A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Belgium

Ah, Belgium. This was our second time in Belgium and I’m putting that very lightly as we visited a museum in Bastogne before heading to Luxembourg last year (we also went to Luxembourg this year). This year we wanted to not only stop in Bastogne again to see a couple more stops, but also to see Brussels, Belgium. There are a couple of really pretty cities in Belgium (Utrecht and Brugge are the tops), but we decided on Brussels.

Before we get into Brussels though, I want to talk about our stops on the way to Belgium. Our first stop was the Bayeux Cathedral. The Bayeux Cathedral is easily one of the coolest and most unique cathedrals I think I have yet to see. Consecrated in the late 11th century, this church is not only neat on both the exterior and interior, but also was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Our second stop was in Bastogne. After leaving Bayeux, we headed to Bastogne to look at the Foxholes and stop at the Airborne Museum in Bastogne. The Foxholes are exactly what you think they would be, but something about it just felt like walking on sacred ground. I think because we all know the story, we’ve heard the names, there is a bit more of a personal note, that walking the forest just felt…different to walking other places.

From the foxholes we went over to the 101 Airborne Museum. The museum is located in the former officer’s mess building of the Belgian Army, which was also used by the German Army during the occupation. Once the war ended, it was used as a Red Cross Hospital. It has been transformed into a museum that displays a collection of items from the fighting as well as a basement that has been transformed into a bomb shelter.

The museum is incredible, BUT fair warning on going down to the basement area. I would not say that it is…kid friendly, but it is important to experience. Walking down the stairs you are taken to a small dark room where you experience what it would be like to live during the battle for Bastogne and that was just…something that was hard to do. I don’t even have the words for that experience, just that I cannot imagine. From there you then walk along hallways that show various scenes (recreated…with mannequins- again not necessarily suitable for kids, depending on your children’s level of coping and understanding) from the battle. This includes the men fighting through crevices in the defenses of the building, to surgery scenes, to items that were found in the nearby forests and on the streets above. It was something to see and experience and something I will not forget for a long time.

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Brussels has long been a settlement, but it became fully known in the late 600’s when a chapel was built on the banks of the Senne River. The city was then officially founded about 300 years later and has been a place of rebellions, battles, and economic development. We spent most of our day in Brussels walking around the old town area, snacking on waffles, and absorbing the sights. Brussels was a really cool mix of old world and modern, with a hint of opulence and we enjoyed our day exploring. We stayed in a hotel called Hotel Noga and were very pleased with our room and the service.

IMG_6854We started off with a breakfast of…(drumroll please)…waffles. I mean, we couldn’t go all the way to Belgium and not have some waffles. We stopped at a spot in the National Galerie called Mokafe and had some delicious waffles, Strawberry for myself, chocolate for the boys, and berry variety for my husband. Absolutely delicious. Fun fact about the waffles, there are actually two varieties: Brussels and Liege. Brussels are hard rectangle and topped with powdered sugar and some variety of berry or chocolate. Liege waffles are more oval and tend to be more of your…grab and go waffle. The sugar in Liege waffles is also baked directly into the waffle.

After filling up on the delicious waffle and cappuccino breakfast, we headed out to wander. We started our day at the Church of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

This is a relatively “modern” cathedral and church, having only gained cathedral status in the early 1960’s. The church itself dates back to the 11th century, with completion in the 16th, and is currently used for ceremonies of national interest (it is host to royal family events). It was stunning, one of those churches you can’t help but admire.

From there we headed through more of the Altstadt and over to the Grand-Place of Brussels. This seemed to be a common stop for us throughout the day as we gravitated back here several times- which makes sense as it is the central square of Brussels.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most important tourist destination of Brussels, with guildhalls, Museum of the City of Brussels, and the Town Hall rising up around the square itself. The buildings are displays of opulence with gold touches and gothic architecture. It was voted (at one point) the most beautiful square in Europe and I think I would agree. The square is opulent, but not overbearingly so. It’s definitely the heart and was full of life each time we were there.

