How to Help Your Child Adjust to Life in a New Country

A Guide to Supporting a Child Dealing with Cultural Transition

For the past ten months my family has been participating in a ministry program in Northern Ireland. My husband is working through seminary and the classes he’s taken while here account for 24 credit hours toward his degree. Staying true to our unconventional way of doing things, we embarked on this journey with two young children who, at the start, were just two years old and 3 months old. As parents who strive to guide our children through life with grace, we’ve continuously been thinking about helping our children adjust to life in this new city of Larne. Now that our stay in Northern Ireland is nearly over, I’m still thinking about how to help them adjust, but this time they’ll be adjusting back to life in the United States in a few weeks. For my husband and I, we are jumping back into something familiar. Our kiddos, on the other hand, don’t exactly remember life in the States. During these last ten months I’ve been asked by several families to share advice on how best to help children adjust to a new country. Here are some helpful ideas:

1. Wear Your Baby/Toddler/Preschooler

We love to wear our babies and have worn them from the day they were born. Being part of the UK, Northern Ireland has a “pram culture” (my own made-up phrase) meaning, everyone pushes their babies/children in strollers. This is a very cultural thing, everyone does it, and it seems to work well for them. We attempted to use a pram for our first couple weeks here and it just did not work. Our baby was so fussy and I decided to stop trying to fit in, and just wear him in the baby carrier already! He’s over one now and he still loves the carrier. It provides warmth, attachment, comfort, and a place of retreat when he needs to “check out” of our overstimulating world. We even purchased a toddler tula (LINK HERE) after a few months so that our older son could benefit from “going for a ride on daddy” too. He still loves it even at age 3. This is especially helpful in crowded areas or when our attention is being drawn elsewhere.

2. Bring Familiar Toys

Our oldest is very “into” cars, planes and trains. We brought along several of these that could fit into a lunchbox. He has played with them every day since we’ve been here and we are even taking them back to the States with us when we go in a few weeks. I strongly believe that this helped him adjust. Being able to wake up in the morning and see his same toys was a good way to bridge his two worlds together. They became “transitional objects” in his life.

3. Find Familiar Foods

Similar to the toy suggestion above, our first shopping trip was spent finding foods that were familiar to our (then) 2 year old. This will be different for every family, but it eased his mind to know there were bananas and apples here, as well as almonds, fruit snacks, and other favorites. It’s tempting at first to buy all sorts of different foods that look interesting, but sticking with familiarity at the start can make branching out easier later on.

4. Provide Frequent Explanation and Constant Communication

This one is SUPER important. As adults, we see something different, we process it in our minds, and we try to remember it for next time. For kids who are often already overstimulated by their world, they need to hear us explain why things are different. Taking time to talk them through daily activities helps them process what they’re experiencing and is vital to adjustment into a new culture. Many times my answer was as simple as, “That’s just the way they do it in Northern Ireland.” Being honest with my son about the differences we were experiencing proved to remind him we were going through this transition together. I encourage you to make space for extra conversation, and don’t get too worn down when they ask the same questions over and over (<< that is difficult I know!).

5. Keep a Sabbath Day

There are so many activities to get involved in when you move to a new place. It is a great idea to put yourself out there and join groups, clubs, classes, etc. and this is so important to meeting new people and making friends. But it is far too easy to become too busy. We find ourselves running from activity to activity and then our kids are screaming and we look at each other with the expression on our faces that asks, “What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?!” This is when you realize you need a sabbath day. God commanded us to take a day of rest for a reason! Usually we hole up at home, stay in our pajamas, read books, make food, and spend no time cleaning. It’s wonderful and allows us time to reconnect.

6. Visit Parent/Toddler Play Groups

This is a great way to get out of your house and meet people, especially people with whom you have something in common! Kids always help bridge the gap and give us things to talk about. Even before we understood much about the culture here, we were able to laugh with other parents about funny things our kids do. Children speak a universal language! They get a chance to play, and you get a chance to chat with other adults. It’s a win-win situation.

