Seeking a Siesta: Spain with a Child

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“Beaniss BeeUs,” says my five-year-old as he passes a hotel staff member who is opening the door for us. The man who works at the new Urban Hotel in Madrid giggled and ruffled William’s hair, replying “Buenos Dias.”

We decided to tag along with daddy as he had work in Madrid and it was a May bank holiday in England. What that meant, however, is that my son and I would be on our own while my husband conducted interviews and attended meetings. While it was a bit tricky at times—as I don’t speak Spanish and many people in Spain don’t speak English—in the end, it was an experience that I wouldn’t trade. I will, however, be more prepared next time I travel in Spain for how hard it is to get my son to sleep. I am still, four days later, trying to get him back on schedule and not thinking he can stay up until 10 p.m.—but I’ll tell you more about that later.

Our short journey began at the ultra posh Urban Hotel on Carrera De San Jeronimo in the city center of Madrid. Romantic, baroque architecture surrounded us, including the Metropolis building and the Congress as William and I took our ten minute walk (five for an adult) to the Museo del Prado, a must-see museum in Spain. As any parent of a young child knows, going to a museum that doesn’t include water tables or dinosaur bones takes a lot of patience. Since I knew I had a limited window for William’s attention span, I had to breeze past the Goyas (scary faces) and prepare for the questions that Tintoretto’s gorgeous 14th century paintings would elicit—such as: “Why didn’t Christ just save himself?” and “If he’s with God right now, how is he here too?” and “Why is it such a big deal he washed someone’s foot?”

We did see enough Spanish paintings such as those from Velasquez and others, many with gallant soldiers on top of horses and others with matadors and bulls that kept his attention a bit longer—but oh, try to explain those bull fights! Sigh. You get the idea. Taking a preschooler to a museum such as this doesn’t exactly let mommy enjoy the art, but I tried to point out vibrant colors and talk about what the scene evoked anyway. I gave it a shot. But after forty-five minutes, he had had enough.

“Get me OUT of here!” he yells as he searches frantically for an exit. The Prado is designed to keep visitors viewing art and I admit it’s a bit tricky finding the way out.

After a frantic ten minute search, we found our way to the café where we ate tapas and drank lemonade for a treat.

Something For Me, Something For You:

Another must-see in Madrid is the Botanical Gardens, where we went after the Prado, as it is literally located behind it through an iron gate. I knew William would love it and he deserved a break from boring, grown-up activities. He raced from rose to rose (there had to be hundreds), smelling them. We made up a game guessing whether one smelled like bubble gum, licorice, or “girly perfume.” We actually stayed in the gardens for an hour as I pointed out which plants, trees, and flowers came from home. I pointed out Magnolia trees, Mountain Laurel, and Azaleas—all bastions of my childhood in North Carolina. “This is the beautifulist place in the whole world!” William exclaimed at one point. I let him take pictures of his favorites: blue irises, red and yellow tulips, and large pink pansies. I sat down and filled out postcards while William searched for snail shells for at least fifteen minutes.

While this may seem like an odd choice of activity to do when in such a fabulous city, I think it is essential to give a child some down time and a bit of relaxed fun before having to tag along with more icky sight-seeing. Another perk from the botanical gardens is that you see the locals—old couples holding hands, young couples having a romantic lunch, and others just eating their lunch alone. Several people came up to us and said something to William. While I’m not sure what they said, their smiles let me know they enjoyed watching him find treasures.

More Grown Up Stuff:

In order to get through more sight seeing, I found the solution: a double-decker tour bus and a camera. We sat up top and he snapped away at anything he passed and I listened to the commentary in peace. It worked like a charm. Sadly, I found the MadridVision commentary a little lacking and would have welcomed a bit more historical information. But for €16, with children free, one can’t argue. And it does take you all over the city letting you pop off and pop on at all major sites.

Our only scare during our outing alone happened when we popped off in front of the Royal Palace, Madrid’s largest palace, with more than 2000 rooms. Since there was a playground across the street, I let William play for a bit first. I then realized I had lost our bus ticket. On top of that, I also realized that I was only carrying Pounds, that I left the bulk of my Euros at the hotel. To add insult to injury, it started raining. Not just raining—pouring. And this Londoner, for once, wasn’t carrying an umbrella. As we sat under a tree watching the Spanish children flee from the park, I envisioned what would happen next: William would be crying as we trekked in the rain in this remote area of Madrid searching for a money machine in order to take a taxi home. Deciding this wouldn’t be our fate, I popped back on the next MadridVision bus, showed the ticket-taker my map and receipt they had given me earlier, and explained I lost my ticket.

“No on. You off,” the woman in charge told me. Luckily, the driver kept going. Finally, after five minutes and many stares from passengers, the woman gave in: “You have bambino, it okay.” I wanted to kiss her as it took thirty minutes for us to get back to the hotel.

Sopping wet, we ran past the bar where my husband was interviewing someone for a position, so he couldn’t see us in this ragged state. After changing, we took the elevator to the roof-top deck—as it had stopped raining. I highly recommend going to this roof-top deck, even if you don’t find yourself staying at the Urban. Not only does it have amazing views of the city, it also has a pool and fashionable bar—a romantic spot for an evening drink. I imagined having one later with my husband as William and I played Super-Hero Uno cards and drank juice.

A Night Out:

Later that evening, when the babysitter arrived, my husband and I giggled as we said “Buenos Noches!” blew kisses, and closed the door. Even though it was for a networking dinner, it felt glamorous to slip out into Madrid and navigate our way through the streets to attend a dinner that started at 10 p.m. The trickiest part of traveling to Spain with a little one is that restaurants don’t open until 9:30 p.m. and often dinners last until midnight. We decided to take advantage of the staff at the Urban and let William keep as close to his schedule as possible. This is easy to do when staying at the upscale Urban where they have screened baby-sitters. Later, when on our own in Seville, it was another story altogether. 

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