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Family of 5: Paris/Barcelona or Madrid/Seville

Family of 5: Paris/Barcelona or Madrid/Seville

Jan 8th, 2007, 09:00 AM
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Family of 5: Paris/Barcelona or Madrid/Seville

We are visiting family in London for 5 nights and then we have 10 nights to spend in Europe in early April 2007. We are a family of 5 (boys 8 and 5 and a newborn). Given the ages of our kids we will probably not get back to Europe for several years. I have been to Paris several times, but never to Spain. We like walking and just exploring new cities. Churches and museums are probably not interesting for the kids.

My thought is to pick two cities and rent an apartment for 5 nights in each city.

My original plan was to take the train from London to Paris. Spend 4/5 nights in Paris and then take the train to Barcelona and spend 5 nights.

Since we like walking and exploring outdoors, I am reconsidering Paris and Barcelona as the weather might not be good. It's not alot of fun pushing a stroller in the rain.

We could fly from London to Madrid. We would prefer not to rent a car (putting 3 boys in the back of a small car is not my idea of fun).

Where in (or near) Madrid would be a good base? Any suggestions on apartment rentals?

Can the region around Seville be explored without a car?

Do you think this is a good plan for a trip with children and a baby?

Thanks for your input!
sdfamily is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 10:52 AM
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This is the Spain forum, obviusly my recommendation is....Madrid and Seville, of course!
Someone will advise you better on Madrid.
About Seville, you can visit surroundings by train easily. Let's say Utrera or Osuna, or a day trip to Cordoba via AVE fast train. Info at www.renfe.es
josele is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 11:47 AM
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I don't want to sound like a kill-joy, but with children that age, I would completely skip Paris. I have 4 children and they've traveled extensively with us and they liked Paris the least. I'll never forget the misery. They've been to Rome, Florence, Venice, Barcelona, London, Munich, Berlin, Prague, Athens, Amsterdam, Brugges, various points in Asia, South and Central America, etc, etc. You get the picture. Honestly, Paris was their least favorite followed by Florence. While my husband and I love Paris, I think it was not so great for us (when they were the ages of your children) because so much of the enjoyment of the city is strolling, cafe lounging, museum wandering. Kids simply don't enjoy that. It will also ruin the experience for you. You don't need to go to Paris to spend many, many hours trying to entertain your kids in the Luxumbourg (sp?) Gardens.

On the other hand...Barcelona is magnificent for the children and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to you. There are strolling opportunities and many outdoor sightseeing activities. There is the waterfront, the Gothic Quarter, the Exjemple (sp?), Montjuic (sp?), the Ramblas, etc., etc.

I do have a couple of other, suggestions for you. My kids LOVED Normandy (the landing beaches), Mont St. Michel and the Loire Valley. We stayed on Mont St. Michel (which was just amazing for them) and in a chateau in the Loire Valley. My son was about 7 when we took him and he had a tremendous fascination with the invasion of Normandy. An added plus, you are near the water and sand for them to explore. In the Loire region, you can spend a few days exploring Chateau at your own pace and the boys will be enchanted by the "castles" and their grounds as well as the little villages. Not too many per day though.

Another trip I highly recommend is Provence. My kids loved the region. I know you are worried about having the kids in the car, but if you base yourself in Avignon or nearby, you will be within a short drive to so many sites offering variety and opportunities to explore. There are also charming inns spread throughout the countryside if that's something you might like.

Instead of Madrid, you may want to consider the sites on the outskirts. Madrid is nice, but there's not much there for the kids. Even on an adult tour, I'd only stay two nights.

Outside of Madrid, Segovia and Toledo are charming cities which you could justify one or two nights each. El Escorial is an austere, imposing castle your kids would enjoy.

I'll drop this bomb on you too...one of my kids' favorite cities was Amsterdam! We spent three nights there, rented bikes, checked out the museums, strolled the canals, hung out and enjoyed the scenery. Our youngest was about a year and we had a baby seat attached to my husband's bike. My son was also attached to my husband on a tandam! Maybe not the safest, but they were quite the novelty on the streets of Amsterdam. Amsterdam's an easy transfer from London and to other points in Europe. Good luck and let me know what you decide to do.
dgg is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 01:08 PM
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I wouldn't advise Normandy in April. It was quite cold in mid-May last year.
carolyn is online now  
Jan 8th, 2007, 01:49 PM
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Sounds like Seville would be a good base for day trips as well as a beautiful city.

