By David Barclay | January 25, 2023
I like to share my family’s travels in my blog to highlight for clients that when we travel, we do so in the same manner as Barclay & Company Travel recommends for its clients’ trips. We stay at the same types of properties, use the same tour providers, and utilize the same transfers & transportation options. This means that Barclay & Company Travel recommendations draw on personal travel experiences and our partners are vetted to ensure they will deliver the high level of service that our clients (and we) expect for our leisure travel.
Today’s blog post is focused on the trip to Spain we took last Spring Break. I hope it can give you some ideas on the type of family travel Barclay & Company Travel can plan. I will also provide some tips for traveling with children, how to overcome travel hiccups and keep kids spirits up when things don’t go exactly as planned, and ideas for exploring Barcelona and Seville.
After over 2 years of pandemic lockdown and canceled trips, we were finally able to head out for our Spring Break 2022 with a week-long trip to Spain. I have to say our kids had grown a lot since they last traveled and looked much older than they did on their last overseas trip in 2019 to Italy.
Severe weather in Miami (our connection before traveling to Barcelona) created some challenges for our flights to Spain. We missed our connection, as did many other travelers, and given the disruption of flights, the best option we were offered was an overnight in the Miami airport and then 2 more flights (through the Dominican Republic and then on to Barcelona) arriving ~36 hours late. Not happy with that solution, we looked at other options and found a flight that evening from Miami to Madrid, where we could then hop on the AVE train to Barcelona. The plan worked, we arrived later than originally scheduled but still on our first travel day, preventing disruption to our planned guided tours the next day. However, our luggage didn’t make it with us and would arrive later, but thankfully our airline delivered it to Barcelona, our original flight destination.
The start of this trip and the return to travel reminded me of several things:
- First, even before our travel delays appeared, we knew travel would be more challenging than in the past. Although COVID was waning, there were still health protocols in place. Before arriving at O’Hare, we completed VeriFLY profiles which sped up our check-in at the airport. For our arrival in Spain, we completed online registration with the Spanish Ministry of Health and were issued QR codes to speed up our entry into Spain. While the need for proof of COVID vaccinations has mostly gone away, entry and exit requirements are always changing and travelers must stay on top of requirements for their international travels (or rely on a good travel advisor to advise them).
- Second, from my days traveling for McKinsey, I was reminded that travel requires some flexibility as many things are outside of your control. But with creative thinking it’s generally possible to find an alternative route to your destination.
- Third, always pack a travel bag with anything you need for your first day or two at your destination (an extra set of clothes, toiletries, etc.). This way you aren’t spending your time trying to track down your missing luggage or buy replacement items and can start enjoying your trip while you wait for your main luggage to arrive.
- Finally, travel insurance is valuable, especially these days. Our policy was relatively inexpensive and provided coverage for both our lost bags (to buy some replacement items we hadn’t packed in our carry-on bags) and for travel delay costs (e.g. our AVE tickets from Madrid to Barcelona, which for 5 travelers amounted to almost $800).
We had alerted our on-the-ground partner of our change in travel plans and they adjusted our car service pickup to retrieve us from the Barcelona train station. When we travel, especially after a long international flight, we always have a car service pick us up and take us to our lodging and I highly recommend it for my clients’ trips. Having a professional driver pick us up and transfer us in a luxury vehicle just adds to the enjoyment of our vacation, especially when arriving at a new city with the haze of jet lag lingering. In this case, after a much longer travel day than planned, not having to think about how to get a taxi large enough for 5 and provide directions to our apartment was very worthwhile. And in the grand scheme of a luxury vacation the cost of the transfers is miniscule. Our driver whisked us to our apartment in less than 15 minutes, a bright spot to our otherwise challenged travel day.
We woke up the next morning, energized and ready to explore Barcelona. Our day began with a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. We like to start our visits to new cities with a short tour, whether walking (as we did in Barcelona) or a driving tour (which we’ve done in larger cities like Buenos Ares). Our guide led us on a great tour through the Gothic Quarter, explaining its history and important sites. We sampled olive oils at a store dedicated to locally produced Spanish olive oil. And we visited the Sant Josep market (local city markets are always a fun activity, as you can see what the locals buy for their daily meals).
