The next stop on the “tag-along business trip train” was Barcelona for my husband’s work conference. Spain has always been a magical place for me. Beautiful guitar music floating through the streets, colorful Flamenco Dancers thrilling the crowds and some of the most inspiring architecture in the world for artists like myself. When I was five, I lived there for about a month with my family when my father was on assignment with the U.S. Air Force. So I know that seeing Spain through a child’s eyes can be like stepping into another world and I wanted to share the land of my ancestors with my children.
*The iconic Sagrada Familia
Walking Tour: Since some history tours can get old and boring for children we found a “Family Tour” that took us around the oldest part of Barcelona. It was a fun morning stroll through the Gothic Quarter where we were joined by a family from Georgia and another from Canada. Our guide, Ruth, is also a professional puppeteer so she made the excursion fun and lively for the kids with games, songs, and Spanish treats. We even got to meet some of the city’s most famous giants! They are the paper-mâché creations that are the headliners in Barcelona’s biggest festivals. And talk about having a “big head”, some are more than ten feet tall with heads two to three feet wide but that's mostly so they can be seen in the large crowds. The kiddos were even crowned kings and queens! It was part of a real royal story were we got to see where some of the past kings and queens of Spain used to live.
*The “Giants” of Barcelona
Sagrada Familia: We were told by many people not to miss Barcelona’s iconic church and Architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famous work. To be honest, I wasn't sure about it since I'd only seen pictures of the outside and one person described it as looking like “mud”. However since so many wonderful reviews called it a “must see”, we did go see and I'm glad we did. Although the hand audio guides didn't have a kid’s channel it was fascinating for the little ones. Gaudi was inspired by nature and he designed the cathedral’s main pillars to look like tall trees. Once we pointed that out to the kids, the church turned into a wonderful walk through the woods for them as we had them search for sculpture animals throughout this yet unfinished masterpiece. It was a way to teach the kids that whatever inspires us can be used and incorporated into our work. The tour takes about an hour and a half. Then when you're done there’s a nice park and playground across the street so your little ones can work off some wiggles and you can rest your feet.
*The "trees" of Sagrada Familia
The Beach: We headed about 30 minutes south of town to the beaches of Gava Mar near the hotel where my husband was having his business conference. Since I'm not a big “beach goer” I'm glad we got there a day early so my hubby could play in the waves with us. We enjoyed the clean sand and clear water until we noticed many topless women and a few naked little boys! So my girls learned something else that day. When swimming, swimsuits are optional for Europeans but NOT optional for us Texas gals. That's a new “mommy” rule.
Doctor’s Visit: As a parent one of the things that worries me most is what to do when traveling and a child gets sick. I've often thought, I'd rather it be me. So in true mommy martyr style, I was the one who got sick after sleeping with the windows open. Tip, make sure your rented apartment has an actual air-conditioning unit and not just a couple of windows with an oscillating fan. Unfortunately my illness hit me the hardest on a Sunday the day before we were to get on a plane back to Texas. So my husband got online and Googled “Barcelona urgent care”. He found a service where the doctors not only work on Sundays but they also make home visits! Dr. Castro was not only kind, spoke perfect English but he also has a daughter living in Houston! Did it cost me an arm and a leg? Surprisingly it didn't, it was 90 Euros for the visit and 5 Euros for the antibiotics. But to me it was priceless compared to the excruciating pain I once experienced while flying with a sinus infection. It's probably less painful to have someone just chop-off your head!
-The local eating schedule is much different than in the states. Lunch is generally served from 2:00 to 4:00 and dinner after 8:30. So if that won't work for your kiddos, get lots of snacks and a mid-day “siesta” before dinnertime. Or there are some eateries that cater to tourist hours but you'll have to do some research to find them.
-We went in late June when it was starting to get pretty hot and sticky. We're told late spring or early fall have the nicest temperatures but August is when some shops and restaurants close down for the month.
-Avoid long lines at some of Barcelona’s most popular attractions like the Sagrada Familia by making reservations online.
-Many of the city’s shops and restaurants have limited air conditioning some have none at all. So take advantage of all the tourist shops selling beautiful Spanish hand fans and buy a few, you'll need them.
-When washing your hands or taking a shower remember “C” is not for “cold,” you're in Spain, so it stands for “caliente” which means hot. The “F” is for “frio” which means cold.
Overall our European vacation was a wonderful time full of fun memories that will last a lifetime. We found plenty of things to do with the kids while still making it interesting for us adults. And it was even better because we got to see all the sights through the exuberant eyes of a joyous child. If you're like me, nothing is more fun than watching your children having fun and learning at the same time. In the end, I learned that one of the MOST important lessons you need to teach your children when visiting Europe is ….. a bidet (pronounced “bi-day”) is NOT for washing out their swimsuits! Lesson learned.