I tend to agree about Paris not being that interesting for the kids. It was in between London and Barcelona. I looked into Provence also, but we went to the Dordogne on our last European trip. I'd like to go somewhere besides France.

My very first pick was Amsterdam. I visited as a kid and had great memories of the canals, tulips and riding bikes. Then, I looked at the average temperature for April (45F) and decided somewhere more Southern would be better. We live in San Diego and are cold weather wimps.

Is there anywhere near Madrid that we could use as a base? Segovia? Salamanca?

Thanks for your kid-friendly suggestions!

sdfamily is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 01:55 PM
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Interesting recommendations, dgg! We are taking our kids to Barcelona in March and Holland in July! (But they did enjoy Paris a lot, too. My problem with having kids in Paris is that they just zapped the romance out of the city for me.)
missypie is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 02:54 PM
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Sorry dgg, I must repectively disagree with your take on bringing kids to Paris. We were just there in May and June and our kids ages 3,6 and 9 loved Paris. They loved climbing up the Eiffel tower, playing in the Luxembourg Gardens(bring a soccer ball), eating crepes from street vendors.....they even enjoyed several of the museums. We opted to skip the Louvre and focus on smaller museums like L'Orangerie. We would talk about one painter or painting before we went and they loved seeing it in person. There is a great boat ride up the Seine, that is not too long, but offers great views. And it's a boat ride; my kids love any boat ride. They also loved eating at night. we would often pick a reataurant in a square and the kids would eat and then join the other kids in the square running around while my husband and I sat back and enjoyed the beauty and the moment.

We too have travelled to many European destinations with our kids, and Paris worked for us. I don't mean to sound contrary, But I would hate to see a family miss Paris based on a negative review, espacially when it was such a great experience for us.

We are also a walking family which may explain why we loved Paris so much. We also have an amazing 9 year old who could walk 10 or more miles in the day. That said, we also have a 6 year old that got tired after 10 minutes of walking. So we brought a collapsable stroller bundgied to the "mother stroller" where we could deploy it when needed.

I hope this helps.....must run.
prhirsch is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 06:07 PM
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I too would disagree with the notion that Paris is not for children. My daughters have been traveling overseas since the youngest was 7 and Paris remains one of their favorite destinations and one they have visited several times. Madrid was not a favorite but Seville was well liked and Barcelona was "ok".
mjs is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 07:08 PM
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Since you are looking for warm how about Barcelona and Seville. It's just as easy to get to Seville from Barcelona as Paris. Average temps in both those cities are higher than Paris or anywhere in France. I agree Barcelona would be a great place for kids - the beach, the harbor, Parc Guell, all the Gaudi buildings. Lots of variety. The only thing about Seville is you'd want to check your dates in terms of when Easter is this year. During the week before Easter there are all the festivals - which could be fun, but I think most of the hotels are already booked for that time period. But if your dates work out that sounds like a good idea.
isabel is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 07:21 PM
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The sleep depravation must be getting to me (I have a 3 month old). I never considered the Barcelona/Seville combination.

We could fly from London to Seville. Stay in Seville for 5 nights. Then overnight train (the boys think that this is cool) to Barcelona. Then, fly to London-Gatwick and home to San Diego.

I think this plan would give us a good taste of Spain.

Thanks for the suggestion!
sdfamily is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 08:07 PM
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Ok, Ok! I was hesitant to "86" Paris, because I didn't want to come across as one of the "meanies" who prowl the Message Boards looking for opportunities to point out how stupid they think [you] are for wanting to hike the Samarian Gorge or whatever. But with one in a stroller and a couple of other kiddos in tow, Paris can truly be a pleasure gamble. Missypie, I agree, the kids did just "zap the romance out of the city."

