‘Barcelona.’ I replied.
He wrinkled up his nose. ‘I’ve been there,’ he said. ‘Not really a place you’d take a holiday, is it?’
Isn’t it? I smiled at him, but I knew what he was trying to say. The same thing most of my friends and family say when I tell them where me, my husband and my two daughters are off to next. Not really where you would take kids, is it? Not the sort of thing they would enjoy, surely? In fact, my friends and family couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, my youngest daughter, aged eight and so attached to the water I keep expecting her to sprout gills and a glorious fish tail, does desire a certain amount of time near a pool or the sea, but my eldest daughter, aged eleven, has a passion for art and science and devours in great detail all historical and cultural experiences she comes across. So, it seemed to me, Barcelona was the perfect choice. A city packed full of museums and art galleries, which is also a coastal city with a stunning harbour and beaches and tourist resorts within easy reach. Still, my dad wasn’t convinced and raised a sceptical eyebrow as I explained to him that this was the perfect destination for us.
‘You want to be in one of those places further along the coast.’ he said.
Do we? It seems to me that once you have a family people expect you to tumble easily into a certain category and take your vacations accordingly. I find this time and time again when I come to book rooms and speak to tour operators.
‘Oh, you’ll be wanting this.’ they say as they hand me a page boasting kids clubs and round the clock babysitters. Or, ‘this is all geared towards the family’ they say, and try to steer me in the direction of hotels that sit on a beach and look wistfully at the ocean, but are miles away from anything else.
The truth is, although my youngest daughter loves the sea and we do always spend a certain amount of down time on the beach, if that was all we had to fill our hours we would be bored out of our minds within three days. And as for the babysitters and the kids clubs, I’m sure they are all offering an excellent service, but for me at least, the point of a family trip is to spend time with my family. I want to enjoy each experience with my kids, watch their faces as they learn about Gaudi through visiting his house and running their fingers along his sculptures, listen to them chatting to each other about the quality of the Catalan cream they had in the restaurant last night as they stroll along the promenade together, and see them absorbing the language and customs of a different country through each new experience they come across.
If you have travelled with your kids from them being small, then continuing to do so and broadening your horizons a little each time will be seamless to them really. This is what they know. This is what we, as a family, do. But even if you haven’t always travelled with your children, I really do believe there is always time to start. It’s a well worn phrase to say that children adapt quickly, but it’s true. Children are much more open to new experiences than adults and usually take everything in their stride. My eldest daughter is slowly making the transition from child to teen and I envisage our family trips becoming a little more strained, maybe even difficult, but I am not over worried. If I keep exposing her to a multitude of different places, people and experiences I am sure she will always find something in each destination we head for that she can call her own, whether that is the complexity of another language fresh and a little awkward in her mouth or the realisation that her growing love of shopping and fashion gains a whole new dimension as she discovers the trends of a foreign country. My youngest daughter is still very much a child, but is already displaying an understanding of other cultures that makes me proud.
In Barcelona, as we took the train from the beach to Barcelona city centre together, my daughters shrieking as they ran through the automatic barriers where our tickets were gobbled up and spat back out at us, I could see a kind of delight in all the little things that happen along the way when travelling with my kids. Things like waiting on a hot stuffy underground platform might normally be tiresome and something to be endured, but with my daughters talking excitedly about the prospect of walking La Rambla again, buying sweets in the impressive food market and eating lunch in the self service restaurant at the top of the nine floor department store, not to mention the sheer thrill of riding the train, it all felt like a perfectly shaped cog in our adventure for me too. Not only are my daughters learning along the way, but so am I.
That evening after visiting the Picasso museum, I was sitting at a beach bar and watching a local band play while my children sat in the sand and teemed it in their fingers and palms. The band started up, playing in a relaxed way as if they had just met and were jamming in their own back yard. I looked around at all the other families there, varying nationalities and ages, and I thought how we are all so different. Some spent their days exploring the area, the city and the little known backstreets with babies in strollers and toddlers in hand. While others were creatures of habit and stuck to the pool, the beach, and the mazes of streets filled with shops, their kids dripping in salt water from sea to pool all day while the adults dozed and read paperbacks. The thing that suits one family clearly doesn’t suit another, and just because we are a family does not mean we all want the same experience as individuals, just as it does not that we are like every other family as a whole who takes a trip.
Back at home my dad sat in my living room and watched a slide show of my holiday photos.
‘I feel like I was there with you.’ he said. And I smiled. ‘It’s inspiring me to book.’ he went on. But I know he would have a completely different trip to the one we had. He would take his time everywhere he went. He would sing karaoke in the bars in the evening and shun the train because he doesn’t trust it. He would do these things because that is who he is, children or no children.
Barcelona with my kids was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Children take what you give them and they let it disperse and mix into their blood. If all I showed them was endless swimming pools and children’s entertainers then that’s all they would have. It might sound obvious, but I often hear people say, ‘If it was just the two of us, we would go there, but the kids wouldn’t like it.’ How do you know? My children are constantly surprising me and they can usually find something to call their own in whatever situation I put them into. In the Picasso museum in Barcelona my eldest daughter spent hours reading and taking in every piece of writing on the artist’s life that covers the walls, while my youngest daughter trailed around the ceramics and giggled at the faces painted in bowls and plates. They each took something different from it, as did I.
You can’t possibly encapsulate each moment we experienced on our trip, view it, taste it, hear it and feel it unless you were there. There were too many tiny, intricate moments that were special, that were firsts and that we will never go through again. Children add another dimension to your world when you take them travelling with you. And we should show them as much as we possibly can. So, no, me and my family would not have been better off in one of those places further up the coast, no matter what anyone else thinks. And Barcelona turned out to be a perfectly good place to holiday with my kids. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, it’s been the best yet. Now, onwards to the next one!