For anyone who’s counting, I have officially made it across the pond and back for the second time this pregnancy. Wee Connor is officially better traveled than I have been over the past few years, but since his travels are inextricably connected to mine, I can’t complain.
When I tell people I went on a week-long vacation with my mother-in-law the general reaction has ranged from, “Seriously?!” to “Whoa.” to “…and that’s…okay?!” I always knew I had won out in the lottery of mothers-in-law but truly, deeply, this vacation confirmed it. We had an amazing time together (well, at least, I had an amazing time, I have no idea if she came out the other side feeling the same way or not, which is always possible that she could be glad we’re an ocean apart for a while) and the week flew by. My doctor simply asked that we stay in cities just in case something happened, which I was happy to oblige. Here are a few of the highlights from the trip.
We flew nonstop from Charlotte to Paris, arriving at 7AM local time and we hit the ground walking nonstop. I don’t believe for a moment that we didn’t cover over 8 miles a day (thank goodness I love walking and walk a lot anyway!) The only true “tourist thing” I really wanted to hit was the Musee d’Orsay, which houses the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. Our hotel was a gorgeous boutique hotel on the left bank and only a 10-15 minute walk (if that) from the museum. We got some coffee, walked around, went to the museum as soon as it opened, and then promptly spent the next two days simply walking around Paris absorbing how gorgeous a city it truly was.
Overall favorite surprise: I truly loved every moment in Paris, but if I had to choose, it would be Le Jardin du Luxembourg (pictured). A large park in the middle of the city, part palace, part normal park with tennis courts and playground and benches. No matter where we walked, we seemed to keep coming back into this park unintentionally, yet could not complain even a little bit.
After the magnificence of eating delicious bread and crepes for two days, we hit the train and went to Luxembourg City. This was probably the most “off-the-wall” places we went, and to be honest, I left completely perplexed by the experience. For a city of its size (~100,000) it had more shopping than I had ever seen combined into one location, but all the shopping was stuff you could find in a high end mall in America (think: Coach, Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger (??), Lacoste, etc.).
We went down into the “old city” – down being an operative word as you literally take an elevator in the middle of a bunch of government buildings – but mostly it was completely devoid of people. The views down from the “new city” into the old city were quite picturesque, but since we arrived semi-late we didn’t walk the “old wall” (in between the two cities) as it started raining and it would have taken almost 2 hours, supposedly.
We then tried to find some more “local” flavors but it seemed very hard to find for dinner as the city seems quite…commercialized. We ordered the “Luxembourg National Dish”, called the Judd mat Gaardebounen. This dish consists of boiled pork collar and broad beans. To be honest, you know when sometimes you look at a dish and it looks gross and then tastes awesome? This dish looked gross and tasted grosser. We left laughing and taking it all in stride, but not exactly sad to move on to Belgium the next day.
Overall favorite surprise: how truly quad-lingual this city/country seems to be. Residents and signs seemed to effortlessly switch between French, German, Luxembourgish, and English. I could not have been more impressed.
The next day we grabbed our things and headed via train to Brugge in Belgium. Apparently called “Venice of the North” Brugge is an extremely picturesque town with many canals that tourists flock to, and for good reason. The city is gorgeous. While it seems that the city’s only existence is due to tourists, we still had a fabulous time walking around and admiring the architecture, the immense beauty, and general history of the city itself.
We ate “traditional Belgian food” while there (mussels, fries, and beef stew), as well as tried to find some other places that were slightly less tourist-trappy (difficult!). We spent 2 days in Brugge before heading to Brussels for our final stop in Brussels to see the flower carpet.
Overall favorite surprise: just how gorgeous the architecture and city truly were. The entire “old” city was traversable in 15-20 minutes.
This stop was honestly the impetus to the entire trip: seeing the famed Flower Carpet that takes place in the Grand Place of Brussels every 2 years. However, by the end it almost seemed like an afterthought with the rest of the amazing trip. It was also, by far, the single most touristy thing we did the entire trip. I don’t know if we were just tired, but dealing with hordes and hordes of tourists by this point was simply exhausting and mentally draining. We stayed right next to the flower carpet, decided that standing in line for 3 hours to view it from above was too much, and went about exploring more parts of the city.
Unfortunately for us, it was a national holiday on the day we visited, so many of the restaurants or “less touristy” parts of the city were closed, but it was actually more lovely than I had expected, seeing as I had always heard that Brussels was mostly a governmentally institutionalized city where it was better to live than visit.
We bought all our chocolates in Brussels and the concierge had some particularly good recommendations on places to go for them that weren’t as touristy but were just as delectable. Clearly, the chocolates were among the biggest wins of the trip because truly, Belgian chocolates are divine.
If I could summarize what I saw of Brussels, it would be as if Paris and New York City had a baby that got into politics.
Overall favorite surprise: I thought Brussels was actually more pleasant to walk around past the tourist destinations than I thought it would be. I could see this as a place where it would be easy to find a neighborhood to live and commute, while still having a lot of beautiful architecture and buildings to find yourself around.
And the chocolates. But that’s just a little obvious.
Clearly, I love Europe and traveling. I never felt nervous about traveling at 32 weeks pregnant, and I was proven right. This was the trip of a lifetime and I couldn’t be more grateful that my mother-in-law was willing to go with me on it.
I of course was beyond happy to see my husband and animals again, and to be in a place where restaurants don’t seem to hoard water like a leprechaun and a pot of gold (my one true complaint about Europe in general). Every time I return from Europe I want to go back even more. I am already plotting our next adventures with Wee Connor in tow, but for now will just have to get by on the exorbitant amounts of chocolate I hauled back as I prepare for the realization that I will have a real-life other human in my house in a month and a half.