May 5 – 19, 2019
A lot of you have already visited Barcelona and consensus is that it’s a lovely place. It is definitely Pedja’s perfect city. It has it all – water, sun, architecture, great neighborhoods, good food, lovely people, modern conveniences and plenty of interests for everyone. Pedja and I spent only 4 days in Barcelona 2 years ago when we were at the beginning stages of planning this Refresh journey and at that time, we both agreed that Barcelona would be one of the main destinations of our itinerary. We originally intended to spend 3 months there. However, as our itinerary expanded and I finally realized that we couldn’t be in Schengen for more than 90 days in 180 day period, we settled on spending a month there instead of three.
There is not much I can say about Barcelona that you can’t read in millions of reviews of this city that can be found all over the internet. That said, this is not a Barcelona review post. My intention is to record our time there as a reminder of the activities, places, emotions we experienced during our first 2.5 weeks there (this post is just about the first 2 weeks). We’ll go back to Barcelona for another 11 days at the end of June/beginning of July.
We stayed in between neighborhoods of Glories and Sagrada Familia. We were a few blocks away from this famous Gaudi creation, 20 min walk from the Gothic Quarter, 5 min walk to 2 subway stations that got us anywhere around the city in no time. Barcelona is so well connected by subway and buses that we used public transportation at all times (at really affordable rates).
Before we got to Barcelona, we had a family brainstorming session and generated a list of things we wanted to do during our time there. Here are some of the things that we checked off that list.
1 – Since we’ll mostly be in Europe until the end of October, Petra got a violin that she will be able to play all these months as well as next spring/summer. I also connected her with a fantastic violin teacher that came to our apartment for lessons 3 times each week. It was great to see how quickly she got back into the groove. Playing violin has become her relaxing activity for combating anxiety.
2 – All 3 kids did a lot of schoolwork in Barcelona.
Maksim is becoming a better writer; he wrote many letters to friends and family and has learned the multiplication table. Here is one cute example of good worldschooling experience. We spent one day walking around Montjuic area (hill in Barcelona) and visited the castle on top of it. I made Maksim read about the history of the place posted at the entrance of the castle. The sign also had a diagram of the castle and it was nicely labeled. The next days, Maksim surprised me by doing a self-initiated drawing of imaginary weapons where he used the same labeling technique he saw on that castle sign the day before. His spelling can use some work but his enthusiasm and motivation were worth a mention.
Nikola wrote his first letters to his 2 favorite teachers and was super happy when he got responses from both.
Petra is excelling in her 2 online classes (Algebra and Chemistry), always 10-15 days ahead of schedule, with just about perfect marks.
3 – We took the kids to see Human Bodies exhibit where 12 real human bodies and 150 human organs were out on display (https://humanbodies.eu/en/). It was a mixture of somewhat creepy but incredibly effective educational experience that is probably hard to get in a classroom. We spent more than 2 hours walking through the 8 rooms dedicated to different body systems and all three kids were impressively interested in all the lectures we heard and read there. Nina was fascinated by the skeleton system, especially comparison between a bear vs. human; Petra was into circulatory system while Maksim was all about muscles (and private parts of course). Nina even pointed out corpus callosum on a real brain display, repeatedly yelling “That’s corpus callosum, that’s corpus callosum”. It was great to see that he recognized corpus callosum that he has only seen in pictures before. Btw, Nina’s main diagnosis is Agenesis (Absence) of Corpus Callosum, meaning he doesn’t have one.
4 – Pedja and I went out on several dates (date = no kids). We went to see opera performance at Gran Teatre del Liceu, violin performance of the National Orchestra of Catalunya at Palau de la Musica Catalan, and enjoyed several evenings of tapas and drinks.
5 – Petra and I did yoga on a roof of a building in El Raval neighborhood.
6 – Petra played regular pickup games of beach Ultimate on Wednesdays (2 hrs) and Sundays (3 hrs) and she did well among all the 25+ yr old players. The rest of us joined her as her cheering squad at every game.
