Archive for December, 2013

Beautiful Brussels

From The Hague we hopped on a train to Brussels which only took a couple of hours. Our first task was to find our way from the train station to the apartment rental office where we had to pick up our keys. This involved finding the right tram, working out the tickets and getting us all on and off again at the right stops. Mission accomplished!

We booked our apartment for three nights through Apartments Apart and stayed in Juste-A-Côté 1. We got a great low season deal and payed only 220 euros for the whole three nights. The apartment was enormous, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was right in the centre of town between the Grand Place and the Maneken Pis statue.

climber

Maneken Pis dressed up in one of his many costumes.

We were able to walk to the apartment from the office, through the Grand Place. It was late afternoon on a beautiful clear day and the old buildings looked amazing in the afternoon light. Everywhere we looked there was a chocolate shop or  waffle place and Lil was in heaven. She loudly exclaimed, “I love this city! There’s so much to see and do!!” much to the amusement of other nearby tourists.

enormous apartment

Our huge apartment living room

enormous kitchen

Huge kitchen

Once we had dumped our stuff in the apartment we headed straight out again to get a waffle and buy some groceries. Yum!

waffles are good

One euro waffle!

We timed the shopping so we were back in the Grand Place at 5pm when the nightly sound and light show started. It was just beautiful. The show goes for 15 minutes and tells the history of the Grand Place through music and lights.

dark blue sky

Sound and light show in the Grand Place

The next two days the great weather continued and we spent most of our time walking around the city. We’d leave the apartment in the morning and not get back until dinner time (with Ed falling asleep in the stroller at some point each day.)

one slept

Stroller nap

We visited the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate and learned about the process of harvesting cocoa and turning it into chocolate, and then got to sample some too.

We happened to walk by the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula so popped in there for a visit and found an exhibition of nativity scenes from all different countries.

Brussels Cathedral

Brussels Cathedral

We visited the fabulous Musical Instrument Museum which has over 7000 instruments on display. An audio tour is included in the entrance fee and the audio plays automatically when you stand near an instrument and is music featuring that instrument. Great fun, but unfortunately our visit was a little rushed as Ed went on museum strike.

Musical Instrument Museum

Musical Instrument Museum

We ended up searching out food instead and found a nice cosy cafe serving Belgian beer (of course), burgers and frites.

good beer and burgers

Good beer and burgers

The next day we set off on the long walk to the Museum of Natural Sciences. The weather was freezing that day but still clear and the walk took us past the palace. The museum has the largest display of dinosaurs in Europe and was entertaining for all of us. Lots of interactive exhibits and things to touch. There was also a temporary exhibition there about Baby Animals which was specifically designed for kids aged 3 to 8. Perfect! They didn’t want to leave.

natural science museum

Natural Sciences Museum

On our way back into the city Ed fell asleep (see photo further up) and we came across a playground so stopped for a quick play while Dave walked laps with Ed.

we found a playground

Playground!

Our three nights in Brussels flew by and we all really enjoyed the city. I had been there once before, in 2005, with my cousin and a friend, but I think we did more eating/drinking and less site seeing back then!

Many more photos from Brussels here. We went a little photo crazy because it was all so lovely.

List 52/52 – The Best of the Lists

It’s the last Sunday of the year which means my 52 Lists project has come to an end! For my final list I’ve looked back over all the lists from the last year and chosen my favourites. Here they are in order of posting:

1. List 24/52 – 7 Reasons For Our Six Month Family Trip

2. List 29/52 – Things We’ve Learned So Far About Traveling With (Our) Kids

3. List 35/52 – The Places Ed Napped Last Week

4. List 43/52 – Family Accommodation in Singapore and Malaysia

5. List 46/52 – Costs in Thailand

6. List 47/52 – Family Accommodation in Thailand

It was interesting reading back over some of the planning lists from earlier in the year, particularly those wondering what we needed to take with us. I might revisit some of them with post-travel updates when we’ve finished the trip.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A little bit of Thailand in England. Merry Christmas!

The kids in their Thai outfits for Christmas.

 

The Hague

We’re lucky to have friends in The Hague who hosted us for four nights in their lovely home and our kids had a great time playing with their kids (and their toys!) The train from Amsterdam to The Hague took less than an hour and even had free wifi.

