This is another part of our monthlong stay in Spain Sep-Oct 2015. Our other FREE stays were in Seville, Malaga and Chinchilla. See my other posts for more info on those stays.
We were very excited to get to Barcelona and see our old friends Miguel, Imma and Claudia who visited us in February 2015 through home exchange as well.
We arrived at the Barcelona Sants (main) Railway Station where Miguel and Claudia were there to greet us. It was 8pm; everyone was hungry and tired. They live in a very nice 8-story apartment building not far from Avenida Diagonal in the center of Barcelona. Great location and very nice apartment (3 bedroom, two baths all to ourselves as they stayed in her parents penthouse apt). They had the old fashioned elevator with the two doors, just big enough for two people and a little luggage.
Day 1 – Barcelona (Tarragona)
We woke up and our friends took us all by car to Tarragona to Port Aventura. It’s a very easy one-hour drive from Barcelona. Miguel says that there are lots of speed cameras throughout the city but once we hit the highway it’s a breeze. They have a very nice BMW station wagon and they so kindly got an extra car seat for Ellie. Poor Imma (the mom) was squished between the car seats – what a host won’t do to please a guest. I got to sit gunshot for the best view.
Our friends say that Port Aventura is the largest or second largest amusement park in Spain. There is another really big park – Warner in Madrid. We both booked packages for the weekend, two days and one night. The rate of 137 Euros to include 2 days admission to park for two, parking, hotel for one night and breakfast for two – NOT BAD, particularly with the conversion of the Euro at this time.
We got a room at El Caribe, just like our friends. It was a decent hotel, they said 4 stars – maybe. We had to wait in line over an hour to check in and get our park passes, then we took the tram to the park. Miguel’s sister and her family joined us as well.
It was a decent size park, I guess about the same as Six Flags back home. They have different areas – China, Sesamoventura (for kids), Mediterranean, etc. We were lucky because our friend Miguel has a handicap pass and doesn’t wait in line – and he can take three people with him. We ended up only waiting in two small lines, it was GREAT! It was very crowded but we had fun. We didn’t get into our room until 9:30. Ellie was soooo tired but she was excited to take a bath (our friends don’t have a bath in their apt). The room was ok, the bed not so good.
DAY 2 – BARCELONA (Tarragona)
The next morning we did have a huge breakfast buffet included in our rate. I have to say it is quite extensive and pretty good for a buffet. I arranged for our friends to watch Ellie so I could go to the gym but the gym was only open in the evening. Really made me mad.
We had a really big day at the park. The weather was nice, not too hot, not too cold. The park was all decked out for Halloween and people really got into the spirit. There were lots of shows to see, Ellie was scared at one of them. At the end of the night on Sunday they had a parade and a really cool show on the little lake with fireworks, water jet packs lit up and great effects. We didn’t get back to Barcelona until almost 10 I think. BIG, BIG weekend and we never would have gone without our friends.
DAY 3 – Barcelona
We were so tired from our big weekend that I let Ellie sleep as late as she could. We took it easy most of the day. We ventured out from the apartment on Corsega and walked about 5 blocks to the market. It’s a decent size with lots of vendors selling fresh bread, meats, fruits, vegetables and prepared foods. On Monday I am told there is no fish vendors because it’s not fresh. We found some of our favorite things and stocked up the kitchen at our apartment. It’s a decent size frig and freezer but usually no ice. You usually have to buy these plastic baggy/wrap things and fill them with water to make ice. I miss ice.
We ventured out looking for some playgrounds. We found a great street with about 4 little playgrounds all within a couple of blocks. I have to say that every bar/restaurant is very nice about letting us use the restroom.
We had a very nice, relaxing day.
Day 4 – Barcelona
Ellie found a scooter in our apartment and from then on was hooked. It was the best day of the week so we took the subway to the beach at Llevant. Our friends recommended it because it is away from the crowds of beaches like Barceloneta. It was really nice and the sand is much better than Malaga. The water was very tranquil and there were no jellyfish, as there were in Malaga as well. However, I didn’t like the price to rent a chair – 8€ for the day compared to 4€ in Malaga. They also didn’t have as much to do along the beach for children. In Malagueta, they had lots of playgrounds for the kids to play if they get bored on the beach.
We rinsed off the sand (hard because it’s so sticky compared to sand back home). Someone told me the Diagonal Mar Shopping Mal has a great outdoor play area so we went. It was very cool with this kind of maze thing so Ellie had a good time playing there. Then we ventured into the mall, they have some of our stores but they are mostly European stores. We had fun doing a little shopping.
