I have shared a few pictures of our recent trip to Barcelona with the kids. The pictures show – as pictures tend to do – happy kids in a beautiful European city. I’ve always tried to be authentic in writing about travel with babies and travel with kids. I’ve recently added to my social media presence by joining instagram– lots of fun so far, but it has reminded me again about the importance of authenticity online.
Barcelona – authentic notes on a city break with kids
Who: me: mum: Sandy the carrier of Finn.
Jon: Dad: husband: aka the carrier of bags.
Rafa: the five year old who can not stand still.
Finn: the three year old who is still not very well toilet trained.
When: Three nights during the October half term 2018
The Cheat sheet:
We are not very good with 24hr clocks.
Time at the airport is always longer and more stressful than you think it will be.
Kids are basically happy to be taken to familiar places: playgrounds and the beach were their highlights.
Cultural attractions can be bribed with ice-cream.
I carried Finn in the harness at various points, this allowed us to do big touristy days out with a three year old, who can walk quite a long way, but would have struggled to keep up otherwise.
Picnics are winners.
Tapas Bars are winners the most.
Three days is a great amount of time in which to see the main city attractions.
A city break is far too busy to come back relaxed – I came back with a cold.
Top Tip: Short city breaks with kids are great family time. Families are loud, exhausting, funny, stressful, grubby and very rarely perfect.
The truth behind the insta perfect moment:
I love this picture, it was taken by my husband just as we were heading off for our ramble in the Gothic Quarter. We had checked out of our accommodation and had all our luggage with us. Within two hours of the picture being taken Finn’s legs were tired and I put him in the harness. Jon took my bag along with his own and Rafas. Finn had a huge wee in the harness, soaking through his clothes, the padded seat of the harness, and my dress. Thank goodness for dark colours.
For more authentic travel with kids and babies check out You Won’t Remember This- travel with babies
The long version of our family trip to Barcelona:
We had an evening flight on the Tuesday. Not ideal for the kids, but the most affordable option. All the packing got done after lunch. We just did carry on bags so we could get away from the airport quickly. We were packed, had an early dinner and were about to settle into killing time before going to the airport, when Jon got a text reminder about our departure time from the airline – which was two hours earlier than the departure time I had in my head. We scurried about got shoes on, double checked passports, had a final wee and headed off to the airport tram in a far less relaxed state of mind than we had planned.
I reminded Jon that I should never be trusted with 24 hour time – but we were on our way. Yippee.
At the airport:
Check in was straightforward as we had no bags to check and we got there early enough for there to be no queues. We got through security etc. with no more hassle than the usual stressed parent trying to keep two small children in a straight line while juggling passports, our bags, kids bags, toys, jackets and jumpers. And then we were back to killing time. It was at this point of the trip that I came up with a new family rule: superglue – which meant hold my hand and don’t let go… or it was supposed to… now it means walk sort of near me… or it was supposed to.
There were two play areas: one near gate nineteen, one near gate two. Our flight did not have a gate yet. We took a punt and headed to the play area near gate nineteen. It was relatively quiet and the boys played noisily, and mostly entertained themselves. I watched for the gate to come up on the departures screen. Jon caught up on work on the airport wifi.
The gate got announced. It was two. We gathered up all the boys toys, our bags and other debris. I put Finn into the harness on my back. We hiked to the other end of the airport, and waited again.
Direct from Edinburgh to Barcelona. I was seated in front of Jon and the boys. Finn had reached his tired threshold and cried and cried and cried very noisily to sit next to me. The staff found other seats to move the two people next to me and moved Finn. He was happy, and after take off he went to sleep. Before we landed I had to move him so that the armrests could go down. He cried and cried and cried.
When we got off the plane I put Finn into the harness again – on my front this time. He went back to sleep.
In the Gothic Quarter. We looked at various options but decided central was a good plan for such a short trip. We arranged a late check in with our accommodation. When the taxi dropped us off we had to search around a little bit to find the late arrival instructions. We were let in through the stunning foyer by a very kind man and shown to our room. Basic, clean, shared facilities and with windows out over a laneway with a very noisy bar.
Eventually everyone went to sleep. Then the garbage trucks came. Then we went to sleep again.