Anyway, the purpose is to help sdfamily find some options. Let's focus on Spain. I believe Madrid can be cool in early April. I'd check into the weather during that time of year before proceeding. I know you probably want to stay in one place, but you won't want to spend more than two days there. Toledo and Segovia are lovely towns. You could stretch to two nights each, with visits to Avila, Salamanca and El Escorial. There would be some driving, but no power drives. We've stayed in two places in Toledo...one at the top of the hill, near the Alcazar. I don't remember the name, but it was fine. More recently, we stayed at the Hostel del Cardenal. It was absolutely yummy. It has a large, charming courtyard for your children to wander around while the grown ups relax with a beverage. No views though. It sits at the edge of the historic town. There are escalators to wisk you up to the old town center. As far as Segovia, we've stayed in two fairly non-descript hotels. One was right on the cathedral and the other off on a side street, but not too far from the aquaduct. Honestly I don't remember names, but both were clean and well-located. Segovia is a great place to spend a couple of nights. Don't miss it. I lent my Spain guidebooks to someone in September and if they find their way back, I'll check my notes.

Madrid is quite far from Sevilla so take the high speed train between cities. The drive is terrible. I'll get the Sevilla hotel names for you too. Cordoba is nice, but Granada is worthy of at least one or two nights to explore the Alhambra and the old quarter of the city. I've stayed at the top of the hill next to the Alhambra at the Parador, and the Alhambra Palace. There was also another place I stayed many years ago called the Washington Iriving (I think). It's quite pleasant to stay up on the hill.

I'm still advocating Barcelona. It truly is a lovely city and you won't be disapointed. The distances between Barcelona and Madrid or Sevilla are more than they look on the map. You're probably going to have to pick two of the three regions to explore. Check the train schedules for the intracity routes.

I almost forgot to mention the wonderful custom in Spain which is to take an an evening stroll with your family/significant other/friends. Everyone dresses up for it. You'll feel at home pushing your stroller.

Finally, check out DISCOVERING SPAIN by Penelope Casas. She's also written some cookbooks and I think she runs tours as well. Excellent resource.

To see Spain, you will have to move around a little more than you originally intended, but it will be worth it. Writing this is bringing back fond memories! Let us all know what you decide.

dgg is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 08:11 PM
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Must have been typing when Isabel posted. She's right! Ignore my blabber and go to Barcelona and Seville.
dgg is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 08:49 PM
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One other significant point..it is very difficult to find hotels that will accomodate all 5 of you...yes, even though the baby is very small. Most hotels will give you triples at best. We're not the self-catering type and prefer hotels. We've actually had hotel staff look at us like we were crazy when we wanted to have just two young children in our room. Our oldest two are now teenagers so we get two, sometimes three rooms for the six of us. When they were all young, like yours, my husband and I would have to split up with the kids. It sounds as though you are leaning toward getting an apartment so that may not be a problem. If you want hotels, especially in the cities, you should start emailing now.
dgg is offline  
Jan 8th, 2007, 08:55 PM
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Dear sdfamily:

I think you should go to Rome. This is based entirely on the food. You kids will like the food in Italy better, since it will be more pizza & pasta based, more of what they are used to here.

Just my €2.

MichelleY is offline  
Jan 10th, 2007, 09:51 AM
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dgg - Thanks for all your input. I get excited for our trip just reading your recommendations.

I think Sevilla is definitely a must. I'm still torn between Barcelona and the area around Madrid.

Barcelona(+): lovely city, I think my kids would like it
Barcelona(-): would need to pack up and fly from Sevilla with stroller, car seat, backpack, etc....

Madrid area(+): not to be missed sights, easy to get to from Sevilla (AVE)
Madrid area(-): would have to save Barcelona for another trip, would like to have a base, but NOT Madrid, Segovia perhaps????

Well that's my thoughts for now! Any comments would be helpful.

sdfamily is offline  
Jan 10th, 2007, 11:43 PM
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sdfamily...I've been given your itinerary some thought. I really do think that you should go to Seville and Barcelona with the children. I'm certainly not an expert on Spain, but I've been to Spain a few times...Madrid and Seville twice each and Barcelona once. The last time I went, I really wanted to go back to Barcelona but my friend insisted on Madrid and the environs. She and I are both moms and we took a girls' trip sans husbands and kids. The other two trips were with the family. If you go to the Madrid area, you really should split your time between Segovia and Toledo. Both towns are best at night and would make very long day trips if you chose just one as a base and would not be as enjoyable as spending a night or two in each.

