Saturday, October 31, 2015

Five Magical Days in London!

We have been excited to visit London with the kids ever since we moved to Europe more than a year ago! And the anticipation was worth it.....this trip was our favorite European vacation so far. Madeline, Charlie and John would have been happy the entire trip to do nothing but ride on the Tube, the red double decker city busses and the London black cabs. While I poured over maps and travel blogs to plan easy, fun days, the kids prepared for the trip by reading Paddington Bear (and watching the hilarious movie), sipping tea and speaking in exaggerated English accents.
At last! Riding in a double decker bus!
And the Tube! They squealed when it went!
The flight was quick and our flat was perfect (sadly, poor sick Bitsy threw up three times going though customs and every day thereafter. What a trooper!). The day we arrived was Halloween, so we celebrated by visiting the mummies in the British Museum. Rob ran to the grocery store, and we finished the night with an assortment of meat and fish pies (including Scrummy Fish Pie) in our toy-filled flat.
The British Museum....we could spent all five days there!

Our rented flat was filled with toys and felt like home
On our second day, we saw the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, crossed Tower Bridge on foot, ate lunch on the 31st floor of the Shard (Europe's tallest building) and popped in the Tate Modern hoping to show Madeline a Monet for her school biography. Sadly, it wasn't currently on display. 
The Shard rising behind the Tower of London.
Looking down on the trains from inside the Shard!
Tate Modern
The third day, we walked through the beautiful St. James Park and Green Park with coffees in hand, visited Buckingham Palace, watched the changing of the guard, walked to Big Ben, ate fish and chips and took a spin in the London Eye. 
I guess Bitsy isn't afraid of heights!
Day Four was a very special day....Bitsy's first birthday! We celebrated with a fancy tea party at the Ritz London. That afternoon, while the kids rested and played, I explored Liberty of London and Oxford Street....heaven! 

For our final day in London, we went out with a bang with a visit to Hamley's, a 300 year old toystore. It was an assault on the senses, but 6-floors of of pure magic for the kids. Everyone picked out a Paddington Bear like the one I grew up with, and then we ate the best Indian food we have ever had for lunch. We finished with a fascinating visit to the Churchill War Rooms. 

What an amazing trip!
Amazing to see where Churchill strategized during World War II
Public transportation was part of the fun for the kids!
They had so much fun in our apartment.
Black cab!
Matching dresses from Grammy for the Shard!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bruges in the Fall

As soon as we started seeing the telltale stair-step rooflines, we knew we were getting close to Bruges, only 2 1/2 hours from Lux in Belgium. We pulled into our centuries-old rented house -- a classic three-story place with the creakiest, most narrow and steep staircases I've ever seen (not the easiest when carrying a baby). But it was charming and the location was perfect; the host, Geert, greeted us and gave us a colorful history lesson about Flanders. We arrived with enough time to walk into town for mussels & frites and flemish stew for dinner. We watched the sun set on our walk back home, and took in the medieval town lit up at night -- breathtaking. Swans, canals, clip clop of horses, smell of waffles.....
The kids had a leaf flight straight out of the car!
Transfixed by Alvin and the Chipmunks in Dutch
Classic mussels and fries
Fresh waffles for dessert!
We were out the door so early the next morning, there was only us and the street cleaners, walking the town as it woke up. We could  see our breath. Found a breakfast place in the Maarkt (a beautiful large central square) for hot chocolate and coffee, then hopped into a horse-drawn carriage for a 30 minute tour of the gorgeous Bruges. By 11:30am, the town was teeming with tourists. We bought a Bruges Christmas ornament for our collection in a tiny shop; everything was breakable and I discovered photos were not allowed when I tried to take a shot of the boys absolutely transfixed by a wall of Black Forest cuckoo clocks (a steal at 700 Euros each). After checking out the Belfry, we ducked into a sandwich shop for some pumpkin soup and a Belgian beer, then rested the kids' tired little legs on a canal boat cruise. We visited the tiny Church of the Holy Blood where we saw a relic of Christ's blood -- it made quite an impression on the kids. We kept them going through the day with ice cream, waffles and stops in gorgeous little chocolate shops, then strolled through the flea market on our walk home. The kids ran wild in the Astridpark playground 100 feet from our rented home with all the little Belgian children. Off to dinner at Old Bruge Bistro; more mussels and frites, and Madeline loved her traditional Flemish rabbit entree (John begged her to share her plate, which she did, though grudgingly).

The chocolate shops!
Art installation around the city signifying unity after 9/11 
Canal boat ride
This was my view the entire trip! Can you imagine anything better?

The next morning, we were the first ones awake again. We went to the Prestige Cafe for a beautiful breakfast served on silver and china -- I stood the entire meal while Bitsy took her morning nap in the front carrier. Then we crossed the street and went to another darling Christmas shop while we waited for the Historiam museum to open. All five of us were outfitted with earphones, which led us through a museum experience drawing on all five senses -- we were made to feel as though we were in 15th century Bruges! We could smell fire smoke, hear water, feel snow fall....amazing!
Breakfast at a charming cafe.
We "lived" on such a beautiful park.
Outfitted in our headphones ready for the museum.
Queen Elizabeth!
Mmm. Waffles on a stick.

I couldn't believe how much we fit in a weekend. Fabulous!