Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Spain, and Kids' Swimmers

So, when I left off in my last post we were getting a plane from Paris to Barcelona, right? Well after that early morning flight we hopped on the train and went to a lovely coastal town about half an hour down the coast from Barcelona, a place we had high hopes for - Sitges.

UpSewLate - Sitges paddle boat slides 
One of the first things we noticed in Spain was the weather - it was hot, hot, hot every day; completely different to Paris! (Having said that, I think summer weather hit Paris shortly after we left, judging by Blogless Anna's Instagram feed). So all I wanted to do in Spain was relax by the water...  We stayed in a place that was above the old town, and it was perfect for us: a terrace with a view across rooftops to the sea for the grownups, and a huge garden and swimming pool for the kids.

The Sitges beaches we visited had sand (yay!), the water was the perfect bathing temperature, and the waves coming in were so minimal that people were literally walking into the sea with friends or family and chatting. You simply couldn't do that in Sydney :). And I was really struck by people's ease with their bodies at the beach - just about every woman under the age of 75 wore a bikini (except me I guess), and it wasn't because they all had the kind of "bikini bodies" we're told how to exercise for in Australia.  My kids didn't even notice people going topless, and again, it was very refreshing to note which women chose to go topless - it wasn't necessarily your cliched beach babes. Spain was still on holidays though, so the beaches were pretty busy by Australian standards.

UpSewLate - view of Sitges beach
While we're on the topic of beaches and swimming costumes, I'll show you the swimsuits I made for my daughter just before we came overseas. If you follow me (I'm @gabriellecorb, or 'gabrielle_upsewlate') on Instagram you would have seen them already, and you would also have seen (1) my premature claim that sewing swimming costumes was easy (ha!), and (2) my failed attempt at sewing one for myself (double ha!).  Can we just assume that sewing a swimsuit for a kid is a lot easier than sewing one for an adult? I haven't brought the failed grownup swimmers with me on holidays, so I'll save that post mortem for later.

So here's my daughter's favoured cossie, on the beach:

UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 front view
UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 back view
Isn't that fabric wild?

I made another KS 3785 cossie (with a racer back this time) that I thought would alternate with the above for swimming, but it turns out it's a little tight - so I only have pictures taken in our apartment. I'd spent a bit of time carefully matching up the checks along the seams on this cossie and I love the way it looks, so it's a bit disappointing that it's not going to get worn... 

UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 gingham front view
UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 gingham CB seam pattern matching

UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 gingham side seam pattern matching
UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 racer back
I made the blue gingham / checked swimsuit first, and I just love the look of it. The pattern, Kwik Sew 3785, fits a wide range of sizes and includes options for tank style shoulder straps or racer back shoulder straps. I don't remember where I got the gingham lycra fabric, but it's a good quality firm swimsuit lycra, and I fully lined it with knit lining (the pattern only calls for the front to be lined).

After adjusting the pattern size to my daughter's measurements and cutting my gingham lycra fabric out in those sizes (adjusted between a few sizes for width, length), Then I looked at the cut out fabric and the straps looked too long, so I assumed I'd made a mistake, and I rashly removed about an inch in length from the shoulder straps. This extra length turned out to be essential for my daughter's wearing comfort and even for getting the costume on and off - I guess it wouldn't have been such an issue with regular straps, but the racer back gives a tighter fit across the upper body. I might try to adjust this when we get home, but maybe I'll just give the swimmers away (anyone out there have a slim 5 - 6 - 7 year old, less than 120 cm tall?).

The colourful swimmers are made from the same pattern, with 0.5cm extra ease added on each of the side seams and that inch added back to the shoulder strap length. The costume has some wrinkles in it when it's worn, but it's apparently just the way a swimsuit should feel on, and the shoulder straps are not slipping at all even though they're the tank style rather than racer back style. The swimsuit lycra is one I ordered by email (no online shopping cart, but the process was very smooth and fabric delivery was ridiculously fast and cheap) from Spandex House in the US, as I mentioned back in my swimwear inspiration post. The fabric is more stretchy than the blue check lycra, but still a good quality - it has good recovery after stretching, unlike some lycras I've gotten from Lincraft. You might remember I originally bought this fabric to make myself some swimmers (the fail), but as I had plenty of fabric to play with I tried to place the print with the splashes moving in the same direction and with no weird colours on the crotch. And again the costume is fully lined with a mesh lining.