7 – I found us a chain of second-hand stores called Humana (equivalent to our Value Village) and Petra and I did some shopping where we scored a cute dress for her for only 7 euros. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to refresh any of my clothing items yet.
8 – We have spent some portion of every day walking the neighborhoods, sometimes seeing the typical tourist sites but a lot of times just walking a new neighborhood to get a feel of the city. We purchased a small ball during the first few days in Barcelona to motivate Maksim for long walks. He and I toss that ball to each other as we walk through the neighborhoods and then he doesn’t notice all the distance we cover. Brilliant (walking) tool!
9 – We had a couple of major meltdowns during those 2 weeks but that probably deserves its own post.
10 – Nina has been fantastic about talking with strangers, expressing himself, demanding that we follow his will at times. He approached many strangers and had impressive (repetitive) conversations about Lionel Messi. He even purchased his own donut at some café while the rest of us sat outside. We secretly watched him go inside, ask for a specific donut, pay for it (and not get distracted) and walk out with no incidents. This trip has been the most beneficial for him.
11 – The kids are interacting with each other more since they have no one else more desirable to them. Most of their interactions are out of annoyance but they also have significant increase in the sweetest moments they would have probably never had at home. Petra and Nina play ball together, Nina and Maki do pretend play about Project Zorgo and Petra and Maki tease Nina by naming his body parts like peesh-bootish for his butt or Ernie for his stomach. Nina then screams at them, laughing and hitting them at the same time. All of their interactions are incredibly loud and quite physical. It’s amazing what close quarters and absence of other entertainment and interactions do to our relationships. Not all is good, there are plenty of unfortunate interactions, there are many bad dynamics and that all gets highlighted more under these circumstances. How we’ll do after these 18 months? No one really knows. Will we survive each other? That’s not guaranteed.
12 – A few pounds we all lost over the first two months in South America, most of us (except Pepa) regained them within 2 weeks in Barcelona. So that means, the food was good, and eating was one of our main interests in Barcelona. Our tapas date nights didn’t break the bank because we mostly shopped at Lidl (European Trader Joe’s) at impressively low prices for seemingly quality foods.
Our time in Barcelona went by too quickly. We visited the top 10 tourist sites in Barcelona but didn’t yet get to Picasso Museum (Pedja and I did but the kids didn’t) and Tibidabo Amusement Park and church. We plan on doing those two when we get back at the end of the month.
Even the full 4 weeks will not be enough time to enjoy this city to its fullest. I have no clue how we will ever go on a short vacation after this incredible journey. Are we becoming too greedy, too spoiled, wishing that this time never ends? Probably yes. The kids would say differently though. They are missing friends and they’ll be happy to go home at some point. In contrast, Pedja and I feel that we could’ve stayed longer in almost every place we have been so far. There is just so much to see, do, and love in the world. The one thing in common between these destinations is that people all along our journey have been incredible. I always say “People are good, people are great” and that keeps manifesting itself.
99% of the people we have encountered have been kind, loving, good souls, always great to all of us but especially to Nina. I feel that we have made friends along the way that we’ll stay connected to one way or another for the rest of our lives.
I wish I had uninterrupted time to post more of my random thoughts from this journey but for now, this is all I can manage. I have so many topics I wish I could address but our down time is scarce since we are traveling with 3 kids and moving often. I keep reminding myself that we have been on the road for only 3 months and that it takes time to establish any sort of a routine or notice patterns of behaviors/thoughts/interactions. That’s all true and I hope that at some point, I’ll feel more at peace with how much I get done in a day vs. all that I wish to do. At some point, I’ll do additional posts on budgeting, meltdowns, Maki’s schoolwork, first impression of the effects of this trip on each one of us, packing reflections, planning vs. reality, etc. But one post at the time – the next one coming up – Barcelona Part 2, Visit with baba Mila and deda Heinz.