Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Quick Pit Stop in London

A beautiful thing about living in London is that while it is a destination in and of itself, it is also a great pit stop en route to mainland Europe.  London is also a frequent work destination for several of our friends and family members.  Of course it's fun when people come to London just to visit us (well . . . to visit the city we live in), but we are also excited when other obligations or trips draw people to London and enable us to connect with them, even if it's just briefly.

Aunt Becky & Grandma Billings were on their way to a cruise along the Iberian Peninsula and added a stopover in London.  They were here fewer than 3 days, but we sure crammed in a lot!

Welcome dinner to celebrate Cheryl & Becky's birthdays.
Seeing all the downtown sights.  I had to go pick up the big kids at school, but Cheryl & Becky did a hop on hop off
bus tour to see all of the sights.  
We found Abbey's shop at Westminster!  She was unimpressed.  
James had fun playing with Grandma on our boat trip to Greenwich. 
Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere as we lean across the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. 
Such a fun visit!  We also went to a show on the West End (well, part of one . . . we left after intermission), saw the kids school, and played at least one game of Rummikub.  I was amazed at how much we squeezed in to just 2 full days.  
This was Uncle Tim's second visit to London for work since we moved here.  We were able to meet him downtown for dinner one night.  The kids are always so excited to see him (especially after he let them raid the mini bar stash at his hotel).  It's funny because we've seen him more often since living in London than when we lived in Seattle!  We all hope work brings him back here again soon! 

Anne & Rex and my parents stopped by as they were heading to Amsterdam to catch a Norwegian Cruise.  Sadly, mechanical difficulties and flight delays cut into their already short visit to London.  They were with us less than 48 hours.  But this was plenty of time for lunch at Leicester Square, a hop on hop off bus tour, a boat trip along the Thames, a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, a boat trip on the Thames, and Lion King on the West End.  
Sadly, Matt got in a bike accident during their super short visit.  It was a blessing to have them there though because Anne & Rex got the older kids to school and Mom and Dad were able to take care of James and Abby all day while I took Matt to the dentist to have his mouth injuries assessed.  Anne and Rex explored on their own most of the time, but still made time for family dancing at the end of the day.

James thought Uncle Rex was pretty cool.  We look forward to another visit from them when we have a little more time together, but we were so happy they were able to stop by briefly and see where we live and get a taste of our new city. 

Work brought my cousin Michael to a city a few hours outside of London, but had him flying in and out of Heathrow.  We were happy to host him for a night before he caught his morning flight home to L.A.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner together and then Michael, Kaylee, and I went for an evening stroll around our nearby park and the High Road.  It was fun just to chat and catch up on life while enjoying the views of London.  Work also brought our friends Ryan and Mark into town, and we had a lot of fun sharing a meal and visiting with them.    

If you ever find yourself in London for a few days or just a few hours, let us know!  We always love to reconnect with family and friends.

Hong Bed and Breakfast

Since moving here, we've called our home many things.  Pemberley, Hong House, Hong Hotel, Hong End, Rookfield Estate, and The Hong Bed and Breakfast.  It has certainly lived up to its last name these past few months.  For my own records, here's what our bookings have looked like since moving here.

Jan. 27 - Arrive in London
Feb. 3 - Move out of the Airbnb and into our house
March 8 - Sea Shipment arrived
March 24-30 - Grandpa & Grandma Couch
March 30-April 10 - Cousin Isaac
March 30-April 16 - Cousin Calie
April 26-29 - Grandma Billings & Aunt Becky
May 16-19 - G&G Couch, Aunt Anne, & Uncle Rex
May 29- June 12 - Grandma Mauger, Aunt Mindy, Kaya, & Lander
June 16-June 17 - Cousin Michael
June 23 - July 4 - Mary Hendricks

And coming up . . .

July 18-20 - Gutierrez Family
Aug 2-4 - Aunt Liz & Cousin Hannah
Aug 16-22 - G&G Couch
Aug. 23 - Aunt Becky

This is only people who have stayed overnight at our house and does not include the handful of visitors we've been lucky enough to host or connect with while they are in London briefly including Uncle Tim, and a number of other friends.  

