Travelers: Alex Lau, his wife Cici Zhang, and their son Lex Lau (age 5), who attends Yew Chung International School of Beijing
Destination: Barcelona, Madrid, and Segovia in Spain
Travel dates: June-July 2014
Travel plans: The Laus flew from Beijing to Barcelona with Air China.
Cost: Roundtrip airfare came to approximately RMB 5,000 per person. Accommodations at the Arai were approximately RMB 5,200. Admissions to the various museums and attractions came to around RMB 1,300 for three people. The “hop on, hop off” sightseeing bus was RMB 170 per person.
Two longtime friends invited us to their wedding in Barcelona and there was no chance we would miss their special day. This provided the motivation for our adventure to the heart of Catalonia. We stayed in the central Old Quarter just off La Rambla, which allowed us to enjoy the city’s quaint charm and lively modern edge.
Barcelona’s architecture packs a punch, with cathedrals, historic ruins, and eccentric buildings within easy walking distance. No other city celebrates the influence of renowned artist Gaudi like Barcelona, so my wife Cici – who is a big fan – was in heaven.
Our hotel was in La Rambla, a busy area at virtually all hours, with street artists, musicians, flower merchants, tarot readers, a huge fresh fruit and seafood market, convents and monasteries scattered along its wide tree-shaded street. Given its proximity to the university, simple eats as well as fine dining options were available.
Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s most famous works on the prestigious Passeig de Gracia (Barcelona’s Fifth Avenue), was among our first stops. Casa Batllo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising a block of family apartments. Symbolizing a dragon, the building showcased economical and “green” architectural touches long before sustainability became a trend. Lex was too young to appreciate the artistry of the dragon but was inspired by its playful imagery, fantasy, and mystique.
The Catalans are proud of their regional cuisine; we were overwhelmed by the tapas on offer. Our favorite was jamon, a type of dry-cured ham that we often ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was tempted to smuggle a whole leg into our luggage while Cici pondered how to transport a tub of gelato.
Park Guell, an old private housing estate reminiscent of fairytales, was our son’s favorite. Gaudi was once again behind this miniature garden-city with treasures like a kid-friendly cave, striking city views, and the unique tiles and mosaics that make Barcelona what it is.
La Pedrera (also known as Casa Mila after the family that had owned it) was truly memorable. This huge building without a single straight wall was one of Gaudi’s last projects. He totally departed from the conventianal idea of what an apartment and its surroundings should be.
By chance, we decided to walk by La Pedrera after dinner one evening. We were surprised to learn that the evening tour – limited to just 30 visitors – had two spots left and we could take Lex too. We avoided the daytime crowds, enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvres as part of the tour, and took home some amazing photos.
We also made a short trip to Madrid. An acquaintance drove us to Segovia, a UNESCO World Heritage City located an hour away. We managed to catch the king’s coronation, with the royal couple’s horse and carriage passing by us on the way to the palace.
Barcelona is great for kids who are at an energetic age. The sun sets as late as 8pm in the summer, keeping crowds on the streets. But before you know it, the afternoon slips into evening and you realize you haven’t had dinner while filling up on gelato.
Barcelona has two large sight-seeing bus services with a “hop on, hop off” system. They are a convenient option for families on-the-go.
Admission to museums and hot attractions sometimes mean long lineups, often on a scale many of us are accustomed to in Beijing. To avoid having to wait underneath the sweltering Barcelona sun, book tickets online in advance. Many attractions have a will-call window, or allow you to print tickets so you can simply waltz up to the door. Book early, since popular destinations sell out quickly.
It’s helpful to learn a few simple words and phrases in Spanish. I struggled to recall my Spanish lessons from elementary school, but even Lex managed to retain some common phrases to get us from one destination to another with taxi drivers!
This article originally appeared on page 48-49 of the April 2015 Issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Alex Lau