Sickness, Cathedrals, #Travelfail: Barcelona Part 2

This cathedral is something to see in person.

When we wake up—it’s a new day!—and emerge from our bedroom, we discover we didn’t hear our daughter throwing up in the bathroom in the middle of the night. She has a fever. My husband and I exchange a knowing look. Today at noon we have our only pre-paid activity in Barcelona, a guided tour of the still-incomplete, under-construction-for-a-hundred years cathedral called La Catedral de La Sagrada Familia, The Cathedral of the Sacred Family.

I get to go with our 14-year-old son while my husband stays home with our sick 13-year-old daughter, because I’m the conductor of the culture train for our family to Spain and France. (My husband is the conductor in Ireland and England.)

We stay at home resting during the morning. My son plays solitaire with an actual deck of cards, my daughter sips Gatorade, my husband sorts through photos of the past few days, and I do my favorite ‘mom activity’: laundry. (Ha ha.)

So far in Madrid and Valencia, ours has not been an extensive cathedral/museum trip. Our goal is to expose the kids to foreign language cultures (specifically where I have lived and still speak the language), to visit friends from these places, and see some memorable and iconic sights. We hope to give them a taste, so they’ll want to come back and travel more when they get older.

Admission: I feel slightly guilty about going to the cathedral instead of my husband. It’s because I’ve been there before and he has never been. However, the cathedral visit will still be somewhat new to me because when I visited in 1995, the interior of the cathedral had not yet been completed.

Postcard of the cathedral circa 1995. No windows! No interior! Cranes artfully out of sight.

I pack sustenance into my purple antitheft cross body bag and plan our metro route. My son still has a lingering wariness about last night’s homeless man on the street (read about our arrival to Barcelona the previous day here). Before we leave, I hang the laundry from our window balcony, and notice that there is no trace of sleeping street people and plenty of other normal traffic (including police patrolling the neighborhood).

I’m feeling good. We bid farewell to the sick person and her caretaker and depart at a brisk, confident pace to the metro. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the metro is my jam. I love public transportation and I find European metro systems efficient and manageable.

My anticipation of our cathedral visit is hard to contain. As we ride, I provide preliminary information to my son of what I already know about the cathedral, including a little about the artist at the heart of this massive project, Antoni Gaudí, and a few other details my flight attendant sister-in-law shared with me after her recent visit to the cathedral a few weeks ago.

My son’s nervousness evaporates on the metro. He seems more like himself with every passing minute on the train. He also likes public transportation and the bright, modern system seems to buoy his spirits. We arrive in no time at La Sagrada Familia metro stop and exit the station. We spot the cathedral immediately. It’s impossible not to. The spires stretch into the blue sky, cranes clanking and turning, like living beings.

There is no such thing as a photo of this cathedral without cranes for the past 50 years.

We made it!

My son and I arrive at the rendezvous-vous point of our guided tour. It’s below a two-story KFC with a stunning view of the cathedral. I feel a little sad about the KFC’s amazing location.

The tour is engaging. Our knowledgeable guide’s English carries enough of a Spanish accent that my son understands only about 75%. Sometimes I repeat something she has said. Mostly though, I am listening intently. The inside didn’t exist when I came in 1995 and it has been worth the wait.

If you ask me about these photos and the Jesus parachute I will literally talk for hours.

We snap photos including one magical shot of ourselves inside the cathedral, while the light from the stained glass windows plays across the underside of the 1000-person choir balcony. I marvel at the detailed engineering of the cathedral and it’s most powerful resource: light.

The light is from the stained glass windows, shining on the underside of the choir balcony.

I am compelled to recommend La Sagrada Familia Cathedral as one of the most unforgettable places you may ever see in your life. Gaudí took over construction in 1883. The goal is to complete the entire cathedral by 2026, the 100-year anniversary of his death. Hopefully it will stand for centuries after that.

Model of the finished cathedral. Grey is completed, yellow is unfinished, to be completed by 2026. Fingers crossed.

After this exhilarating tour, I’m feeling full of happiness and love-of-Spain. Also, we are ravenous. I decide we should go straight to KFC. It’s close, we know it, and we don’t want to wait. On the way there, we pass another familiar American restaurant: Five Guys. It’s a hamburger joint that originated in the Washington DC area. The window reads, “Five Guys Sagrada Familia.” The door is open and we nearly go in, but are disappointed to discover it’s under construction.

Angry face because we can’t eat there. (100% chance it says “Familia” under that board.)

Is eating at KFC or Five Guys a #travelfail? I guess it depends on how you look at it.

As far as food is concerned, I have given up on the (unrealistic) ideal that my children will eat local cuisine three meals a day and immediately assimilate into the culture during our two-week trip. We buy and eat Euro versions of Frosted Flakes cereal every morning (Frosties!), and I’m ready for them to eat whatever, whenever, so we can keep moving and not get bogged down by hunger. That includes eating at—gasp!—American restaurants.

Letting go of unreasonable eating expectations for my family is a relief for me. It’s ok. It’s not a #travelfail if we are having fun. They are all trying plenty of local food. Enough to satisfy my lower expectations. I just want fed and happy travelers.

While I order at KFC, my son somehow secures the most coveted table in the whole place: the second floor seat at the window, with an unforgettable view of the cathedral. We devour Colonel Sanders’ chicken tenders and enjoy our vista. He feels completely recovered from the previous night’s homeless man/sketchy neighborhood concerns, he is full of food, and pleased about our tour of this iconic Barcelona treasure. The cathedral, not the KFC.

We return home with a couple of uneaten pieces of chicken to happy and recovered family members.

With my daughter feeling better, we all walk to La Rambla, the pedestrian street filled with restaurants, shops, and tourists. In fact, La Rambla’s proximity is the reason we chose this flat, so we spend the afternoon into the evening strolling, enjoying the lively atmosphere, getting sweets, buying fans (read about my love of fans here), and our daughter even feels well enough to have her caricature drawn.

✅ Bucket list item: caricature.

Daughter in front of La Rambla fountain

Street art by Joan Miró on La Rambla

We end the day with everyone well. We make a plan to meet tomorrow with my sister-in-law (the flight attendant), who is scheduled to layover in Barcelona the next day.

Next week: Barcelona Part 3!

6 thoughts on “Sickness, Cathedrals, #Travelfail: Barcelona Part 2

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  1. The pictures are just so incredible. Sad you had to leave part of your party behind. 😦 But it looks like such a beautiful experience!

    1. It was a bummer to leave them behind, but on the other hand, I’m glad I got to share such a special experience with my boy! The cathedral is so amazing that I have recently gone down a rabbit hole of photos of it. It’s just unlike anything else, really, in the world.

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