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What I’m Doing On My Summer Vacation

Jul
19
2006

This is a salute to the pleasures of the second-rate.
Or not the second-rate exactly, but perhaps the second-tier; in tourist attractions, the places that you don’t hit the first time you visit a new country or area. The lesser-known, not-so-popular, fewer-things-to-do places.
And why this suggestion of self-relegation to number two, we try harder? Oh yeah, you guessed it–the kids.
If you were visiting Spain for the first time, where would you go? You’d start with Madrid and its daytrips like Toledo, and Barcelona; and then maybe Seville, Granada and Cordoba; you could also hit Bilbao or San Sebastian or Santiago de Compostela. Maybe even third-largest city Valencia, if it were on the way and you wanted to round out the trip.
But you’d be very unlikely to go to Albarracin. Not on a first trip at least. It’s a small town tucked in the mountains, and not terribly well known as a tourist spot, especially to foreigners. I hadn’t heard of it during several years of living in Madrid. And there’s not a lot to do.
But there are remains of a castle, and you can take a tour and climb around on it. And there are very nice, reasonably priced restaurants, where children can discover they like lamb chops and adults can drink wine that hasn’t traveled too far. There’s at least one hotel with board games in the lounge. And there’s a cathedral and a very small museum or two, and maybe an art exhibit, and some pottery shops.
And although lesser known, we did get very lucky with Albarracin–the spot is a beautiful medieval village, very well preserved and with wonderful views. In some circumstances it might be considered romantic (Spain’s Prince Felipe and bride dropped in during their 2004 honeymoon), but in any circumstances there’s nothing wrong with exposing the whole family to a dose of architectural and natural beauty. Nearby are some caves with Neolithic art. And best of all, right at the bottom of the town, there’s a playground.
We visited the village recently in the best frame of mind for a second-tier destination – no expectations. We had family in town and were just looking for a nearby weekend getaway. We also got lucky with the hotel, which is key–it was one of the few with last-minute reservations available, but turned out to be clean and attractive. And so everyone had something to enjoy, and there wasn’t so much to do that we couldn’t fit in time for the playground and the board games, which the kids always like and which the adults got to share in in different surroundings, and in general it was a very good weekend.
This is a variation on the “don’t plan to do too much when vacationing with kids” idea. But sometimes it’s nicer to go to a child-scaled place from the beginning, rather than feeling just a tad bit resentful because you skipped seeing the Louvre during a visit to Paris. Or not feeling you justified the huge airfare or travel time.
We’ve been to a couple of the smaller museums in Valencia. They do not rival the Smithsonian. But, they are good places to learn about the region’s art, or dinosaurs, and they’re manageable and uncrowded, and no one’s feet hurt when you’re done. These are not small considerations.
Still, smaller can be better, when you have small people in tow: A small village, a small trip, a smallish bottle of wine.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:39 AM | Permalink

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