Hosting so much lately has gotten me behind on blogging all our adventures.  We genuinely love the circulation of visitors though and even have a set "Welcome to London" dinner & breakfast.  You'll just have to visit to find out what it is though.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Epic Laundry Battle

One concern I had with moving a young family of 6 to Europe was laundry.  This may seem like a ridiculous worry, but as the primary laundry manager in our household, I had fears of a house full of laundry hanging to dry and having to do laundry nonstop.  First world problems, I know.

As we looked for a home, I was always looking at the laundry facilities.  To our surprise, a few houses actually had laundry rooms or closets that were somewhat like what you would find in the USA - a washer and dryer together in a separate part of the house.  Far more common was either a washer/dryer combo or just a washer in the kitchen.

The house we picked has the washer/dryer combo in the kitchen.  Now that I understand how to run it, I'm not having the same trials I did initially (no blankets stuck in the dryer).  But the drying aspect does not work as well as a standard dryer unless the load is tiny - like 2 pairs of pants.  Abby's pants. I still use the drying mechanism on occasion, particularly if I start a small load at night so that it will be dry in the morning, but it is not dependable enough to dry all our clothes.
Our washer/dryer combo in the kitchen.
We had been warned about the inefficiency of the washer/dryer combos ahead of time, so when we chose a home that did not have a stand alone dryer, Matt made it a priority to get a condenser dryer right away.  A condenser dryer does not vent outside of the house, but instead collects all the water inside a drawer as it dries, then you remove the drawer & dump the water out after each load.  The dryer had a home in our kitchen the first month or so, then found it's permanent residence in our family room after our shipment of stuff came.  This location can be an annoyance if we are trying to watch TV because it is quite loud, but it is convenient when I just fold the dried laundry while watching TV.
Our dryer in the family room.  It doubles as an end table. And with the
decorative plant you hardly know it's there.  Ha ha! 

In the USA, even with a family of 6, I was able to have 1 set laundry day where I rotated EVERYTHING through.  Sometimes it stretched to 2 days if I didn't finish it all in one day, but I still had energy focused on laundry only part of the week.  Here, the washer and dryer have such small capacities that I do have to do laundry nearly every day. Otherwise it just gets totally behind.  I think 1 UK is equivalent to about 1/3 a US load.  Additionally, each cycle takes significantly longer than a US cycle.  I now have a fairly good rotation doing the girls laundry one day, the boys laundry one day, our laundry one day, towels one day, and then starting the rotation again.  But if we have guest sheets to wash or a bloody nose in the middle of the night that needs extra towels for cleanup and duvets washed - it just throws the whole rotation off.  I frequently end up with piles like this in the family room.
I think this is 4-5 loads of laundry.  It may have been 1.5 in the US. 

Many of our neighbors either never, or hardly ever, use a dryer.  This is quite common here because of the energy it takes to use a dryer.  So lately, particularly as the weather is sunnier and hot, I've been trying to be more European and energy efficient and air dry our clothes on occasion.  It is actually quite pleasant and AJ enjoys helping with the process.  I'm still SO grateful for the dryer, especially with how rainy and chilly it can be here (I don't know how people dry clothes during the winter here without a dryer!), but it's nice to have options.  We are also learning to wash clothes only when necessary . . . well trying to learn this.  But we are improving.

So, while the laundry is not as easy as it was in the states, it is also not as bad as I imagined it might be.  I think I am winning the battle (typed as the washer and dryer whirr away downstairs on their 4th tiny load of the day).  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weekend Road Trip to France and Belgium

The fact that I can have that as a title is pretty cool, and one of the main reasons we wanted to move to London.  Because we can, in fact, decide on a Wednesday that we want to take advantage of the 3 day weekend ahead and drive to France and Belgium.  And that is just what we did.  

We knew the Paris Temple Open House was happening, but after our marathon of visitors and travel to Spain we were feeling quite tired.  Additionally, we already had plans to travel to Paris at the end of May when Matt's family was visiting.  So we decided we would not attend the open house and just visit the temple sometime when we were in Paris.