7. Find the Library

We found the library early on during our time in Northern Ireland. Our initial excitement was finding books (we left all ours behind in the move), yay! Our excitement was furthered when we discovered that all the books were printed in the UK, meaning the language was a bit different. These are so fun to read and helped us learn new words and phrases that are used here, but not in the States. Generally, libraries are central meeting places. At the Larne library, there are flyers for knitting clubs, book clubs, concerts, craft and story times, and our kid’s favorite: Rhythm & Rhyme, as well as other events taking place in the community. It also helped us get out of the house and into our community, one of our main goals here.

8. Give Extra Attention

Sometimes our kiddos “act out” during times of cultural transition. We all experience culture shock differently, and kids don’t often know how to express what they’re feeling. Words go out the window, and screams/grunts prevail. It can look like bad behavior, but really they just need some time and assurance that we are there to help them through it. When everything in their life has been upended, they need to be reminded that we are not going anywhere, and that we love them. As parents, we are the constants in their lives and our children need to be sure of that. Acknowledgement of feelings is important with all children and is possibly even MORE important in times of cultural transition. “I know this is hard. I see that you’re sad/confused/frustrated. What do you think we could do differently? Can I help you XYZ? I’m here if you need me!, etc.” Taking extra time for cuddles provides a space for conversation. Think about asking questions that don’t require a yes/no answer. This can give us a good idea of what’s going on in our kids’ heads and what types of things they get “stuck” on or what is hard to deal with.

It is really hard to adjust to a new culture, and can be exhausting when doing it with kids, but it is also so rewarding and satisfying! I hope this gives you some good ideas. Have you lived abroad with your children? What has been helpful for you?

Sunday Confessional

I confess that I didn’t think I would survive the last ten days, but here I am, so I must have! Let me back up a little bit. One of John’s courses for school was a ten day pilgrimage through Ireland and Northern Ireland which took place September 1st-10th. Eleven students and three leaders traveled to different holy sites and followed footsteps of Saints that came before us like Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid. They had a wonderful and meaningful time spent in meditation, prayer, lots of hiking, scripture-reading, journaling, and learning about Celtic Christianity.

Because I didn’t want to leave the kids, I didn’t go with them, but stayed behind with a missionary friend who lives in Wicklow, Ireland. Wicklow was the starting and ending point for their pilgrimage, so it just made sense that I would be there for those times and she would keep me company while I took care of my kiddos. IMG_8432

I spent ten days with the boys without John’s help and it was quite the task! They were pretty well-behaved, especially considering they were in a new place with new surroundings, and one of their “constants” was not there. I was continuously on the move trying to keep up with them. I was pretty proud of myself and how I managed to stay patient throughout the whole time, that isn’t usually the case. I think between John and me, I’m the one who gets impatient more quickly….

During those ten days, I managed to brush my teeth (and my hair most days) but always with a little one pulling at me. (I won’t confess to how few showers I took, only that the boys bathed more frequently than I was able to…) Sometimes I’d put Moses down for a morning nap or we’d go on an outing. We went various places like the grocery store, on a walk to feed the ducks, to charity shops, to the park, etc. often accompanied by friends who lived in the area. Once back home, we’d have lunch, then afternoon quiet time, play outside, eat dinner, then BEDTIME! We all slept pretty well, but 6:30 still came way too early every morning.

One of my favorite things was when Moses would take a morning nap, because then Hosea and I got to paint together! I’m not crafty AT ALL but went to Poundland and got some paints/paper/brushes a few weeks ago to prepare for this time away. Hosea absolutely loved painting “pictures for daddy” and 3-D cardboard animals. We’d have great conversations about things during this time too.

“Why are tigers orange? How did God stretch out the elephant’s trunk so long? What sound do giraffes make?”

IMG_8358I love his curiosity.

I enjoyed those ten days more than I thought I would. I was exhausted, yes, but we had so much fun just being together! I wasn’t preoccupied with getting things done, I just made it all about them.

By the end of the day we were covered in paint, dirt, food, and sticky from who knows what, but we were happy and we all felt loved. (Yes, even me.)

IMG_8405One day our friend took us to find sea glass at a nearby beach. Hosea was in his element: jumping in puddles, finding and burying sticks, filling his pockets with stones, and climbing giant rocks. I managed to find several pieces of sea glass despite constantly fishing sand and rocks out of Moses’ mouth (he was exploring in his own way). John and I always talk about how cool sea glass is, because it starts out as a sharp shard of a broken glass bottle or something, then after tossing around in the waves for a looooooong time, it becomes this lovely piece of smooth glass! It’s a great image of how God refines us over time to become more like Christ.IMG_8442

Exhausted and back at home in Millbrook, we are all four happy to be reunited. I confess that it wasn’t just John who had a meaningful time away, but me too. Just in a different way. This is all just part of the crazy journey.

