need to remain in our seats at specific times. I wouldn’t be able to ‘shh shh shh’ her standing up at my whim. Corey wouldn’t be able to do the ‘electric slide’ in the aisles to quiet any spontaneous cries. We would be at the mercy of that signal and be stuck with whatever Saya was feeling at the time until we could stand again.
I shared my worry out loud with Corey which helped me prepare for the flight. We’ve heard her cry longer than the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign would be on in the first two weeks of her life. We could do this and so could she. We rose at 3:30am to catch an express train to Stansted airport. Security was thorough but pleasant, and there was only a slight delay for the flight. We boarded, and at least three people cooed at Saya while finding their seats. She sat unaware, pulling on the drawstrings of the hood of her dad’s raincoat. Security features were announced along with a quick apology for the delay, and then the light blinked on signaling we were to remain in our seats. Lockdown time. I inhaled. I fumbled with a muslin cloth to get it over my shoulder to feed Saya during take off. Corey heard this is comforting when ears pop. Then I had to make sure that Saya wasn’t kicking the person next to me while she fed. Corey ensured her infant seat belt was fastened. Then we took off and…Saya was perfect. She didn’t cry. She wasn’t fussy. She fed until the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign was turned off. I was able to stand when she needed to fall asleep and then we disembarked. She slept on Corey for the hour bus ride from Bilbao to San Sebastian. I exhaled. The start of this was many successful firsts for this weekend. For this post, I’m attempting to use Saya’s firsts to set up the narrative for each incredible day in San Sebastian with our new family.
I texted Corey this screenshot to remind him to come home after his after-work drinks on Thursday night.
Content as ever.
We’re on an airplane! Thanks for the sollywrap, Auntie Erica and Uncle Brian.
Bus to San Sebastian
The most obvious place to start is that this was our first time in San Sebastian. It’s a town famous for food, particularly pintxos, or small bites (pronounced pinchos). We were prepared. We had three different lists about where to eat within a two mile radius. Our lists all confirmed that Bar Nestor should be the first stop. Saya slept while we chowed down on Chuleta de Vaca Vieja and a simple tomato salad. Perfect combo.
We skipped the padron peppers as our eyes were set on the next pintxos bar, Gandarias. Finally, we finished our lunch rounds at La Vina for their famous cheese cake. You probably guessed this entire post is likely to be about food and more food.
Shrimp and garlic and BACON
Constitution Plaza take 2
La Vina’s cheesecakes: Tarte de queso
La Vina doesn’t seem to cook their cake all the way through
It was surprisingly easy to keep up with Saya’s rhythm of eat, play, sleep and it was my first time letting her settle herself in her pram when it came to various nap times. We used these opportunities to walk the streets of Old Town and shop before starting pintxos round two.
Proud Poppa Bear
At Mason Martin, we tried Txakoli (pronounced chacoli) for the first time. This led us to stay out past her bedtime, a decision that predictably ended in tears outside the restaurant. The evening consisted of Saya’s first bath in a hotel sink, a first bedtime with blackout curtains (which we sorely need at home), and her first time falling asleep in her travel cot without tears.
Saya woke on her own at 6:45am. Thank you, blackout curtains. We ventured to Tabakalera, an old tobacco factory repurposed into an art space. It was Saya’s first time seeing Vivian Maier photos, and her first time posing with street art.
Good morning, San Sebastian!
Dad getting the perfect photo.
Here is his work of art.
Random thrift shop that Saya’s bachan would love.
We walked to Gros, a neighborhood behind the surfer beach, and outside the old town. Bodega Donostiarra is a great lunch. We recommend the tuna, anchovy and pepper pintxos along with the bonito bocadillo. Instead of Txakoli, try the sidra (cider) and have an additional plate: chorizo tortilla. Skip the octopus. During this meal, we watched Saya be lulled to sleep by a brass band. This was a first, and likely a last, for nap time.
To take a break from eating, we strolled to the beach to watch the surfers, and then circled various blocks farther out to get a feel for some of the neighborhood blocks. The number of abuelas who pinched Saya’s cheeks was pretty impressive. I finally caught one in a photo below. We snacked at El Doble where you should get the ham bocadillos.