But then on a Wednesday night after the kids were in bed,  Matt said, "Maybe we should just go this weekend after all since it's a 3 day weekend."  We spent a couple hours researching and booking lodging and trains, and Saturday morning we were on our way! Road trip!

We drove 1 1/2 hours to Folkestone to board the Eurotunnel train.  Everything about it was easy and smooth from the passport control to driving onto the train (yes, you read that correctly - driving onto the train like a ferry in Seattle) to exiting on the other end.  It was much less exhausting and stressful than our trip to Barcelona via Gatwick Airport.  We left our house at about 10 AM and were at our Airbnb in Versailles by 4 PM (including the hour time change).    

Saturday evening we attended the open house for the beautiful Paris Temple and had a delicious dinner out.  Sunday we attended church in the morning and spent the afternoon exploring the fountains and gardens at Chateu de Versailles.  In the evening we drove to Bruges, Belgium where we stayed overnight.  Monday we explored the picturesque town and ate to our hearts content.  We left in the mid-afternoon and arrived home by bedtime.  

The trip was certainly not without its challenges, but for such a spontaneous trip it went remarkably well.  It's also become apparent that most of the trials of traveling with 4 kids would exist no matter where we are - even on a road trip in the PNW.  Overall the getaway was a huge success, and we are looking forward to more road tripping around Western Europe.  

"I love to see the temple . . ."  This was our children's first time getting to go inside of a temple.
The stained glass and architecture were beautiful and it was a special moment looking together
into mirrors that represent eternity and thinking about how we can be an eternal family.  The grounds
outside the temple with all their colorful blooms, fountains, and the statue of Christ, were equally
peaceful and beautiful.  
Matt took an early train ride into Paris to meet up with a friend for a run.  His sunrise view on the
train ride from Versailles to downtown Paris was beautiful. 
At Jardin Versailles Danny and Kaylee really loved all the citrus trees in L'orangerie.  
They were sorely disappointed I would not let them actually pick any oranges and eat them. 

Fountains!  There were so many different types of fountains and even some shows set
 to music.  The amazing thing is that the fountains remain mostly unchanged from when they
were originally put into place during the reign of Louis XIV.  

This panorama didn't quite turn out as hoped, but I was hoping to capture this particular
vantage point from which you could spin 360 degrees and see over 12 different
fountains.  Beautiful!   

As we were leaving Versailles I insisted Matt take this photo.  We had been at Versailles on
our babymoon almost exactly one year before.  I was 6 months pregnant with James on our
first visit to Versailles in 2016.  During our 2017 visit James was 9 months old.  I think it's a much
cuter shot when he's on the outside. 

Exploring Bruges, Belgium.  Beautiful canals, fountains, windmills, blossoms, and architecture.
Apparently if you order french fries with ketchup, but eat them with dainty little forks,
then they are pom frittes.  Delicious!  

Belgians don't mess around with their chocolate.  We got a sampler that we ate our
way through.  And the waffles exceeded expectations.  I would move to Belgium just to eat
those waffles on a daily basis.  SO YUMMY! 

Want to Remember:

  • ·      Coolness of driving the car onto a train to go into the tunnel
  • ·      Ease of immigration when using Eurotunnel
  • ·      Getting on a much earlier train
  • ·      Car picnic – ham and cheese wraps – in a train while traveling under the English Channel
  • ·      Driving through French countryside -  fields with bright yellow rapeseed/canola and white cows
  • ·      Unexpectedly running into our London North Ward friends, the Hagens, at the temple.
  • ·      Standing in temple sealing room as a whole family looking into eternity
  • ·      Danny and Kaylee taking photos on the temple grounds and AJ posing for Matt
  • ·      Chinese buffet in Versailles
  • ·      Overflowing chapel and church building – SO many people. 
  • ·      Sacrament passing taking over 20 minutes because of the number of people.
  • ·      The hymns Be thou Humble and Because I Have Been Given Much in French.
  • ·      Many languages and cultures.
  • ·      Unexpected sunshine as we got to Versailles
  • ·      Letting the kids pick which hidden gardens to go to.
  • ·      Frisbee and flower picking in the Star Grove
  • ·      Kids running through mazelike paths
  • ·      Picnicking at Versailles
  • ·      Finally finding a fountain with water – Mirror Pool 
  • ·      Sunshine right as the fountain show was starting in the Ballroom Garden
  • ·      Crazy fountain statue poses
  • ·      Abby racing between the fountains.  “Ready, set, go.  I’m the winner.”
  • ·      Singing children their lullabies in the hotel until they fell asleep late at night in Belgium.
  • ·      Picturesque Bruges
  • ·      Family boat ride through Bruges canals
  • ·      Best food ever in Belgium – pom frittes, chocolate, and waffles.  YUM.
  • ·      Successfully checking off Matt’s 4 “Must dos” in Belgium
  • ·      Everyone singing Sweet Baby James when he got fussy from too much time in his car seat.
  • ·      Danny and Kaylee playing with Jamesy – chugga chugga choo choo, ring clipping on and off, peekaboo
  • ·      Singing Down by the Bay as we drove into Paris – seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time off in the distance
  • ·      Deciding on stickers for Ringo – his first big road trip
  • ·      Walking crazy fast around Bruges with AJ and James to see the windmills
  • ·      Matt having 2 snuggly Sunday naps with James
  • ·      First time driving in Belgium and France – hooray for googlemaps.  And a smart driver (Matt) who remembers which side of the road to drive on.
  • ·      Playing "I Spy" while eating pom frittes
Want to forget (but will include for posterity and to laugh about later)

  • ·      Late night arrival in Belgium
  • ·      Overpriced hotel with extra charges for each kid
  • ·      Stressful McDonald’s ordering on supposedly faster self-serve kiosks.
  • ·      No quick mart at the gas station
  • ·      James waking up all night.  And Abby being afraid.  And Kaylee’s hurt leg.  Basically no good sleep. Any night.
  • ·      Waiting 30 minutes for a fountain at Versaille with no water.  And finding out the other fountains didn’t start until 5:30
  • ·      Abby meltdown about no straws for her hot chocolate at breakfast.  And how the milk and pears and croissants tasted different.
  • ·      Arguing at the reception desk with language barriers about what paper was needed to pay the bill. 
  • ·      Cold, windy morning so nobody wanted to see the North Sea.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Traveling abroad with kids is NOT easy. Just so you know . . .

Many years ago, we got a sweet beagle named Daisy.  Not too long afterward, Matt's sister's beagles had a litter of puppies.  I fell in love with the pups.  But we already had Daisy so it seemed unnecessary to get another one.  But those puppies were so cute.  As we asked around for advice, everyone assured us that we would be so happy to have two.  It would be great.  That two dogs is no harder than one.  We were told they would entertain each other and sleep with each other and really, people said, it's no harder to feed two dogs or walk two dogs.  We got another puppy and named him Dozer.

And over the years, we discovered that all those people lied.  Because two dogs was harder than one. Double the vet bills.  Double the dog poop to clean up.  Double the messes in the house.  Double the dog sitting fees.  Double the ear infections and vaccines.  I wouldn't have traded it because it also meant double the snuggles and double the fun running on trails and double the excitement when you got home after a long day away.  But it was hard.  

Before moving abroad, we talked to many people who had lived abroad, specifically in London.  It was like the dog thing all over again. "You'll love it!  It is incredible!  We'd move back in a heartbeat! BEST Experience EVER." They said.  But they forgot to mention how insanely hard it would be at times.   

In many of my posts and facebook and instagram photos you see happy smiling faces of our family traveling the world.  Before we moved here I saw those same photos of other friends and families living and traveling abroad and thought it looked pretty amazing.  And it is.  But I feel it is my duty to set things straight.  Should you have the opportunity to live or travel abroad with your children, I'm not going to be the one to blame for not warning you that it will be hard.  Yes, I'm still going to continue posting photos and blogs about amazing days and fantastic travels.  Because there are a lot of things that are amazing and awesome and incredible.  But consider this a reality check.  A warning. A public safety announcement.  Traveling and living abroad with young kids is NOT easy.