Peace.

Dinner in the Garden at El Jardí

Even after a long day (we went to the monastery in Montserrat), we decided to venture out for dinner. After walking through the bustling Barcelona streets for only 10 minutes, we ended up at an adorable outdoor restaurant called El Jardí. It’s tucked away in a courtyard of sorts so it’s quiet except for the happy chatter of other restaurant customers. Before entering, you’ll notice the courtyard has a giant chessboard & pieces, plus several trees and even nice benches to sit on. There were a lot of people there enjoying the warm weather in this shaded area.11411923_3509496654777_3512938180592776513_o

The restaurant has a calm, fun atmosphere but my favorite part was the lovely garden and its paths! Just the right size for our 2 year old, he was happily occupied during dinner. We were able to keep our eyes on him and let him wander as he pleased.

11393327_3509496214766_1351906999960376541_oWe got plates of assorted cheeses and meats, pan con tomate, and patatas bravas (potatoes covered in a spicy mayo-type sauce, our new favorite food item!). Our 2 year old had a milkshake and our baby happily munched on meat/cheese in his chair. We sat  in a corner booth with comfy pillows and cushions.

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One of the main reasons we purchased this specific baby carrier (the Onya) was because it could transform into a seat! We ate so much sensational food during our week in Barcelona, but only ONE PLACE offered us a high chair! This was surprising to me. El Jardí was the first place where we tried out the Onya’s seat feature and it was so brilliant. Our baby loved it, and we were hands free to enjoy our conversation and meal together. After all, this was our anniversary trip!

I recommend this restaurant to anyone, not just people with kids!

When we first arrived there was a group of older ladies finishing off their afternoon drinks and as the night went on, families started arriving for dinner, groups of friends came in for tapas, and couples found tables for date nights.

Our waiter was kind and never rushed us, and the food was delicious! I’m glad he recommended the pan con tomate (basically toasted bread with a tomato sauce on top) because, while it wasn’t anything super-impressive, I’d heard it was a staple and had been meaning to order it! And as he suggested, it tasted great with our cheese and meat plate 🙂

The Secret to Traveling with a Baby

ry=400-3My husband and I are big fans of babywearing. We love the many benefits that come with keeping your baby close to your heart! Babies who are worn cry much less, resulting in reduced stress hormones in baby’s brain. Because of this, they can calmly observe the world around them, match their heart rate and breathing patterns to the wearer, and have the feeling of being held. When we wear our babies, we are more in tune with their needs and can meet them before crying even begins! I’ve owned and utilized many different slings and carriers; from woven wraps, a moby wrap, an ergo, a beco, and done all sorts of carries: front, back, and hip. All of these have various pros and cons and I used to be seriously obsessed with my woven wrap, but I must say that my absolute FAVORITE carrier has been my Onya Baby Carrier. ry=400-10

This is called a soft-structured carrier and is very comfortable! People always assume my back must ache after a day spent wearing my baby, but because of the hip belt, most of his weight is resting on my hips so no, this carrier doesn’t hurt my back! There are two different pockets on this bad boy which are super convenient for being “on-the-go”. I always stash my phone, keys, cash, cards, etc. in there with easy access. It also has a hood for baby that can get tucked into a pocket when not in use. I  use this all  time when he falls asleep on me!

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ry=400-2 ry=400-12Another feature that makes the Onya the most brilliant carrier ever, is it’s ability to turn into a baby seat. Yep, anytime you have access to an adult-size backed chair, you can turn the onya into a “high chair” of sorts! This is so handy.

We recently moved from the U.S. to Northern Ireland with our 2 kids and having our onya baby carrier in the airport was a Godsend. We were able to coast through checking into our flights, baggage claim, security checkpoints, and never once had to worry if baby (or big brother, read about that HERE) was upset in the stroller and needing to be held.ry=400-7

We spent a week in Barcelona, Spain and I wore my Onya all day every day! It was so brilliant for navigating an unfamiliar city. Baby felt safe and comfortable, and I didn’t have to worry about him feeling upset or getting poked by strangers (because he was in my personal space bubble). Wearing your baby also makes discreet nursing super easy. Carriers are also great for taking hiking expeditions where strollers would be too difficult! ry=400-11

There are great benefits to wearing your big kid too! We use a Toddler Tula.

