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Discovering the World with a Baby on Board

Month: March 2015

A Perfect Day in Madrid

The 4,000 yr old Temple of Debod

The 4,000 yr old Temple of Debod

Madrid is another must-see in Spain, though it has a different charm than Barcelona. There is a magnificent palace and some beautiful churches (and even a 4,000 year old Egyptian temple!), but in my opinion, it isn’t as immediately beautiful as its sister to the North. Still, with its magnificent museums, history, and breathtaking palace, it is definitely worth spending a couple of days here.

If you only had one perfect day in Madrid, I would do the following, though you need at least two to really take in the most important sights. A third day would also give you time for a day trip to Toledo!

Morning: For a tasty, Spanish breakfast that won’t break the bank but has all the atmosphere of the most hipster cafe in New York, head over to La Central. This coffee house/bookstore has great La Central breakfast deals (a Spanish omelette and cafe con leche for 3, a toast with tomato spread for 2), and a cozy inviting atmosphere to enjoy your coffee outside of the busy Madrid shopping street right outside the door. There are also books to peruse, games for kids you can buy, and if you are lucky, a singing barista who will delight you with her voice as she squeezes fresh orange juice and brews coffee.

Mid-Morning: Head over to one of the two world-class museums Madrid has on offer. If you are there during the busy travel months, you can book tickets ahead of time to the Reina Sofia or the Prado. If you only want to visit one museum, then it really depends on your taste in art when deciding. The Reina Sofia has beautiful Dali masterpieces and Picasso’s world-famous Guernica. The Prado has an incredible collection that includes pieces from all the old-world masters, as well as Spain’s Reina Sofia own Valesquez, Goya, and El Greco. They are both worth visiting, but I personally love the Reina Sofia because it has such different art than what I can see in other European museums. At the Reina, try to schedule your visit when there is a free lecture on the history of Guernica, which puts this masterpiece in context and really brings it to life with stories even your kids will find fascinating.Picasso's Guernica Outside the Reina, there is even a play area, where you may see little kiddos running around with each other, so if your kids are older and want to move around a bit, there is no better backdrop than the Reina Sofia.

Note: Before heading to Madrid, you might want to check out the movie Goya’s Ghost. It definitely has some violence and disturbing scenes, so I would watch it sans kids but it gives a nice backdrop to some of Spain’s most tumultuous years and introduces you to the incredible artist who captured it all on canvas (Goya’s work can be found at the Prado).

Afternoon: Ahh, we are back to siesta time in Spain. Take this opportunity to enjoy a long, plentiful lunch at one of the many excellent restaurants in the city. Being a vegetarian, my recommendations

Salad at Yerbabuena

Salad at Yerbabuena

are limited, but we loved the lunch menu at the vegetarian restaurant Yerbabuena. It was 13 per person, but included three courses and a drink and all the food was extremely high-quality, fresh, and delicious (not to mention healthy).

If you are still hungry, head over to the iconic San Gines Chocolateria.This is also an option for the morning if you just love your churros y chocolate for breakfast. San Gines is Madrid’s most famous spot for churros y chocolate, so be prepared for a line. San GinesBut, they move pretty quickly and the chocolate is definitely delicious!

Late Afternoon: This would be a good time to do a walking tour of Madrid. I suggest following Rick Steve’s walking tour, which includes some interesting historical nuggets and an opportunity to buy some delicious homemade cookies from nuns in a convent who you aren’t allowed to see. We did it, it was a fun experience and the cookies were yummy. You can also stop the walking tour to visit inside the Royal Palace of Madrid, which we didn’t do. We have both seen a lot of palaces and with a baby, it would have been too much. But, it is supposed to be incredible on the inside, so if you have the time and patient children, I would check it out.

Sunset: This is a bit of a walk, but I thought it was totally worth it (you can also take a taxi or bus). Head on over to the Temple of Debod. This temple was brought to Spain from Egypt in the 1970’s as a recognition from Egypt for all the work Spain had put in to preserving ancient Egyptian temples. Temple of DebodThe temple is more than 4,000 years old and sits on a small lake at the top of a park. It is beautiful at sunset and in the evening, when it is all lit up.

Evening: Time for tapas and/or dinner again! If you had the recommended large lunch, you are probably not craving a large dinner. So, I suggest grabbing a few tapas, and then strolling through the main thoroughfares of Madrid, which come to life in the evening. You will see babies out til 10 p.m. with their parents, grandparents, the city’s teenagers, you name it. Spain’s cities really come to life after dark during the evening stroll. Even if your bedtime is typically a little earlier, I would take in this magical atmosphere, enjoy some shopping that you couldn’t do in the afternoon, and take in some of the wonderful street musicians who will enchant you with their music.

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Saturday Option: If you happen to be in Madrid on a Saturday during soccer (or as Europeans call it, Futbol) season, you might want to check out a Real Madrid game! Real Madrid is the number one soccer club in the world, so you can be sure their 85K person stadium will be full. However, within 24 hours of the game, the website opens up with some last minute tickets you snatch up. If you don’t find any seats together, then you can line up outside the ticket booth from about 1 p.m. and try to snag a few tickets that weren’t posted online. We did this and had a great time. We were able to get the cheapest tickets, which were 35 per person, and we are glad we did it. Note: even if you are with a baby, they need a ticket too, which unfortunately is not discounted. So, they may be sitting on your lap, but you’ll still have to buy a full-priced ticket. Also, no strollers, so make sure you bring a baby carrier if needed.