Consider the following from our past two trips to the continent . . .
  • After an exhausting day of travel, being woken by your 9 month old throughout the night.
  • Being awoken by your toddler when she has a bloody nose in someone else's home (since it was an airbnb, not a hotel)
  • Handling a tween meltdown while waiting in the hot sun for a bus.
  • Pushing a stroller everywhere and hauling it up and down steps.
  • Finding out the hotel you booked online charges an additional 20 Euro per child.
  • Filling out 6 immigration cards while going through passport control at midnight.  
  • Trying to keep track of 4 children whilst wandering through crowded city streets.
  • Driving through the beautiful French countryside while your infant screams in his carseat.
  • Making sure your diaper bag/backpack is always stocked with bandaids, wipes, water, and snacks a plenty to prevent hangry.  Hauling said diaper bag/backpack everywhere.  
  • Juggling a stroller, ergo, and bjorn amongst tired children after a long day exploring and walking.  
  • After a fun date night out on the town, being awoken at 5 AM by your child who will not return to sleep. 
  • Dealing with spit up or diaper blowouts or massive snotty sneezes while on public transportation and realizing you are on your last wipe.  

Yes, it is amazing and awesome to travel and live abroad as a family.  But consider yourself warned.
It is also really hard.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Springtime in London

During the hardest times of decision making and decluttering and packing and moving earlier this year, I often told myself to look ahead to springtime in London.  In early January I knew the foreseeable future would be hard because there was one challenge after another.  Choosing a home in London followed immediately by dealing with movers followed immediately by prepping the house for renters followed immediately by packing 8 huge duffel bags & carry ons followed immediately by a 12+ hour travel day followed by jet lag followed by moving into our house followed by getting the kids settled in schools followed by finding a car . . . . etc. etc. etc.  There was hardly time to breathe. But I told myself again and again in overwhelming moments of exhaustion or doubt or stress to look ahead to springtime in London, because by springtime we would be settled and still living in London.

Well, it is springtime in London.

I'm not sure that life is as calm as I anticipated it might feel . . . we have a revolving door of visitors that keep us on our toes and day to day life with 4 active children and a hardworking husband is always somewhat exhausting.

But as I reflect on these past 4 months I am proud of all we have accomplished and the routines we've established here as we've been settling in.  We are still learning to bloom in our new environment, but I think we are creating something beautiful and I'm excited to watch as our family continues to grow.

Thursday, May 04, 2017


After only living here a month, I was looking at the calendar and realized we should probably book something if we planned to go abroad for the kids term break in April.  We wanted to go somewhere that warm, new, and kid friendly.  Barcelona is warmer than London, Spain was a new country for all of us to visit, and Barcelona is always on lists of where to take kids in Europe.  So we booked our plane tickets and Airbnb.  We were thrilled when Calie decided to join us for our first trip to Spain.  Even more so once the trip began and we realized how helpful an extra adult and set of hands would be when traveling abroad with kids. 

Life got extraordinarily busy just after booking the trip – our shipment of stuff arrived, I was unpacking, Matt had a work trip, and then we had visitors.  Unlike other family trips, I just did not have time or energy to research and plan out all the logistics.  For someone who likes to plan – I make a spreadsheet of ride order before we go to Disneyland – this began to stress me out a lot as the days for our departure drew near. 

Fortunately I got some good advice from friends who have traveled with kids a lot.  They briefed me about what you need to work out ahead of time (lodging, airport travel logistics) and what you can figure out on the fly (which sights to see the next day).  In the day or so before departing we came up with a few specific things we wanted to explore, then off we went.  It was a tiresome trip, with some fun adventures, and also a lot of learning about what it means to travel abroad with 4 kids. 

