The thrill of arriving somewhere new always reminds me of my childhood. Standing at the candy counter of the local corner store, looking at the large selection of candy in all its glory. What should I choose today? Is it going to be the lemon drops? The milk duds? I wanted it all.
Travel evokes those same emotions. The imminent exploration! My mind races. What should we do first? Where should we eat? What’s that building? What is THAT!?
No matter how many cities and countries I’ve been to, the feeling is always there. It’s there for new places and places re-visited.
Our first big European trip as a family of four was to Barcelona. It was a trip filled mostly with excitement and a sprinkling of nervousness. We knew that traveling as a family would present different challenges.
There’s always a fine balance of creating the right mix of adult and kid activities so that neither party will declare war on the other. And let’s be honest, minimize the meltdowns. They’re going to happen, it’s just a matter of when and where. We all hope it’s not in the middle of a crowded space where your kid suddenly decides the most comfortable place to lay down is on a sticky, disgusting street wailing at the top of their lungs. Been there, done that.
We had a loose schedule for each day that included sightseeing in the morning when the kids were the most behaved, followed by a park or playground, a siesta in the late afternoon, and an evening walk of the neighborhoods. This rhythm worked well for us.
There was also usually a bribe or the more appropriate term “positive reinforcement” for the kids. It was typically a sweet from the local bakery or in the case of Barcelona, the fruit popsicle.
Favorite Barcelona Moments
These little popsicles were sold everywhere. It was hard to walk 30 feet (10m) without seeing a storefront, juice place, or cart that didn’t sell them. There was nothing better than spotting a stand out of the corner of our eyes and making the very difficult decision of choosing just one. They were amazingly fresh and delicious with a wide range of familiar and more tropical flavors. Papaya and blackberry were among our favorites…..and of course this counted as one of our daily servings of fruit, no?
The beginning of Lincoln’s first love affair, Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Jamon is a dried cured ham from Spain and arguably some of the best ham in the world. In Barcelona, you’ll find many charcuterie stores that sell a selection of cured meats. Some of them even have takeaway cones! We came across this one while wandering the back streets of Barcelona and fell in love with its old-world atmosphere. You can find Xarcuteria La Pineda in the Gothic Quarter.
If you like magical forests, this is the place for you. If you don’t believe in magical forests, come here and you will. Battling the swarm of tourists so that you can be embraced in the light of the cathedral is well worth it. It’s breath-taking not only in its beauty but also its scale. On the audio tour, I began to really get a sense of how Gaudi valued nature and light and brought his amazing interpretation to life.
When we were tired of the city, we made our way up to this park. It’s hidden in the hills north of the city center. Tucked away just far enough to feel remote, yet still offer breath-taking views of the city and sea. There is Gaudi architecture to wander through, street musicians to discover, and pre-historic rock like structures to climb. It’s very easy to spend half a day here.
This beach gets mixed reviews because of its proximity to the city center. I thought it was perfect for what we needed, a day away from the city. I’m sure there are nicer, more quiet beaches further up the coast with less touts and people but given it’s 1.3km (.8 miles) from the Gothic Quarter, it was fantastic. There are restaurants, a nice boardwalk, and fantastic people watching.
Let’s hope that few people need to ever visit a medical clinic while on vacation. Unfortunately, I needed one for an infected incision. After some furious research, I learned that Spain has some of the best medical care in Europe. I asked our host where the nearest clinic was and made my way there. I’m always uneasy entering any medical facility but one in a foreign country elevated that uneasiness. Fear of the unknown. What I encountered was efficient service, a very knowledgeable staff, and immaculate conditions. The entire visit took 45 minutes and I was on my way with a prescription. Since we are a part of the U.K National Health Service (NHS) there is a reciprocity program with most European countries. I showed the admin my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and my care was free. American Congress, are you taking note?
The good: There are a lot of playgrounds in Barcelona. The bad: You discover one every 10 minutes and your kids claim they haven’t been to a playground in “forever” even though you just left the last playground. I won’t complain though since it’s better than zero playgrounds. Plus, you’ll find some with cafes and outdoor seating lining the perimeter. This one located behind La Boqueria was one of our favorites and had cafes serving cappucinos and french fries.
