In June of 2014 my family spent a month traveling through Spain and London. I’m highlighting our individual destinations, giving you tips on traveling with kids and sharing some of the best things we discovered. You can find previously published travel posts on my Travel Page. You can find all the photos from our trip on my flickr page.
As we wrapped up our road trip through Andalusia, we realized our trip of a lifetime was coming to an end soon. Mike only had a couple of days left with us before he returned to the States solo, and beyond that the kids and I had less than 2 weeks left in Spain ourselves. How did something that took years to save up for and months to plan feel like it was over in just days? Such is life, I guess. We were determined to make our final days in Spain count to the fullest!
We spent a day and a half in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sanlúcar is a small fishing town located in the province of Cádiz. It sits on the Atlantic coast, where the Guadalquivir River meets the sea. My aunt and my cousin have homes here, and Mike wanted to see where the kids and I would be spending the final days of our trip.
We returned by car to my cousin’s home in Sevilla. We spent the day touring Sevilla with my Tito Alejandro, which is a feat unto itself – dude can cover some serious ground! We saw the Cathedral and Torre del Oro from the outside, and visited Iglesia Colegial del Salvador. This church is much smaller than the famous Cathedral, but packed with beautiful chapels, art and wood carvings. It’s a good choice if you want to experience a church in Sevilla with kids, but aren’t sure if you can allot the time or the energy to a full Cathedral tour.
After an ice cream break (in what had become a daily habit) we walked to the Plaza de la Encarnación and explored the Metropol Parasol, which claims to be the world’s largest wooden structure. With its mushroom shape and modern design, it’s controversial in Sevilla. Your ticket gets you a drink from the bar at the top, which gives you a refreshing break with cool views.
Underneath the Metropol is the Antiquarium, an exhibit of Roman and Moorish ruins that were discovered while building an underground parking garage. Romans:1 Underground Parking: 0. It’s interesting, but if you or the kids aren’t into that kind of thing, skip it. We’ve got something better for you coming up if Roman ruins float your boat.
On Mike’s last day in Sevilla, we drove out to Santiponce to see the ancient ruins of Itálica. Just 20 minutes or so outside of Sevilla, Itálica was founded by the Romans in 206 BC.
It is extremely well-preserved, complete with remnants of cobblestone streets, exquisite mosaics, and an amphitheater that in its day could hold 25,000!
On the day we visited, a group of university students were there doing archaeological work. They invited the kids to help, and set them up with shovels and sifters. Just in their small pile of dirt they found shards of pottery and tile fragments used in mosaics. It was an experience I don’t think they’ll ever forget.
While Elena and I were enamored with the detailed mosaics, Eli and Mike loved the amphitheater. I think they imagined themselves as gladiators, battling it out in front of the Romans!
That afternoon, Mike took the train to Madrid, and the next day he flew home. That left the kids and I on our own for the final 12 days of our Spanish adventure. I’ll admit, I was both nervous and excited to be on my own. I was looking forward to slowing our pace down and living more like Spaniards and less like tourists. At the same time, I was worried that I might not be able to handle traveling through Spain without backup.
We spent the next two days in Sevilla with my cousins. The kids and I explored more of Sevilla, including the Plaza de España and Parque María Luisa. This area of Sevilla was part of the World’s Fair in 1929, and it’s a fun place for kids. There’s lots of walking, but the park is dotted with ice cream vendors, playgrounds, and pigeons! SO many pigeons.
The following day was Elena’s 12th birthday. We started the day with churros, which my cousin David boasted that the best churros in Spain can only be found in Andalusia. He scoffed at Madrid churros, which he said sit around for days! I don’t know … we liked them all, but these – piping hot and crispy – were pretty darn good. My sweet cousins planned a very special barbacoa for Elena, inviting friends and family to celebrate with homemade paella. I was able to sneak out and buy a Spanish-style cake to surprise Elena with.
We finished the evening with another visit into Sevilla for Elena’s birthday dinner request: McDonald’s. You can take the birthday girl out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the birthday girl. It was strange not to have gifts for her, so I treated her to something we’d said no to in virtually every city we’ve visited: a horse-drawn carriage ride. It was a very different birthday, but one she’ll always remember.