We also managed to see Manneken Pis. Yep, you read that right. Manneken Pis is a fountain sculpture of a little boy peeing into the fountain. The first mention of the fountain was from the 15th century when it is mentioned about drinking water for the residents. The first bronze statue was placed in the 17th century, with the current statue replacing it in the mid 20th century. The Mannekin Pis has been the subject of several thefts (of which the punishment was severe) and several legends (which are all quite…interesting to read about). One of the Mannekin Pis traditions is to be dressed up in a variety of different costumes. These can range from famous individuals, to sport options, to holiday attire. Overall though, the Mannekin Pis is a symbol to the people of Brussels; a symbol of the sense of humor that they share and their independence of mind.

The final thing we attraction we saw in Brussels was The Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

First commissioned by Leopold II in the early part of the 20th century after being fascinated by Paris. His original intent was to model his church off of the Sacre Coeur in Parish (HERE) with a street similar to Champs Elysees (HERE) connecting it to the main city center. The Church was consecrate in 1951, awarded the designation of “Basilica Minor” in 1952, completed in 1969, and is now the 5th largest church in the world. This church also holds two museums, The Black Sisters Museum and the Museum of Modern Religious Art. You are also able to go up to a balcony right under the dome to get a bird’s eye view of Brussels.

Once again, this was incredible due to the sheer size. You can definitely feel the more sleek, modern (almost non frivolous, sparse look), art deco style of the church throughout, but the size is just a site to behold.

After finishing up with the Basilica, we wandered back towards the main center square, did a little shopping and picked up some dinner before heading to our hotel. We definitely did not see everything that Brussels has to offer, not even close, but I feel like we got a good amount in our one day there, and were able to get the “feel” of the city.

Round the Kettle Ep. 26: Home Again

Hello! Long-ish time no blog. It’s been a nice little breathing point; I’ve been able to focus on our traveling and some much-needed family moments. It’s funny as this blog is my hobby. It’s my outlet. It’s like my library- my little corner in this great big world. And it’s a lot of work. It’s something that I love to do, that I feel a responsibility with, and that also takes up a lot of my brain space. I love it, but I get worn out from time to time. It’s not just sitting down at the computer, typing up some words, and then pressing publish (although it has been and can be that at times- especially these Round the Kettle posts). I try to put thought and information into each post I publish, I try to make it cohesive, and try to correct my grammar throughout each post. A break is a good thing every once in a while, to let my brain pause and let new ideas come. 

So, what did I do with my break? We took a little summer holiday. I spoke about our decision to start traveling HERE and originally that was limited to within Germany (where we live). However, we got a last minute “OK” to travel to some other countries (this is a longer story and maybe I’ll talk about it sometime…) and we jumped at the opportunity. We took a little under 2 weeks and explored areas of Luxembourg, France, and Belgium. 

I’ll be honest…it was glorious. Yes, we were overly precautious with masks, hand sanitizer, and washing our hands, but we also got to see places without the bulk of tourists. While there are positives and negatives to tourism and seeing tourist hotspots with all of the tourists, I won’t deny that walking through parts of Paris without a million other people was incredible. I will have blog posts and tip posts for every location, but it was a really great time overall. I didn’t know how much I truly missed (and needed) travel until we started traveling again. It was like something clicked back into place in my soul and I realized just how important that is. 

We do not have any immediate plans to travel again (beyond our German borders), as work schedules will start to pick back up again, school will start at some point in some way, and we are still carefully evaluating locations based on numbers (and approval). We have hopes though that late fall will have us planning another trip as well as sometime in the holiday season. 

Finally, now that I am starting to work through blog posts and content I wanted to give a little insight as to what you can expect coming up on the blog…

To start off I am going to be doing a little post about what the actual travel and Covid restrictions were like. What we noticed, what we practiced, and just what that was like. If you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll try to address them in that post. I will say- I cannot advise plane travel as we drove. 

Then, much like every other holiday, I will have blog posts on each city we went to, along with the tips/tricks posts, and a couple of castle posts (as we visited a couple of those). I’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions to share on this particular trip so I’m looking forward to compiling those together. 

I will also have my standard reading wrap up post coming up at the end of this month/beginning of the next, a chatty post about the upcoming school year, AND hopefully a big announcement towards the end of next month (August/September time frame). 