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Friday in Barcelona

ry=400Friday, June 12th was the actual day of our 5th wedding anniversary! The whole reason we came on this trip was to celebrate our love for each other and how much our relationship has grown. Unfortunately, this was our last day in Barcelona, but we made the most of it. We started out at our favorite breakfast place and sweets shop, Escribá. Because it was a special occasion, we let our 2 year old have chocolate cake!

Before going back to the flat for our bags, we walked around some shops to see if we could find a last-minute souvenir. ry=400-1There were so many neat artisan shops we’d seen all week that had beautiful painted mosaic gifts and pottery. I found a great pair of earrings with mosaics on them, modeled after some of Guell’s work. Earrings are my favorite souvenir to bring home from my travels because they’re small, and I get to show them off periodically and tell people stories from the trip. ry=400-2We took in our last few minutes in our neighborhood, with the narrow streets and closely situated apartment buildings/storefronts. There is some beautiful architecture!

We retrieved our bags, checked out of the flat, and made our way to the Barcelona Arena in Plaça de España. There is an elevator you can ride up to the top for a gorgeous panoramic view of the city. We killed some time here and the view was definitely worth the 1euro we paid to get to the top! ry=400-6ry=400-7

ry=400-5We caught the bus from Plaça de España to the airport and checked in for our flight back home to Belfast. The boys obviously had a great trip, they both fell asleep on the 2 hour flight! We are so grateful for this time together as a family to explore the amazing city of Barcelona <3

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Read about the rest of our trip to Barcelona too! Have you been? What was your favorite part?

Thursday in Barcelona

ry=400-5Even though it was sunny and beautiful outside, we decided to take some time indoors and check out the children’s science museum, CosmoCaixa. Only a short metro ride away, this turned out to be an excellent choice. We all had a fun time exploring the exhibits, plus the underwater ecosystem and rainforest is super cool!

Remember when we ate at BuenasMigas a few days ago? Well, we found another one and decided to eat here again! This is a great option for a cheap, delicious meal in Barcelona. ry=400-4

After catching the metro back to Las Ramblas (where our flat was located), we relaxed a bit and let our 2 year old greet people on the street from our balcony. He thought this was so hilarious! It’s the little things in life, isn’t it?ry=400

ry=400-3For our afternoon adventure, we changed into our swimsuits and caught the metro to the coast. We were headed to Ocata but spontaneously got off when we saw a nice beach. It turned out to be a great experience filled with locals; we were the only tourists. The water was a bit cold but the boys mostly like to play in the sand anyway. We soaked up some afternoon sun, listened to the waves and seagulls, watched our boys wrestle in the sand, and enjoyed some calm time on the shore. Also our baby ate a lot of sand 🙂

ry=400At this point I started getting hungry, so we walked about 3 minutes down the shore to a restaurant under a tent. I don’t think it had a name, just one of those beachfront pop-ups. We shared a grilled cheese sandwich, and tapas (of course!): chili nachos (from the “international” section), and patatas bravas (our favorite!) while our 2 year old used his imagination in a playhouse nearby. It was fun to eat at a place where the staff didn’t speak English. I love being able to use my Spanish and it’s just more fun! ry=400-1

What a great relaxing afternoon and evening <3 ry=400-2

 

 

Wednesday in Barcelona

Wednesday morning marked our 4th day spent in Barcelona. So far, we were having a fantastic time exploring, sightseeing, and trying new foods!

ry=400-6Our first stop was to revisit Escribá, the sweets shop, for breakfast. We had such a wonderful experience a couple days before, that we decided to go back for more! And it was only a couple minutes walk from our flat, so can you blame us?! Read about how much we loved it HERE.