Day 1

What we did:  
Drove an hour and half from our house to an airport car park then took a shuttle to Gatwick Airport then took an airplane to Barcelona then took a taxi to our Airbnb.  Somewhere in all of that we ate some food.  The Airbnb was in a great location not far from La Sagrada Familia and right next to a METRO stop. 
View from our Airbnb (taken from the website).  The view was even better in person.
What we learned
  • Just because we live in London, much closer to the rest of Europe, travel there still takes a significant amount of time.  Certainly not as long as if we were flying in from the US, but it was a LONG travel day.  
  • Even though the UK is part of the EU, it is not part of the Schengen agreement so you have to go through immigration every time you travel.  Which is tiresome with a family of 6.  Matt had to cut the line to get Abby to a toilet.  Luckily they made it in time.  
  • Pack light - thanks to some friends excellent recommendations we had great luggage for easy travel.  We were able to pack the whole family for 5 days with 2 large backpacks and 2 small carry on suitcases.  Plus a small backpack/diaper bag and stroller.  It was nice not to have too much to worry about.  
  • It is worth doing a lot of research to find an Airbnb with plenty of space in an excellent location.  Our Airbnb was excellent. 
Day 2

What we did
Ate fresh baked goods on our balcony with incredible views.  Walked to La Sagrada Familia and viewed the outside.  Played with bubbles, ate popsicles, and played on a playground.  Took the Metro and a bus to Montjuic Castle and enjoyed the views walking around the outside of it.  Had lunch while wandering along La Rambla.  Made it to Barcelonita for some beach time.  Ate a spaghetti dinner back at the Airbnb.

La Sagrada Familia with mi Familia

Playtime across from La Sagrada Familia.  The kids enjoyed soaking their heads in the fountain.
Castell de Montjuic - the photos really can't capture the spectacular views of the city and the sea.

La Rambla.  Matt and Kaylee dined together at a more authentic spot.  The rest of us ate KFC.
The kids liked this human statue.  Calie was the best - the only adult who did not succumb to hangry.
Barcelonita Beach at last.  The water was cold, but it didn't stop our PNW kids from taking a dip. 
What we learned: 
  • Chocolate croissants are good in any country.  They are especially good when eaten on a sunny morning with a view of the city.  
  • Give the kids time to play.  I really enjoyed letting the kids play with the bubbles and play on the playground.  And they appreciate a little free time to run and explore.  They go along with the plans we've made so I'm glad to give them a little freedom once in a while.
  • We should decide ahead of time what we do and don’t want to spend $ on.  I wanted to pay and go into the Castle.  Matt didn’t care to see it at all.  We were both frustrated with miscommunications about this.  
  • Research transportation ahead of time.  We didn’t know until we had waited 10 minutes for an Uber that they would not transport 7 (the one from the airport broke the rules for us since I was wearing James at the time).  More than once we found ourselves waiting and waiting for buses in Barcelona.  
  • Pace the children.  We picked sights that were not particularly close to one another so by the end of the day they were exhausted and we had spent a significant amount of the time on public transportation trying to get from one place to another.  
  • Think ahead about meals – if you wait until you get hungry it’s too late.  Hangry will kick in at once and you’ll find yourself far from any restaurants or snack shops.  Danny was on total meltdown mode.  We finally made it to a KFC for lunch and he ate about 5 whole pieces of chicken in less than 10 minutes.  He was like a brand new kid after that.  
  • Lack of sleep, not speaking the language, and keeping track of 4 kids can cause stressful moments.  Miscommunications can be both a cause and effect of this.  It is going to happen so just be prepared for it.   
  • Dinner at the Airbnb is a good idea.  The kids were able to unwind and relax rather than sitting still in a restaurant.  I was able to put James to bed while Matt cooked.   And it was much cheaper than eating out. 

Day 3

What we did: Traveled by train to the Montserrat Montestary.  Took a cable car up the mountain to the montestary.  Had a picnic lunch by the cathedral.  Took a funicular to the top of the mountain.  Hiked 5k around the mountainside enjoying breathtaking views. Had a stranger miraculously give us a bag of chips that helped give us energy for the whole hike.  Ate a cone of cheese.  Just missed a train and had to wait for the next one. Ate dinner at Subway at a local shopping mall.      
In the top left you can see the yellow able car we took up.  Calie, James, Danny, and I actually went into the cathedral at the monastery.  Our trail map.  Views from the top of the mountains after taking the funicular up.  

