One of the key ways I find inspiration as an author is by travelling—nothing quite stimulates my creative juices wandering through a dungeon or getting lost in a maze in a foreign country. Travels have been few and far between for my family the last few years, but we recently were gifted flights to Europe (and some free accommodation with friends and family), so we wanted to make the most of it—in other words, we wanted to do all the usual things we’ve always done on our past trips to Europe, Korea, China, and Southeast Asia. That means wall-to-wall exploring, every single day.
However . . .
One significant thing has changed since our last major trip, though: we now have a child. Before the pandemic, we actually did a major international trip to Korea and Japan with our son, but he wasn’t even walking back then, so that was enough to curtail our ambitions.
But he’s five now, so we thought we could revert to our old ways: see everything, go everywhere, and adventure it up.
Yes, we were that naïve!
The first part of our trip was in Spain and reality sank in for me when we visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Hiro and I look at artwork all the time at home (I highly recommend the Daily Art app!), and we’ve visited art installations and galleries in Vancouver . . . which is all to say that I thought I had sufficiently and cleverly laid out the groundwork for a visit to the Picasso Museum.
Is this another room of boring?
As soon as we entered, our grumpy five-year-old, at the end of his late-afternoon rope, announced for all to hear: “BOR-ING.” Turning crimson red, I quickly shuffled him along, trying to find a different room to spark him. All I got was, “Is this another room of BOR-ING?” (Of course, as soon as he knew that was getting a reaction from me, he kept it up.)
The other thing that my wife and I realized? We had to do WAY more carrying than we expected. We had been building up Hiro’s stamina, but there were many times when we were on a time crunch to meet an entrance time—or to catch a train—and the easiest thing was to just plonk him on my shoulders.
My back sure paid for that halfway through the trip!
So, I didn’t get the ponder and pontification time that I’m used to. BUT . . . of course, there are so many other positives to travelling with a toddler.
The world through a five-year-old’s lens
I’m the one in the family normally accused of getting sidetracked by a detail (usually a doorknocker), but Hiro often became interested in something I wouldn’t have paid remote attention to—like the designs on the sidewalk.
Or the scale of everything—he had never seen anything quite like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. In some cases, I wanted him to appreciate the magic of a moment in a more profound way, but eventually realized he WAS seeing things in a profound way. His own, personal profound way.
Mapping, mapping, mapping
Hiro has been obsessed with maps since he was old enough to understand what they were. I remember when he was barely two and I had to map out our neighbourhood for him, because he wanted to see our house in context of his world (which, for him at the time, was the neighbourhood).
So, there was a lot of looking at maps at every city and site. Marcie ended up buying him maps of the major cities we went to (even as I write this, he’s sitting near me, studying one of them).
No photos, please!
You can never predict a kid’s mood when it comes to photos. Sometimes, he loves to pose and ham it up, especially next to my wife. Other times? Well . . .
On the run
We tried doing a few things that we thought would appeal to Hiro’s interests—the aquarium, the zoo . . . but, really, what he wanted most was to just run around (except when we wanted him to—like, you know, to catch a train).
Barcelona is famous for Guell Park, but we decided to forgo it (Marcie and I had both been there on previous trips) and instead went to Parc del Laberint d’Horta, which featured a beautiful maze. That was something we could all get behind—and lost in. We must have spent two hours there (and not only because we got lost in the maze, but because we wanted to do it more than once).
There’s no bull here
Another favourite experience that we shared was exploring the bull ring in Mijas, the town where our friends live. I have zero desire to witness an actual bull fight, but for a couple of Euros, we could take a self-guided tour through the ring during off-hours. Hiro loved running around the arena. In particular, I loved going down the alleys behind the arena. I have been working on a middle-grade time travel book, and now I’m thinking I might have to write an extra scene to feature my characters ending up in a bull ring back in the day.
Visiting the Mijas bull ring, made me realize how similar gladiator pits and bull rings are. The father of my friend who lives in Mijas did say that bull fighting came from the Romans—I haven’t corroborated that information, but it does make sense to me.
The run of the place
Another successful experience for us was in Seville. We only had one night there, on our way to Lisbon, and because of that, we missed out entry on two of the main sites there, Royal Alcàzar and the Cathedral, because they were sold out. (The reality is that we didn’t want to prebook a lot of things because we quickly learned that we couldn’t predict Hiro’s day).
However, we did go check out Setas de Seville on the morning of our departure. This is a site built over the old marketplace, part of a revitalization of the area, and it’s a futuristic looking walking platform that provides a 360-degree view of the city. Because we got there so early, we had the run of the place—literally. Hiro did laps around those walkways, and it was all completely safe, so we felt completely at ease. And the views were absolutely stunning.
As mentioned above, we did head to Portugal after Seville, but I leave those adventures for a future post.
By the way, I normally blog DURING a trip . . . but I simply didn’t have time for that during this one. Once again—travelling with a toddler! I thought I would get more work done on some of the train trips—in one case in particular, I sat down to write and edit some students’ stories, but Hiro wanted me to plug my headphones in and listen in as he watched a movie (Sing).
I leave you with some of my favorite doors from Spain. (Yep. I got sidetracked a lot!)
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