Europe Trip Numero Deux: France, Luxembourg, and Belgium

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.

Paris

jardin du luxembourgWe 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.

Luxembourg City

luxembourg cityAfter 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.

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This is EXACTLY what our dishes looked like. EXACTLY. Source.

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.

Brugge

bruggeThe 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.

Brussels

flower carpetThis 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.

Our last day of the trip in Brussels at 7.5 months pregnant - my mother-in-law seriously puts the belle in belle-mère, n'est pas?

Our last day of the trip in Brussels at 7.5 months pregnant – my mother-in-law seriously puts the belle in belle-mère, n’est pas?

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

…wait, WHAT?!

Travel summary: London and Edinburgh

We’re back.

I don’t want to be back.

weather_june_charlotte

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Especially when the weather forecast looks like this in Charlotte.

We took a redeye over Friday night, arrived Saturday morning, and didn’t stop walking as soon as our little feet hit the ground in London. We averaged over 10 miles a day walking and I never wanted to stop, despite sore feet. Seeing TLH’s parents was an extra special treat since they live over in London 60% of their time, and we made a firm commitment to come over as much as humanly possible from now on.

Side note: I will never, ever, EVER stand down from this: walking everywhere (or as close to everywhere you can) is life-changing. Walking is good for the heart, the soul, and the mind. You see things you would never get to otherwise if you’re passing by in the speed and isolation of a car. When you are in a place with life on the streets, the streets are alive in a way that bring life and heart to a place that cannot be replicated by a destination you can arrive at only by car. I am not talking about “taking a walk/hike” in a park/mountains, etc. I am talking about walking as a lifestyle. I am talking about walking out of your house/apartment/dwelling abode and being able to get to places on foot while having other places to visit in between. (I recently finished a book about this phenomenon – called walkability for those who aren’t urban planning nerds – and will probably write more in depth about this later because it is something so near and dear to my heart.)

Anyhow. Ahem. Back to the trip.

We tried to do a range of tourist sights and explore more non-touristy neighborhoods, since places crawling with tourists tend to make my head explode after a while.

And apparently, while I wasn’t looking, my “bump” decided to become a real life bump.

Also, refreshing: in the UK people don’t assume you’re fat. People instead actually comment on your baby bump and wish you congratulations instead of assuming that you’re generally fat or bloated. It was awesome.

We did some main sites like St. Paul’s, Westminster, Tower Bridge, walking around Buckingham Palace…and I think London quite agrees with me.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral – seriously, where did that bump come from?

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Buckingham Palace. We happened to pass by right as the changing of the horse guard was taking place, which apparently is miraculous timing.

Tower Bridge. In case you were confused.

Tower Bridge. In case you were confused.

We also explored some other neighborhoods, notably Shoreditch and Spitalfields, where we got to see some amazing outdoor markets, including the flower market.

The flower market on Columbia Road in Shoreditch.

The flower market on Columbia Road in Shoreditch.

Um, FATE.

Um, FATE.

Another market in East End. Can't get enough.

Another market in East End. Can’t get enough.

We also made our way up the coast on a train to Edinburgh. While the weather was decidedly Scotland, I have decided that Edinburgh might be one of my most happy places on earth. The city is “best seen on foot” as said by every local we ran into, yet it was decidedly manageable. Also a plus? The tourists seem more “contained” to one area, which means that it would be extraordinarily liveable. I want to move there tomorrow. TOMORROW, I SAY. Though, of course, I say that about almost every large city I visit and would move to London tomorrow, too.

The other plus of Scotland? Finding the adjective “wee” the most precious thing I have ever heard (as the Scots say that for EVERYTHING), we have started referring to the Woodlet as “Wee Connor”, which is a step in the right direction to admitting that there is a human being arriving in October.

TLH tried and, to everyone’s shock, loved haggis, which is clearly disgusting. He also bought a tweed jacket, so as I figure it, we’re halfway to being locals.

Seriously, c'mon Edinburgh. Share the awesomeness around. You have too much.

Seriously, c’mon Edinburgh. Share the awesomeness around. You have too much.

See the smile? IT CONTINUED AS HE ATE THE HAGGIS.

See the smile? IT CONTINUED AS HE ATE THE HAGGIS.

Protip: get maternity outerwear. Otherwise be prepared for awkward cutting-off points in your clothes when your bump develops. This PSA brought to you by this picture.

Protip: get maternity outerwear. Otherwise be prepared for awkward cutting-off points in your clothes when your bump develops. This PSA brought to you by this picture.

Overall? A+ trip. I can’t wait to go back, which says a lot as my travel inclinations are to go to places that I have never been. The next time I’d love to do more of the countryside and maybe spend more time in Scotland.

Til next time, Europe! Which will be in August, when I’ll be extremely large and in charge but hopefully Luxembourg and Belgium will be willing to feed me plenty of chocolate, waffles and French fries.

P.S. I took this picture of this dog at a pub we stopped in in East End. It is worth noting that I have never seen a real-life incarnation of Yoda before, and it is something that will haunt my dreams forever. I love him.

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Have bump, will travel: to London we go!

Tomorrow marks 22 weeks of pregnancy (which is ~5.1 months pregnant) and my favorite Tax Lawyer Husband (TLH) and I are headed off to London!

TLH’s parents live about 60% of their time in London nowadays due to his mom’s career and after 2 years we are finally going across the pond on vacation to see them and the city. We depart Friday night from Charlotte, fly nonstop to London, and will leave the following Sunday back for Charlotte. Being back in a large, walkable city again will no doubt do incredible wonders for my psyche.

Some of my friends have asked me if I’m worried about travel while pregnant, or have said that they would never travel past a certain time in pregnancy (or at all!), but since I’m a generally healthy person and my doctor isn’t even the slightest bit worried, I’m going for it. If anything, taking a week off work and walking nonstop for 9 days will do me and the baby a world of good. In about 4 months I will never be able to travel as a non-parent again. Why not enjoy it? In late June I’m going down to Florida, in July to Austin, Texas, and in August I’m going to Belgium and Luxembourg and then to the DC area. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and traveling is one way to enjoy it to the fullest.

Apparently pregnancy is turning me a little Buddha-esque. I guess it makes sense with the belly.

I can’t spend 9 months sitting and worrying about everything that might go wrong. It’s just not in my blood.

So, with that being said, away we go! I’m packing my raincoat and an umbrella and plenty of room in my suitcase to buy adorable British clothes for the Woodlet. 9 days of uninterrupted, no-work-emails-under-any-circumstances, unadulterated awesomeness.

Do I really have to come back?