(Stalls at the Sant Josep Market in Barcelona)
Finally, we toured a few other sites in the Gothic Quarter, including a building that was constructed around the remains of a Roman temple (only in Barcelona!) and Plaça Reial where there are a variety of dining venues that look out on the beautiful square.
For our second day in Barcelona we took a day trip to Monserrat. Day trips can be a great option to explore outside of a large hub city where you create a “home base” for a few days. This option helps limit the number of accommodation changes and associated travel days. For some day trips we’ve taken, we will have a driver and a separate guide. This is useful when your day trip will involve visiting multiple sites as the driver can drop you off right where you want to go with your guide (e.g. center of a small village) and then pick you up when you are ready to move on to your next location. But for Monserrat, as a single destination we explored for many hours, our guide was also our driver, which saved a little bit on the tour cost.
Our guide/driver picked us up at our apartment and drove us the roughly one hour drive to Monserrat, providing a verbal tour of the countryside as we went. As we approached the mountain on which Monserrat is constructed, he provided some history of Monserrat and geology of the mountain. Upon arriving at Monserrat, we discussed how far we wanted to hike up the mountain, as our guide would customize our tour for our interests and capabilities. With kids in tow and low clouds obscuring the peak, we decided to only hike a few miles around the mountain top before returning to explore the main buildings of Monserrat.
Our third day in Barcelona was by far my favorite day of this leg of our trip. I’ve labeled it “Our Gaudi Day”. Our day began with a guided tour of both Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia. Since both are within Barcelona’s city limits, our guide used van taxis to move us from our apartment to the park and from the park to the church. This was a great alternative to hiring a car service for the duration of the tour given the availability of taxis and the relatively short distance between locations (and with a local guide who could easily direct the taxis to our desired destinations).
When traveling with our kids, I like to pick guides who are experienced with providing tours to families, and our guide Rafi excelled in this type of guided tour. I’ve found that guides experienced with family tours spend a lot of time talking to the kids, making the tour interesting for them and keeping them engaged. Adults along on the tour learn just as much even if a lot of the tour is being directed at the kids, plus adults can always jump in to ask any questions they have. I’ve found that when a guide directs their tour to the adults, the kids are not as engaged and have less fun, plus they remember a lot less of their travel adventure after returning home. Another great example of the value a great family guide can provide was a walking tour we took in Venice in 2019. Our guide provided each of our kids with a sheet of paper containing 20 pictures of the “Lions of Venice” and our kids competed in a scavenger hunt as we walked the city, looking for each of the lions. Even 3 years later, our kids still remembered that walking tour and all of the things they saw as we toured Venice.
(The Barclay Family with our guide Rafi)
The Sagrada Familia, the second part of our tour, was incredible to behold. Again we found great value in having a private guide, the Sagrada Familia is so immense and so detailed in its design that it’s challenging to take in all at once. A private tour guide can tailor the tour to the desires of the tour group, both in terms of pace and areas of interest (as Rafi did for us), and can field a tremendous number of questions (which we had). Touring in a large non-private group, in my opinion, is much more limiting. Large group guides must follow a more scripted tour agenda and the group size inherently limits the number of questions each tour participant can ask. When touring something like the Sagrada Familia, there is really no other way to do it other than with a private guide, if you want to maximize your exploration and understanding of the site. Another great example of how valuable a private tour with a knowledgeable guide can be was the tour we arranged to see Pompei and Herculaneum. Those two historical sites also needed a tour conducted at our pace, with an experienced guide who could bring these historical sites to life and answer all of our questions.
(The Sagrada Familia)
Day four of our trip involved packing up and traveling from Barcelona to Seville. Our driver arrived right on time, helped us with our bags and quickly transferred us to the Barcelona train station. When traveling shorter distances within a country, especially European countries, I recommend two types of travel. If the distance is only a few hours by car, arranging a private car or van can be the ideal way to change locations. You are picked up from one accommodation and transferred to the next, all in comfort. In Europe, you can even have your driver stop at a roadside oasis for a break to stretch your legs and to pick up a meal. For longer distances, such as traveling from Barcelona to Seville, I recommend a high-speed train. These trains generally have comfortable Comfort or Premium class cars, with large comfortable seats and plenty of room. And traveling at close to 200mph, they quickly and efficiently move you from one location to the next.
I also like to schedule travel days so travel occurs either in the early morning or the late afternoon, which retains a partial day for more activities and exploration. In our case, we left Barcelona on the first AVE train in the morning, departing Barcelona at 8:30am and arriving at Seville at 2:00pm. After settling into our new apartment, we had plenty of time to tour our new neighborhood, tour the Cathedral of Seville and stop in a café for drinks and people watching.
(Our AVE train ride and the Cathedral of Seville)
The center of Seville, like many older European cities, is a warren of small streets and it’s easy to get lost. One of my favorite apps for navigating in an unknown city on foot is Maps.me. I use plenty of map apps in my daily life (e.g. Google Maps, Waze). But for navigating on foot, nothing beats Maps.me. You can download maps in advance and don’t need a cellular or wi-fi connection while out exploring your travel destination (perfect if you want to disable the cellular connection on a kid’s device to not rack up international roaming charges). And speaking of kids, Maps.me is super easy to use, even our 8yr old was able to instantly navigate us through the winding streets of Seville.
(Our 8yr old leading us through Seville using Maps.me)
Our first full day in Seville started with a boat cruise on the Guadalquiver River. As an alternative to an intro walking tour, a boat tour is also a great introduction to a new city. I’ve found boat tours to be very family friendly and a highlight for our kids. On this particular cruise our captain even let each of our kids take a hand at captaining the boat.
In the afternoon, the Barclay Familia took private Flamenco dance lessons. I think sprinkling in some culturally relevant activities magnifies the travel experience, and what could be more culturally relevant to Seville than Flamenco dancing. In this case, a private lesson both let our dance instructor pace the class to our abilities, and only my family was tortured by my poor dance skills! But by the end, we had a basic Flamenco dance routine that we performed (and recorded) and a better understanding of the nuances of Flamenco dancing. Having gained this understanding, we went that night to a pre-arranged Flamenco dance performance and witnessed what years of training and practice can deliver (vs. our 90 minutes of dance instruction).
The 6th day of our trip focused on another day trip, heading to the Spanish countryside. We visited a working olive oil mill outside the small hill town of Zahara de la Sierra. The mill was an 11th generation owned family business and had been built in the early 1700’s. It used the traditional method of pressing olives between large woven mat filters to extract the oil/water mixture. Then, using simple physics and gravity, the mill allowed the water, sediment, and oil to separate, producing an authentic extra virgin olive oil.
We also visited the town of Ronda, one of the Spanish “white villages” that dot the countryside around Seville. Ronda is famous for its sheer cliffsides and the incredibly tall bridge that connects the Old and New Town.
Our last day in Seville, and in Spain, started with a private tile painting class. Seville is also known for its tilework and tiles both large and small are visible throughout the city as decoration and functional signage. Our class included an overview of the history of tile manufacturing in Seville and the various methods of making and painting tiles. We then had the opportunity to decorate our own tiles, using two different methods for applying glaze. Our instructor was incredible, great with our kids and kept them engaged throughout the class (though not that challenging, our two daughters had been looking forward to this activity for the whole trip). As you can see, matching the right activities to the travelers and having guides or instructors who can tailor their services to the traveling party has an immense impact on the quality of the travel experience. Since our painted tiles needed to be fired and we were traveling home the next morning, we made arrangements with the tile studio to ship the tiles to us when they were finished.
We spent the rest of the day exploring Seville on our own, including visits to the Parque de María Luisa and Plaza de España and touring the Alcázar of Seville. And after many requests from our daughters (who LOVE horses) we took a 45-minute carriage ride around Seville. This is a very popular activity in Seville, demonstrated by the number of horse-drawn carriages in the old town on a sunny day. Though looking back, I would recommend the carriage ride for the initial day in Seville, as it would have been a great intro tour of the city. In our case, it was a final farewell to a wonderful city we came to know and love and hope to visit again soon.
For more pictures and details on our trip, feel free to view my day-by-day posts on our Facebook page. Please also follow the Barclay & Company social media accounts to get updates on travel ideas, travel tips, industry news and special offers that might not make it into the blog posts and newsletters.
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