The Trip That Wasn’t – Spain/Portugal 2017

Just about right after we returned from our Spain and France 2016 trip, I was right back into vacation planning mode.  Alyce submits her vacation requests for the year in October, so we had to think quickly.

We knew (or at least were pretty sure….) that James would be starting at St. Pius for pre-K3 in the fall of 2017.  Pulling him out of school for a 2-3 week vacation just as he was getting settled in a new school would not be a good idea.  I knew we would have to shift our Fall vacation timeline to late Spring/early Summer at some point, and it turned out that 2017 would be the year to do it.

I only seriously considered European destinations.  Southern hemisphere destinations were in the winter season and/or were too far away.  Asia was too far away as well.

Portugal has been on my radar for a while, and we had really enjoyed the parts of Spain we just visited.  It didn’t take too much research to narrow it down to those areas, but the actual itinerary involved a lot more planning.

But first, we had to settle on the length.  Initially, we were looking at two weeks.  Alyce was able to get 3 weeks off in a row again, but she was not yet convinced.  Fortunately, Samantha – who was very helpful on our last trip and James loves – was again available to join us.  That (plus the proposed itinerary) helped get Alyce on board with 3 weeks.

On what was to be our third international trip with James, I think I was finally getting pretty good at planning things that would keep everyone happy.  James loves parks and is turning into quite the beach bum.  As a result, Alyce likes places that are close to beaches/parks and that she feels comfortable walking too by just herself and James.

Of course we still love to eat out, walk around, try new wines, etc.  I think that I had found places that combined all the options we were looking for.

One complication remained: booking business class (preferably) award flights for 4 people 6 months from departure – aka not so early that you get the first award seats released, but generally too far out for closer to departure award seat releases.

I looked at a couple airlines, but ended up back with Iberia for the flight over.  Iberia uses married award segments, and flying to obscure airports like Santiago de Compostela (SCQ) actually helps your cause.  Iberia award availability can also vary day to day, so checking a time or two each day can increase your odds of finding space.  Eventually I did.

For the flight back, we just needed 3 seats because Sam would be meeting another of our cousins doing a law school summer semester abroad in Europe.  The brand new LHR-MSY route had 3 business class seats and we could get to London easily from Madrid.  Our first and last stops were set, now I just had to allocate days and pick the remaining stops.  My thought process and the itinerary ended up like this:

Spain-Portugal 2017 Itinerary

A’ Coruna – 4 Nights

I found A’ Coruna by just browsing the Northwestern coast of Spain on google maps.  Further research compared it to a lesser known San Sebastian, which we loved.  There was easy beach access, and plenty of Tapas bars and restaurants to try out.  I found a great vacation rental that overlooked one of the beaches for a very reasonable price.


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Spain and France 2016 Wrap Up

Our second big international trip with James.  The first one didn’t scare us off?  Are we crazy?  Probably.

Italy with a 15 month old was tough, but I was optimistic this trip would be easier for several reasons:

  • James was a different child one year later than Italy– though still very active and energetic.
  • We were bringing/meeting help in the form of our cousin Sam and James’s grandmother (Nonna).
  • We were more experienced travelling with a child.

You can go back and read my planning post (link) for more thoughts on that, as well as how we ended up at our final itinerary – after several changes (indecisive planning, terrorist concerns, etc.).  To summarize, we had a full 21 nights.  12 would be spent in Spain and 9 in France.Itinerary1

France and Spain are two pretty prominent countries for American tourists.  We had never been to Spain and had only been to Paris in France.  We were excited to get to both countries and – in our typical travel fashion – visit several places in each.

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Adios Madrid

Today, we took it pretty easy. We had a somewhat slow morning the walked through the park. If you have been reading this blog throughout our trip, it would seem like we spent alot of time in parks…..we have! I think that Justin and I both like it. Any open area that James can run around and burn off some energy is at the top of our list. Unfortunately, that means that we miss some of the tours and museums that we probably would have gone to under different circumstances, but overall, I’m happy with the way we did things this time around.


Last year, we attempted to do the colosseum tour and Vatican Tour. We made it 90% through the colosseum tour, but my time was spent trying to keep a 15 month old entertained, so I didn’t really get to listen or enjoy it. We cancelled the Vatican tour all together. We thought that he would enjoy the tour through Florence last year ……wrong. So, learning from our mistakes, we kept most days pretty open. I think this worked out way better. There was much less frustration on both sides.

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Visiting an Old Friend

Today we woke up and had a somewhat slow morning before heading out. We took the Subway to Plaza Santa Ana. It is a smaller square than Plaza Mayor, but I liked it better. There were two little playgrounds where James could run around. It seems like I will go anywhere that has a place for James to play. We have spent most of our vacation at playgrounds, and I’m okay with that!

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Adios Barcelona and Hola Madrid

This morning we got up and got packing. We caught the 11:00 high speed train to Madrid. Everything went surprisingly well! You never really know how a travel day is going to go. We’ve had some very smooth ones, and we’ve had a few rocky ones.

We had to take 2 cabs to the airport. Between the luggage and the people, there was no way we were fitting in one. James, Justin, and I rode together, and mom and Sam took a separate cab. My mom kept saying, “I don’t know how y’all did this with just the 2 of y’all!” Maybe I’m just used to it. We are very organized. We consolidate everything to make it as easy as possible, and we just do it. We are used to the haul, but there is definitely a method to the madness. If you are to used to it, it can be a little bit overwhelming.

James did unbelievable well in the train. I was afraid that he was going to freak out like he did in the plane. He even got upset in a cab the other day. We didn’t even tell him that he was going on a train. I didn’t want to set him off.

We got the “first class seats,” which were very nice. There was a table with 4 seats around them. James sat on my lap, and we had plenty of room. The seats came with drinks and a snack. Justin and Sam had Cava, and my mom had a liquor that seemed like the Spanish version of Bailey’s. We played many rounds of the card game “fan tan” thanks to Nanny Sam who always seems to have everything that we need. Of course Justin won the majority of the games, which drove my mom nuts.

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Successful Day in Barcelona

Because we had a rocky start to the day due to James’s sleep issues, we decided to have a leisurely morning. Also, Justin and I had lunch reservations at 1:30 so we couldn’t do a ton.

We walked to a nearby market that is much smaller than La Boqueria. We picked up some coffee and breakfast then decided to visit the park to let James play for a while.

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