Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beer, Cheese, Chocolate, and...Baby?

Baby C finally being here, and me no longer being absurdly pregnant, we could hardly wait for our next adventure. Not quite two weeks old yet, and we thought we'd introduce the little guy to the fabulous things in life by heading to the land beer, cheese, and (my personal favorite) chocolate. It was also the end of my mom's visit with us here in Germany, and I wanted to be sure to have her leave with memories of a fun adventure with our crazy family. Belgium has been on our list from the beginning, but we really wanted to go to this part of Europe when temperatures were a tad bit warmer. (Although this year, I'm not sure northern Europe is going to see much of a summer - man, has it been cold!)

Having a baby abroad translates into a lot of paperwork. It turns out getting a report of birth abroad, a passport, and a visa can also take some serious time AND much of that paperwork needs to be turned in and processed before you can even start the passport process. Knowing the tedious and loooong process we had to go through to get little r's passport after we got here, we have planned our trips over the summer assuming we won't see Baby C's passport until early fall. That means we can still travel within the EU, but all travels will need to be doable by car - no planes or trains without a passport regardless of where you are traveling.

Believe it or not, Belgium is a mere seven hours by car from where we live in Germany. So, we loaded up our trusty new German-engineered vehicle and piled in. We honestly had no idea what to expect from the drive or how well Baby C would do, but we also forgot how much easier it is to travel with a baby at this age. He was a perfect little traveler.

We did a short stop-over in Aachen, Germany, for lunch. Aachen is was the residence of Charlemagne (or Charles the Great), and a beautiful cathedral was constructed there under his orders. We have seen many churches and cathedrals throughout Europe, and this one did not disappoint. We enjoyed a delicious lunch (it was Italian, of course, but the Germans love this food as much as we do and they ALWAYS do it well) and a leisurely stroll through the Allstadt in Aachen. To our surprise, we also ran into some of our closest friends who were also heading to Belgium for the weekend. It was chilly out, but the sun was shining and the sky was gorgeous. Big R took so many amazing pictures in our quick visit to Aachen, that choosing which ones to share was tough, but here are some of my favorites.

Taking after his dad - my little photographer
Charlemagne's Cathedral
All snuggled up and keeping warm
Another view of Charlemagne's Cathedral
Inside the beautiful cathedral
Some of the beautiful sights around Aachen
Another view of the cathedral
This large city had a sweet village feel
Then it was on to Belgium. We were spending our first two nights in Bruges, which should have been only a couple more hours by car, but we hit terrible traffic. Apparently we weren't the only ones with the idea to spend the weekend in Bruges. We finally arrived and were happily greeted by our friendly innkeeper. Such a perfect B & B for our short stay in Bruges. It was late when we finally ventured out to find dinner, but the sun doesn't set there until after 10:30 p.m., so it felt like early evening. We had our usual delicious dinner set in the tourist trap in town, right on the market square surrounded by tourists and excellent hospitality. Both of the kids fell asleep, so we were able to enjoy a wonderful dinner with my mom and then walk home under the lights of Bruges.

On our way to dinner - standing in front of the Belfry
group of restaurants where we enjoyed dinner
Bruges after dark

Our next day was all about exploring Bruges, and except for being a little cold at times, we really enjoyed our day there. The sun seemed to shine at all the right moments on our trip, and we somehow completely avoided the rain. Considering our trek record, this is nothing shy of a miracle!

We climbed the Belfry and enjoyed the sun in the market square...

Big R and little r climbed up the Belfry while Mom and I waited below
View of Bruges as they climbed up the Belfry
View of the canal from the Belfry
The bells rang loudly the entire time they climbed to the top
View of the square from the Belfry
The reason my Mom and I stayed down below

We enjoyed the sights of Bruges by boat along the canal...

Bruges is beautiful along the canal
One of the few wooden facades left in Bruges
sweet puppy sleeping in the window...
view of our B & B from the canal

and we saw Bruges by horse and carriage...

All in all, we truly enjoyed our time in Bruges...

It was time to say 'tot ziens' to Bruges and 'bon jour' to Brussels with a short side-trip into Ghent.

I had heard great things about Ghent. Although, I'll have to be honest, my first impression was a little shaky. The weather was cold and the buildings were dark and grey, and I was just hoping to discover that part of the city that made people fall in love with it. The sun came out, the wind died down, and we found found ourselves slowly falling in love with the city. We took another canal tour, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only were the sights gorgeous in the sunlight, but our tour guide was very proud of his hometown and his enthusiasm was contagious.

View through the window of the Belfry
St. Nicholas' Church as viewed from the Belfry
A view of Ghent from the Belfry
Sint-Niklaaskerk (St. Nicholas' Church)
We enjoyed the sunshine on our canal tour
Beautiful buildings along the canal
More of Ghent from the canal view
Typical architecture found in Belgium
Het Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts) built on the canal in the center of town
Beautiful Ghent, Belgium

After our incredible afternoon in Ghent, we headed into Brussels. Honestly, after such a full weekend of beautiful sights, we found Brussels to be somewhat underwhelming. The Grand Place is pretty incredible, and the architecture throughout Brussels is impressive, but all in all, it's a large metropolitan destination full of people living, working, and touring. The beer was plenty, and the chocolate was easy to find. Our favorite treat from Brussels were the macaron cookies - seriously a little piece of heaven in just about any delicious flavor you can think of. You can easily do Brussels in a day or get lost here for a week. For us, we stayed just long enough for Big R to take some incredible pictures.

Here are some of the pictures highlighting our time in Brussels...

Family photo in Grand Place-Grote Markt
Grand Place-Grote Markt
Eating mussels in Brussels!
I just love this woman :)
Grand Place-Grote Markt is beautiful when lit up at night
Historic center at night
Our favorite macaron cookies! little r approves!
best buddies together in Grand Place-Grote Markt
The sun was a welcome sight for us all weekend
such a HAM!
Basiliek van het Heilig Hart / Basilique du Sacré Coeur
traditional lunch at an old tavern in Brussels
A la Morte Subtite - "Sudden Death" - tavern where we had lunch

Our trip to Belgium finally had to come to an end, so we took the tired crew home. It was a great trip. Hopefully my mom enjoyed being with us on this adventure. Baby C did incredibly well and is already becoming quite the jetsetter. We all know that little r is a trooper and a pro, so he can hopefully teach his little brother a few things about traveling around the world.