The next day the kids and I boarded a bus to Sanlúcar. We’d be spending the next week there, staying with my aunt and uncle. We were all really looking forward to it. My aunt, like my mother, married an American. Half the year they live in Florida, and the other half they live in Sanlúcar. Not only were the kids already very comfortable with my Tita Hortensia and Uncle Bill, it would give us an opportunity to communicate in English if we needed to.
Our week in Sanlúcar was about relaxing, not sightseeing. While we did drive to the neighboring town of Chipiona one evening to see the lighthouse, the rest of our days melded into a comfortable Spanish pattern. We’d wake up and have breakfast, either at home or go out for a café and churros. After breakfast we’d stroll through town. Sanlúcar might not have a lot of tourist attractions, but the little beach town has a fantastic market and lots of fun shopping. I loved visiting the market in the mornings, and could kick myself for not taking more photos. Outside the market were vendors set up selling flowers, dried beans and pastries. A gentleman sat on the corner every day, with baskets overflowing with caracoles (snails). Sanlúcar is a fishing town, and so inside the market you’d find every single sea creature you could ever imagine, and then some you’d never think existed.
After lunch at home, we’d pack up and head to the beach. Sanlúcar’s beach is actually the point where the river meets the ocean. This means it’s very calm and shallow – perfect for kids. It also means that the water is a bit murky. Between that and the seaweed, Elena didn’t love the beach. Eli, however, could spend hours there, and so we did.
It was fabulous. We’d made a trip to the “Euro” store on our first day (the Spanish equivalent of the dollar store), and loaded up on shovels, nets, floaties and beach toys. I’d haul it all down to the beach, and then sit in my chair and read while he played in the water. We’d pack chorizo sandwiches, cans of Aquarius (a sports drink similar to lemon-flavored Gatorade), and the kids’ favorite Spanish junk food: Gusanitos. (When translated it means “worms” – imagine white puffy Cheetos.) We’d stay until 6 or 7 p.m, then head back home to shower.
Once we cleaned up, we’d take a paseo back into town. In the evening hours, the town would come alive again. Tables outside of cafés would be full. It seemed like everyone was strolling through the streets, and the plaza was filled with kids playing.
We’d sit down and have tapas and cold glasses of manzanilla, the speciality wine of Sanlúcar. Our favorite spot was Casa Balbino, for ensalada rusa – a potato salad with tuna and tortilla de camarones – a fried shrimp pancake.
I’d give the kids a few Euros each and send them along their way to buy ice cream from Tony’s or candy from the corner sweet shop. They could easily make their way from the shops back to Tita Hortensia’s house. Sometimes they’d visit the carnival on the corner and ride a few rides, other times they’d stop and buy freshly fried potato chips from a street stand. We loved these evenings – me, enjoying amazing food and adult conversation, them, enjoying a kind of freedom they never get to experience in the States. This was our week in Sanlúcar, and it was fantastic.
We finished our trip by taking the high-speed train from Jerez to Madrid. I’m not sure why we saved train travel for last, but when we return to Europe I’m traveling by train as much as possible. It was so easy, relaxing and comfortable. Tita Hortensia packed us sandwiches and snacks to eat on the train, and I was able to sneak over a train car and buy a coffee. Also, does your train station have turtles? I don’t think so.
We spent our last day in Madrid doing some last-minute shopping and packing suitcases. I packed an entire suitcase with pastries. That’s normal, right?
Looking back as I’ve written these posts, I’m amazed at everything we were able to see and do. The kids were fantastic travelers, which just makes me want to explore as much of the world with them as possible. While time and money make that somewhat difficult, I’m incredibly thankful for the experiences we were able to have. I loved planning every aspect of our trip: the excursions, the meals, the lodging, and I’ve loved writing about it almost as much as living it! With that in mind, I plan to continue writing about our travels. It might not always be as exotic and far away as Europe, but any kind of travel, whether across the globe or the state, expands our horizons and makes us better for having traveled. So while this may be the end of our Spanish travels, it’s definitely not the end of the road for us!