San Sebastian: From Tapas to Pintxos

After a lovely relaxing break in Sitges, we once again packed our bags, trundled up to the train station and caught a train cross country to San Sebastian.  This was another six hour train ride zigzagging across the plains and mountains of the country. The scenery was ever changing and we even got to stop at Pamplona. We didn’t see any bulls, though.

Finally we arrived at San Sebastian, where we waited and waited for a taxi to take us to our Air BNB apartment. In the end we gave up and walked. It only took us 20 minutes, even dragging our bags and it was nice to stretch our legs.

Our apartment was a huge, top floor apartment with a tiny lift and an amazing view of the Urumea river and Zurriola beach. I spent hours reading beside the window, while listening to the waves roll up the river.

Urumea river and Zurriola beach
As you can see, the beach was a popular one. We had obviously been spoilt during our time in Sitges as I found it impossible to keep an eye on four kids while they were swimming at this beach.

Zurriola has some good surf and the waves were quite large with the ‘right’ wind.  There are separate areas for surfers and swimmers so it’s probably safe enough, but I didn’t find it very enjoyable. The kids loved it though and went out with buckets trying to catch fish and crabs. They did come back with one small amputee crab that I then freaked them out with by showing them how to pick it up. Who knew that such a skill would one day be used to terrify my offspring?

crab
There are calmer beaches in Concha bay, to the south, but these were also very busy. They did have some rock pools at the end near the Aquarium, where there were crabs and small fish waiting to be caught.

And further along the beach we found a lovely playground, Alderdi Eder, complete with shady seats and a gorgeous carousel. The older two were a bit meh about this, but it was a ‘must do’ for DD3 and DS. They spent ages deciding what they were going to ride on. DS chose an airplane and DD went for a cat.

Carousel in San Sebastian

We spent quite a lot of time wandering around San Sebastian, exploring and looking for places to eat. Again DH had visions of us roaming from bar to bar, eating a pintxos from this bar and that as we moved happily between establishments. Sadly for him, this was not to be.

Our children are varied in their fussiness, so catering for all of them with pintxos proved to be impossible. We ate at a place like the one pictured below just once. It involved hysteria from DD3 ( she didn’t like the hams hung behind the counter and won’t eat chicken), disgust from the other two DDs ( they won’t eat seafood or tomatoes), flat out refusal from DS ( if it’s not a burger or a pizza he won’t eat it), but we had lunch there anyhow.

Pintxos bar San Sebastian

It was all very tasty but it was hard to enjoy the food with the kids looking so disgruntled next to us. From then on we stuck to Italian restaurants. We may have to wait until the kids leave home before we can experiment gastronomically on holiday.

The weather was pretty good when we were in San Sebastian, but we had one wet day and used it to visit the aquarium. It was very busy but the line moved quickly and we were soon inside. We’ve seen a lot of aquariums as a family but this one was quite interesting as half of it is in the form of a museum of local fishing and naval history.

The aquarium itself was compact but informative and the kids especially liked the touch pool and the shark tunnel. ( NB These are NOT linked)

touch pool San Sebastian aquarium

All in all, we had a fairly relaxed time in San Sebastian. There is plenty to do with kids, and we had no trouble finding food for them. We loved the accommodation and would like to have stayed longer. But by now we were on the homeward stretch and were heading back to France, to stay in Paris for three nights.

Four Nights In Sitges

After three days wandering the streets of Barcelona, we took a train to the town of Sitges. It’s only a 30 minute trip and we bought tickets on the day without a problem. The kids were happy as it was a two-storied train and we got seats upstairs. There didn’t seem to be any designated luggage racks though, so we dragged the bags upstairs and piled them in a nearby corner.

Our accommodation was a ten minute walk from the train station. The paths were cobbled and the paths were a  bit uneven, luckily it was mostly downhill.

We were staying in a 3 bedroom apartment right on the beach front of Platja Sant Sebastiá so the plan was that this was going to be the ‘beach’ part of our holiday.