We had a pretty relaxed and cruisy weekend together, visiting a park, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, visiting a Christmas market and wandering in the city, with lots of play time at home too.

On our final day Dave went off to visit a sewage treatment plant (apparently state of the art), the others went to school and work, and so the kids and I had fun visiting a cafe and a playground. I discovered Paagmen do great flat whites!

Thank you Jo, Dirk and boys for a great stay!

Park fun Netherlands style.

Park fun Netherlands style

the chosen one

Bringing the chosen tree home.

arcade

Arcade in the city.

Lillian

Lil walking by the parliament.

 

List 51/52 – Thoughts of Home

As we near the end of our big trip our thoughts are turning more often to home. These are the things we are most excited about.

1. My bed. My lovely comfortable bed.

2. Just being in our house.

3. Seeing friends and family.

4. Good coffee just a short walk away in all directions.

5. Getting back into crafting and sewing.

6. Getting back into running.

7. Summer weather.

8. Seeing what else we can purge that we haven’t missed.

9. Playing with the toy kitchen again (Edward.)

10. Playing with friends (Lillian and Edward.)

11. The few weeks of ‘holiday’ before Lil goes back to school.

12. Planning the next (not as big) trip!

Day 29: hot #fmsphotoaday

Summer in Newcastle

 

A Ferry to Amsterdam

Big ferry

Ferry to Amsterdam

After the stress and drama of getting to the ferry it was all smooth sailing once we were on the boat. The ferry cost about GBP 90 for all of us in a cabin with a window. We left Newcastle at 5pm and arrived in The Netherlands at 9:30 the next morning.

Ed in our cabin on the ferry to The Netherlands

Excited Edward in the cabin

The kids were very excited to be on a boat and after checking out our cabin and dumping the bags we went exploring. Dave and I were in good need of a drink and so we found the kids’ play area which was conveniently located right next to a cafe/bar. The kids were soon immersed in a ball pit and having fun with the only other child on the boat, while Dave and I drank our beers. We ate dinner from the cafe while the kids ate in front of a movie in the kids’ zone.

We slept pretty well on the boat that night and were woken at 8am by the ship’s wake-up call over the PA system. We had breakfast in the cabin with food we’d brought with us and then I took the kids back to the ball pit while Dave packed up the bags. We watched from deck as the boat entered the port and then…we were in The Netherlands!

Arriving in The Netherlands this morning. We're cosy in our apartment now after getting lost and very wet on the way here. Junior Eurovision is on TV. It's going to be an effort to go out again but we do need food.

Arriving in The Netherlands

We had pre-booked a bus transfer into Amsterdam through the ferry company and it took us right to Central Station. From there we walked to our apartment but got a little lost on the way when I followed the wrong canal. Easily done! It was raining and we all were a little cold and wet by the time we found the apartment which was thankfully lovely and cosy.

Our Amsterdam apartment

Our Amsterdam apartment

The apartment cost 250 euros for two nights and was in a great location in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. An easy walk from Central once you follow the right canal. It was a studio on the first floor of a traditional tall and skinny Dutch house. The stairs were so steep they were almost a ladder!

We only had two nights in Amsterdam and were unlucky with bad weather most of the time but we did manage to see some things. Lillian and I visited the Anne Frank House museum on our first afternoon. She asked a lot of questions and I tried to explain things as simply as possible, but it’s a lot for a six year old to take in. She enjoyed the house tour and imagining people living there and I like the thought that when she does read the book she might remember being in those rooms.

Anne Frank's House

Anne Frank’s House

On our only full day in Amsterdam there was a storm brewing so we decided the best way to view the city was from the protection of a canal cruise boat. The boat left from in front of the Anne Frank House and did an hour long loop through the city with commentary. An hour was about the perfect length of time for our kids who got a bit antsy towards the end.

here's the boat

Canal boat

boat view

A view from the boat tour

That afternoon Dave ventured out to visit the Rijksmuesum and had a glorious hour or so browsing alone. The kids and I stayed in the apartment and huddled in bed together when the thunder got too loud.

Two nights in Amsterdam was barely enough time to scratch the surface and I would love to return to this city and explore more one day.