 

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After breakfast we took the metro to Parc de la Ciutadella or, Citadel Park. You should definitely try to use the metro while you’re in Barcelona. It is super easy to figure out and trains come every couple of minutes, so you can get most places pretty quickly! We came here on our first day but we didn’t realize how close we were to the zoo. We entered the park from the Northwest corner and walked under the Arc de Triomf. It is huge and I highly recommend walking to the zoo this way! It’s a gorgeous walk anyway, you might as well add in the splendor of the Arc de Triomf.

We had a fun few hours at the zoo and it ended up being our 2 year old’s favorite portion of the whole trip! Read about our experience here.

ry=400-1After our exciting morning visiting zoo animals, we ended up a bit farther North to check out the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. But first we went to a nearby restaurant to fill our bellies. All this walking got us consuming a lot more food! We went to Tossa, recommended on trip advisor as a family friendly restaurant. I wouldn’t say that it was super family friendly necessarily (no high chairs) but the staff were kind enough! We enjoyed a tapas selection of little sausages in cider, patatas bravas, meatballs, and a baked potato with roquefort cheese. We also used our onya carrier as a high chair!

ry=400-2The Sagrada Familia Cathedral is one of those “must-see” sights when you visit Barcelona. Our boys don’t do particularly well in places where they’re expected to be silent and I was nervous about going inside and disturbing everyone. They’re joyous little noisemakers after all! When we got there, we found a queue out the door that would’ve taken a few hours to wait in. So, the decision was made for me: We’ll just admire it from the outside! This was the perfect choice. We gazed up high into the sky at the towering cathedral meanwhile enjoying all-fruit popsicles from a shop across the street. I’m sure the inside is gorgeous, but I also feel like we had a great experience walking around the entire thing and catching it from every angle.ry=400-5ry=400-3

On our way home, we passed through La Boquería market again. It’s just so fun to explore! This time we got more fruit and some fresh goat cheese for a snack later that night.ry=400-7

Again, we wouldn’t have been able to survive this day without our Onya baby carrier or our toddler Tula!

Check out all our posts about Barcelona!

Barcelona Zoo

For some reason, my family loves to visit zoos when we travel. It’s always neat to see different animals and learn about them, especially conservation efforts for those endangered. Our 2 year old loves experiencing various zoos and wildlife centers! When we were researching family-friendly activities in Barcelona, the zoo kept coming up so we decided to try it out. Tickets were cheaper online, so we purchased them the night before. The next morning, the zoo employee was able to scan the barcodes on my phone. Easy peasy! And we saved a few euro.

ry=400 Situated in the gorgeous scenery of Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona Zoo showcases a variety of animals among beautiful flowers and walking paths. If you enter Citadel Park from the Northwest Corner, you’ll get to pass under the massive Arc de Triomf on your walk to the zoo, definitely worth seeing!

We thoroughly enjoyed the couple of hours spent walking around the zoo! We saw so many animals, chimpanzees, giraffes, elephants, flamingos, komodo dragons, giant tortoises, peacocks, and many many others.

ry=400-2ry=400-5ry=400-4There were several highlights of our zoo day. The first was the dolphin show. I waited in line with the baby while my husband wandered around some more with our toddler. There are benches and plenty of places to roam! The line moved super fast and we were soon shuffled in; and we got a great seat! Our 2 year old absolutely LOVED this show and was old enough to understand the trainer/dolphin “jokes”. He thought the tricks were impressive and there were many audible gasps and exclamations! The show was free, and just long enough for everyone to stay attentive throughout.

ry=400-8One of our other favorites was letting our son ride a miniature pony. He loves horses and has recently been showing off his bravery, so this was the perfect opportunity to have what he calls a “big boy treat”. It cost around 4euro but it was definitely worth it! He got to choose which pony to ride and my husband was given the task of walking the loop with him. Such great fun! Weeks later, he still talks about “his” horse named Magic.

ry=400-6Another cool thing about the Barcelona Zoo is the farm animal area. It’s set up a bit like a petting zoo and houses cows, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, mice, and guinea pigs, etc. In this area is also a great little playground! There was hardly anyone else there so we had the run of the place.

There is a cafe here too, but it seemed a bit pricy to me. Bring your own food or just eat before/after your visit to save some money! But it’s good to know it’s there in case you have people in your family like mine, who get “hangry” when we have low blood sugar 😉

On our walk back through to the entrance, I spotted a welcome sight. A room for breastfeeding moms! Thanks to my Onya carrier, I don’t ever have to stop what I’m doing to sit down and nurse my baby, BUT for moms that need a few minutes rest or are uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, this room is a great option. It was wonderful to see! I stepped inside to check it out and there was a sink, a comfy chair, a microwave, magazines, and a changing table. Way to go, Barcelona Zoo! Thanks for making nursing mamas feel comfortable.

