We’re not breaking from our usual columns this month as I figured you’d all be ready for a little break from the Christmas overload happening right now. Plus, at Christmas time when you’re getting together with family and spending time with your other half I naturally tend towards using the downtime to plan for the New Year – This post will come in very useful for all the mums out there…
Hello again, Findettes! Last month I talked about great family day trips with the National Trust, but this month I thought I would share Freddie’s first trip abroad and some of the travelling tips I learned along the way.
Earlier this month, my little family loaded up the pushchair and headed off on the Eurostar to Brussels. The main reason for going was to continue the tradition of having a pre-Christmas meal with my husband’s university friends, which this year was being hosted by our friend who lives and works there, but we decided to stay a few days and include a night in Bruges while we were in the country. There was a lot of good food and wine, laughter and reminiscing shared with fantastic company, as is always the way when this gang gets together (one of the highlights was playing the name game and discovering that one person had never heard heard of James Brown), but most importantly the trip was a family-friendly success.
As I mentioned above, we travelled to Brussels on the Eurostar, which I would highly recommend as a method of travelling with a baby or small children. Not only are the seats bigger than aeroplane seats, but you don’t have to stay in them at any point, which was ideal when I was trying to get a very tired and upset Freddie to sleep not long after leaving London (although the train manager did tell me that sometimes they do ask that everyone stays inside the carriage during the Channel crossing, but that didn’t happen to us). There are baby changing facilities onboard, ‘family’ carriages with more tables and more luggage space and we didn’t have to reduce how much we brought – including being able to bring baby food and formula milk through security – or even collapse the pushchair. Much, much easier – and faster! – than flying.
We also took the train to Bruges in the middle of our trip, but had we not been staying in Brussels we could have continued using our Eurostar ticket as you can travel within Belgium within 24 hours for the same price. The Belgian trains were cheap, fast, clean, on time and the train station in Bruges is a short walk out of the city centre.
Food and accommodation
We stayed with our friends in their gorgeous city centre apartment in Brussels and the group rented a second apartment nearby through Airbnb. We then stayed for one night in the Ibis Bruges Centrum – watch out when booking because there’s also one at the station – which, as it had a bath, black-out curtains, supplied a travel cot and only cost €62, was absolutely fine for our purposes and is somewhere I would definitely stay in again.
As our time in Brussels was all about turkey and Christmas pudding, we didn’t eat out while we were there apart from sampling the best chips in Belgium (very, very good) on our tour of the city. But we made up for it in Bruges, the city of hot chocolate and beer…
After an average meal straight after arriving from the train in one of the closest restaurants to the hotel, which we probably would have forgotten about if it hadn’t involved Freddie devouring his first mussel and demanding more, we had more success the following day. Here are my top picks:
Miss Ellie cafe
We had an excellent breakfast here and found it to be really good value. It’s slightly off the main tourist route and near the shops, which is what made it a bit cheaper I think. Lovely coffee, melted chocolate for dunking your croissant in and high chairs available – what more could you want to set you up for a day of walking through the gorgeous streets of Bruges?
The Old Chocolate House
After a couple of hours of walking in the winter sunshine, Freddie was more than ready to have a break and a play and we popped into the first tea shop that caught our eye. It was a good choice. A high chair was brought to us instantly and the best (and largest) hot chocolate either of us had ever seen was delivered not long after. For €4 you get a HUGE mug of steaming hot milk, a (chocolate) bowl full of chocolate chips to whisk in and a home-made biscuit and chocolate on the side. You can choose the milk, dark or white classic option, add ginger or rum, marshmallows or cream and then buy the mug and chocolate in the shop below – brilliant. There’s also baby changing, which was much needed.
What we did
Bruges in a city made for wandering – there are beautiful canals, cute Christmas markets and stunning buildings you could stare at for days. For information on what to see, I recommend this post on the Mrs Makes blog as we didn’t actually much. Saying that, we are a family that love walking around new places and Bruges has is somewhere we would definitely return to with an older child as there is lots to see.
Although shopping with a baby who likes to grab at everything is not usually recommended, we like to buy one thing for our home whenever we go away and this being Freddie’s first time abroad, we couldn’t leave empty handed. Dille & Kamille is a beautiful kitchen/home shop that we fell in love with straight away. As well as picking up a mini whisk to add to the chocolate chips we bought in the Old Chocolate Shop and a new pair of sage green oven gloves for less than €12, we couldn’t resist buying Freddie a knitted stocking for his first Christmas.
Tips for travelling with a baby
I’m no expert on travelling with children, but we’ve done enough long journeys with Freddie in his first 7 months on the planet that I can offer some tips on how to make travelling with a baby that little less difficult.
- Think about how you’re going to transport the baby… We have an Ergo baby carrier that all three of us love as it leaves your hands free and can be better when travelling, especially if you don’t know whether there will be a lift or you need to be able to move quickly. As Bruges is pretty much all cobbled streets, we only took the Ergo with us on that part of the trip and it turned out to be a great decision. However, we couldn’t have carried all of our baby paraphernalia on the train without the big bag at the bottom of the pushchair or the clip that hangs off the handle. It might be that if you’re doing a mixture of driving and walking, the best option is to take the car seat and pushchair base (don’t forget the adaptors if you need them!) to save space.
- Take the minimum you can, but always have muslins and baby grows: Freddie only wears baby grows at night now, but we always take spares because they can be worn all day (and always look cute) and are really easy to layer-up if it gets cold.
- A favourite blanket will help a strange bed feel familiar: We are lucky that Freddie is an amazing sleeper, but we didn’t want to take too many chances so brought his sleeping bag with us for some continuity.
- Travel with other people: Freddie has been on the train a few times now, including one 3.5 hour trip just the two of us. Although it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, the fact that I couldn’t go to the toilet for the whole journey (tiny train toilet + baby + no friendly people in the carriage…) made it difficult and it’s much easier when there’s someone else there to help navigate unfamiliar places. Saying that, we decided not to travel to Belgium with our big group of friends as we knew we would be better off being able to move at our own pace, stopping off for play/coffee/nappy changing breaks whenever we needed to.
- Make peace with the fact that travelling with children is expensive: You pay for convenience, whether that be an overpriced sandwich in a service station because you have to have a car break NOW and everyone is starving, tipping the waiter to apologise for the state of the table or jumping in a taxi to get to the hotel so that you don’t get stressed trying to find it.
- Wine! Put the baby to bed, open a bottle and enjoy reaching your destination. That Belgian beer tasted even better after negotiating the Brussels metro system with a tired, hot, bored baby that we had to carry up 4 flights of stairs I can tell you!
Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married
Do tell us if you have any tips on travelling with a baby or from your first trip abroad with a little one?