We walked past this placed. Drooled. Decided we really didn’t need a chocolate cake. Walked for 5 minutes. Stopped. Did an immediate U-turn. We then went overboard as if we hadn’t been eating fruit popsicles and other tasty treats all week. The vegan chocolate cake was amazing.
This restaurant was recommended to us by locals. As soon as we walked in, we knew that it was not your typical restaurant where you sit down and order off a menu. There was a selection of fresh seafood, like a fish market, that greeted us upon entry. We couldn’t quite decipher what we needed to do. So, humbly, we stumbled our way through pointing out different types of seafood that we wanted to eat. We then had the option of grilled or fried. We chose grilled. You then sit down with your number and when called, you come up and get your freshly grilled seafood one plate at a time. It was delicious. A reminder that good ingredients, simply prepared, is all you need sometimes.
One of the easiest, most delicious tapas that we ate. Its origin is from the Catalan region of Spain and typically eaten for breakfast. It has made its way throughout Spain and I can see why. You can find the recipe here.
Trip Details: Planning, Logistics, and Learnings
This was a 9 day trip which some would argue is too long for one city. For us, I think it was perfect. It meant we didn’t have to be on the run every single day. It meant that we could slow down and visit our favorite food shops more than once. It also meant we weren’t exhausted by the time we arrived home.
Things that went well:
- Afternoon siesta. We followed the lead of the Spanish and went out in the morning doing the more touristy type things. We then came back for a siesta and either took naps, quietly worked in our travel journals or watched TV. By around 4pm we were refreshed and ready to go out for a walk and find dinner.
- Staying in the Gothic Quarter (Barrio Gótico) where restaurants, small grocery stores, fruit popsicles, and shops were easily accessible.
- Only doing one “tourist” thing per day and always finding a playground (or 2 or 3).
- Renting an apartment through Hotels.com so that we could have meals back at the apartment. It’s hard to have 3 meals out a day with children so it allowed us to eat in for 2 of the 3 meals each day. We usually use Homeaway but found this one on Hotels.com.
- Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour: I have this secret (or maybe not so secret) disdain for them but they are so effective in seeing the city in a short period of time that I always give in. The biggest selling point for me is that it lets me decide what is worth going back to visit.
Learnings from our trip:
- Book your tickets to sites ahead of time. We showed up at Park Guell thinking we could just buy tickets at the gate. Tickets were sold out for the day by the time we got there at noon so we had to return several days later.
- Use only ATM machines attached to banks. We had an incident with an ATM that decided to stop working after it took our card. Since it was attached to the outside of a hotel, there was nothing anybody could do for us. Even at a bank, we wouldn’t have been able to get the card back but at least we could verify it was secure. We were mostly concerned that our debit card would randomly spit back out at some point.
- There is always food available. Although many restaurants close in the afternoon and reopen in the evening, there is enough pizza and bakeries that stay open in case the kids (or you) need to eat during the off hours.
- Consider the layover. We bought inexpensive tickets for this flight which included a 6 hour layover in Munich. Although it ended up working out since we found a Kinderland playground right outside the airport, we will probably try to avoid this type of layover on future flights. Read here for more things to consider when booking flights.
- Lonely Planet Barcelona for additional general information about travel to Barcelona. It’s the travel guide that we use the most.
- Travel Insurance: Since we travel so much, we purchase an annual travel insurance policy through our auto and home insurance company. It is much more cost effective for us. For general travel insurance, World Nomads comes highly recommended.
- US State Department Travel Alerts and Warnings. The US State Department has a page alerting of any concerns they may have of traveling to specific countries. As with all data, cross reference with news and other sources so that you can make the most educated decision for you.
- Center for Disease Control Travel site. This US site provides information on health related travel questions. Here is the UK NHS travel site.
- Booking Apartment Style accomodations, we have used Homeaway for the past 10 years and had a great experience. The key is to read all the reviews.
- Booking Hotel accomodations, we typically use expedia.com, hotels.com, or booking.com.