For more tips on general Spain travel, check out my 7 Tips for Traveling in Spain.

 

 

A Perfect Day in Barcelona

View from Park Guell

There are dozens of perfect days you could have in Barcelona; the city is a museum in itself, with beautiful sights, fantastic shopping, delicious food, and plenty of options for outdoor fun. For a full list of things to do in Barcelona, refer to your guide book. But, for a quick take on what is a perfect day (imho) in this Catalan city, I’ve cobbled together a list of what you could do with or without kids to get a real feel for Barcelona. This is a perfect day if you are traveling in a cooler season or aren’t looking to go to the beach.

Morning: Wake up bright in early (in Spain that would be about 9 a.m.) and enjoy walking through the city before all the shops open (they open around 10 a.m.) This is a beautiful time to walk through the old Gothic quarter, through the narrow cobblestone streets, to feel the city as it is just waking churros y chocolateup. Spain is a later day culture, so things don’t really start moving until 10 or 10:30 a.m., then they break for siesta between 1 and 4 p.m. and re-open until about 10 p.m. You can either grab a sandwich, tortilla (which is really like a quiche and has nothing to do with the tortillas used for burritos, etc) or splurge a little and try out Spain’s famous Churros y Chocolate. For this sweet treat, head to Carrer de Petritxol (aptly named the street of chocolate) and pop your head into the only establishment open at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m., Granjala Pallaresa. The chocolate here is rich, so you might want to order one portion for two people and then more if you are still hungry (clearly, we did not adhere to this advice).

Mid-Morning: Make your way to the Sagrada Familia, a MUST-SEE in Barcelona. This church, designed by Gaudi to be the Catholic church wonder of the world, is 130 years in the making, and a sight to behold. Outside are thousands of depictions that you could gaze at for hours, and inside it is truly a magical experience. The structure is built to be like a forest when you enter, with light peaking Inside Sagrada Familiathrough the stain glassed windows in brilliant orange and yellow (sunrise, sunset) or deep blue (evening). In fact, watch this news story done by 60 Minutes for some of the history of the church (a little bit of education makes traveling so much better). The line to get in the church was somewhat long even in February, so plan on spending some time there. There is a beautiful little park surrounding it, so you could even send one generous soul to stand in line for tickets and enjoy some time with the kiddos in the park, under the shade of trees, instead of in line under the sun. On your way to the church, you can take Passeig de Gràcia, a main street with many expensive shops but also lined with some other Gaudi buildings.

La Pedrera

Gaudi’s La Pedrera on Passeig de Gràcia

Afternoon: This is siesta time in Spain, but if you don’t feel like going back to your hotel for three hours, then grab a sandwich and drink to-go and head on the bus out to Park Güell. This beautiful park was originally designed to be a retreat for Barcelona’s rich families, a haven amongst the towering trees in Gaudi-designed fairytale homes. Unfortunately, it was never completed, but you can still see the homes, enjoy a beautiful view over the city and spend some time exploring the park. The shade from the trees will be a nice respite from the summer heat, but it is also a great place to Inside Park Guellspend time in the winter. To get into the Monumental Zone (where the houses and the structure for the market are) you will need tickets, which you can book ahead of time or when you get to the park. If you have to wait for your designated entry time, just explore the park surrounding the zone. NOTE: If you are there with a child who requires a stroller, take a baby carrier instead! There are tons of steps in the park and we made the mistake of bringing the stroller, which gave my husband a great workout, but was not the most convenient. So, I would leave the stroller at the hotel and strap the baby on for a more comfortable time at the park.

Late Afternoon/Evening: Come back to the hotel, freshen up, and relax before heading out for tapas. If you prefer to have dinner instead, realize that most restaurants don’t really open up their kitchens until 7:30 or 8 p.m.

Option 1: If you are hungry for a nibble, grab some tapas ahead of time and enjoy a walk down La Rambla and along with waterfront before the restaurants open.

Option 2: Head to the Picasso museum in Barcelona’s charming El Born neighborhood and then find a cozy restaurant around there to finish the day.

Restaurant Recommendation: If you or your kids are hesitant about some Spanish specialties like fried pig’s ear and the like, then I highly recommend checking out the restaurant Sesamo, a delicious vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the city. We tried the tasting menu, which included 7 small courses, including dessert, and wine for 25 per person. It was freshly made, delicious, and not tofu-based, so it really could appeal to all types of eaters. You can also order off the menu if you are with kids who just want something simple. But, I highly recommend this place.

Note to vegetarians/vegans: Spain is not traditionally a veg-friendly country, however, there are more and more veggie places popping up in the big cities. In Barcelona, we found many delicious veggie restaurants or places with yummy vegetarian options. Check out this list for some great places to try for fresh, Spanish cuisine without the meat!

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Additional Tour

Dali Museum Dali Museum Dali Museum

If you have a couple of extra days in Barcelona, I would also visit the Dalí museum in Figueres (about 1 – 1.5 hours by train outside of Barcelona). It was designed by Dalí himself, and it is an enchanting experience for Dalí lovers. The town itself doesn’t have that much on offer, so I would head out in the morning, spend a couple of hours at the museum and then head back. A round-trip ticket for the semi-fast train is about 30, for the faster train (1 hour) that lands at a train station outside of Figueres, it is about double. I would just take the 1.5 hour one, since you can then walk straight to the museum and not worry about buses or taxis. ALSO BRING A BABY CARRIER. Strollers must be checked in at the front of the museum and since the building is rather large with many stairs, you will want a baby carrier for non-walkers.

 

 

 

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