January 2, 2019

Bruges and Amsterdam

For the October half-term break we took off for a week to Belgium and The Netherlands!  We had a great time.

Day one:
We started off with a drive to the chunnel, where we drove our car onto the train for the trip across the English Channel to France.  From there we drove to our Airbnb in Knokke-Heist, Belgium.  We still had some daylight left so once we had ourselves organized we walked a few blocks to the beach!  David fell asleep on the way, so I stayed back and enjoyed the sunset while Aaron, Andrew, and Brandon headed down to the (very cold) water.  We did a bit of exploring until they boys were cold and exhausted, and were ready to head back to the apartment for dinner.

Day two:
The next day we headed into Bruges (or Brugge) for the day.  It is such a cute city, and we crammed a lot into our day.  We walked to the station in Knokke-Heist and took the train in.  The kids are always so excited to ride trains, so this was a hit with them.

We started with a stop at a highly recommended chocolate shop, which is a great start to any day out!  We walked around town and stopped in several chocolate shops, wherever we saw or smelled something amazing.  We stopped at Markt Square, the Belfry, Burg Square, and the Bonifacius Bridge, and the Church of Our Lady.

We stopped for a snack at I Love Waffles and then decided to go for a boat ride, which was really fun even though we couldn't hear much of what our guide was saying.

Day three:
This was our day of relaxation.  Our Airbnb was a condo that had a heated indoor pool.  After a leisurely morning we headed over to the pool and spent a good chunk of the day swimming around.  We were lucky to have the pool to ourselves the entire time, and there was even a smaller, shallow pool that the kids loved.  We also walked over to a local grocery store and picked up some Belgian goodies as well as some basic groceries.  Otherwise we just spent the day hanging out and relaxing.

Day four:
We checked out of our place in Knokke-Heist and headed to The Netherlands! We spent most of the day (other than driving) at Kinderdijk.  We walked along the water and went inside a few of the windmills.  These mills were used in the past to pump water, since a lot of Holland is below sea level.

We also got our first taste of poffertjes, which are little puffy pancakes, buttered and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Yum!

Day five:
Our Airbnb was across the river from the main attractions of Amsterdam, so we took the metro in.  It was another full day- we went to the Palace/Dam Square, the Anne Frank House,  iamsterdam at the Rijkmuseum, Rembrandt Square, and to several markets. We got fresh stroopwafels at one of the markets and they were amazing!

Day six:
We spent this day outside of the city at Zaanse Schans. This was a neat place with 2 connected museums about chocolate and the history of the area, a bunch of windmills, and a recreated village with restaurants and shops for cheese, wooden clogs, and more.  In addition to some souvenirs, we also ended up buying some amazing smoked cheese to bring home with us.

Day seven:
We went back to Amsterdam for another day.  Again, we took the metro, which the kids were really excited about. It was a bit of a rainy morning so we started the day with a canal boat ride.  The top was clear but enclosed so we stayed nice and dry. Then we went to Vondelpark to have a small lunch (I had bitterbollen- not a fan), play at the playground, and find Picasso's sculpture.  We wandered back to a food stall that we had found on day five to get some more oliebollen- we still dream about these, they're so good!  We also went back to the market for some browsing and another stroopwafel before finding foodhallen for dinner.  It was crowded and we didn't love the food we ended up with, but that's ok.  We said goodbye to the city and headed back to the apartment for the night.

Day eight:
The original plan was to get up at a normal-ish time to drive to Calais but we decided to get up extra early to make another stop in Bruges on the way.  We had bought a small bag of truffles there that we fell in love with and we wanted more! So we got there right as the shops were opening and used up the rest of our euros before heading back to England, this time via the ferry.  It was a bit choppy so I was having some sea sickness but we made it back!

It was the perfect trip for our half-term break!

November 28, 2018

Scotland Part 2

(Continued from Part 1: Day one - Day six, part one)

Day Six, Part Two: Isle of Skye.  It was about midday when we finished at Eilean Donan Castle so we had time to start our Isle of Skye adventures!  We first found our Airbnb cabin and dropped off our luggage before heading over the bridge to the island.

First stop- Fairy Pools!  These are a series of pools and waterfalls. We didn't walk all the way to the end, but we saw some amazing views and the kids especially had a lot of fun jumping over the river and using stepping stones.