UpSewLate - two pairs of KwikSew 3785 swimsuits side by side
Both these pairs of swimmers were fast to make, and the colourful pair have been getting a lot of use. I think one of the things that makes kids swimmer sewing easier than adult swimmer sewing is the elastic placement. For a slim child, you can simply distribute the elastic pretty evenly over a leg hole or arm hole or neckline, but most women need to think about which sections of the leg, arm and neckline openings need to gather the most... Also, in looking at a pair of swimmers I ended up buying on sale at the last minute before we came away (needs must), good quality adult swimmers can have some rather complex details: like boning, bust cups, ruching, and lining sewn together with outer to avoid visible top stitching! It's quite a lot to aspire to...


OK, back to the travel section now.

We had a couple of day trips into Barcelona, and on the first of these we did heaps of walking: down La Rambla to La Colonna; around the old town; through the Baroque Catedral de Barcelona (ie the Cathedrel of Barcelona) in the Gothic district; and then through the gorgeous Art Nouveau area to Sagrada Familia.

The Cathedrel of Barcelona is a very pleasant place to visit on a hot day, but it's a working church, so your visit has to fit in with mass and other regular services (ie it seems to be open on weekday afternoons!). I love visiting old churches, and if you're a connoisseur of historic churches please have a look on the church's website to see what it has to offer, but this church has a couple of characteristics that were also of interest or use to my kids.

Firstly, as you walk in, straight ahead of you there's an oasis: an open air square garden with some very happy white geese sunning themselves in and around a pond. You can't go into the garden, but we found we could sit on a stone bench and look into the gardens. Secondly, off to the side is a tiny nondescript lift that takes just a handful of visitors at a time up to the roof where you can walk around or even sit on a bench and soak up the views. And thirdly, there are toilets, even if they are hard to find, dilapidated and a squeeze for full sized people to use (note for parents: there's a single toilet on the far side of the garden, through a doorway that looks like it's for use by maintenance staff).

UpSewLate - Catedral de Barcelona internal courtyard
The shabby green box in the next photo is the lift that takes you up to the roof of the Catedral de Barcelona - just a few at a time! It reminded me of both the Tardis and Roald Dahl's Great Glass Elevator :)

UpSewLate - Catedral de Barcelona lift to the roof
UpSewLate - soaking up the view from the Catedral de Barcelona

It's amazing to be able to see the roof, flying buttresses and stained glass windows up close, but once you're on the roof, you'd better try not to be scared of heights - you're on a lightweight scaffolding pathway, of which several sections are closed off, presumeably because they're simply too dangerous.

UpSewLate - scaffolding walkways on the roof of the Catedral de Barcelona
UpSewLate - on the rooftop of the Catedral de Barcelona

After experiencing the Catedral, we walked through town to the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. It looked fascinating, but it was such a hot day, and the sight of the long queue stopped us. So instead of queuing up we did a slow walk around with our heads craning up... it's such an amazing building - and then had an artisinal ice cream nearby before catching the train home. There was a lot of work happening on the outside of the cathedral, but I hear the insides are finished - and I'm sure they're as fascinating and intricate as the outsides!

UpSewLate - spires, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
UpSewLate - front facade, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
UpSewLate - back facade detail, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
UpSewLate - more back facade details, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

A few days later we came back to Barcelona and visited the Picasso museum. If you're travelling with kids, this turns out to be the sort of gallery that appeals to them, so long as you don't insist on seeing all the rooms of the exhibit. The gallery starts with a few rooms of Picasso's very early works - paintings and drawings from when he was a child - including some amazing, traditional Old Masters' style paintings he completed when he was 15 or 16. My kids were really interested to work out how old he'd been when he made each sketch or painting (age at painting = date of painting - birth date), and then (I think) quite bemused when they saw the different styles he used as an adult. We whizzed through the later works, and then came back to see the young Picasso works for a second time before leaving the gallery. Below is a photo of the "First Communion" painting Picasso completed when he was only 15:

Picasso First Communion
Then after lunch in a very cool cafe near the museum, we tried to get tickets online to the Parc Guell, which I thought the kids would love (I went there about 20 years ago and adored it). Unfortunately the online ticketing system wasn't working, and even with a couple of emails back and forwards with the park's administration / ticketing people, we had to give up on it - tickets for the time slots we wanted were selling out as we tried to buy our tickets. Instead we went to visit the Palau Guell.

