Welp, in what’s fast becoming a tradition around these parts, we’ve successfully procrastinated writing the post about our last trip until 48 hours before our next trip. In our defense, we’ve been raising another human for the past year.
Have baby, will travel
Not to let Claudia’s maternity leave get away without a trip to Europe, we packed up ourselves, the kid, the stroller, the carseat, the travel bassinet, the changing pad, and the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” rattle, and scratched Spain off our travel list.
La Sagrada Familia
We started our two weeks in Barcelona, touring the Picasso and Joan Mirò museums, ogling the curves and nature-inspired architecture of Gaudi’s Park Guell and the magnificent-even-though-incomplete Church of the Sagrada Familia, and feasting on the Catalan cuisine. Our stay was punctuated by an electricity in the air, as Catalonia was mere days away from a secession vote that was deemed illegal by a Spanish high court. We passed several noisy protests during the days we spent walking around, and heard–and participated in–the nightly casserolada, a form of passive protest wherein people all over the city stick their arms out the window at 10pm and bang together pots and pans, or spoons against drinking glasses.
La Sagrada Familia
Next we worked our way up the coast to find a slower pace of Catalonian life. We spent a few relaxing days in Tamariu, a small town on the Costa Brava, enjoying the beach and our apartment’s tree-shaded balcony, and making one day trip to Figueroa to visit Salvador Dali’s fantastic and surreal museum. Before this trip, we never realized how much of the 20th Century’s most strange and important art and architecture hailed from this small Spanish region.
We then made our way North to the Basque country, where we ate our way through San Sebastian for three days. This city has a pace we could easily get used to, and one that perfectly suits travel with a small child. It’s surprising I’ve made it this far into this post without mentioning our new travel companion, but four-month old Valentina fit right in. We slowed our pace down a little, but she was more than happy to sit in the stroller or carrier and alternate between napping and people watching as we wandered various Spanish streets. We also used the time change to our favor, pushing her bedtime back to a comfortable (if still early by Spanish standards) 9-10pm. All this was true of each of the cities we visited, but the unique aspect of San Sebastian’s culture is their relationship with food: instead of sitting down in a restaurant or bar to eat a meal, all food is offered bite-size (pintxos) and ordered at long bars– cold bites arrayed on large plates, and the day’s hot specials scrawled on a blackboard. Once your order is ready (along with a sip of local cider or white wine), you take it to a high-top table, often on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. We would repeat this process at at least three bars for lunch, then retire to our apartment to rest, then do the same for dinner. The reason this setup is such a boon for parents is that when the baby got fussy, instead of bumping our way through a crowded room of seated diners, one of us would just take a short walk up and down the block, and she’d usually be calm again in time for us to take another bite or move on to another restaurant.
While in San Sebastian, we took a short outing to tour one of the area’s famous cideries. While so many specialties for food and drink have moved toward monoculture (specific breeds of grapes for wine, hops for beer, etc.), I was surprised to learn that this Basque cidery uses whatever mixture of apples is available from local farms, without doing anything to control the genetic makeup of the crop. This is the way they’ve been doing it for centuries, and it results in a very tasty brew!
Our other outing was to Bilbao to visit their famous Guggenheim museum. We saw some nice pieces by the likes of Richard Sarra and Jenny Holzer, but the building is the real star here.
After one more drive, with a stop for lunch of a local delicacy of roasted lamb in the Castille y Leon region, our last stop was Madrid. Our favorite memories here were a stroll through the Mercado de la Cebada, which is a huge weekly flea market that takes up a whole neighborhood — you can find art, clothing, antiques, and a ton of people to watch. The weekly Sunday flea market stroll ends with a custom that we’ve appropriated for ourselves, la hora de vermut, when all the families in the neighborhood flock to the bars and plazas after church to enjoy a drink of the mellow and flavorful local vermouth on the rocks, simply garnished with a slice of orange and an olive. We also made a stop at the Museo del Prado, where we learned that Valentina prefers abstract art to classical, as she threw a tantrum requiring us to spend a half hour walking a quiet hallway under the watchful eye of a series of Roman busts.
Hora de vermut
One tantrum aside, the trip honestly could not have gone better, and it gave us some confidence that travel life is not over when you have kids. We highly recommend a trip to Spain — especially the Basque region– for anyone, but definitely put it high on your list if you’re traveling with babies and if you love delicious things!
Joan Miro Assemblage