Mormons In Spain? The Good The Bad The Chocolate!
Rogers’ Dream Family Vacation—3 Years in the Making
Imagine commuting 24 hours door to door 18 times in 18 months. Back and forth from Oregon to Madrid? Now imagine you’re the kid watching dad come and go and come and… (you get it). Oh sure. A few trinkets smuggled home in suitcases. Colacoa instant cocoa packets, T-shirts and yummy Zara brand lotion. Meanwhile, their dad becomes fluent in Castillian, with the soft mid-word theta-sounds: Gra(th)ias.
And don’t forget all those air miles piling up! Well, we’ve got to use them at some point?
Even mom travels with dad once to Madrid for a week. And she brings back a bunch of fabulous photos of handsome European Cathedrals and Palaces. And… Gee. Great… mom. Photos to kids are like brussel sprouts. Not exactly the same thing as going there yourself. SEEING it. Smelling it. Experiencing it.
3 years later, his huge work project is over.
Our summer school vacation is looming.
Finally the time has come for the Rogers family to attempt our own European Vacation.
We returned a few days ago from an 11 day (turned into 12 but whatevs) family vacation to Madrid and Barcelona. 3 kids pre-teen and teen aged, along with 2 grown-ups = a large group to sup, sleep and schlep around the sights.
Table for Cinco, por favor?
What can I say, I come from a family of 10 kids? Imagine THAT European Vacation movie? Whoa. Our family of 3 kids seems small until you see the inside of a Spanish hotel. Tiny. We would need 2 hotel rooms for 11 nights… wow. No. We opted to locate small apartments in each city that slept at least 5 and were $200 Euros or less. Doubled as saving us on breakfast— bringing food in to the little kitchens for a few meals.
Spain is known for Tapas (or small plates similar to appetizers) which is normally consumed with alcohol and never before 9PM! Most restaurants don’t open until 8PM and even then it’s only the tourists eating that early. Plus the outdoor sidewalk cafes are plentiful.
Good to Know: The water everywhere we went was drinkable and safe. We filled our own water bottles daily in our apartment and had no problem with tap water in restaurants as well.
I was in love with all the funky Tapas meals I tried when I was in Spain nearly 3 years ago with just my husband. But with kids, the small plates are odd and often strongly flavored or just too weird for their tastes. Plus kind of expensive to eat a meal that way. And well… the Mormon thing. We don’t drink alcohol, so a whole meal surrounding wine or beer is kind of lost on us?
And outdoor cafes sound divine unless it’s a hot day and every other table near you is spewing cigarette smoke. What is the deal with Europeans? Didn’t they get the nicotine memo? HELLO—Death sticks.
“It’s a Metaphor”
Just walking down the street means you are also walking in a cloud of second-hand cancer er… smoke. We were very tired of all the smokers by the end of nearly 2 weeks! And again… the little cafes were basically serving a light croissant lunch with ‘café’… Spanish coffee. Mormon issues strike again, we don’t drink coffee so it was a mid-day culture we were uninterested in.
And really how many croissant lunches can you eat?
I hate to admit how many McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and even TGIFriday’s we swallowed instead. (I know. Horrible? But when you’re tired and hungry and there’s an indoor A/C cooled spot with no one smoking or serving tiny plates with Cervesa? You take it. Plus Burger King had free refills on soda, so there.)
HINT: in Madrid there’s an American Styled Diner chain called VIPS and it’s surprisingly good. Even if you can’t get decently salted French Fries in the whole country. They smoke like chimneys, but are surprisingly careful of their sodium intake. Go figure.
Let’s talk about Chocolate for a minute should we? Madrid especially specializes in a breakfast treat called Churros, much like churros you get here only smaller with no cinnamon and usually sprinkled with granulated sugar and you dip them in small cups of ‘Chocolate Caliente’. But this hot cocoa has no resemblance to the Nestle we sip at home. No. This is nearly as thick as pudding and less sweet, a dark chocolate dream perfect for dipping donut-y sticks!
Local Tip: If you ever find yourself in Madrid—treat yourself to the ancient little ‘Chocolateria’ called San Gines, near the San Gines church just north of Plaza Mayor. The locals told us to go there, & we figured if the locals seek it out… must be amazing? And it is!
It was our running joke by the end about bread dipped in chocolate in every bakery, grocery store and corner bodega. What a surprise?! It’s a croissant dipped in chocolate… again. Honestly I just wanted popcorn and made-from-a-box brownies! I’ve had enough bread covered in chocolate to last me many many months.
(See more about our favorite foods and stuff in Spain and what we missed most from home in a future post.)
Oh the walking you’ll do in Spain!
My favorite part of any European city is the old town market areas with cobblestone streets barely wide enough for a single scooter to zip past you rudely too fast. I love the bright colors of the buildings, the tall shuttered windows and the rooflines bejeweled with cake decoration architecture! And I became obsessed with finding all the small plazas (pronounced plathas) sprinkled throughout the very walkable streets of Madrid’s city center.
But those bumpy cobblestones are nightmare on your feet. I believe we walked at least 2 miles each day… much MUCH more some days. And with whiny teens in tow it seemed like we walked 10 miles there and back every time we left the ‘apart-hotel’ on Calle Principe 11.