The Palau Guell turns out to be a terrific option for kids who don't like museums. The whole house - from below-ground stables / garage to rooftop - is over-the-top ornate; feasts for your eyes in all directions.  Even the tiny room housing the toilet (ie chamber pot room) was ornate, with a beautiful "pot" and gorgeous tile work on the walls:

UpSewLate - old toilet in Pallau Guell Barcelona
I guess my modern eyes don't see the palace the way the Guell family would have seen it back in the late 1800s :). but I don't know that I would have found this a restful place to live!

UpSewLate - in the Sala Central of the Pallau Guell in Barcelona
Everyone that comes into the Palau Guelll gets an audio guide to use as they walk through the building, and this meant that my kids could race ahead without waiting for parental translations. And the last stage of the tour, the roof, was the best, as when we got here, a guide befriended my kids and gave them a quiz before telling them some more interesting facts about the spires on the roof.  The outer spires refer to the local countryside and culture, a forest with ornamentation made from local tiles; while the main spire (not the one shown below) is a rocket ship!

UpSewLate - a rooftop spires on Pallau Guell Barcelona
Back in Sitges we enjoyed more days at the beach and by the pool, shopped locally, and cooked ourselves fresh fish or squid for dinner most nights. One evening we wandered around town and stumbled on a crowd of people, and several groups of children and adults in uniforms, by the Sitges Castle. There were locals and tourists, with people perched high on walls and hanging out of windows, so we knew something interesting was about to happen.  Then one of the uniformed groups gathered together, strongest men shoulder to shoulder, then others climbed on their shoulders and made themselves stable, and a human pyramid started to form. We watched in disbelief as the pyramid quickly grew several human storeys tall, with young children in the upper layers, and culminated in a very small child climbing up all the layers of people to balance on top of the highest couple of children and wave to the crowd! And then the tower took itself apart, with the outside layer peeling off from the top down, until there was a single column of people balancing one on top of the other in front of us. The human tower we saw being built and then deconstructed is called a castell, and the single layer human pillar is called an aguila (or needle). The Castellers I saw may have been this Sitges group - I felt very lucky to be able to see this Catalonian tradition in action.  I did take photos but I've lost them - instead I'll just have to show you what dusk looked like that evening:

UpSewLate - dusk in Sitges Spain
So all up, we got terrific weather and glimpses of a fascinating culture! 

I should mention that we were also pleasantly surprised at Spanish prices. I don't know if this says more about Paris or Spain, but food costs in local supermarkets / markets was about half the price of Paris, and meals out, clothes etc were also markedly cheaper than we'd expected. My Spanish is pretty pathetic - I can say a few simple things but I can't understand the responses I get in Spanish, and I generally can't understand the written language either - but we managed to get around and buy what we needed without too many problems. I didn't do much shopping (nothing sewing related, sorry), but I did get these cool Onikatsu Tiger shoes on sale at El Cortes Ingles:

UpSewLate - Onikatsu Tigers in Barcelona

In Sydney they would have cost me about $190 - way too much. In Spain, the starting price was 60 euros, then reduced to 32 euros (about $45 I think) on sale, less than a quarter of the Sydney price. Hmmm... is that about taxes or the economy, do you think? I have definitely got my money's worth from these shoes as I've been wearing them a tonne since Spain - they go with everything and are seriously comfortable compared to Converse shoes. 

So! I am very behind with this travel blogging. We've now moved on from Spain, spent a week in Cassis (near Marseille in the South of France), stayed just under a week in the hills overlooking Nice, and relaxed over a long weekend in Switzerland. Next up is Italy for two weeks, then home to Sydney - and then this blog will go back to being a normal sewing blog!

Thanks for bearing with my travel posts and see you soon

- Gabrielle xx


  1. I'm really enjoying these posts, and your Instagram pics! I've only been on the roof at Palau Guell but the interior looks amazing too! I loved the Picasso museum too and seem to remember it having a lovely peaceful atmosphere. You're making me long to return to catalunya!

  2. I stumbled upon your blog thanks to a feed, and I'm so glad I did! I'm going to Barcelona next week so I'll definitely check your post again. Thank you!

  3. I love the racer back and your pattern matching. The brightly coloured fabric makes up beautifully. Great holiday photos!

  4. I've only been to Barcelona in winter. So jealous of your trip! Paco Peralta showed me two fabulous fabric store in the CBD but I can't find the cards to share the address with you.


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