The next stop on the tagalong business-trip train—which I’d jumped on with kids in tow—was Barcelona for my husband’s work conference. Spain has always been a magical place for me. I love the beautiful guitar music, colorful flamenco and inspiring architecture. Having lived there for about a month with my family when I was five and my father was on assignment with the US Air Force, I knew seeing the country through a child’s eyes is like stepping into another world. I wanted to share it with my children.
Walking tour: Since some history tours can get 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 with a family from Georgia and another from Canada. Our guide, Ruth, was 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: the papier-mâché creations that are the headliners in Barcelona’s biggest festivals. Some are more than ten feet tall, with heads two to three feet wide. The kiddos loved that, as well as seeing where some of the past kings and queens of Spain used to live.
Sagrada Familia: We were told by many people not to miss architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famous work, Barcelona’s iconic church. And I’m glad we didn’t. Although the hand audio guides didn't have a kids’ 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, and they searched 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, and when it’s over, 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 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 beachgoer, 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, although we did notice 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: One of the things that worries me most when traveling is what to do when 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 kind and spoke perfect English; he also had 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 five 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 eating schedule is different here than in the States. Lunch is generally served from 2 to 4, 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. 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 and early fall have the nicest temperatures; 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, and 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; it stands for caliente. The F is for frio.
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 eyes of a child. If you're like me, nothing is more fun than watching your children having fun and learning at the same time. And the most important lesson all I taught my children on our trip to Europe is this: a bidet is NOT for washing out their swimsuits. Lesson learned.