We hiked back down to the monastery.  The views along the trail were breathtaking.  As we neared the monastery, there were statues and various depictions of Christ's life along the trail.  The trail took us below the monastery, so the last half mile was a steep uphill to get back up to the monastery.  Danny barely survived.
The monastery in the background.  You can see why that final climb up was tough!
James was an outstanding little climber.  Calie too.  :) 
Post hike treats.  A cheese cone for me and frozen treats for the kids.

What we learned:
  • The reviews don't lie.  Again and again, people talked about visiting these mountains.  We almost bagged it because the idea of nearly 2 hours each way on a train didn't sound great.  But it was totally worth it.  It was a fantastic day!
  • Packing a picnic is a great way to avoid hangry.  When we were stuck in line for an hour waiting to go up the cable car right at lunch time, we busted out some of the picnic.  It saved us from some serious complaining.   
  • Our family loves the mountains.  It was different than Mt. Rainier, but having our family together hiking around on trails felt so familiar.  We even tried to teach Calie some of our hiking songs. 
  • It's OK to eat familiar food.  Yes, we were in Barcelona, but sometimes the right option is to skip the paella and tapas and just get meatball subs that you know the kids will eat and enjoy.
Day 4

What we did:
Woke up and took a bus to Park Guell.  Did a scavenger hunt through Park Guell.  Ate lunch at a local fast food place, recommended by a friend, and loved the Bocadillo con Espana.  Split up in the afternoon for a while - I stayed home so James could get a nap and Calie and Matt took the kids to the beach.  Met up later with the group at Barcelonita.  Got frozen treats.  After baths and an early bedtime, Calie babysat so Matt and I could have a date night out getting some local cuisine and exploring the Gothic Quarter. Discovered the churro stand.
Exploring Gaudi's wonders with a scavenger hunt through Park Guell
Pans & company - our new favorite restaurant.  Delicioso! 

Churros!  SO good we went back for a second helping.  Before we went out to dinner.

Date night dinner out.  So tasty!  And such a fun night out.

What we learned:
  • If you have early admission tickets, don't stay out too late the night before.  Everyone was pretty tired heading into Park Guell.
  • Scavenger Hunts are a fun way to see museums and parks.   I threw one together in just a few minutes.  Each kid had their own adult to explore with.  Everyone was able to see everything, but it was less overwhelming trying to herd a large group through all the sights.  At the end, we enjoyed swapping photos of what we'd seen.
  • Despite being the most chill, layed back, flexible baby in the world, James is still a baby.  He struggled (and therefore we struggled) to sleep at night on this trip.  I could have hauled him along to the beach, but decided I had to give him some time too and let him sleep.  He was so tired that afternoon and slept even through construction work going on in the neighboring flat.
  • Topless beaches in Europe are the norm.  Even in the family friendly areas.  It's just the way it is.  
  • Sand and sea and sun are a pretty great way to relax in the afternoon.
  • Fresh, hot churros with chocolate sauce cannot be beat.  They were SO cheap and SO delicious.  We ate SO many.
  • Whenever possible, travel with another adult.  It was such a treat to say goodnight to the kids and then go off on our own for the evening.  We wandered at our leisure, ate octopus and steak, and then wandered more.  It was romantic and fun and wonderful to have a date night in a new city.
Day 5

What we did:
Matt went for a long adventure run.  The rest of us had a leisurely morning at home and explored the park across the street, including introducing the kids to the churro stand and riding a little tiny carousel.  We returned to La Rambla, explored the Gothic Quarter, and visited Ciutadella Park.  Matt and Danny went on a tour of Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona and Danny's favorite player, Lionel Messi while the girls spent a bit more time exploring the park and doing some souvenir shopping.  Calie, Kaylee, and I had a girls night out and saw the Magic Fountain at Montjuic while Matt got the rest of the crew to bed.
Matt's morning adventure run.

