A few weeks ago, my husband, 4 year old son, and I embarked on a trip across the Atlantic to Spain! My husband planned the trip as my major 40th birthday gift, which was very thoughtful. I had never been to Spain, so this was going to be a first for me!
Our flights were all very smooth and easy. The first leg was overnight, but unfortunately, I didn’t sleep a wink on the airplane. Between my body being uncomfortable in the seat and my son tossing and turning against my body as he slept, sleep just wasn’t in the cards for me. For this highly sensitive soul, I knew this wasn’t going to end up well.
After a brief two hour layover in the United Kingdom, we boarded another flight direct to Barcelona. I did my best to stave off my exhaustion and push through, but I didn’t win, unfortunately. I seriously cannot function well if I don’t sleep at least 7 hours at a stretch.
By the time we got to our hotel in Barcelona, I was hurting. My body was rebelling. A massive headache took hold and all I could do was try to find the quickest way to a warm shower to try and circumvent its attack. The headache was accompanied by bowel distress, so I ended up being hotel bound as my two boys headed out to explore what Barcelona had to offer.
Three warm showers later, I was not any better. All I wanted to do was sleep, but my body simply wasn’t letting me. Finally, once the boys got back to the room, I was able to catch a few hours of interrupted sleep (thanks, headache).
The next morning, headache still in full effect now with lower back and neck distress, we transferred to another hotel. While I didn’t want to miss out on a day of this trip, I knew my body just needed to recover and relax. It was in major agony! Again, my boys went sightseeing out in Barcelona without me.
But wait, wasn’t this trip for me?
Here I was holed up in my dark hotel room trying to cope with my aching body. At first I felt guilty that my husband planned this trip for me and here I was unable to enjoy it. I felt frustrated with my body and wished it would just cooperate. And, I was angry at the situation because once again, my body was calling the shots.
But in the silence of the hotel room, I chose to shift my perspective. Sure it would have been nice to be out and about seeing this new town, but was taking care of myself and having alone time all that bad? In fact, no. It was MUCH needed and desired.
I meditated, did yoga, grabbed a green juice, and took the day at my pace. Believe it or not, the headache started to dissipate. Thank goodness! By the afternoon, I was ready to join my family and explore the city.
I also recognized that maybe this trip was also about my husband and son. They were afforded much needed bonding time to create memories together without me in the mix. Allowing myself to see this perspective alleviated some of the guilt I was experiencing.
I have to say, I wasn’t enamored with Barcelona. It had its own beauty and charm, but I think I was rattled by the protestors that flooded the streets and caused some chaos. If there is anything this sensitive soul doesn’t like, it’s unpredictability and chaos. Was I in danger?
My fight or flight response went into overdrive. I started experiencing daily heart flutterings, breathlessness, and an overall sense of dis-ease. My body felt on guard constantly. I could sense the unrest in the city.
The scariest day was the last day there. The protestors arrived in thousands to the streets of Barcelona. Streets, public transportation, and some businesses were shut down due to the ongoing protests. Our hotel advised us to stay close and to not venture out that day.
Instead, we rolled the dice and took our chances. We decided to explore an area close to the marina waterfront where we thought it would be quiet and safer.
Almost immediately after we got out of our taxi, we were greeted with streets lined with armed forces in combat gear (shielded masks, guns, bulletproof vests, etc.). Not exactly a sight I wanted to see. We assumed it was just their “meeting ground” to hang out until their services were needed elsewhere.
Then, several of the police we were walking by stormed toward a nearby road drawing their guns and holding them towards the protesters marching our way. My body couldn’t contain my emotion anymore. Tears welled in my eyes, I clenched my son’s hand, and started praying for peace and safety.
I felt unsafe and scared.
My husband guided us to the waterfront away from the museum we intended on visiting, in hopes we would find more calm. He was right, thankfully. The waterfront was much quieter and devoid of any protesting. From there, I was able to relax a bit more and really enjoy the marina views (water, sailboats, yachts, oh my!).
We stopped for our first paella lunch (yum!) and slowly meandered our way back towards the hotel which was still a few miles away.
One thing about Spain that never ceased to amaze me was the abundance of playgrounds for kids and families. It seemed like every block or two, there was a playground to visit. It was perfect for traveling with my toddler! So as we walked back to the hotel, we stopped at a few playgrounds and made sure he had time to play! I think I needed that time too since it felt familiar and safe.
Let’s just say, by the next morning, I was more than ready to leave Barcelona and try somewhere new. We boarded the train and headed to Valencia!
Almost immediately upon arriving in Valencia, I felt more at ease. This town felt more aligned with my personality. Aesthetically and vibrationally, I knew I’d like it here.
While I wasn’t without health ailments (ugh, I was having terrible anxiety I think with heart palpitations and breathlessness), I was able to get out every day and take in the sights. We ate our fair share of tapas, pizza, and gelato which never disappointed. What I did notice, however, was that Spain doesn’t seem to embrace vegetables the way I’m used to. I barely got a serving of vegetables each day, sadly.
In Valencia, the beach scene was super chill and reminded me a lot of South Beach Miami. Playgrounds, again, were very accessible and not one was alike. In fact, we couldn’t help but notice that the safety regulations were much more relaxed in Spain than they would ever be in the U.S. (and I say that in an admiring way).
One playground in particular was their Gulliver Park, which was absolutely incredible. Slide after slide filled the huge replica of Gulliver. It was insanely fun (even for adults!) and completely different than any playground I’ve ever seen before. I found it more enjoyable watching the adults going down the slides and giggling the entire way. It was such a great time, we visited it two days in a row!
The museums in Valencia were also pretty remarkable. We first visited the aquarium, which was very impressive. They had outdoor exhibits as well as indoor tanks. While my toddler didn’t seem overly interested in the animals like I thought he would be, my hubby and I sure were! We wished we could have stayed there longer.
We also had the chance to visit the Science Museum, which entertained us for two fun hours. There were plenty of engaging exhibits for my little guy that seemed to intrigue him. We easily could have stayed longer, but traveling with a young kid tends to put time limits on certain activities, if you know what I mean.
Hopping on and off the double decker bus throughout our stay in Valencia was a highlight for me. I loved having the ability to see the town in such a relaxed way while also having the flexibility to see what we wanted to see at any time. Sure beats taxis!
Time in Valencia left me with a very positive impression of Spain. While the timing in Barcelona wasn’t great due to the protests, I could definitely see the appeal of the city for many people.
The folks in both Barcelona and Valencia were incredibly nice and very kid-friendly. Public transportation was easy and it felt pretty safe. I have my husband to thank for everything since he did all the navigating.
What touched me the entire time was how kid-centric the culture seemed to be. Playgrounds were found every few blocks and the people were always so welcoming and engaging with my son.
The weather was also wonderful. We had sunny days in the 70s and cooler evenings for dining. For my sensitive soul, soaking in the warm sun did wonders for my energy and mood. I am thankful we were so fortunate to have great weather while we were there. By our departure day, the rainy clouds moved in and bid us farewell.
So overall, I had a really nice time in Spain. The trip tested me in many unexpected ways, but I am thankful for the experience I had. I learned that anxiety can rear its head at any moment in my life and while it’s highly uncomfortable, I can get through it.
It’s also okay to take time for ourselves when we need it. We don’t have to be perfect and there isn’t a right or wrong way to spend a vacation, whether it’s planned or not. Basically, I just needed to be a little more gentle with myself.
So hopefully that’s what you’re doing on this day…being gentle with yourself. Take time to care for yourself and listen to your body and your needs. Whether you’re traveling or in the comfort of your own home, I hope you make today a great one.
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