The screaming started just 30 minutes into the 8 hour flight. My 1 year old tugged on both ears, clearly in pain because of the pressure. I should have brought Tylenol. I should have considered that his double ear infection may not yet be resolved. I tried everything I could think of- holding him and walking, lollipops, iPad, begging. It was all in vain. I vacillated between sympathy for my poor baby who was suffering and frustration with him for causing the burning hatred behind the eyes of the passengers around us.
After 3 hours, even those who had initially offered sympathetic looks were beginning to lose patience. After 4 hours, everyone around us clearly wanted to sleep. I felt their eyes on me, peaking from under their eye masks, desperate for silence. Eventually, he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. I expected a collective applause from those around us, but we received only grateful muttering. I sat down in my seat, spent. Thankfully my other 3 children had already fallen asleep. I closed my eyes for one brief, blissful, moment, but was jolted awake by a noise; a rumbling that I can only imagine was like the sounds Mt. Visuvious made before it destroyed Pompeii. My 6 year old, still asleep, was starting to sway and gurgle. Moments later, she erupted, and vomit shot out of her like molten lava, flowing down her seat, into the aisle, and into the bag of the woman sitting behind her. We were officially the worst family on this flight. Other passengers who had only recently recovered from our last disruption were once again forced into the front lines of our battle. Thankfully, we were offered blankets to help contain it, accompanied by sympathetic looks. One woman, who had been particularly frustrated with our spectacle, started laughing. Others started laughing as well. I decided to join them instead of crying. I exchanged a look of defeat with my husband, and with 2 hours to go, we were finally released from the hell that was our flight to Spain and were all able to sleep.
I had anticipated that something would go wrong during our vacation. After all, we were 12 people (6 children) traveling to Madrid for Christmas. Fortunately, the rest of our trip to Spain went smoothly.
Why Spain for Christmas? We were looking for a country easily accessible to my family, who lives in the eastern United States, and to my brother and his family, who live in a European country. It had been years since we had spent the holidays together and it was a great opportunity to share in this experience. At first, I was unsure of how to plan a trip with this many people, but once I began researching Madrid, I realized this was the perfect location for us.
The city is very walkable and littered with playgrounds and green space. The mild winter temperatures made being outside enjoyable. We were fortunate to find an apartment that could house all of us and was centrally located, so no car was needed. We walked to most restaurants and attractions. In addition, the people in Madrid were very tolerant of children, friendly even. At restaurants, servers would do their best to accommodate us, whether it be with seating 12 people, finding foods kids would eat, or dealing with the language barrier. It was sweet to see older women smile and wave when they saw us pass. We felt right at home in Madrid.
Since Spain is primarily a Catholic country, Christmas is widely celebrated. My kids loved exploring the Plaza Mayor, which was just a few blocks from our rental. By day, the market was bustling with shoppers and street performers and by night, the smell of churros and chocolate drew us in. The brilliant, twinkling lights, gave the plaza a festive feel. We were even able to buy a small tree!
A particularly strange street performer:
Madrid is home to one of the finest collections of European Art in the world. The Museo del Prado is a short walk from the city center and boasts an impressive array of works by Ruebens, Goya, and El Greco (and so many others). We prepared ourselves mentally before bringing the four children here, expecting a complete lack of interest on their part. We were pleasantly surprised at how excited they were to visit and did our best to give them time to admire the artwork while also ushering them to the next piece.
Parque de Atracciones
A short taxi ride from the city is an amusement park geared towards younger children. I must confess, it was a nice change from the cultural attractions I had been dragging the kids to. The weather was beautiful and the lines were short so the kids had blast spending the day here.
Although we spent most of our time in Madrid, we opted to take one trip out of the city during our 10 day stay. The logistics of traveling anywhere with 12 people is complicated, so I was fortunate to find a car for hire with a driver who could accommodate us. He didn’t speak any English so I was required to use my caveman-style Spanish to communicate. I got my point across, however, and he was able to drop us off and pick us up where we wanted.
I chose Segovia due to its close proximity to Madrid, about 1 hour away, and because of the amazing reviews I had read about its attractions. This ancient city is home to a 2,000 year old Roman Aquaduct, a cathedral built during the Renaissance, and a fortified palace once used by Castilian monarchs. Most of Segovia is made up of pedestrian only, cobblestone streets, and the children enjoyed being able to venture a bit further from me than they are used to.
My kids say the highlight of Segovia was trying a local speciality called cochinillo. This delicacy is made with a weeks old piglet roasted whole in a clay dish, and brought intact to the table. I had no idea how the children would react when face to face with a baby pig they were about to eat, but they handled it well. In fact, when the waiter brought out the pig and began to smash it into pieces with the side of a plate, they laughed and claimed which part they wanted.
While we are on the subject of food, I should mention one of the best parts of the trip. We often had a simple meal of Manchego (a hard Spanish cheese), Jamón Serrano (a dry-cured ham), and crusty bread. We would add local olives, fresh tomatoes, and regional red wine (Rioja). It was delicious. Everything we ate there was wonderful.
Our Christmas in Spain was a great way to reconnect with family and to explore Madrid with my children. They continue to impress me with how willing they are to try new foods, speak a new language, and to be out of their comfort zone. Even after the disastrous start of the trip, I know it was all worth it. A few days after we got back, my 6 year old came home, excited to tell me about the impromptu presentation she gave her class about our trip to Spain. She said now all of her friends want to go too.
A few extras: