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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.

 

 

 

Rome: A Family Day with Trajan and Hadrian

Trajan’s Forum, the temple of Venus and Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon – spend a day with Emperors Hadrian and Trajan as you discover Rome.

I love themes. I feel like they add structure to an otherwise chaotic sightseeing day. So, depending on how much time you have in Rome, you can use this as a one day guide or do it easily in half a day, following another perfect day itinerary in the other half. With a baby in tow, I decided to make this a one day tour, leisurely making my way from one sight to the next and taking ample coffee and water breaks in between.

Trajan and Hadrian are part of what is known as the ‘Five Good Emperors,’ but that certainly doesn’t mean they were sweethearts during their reign (i.e., Hadrian had his chief architect killed because he disagreed with Hadrian’s design for a new temple). But, compared to their predecessors, they emerged with a better reputation. Plus, they were great conquerors as well as helped take care of the poorer Romans, so we will accept them for what they were.

trajan2 hadrian

Morning(ish): Hearing that the museum at Trajan’s Forum wasn’t very crowded, we took our time before heading out, since we didn’t fear long lines. And, we came to discover there were NO lines, because most people head to the Roman forum and forgo this archeological treasure. The best part of the museum is that it is built within the markets, so at every point you can walk out amongst the ruins virtually alone and take wonderful photos of Rome. Almost every emperor wanted to build their own little forum and this was Trajan’s, majestically capped with Trajan’s column, which depicts famous battle scenes from his epic triumph over the Dacians (modern day Romania) as it towers almost a hundred feet above ground. We wandered through the stalls, where ancient businessmen would sell their wares, climbed up through the various layers, and took panoramic shots over the market and Rome.

trajan's forumphoto 1-1

 

Mid-Morning: After the leaving the museum, we wandered across Via Fori Imperiali (the main road) and gazed upon the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma (across from the Colosseum, towering above the Roman Forum). No need to go inside the forum for this, we just took a look and tried to imagine it when it was built: the front of two temples back to back, Venus facing the Colosseum and Roma facing the forum. This was Emperor Hadrian’s vision, as he was also an architect, and also the building that led to his architect Appolodorus‘ death (note to self – never disagree on building designs with an emperor, ‘good’ or not).

Tempel der Venus und der Roma und Turm von Santa Francesca Romana

Noon: As I was sightseeing with my very Italian mother, this was about the time I was forced to sit and enjoy a coffee break. Relaxing and people-watching are as important to experiencing the Italian way of life as wandering through ruins, and why not do it with a real view? Though they are pricier than other coffee shops, we sat outside one of the restaurants directly across from the Victory monument, and looked at this more modern-day, gleaming white, Roman style structure while sipping some cool drinks and taking the baby out to play. Drinks usually come with a few snacks, so we also packed in a few carbs before heading on our merry way.

photo 2-1

Afternoon: I could never, ever, ever get tired of looking at the Pantheon. The most perfect building in the world, one which has inspired architects through the ages, it is also the most preserved of any ancient building still in existence. Initially commissioned by the great General Marcus Agrippa under the reign of Augustus, it was actually rebuilt by Hadrian after one of the several fires of Rome destroyed it. So, you are gazing upon the newer version, but don’t worry – it is still almost 2,000 years old. We walked in, enjoyed the cool air and the perfect symmetry, before heading over to another carb-lovers delight: gelato at the world famous Giolitti gelateria. (Ok, you need to know what my husband has now dubbed ‘the giolitti’ or ‘pulling a giolitti.’ You will find here that many Italians do not obey lines.. so go ahead and try to stand in line for your gelato with the Germans and the Swedes, while you watch hordes of families walk right to the front. Then, learn quickly and ‘pull a Giolitti’ yourself to really get the Italian experience. It’s wrong, I know, but feels oh so right).

pantheon

If you like Nutella, try the gelato version of it, and then basically don’t eat for the rest of the month because God only knows how many calories that puppy has in it. Oh, and definitely ask for the panna (whipped cream) – even as a non-lover of panna, I find it tastes amazing.

Mid-Afternoon: After a good gelato cool down, make your way to Castel Sant’Angelo (a bit further away, so you may want to take a bus or cab). This was also designed by Hadrian and finished by his successor to hold the ashes of the late, great Hadrian. It was later usurped by the Catholic Church (as was the Pantheon, hence why it was preserved). If you are tired, just take a look from the outside. If not, enter, climb the stairs and enjoy a nice view of St. Peter’s Basilica.

RomaCastelSantAngelo-2

 

 

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