Ode to Barcelona - Active Family Travel (Part II), 'TOURNKEYS': Beaches & Poblenou
Discovering Barcelona With Active Kids w/ Tour'nKeys (Sample Itineraries)
by Paula M. Toledo
This time (our third trip abroad to Europe), the three of us were excited. Boarding our flight to Barcelona, my sons had their own backpacks which actual served a utilitarian purpose. Barf-back-up change of clothes, their favourite stuffy, water and a digital device to keep us all sane mid-air - we were prepared!
Four years ago, when my boys were just three and five, I decided to move my family to Paris. I put up my place in Montreal for rent and packed up a few suitcases. I left all our toddler gear behind hoping to travel 'light' throughout France, Switzerland and Italy, with Paris as our base.
Torn with the predicament of riding buses, carrying strollers up and down metro stairways while my wild free-running kids were steps ahead of me, I opted to leave the stroller behind. Scarier still was leaving my entire safety net. My in-laws, brothers and sisters were the greatest support during my early days as a widow.
When I lost my husband, I realized I was still a child as I had never cared for myself completely on my own. Moving out of my parent's home in Montreal at twenty-two and heading West to Vancouver, British Columbia with my late husband, was like cross country zip-lining from one nest to another.
The death of my husband, my best friend and first love, combined with the loss of my parents and a close encounter with my own mortality days after childbirth, made moving my family to Paris seem uncomplicated. It's amazing how death and grief can throw you perspective. Searching for meaning in it all, I recognized that I had been given a second chance at getting my life and our family life right . Right to me meant finding purpose in my life and work. Every day this became my golden standard. Living in a place that inspired me was part of that exchange.
When we arrived in Paris, I was in need of some serious boot camp training to teach my sons how to hold my hand - like for more than two seconds. Unlike the streets in our Montreal neighbourhood, the traffic in the Parisian streets so narrowly grazed the sidewalks and pedestrians walking on them, that my heart took permanent residency in my throat.
Eventually I discovered two small backpacks with a long strap attached to them. Surely these backpacks were invented by a fellow parent with similar free-running circus troops in training. I taught the boys that they had two choices. One: they could wear the backpacks and I would hold onto the strap to keep them close and safe or two: they could hold my hand. The boot camp training didn't last long and as horrible as it was for us, it also served another purpose. I became stronger and resistant to disapproving Parisian glares, more confident in my parenting than ever. When you are alone in a foreign country and a single mama, you will do whatever it takes to make sure your kids are safe.
Single Mom and Family Travel With Active Kids in Barcelona
Fast forward four years and their free-running days have not changed one bit. But instead of harnessing them in, I taught them, and they eventually learned the skills to stay safe. What to look out for and what to do if we get separated has been drilled into them. I am also mindful that as much as I would love to hang around the museums teaching them about Gaudí, Miró and Picasso, my boys need to feel the burn. Running, swimming, hiking, biking, climbing. I am grateful for their athleticism, as chasing behind them definitely cushioned the guilt of my tapas and wine indulgences.
For parents in the same boat as me, especially for single moms travelling alone with active, free-running kids, I may have some solutions for you.
Here are my TOURnKEYS - my itineraries I am sharing with the hopes of making chaotic travel with kids a little more fun and less stressful.
TOURnKEYS - Sample Itineraries II - Family Travel Barcelona
In the AM
Playa Mar Bella, Poblenou
Further North East in Barrio El Poblenou, lies Playa Mar Bella, a less crowded and less touristy beach for water sport lovers. The development of the beach was the result of the urban sprawl shortly after the Barcelona Olympic Games. It should be known that left of the breakwater, nudism is permitted. So if you are less inclined to sunbathe among the au naturel, then it's best to find a more south-western beach location.
I would recommend arriving there early to secure a good spot. If you would like to make a day of it at the beach, there is plenty to do with a playground (southwest) walking distance away. We didn't explore this option, but sailboats and kayaks can be be rented at adjacent Base Nauticá Municipal de Barcelona.
Location, how to get there:
Passeig Marítim del Bogatell, 128, 08005 Barcelona
Metro: Yellow L4 (Metro Stop Poble Nou). Or take the V27 or H16 bus.
If you are taking the Metro, on your way walking to the beach (about a 15 minute walk with younger children), and would like to grab a picnic to go, you can opt to pick up reasonably priced groceries at Mercadona. Head southwest from the Metro station on Carrer Pujades, turn (NW) right on Carrer de Llacuna, (NE) right on Carrer de Pallars, towards La Rambla del Poblenou. The walk is approximately 6 minutes (Google Map adult-walk-steps).
A smaller scale version of La Rambla in the city, La Rambla del Poblenou is a pedestrian street lined with cafés, restaurants, ice cream shops, organic grocery stores and markets. If a picnic is too much trouble, there are restaurants like Chiringuito Begay | Beach Club located right on the beach.
In the PM:
If by the afternoon, you are sun-drenched and tired of sand in your bathing suits, rinse off at the beach showers, change into some dry clothes and head back up La Rambla del Poblenou. The outdoor terraces are a great place to have an aperitivo and people watch. If you are up for something more active, you can rent scooters and bikes* and head back to the Skate Park at Playa Mar Bella or bike approximately 5 km towards city centre, stopping at the other six beaches along the way. *It is good to book in advance to make sure you get bikes, especially during high season.
Bike Rental at Pedal Bikes. The walk up from the beach is about 18 minutes (Google Map adult-walk-steps). There was a bit of 'are we there yet mum?' along the way but the motivation to go biking ran high. Staff were super friendly and spoke English, a bonus when my Spanish vocabulary failed me. My kids are not experienced city bike riders so I was a bit nervous about riding our bikes from the shop to the beach. The pedestrian street La Rambla was perfect for us, as for the most part, there were designated bike lanes all the way to the beach. The beach bike-lanes are wide and give beautiful vistas along the Mediterranean coast all the way to Frank Gehry's stunning architectural sculpture of a fish El Peix at the Arts Hotel. The loop back to the bike shop should run you approximately 10 km.
Cost**: 10 euro for 3 to 4 hours (City Bike) - different hourly rates apply, 10 euro flat fee for Kid's Bike.
Location: Camí Antic de València, local 2, 08005 Barcelona, Spain. Tel. (+34) 93 300 45 06
Hours: Every day 10 to 19h
** Prices may vary so best to verify by contacting shop
On Wheels (Both for Scooter and Bike Rentals)
Location: Rambla del Poblenou, 49, 08005 Barcelona, Spain. Tel (+34) 605 22 73 92
Hours**: Every day 9h to 21h
** Prices and hours of operation may vary so best to verify by contacting shop
For the best pizza EVER, try Madre Lievata but arrive right at 2015h or risk not getting a table. There was a line-up outside the restaurant at 2030h! Authentic Italian pizza, chef hats, dough throwing...the works! The pizza is melt in your mouth. My kids, the pizza experts, couldn't get enough of it. Treat yourself to their tiramisu! Madre Lievata is about a 12 minute (Google Map adult-walk-steps) away from Pedal Bike Rentals and On Wheels.
Location: Calle Llacuna, 1, 08005 Barcelona, Spain
Hours: 1330–1600h, 2030 - 2400h
by Paula Toledo