List 50/52 – Stories To Keep The Kids Quiet While Traveling

A sure-fire way to keep the kids quiet while traveling on a train is for Dave to tell them a story. Some he tells from memory based on books he’s read or movies he’s seen. Some he reads from his phone. The kids love it and even Ed will sit quietly and listen. Here are some of the stories we’ve had lately:

– The Hunger Games (Dave saw the movie on DVD in Bangkok.)

– Theseus and the Minotaur

– The Jungle Book

– The Golden Bird

– The Nativity Story (by request after we saw an exhibition of nativity scenes in the cathedral in Brussels.)

– Medusa and Perseus

– The story of Mary Queen of Scots and James I (following our visit to Edinburgh Castle.)

– Hans in Luck

– The Traveling Musicians

Ed was also quite interested in a bit of ‘Diana: Her Life in Fashion’ that I read to him. It was in our first Paris apartment (more on that to come eventually.)

nativity

Nativity Scene in Brussels’ Grand Place

 

Glasgow to Dundee to Newcastle

Our second week in Scotland was spent in Dundee, specifically Broughty Ferry, the little seaside village where we lived when Lillian was born.

Lil in front of the flat (top windows) we lived in when she was born

Lil in front of the flat (top windows) we lived in when she was born.

We decided to hire a car for the week and drive up from Glasgow. Rhino Car Hire were by far the cheapest and we paid 110 pounds for the whole week with a one way car hire picked up in Glasgow and dropped off in Newcastle. When I made the booking I also requested two car seats for the kids. They were going to charge GBP 77 for Edward’s and GBP 42 for Lil’s seat for the week but we worked out we could buy two new car seats from Argos for GBP 45 total so I cancelled the seat request. When we dropped the car off (a story to come below) we just left the seats in the car.

view from the top

View from the top of the Wallace Monument

It was strange but fun to be in a car again and under our own steam after almost five months of taxis, tuk tuks, trains and buses. On the way to Dundee we stopped off at the Wallace Monument just outside Stirling. It was a windy day but the views were amazing from up the top.

going back down

Spiral staircase in the Wallace Monument

In Broughty Ferry we stayed at The Ferry Flat which was in a great location and very cosy. It actually reminded us a lot of our old flat in Broughty Ferry which was of the same era and even had the same colour carpet. It was also a bit of a bargain at GBP 250 for the whole six nights.

Cosy Broughty Ferry Flat

Cosy Broughty Ferry Flat

fiery sunset

Sunset view from our bedroom

We didn’t do many touristy things here at all, aside from a drive up to the Law lookout and a visit to the (free) Broughty Castle. The castle is actually a great place to warm up and has a room set up for kids with activities, colouring pages and soft animal toys.

Dundee

View from the Law over Dundee and the River Tay

The rest of our days were spent catching up with old friends, playing in the great (but freezing) park by the castle, and revisiting old favourite eateries such as The Ship Inn and Visocchi’s for lunch.

Castle Green Park

Broughty Castle and Castle Green Park

On the day we were leaving our alarm went off at 7:30am and…we stayed in bed for another hour. Then we got ready and packed and finally got away at 11:20. We got in the car and I fired up google maps which told me it would take 3.5 hours to drive to Newcastle. For some reason I had had it in my head that it only took 2.5 hours so suddenly we lost another hour in the schedule and would now be arriving right on car drop-off time. There was no time to get lunch on the way besides a quick toilet stop at McDonalds and eating in the car. The kids got their first ever happy meals.

Finally we arrived in Newcastle, only a little after car drop-off time. We just had to fill up with petrol and find the car place which I thought was right near central train station where we would get the bus to our ferry to The Netherlands. All good in theory except we could not find a petrol station. Or the car place. We ended up on the wrong side of the river. Then back again. Then google told us it was back over the bridge. Argh! Time was ticking, my phone died. Back over the bridge we went and finally found the car hire place who told us they do have an office by the train station after all.

We ended up having to pay the crazy car hire prices for a tank of petrol AND get a taxi to the ferry port. Check-in for the ferry closed at 4:15pm and our taxi pulled in at 4:25. We raced in to the totally empty terminal and up to the counters where they thankfully let us through. I think we were last on the boat but we made it! That was the most stressful travel day of the whole trip and I’m quite happy to be back to modes of transport where any delays are not my fault.

More on the ferry trip and Amsterdam next post.