Insitges apartment Platja Sant Sebastiá

This is the bench I sat on most days, reading my kindle and watching the kids enjoy the surf.  Our apartment was at the top, behind the palm tree. It wasn’t noisy at night as the bedrooms were towards the back of the accommodation and we ate in the Mexican restaurant below a couple of times.

Sitges beach Platja Sant Sebastiá
The beach wasn’t crowded so I could usually just look up and count the kids, and the lifeguards were vigilant and moved people to safety if they swam too far out out or got too close to the rocks. The photo above was taken from the apartment balcony, so other times I just sat up there and supervised.

Sitges is known for its beaches; it has 17 of them. Some are more family orientated, some are supposed to be gay beaches and there are a couple of nudist beaches  to the East. We didn’t go looking for these but there was a lot of topless sunbathing going on. The whole town has a reputation for being gay-friendly but not to the exclusion of other groups. There is plenty to do as a family and we enjoyed the nice mix of all different types of holiday makers and locals, all just enjoying themselves.

We actually didn’t do much other than go to the beach and enjoy the variety of restaurants nearby. DH loved the Spanish Tapas-type food but the kids were more comfortable with burgers, pizza and pasta. We had no problem finding places to eat where everyone was happy with the food, and one night DH and I left the kids in the apartment ( DD1 is almost 14 and want to start babysitting for extra money) and ate at a lovely seafood restaurant 2 minutes around the corner.

Most evenings we wandered up the hill , through the town searching for somewhere that caught our eye,ate our meal then walked back along the beachfront and climbed the steps up to the whitewashed Church of San Bartolome and Santa Tecla on the way home.

church of San Bartolome and Santa Tecla
On our last day I took the kids over to Platja de la Fragata, the ‘family’ beach that had mini golf, volleyball nets, bungee trampolines and little paddle boats. DD3 was thrilled because she mastered backward flips on the trampolines. The others just had fun that didn’t involve being in the water.

bungee trampoline flip
We really enjoyed our lazy days at Sitges even though we are not ‘beach people’ and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for some laid back fun in the sun.

Barcelona With Kids

This year our summer holiday took us to Spain, by train.

The first leg of the journey from London took us to Paris for one night, and the next day we found ourselves on a rather crowded train that arrived in Barcelona around 7 hours later. There was a airplane-style video graphic near our seat that showed us how fast we were going, where the next stop was and how far we had to go. It was a long, hot journey but the train gave the kids the opportunity to walk up and down the aisles and stretch their legs more readily than they could on a plane.

It was a relief when we arrived at our destination.

Barcelona was big, hot and busy. We caught a couple of cabs easily enough from the station taxi rank to our Air BnB apartment; home for the next 4 days. The apartment was excellent. There was enough room for us all, the kitchen was up to date, there was WiFi, A/C, a washer and dryer and it was in a nice neighbourhood. The only slight downside was that the bathrooms were small, and the shower bath wasn’t terribly accessible.

Barcelona Air BnB apartment

Unfortunately the excitement of the pleasant accommodation and the proper start of our holiday was clouded by DD1 leaving her backpack, including her kindle, camera, phone and some clothes on the floor of the cab. We never saw them again.

The first night we went out looking for somewhere to eat and found a tapas bar that everyone managed to eat something from. Anyone who knows how fussy our kids are will realise this was a minor miracle. It turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of our holiday.

We had 4 nights in Barcelona, so 3 whole days, but feel we barely scratched the surface.

The first day we walked to the Sagrada Familia , and admired Gaudi’s incomplete masterpiece. It is just crazy on the outside and is an absolute must see if you visit Barcelona, even with the cranes perched on top of and around us. We didn’t get around to seeing it on the inside, but I would have liked to- maybe next time. My main tip would be read up on it a bit  before you visit, just so you can make sense of what you are seeing.

Sagrada Familia

From the Sagrada we caught a cab down to the harbour and ate lunch at a very poor tourist trap of a cafe. We were reminded how important it is to consult Trip Advisor before ordering!

By now it was over 30C and we were gagging for AC, so home we went for a siesta. This set the pattern for the rest of the holiday.

