The first time I went to Barcelona was in 2010 with my Mom and my Aunts. I had just moved to Paris and I joined them for the Barcelona and Tuscany portion of their European-vacation.
That first time in Barcelona was great because I love seeing new places and it was so nice to be with family. But I wasn’t realy in love with the city itself. We checked off all the landmarks, making sure we saw Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, La Rambla and all the other ‘must-see’ spots along the way. Yet, my spark for the city was not ignited. It felt too touristy and crowded and of all the European travelling we did during our five years in France, returning to Barcelona never came up, likely as a result of my luke-warm feelings toward the city.
Last month while we were in France on summer holidays, we found ourselves in a bit of a rain-trap. There we were, with a beautiful pool at our personal disposal and a forecast of another week of rain. Feeling uninspired by the weather, we decided to take to the Internet to find out where we could go for a quick, cheap mini-vacation into the sunshine.
We started with Easy Jet flights and almost landed ourselves in Majorca, but that would still add up when you count for four plane tickets. We shifted our focus to road trips. San Sebastien, Spain was just over an hour away, but that meant we’ve visited there many times over the years. Barcelona is a five-hour road trip, and although my husband and I had both been separately, it was not something we’d done yet as a family.
Why not, we thought. And basically hoped in the car with the kids.We arrived in full tourist mode like everyone else who was there and marched ourselves to La Rambla to join the sea of a cazillion people. We told the kids we’d get some ice cream. There were so many people there that I found myself checking and double checking to make sure we were all together. It was far from relaxing. We grabbed our ice cream and decided to walk in the opposite direction of all the tourists.
As we wandered aimlessly away from La Rambla the kids were happy because they had their ice cream and the adults were happy because the crowd was starting to thin out. That area of Barcelona was like being on the Champs-Élysées in July, which was something we avoided if at all possible when we lived in Paris, simply because it was over taken by tourists.
Instead, we stumbled across a place that sold ham. So we tried some.Then we strolled a little more.We found quiet squares for the kids to play, and we always had a little treat too.The girls got to know the streets in teh neighbourhood of our Airbnb on the way back from late night restaurant visits. In Spain, if you’re eating before 9pm, you’re at a tourist hot-spot, without a local in sight(like we did on our first night when none of us were up for an 11pm dinner finish).It was okay, but not even comparable to the meals we had in the nights that followed.
But night two, when we had slept in a bit more and had the stamina, we hit one of the restaurants that didn’t open until after 9pm and people started arriving around 10. There was no going back after that. The good news…the girls slept in the next morning, so we had a new late-night routine in place that was perfect for holidays.Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that we had Barcelona all to ourselves. We still saw a couple of the main attractions…like bike riding along the beach.Which worked up our hunger for a 4:00 snack(the much loved French “gouter” but Spanish-style).Followed by a stroll, to work off the snack….But all that walking usually made us thirsty. Conveniently, just in time for a 7pm apéro. Preferably in a quiet square where the girls had room to run without being over-taken by tourists. The bubbles would work up our appetites, for the 9pm dinner.
And luck would have it, that if our little travellers stayed up late for dinner, they’d sleep-in again in the morning, and we could do it all again the next day.
Side Note: If you are a parent, a teacher, or just like to read children’s books, is it just me, or did that all sound very similar to ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and “If you Give a Pig a Pancake’?
That’s pretty much how we conquered Barcelona the second time around. I’m not writing this to suggest you skip all tourist attractions because they are full of, well, tourists. But I would suggest trying to get off the beaten path and do some not-so-touristy things while you travel to broaden your experience of a place. And, if you visit somewhere once, don’t love it, but find yourself in the fortunate position to go back, as we did with Barcelona; give it another shot. Putting a different spin on how we approached a city we had already been to allowed our family to experience a place we already knew in a completely different way.