We took the subway back – it’s very safe and clean and used by many locals. I bought a five day pass but probably won’t use it all. We are so central to many things from the apartment.
We were so tired and hungry so we showered, changed and headed out for dinner. Our friends recommended this great Japanese place Toyo, located around the corner. We arrived a little after 8 hoping to beat the crowds but it wasn’t open til 8:30. We waited and a line formed very quickly. We got a great seat, at the head of the revolving buffet. You sit and wait as food comes by and you can take what you want to eat. We both ate til our stomachs were full and for both it was 25€. Not bad – no wonder there was such a big line. Sushi can be rather expensive.
Back to the apartment for a little TV, they don’t have 400 channels like us but enough for Ellie to chill and me to catch the news.
Another great day in Spain!
Day 5 – Barcelona
Ellie and I ventured out to find our favorite street with the playgrounds. She scootered her way and managed pretty well. I think I will be buying a scooter when we return home. My host offered me her cleaning lady to watch Ellie for a couple hours. Thank goodness Ellie is so good with people (strangers).
I found a Rotary Club meeting at the Ritz Hotel – Club Barcelona Mediterraneo. The hotel is fantastic, the group very nice (all men and one woman), and the food amazing! it would have been 50€ for lunch but they treated me as their guest! SO kind. It was really nice to have a little break from Ellie as well 😀!
The sitter, Luc, was very kind and she loved Ellie. She charged me about the same as home 10€ per hour – worth it!!
They said big storms coming so I looked for something to do inside. Our friends recommended Happy Park. There are two locations here, the closest one being a walk to Pau Claris. It as an indoor play area, like a REALLY BIG McDonald’s play area. They had a snack bar and seating area for parents. She ended up playing almost 3 hours, eventually finding a friend Dora. It cost me 10€ and was a great value. She was DONE after that so we hopped in a taxi – 5€ to the apartment.
It was the first time it has rained in the entire 4 weeks we have been on vacation! I really like Spain!
DAY 6 – Barcelona (Zaragoza)
Ellie is fighting a cold. Ughhh!!! It’s not all fun and games traveling with children.
I decided to do a day trip to Zaragoza. Tomorrow begins the biggest festival of the year so I thought we should go today. My friend Mamen is from there and says it is worth the 90- minute train ride. With my Eurail pass I pay 11€ for a reservation for each of us. We get on the AVE – this time in second class – because it’s such a short ride. The train is VERY nice compared to the last local one. They have a movie but no food service, just a cafe car. Ellie needs to rest but she can’t, so she’s playing on the iPad. No wifi on the train though.
I am enjoying the amazingly beautiful views. As we get further away from Barcelona, I notice it seems much drier but just as beautiful. Really excited to see Zaragoza.
We arrived very late as there was a big problem with the trains but all turned out well! It was a beautiful day, maybe mid 70’s. We took the bus (they have very good buses in Spain) for 1.40€ and under 5 is free. It’s an easy 10-minute drive to Avenuda Cesar Augusto and a short walk from there to the old city area.
Talk about old, there are in fact Roman ruins we saw from the time of Agustus Ceasar. We went to the top of the beautiful Cathedral de la Seo – you can take the elevator for 3€ (worth every cent with a child). There are magnificent views of the city and the cathedral from the top.
The square was BUSTLING with people preparing for the biggest festival of the year this weekend, the festival of Pilar. They had massive stages set up all around the cathedral and they kept testing the music so loudly – at one point blasting “Back in Black” as if it were a rock concert with AC/DC! CRAZY!
We sat in front of the cathedral on the main square and had a good lunch of dishes like fried eggs with potatoes and sausage. The grilled sausages and peppers from this area were out of this world! We walked around and shopped a bit – I bought a REALLY cool jacket at Desigual! Ellie rode a carousel in the main square, then we walked along the waterfront. We found a playground there and played with local children. We walked a short distance to the bus stop and headed back to the train station. It was a very nice, quiet ride back to Barcelona.
As Ellie said “best day ever!” – not really but a very good one at that!
Day 7 – Barcelona (Tarragona)
I let Ellie sleep in – she’s still fighting a cold. Then we played the train game – that’s where we go to the train station and see where the next train is going. As luck would have it there was a train leaving in 15 minutes for Tarragona. Since we had the Eurail Pass we didn’t have to pay any reservation fee. It was a rather nice regional train, no reserved seats required either.
Tarragona has a nice small train station and you arrive in front of the sea. We walked up a bunch of steps and arrived at the end of the historic district on Rambla Nova. Just a few steps away are the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. There is also Miracle Beach, called such because some sailors were once saved there.