Exploring the neighborhood park and carousel and introducing the kids to the churro stand.
Ciutadella Park
Camp Nou

Girl's Night Out to the Magic Fountains of Montjuic

What we learned:
  • It's OK, and sometimes good to split up.  Most of this day we were not all together, but everyone was able to do things that they wanted.
  • When possible, have one on one time with the kids.  Danny really loved his special date with dad and Kaylee felt special getting to stay out late with Calie and Mom.  It was nice to focus on just one child at a time, particularly the older ones who are so often forced to go with the flow when the younger ones become needy.
  • Souvenir shopping is important to the kids.  Limit it for my sanity.  It is a wonderful tool to teach budgeting.  Danny was so frustrated that he didn't have enough $ for a leather wallet he really wanted.  I reminded him he had chosen to buy a new LEGO set a few weeks prior, despite my urging that he might want $ in Spain.  Lesson learned.
  • Reviews are not always right.  Because sometimes your tastes are not the same as others.  We found Ciutadella Park to be crowded, dirty, and a bit sketchy despite many rave reviews.
  • Pickpocketing is legit.  We got too casual and careless with my wallet in our backpack and someone swiped the wallet right out of the backpack on the METRO.  Luckily I was smart enough not to have too much in it (more of a mini travel wallet) and Matt was able to cancel everything right away.  
  • Sometimes it's worth spending $1 for something ridiculous that will make your kid really happy.  The carousel at the park and bird photos at Ciutadella were pretty silly and I might have preferred more churros.  But boy did the Kaylee and Abby get excited about both.   
  • Having an Airbnb out of the city center can be a perk.  It was pleasant to stroll the local park and be away from the busiest touristy areas.  We got a better feel for the people who really live in Barcelona.  We were literally at a METRO stop, so could be to any sights in very little time, but we enjoyed the quieter local feel.  And the churros.  
Day 6    

What we did:
Packed up and cleaned up the Airbnb.  Walked by Casa Batllo, another Gaudi building.  Wandered through a square and down La Rambla.  Ate lunch on La Rambla.  Found La Boqueria Market and regretted not finding it earlier in our visit.  Made our way back to the airport via train.  Hung out in the lounge for quite a while awaiting our flight.  Sat on the plane for 90 minutes while they did extra maintenance & security checks since the plane had been hit by lightning during its previous flight.  Finally made it to Gatwick.  Filled out 6 immigration forms at midnight.  Rode a bus to the car park.  Drove our car 90 minutes home.  Put the kids to bed.
Obligatory selfie at Casa Batllo to say we'd been there.

What we learned:
  • 5 days is enough.  Yes, there was more we could see and explore in Barcelona, but we were all tired by this point and ready to be home.  We saw a few sights, but there was much less enthusiasm by day 6.  I think a better option would have been to get an early flight Saturday so we could have time at home Saturday afternoon. 
  • Book earlier flights.  I knew it would be a late night, but was not anticipating the delay.  This made it an insanely late night.  We didn't get home until 2 AM.
  • Airline travel with 6 may not be the best.   Though the flight itself may only be 2 hours, the added time of travel to and from the airport,  arriving early for check in and security, and dealing with immigration makes road and train travel as fast or perhaps even faster.  We will certainly consider this more as we continue to explore. 
I think we are all glad we took the trip, and count it as a learning trip to prepare us for future travel. Was it exhausting? Yes.  Were there stressful moments of contention, miscommunication, or hangry?  Yes.  Was it harder than we thought to travel abroad with 4 kids?  Yes.  Will we do it again?  Yes.  

Our Favorites in Summary: 
M – Mountain Hike C – Montserrat Mountains D – Camp Nou Beach K – Mountain AJ – Beach J - Nap at the Airbnb

Cultural Sight –
M – La Sagrada Familia  C – La Sagrada Familia D – La Sagrada Familia K – Park Guell  AJ - Carousel James - Park Guell 
Transportation –
M -Foot    C – Funicular     D – Taxi   K – Cable Car   AJ – Cable Car  J - Bjorn

Food –
M – Dinner with Carrie   C – Octopus D – Churros K – Churros AJ – Churros J - Crunchy breadsticks

Did not like –
M – Getting robbed C – Waiting for buses D – Plane delay  K – Plane delay  AJ – Lettuce with no ranch J - Having to share a room with mom and dad 

Until next time Barcelona, hasta luego.