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Tuesday in Barcelona

Tuesday in Barcelona brought more adventure for our family. We made breakfast in our flat from food we had purchased at La Boquería the day before. Then we started our journey toward the Montserrat Monastery. 11406383_3509396332269_1837135984225481299_oThe day before, we stumbled on a tourism office where we asked about visiting the monastery. Located an hour and a half outside of Barcelona, we weren’t sure of the best way to get there but they were very helpful. We bought combo tickets for the metro, train, and cable car, as well as lunch vouchers and entrance into the museum. (You can also just purchase each ticket as you need it, it’s not necessary to buy the whole package at once.) The train ride was beautiful, and the cable car ride up the mountain was absolutely breathtaking! Our 2 year old loved being so high up in the sky.

11539258_3509483054437_7951664123699721357_oOnce at the top, we explored all around this monastic city. We saw the basilica and took pictures of stunning panoramas. Being up high in the mountains gave me a sense of peace and we SO enjoyed admiring God’s beautiful creation.  11537918_3509485134489_4748210015018689511_o11392893_3509484014461_2575753407304696057_o

 

 

Our 2 year old found a cat that he followed around, and we finally got someone to take a family photo for us! “Selfies” are great, but my arms must not be long enough because our baby rarely gets featured.

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We had purchased tickets to the self-serve restaurant and enjoyed a huge meal there. It was a big cafeteria type place but the food actually tasted pretty good! And we enjoyed a beautiful mountain view while we ate; a nice setting always improves things doesn’t it?!

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Another neat thing we loved was the street of food vendors! There were several people selling fig cakes, nuts, various infused herbal honeys, fruit, almond and hazelnut cookies (biscuits if you’re reading from the UK), and THE BEST sheep/goat/cow cheese you’ve ever tasted! These people make the cheese themselves and they are all different. The vendors are happy to offer you pieces of each kind to sample. Our 2 year old loved this (and so did we)! We realized later that we probably could’ve gone without our huge meal in the cafeteria, and instead just enjoyed a meal of cheese, nuts, and fruit! Of course we bought some to take home 🙂

11221305_3509484414471_4955177375500297351_oSupposedly there is a boy’s choir that sings in the basilica every day at noon, but we arrived right at noon and must have missed it. Before heading back down we got some gelato so we could enjoy the view just a little while longer.

This made such a wonderful day trip! Visiting the monastery was my favorite part of our trip and I’m so glad we made the effort to catch all the different transportation from Barcelona to Montserrat. 11053268_3509395892258_2337244627388278642_oAs a side note, there is a rule on the trains/metro that people should give up their seats for parents with small children and the elderly. The train was so packed on the way home and no one offered to give me their seat. I was okay just standing because my 8 month old likes to move around anyway, but an elderly gentleman eventually offered me his seat. I thought this was so kind and it opened the door for me to have a lovely conversation with him and his 4 friends. They joked about how they had decided that the youngest among them would give me his seat, and they were completely enamored with our blonde boys! Speaking Spanish to these guys was a highlight of my visit!

11411923_3509496654777_3512938180592776513_oEven after a long day, we decided to venture out again for dinner. We ended up at an adorable outdoor restaurant called El Jardí. This place has a lovely garden with paths that occupied our 2 year old while we enjoyed tapas for dinner! 11393327_3509496214766_1351906999960376541_o

 

We got plates of assorted cheeses and meats, pan con tomate, and patatas bravas (potatoes covered in a spicy mayo-type sauce, our new favorite food item!). Our oldest son had a milkshake and our youngest son munched on meat/cheese in his chair.

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One of the main reasons we purchased this specific baby carrier (the Onya) was because it could transform into a seat! El Jardí was the first place where we tried it out and it was so brilliant. Our baby loved it, and we were hands free to enjoy our meal together. After all, this was our anniversary trip!

Read about our Sunday and Monday in Barcelona, and stay tuned for Wednesday in Barcelona too!