Ellie had her friend’s scooter and she had a blast scooting all the way down the Rambla. We walked around the historic district and had a decent lunch at a kebab restaurant. I know, it doesn’t seem like “local cuisine” but it is very much a part of their culture. We enjoyed the little playground at Imperial Plaza and then walked back up the Rambla stopping for our favorite indulgence gelato.
We caught the Tarraco Tren, a sightseeing tour of the city onboard a tram car. It’s perfect for seeing the main sites of the city, then you can hop off and go see what interests you. It was 6€ for an adult and 3€ for children 3-12. I really enjoyed it and so did Ellie.
We headed back to the train station and waited outside since our train was delayed. Ellie started talking to this girl and next thing they were sharing snacks. I chatted with her mother and we got into a conversation about my travels. She was very nice and maybe she will come visit us someday. Too bad Ellie and I are so shy 😉!
I REALLY like Tarragona, it really caught me by surprise. I had never heard about it before coming to Spain and I would love to come back and really spend time here. I think I could even have an apartment here. It’s easy access to Barcelona, an hour train ride away.
ANOTHER GREAT DAY IN SPAIN!
DAY 8 – Barcelona (Sarria Neighborhood)
Ellie was VERY tired so I let her sleep in, it’s going to be really bad when we return and she wakes up 6 hours earlier 😁. We were finally able to spend time with our friends. They drove us a short distance to the Sarria neighborhood. It’s really lovely and used to be an old village with small streets and cute little shops. We stopped at Bar Thomas – very famous for patatas bravas – fresh fried potatoes with hot sauce and aioli. The was a line out the door waiting to enjoy the local specialty. It was worth the wait. I’m definitely going on a strict regimen when I return home.
We walked up the streets and watched the neighborhood association make a rice paella, a popular specialty dish with local mushrooms. We were going to partake but we didn’t make it back in time to try it.
We did find the feria (festival) of Sarria, an area with rides and activities for kids. The two girls had a blast on a couple of rides but then it was closed down for siesta/lunch time. UGHHH!
We found a GREAT local restaurant called Quinto Pino – it’s an expression that means far away. It’s a PERFECT little spot to dine under the trees while the kids play on a little adjacent playground. We had to wait as it is a very popular place for a beautiful Saturday. The food was delicious but they were a little frugal on the portions.
We drove to the top of Barcelona to Tibidabo for an amazing view of the city. We were very fortunate to be able to park right at the very top because our friend has a handicap permit.
At the very top is a beautiful church and an amusement park. It’s crazy as some of the rides go out over the cliffs – yikes!! You can buy an unlimited ride pass for about 28,50€ for adults and 10,30€ but we only wanted a few rides for the kids so we paid 2€ each ride – not bad. Ellie and her friend Claudia had a lot of fun.
The kids were getting very tired and ready to relax at home. We got back to the apartment and ordered Japanese from their favorite place for take-out Yu Ja on Carrer Corsega. The girls watched programs in Spanish, it’s so great for Ellie to practice her language skills!
Day 9 – Barcelona
We spent the day with our host family again, a much better experience! We met some other friends of their – the wife is Italian and the husband Spanish. I can practice multiple languages :-). We played at a little playground just across from their apartment and Ellie made a new friend. What a surprise :-0. We took the bus together – easier to move 9 people – to the Parc de la Ciutadella. There were various entertainers for the children – marionettes and bubbles galore . It was another beautiful day in Spain.
We walked through the Born, which is comprised of parts of the old city wall from the 1700’s. We had the best pizza in town (according to our Italian friend) at Murivecchi on Calle Princesa. It did remind me of my numerous trips to Italy.
Then we walked through Plaza San Jaume, a beautiful square with the town hall and historic government buildings. Our friends insisted that we have the best gelato anywhere (good to be with Italians, they know gelato). They took us to gelaaati di Marco, an artesinal Itlaian ice cream store at 7 Llibreteria. I was totally stuffed from lunch but I forced a small cioccococo – an amazing coconut ice cream with a thick dark chocolate sauce mixed in. I think it was the best ice cream/gelato I have ever had – and I have eaten ice cream all through the world!
We went to the little park at Placa San Miguel for the kids to play. I have to say that Spain does a really great job at having playgrounds all around the city.
I can’t even describe in words what an amazing 10 days we had in Barcelona. First and foremost it was thanks to our “friends” who showed us their city.
For our last night their parents invited us for lunch – which turned into a 7-hour visit. They were so wonderful and made us feel right at home. I will definitely be going back to see our friends, their parents – and maybe someday our kids will visit each other on their own. There is definitely something to be said for living like a local on vacation.