All of this kicks off on Wednesday with my experience traveling in this new unprecedented time. 

How have you been? Have you started to see things open up near you?

Planning Big Trips

Untitled Design 5Today I am going to talking about something that we have done and will be doing in the next month and that is planning big trips. We have taken summer vacations for three years in a row now with our little family to all different destinations (Maine, Canada/New York, United Kingdom) and are planning a Christmas/Winter getaway over the next few years too. There is a definite difference in planning between planning these bigger travel events than with planning Weekend Getaways. Not only are these usually further distances away, but they are usually intended to be to see more and do more. I have talked about long weekends (HERE) so today, I’m going to talk just a little bit about how we plan our longer trips.

I’m going to be using our Summer Holiday as an example as I work through this post which you can read about in these posts: Calais and Dover, London, Edinburgh, Inverness, Bastogne, Luxembourg, and Heading Home.

The first step is determining where we want to go. This is actually one of the most overwhelming bits as there are a lot of travel options. We have a very large list of places we want to go while we are over here in Germany, and are adding more to that list every day, and we split that into two categories. These two categories are places that we want more than a day or two and places that we don’t need much time in. So, we knew that we wanted to have a decent amount of time to explore London and Scotland, and since those are neighboring countries and it made sense to take one longer trip to visit both, than two or three “shorter” trips. The same will be for our future trip to Italy. Italy is a country that we want to spend a longer amount of time in to see more to the country, rather than taking a few 4-day weekend trips to. If we can combine spots, we will combine spots, but more on that later.

So, we know where we want to go. The next step is deciding how to get there. Here in Europe there are a couple different options: driving, flying, or train. There are pros and cons to each option, and we tend to weigh kids, luggage, timeframe, and cost into our decision. Flying is something that we will probably be doing more in the winter months as it starts to snow, and the roads get a little more treacherous. Trains are something that we are having to hold off until the boys get a smidge older, Andrew is just a little bit too young to really understand. Driving usually seems to be a…”dull” and longer option (although we like it), but you also can control your timeline a little bit more as well as your luggage situation. The other benefit of driving or taking a train is the ability to add more stops to your itinerary which may change your mode of transportation.

Perfect Segway into our third step, which is mapping a route. This goes hand in hand in some ways with how to get there. This also happens to be one of my favorite parts of the planning process. There are two ways to do this, depending on what you prefer: electronically or physically. What you will want to do is map out your trip. We start with our main points. For our Summer Holiday we knew we wanted to go to London, Edinburgh and Inverness. Those were our main spots. We also leaned towards driving due to cost, ability to control our schedule a little more, and the ability to see a little more. So, we pulled out a map and started to look at different options. You are actually able to do this electronically on Google Maps (plan a trip) which we have done, but you can also do this on a physical map, which I prefer. Looking at a map we kind of eye balled our distances and eye balled what countries we would be traveling through or bordering up against in this travel. We knew that we would probably have to stay a night in Calais and potentially somewhere between Inverness and Dover and then again Calais and home. We also tried to look if there was anywhere that we wanted to stop on our route, which was how we managed to visit the American Cemetery at Luxembourg and the War Museum in Bastogne (also Dover, but that would have been too obvious not to miss). Look at your destinations and if you are driving or taking a plane is there anywhere on your route that you want to stop? How much time do you want to spend in this location? How feasible is this?

So, we know where we are going, how we are getting there, and what stops we want to make roundtrip, it’s time to find a place to stay. This is more my husband’s forte than mine and he typically handles all of our accommodation. I’ll give you an idea though from what we’ve talked about and the little bit that I have seen/tried to do. Depending on where we go we will either book a hotel or an Airbnb. We prefer Airbnb’s as we can typically get a little more bang for our book, a little more space to stretch out, and some version of a kitchen for us to put all of our snacks and such. The only time we really stay in hotels is in bigger cities where it just makes more sense (London and Berlin). We filter our searches on Airbnb based on location and just map where the locations are to where the things are that we want to see. We like to use Public Transportation as much as we can when we travel to new spots, so somewhere nearby either a station OR walking distance to what we want to see is perfect. I wish I had more to say on this one, but I really don’t. We just hunt through Airbnb, our Credit Card company, and then Trivago and sites like that.