I woke up rather groggily. Jon found peppermint tea. It helped. The boys were very excitable. The slight change in time zones helped us out a bit – it was not as super early in Barcelona as it would have been in Edinburgh, but I was still very aware that everybody else in our accommodation was going to hear all their carry on. We went out in search of breakfast and coffee and found a cafe across the street. Fresh juice, pastries, coffee and more coffee for me set us up for the day. We made this our regular breakfast place for the whole trip.
We tried to plot our day over coffee. The weather report said this was going to be the sunniest day, so we went for beach, and cable car. We went back to our room. Packed everything for a day into one backpack and headed out. Got a block away and I realised I was going to need my hat. Jon went back for it. We headed off again. We realised that Rafa and I had hats, but Finn and Jon did not. We bought hats from a street seller and wandered on. We could see the cable car in the distance, but managed to walk the wrong way to get there. We looked at a lot of very expensive boats. Finn got tired and I put him in the harness on my back and carried him.
We found the Cable car. Win- both kids were free! I suspect that there would be times of the year when the queue for this attraction would be very long. Even in October it was not quick. There is a queue to buy the tickets. A queue to get into the lift and a queue once you are up the top of the cable car tower thing. There are also great views of the city and clean toilets to use while you wait. There was quite a lot of ‘why is it taking so long’ type complaining. Finn had a wee in the toilet – win.
We all loved being in the cable car, seeing the city far far down below.
There had been a lot of ‘I need an Ice cream’ type complaining through the morning. Ice cream was promised when we got to the top. Ice cream was delivered. And fries. And more coffee. This was our most touristy eating destination for the whole trip. Good views though.
Travel with small kids really needs to be timed around when they need feeding. Eating in Spain (according to the guidebooks) needs to be timed around siesta. With an eye on the clock we explored a bit, tried to keep the kids out of the fountain, tried to keep the kids out of the dirt, and then decided to head down to find some proper lunch near the beach.
More queues. More complaining. Lots of ‘I don’t want lunch I want to go to the beach.’
We decided on a picnic lunch via a beachside supermarket rather than risk the disquiet of a sit down meal. Bread, samami, cheese, a cold drink. As soon as we hit the sand Finn sat down and started digging. Rafa ran off towards the water. We found a bare patch of sand. We gathered up the boys and attmpted to feed and sun cream them. Attempted to get them to stay out of the water until we had something to eat. Attempted to keep the sand out of the food. Attempted to get the massage ladies, sarrong salesman, beer salesman, mojito salesman to leave us alone. We failed.
We had fun.
Later on we scraped as much sand as possible off ourselves and wandered through a new neighbourhood. We found a coffee place next to a local playground. The boys played, we revived. It was tempting to stop and eat again, but it was decided (by me) that it was not quite warm enough any more to sit outside. There was much complaining about leaving the playground.
We found a tapas place with friendly staff. We ate lots of tasty food. I had a cava. It was a perfect meal. Unfortunately we can never go back. Prior to departure Rafa stole Finns chocolate cake and destroyed it under the table, then Finn had a wee on the floor. We paid. I realised we had no more dry clothes for Finn. He went into the harness with wet jeans. We walked home just as most of the city was heading out for the night.
This was our sight seeing day. I wanted to see Sagrada Familia and Park Güell aka lots of Gaudi. We decided on the hop on hop off bus as best for little legs and seeing as much as possible of the city. On one of our hop on hop off moments we crossed Catalonia Square and the boys encountered a mob of pigeons. Then the rain came. We dashed to the bus and clambered, avoiding the downpour: or so we thought. The open rooftop of the first part of our journey had been replaced with a canvas roof… with many holes, and the windows were still open. We drove through Barcelona spotting notable sights, avoiding drips, and being soaked with dumps of water everytime we went around a corner.
I loved it.
At Sagrada Familia we had our first proper taste of big tour groups and crowds. We decided not go inside, but ogled the building from outside.
When we had had our fill of the spires and cranes we wandered back towards the bus, and sheltered under some trees. It was a good day for umbrella and rain coat salesmen, though presumably they find plenty of other things to sell on sunny days. Finn chose that moment to have a wee in his shorts. We decided that since he was already soaking wet from the rain we would leave him as he was.
The rain continued when we got back on the bus and the decision to sit in the relative dry of the downstairs of the bus was unanimous. The drop off point for Park Güell was actually nowhere near the park. This did mean we were able to find a local place to have lunch. It also meant a rather steep walk on tired legs. The rain had stopped and we kept them going up the hill with the promise of a playground.
