I’ve had some funny looks, though mostly admiring, when I’ve told people the wee man’s first birthday present was a trip to Barcelona with his mum. He’s been showered with gifts of toys, clothes and books – and experiences are always the best way to spend your pleasure pounds in my book. Plus our friends Tricia and Ruby were going to be there for a week so why not piggyback on their holiday?!
I was a bit nervous at the airport and had no choice but to hand the wee man to the security guard when he told me to collapse the buggy and strip to my tshirt, but we made it to Barcelona pretty much without mishap. The hotel was so much nicer than I expected (it’s always a gamble booking online) and within ten minutes Tricia, Ruby and Kika (Tricia’s best Barcelona bud) had all showed up. The two wee ones squealed in delight at seeing each other and 14 month old Ruby wasted no time in displaying her new talent – she planted a huge kiss right on the wee man’s mouth. He, in turn, grabbed her in a big hug while Tricia and I hung onto each other in a chorus of “Awwwwwww!” We found a roadside tapas bar, polished off a bottle of red and tootled off to bed.
Waking up in Barcelona, with my favourite little guy asleep beside me (it had been a rough night) and the sun streaming through the window was just bliss. We met in the shadow of the Sagrada Familia for coffee and magdalenas, then played in the swingpark, hoping we’d use up some of their energy. We wandered north until we reached Park Guell, one of my absolute favourite destinations for its whimsical turreted buildings and beautiful dichotomy of straight brushed paths and wavy mosaic walls. Obligingly they slept, allowing Tricia and I some peace to chat and soak up the sun and atmosphere.
I used to live in an apartment on Ronda General Mitre and so, after a stop for lunch, we headed in that direction. We lost Sophie Giraffe en route, reversed and found her, took photos of my baby and me outside the flat in which I was mostly drunk or hungover, and decided to window-shop our way down Gran de Gracia and Passeig de Gracia. We couldn’t resist the toyshop however, Ruby chose a Princess puppet and Finlay got a “Donde vivo?” animal book. It was time for the afternoon nap when we reached the cafes near Plaza Catalunya and so we found a table and ordered two glasses of red. The wee man had other ideas – I sat him on my knee to give him some juice but he was too quick for me. He grabbed the wine and dumped it all over me. The tourists around us found the whole thing hysterical – I tried hard to keep my strop to a minimum. He did finally sleep – around the time Ruby was chasing pigeons in Plaza Catalunya – and we managed to find another tapas bar in which to have our dinner before returning, wet of leg and dirty of foot, to the hotel for a bath and a very early night.
The next day wasn’t so warm and I was glad to have worn my jeans instead of my shorts. We wheeled the wee ones down to the zoo where they watched the monkeys playing and the bears pacing and the elephants weaving… Tricia and I got sadder and sadder, the enclosures seemed so small and the animals so unhappy. Snowflake the albino gorilla was still advertised, despite the fact he died in 2003 and together with the fact none of the food or drink outlets were open, the whole experience was a bit of a damp squib. We found a nice spot in the park to feed the wee ones lunch and play before we set off for The Borne district.
In my opinion, this is the true Barcelona. The narrow winding streets with balconies and laundry overhead, the tiny shops selling jewelery and clothing, the unexpected plazas with cafes and street performers and the beautiful gothic churches are just so intriguing. I could have wandered around for days, pausing for beer or tapas or to change a nappy on a bench (there are so few modern facilities for babies!). The wee man clearly loved it too – he was not interested in sleeping, he might miss something. I wondered why so many people were smiling at me and I realised it was because he was making faces and chatting to them. Whether it was being around Ruby or just the whole new experience, he was suddenly much more vocal. We found ourselves, completely by accident, in Plaza Real, a place dear to my heart for the many dinners in Quinz Nits and nights out in Jamboree I’ve njoyed. By a miracle, the cafe where we drank beers had a baby change, so we could sort them out and be ready for the trip’s highlight: dinner at Siete Puertas.
This is my third favourite restaurant in the whole world (behind Andrew Fairlie’s and La Cala in La Manga Club) because it serves the best paella I have ever tasted. As we were eating at 6pm we didn’t need to book (the waiter and Kika shared a gentle joke about the crazy tourists eating so early), so we ordered a bottle of Marques de Caceres and a paella de mariscos and simply savoured the moment. Until we noticed how red in the face the babies were and realised they had synchronised to such an extent they were even pooing in unison. Luckily there was a state of the art baby change – I even took photos. If possible, the restaurant now rates even higher on my list for bucking the Barcelona trend.
The weather on our final day was so wonderfully hot and sunny that we parked our asses and our babies on a bench at the port and didn’t move all morning. I don’t remember this part of the city being so beautiful, the walkway is the kind of decking that would wrap around a Malibu beach house and there are white sculptures bobbing in the water. Tricia and I watched the yachts and the men with nets scooping flotsam and jetsam from the surface and chatted about Ponzi schemes. We just fed the babies in the buggies and let them play by the bench. Another display of mutual adoration drew exclamations of “Mira que mono!” from the couple beside us (“Look, how cute!), they just couldn’t stop cuddling each other! We tore ourselves away as we had plans to meet a friend of mine from the Erasmus days who was still living the dream. Caroline appeared looking very tanned, slim and businesslike and we caught up over Russian salads and sparkling water in the sunshine. After she’d zipped off on her scooter I realised the wee man had peed on me through his shorts – so we nipped in to H&M for a new vest for him and changed his whole outfit on a park bench. Funny how Caroline’s and my paths have diverged…
There was time to pick up my bag from the hotel and feed the kids in Tricia’s B&B before I had to get my cab to the airport. I thought we’d board and Finlay would sleep as the flight left at 8.15, but the air conditioning unit broke and we ended up on the tarmac waiting for an engineer for two and a half hours. My sleeping baby woke up screaming, his wee face aflame and I had to strip him down and go and stand by the exit, trying not to cry myself. The surly steward’s prediction that we’d have to stay the night pushed me over the edge, I didn’t have enough nappies or milk for that. Luckily the captain came out and told me to stand outside on the steps to cool down and chatted until we were both calmer. My arms were aching holding him, so I perched in the doorway with the wee man wrapped in a light blanket asleep across my lap. The problem was fixed within five minutes of the engineer’s eventual arrival but there was no way I was waking the wee man, so I pretended he was strapped in under the blanket. Unlike at Barcelona airport, noone brought the pram to the plane so I carried him all the way, through passport control, to the baggage carousel where I sat unashamedly on the floor waiting for our bag and buggy. I have never been so relieved to see my husband – and although it was a rubbish ending, it had been a wonderful trip.