Day 2, we got on the tourist bus with the intention of visiting Park Guell. By the time we arrived at the relevant stop, we’d finally got seats upstairs on the bus and we were enjoying the refreshing breeze and a pigeon’s eye view of the city. We didn’t want to get off as we didn’t have tickets for the Monumental part of the garden, so we carried on and visited Tibadabo instead.

Tibadabo is an amusement park on a mountain,on the top of which you get great views across Barcelona. You can walk up the mountain if you are really keen, but we weren’t so caught the old tram ( runs every 15 minutes, buy the tickets from the driver), then the funicular. DS was in heaven.

Tibadabo tram

The rides at the very top of the amusement park are all very old and dedicated to giving you a good view across the city, rather than a thrilling experience. There are some more up-to-date rides  for all ages further down the levels, but it was very hot and no one felt like exerting themselves. We spent all day in the park, stopping to identify various landmarks far below now and again, and even ate lunch there. Trip Advisor had warned us that the hotdogs were vile, so we ordered rolls instead from a little shed by the pirate ship. They were really very nice so we were pleasantly surprised.

View from Tibadabo

We had a big day out in Tibadabo and it took us ages to get home as we had most of the city tour bus loop to complete. We did see a football stadium, Casa Batllo and loads of earphones on top of a bus shelter but were completely shattered by the time we got back to the apartment.

Day three, our final day in Barcelona, was spent doing part of another loop with Barcelona Bus Turistic. We saw museums, fountains and the 1992 Olympic Arena that I remember so well over 20 years ago. We got off the at Mirador de l’Alcalde and took the Port Cable Car across the port to the beach. The two older girls weren’t too happy as it was a LONG way down but we got to the other side safely and got a fantastic view of the boats and activities in the harbour.

View from port cable car Barcelona

We had a very nice lunch at an American themed Burger Bar by the beach, then walked up to Las Ramblas to check out the stands and street performers, and slipped through the narrow old town streets to get back to our bus route. There was a lot of walking involved, and some very silly photos.

Barcelona shrimp/lobster

The next morning we were up early and heading off to Sitges, about 30 mins south of Barcelona on the train.

We all felt we had not done Barcelona justice, so have plans to go back at some point. I think we could have spent a week there but the beach was calling and the kids wanted to swim in the sea.

Feel At Home in Spain With Three

Some people are good with languages and some are not. I have always believed that I fall into the latter category.

The basis of this belief is a mostly forgotten memory of the three years I spent in secondary school in NZ trying to learn German. I’m not sure who was most frustrated by this exercise, me or my poor teacher. Let’s just say nothing came naturally to me in that subject and I was relieved to give it up. Good riddance, I thought, and when am I ever going to use a foreign language?

Now, of course, I live in England and our holiday travel plans can depend on who speaks what. Luckily DH gets by with French, and so far I’ve managed to stumble my way through the German speaking countries. But this summer, we are probably heading down through France to Spain, which means that someone has to learn Spanish.

So when I was offered a chance to try out some ‘Learn To Speak  Spanish’ Apps, available on both iPhones and iPads, I decided to give it  a go. There were a lot of Apps to choose from, so I chose the first three that popped up. Mainly I concentrated on Duolingo as I have used it before. But I also used the Busuu Spanish Course, which is designed to help you learn the language while you are actually in the country. I can see this might be useful during our travels but in the meantime, I’ll keep on plodding along at home too. I’m not sure I’m making any progress but it’s only been 2 weeks since I started learning.

Something that will be very useful in our travels through Europe is Three’s Feel At Home offer, where you can use a Three network phone in Spain (and other countries) at no extra cost. This page gives you a list if the countries included and shows you how much money you can save by taking advantage of this offer.

I’m not that hopeful about being able to make myself understood while travelling around Spain any time soon but I have a secret weapon in DD1, who is luckily learning Spanish at school. She has found the Apps very useful in revising for her school exams so they won’t be wasted.

And with Three’s data roaming package, then at least I’ll be able to access a translation App on my phone without bankrupting myself.

Three sent us a ‘Learn Spanish Like A Boss’ pack  in return for this post, but all thoughts above are my own.

spain