Next we went over to Talisker Beach.  It was a bit of a walk from where we parked the car, but we all enjoyed seeing the black sand when we got there.  It was definitely too cold for a dip in the clear water!  One neat thing about this beach was that for most of the time, we were the only ones there- it felt like we had found a secret and undisturbed place on the island.

Day Seven: Isle of Skye. We were on our way to our first stop of the day when we saw a bunch of highland cows just off the side of the road, so we stopped.  Brandon was a little nervous when he got close but Andrew was brave enough to touch one.

After meeting the cows, we headed over to Dunvegan Castle.  It was a nice, well-kept castle with a fun "find the keys" game for the kids and it had massive gardens.

Next up was Coral Beach.  The small parking lot was packed and the walk was a little longer than we had anticipated but it had turned out to be a beautiful day.  I found a nice spot to sit and nurse the baby and Andrew and Brandon immediately took their shoes off to play in the crushed shell beach.  Aaron took a little hike up to a higher vantage point and was rewarded with a great view.

After the beach we went over to the Neist Point Lighthouse.  However, Brandon fell asleep on the drive over and we feared he wouldn't have even close to enough energy to make the long steep descent (and the return ascent) that was a big part of the hike down to the actual lighthouse, so instead we did a short uphill climb to get to a good vantage point that overlooked the path and the cliff.  The boys had an upset moment when they realized the decision we had made not to go all the way to the lighthouse, but they ended up having fun climbing up and taking pictures from our viewpoint.

Day eight: Isle of Skye. We started the day at the Old Man of Storr.  We started the hike with the intent to just get to a point where we could get a good view, but we soon realized that we'd have to walk farther than we wanted to get the view we were hoping to see.  Fortunately we had passed a layby that seemed to have a good view so we ended up going back to it to snap some photos.  Aaron especially would have loved to do this hike, but it just wasn't realistic for our family.

Next we went over to Kilt Rock.  This one was definitely more of a tourist stop than many of the others- it had a real paved car park, a concrete walkway with a sturdy metal railing, and on this particular day there was also a food truck with snacks and drinks, and a guy playing the bagpipes.

We did a driveby/quick-stop of the Quiraing and continued along our way around the northern part of the island, making an unscheduled stop at Duntulm Castle.  We weren't brave enough (especially with the kids) to disobey the signs cautioning visitors to keep back due to the structure being potentially unstable, so we didn't explore the castle, but it was still neat and it was fun to realize that this was the furthest north we had ever been!

Our next stop turned out to be one of our favorite spots on the Isle of Skye.  Aaron was super skeptical when I told him we were going to a place called "The Fairy Glen" but he was surprised at how much he enjoyed it.  There were two main parking areas for this one, and we had a bit of a walk since it turned out that we were in the further layby.  But it was fun to see the Fairy Castle (aka Castle Ewan) as we approached.  Brandon had removed his boots in the car and was also getting really worn out so Aaron ended up carrying him in the Ergo while I carried David in the Boba.  Andrew was our strong big boy and was in charge of carrying the camera case while we walked.  Once we had the "castle" in sight, it was fun to prompt the kids to speculate on what kind of fairies lived there, and whether we'd see any fairies during our visit.

We stopped next for dinner in Portree- we got some excellent fish and chips and ate by the water.  Then we said goodbye to the Isle of Syke and headed back to our Airbnb in Plockton.

Day nine: Plockton to Glasgow.  We checked out of our place in Plockton and started to head south.  Our first stop of the day was at the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  You'll recognize this as the bridge where the Hogwarts Express  met up with Ron and Harry in the flying car.  Unfortunately we weren't able to get there to see the actual train on its morning route and we weren't willing to wait around for its afternoon return, which was a shame, but it was still neat to be there and see something we'll recognize each time we watch that movie.

Next we went down to Glencoe.  It's a beautiful area and there are a lot of things to do and see, but in the interest of time we just picked one walk to do.  We chose Signal Rock.  It was a bit rainy when we started the walk but it had stopped by the time we got to the rock.

Loch Lomond was our next stop, and I really wish we had allowed more time for it.  We stopped at one of the areas where the tour busses aren't allowed, so it wasn't very crowded and there were still toilets and a real car park.  It was a nice relaxing stop and I really wasn't ready to leave, but we still had some driving to do that day.

Day ten: Glasgow to home. This day was really just driving and stopping for food and toilet breaks.

We had such an amazing time in Scotland.  I'd love to go back sometime- what a beautiful place!