Waffles, windmills and waterways

I’m back in the UK after a whirlwind of travel over the past few weeks.  I normally stay pretty close to London at all times, but in the last week alone, I’ve been in New Orleans and Dublin.  While I love travelling, it is so nice to be back at home with my family tonight.  Those two trips were work focused, but a couple of weeks ago we had a much more exciting family trip – to Belgium for a few days during half term!  We took so many photographs – be prepared for a long blog post packed full of pics!…

We had eurotunnel tickets left over from our rain-cancelled camping trip to France in August, so on a whim, decided to try out AirBnB and explore the low countries for the first time. With the exception of a weekend break to Brussels years ago (and some fast work trips to the European Commission for Matt), we’ve not really visited that area.  So we found an apartment in Antwerp, and hit the road!

Without planning it, we left home on the morning the clocks changed – so the early start for the train was easy and the children didn’t have to adjust to the time change too quickly as they went to bed a bit later while we were away.  Some tedious delays in Folkstone made us all feel a bit grumpy, but as soon as we were under the Channel – the children got very excited about being beneath the sea!

We made it as far as Bruges for lunch and had a wonderful time exploring the beautiful old centre loving the incredible architecture and ancient squares.

Bruges

Of course, the children were far more excited about the chocolate waffles than the architecture – and we partook of some rather delicious ones.  Yum.

BrugesWaffles

We walked along the canals back to the car to walk off the waffles!

BrugesRiver

It was a beautiful, mild afternoon and we sat for ages watching the boats floating past.  Such a lovely start to our week.

BrugesFamily

We carried on to Antwerp, arriving late afternoon and finding our airbnb apartment easily.  It was absolutely stunning and right at the heart of the city – we couldn’t believe our luck when just a few paces from our front door was the main square.  Lit up at night, it was spectacular!

AntwerpNight

The next morning was Sophie’s 3rd birthday!  We’d brought presents and balloons with us – and she was so excited to find them when she woke up.

SophiePresents

As a special treat, and because we were in Belgium, we had a very chocolatey birthday breakfast!  Look at that cheeky face – how is my baby three?  The building next to Sophie below is where we stayed!  Check it out on airbnb – it really was that beautiful!

Antwerp

Once we had had our chocolate muffins and hot chocolate, we headed off to explore Antwerp.  We started with the St. Anna Tunnel under the Schelde River – a surreal 572m pedestrian tunnel to the left bank of the city.  It was kind of bizarre sharing the tunnel and escalators with loads of cyclists, but we loved it!

AntwerpTunnel

The 1930s tunnel and escalators were beautifully restored.

TunnelEscalator

From the other side of the river, the view back to the old town was beautiful:

AntwerpView

We found a nautical themed playground where Matt and I enjoyed a seat in the sunshine whilst the kids ran around.

AlexPlayground

SophiePlayground

We then headed off to find a tram station, Matt and Sophie stopping to explore a beautiful copse of trees.  The leaves were such a vivid gold and were gently falling in the wind, so Matt took a few shots of the birthday girl.

SophieTree

I love this series of my crazy girl – what a happy thing she is!

SophieTree2

We took the tram to Antwerp Zoo and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring.  It was really impressive for such a central zoo, with excellent playgrounds and a really wide range of animals.

ZooPlayground

Here’s Sophie rescuing Alex from the jaws of a hippopotamus (or rather a “hitapotamus” as Sophie and Alex say)

AntwerpHippo

We particularly enjoyed the aquarium – what cool lighting!

AntwerpAquarium

Back at the apartment, we ended Sophie’s special day with birthday cake.  Can’t get enough of that face – she had such a happy day!

SophieCake

The next day was clear and sunny, so we popped over the border into The Netherlands to visit some windmills (not at all stereotypical!)!  We spent the day at Kinderdijk – a world heritage site boasting 19 beautiful windmills.

Windmills

We had such a peaceful day, enjoying the views and learning more about the clever water management that enables the area to be populated at all.

WindmillFamily

We took so many photographs – Alex even had a go, snapping a rare shot with both Matt and I in it!  We need to work on him keeping it level!

WindmillFamily0

The highlight of the day was a boat trip along the canals where we could get close to the working windmills – we even got to go inside one and climb up to the top.  Alex loved the fact that windmills have two doors, but only one handle, ensuring that millers don’t get crushed by the heavy sails!

WindmillBoat

I’m so glad we took the time to visit – it’s left me itching to explore more of the Low Countries.

WindmillFamily1

And with that, our short break was almost over!  We had a delicious final family meal (moules and frites for me of course) before our last night in the apartment (and more cake).  Then it was off bright and early for a visit to Ghent on the way back to Calais.

The weather deteriorated to cold and drizzly, but that didn’t stop us getting out on the water!  An hour on a cold boat was probably a bit long for our wriggly pair, but they just about sat still, and we enjoyed seeing the city from the canals.

Love these pictures of my little family – it was so nice to escape for a few days together.

GhentBoat

 

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