See above about walking around the sidewalks in clouds of cigarette smoke, add that to tired feet + whiny-teen syndrome and it all stops being fun real fast. Good thing we were in Spain where siestas are still much practiced. Ole!
Oh the photos I was able to capture!
The wacky architecture we viewed! Who is Gaudi by the way? And why would he create an apartment building with waves of concrete undulating on the outside or a giant 100 year old UNFINISHED church with cartoon-like images and spires? And if you don’t know who Joan Miro is? I feel sorry for you. I have been in love with his art for 20 years. What a dream come true to see the Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona after waiting so long! (Be prepared for a whole post about modern art and my new obsession with Mr. Gaudi, how did I make it to 40 and no one told me about him!!)
Let’s just say it. Traveling on a budget just ain’t all that fun.
Take 5 people to an amazing new city much less new continent and then explain… the cost of transportation, hotel & food for FIVE means we get to see the OUTside of a lot of pretty places.
Well THAT’s a bummer.
We had to prioritize and compare costs of the different options. Seeing the Joan Miro museum was non-negotiable for me, but the kids couldn’t care less. Dad graciously offered to take the kids to try out the nearby ‘Funicular’ on Montjuic (a strange train that basically travels straight down and then back up a large hill). Plus it’s just fun to say! And I had all those wacky, beautiful, stupid, delicious primary colored paintings all to myself. –Thanks honey, I owe you one.
Something super fun for us (and nearly free) is to find a Mormon Church and attend Sacrament meeting completely in Spanish! In Barcelona we took a short Subway ride and walked in to a cute (although very much modern and ‘office building’ designed) church. The locals were very nice and the meeting was lovely, even if we had to sit in the back so my husband could whisper/translate the speakers! Singing in Spanish turned out to be surprisingly easy–since we knew the tunes already…
The row boats in the central park of Madrid – Retiro Park, cost only $6 Euros per boat. And we of course needed two boats to accommodate us. But for 45 minutes, totally worth it. Only a donation of a few euros to see the inside of the Madrid Cathedral Almudena. And it’s directly across from the The Palacio Real de Madrid (National Palace). Sadly the Palace was closed and it was one of the things I was planning to spend our tourist ‘See-the-Inside’ cash on. (The president of Mexico was visiting and with the King recently abdicating there was heightened security and I guess they close the Palace to the public when that happens.)
A must see on our list was the modern art museum of Madrid called Sophia Reina. (Queen Sophia). Where the gigantic Guernica painting by Picasso waits to shock you. Everyone must see this painting in my humble infatuated-with-modern-art opinion. It’s just crazy. And gory, and evokes the evils of war yet it’s still soothing and amazing and I’m running out of adjectives!
Just. Go. See. It.
Turns out the Reina Sophia is free to enter on certain evenings of the week. And we planned in advance to be there on a free night. Best part about choosing the free night is once we had seen the Picasso masterpiece and a few Miro scribbles plus the cow/bull/beast sculpture in the center plaza— if the kids were done and in need of a scoop of Spanish Helado (ice cream) then we didn’t feel like we had to spend hours and hours in a museum they weren’t enjoying. (Besides I spent half a day in this museum back on that first trip, so I was completely fine with this plan). Wait… Did I mention how fantabulosa Guernica is?? Oh I did? Well just know that on the free night you will stand in line in order to get into the museum and depending on the museum they only allow so many people in on the free night. It also means the viewing room of Guernica will be very crowded compared to the regular hours.
In Barcelona where our built-in translator and tour guide (dad) did not know the city well; we opted to purchase 5 passes to the very touristy Hop On Hop Off Double Decker 2 Day tour. While overall it was pretty expensive—over $30 Euro per person; it meant first… a lot less walking in a much less walkable city. The big sights are spread out in Barcelona. But it also meant we could see a lot in a few days even if it was from the top of a bus passing by quickly with a snap-snap of the shutter. And the best part of a tour like this is you can see just how far apart places are and make better decisions about the things you really want to spend time (and money) enjoying. Would the kids like to see the inside of another Cathedral (even if it IS decorated like a wacky cartoon?) or would they rather take a tram ride up Mount Tibidabo where there is a theme park on top? Another fun word to say!
All in all it was the most wonderful family vacation we’ve ever taken. And by far the most adventurous. We are used to fairly nice hotels and we’re not much of a camping/roughing it family. But for a dream family trip to Spain we were thrilled to be able to see as much as we did and experience literally hundreds of new sights and sounds and smells and flavors. Even if on a budget and sleeping on hard European beds.
Are we equally thrilled to be back in our own (much softer) beds?
Oh. YOU BETCHA.
Still To Come:
- My Photo Travel Diary | Madrid | Toledo | Barcelona
- Taking a Break from Facebook In European Mode, an unplugged vacation—sort of
- Day Trip to Toledo, Spain—Why you MUST go there. Pronounced ToLAYdo not ToLEEdo.
- All the things we loved bout Spain and what we most missed from home
- My new favorite weird artists and the Modern Art Mecca that is Madrid and Barcelona
- When a Long Trip becomes Too Long (then a cancelled flight makes it better?)
This was not a sponsored post/trip/vacation in any way. This is my family after 3 years planning and working to spend 12 days in Spain!
NOTE: ALL PHOTOS are my own. They don’t allow photographs of Guernica much to my dismay, so I added the link to the museum page of the Picasso above.