168 hours in Spain, part 1

I am back from a lovely week in Spain with my two oldest boys.

As with a few past vacations, we elected to split the family. My husband went skiing with the three younger kids in Park City, Utah, for a few reasons. Reason #1 is that he really likes to ski (I don’t). Reason #2 is that traveling to Europe with a 4-year-old (and to some degree, our particular 9-year-old) was going to be a lot more challenging than travel with older kids, and we’ve really been wanting to do more adventurous travel with the older kids while they’re still home with us. The 12-year-old wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but she ultimately decided to go with her dad. (She and I are taking a trip together to Europe in a few weeks, so she won’t be missing out! And I know she was a big help with her little brothers.)

Anyway, the 16-year-old, 14-year-old, and I flew overnight to Madrid from Philadelphia on Friday, March 22nd. The boys slept some; me not so much. In our stupor, we navigated passport control and international transfers to get on a flight to Seville. We landed, got to our hotel and promptly crashed for a few hours — as planned!

We got up by late afternoon to meet our tour guides at 6 p.m. This couple, a former flamenco dancer and her husband (who spoke more English) first took us on a carriage ride through Maria Luisa park.

In a recent Vanderhack, I wrote about consciously cultivating a memory by choosing a scent to associate with a time. Well, in Seville in spring you don’t need to do that, as nature does it for you. The orange trees were in full blossom and wow. The scent was heady and magnificent (somewhat like lilacs, but a little different). We saw a lot of the city on a lovely spring night, then went to a flamenco theater to watch a performance. I went to Spain in late 2005 (over Christmas and New Year’s to 2006) and I remember going to a flamenco performance then too. This one was showy with the young dancers really putting themselves through the paces to the guitar music (plus two vocalists). We got tapas afterwards, then completely crashed.

The next morning, Palm Sunday, we did a walking tour of Seville, which was gearing up for Holy Week celebrations. Lots of streets were blocked off for giant processions, and a church near our hotel had hundreds of people gathered in front of it for concerts every few hours. We walked the tiny alleys of the old Jewish quarter, smelled a great many orange trees, and saw Alcazar, the Moorish-influenced castle.

In between all this, we had the unexpected adventure of our guide going vigilante on a group of pickpockets. Lots of people had warned us about pickpockets in Spain, particularly in crowded tourist spots (though that’s really no different from anywhere else). We were getting coffee at an outdoor cafe near the Cathedral when all of a sudden our guide announced “I don’t like the look of those people,” as she took in a woman and two men walking down the road. This seemed like a strange thing to say (they looked perfectly normal to me) until we saw the woman approach a pair of tourists and just unzip the woman’s backpack. Our guide started yelling and videotaping. The couple turned around and yanked themselves away as the pickpockets ran off. Our guide got several pictures of the perpetrators and then called the police and — for good measure — flagged down a patrol car to make sure they knew who to watch for. My boys found this all very exciting!

We relaxed at the hotel for a bit in the afternoon, then did some more walking around Seville, eventually getting coffee at Starbucks (why not?) After a cocktail for me and mocktails for the boys at the hotel bar, we went to dinner at La Brunilda, which was tucked around a corner and had a crowd outside, waiting in the rain, when it opened at 8:30 p.m. (yep, that is when some Spanish restaurants open for dinner!). We ordered lots of little plates, including a ton of Iberian ham. (That on a piece of crusty bread is just a perfect sandwich).

In the morning, we got up in time to grab a quick breakfast before meeting the guide and driver charged with taking us through the country side of Andalucia to Grenada. Originally this was supposed to involve a hike between some of the “white towns” on the hillsides. However, it was pouring down rain, which made the thought of a 2.5 hour hike with a picnic somewhat…less than attractive.

So our guide pivoted, and we visited an olive oil mill, then went to a little castle on the hill, stopped briefly in a few hill towns to take pictures, then went to Ronda, where we got coffee, ate at a paella restaurant, then took pictures of the gorge as the sun came out for an hour or so. The mountains were really beautiful, even if the weather wasn’t terribly cooperative! Then our driver took us to our hotel in Granada. It was pouring again, so I couldn’t really rally my kids to go to our dinner reservation a 20-minute walk away, but we were able to eat our picnic sandwiches from the picnic that didn’t happen earlier. We walked around Grenada, got churros at a bakery, and had more mocktails at our hotel’s rooftop bar.