Such a ‘muneca’ (doll)
El Doble bocadillo
Sidra pours are serious!
Across the bridge, back in Old Town, we sampled Mari Juli (smoked salmon pintxos with anchovy), garlic calamari and albondigas at Goiz-Argi. Betti-jai is right down the lane so we picked up some more bites. Later we found out this is a Michelin star spot but I’d still crown Bar Nestor and visit Bodega Donostiarra before going back to Betti-jai.
Back to old town
Calamari at Goiz-Argi (best choice in my opinion)
Goiz-Argi: known for Mari Juli
Corey selecting at Betti-jai
I picked out Saya’s first popsicle at Loco Polo: vegan horchata with dark chocolate and caramelized peanuts. She sat patiently as we devoured our treats, and I’m enjoying the fact that she has no clue about sweets, and therefore doesn’t grab at anything.
Then, a wonderful thing happened after my late afternoon nursing session with Saya. We got up from the bench, rounded the corner, and ran into a large gathering of people. There was a stage with live music, and many people milling around with drinks. We had just walked into Saya’s first wine festival. Tickets for ten Euro provided three glasses of wine on site, and a souvenir bottle of wine to take home. It was unreal. Armed with our tickets, we sampled whites and roses. I placed my glass down briefly on another couple’s table to take the picture of Corey (below), and they offered to take our first non-selfie family picture. It turns out they were from Mill Valley, and the woman was Sansei from Hawaii. Such a small world, and such an amazing ending to day two!
*I started this post with Saya’s firsts, but today, Corey’s first takes the cake: his first nectarine (not really, but he was born again!) This was probably the best thing we ate all weekend. Seriously. You can’t argue with this video.
On our final day, Saya had her first trip to the beach. She wore sunblock for the first time. She donned her swimsuit (Thanks, Tata Sam!), a pink bucket hat (Thanks, Auntie Sarah!), and she felt sand and the sea on her toes- all firsts for our baby girl.
The best meal of the day was at our first stop: Atari Gastroleku. The huevo a baja temperatura, the smoked sardine pintxo, and the bell pepper pintxo were ace (as they say in London). I also thought the mari-juli was better here than yesterday’s stop at Goiz- Argi. PS: Saya slept in her pram under the table!
Bell pepper and olive and caviar? Yum!
Solomillo was maso-menos
Huevo baja de temporada
Mari Juli and… I’m not sure the other one.
Smoked sardine had me at hello
We visited Bar Baztan. Most of their pintxos attempted to display the tallest mounds of food on top of a single piece of bread. Bar Narrika wasn’t crowded but I wasn’t mad at their sardine toast.
Before we knew it, it was time to catch a cab to the bus station for the coach back to Bilbao. Saya slept against my chest while Corey and I recounted all of the firsts I should include in my blog. My nerves didn’t come up once on the bus ride. This flight was the first time Saya flirted with strangers. She smiled at two different women in line. This flight went even better than the first (she slept on Corey the entire flight while we watched Knock Down the House). We caught ‘the not Gatwick Express’ on accident and Saya was alert as ever but not fussed at all that it took so long to get to Victoria station. Would you believe we sat next to a family from Berkeley?! She did the last leg of the trip asleep on the tube to Highbury and Islington station where I snapped this photo once we got back into our neighborhood. We were impressed with our offspring to say the least. Saya gave us so much confidence for our upcoming travels. She’s made this first family vacation a special memory.
Quick Hits: I’m super thankful for the restaurant suggestions from friends and created this googlemap before we left on our trip. Upon return, I’d list these as my top recommendations:
Bar Nestor- steak and tomato salad; there is also a famous tortilla that you need to wait in line for about 90 min before opening, and before dinner service
Atari Gastroleku- any of the pintxos with smoked sardines or smoked salmon, plus the huevo a baja temperatura; we also saw many tables order the pulpo racciones (octopus)
Bodega Donostiarra- tuna, anchovy and pepper pintxos and sidra