Sevilla is a lovely city. The primary sights are the Alcazar (or castle) and cathedral. The neighborhood around it is fun to explore. There is a nice park...the Maria Luisa, and it is on a river. There is a bull fighting arena, but I don't think it's in season in April. Probably a little violent for your young sons, but you should check on tours since the boys might be fascinated! On one trip, we went to a professional soccer game between Madrid and Seville. Not sure of the season in April, but it was a very exciting. You will enjoy strolling the city and can easily wallow away a few days. Seville is Tapas country so you will get to experience that tasty and fun Spanish tradition. Your children will be welcome in all the tapas bars, stroller and all. Sevilla will also give you a very good sense of the Arab or Moorish influence in Spain. Cordoba could be a daytrip and the train connection is easy. I think less than two hours, but please look into that. Cordoba is famous for its mosque and its Alcazar. There is a cute neighborhood to explore, but city itself is not stunning. I would also strongly urge you to make an overnight trip to Granada. The Alhambra is truly one of the world's must-see destinations. On certain evenings they allow people to enter at night. You are permitted to roam around by candlelight and it is truly enchanting. During the day it can get crowded with bus tours and their guides so go early. You should look in to it to find out which days the evening visits are offered and plan to visit then. Granada also has a very interesting Arab quarter which is touristy yet exotic and full of unusual shops and Morrocan-style restaurants. My girlfriend and I checked out a hooka bar which was pretty neat, but maybe not so good for the kids! You can also find flamenca shows there (as well as Sevilla). Another possiblity for a visit would be a seaside village or the interior village of Ronda which is an enchanting white-washed town with an incomparable cliffside setting. We also stopped at Arcos de la Frontera and spent the night in a parador there. I can't remember the driving times, but if you think you would like to get out of Seville to explore, there are many possibilites. We weren't terribly impressed with the Costa del Sol, but if you get a pretty day in April, it would probably be a nice diversion. All in all, if you do one thing outside of Seville, make it Granada and spend a night or two!!!!

Now, here is my pitch for Barcelona. As you probably know, Barcelona is a waterfront city with an active harbour. Much of the harbor area was cleaned up and converted to restaurant and shopping areas for the Olympics quite a few years ago. It is frequented by both tourists and locals and pleasant for strolling of having lunch. The kids will like it. I think there is also an aquarium, but we didn't visit it. If you stay for 5 nights, that would give you plenty of time to enjoy that.

Barcelona is a sophisticated city and the people view themselves more as Catalan than Spanish. The Catalan language has been kept alive by the strong willed people. It is almost like a separate country from Spain. It is very different from Sevilla. I don't recall seeing any real Arab influence there and it's more of a Mediteranean city. This is reflected in the food as well. One dish I remember eating several times was the salted cod or Baccala. I might be spelling that the Italian way. We thought the food in Barcelona was the best in Spain.

One of the highlights of our visit included simply strolling the Ramblas which is the very colorful pedestrian "main street" of Barcelona. There were street performers, restaurants and many shops. It can get a little funky, but it was still fun. There is an interesting and somewhat exotic food market off the Ramblas which is quite famous and worth a walk through. Off the Ramblas you can enter the Gothic Quarter which is a maze of tangled, tiny streets full of fun places to explore. We were sitting in a cafe in front of the cathedral on a Sunday (I think) afternoon and noticed a crowd gathering. There were people of all ages. They formed a circle and began a traditional Catalan dance. It was uttlerly amazing to see all of these people come together in this way! Everyone was welcome in their circle. I think it's a weekly tradition. We just stumbled on it!

Also in the Gothic Quarter is a small Picasso museum. It was fascinating because it contains his earlier works. Up to that point, I had never realized Picasso was trained as a classical artist. After seeing that museum, I gained a new appreciation for his later work. It is small so it will be tolerable for the kids. We found the Spanish museums to be almost lax with their rules so I wouldn't be too worried about the chidren. You can ascend to Montjuic where you will get a lovely view of the city and can visit the Spanish village there which has representations of different areas of Spain. Touristy, but the boys would probably like that. We enjoyed the Museum of Catalan Art (can't remember the actual Spanish name) because it contains many frescoes and art recovered from Romanesque churches throughout the Catalonia. Early in the last century, American industrialists, working through underhanded brokers, were quietly stripping away the art treasures of these churches and taking them out of the country until efforts were stepped up to halt this practice. Much of the rescued art is housed at this museum. There is also a Miro museum, that we didn't have enough time to visit. .

