When we left Berlin, we had many exciting things that were waiting for us, starting with a road trip across Europe to bring us there. Many people might say that a 30 hour drive with two little ones under 3 might sound like a nightmare in waiting – but we would very much disagree with you! Francesco is a seasoned road-tripper, and Caoimhe had her first try at it in October when we spent a week exploring the Czech Republic by car.
True to our style in traveling, not much was planned out before hand. We knew we wanted to drive via Barcelona, being there on Thursday, and leaving us Friday and Saturday to drive the last 11 hours. The rest of the route, we made us as we went with Google Maps and Booking.com being our tools of choice.
The original plan was to try to reach Heidelberg on the first day - but we spent far too much time on Sunday evening saying goodbye to loved ones, so by the time Monday morning rolled around, we still had quite some work to do. I believe we finally pulled onto the road around 3:30, with the hopes of making it as far as we could before stopping. Unfortunately Heidelberg would have been too out of reach, and even Frankfurt was pushing our limits. While Tommy drove, I got onto Booking.com to check out the upcoming cities and possible stopping points for us. We wanted to make sure that wherever we stayed had a restaurant on the premise so we could eat and carry the kids back to the room for bedtime routine. Alsfeld looked good on the map, and after calling the reception, we went ahead with the booking and had a successful first night.
4 hours 40 minutes & 444 km down
We woke Tuesday to straight rain – had the buffet breakfast in the hotel and headed off. We were trying to stay in Germany as long as possible to avoid the French toll roads – which meant leaving Germany through Freiberg. The plan was to stop for lunch there, and even exited the highway for Freiberg, only to take a look in the back and realize both babies were asleep. We managed to stop for gas without waking them, and had enough snacks to get us through the next stretch. We got back onto the highway, and opened up Google maps, finding the next city we could stop for the night. On the last trip, we had enjoyed Dijon, and Lyon was a bit too far – so Beaune fit the bill perfectly. We arrived as soon as the rain broke, and just before the magic sunset hour. We parked, and after scouting two hotels on Booking.com, we decided to stop in and see which could accommodate our family best. Turned out that the Le Central Boutique-Hôtel was very welcoming, and accommodating for our needs. We had a great room, fresh bottles of water, and a bathtub for the babies. Best of all, it was off the main square and had free parking nearby.
Beaune is a beautiful city, and a real treat that we had not been expecting. As the capital of the Burgandy Wine country, the food and wine on offer was too nice to ignore. We went directly out for a little stroll and stopped for a nice glass and a bread and cheese plate. We were then quickly reminded of how difficult it is to really enjoy the experience with two small people (who had been trapped in a car all day!). The hotel restaurant wasn't open that evening, but we still managed to find a family friendly dinner place nearby.
Another 6 hours & 640 km down... a third of the way done!
The next morning we wandered out in Beaune for some fresh croissants and coffee. We enjoyed a last look at the quaint city center and drooled over the fancy cheeses and truffles being sold in the square. We had originally thought about stopping in at the wine shops, but decided to add Beaune to our list of “Places to come without the kids.” With some more rain, we got on the road.
We made it to Valence for a spot of sunshine and a lunch break, knowing that we would need just another 2.5 hours afterwards until our final stop. We quickly found parking, and without doing much research, figured we would find something along our walk for food. What we didn't expect, was that everything was closed down for the afternoon. It was already 2, and we had missed the lunch hour. Eventually we found a tiny place what made food for all of us, and walked away with fully bellies about 30 minutes later.
We decided to stay seaside in the little town of Agde that night. We booked a little studio apartment with a kitchen, run by the most welcoming hosts. Unfortunately, by the time we found our bearings, the little supermarket we passed on the way in was closed... so it was dinner out for us. As it was the end of January, a seaside town in France was pretty quiet, and our choices were slim. Luckily our place backed up to the river front, which was lined with the 'best restaurants' in the village. It was a seafood treat for us! We both agreed that we would love to see how the town comes to life in the warmer seasons.
5 hours & 520 km today
We woke early, and feeling unrested, as the night had been full of construction work on the street below. We had also been informed that the water would be shut off from 8, so we were quick to pack up and get on the road. Sometimes you can find a place suited for dinner and breakfast at home, and still need to make alternative plans. We grabbed some delicious baked goods and got on the road to Barcelona!
We reached Barcelona without delay, and met one of Tommys dearest friends, the best man at our wedding, Cristiano. We headed off for a delicious pizza place, Parking Pizza, which is set in an old parking garage. The food was good, (pizza does the trick for us anyway), and the company was even better.
We originally thought we would sleep in Barcelona, but planning out our days, we realized a lunch in Valencia would both break up our day perfectly, and give us the chance to visit with good friends. Tarragona was a little over an hour from Barcelona, while avoiding the toll road and a busy see beautiful city to visit in Spain. We found a place to stay in the walled city, and made sure it was equipped with the kitchen this time. We were ready for some meals at home!
After four days on the road, working our way through France and into Spain, and finally a day without rain - we felt a bit humbled by the chance to wander the streets of yet another new place this evening. One of Tommy's football teammates in Berlin is from Tarragona, so it also strikes a chord you are getting to visit the place someone else calls home. While we were in process of moving our family, we were also getting to enjoy sights that would have stayed secrets to us, and making special memories that will stay with us forever.
Another 5 hours & 410 km are behind us
Cannot believe that we woke this morning with a baby girl who was now 1 year told! How did the time pass so quickly? The alarm was set early so we had time for a nice relaxed breakfast, time to pack, and have a little goodbye to Tarragona. It is absolutely a city we wished we had more time for - with its narrow alleys, lovely street art, and lively squares. But again - we had a schedule to stick to...
We were driving into Valencia for lunch with friends, whom we had also met with on our last trip through Spain. They treated us to their own home cooking and a relaxing break on their rooftop. It was a new apartment, on the top of a stunning, old building, smack in the center of the city. They could not have made a more perfect decision for us, because it gave the kids freedom to run and climb - and it was easy to keep up a conversation without the hustle and bustle of a restaurant staff around us. They even brought out a candle so we could all sing to our little Caoimhe before heading off.
We decided we would be heading to Valdepenas for our final evening. Our travel guide described it as in 'Spains tourist dead zone'... but instead it was actually in the heart of Spanish Wine Country! Ha... just what Caoimhe was hoping for her birthday! We arrived before sunset, and found the Aloque Posada on Booking.com. We went out for a walk through the town. We stopped for pictures in the main square, bought some local cheese to carry on with us, and found where we wanted to dine that evening. As it was Spain, dinner service wouldn't begin until after 8, so we started with some beers & tapas, and were very thankful for patient babies.
6 hours & 590 km closer to Portugal!
It was our final day of driving - and we were eager to get on the road. We had a short breakfast in the hotel room and headed off. It was only 5 hours to go that day, and we wanted to play it by ear, if we would need to stop for a bite somewhere or make it to our destination without stopping. We made sure to stop for gas before crossing the border from Spain to Portugal, as Spain was much cheaper than Portugal in gas prices. The kids were fantastic, and sure enough, allowed us to get to Ohlõs de Agua for food. The keys to our February rental were waiting for us in the lock-box outside the rental agency, which happened to be in the same parking lot as a tasty coffee shop, Caffe Creme. Tommy was ready for a beer, but I needed another coffee - so it was a round of tostas and coffees it was!
Luckily the apartment was not far down the road, so we only needed to put the kids in carseats for a few more minutes. Hooray! We unloaded the suitcases we had with us, and gave our legs a stretch while getting the lay of the new land. Our local beach was a 17 minute walk according to Google Maps, so we decided to head out on foot to catch the sunset, and then swing by the supermarket on the way home. What a special feeling of arrival we had when we reached the beach - the kids were excited, the sun was setting, and we sure felt happy with the choices we had made for our family. The best was when Francesco kept shouting to Caoimhe, "Caoimhe, the ocean! Look Caoimhe, its the ocean." What an exciting season ahead of us, and we welcoming it all - the joys of discovery and the challenge of resettling... bring it on Portugal!
... a relaxed 5 hours 20 minutes & 550 km for our last day!
Road Trip Tips for traveling with kids...
The best days were when we got on the road right after breakfast, finished half our driving before lunch, took a big lunch break with ample movement, and then did the second half of the drive during the afternoon nap times. Thankfully our kids are flexible enough to sometimes sit through longer stretches if we could do the whole drive in one go.
Plan on balancing your meals out with your meals in as best you can. Ideally we would eat lunches out, on a long break, and do dinners and breakfasts where we stay (with a built in kitchen). Our kids are pretty used to eating in a restaurant setting, which makes eating our easier. Sometimes they are pleasant and sometimes they are... less pleasant. We only did dinner 'in' once this trip. Usually it's more... and the hardest part for me is denying myself a dinner out in a new town - but also knowing when I'm just too tired to feed my kids with the audience of a restaurant around me. Best advice is to do what works best for your family.
Food is a great way to pass the time! Slice apples ahead of time, peal a mandarin, grapes if they are in season... Bananas are a favorite, but I cannot stand cleaning them out of the car seats – but they work well for back up during meal times. Anything that is small, and can go into the self feeding cups is perfect... Francesco is king of shoving everything in at once, so unless its broken up for him, he will eat it in one or two bites. Puffs, little pretzels, crackers, all were great and one piece would keep Caoimhe busy for five minutes at a time. I had a few smoothie pouches and 'sweet' snacks on hand if we really needed to bribe them in the car. Usually these were not needed, but it was good to be prepared.
Our toy bag was the hardest thing to keep track of at each stop. It was full of a handful of favorite cars, a couple animals figures, and a small selection of books.
The cars are the best entertainment at meal times, while driving, or even when arriving in a hotel room (but also the easiest to loose if they get rolled under a hotel bed). We relied on the books for our bedtime routine, but they also proved to entertain him in his car seat. Francesco is used to watching some short shows on the iPad, which we also brought and tried to keep as a last resort of the day.
Our biggest source of entertainment in the car is honestly the music. There are some extensive playlists that have been built over the past year with Francesco's favorites on them, and are a good balance of children's songs, oldies, and songs from soundtracks. He can be quite the dictator when it comes to whats playing, but at least we have done a decent job of working in some classics into his playlists. His favorite is Yellow Submarine, and because we had a reggae cd in the player when we pulled out of Berlin, his song of the trip became 'Stop That Train' by Keith & Tex.
Any other 'Road-Trip' tips you have for us to use next time?