If you want to take a break from Gaudí while in Barcelona but not completely escape the fantasy of his work, why don’t you go to the source of his inspiration… nature! and see what it has to offer: a good place to start is: La Boqueria… at first glance from the Las Ramblas street, La Boqueria seems like yet another produce market, but once I stepped into it, I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling into the rabbit hall and onto an imaginary world where all my culinary fantasies were on creative display, in rich colors and abundance! It’s like a museum of Catalonian culinary tastes had come to life and I was invited… My main challenge though: for the most part, no pictures were allowed (they seem to think they’re a museum too!) but I still managed to get you some!
Much to my surprise my 3 year old was serving as somewhat of an art tourist guide during our latest trip to Barcelona! After our first encounter with a modernist building, she reacted “immeuble bizarre!” (eng. weird building) and since that caught our attention, she then went on to say that everytime she spotted a building she felt was out of the norm and most often that would turn out to be a Gaudí building or another very original modernist building! So when we went this morning to the Sagrada Família I was perhaps more excited to see her reaction to that fantasy of a church than seeing this architectural marvel myself… and I wasn’t disappointed! After we stepped out of the cab, opened the stroller and made sure we grabbed the 200 moving pieces we dangle around with us (e.g. gloves and scarfs we don’t need but just in case…), I finally told her to look up and in an instant her eyes grew wide open and she said “maman maman immeuble TRÈS BIZARRE! with such a sense of accomplishment that she had found that “building” that she might have convinced herself that she made it appear by her dedication to this spot-the-weird-building game! While she was mesmerized by the grandeur of the church, what ultimately captured her imagination was a small ladybug that is sculpted on one of its main door… that ladybug and the curiousness of its presence became the subject of her long monologues and questions afterwards! Today was a very sacred family day at the Sagrada Família…
Stylish and unapologetic, Catalonia’s capital captured my imagination from the first day. I really think we’re gonna be very good friends… She dresses her buildings in couture-like detailed designs, juxtaposes them with ultra modern buildings, drizzles the art of a visionary artist here and there and throws in a beach for good measure!
With its hilarious knock-offs (think Canal street with a Lebanese touch), to fruit colors that will knock you off your feet, to colorful characters of all ages (think old men sipping Turkish coffee & smoking shisha at local cafés with the colorful Hamra-shopping local fashionista walking by) Hamra street (Hamra means in English the red one) may be shunned today by the Beirut fashion snobs as a destination for the masses, but I certainly recommend a stroll through it to tourists as a way to get a more local feel of west Beirut and a taste of a stretch that has not wavered throughout all the Lebanese turmoil as one of Beirut’s main commercial streets. You’ll note that there is an efforts being made to bring back some lost glory and prominence to Hamra and that it certainly looks nothing like its dodgy depiction in Homeland.
A couple of months ago, amid the chaos of our post-baby#2 summer London move, my husband announced to me that his October vacation request was approved. It was his attempt to cheer me up at the end of a long hectic day while I was still trying to put to bed a restless newborn. My initial reaction: Traveling with a breastfed baby and a restless tot? Thanks but no thanks… it was just impossible for me to picture through tantrums and colic how traveling would be anything but exhausting.
Sales pitch: (1) only way to break the exhausting homebuilding ride I had embarked on; (2) keep my older daughter entertained during her October mid-term break; and (3) to compensate for not being able to head to a beach destination in the summer because of the move logistics.
I was sold on (2) and set myself deadlines for things I wanted to achieve at home before our departure and started planning the trip trying to balance making it as kids friendly as possible while still making it enjoyable for my husband and I… still, I wasn’t very thrilled.
Before we knew it, 2 months had passed and we were off to the airport, a kid strapped to my husband, another holding my hand + 3 travel bags, a car seat and of course my Coco Cocoon bag / diaper bag.
Bad Start: After going through the painful airport security checks with our two kids, we decided to grab breakfast… my toddler was restless and the infant was crying and when I tasted the ‘yogurt’ and granola I had ordered for my daughter I discovered they gave her mayonnaise and granola! To say the least I was already ready to head back home by then, but somehow I managed to keep calm and go on (well maybe the waiter there might disagree with the keep calm part).
Surprisingly the Plan Worked: Much to my surprise and delight however, after this initial hiccup, things started lining up and the vacation was a success to both parents and kids. Having been back for a couple of days and had the chance to reflect on how we pulled this off, here’s what I think are the key components for a successful trip with your kids and hopefully this will convince you not to always rush to your parents/in-laws to drop your kids before heading on vacation!
Planning, planning, planning…
Destination: The key is to minimize being on the go with the kids as they will get exhausted and in consequence will exhaust you through whining and having to deal with their many needs in unexpected places (changing diapers and breastfeeding while hiking or just visiting touristic sites + museums in a new city is therefore not the best idea). You want to be somewhere where you can enter into a comfortable vacation routine to address your kids’ needs (fun, food, sleep and WC) without that becoming stressful to you. We chose to go to the Maldives and stop on each way in Dubai. Despite the fact that there was some long and varied traveling involved (by land, air and sea…as we had to go far to find sunshine in October), we thought that this was balanced out by the fact that we planned for a very kids friendly environment to await us in each destination.
In the Maldives, we chose a resort that has a kids club and thankfully we got lucky as we found a local babysitter we were able to quickly trust with both our kids. We would therefore drop off both kids with her at the kids club in the morning and get some time for ourselves while knowing that they are safe and being entertained. The kids club was managed almost like a pre-school and they had a daily schedule of activities. At the end of each day my toddler would come back with different arts and crafts achievements and many stories about the different activities they did (from a crab race, to visiting the turtles at the turtles conservation program at the hotel to feeding the fish in the ocean…).
Of course, we would pull them out from time to time during the day to spend time and play with us at the beach or pool. My toddler loved the formula and would wake up looking forward to seeing her friends at the kids club while we were grateful to be able to relax, listen to music and read our magazines (we had left our books back home as we thought we wouldn’t get a chance to read at all but perhaps in retrospect we could have managed a bit of reading…) It was also amazing to see how our own patience and interaction with the kids would change once we had the ability to relax a bit between playtimes with them. By the time we saw them again, we were recharged and ready to go build that sand castle or splash in the pool. The balance of solo relaxation and family quality time was just perfect.
In Dubai, both the hotels we stayed in and my main shopping destination there (The Dubai Mall) were also very kids friendly and had enough to keep us and the kids entertained. I was particularly thrilled to be able to leave my daughter for a bit at a kids club in the mall as well where she did some arts and crafts while I got a chance to really shop (vs. the running after her in stores and apologizing to the salespeople which is what my shopping experience sometimes turns to with her). She then joined me and hopped on a pushable car-type stroller, which she loved and kept her distracted. The mall also had regular strollers which we took advantage of for the baby.
Packing light, packing right: As a fashion lover, I always found it hard to pack light. I like to bring lots of options! This time around, I was realistic about the number of outfits I would pull off with the kids and favored the practical + kids friendly options since I knew I would end up opting for those anyways once there. A stylish familly vacation wardrobe should make you feel voguish without sacrificing comfort as your time spent there will involve dealing with kids, hence running, jumping, sliding, floating, splashing, carrying them around, breastfeeding…
Expectations: The fact that I had low expectations to start with and anticipated a trip revolving around the kids was key in feeling that it was a success at the end and in making me appreciate the amount of adult time we ended up having (which was much more than what I had anticipated). If I had embarked on this expecting to have something more similar to the kind of trip we used to have pre-kids I would certainly have been disappointed… therefore expectations (here & pretty much regarding everything else in life) are key to satisfaction.
So start planning your next family vacation and take the challenge of not dropping your kids off with your parents/in-laws before traveling!
Long shunned by a younger me as dated and dull, one-piece swimsuits have not only made a comeback in fashion generally but I have found myself naturally leaning towards them now that I have two kids to minimize perpetual wardrobe malfunctions. Thanks to the many original one-pieces these days (with retro looks being my favorite) you can still make your fashion beach splash while splashing in peace with your kids!