There is part of Park Güell which is paid, and part of it which is open to the public to wander about in. Jon stayed with the boys while they played in the playground – which was in a foresty sort of spot but really could have been anywhere. I considered going into the paying section, but the timed entry meant it would have been about an hour until I could go in and I was conscious of the kids energy levels. I opted instead for walking about the curved, sculptural paths that wound up and up and up.
It was great to get a feel for this amazing park at my own pace, see the views out over the city and glimpse the famous mosaics. When I got back the boys were nowhere to be seen.
They eventually returned from a bathroom visit: clean trousers were required this time.
By the time we got back on the bus energy was low. We watched destinations and neighbourhoods slip by, read about their highlights in our guidebook, but even the football stadium got only a murmur of interest. We were done.
Back in the Gothic Quarter we glimpsed La Rambla but managed to find smaller, quieter streets to wander down. We were too early, or late for one or two food places, but we found a tapas bar open, got good chat from the staff and demolished a lot of meats, breads, cheese and tortilla. We managed to persuade the boys to have an after dinner meander with the promise of icecream and got a look at the promenading locals.
We headed back to our room about when everyone else was heading out.
I think after a few nights in unfamiliar beds we all slept best on the last night- an unavoidable issue of the short city break. By the time you have adapted to your new surroundings it is time to go. Without particularly planning it our last day was also our earliest start, so we were up, breakfasted, packed and out the door in record time. With a late afternoon flight we decided to take all of our luggage with us for the day rather than backtracking.
We kept it local and explored the sights of the Gothic Quarter. I was impressed with the boys behaviour in the Barcelona Cathedral. Rafa was in awe of the statue of Jesus on the cross and Finn wanted me to find mothers and babies for him to look at. They were actually scared of the geese – a famed highlight for children in the cathedral. After some more Gothic sight seeing all the boys really wanted to do was to find somewhere to stop and play with their toys.
I carried Finn again and we made our way though the Gothic maze to the Plaza Real getting tangled up in tour groups as we meandered around looking for sights listed in our guide book, and spotting other things. Finn had a huge wee down my back. Nice.
We camped out at Plaze Real by the fountain, putting dry clothes on Finn, people watching, soaking up the atmosphere and for those who needed it drying out our clothes in the sunshine. The small boys were delighted to get into their superhero game and oblivious to the selfies they bombed. The square is lined with outdoor eating possibilities. Being close to La Rambla made us dubious about committing to eating there, but eventually those of us who do not wee in our own pants made the decision to have an eating and bathroom stop.
We continued with our attempt to eat as much Patatas Bravas as possible and tried to get some calories into the children who were in a run around, be loud and complain sort of mood.
The thing that made this meal a winner was the street performers. I am not keen on street performers in general but this group of young, fit men did a very inspiring street acrobatic performance. T he boys actually sat still and watched it. I am ashamed to say we had no local currency on us having donated the last of our Euros at the cathedral, so these admirable performers got shrapnel which was a mixture of British and Australian currency.
Train to the airport:
After lunch we meandered towards the train station. Finn ended up back in the harness, with the promise that ‘I won’t wee on you any-more mummy.’ He was asleep on my back before we entered the underground. The staff at Catalonia Square told us exactly where to change trains and mid afternoon on the Friday it was not overcrowded. The train to airport option was a good one. Like going into the underground in London there were a few long tunnels and perhaps the longest, deepest escalators I’ve ever been on. Finn woke up on the second part of the journey and went into play mode with Rafa. We were just congratulating ourselves on a drama free airport journey when Finn had another huge wee, flooding the floor of the train. It was amusing to see how quickly everyone evacuated that end of the train. We pulled out our travel towels and mopped down the area and changed Finn again. I decided that at this point he could go into a pull up.
The return journey.
With non of the exhilarating ‘we are going on a holiday’ vibes the return journey was not much fun. We were all out of energy, the plane was delayed which made our quite good on paper arrival time really rather late. Jon found a power point at the airport and the boys watched a movie on his laptop- first screen time for the whole trip. The flight was pretty painless. This time it was Rafas turn to fall asleep. Finn chatted the whole way.
Back home we were thankfull again that we did not have to wait for bags to come out, but the customs arrival hall was as tiresome as ever. I was again pleased to have the harness to put Finn into. He fell asleep on the tram home.
In conclusion, a reminder: Short city breaks with kids are great family time. Families are loud, exhausting, funny, stressful, grubby and very rarely perfect.