I’ll continue with Part 2 of Spain in a post later this week!

Photo: From a roof deck in Seville

16 thoughts on “168 hours in Spain, part 1

  1. Sounds fun! We just got back from 2 months in Mexico / 1 month in Chile with my 7-turned-8 year old. It’s funny how different they are traveling as they age. When they are little, like 1-2, it’s so much work, having snacks, following them around in the pool, planning around nap time. But they don’t quite have opinions yet on whether they go to different places – you can just pick them up. That part I miss 😛

    1. @Laura C – yes, there are definitely opinions! Though by being the only adult, at least I don’t have to negotiate with another adult…and I planned the trip with the boys’ interests in mind so for the most part they were good. One kid skipped one thing – so that’s not a bad ratio… (and teens can go off on their own or be in the hotel room on their own so it is fine).

  2. Sounds lovely! I wonder if you have a hack or two for travel planning; how did you find your guides? thanks

    1. @Anna – I used Truvay Travel (Mimi) to book the guides – she also helped plan our trip to London last Christmas. Definitely more efficient than trying to find them all on our own…

  3. Fun! We are doing our first split family vacation this weekend. We have 4 close in age boys so it has usually been logistically ok to stay together. I’m taking the older two to Spain and my husband the younger two to Legoland and the Lego house in Denmark. My oldest thinks he is pretty good at Spanish, so I am excited to see how true that is.

    1. @Jessica – Legoland in Denmark sounds like a classic! Spain will be great- and it will be good for your son to practice.

    2. We just went to the NY one, not Denmark, but my 7-year-old loved it! Even though he didn’t go on most of the “thrill” rides! So glad we made the trip while he’s still into Legoes

  4. I spent a semester in Granada living with a host family in college. This is bringing back lots of pleasant memories! (Except for the rain- what a bummer!) did the boys appreciate the culture? Do either of them speak Spanish? I hope you all had a great time and enjoyed yourselves.

    1. @Lori C – my eldest is studying Spanish, though he saw it was challenging to actually converse. And yes, it rained a lot! But Grenada is still beautiful. We walked through town and then saw the Alhambra the next morning. And the train station – I’ll post about that later this week.

  5. Yes, Ms. Laura Vanderkam, I also think that it must’ve been a lovely week in Spain.
    In the meantime, I’m wondering: Do you need to have a Spanish translator to go to Spain on this trip? Or does your guide already speak both Spanish and English as a prerequisite to being a guide in Spain?
    Also, I assume that you visited Spain just for the sake of going around in Spain. You didn’t visit Spain for the sake of studying Cervantes or Columbus. Or studying Archaeology. Is that true?

    1. @Yukun – we had guides for various parts of our trip – like when we did the walking tour of Seville, or our flamenco night. They all spoke Spanish and English. My oldest is studying Spanish in school but it is challenging to actually converse with people!

  6. We are going to Sevilla and a extended road trip in Andalucia Next week – without kids (study + exchange year US), but like your idea of splitting. A guide makes things easier, but as in most European countries you get along with English pretty well as everyone has to learn it in school. This is especially true in tourist areas; even in France you will look in vain for a conceited waiter who supposedly doesn’t speak English. Be kind and you will have a great time no matter which part of Europe.

    Looking forward to part 2!
    Michaela (Germany)

  7. So delighted to read about your adventures after getting your “sometimes it rains” email today! We just got back from 11 days in Madrid and Barcelona with our 11-year-old and yes, the rain and cold were challenging. We packed a ton into the good days though. One afternoon we just surrendered back to the hotel room and vegged and I watched a “Lifetime” movie in Spanish. It translated to “Engaged Until Death” 🤣.

  8. Oh, I completely missed you went to Spain! From my (European) perspective, a vacation overseas would be such a big deal but I know your family travels extensively. I love that you managed to do Madrid, Seville and the Alhambra in one week, Americans do have a different idea of distance, we would’ve probably just said “Too far from each other”. (And missed out…)

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