Barcelona's architectural variety is fascinating. There is an entire area called the Eixample which is full of incredible buildings in the Art Nouveau style. It is a wonderful area to explore and you can go inside some interesting buildings there. You must also remember the most famous of Barcelona's monuments, the Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. WOW! Regardless of what you think of it, there is nothing else quite like it in the world! It is still under construction!

On a far end of the city there is another mountain which you can ascend by funicular. Definitely a fun diversion for some 8 year olds.

If you are interested in Dali, his museum is just up the coast. I desperately wanted to see it, but it had closed just as we pulled up in front of it. Terrible luck. I can't recall the name of the town, but that should be easy to find out. Even the exterior of the museum was elaborately adorned in his funky style. I'm determined to get back there. There is a monastery housing the Black Madonna (Montserrat) and some roman ruins outside of Barcelona. We didn't visit either of those, but they certainly sound like good day trips.

We stayed in a "boutique" style hotel not far from the Plaza Catalonia which is a transportation hub. There was a sightseeing bus that left from there as well. My daughters liked riding on the upper deck. Anyway, the hotel was very reasonable and was in a tremendous location. The Ramblas started just around the corner and so many sights were within walking distance. I'll look through my notes to find the name. One observation was that all of the hotels in Spain were spotless, regardless of the rating. Hope you have the same luck.

Hope these recollections were helpful. If it were me, I would fly from London to Barcelona and spend 5 nights there. The distance between Barcelona and Granada (or Seville) is quite great. You can fly from Barcelona to Granada and spend a night or two then drive to Seville via the coast (around Gibralter) or through the inland hill town villages. You can also fly from Barcelona to Seville then drive or take the train to Granada (3 hours maybe). Double check the train because I've never done that. I think the flights are very inexpensive between London and Barcelona as well as within cities in Spain. You may feel that flying can be a hassle with the kids, but if you want to see two areas this far apart, it's better than driving. Unless you're on the AVE high speed trains, the trains can take a long time too. I like www.sidestep.com to check out airfares.

I can relate to your adventures with the little ones so keep me posted.
dgg is offline  
Jan 11th, 2007, 08:06 AM
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sdfamily: I have not read the longer posts on this, so if I repeat, sorry. It seems the group is tending to Barcelona/Seville and I agree that of the combos, it is the best. That said, if you don't want to rent a car and want nature, Seville is not really your place. Andalucía is hard to do without a car (I have had numerous experiences both with and without and without is just a letdown most of the time, especially in group), So you might get in Seville, but not really surrounding areas (you can train it to Córdoba, though).

Barcelona, however, has an active and well used train system that will take you all over Catalunya. If you have 10 days and 3 kids, you could easily do Barcelona and quite a few villages. Will you be there during Easter? That could be really interesting. Or if you are here during Sant Jordi (April 24) which has a book fair and tons to do.

I can understand wanting to move around, but 10 days and three kids screams "one place!" to me.
laclaire is offline  
Jan 11th, 2007, 11:05 AM
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Claire: Don't you think the kids will like the food better in Italy??

I still think you should go to Italy: Rome, Pisa, daytrips to Ostia Antica. The boys will love the gladiator stuff.

Just my €2!!

MichelleY is offline  
Jan 11th, 2007, 08:24 PM
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MichelleY - I definitely think Italy would suit my kids well, but my husband and I have been there before and have not been to Spain. That's why I'm leaning that way....

laclaire - I agree. It would be nice to just camp in one place. But....I really think I want to visit Barcelona AND Sevilla. It will be quite a while before we drag everybody to Europe again. I think we could manage both cities for 5 night stays each. If we're able to fly into Sevilla from LON, then renting a car might not be such a bad thing.

Thanks for all you'alls help!


sdfamily is offline  
Jan 11th, 2007, 10:01 PM
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Oops!! Sorry Sara, I thought this was your husband posting. Since mom is planning this trip, I feel better about Spain. The food is very different than anything we are used to here. Plus the dinner hour doesn't start until after 9 p.m. An apartment may work better for you.

We were in N. Spain in June and rented a VW minivan. It easily held 5 adults: 2 in front, 3 in back.

Good luck with your planning.

MichelleY is offline  

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