Finally, the optional fifth step: planning activities while you are there. This is completely dependent on what kind of traveler you are. When it comes to big trips I have a little bit of an itinerary problem in that I like to have at least one or two ideas for each day. I don’t plan to the last minute, but I do like to have a bit of a plan going into these longer trips. For London, we had planned on one day of just walking London seeing all the sights, one day at The Tower, and one day at the Globe and any last-minute idea’s that we had. This allowed us to have a little structure, a list of things we wanted to do, but still have a little flexibility with the kids. At the very least I would suggest just looking into and maybe making a list of different things to do, you don’t have to come up with any schedules or anything like that, but at least an idea of what to do and when is best to do it ahead of time will be a help.

And that is it! That’s how we plan our longer trips. Do you have any tips for planning long holidays? Let me know down below 🙂

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Bastogne, Luxembourg, and Heading Home

Once we finished our blissful few days in Inverness, it was time to make the trek back home to Germany. When we were planning our trip, we decided to split our return trip into three different days. This gave us a chance to somewhat take our time. It also made sense because we were coming back from the furthest part of our travel and we didn’t want to push too hard.

We spent our first night back from Inverness in Cambridge. This was the hardest day of travel as we were already pretty worn out from the 11 days of nonstop going and this was our “long haul” drive. I had a couple things picked out to look at in Cambridge if we had time, but we ended up getting to the hotel that evening and just crashing in our hotel room. We had a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant and all quickly fell asleep.

Our second day of travel on the way home was probably the most stressful. Our goal was to stop in Bastogne in the afternoon and we had specifically planned all of our times out for us to have a few hours to spend walking through the museum, seeing the town, and enjoying a little break from the car. HOWEVER, this did not end up being the case. We rose early to make it to our tunnel time at Dover, only to find out that one train had been canceled and the other trains had then been delayed about an hour to accommodate the overage from the cancelled train. We got a break from the car a bit earlier than we expected, and we spent time browsing the duty free shops, letting the boys go crazy in the kids area, and trying not to think about how much we were going to have to “book it” to get to Bastogne.

Somehow we made it to Bastogne with exactly 10 minutes to spare (last entrance was at 4:30PM, we pulled in at 4:20PM), so thankfully we were able to at least take a look at the Bastogne War Museum. I would highly recommend stopping in this museum. Not only does it have a lot of artifacts from the Battle of the Bulge, The Band of Brothers, and the Germans, but it also has some really interactive demonstrations.

There were three theatres placed throughout the museum that put you “right in the action”. Make sure that you get the audio guides from the entrance desk as that is your tour guide and be ready to devote at the very least an hour and a half to the museum. We also took a look around the memorial that is just outside and the art display right outside (I think that display changes throughout the year).

 

IMG_2870 2.jpgWe ended up getting to do a little drive through the actual town of Bastogne, including seeing an Umbrella Ceiling, which was really cool, before heading to our hotel in nearby Luxembourg. Belgium is a country that is still on our list to visit, and I definitely want to come back to Bastogne to have a little bit more time to look around.

 

 

 

We stayed the night in Luxembourg as a)it was on our route and b) we wanted to stop at the American Military Cemetery that is located in Luxembourg.

This is the cemetery that General Patton is buried in, along with several Band of Brothers and a single Female Nurse. With my husband being in the military and a major history/WW2 buff, he was determined to see the graves and cemetery while we were in the area. This also marked the last stop on our Summer Holiday.

To be honest, the three days of traveling home consisted of us being in a general state of exhaustion and desire to just be home. I think that that definitely played a role in what we did and did not end up doing, as well as the lack of “stuff” in this particular blog post. We definitely have learned that our travel limit is 10 days for this season of life and while we loved every minute of this holiday, we also learned a couple of things to implement on future trips.

So, there you have it…our Summer 2019 Holiday. Did you enjoy reading about our travels? Did you learn anything new or add any new destinations to your list of trips to take? What was your favorite part or destination? Let me know in the comments below!